Monday, April 30, 2012

After All

a hanover falls novel

Deborah Raney

Eighteen months after the tragic Grove Street Fire took the life of her husband and four other heroic firefighters, Susan Marlowe thinks she's finally beginning to heal. But then she discovers that David carried a secret to his grave-a secret that changes everything she thought about their marriage. For the sake of their sons, can Susan forgive the unforgivable?

Deborah Raney's After All is a poignant story of betrayal, forgiveness, and love. If you've ever felt betrayed by someone you cared about, Raney has created a story that offers hope for your heart. After All portrays the freedom found through forgiveness, and the joy found in the courage to love again.
–– Ginny L. Yttrup, author of Words and Lost And Found

Susan stacked clean mugs in the cupboard above the snack counter in the shelter's commons area and dumped the dregs of this morning's coffee into the sink. The aroma, stale as it was, revived her a little.

It was after eight o'clock. Almost dark, and the first-shift volunteers still hadn't shown up. She blew out a sigh. She always sent out e-mail reminders to the shelter volunteers at the beginning of each week, but made it a point never to call anyone who didn't show. They didn't owe her anything, and it was their own time they were sacrificing. That was just one downside to running a homeless shelter that depended almost solely on volunteer staff.

"You're still here?" Charlie Branson rolled his wheelchair out of the men's sleeping quarters and gave her a look intended to make her feel guilty.

"We're shorthanded tonight."

Charlie was technically a resident of the shelter, a disabled Vietnam vet who'd been relocated to a shelter in Springfield after the original Grove Street shelter burned down. But once it was up and running at this new location, Susan had persuaded Charlie to return to the Falls, and offered him room and board in exchange for some light housekeeping duties and an unofficial title of assistant manager. He took the title very seriously, and the other clients respected his authority.

The shelter operated as overnight only, which served to keep the population to a manageable level. What David had called the "chronically homeless" usually migrated on to Springfield where there were full-time shelters. Here in the Falls, local churches took turns serving a light dinner each evening, and provided breakfast fixings for anyone who got out of bed in time. But the shelter was vacated at eight sharp every morning and they locked the facility during the day until Susan or Charlie opened the doors again at five p.m.

Charlie worked at the library downtown shelving books and doing odd jobs, but he was always back in time to open the shelter, and Susan had given him permission to be in the building during daytime hours.

Susan helped Charlie set out leftovers for breakfast and for those who'd be packing lunches tomorrow. Fortunately, they were under capacity this week, with eleven men and a family of five. Two of the guys who worked the night shift hadn't checked in yet, and the rest of the men were either in bed already or in the dayroom watching TV.
Charlie took the dishrag from her and finished wiping off the serving bar. "I've got everything under control here. You go home."

"I will in a few minutes. But I think I'll go catch up on some paperwork first." She could probably trust Charlie to keep things under control until the night shift showed up, but sure as she did that, something would go wrong. She unplugged the coffeemaker and checked the stove one more time, making sure everything was off. 

The fire––a year and-a-half ago now––had made everyone extra cautious.

She settled in at her desk, but a minute later Charlie wheeled into the office holding up a bottle of red liquid––cheap wine, by the looks of the label.

"What on earth…?"

Charlie wore a triumphant smirk. "Found this behind the refrigerator."

"You're kidding?"

"Well, it sure ain't mine." He looked offended.

"I know that. But you're sure it's not just––"

Before she could finish her sentence, Charlie had the lid off the bottle. He waved it under her nose.

"Whew… Okay, okay… It's the real deal." Great. Now she had to deal with it. This was the part of the job she hated.

"You know whose it is, of course."

She eyed him. "I have my suspicions."

He harrumphed. "You'd almost think that jerk wanted to get caught."

"Sorry." He waved a hand. "I'm just sayin'."

"I'll handle it." She took in a deep breath and blew it out.

Thankfully, Charlie wheeled out of the office and headed for the dayroom––no doubt to a spot where he could still listen in on the altercation that was sure to ensue.

She slid her chair back and went to find Earl Eland. If he failed the Breathalyzer test, it was three strikes. She couldn't afford to look the other way, but if Charlie hadn't been watching to see how she handled this, she would have quietly discarded the bottle and pretended she never saw it.

She didn't think Earl would give her any trouble if she asked him to leave––especially if he was drunk. But on the off chance he refused, she did not want to have to call the police. The Courier would love nothing more than a juicy story about trouble at the shelter.

Earl was in the dayroom, glued to a sitcom with the other residents. Being careful not to make eye contact with Charlie, Susan cleared her throat. "Earl? Could you come here for a minute?"

He pointed at himself and gave her a questioning look, as if he hadn't heard her.
She nodded and motioned for him to follow her. He eased out of the shabby recliner and shuffled to the office.

She closed the door and looked him in the eye. He didn't look drunk, but then she wasn't sure she'd ever seen him completely sober. She walked around her desk, picked up the wine bottle, and held it up.

His face gave away nothing.

She unlocked a desk drawer and retrieved a Breathalyzer kit. "I'm sorry, Earl, but I need to have you take this."

He looked away. "Rather not."

"Earl, you're putting me in a tough spot here. You know the rules."

"I know… I know."

"Is this yours?"

He looked directly into her eyes. "I can truthfully tell you that it's not." His impish half-grin gave him away.

She almost laughed. He was probably telling the truth––because he'd stolen the bottle. Or "borrowed" it from one of the lowlifes he hung out with. She replaced the Breathalyzer kit in the desk, closed the drawer, and locked it. She'd probably be sorry, but if he failed that test, she'd be forced to kick him out. She simply didn't have it in her tonight to deal with the fallout.

"Okay, Earl, here's the deal." She looked at him hard, hating how often this job made her sound condescending and snobbish. "I'm going to trust that you're technically telling me the truth. This bottle is going into a random Dumpster in an unidentified town on an undisclosed date"––that earned her another grin––"and you are going to recognize that you've been given a chance you probably didn't deserve, and you're going to appreciate it and not blow it because unlike God, I do not have an unlimited amount of grace to offer. Is that understood?"

"Understood." He grinned big enough to reveal the gaps where important teeth were missing.

"And I'll be mentioning this incident to your social worker and you'll have to work something out with her. Okay?"

He nodded, looking only slightly penitent. "I think I'm gonna hit the hay, if that's okay with you, Blondie."

"I think that's a very good idea." Before I punch your lights out. She'd let him get away with calling her "Blondie" before, so she couldn't very well say anything about it now. Though it hadn't sounded so disrespectful before.

Earl reached for the door just as the night shift volunteers came through.
Susan glanced at her watch. "You guys are early."

"And you're still here," Garrett Edmonds said. "When do you ever sleep?"

"The early shift didn't show."

"Susan! You should have called," Bryn said. "We would have come earlier."

"I know, but that's not what you signed up for."

Garrett and his wife, Bryn, were newlyweds who often volunteered for the overnight shift. Bryn had served many hours of community service for claiming responsibility for the fire that killed David, along with Bryn's first husband, Adam, and three others, including Garrett's first wife, who was also a firefighter. It had been a careless accident––Bryn had left a candle burning in the upstairs office.

But Susan had never blamed Bryn. That act of negligence had changed so many lives, but it could have happened to anyone. If anything, Susan blamed herself for not having had stricter rules in place.

"Well, we're here now." Bryn put her purse in a drawer of the file cabinet and shrugged out of her jacket. "So would you please go home and get some sleep?"

Susan gave her a grateful smile.

"Everything calm here tonight?" Garrett asked.

From Howard/Simon & Schuster

© 2012 Deborah Raney

Do not reproduce without permission.

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lady Anne's Quest

Lady Anne's Quest

By Susan Page Davis

Lady Anne believes her prayers are answered and she has at last found her long lost uncle. But she and her friend Dan Adams are convinced the man introduced as her uncle is an impostor. They decide to head into Oregon's mining country and continue the search for the new Earl of Stoneford. But now the swindler is on their trail, hoping to steal Uncle David's inheritance. Dan has his hands full trying to protect Anne, but he finds he must guard his heart just as carefully. Even though he's good at keeping her safe, he knows he'll never convince Anne to become a farmer's wife in Oregon when she has her sights set on returning to her home in England. But as Anne's quest becomes even more difficult—and dangerous—she begins to see Dan differently. Will she soon be envisioning a new life in America? 

Oregon, 1857

Chapter Two

Anne gulped. How could this man be her uncle? Impossible.

      She sucked in a deep breath. Though he repelled her, she must use her manners and greet him warmly. He was now her closest living relative. Or was he? Could there possibly be two men named David Stone in the territory? Perhaps this was all a mistake.

      Her stomach plummeted at the thought, but she pasted on a smile.

"Hello. I'm searching for Mr. David Stone. Would you happen to know where he lives?"

He laughed, a big, noisy guffaw. "Why, sweetheart, you're lookin' at him." He moved down onto the next step, and Anne backed away, into the solid bulk of Dan Adams.

"Daniel," she gasped.

Dan touched her back only for an instant, and she took comfort from that reassuring pat. He stepped around her, between her and the stranger.

"Howdy. Are you Mr. Stone?"

"Yes, I am," the other man said. He held out a meaty hand. "I'm this little gal's uncle. And who might you be, mister?"

"My name is Daniel Adams."

The man's eyes narrowed to slits as they shook hands, as though he was trying to categorize his guest, but Dan didn't offer more information.

Anne recovered at least a portion of her poise and moved up next to Dan. "I'm sorry, but you're not at all what I expected." She eyed the man. He was several inches taller than she was, but not nearly as tall as Daniel. She gazed at his fleshy face, his flinty eyes, and his slicked-back, badly barbered hair.

She longed to bring out the miniature portrait in her handbag, but an inner restraint told her not to. This man could not be the same one who posed for the portrait twenty years ago. Or could he?

"You wrote that you wanted to see me and give me some news," the man said. "Come on in."

Anne looked at Dan. He arched his eyebrows, seeking her opinion.

"Well, I. . ."

"Come on." The man started up the steps again, beckoning with his beefy arm. "Millie's got supper ready."

Anne swallowed hard and looked to Dan again. He held out his crooked arm. She took it and walked with him up the steps and into the little house.

Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim interior. The house appeared to be divided into two rooms, and they had entered the kitchen. A cook stove stood to the right, with a stovepipe reaching up and bending to meet the chimney. A rough wooden table stood in the middle of the floor, and a woman came past it with her hands extended in greeting.

"So you're little Anne." She smiled broadly and seized both Anne's hands. "Oh, my, what a lovely young woman you are." She threw the man a reproachful glance. "David, you should have told me."

He shrugged. "Didn't know. This here's Millie."

Anne found it hard to rip her gaze away from him and appraise Millie. The woman's thick auburn hair hung loose about her shoulders, and she wore lip rouge. Beyond that, the dim lighting left her in mystery, but her gathered and flounced dress looked to be of decent quality, unlike the man's clothing.

"Is this your husband?" Millie asked.

"No," Anne said quickly. "Dan is just a friend. He offered to ride down here with me, since I didn't want to travel alone." She eyed the stocky man as she spoke, hoping to shame him at least a little for not offering to go to Corvallis for her, but he only smiled and nodded.

"Well, let's sit down, folks. You must be hungry. Millie's been keeping a pot of stew simmering all day. We thought you might get here this afternoon."

Millie hurried to a bank of curtained shelves on the far wall and pushed the calico curtain aside. "I only set up for three, but you're welcome to join us, Mr. Adams." She turned with a tin plate and a thick china mug in her hands.

"Let me help you," Anne said.

"Oh, no, that's all right. Sit right down." Quickly Millie laid another place setting for Dan. "Just grab that little bench by the window, Mr. Adams."

The four of them sat down at the table, and Millie began ladling out portions of stew. No one mentioned giving thanks for the food, which Anne found unsettling. The Stones had always been God-fearing Anglicans. She glanced at Dan, and he gritted his teeth then said, "Would you mind if I said grace?"

Their host stared blankly at him, but Millie said, "Go right ahead."

Anne closed her eyes. She'd never heard Dan pray before, but his quiet words soothed her.

"Dear Lord, we thank you for a safe journey and for the food we are about to receive. Amen."

"Amen," Anne whispered. She opened her eyes. Millie stood with the ladle in her hand, watching Dan as though waiting for a cue to continue serving.

"So you had a good trip down here from Corvallis?" the man asked.

"Well enough," Dan said.

He looked at Anne. "And did you come all the way across the country, or did you sail?"

"We came by wagon train," she said.

"Is that right?" He shook his head. His drying hair tumbled willy-nilly down his forehead. "Rough trip. Isn't that right, Millie?"

"It's bad enough." She handed him a bowl of stew. "Pass those biscuits around, David."

The food was more palatable than Anne had dared hope, and she ate two biscuits with apple butter and a large bowl of beef stew.

"Your stew is delicious," she said to Millie. "Thank you so much for feeding us."

"Yes," Dan said. "Mighty fine meal, ma'am."

"Oh, it's nothing." But Millie's smile said it was something. "What was the family news you hinted at in your letter to David, Miss Stone?"

For more information about Susan and her books, please visit

Copyright 2012 Susan Page Davis. Do not reproduce without permission.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Chase

Crime Scene: HoustonDiAnn Mills

To the FBI it's a cold case.
To Kariss Walker it's a hot story...

Drawing from a real-life cold case, bestselling novelist DiAnn Mills presents a taut collage of suspense, faith, and romance in The Chase.

"I was chasing the pages, flipping them as fast as I could while holding my breath to find out what Kariss and Tigo would get caught up in next. The Chase is an edge-of-your-seat fun read everyone will enjoy." - Debbie Macomber, #1 New York Times bestselling author

"DiAnn Mills is not only one of our best writing mentors, but she also proves her reputation with meticulously researched thrillers like The Chase. Another breathless winner for her many fans." - Jerry B. Jenkins, novelist and owner of the Christian Writers Guild

Chapter 1

Present day


Kariss had fulfilled all her dreams but one by age thirty-five. Most women would bask in such a claim, but not Kariss. The one mountain yet to climb beckoned her to strap on hiking boots and make her approach. The peak held her in fascination, and failing meant losing everything she'd ever gained.

Her heels clicked along the marble flooring of the Marriott hotel's lobby adjoining Houston's Intercontinental Airport. Ten minutes early for her appointment with her literary agent and she could use the time to make sure her responses to Meredith were gracious and resolute. A mouthful for sure.

Sinking into a plush chair, she took a deep breath and waited. With all of her prolific abilities, why couldn't she respond with words that relayed her passion for this story? But now she had the opportunity to convince Meredith of her sincerity. A little encouragement went a long way when calling up the powers of inspiration and creativity.

Right on time, Meredith Rockford slipped into a chair across from Kariss, sipping on a cup of tea, no doubt Earl Gray. Dressed in a black traveler's knit jacket and pants, the only color emitting from Meredith was her crimson lipstick.

"You could have texted me that you were early," Meredith said.

Kariss smiled. "Just got here. Did you have a good night's rest?"

Meredith lifted a brow while taking a sip of her tea. "My head is killing me. I had to fly from New York to Houston. Arrived late and had to cancel our dinner appointment, andyou ask me if I slept well?" She set the cup on a table in front of them. "The only thing that will give me a good night's sleep is for you to abandon this ludicrous idea of changing genres."

Kariss valued integrity above all things, and she refused to lose control. "Please understand I have given this writing project considerable thought. I need a break from writing women's fiction. I'm not discounting what you've done for my career, my friends who continue to write women's fiction, or my faithful readers. But I have a deep need to write a suspense novel."

"You rehearsed your spiel very nicely, but let me give you the facts: you, Kariss Walker, are about to commit publishing suicide. Changing genres in the middle of New York Times bestselling status means starting all over."

"I was hoping you'd champion my goals."

"My goal is to make sure my writers and my agency make money while ensuring the publishing community has quality writing projects." She crossed her arms. "After Sunrise has held the number two slot for three months. Always a Lady sold over six hundred thousand copies each along with a sweet spot on the bestseller list. You write women's fiction. Period. Not suspense. Your ratings are going to plummet like an avalanche."

Kariss uncrossed her legs and allowed her arms to lay limp at her side. How much more open could she be? "Ten novels in five years is a bit much, don't you think? Suspense intrigues me. Remember the eight years I spent reporting evening news on Houston's Channel 5? I have more ideas than I will ever have time to write."

"It won't work. Your readers want stories about women. They'll drop you tomorrow if you switch to suspense. Now send me the proposal for the next story. The one we chatted about in New York will do nicely. You're the only writer who can remind the reader that the victim isn't just a case file, but a human life."

Meredith started to stand, but Kariss gestured for her to stay. "Please hear me out. Deep inside me is a well of passion for stories that burst onto the suspense scene. These are real and happening in my city. One in particular touched my heart several years ago and has never let me go. I cannot not write this. It doesn't matter that I don't have a contract. If one of the big six doesn't want to publish it, I'll self-publish."

"If you do not adhere to the demands of the publishing world, your actions may dissolve our representation of your work."

Kariss moistened her lips. "I am fully aware of the consequences."

"Are you? You may never publish again." Meredith retrieved her cup of Earl Gray and left the lobby.
Kariss gathered her purse and laptop before leaving the hotel. She had two hours until her appointment with Lincoln Abrams, special agent in charge of Houston's FBI, referred to as the SAC. Five years had passed since she'd linked arms with law enforcement agencies and enlisted public support to help find criminals. Excitement with a twinge of apprehension grabbed hold of her senses. If only her agent held the same enthusiasm about her writing a suspense novel. Maybe if she knew the real reason why Kariss wanted to protect children. . .

This story meant more than all the six-figure checks combined. In five years, no one had solved the crime stalking her, and she didn't possess the skills to smoke out a killer. But in her novel version, the perpetrator would be brought to justice.

* * *

Drinking a double espresso, his breakfast of choice, Tigo drove through the seedy neighborhood off South Main in Houston, looking for the dark-green van last seen at the shipyards speeding away with two hundred and fifty grand of stolen AK – 47 rifles.

The area looked deserted except for the battered vehicles matching the twisted and dented people who hid behind their weapons and bravado.

Some residents were simply poor and trying to eke out a living. Why they stayed made no sense. But those weren't the ones Tigo wanted to question. He needed Cheeky and his gang of Arroyos behind bars for gun smuggling. Add to that the identity of the dealers who were selling them weapons, and he was a happy man. Houston ranked as Mexico's largest gun supplier, and Tigo intended to drop that stat like a live grenade.
He drove slowly, studying each peeled-painted house for signs of rodents. He didn't really expect a tattooed ganger this time of the morning, but he also knew they could tear through a door at any moment ready to blow him to pieces. He risked the encounter and hoped they were sleeping off the previous night. His appointment was critical to draw out those who continued to break the law, one important enough for him to break the rules and work alone. He'd long ago given up trying to figure out if he wanted credit for the arrests or if he didn't want to endanger another agent. Probably both.

The gangs living here counted coup on law enforcement types.

Tigo eased to the curb next to a bungalow with boarded-up windows. Turning off the engine of the twenty-year-old Toyota minus the fender and hubcaps, he waited for his guest and drank the espresso.

A toddler pushed open the door of a house across the street. Wearing nothing but a diaper, he carried what looked like a rag — probably a substitution for his mother. The reality of the kid's future yanked at Tigo's thoughts, along with the likelihood of him already being an addict. How long before he was dealing and carrying a piece?

No one else ventured from the neighborhood. But Tigo couldn't wait forever. Linc wanted to see him about something. Glancing at his watch and rolling down the window, he gave himself fifteen minutes.
Candy was ten minutes late. Maybe she'd overslept, since her career kept her occupied at night. But the olive-skinned beauty had always been prompt, especially when the extra money didn't touch her pimp's pockets. She seemed to sense Tigo's drive to nail the gang, but he refused to psychoanalyze that. She claimed to have the information he needed to close down the Houston operation, including names of arms dealers and details about those dealers raising prices on their weapons.

Five more minutes passed, and the espresso cup lay crumpled on the passenger's seat. Candy wouldn't have left him waiting without a call. Lately she'd grown bolder . . . maybe too bold. After all, meeting here at seven-thirty had been her idea. Late nights ate up her earning power. She claimed his presence looked like a john leaving, and the neighborhood slept until noon.

Tigo punched in her number. Four rings. "This is Candy. I'm busy right now." A giggle with a Hispanic accent. "Leave a message, and I'll get back to you."

He wasn't stupid enough to leave a message.

They'd met five times, and he believed each one raised the bar on their trust. She wanted to leave her sordid life, but she needed money until she landed a respectable job. Even asked for the name of a shelter. Said her two kids would have a better future. That suckered him in. Now suspicions about her motives called him a fool.

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Expect an Adventure

The Chase
Crime Scene:Houston
DiAnn Mills
© 2012 by DIANN MILLS
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without
permission in writing from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied
in critical articles or reviews.