Gold Nuggets

In the shadow of Denali, she has a home, and he finds adventure.

Charlotte Cooper wants to stay near her parents’ home in Alaska. But her dreams of being a writer call her away to college or work, and she has to choose her own path in life.

Henry Reeves is a wealthy New Yorker seeking a summer adventure when he travels to Kantishna near the proposed Mt. McKinley National Park. He discovers two passions, one for Charlotte, and the other for keeping Alaska wildlife from being wiped out like the buffalo.

Charlotte and Henry find an attraction they can’t deny, but can they build a new life together between the wilderness and high society?

 

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EXCERPT

Copyright 2015 Lynn Lovegreen

Henry swatted at the mosquitoes again. Charlotte was glad she had a net over her hat. She heard the louder buzz of a bee as she looked for the next bend in the river.

“Oww!”

Stinky wiped the white stubble around his mouth like he was trying not to laugh. “Bees doan like it when you swat ’em.”

Henry inspected his right wrist. “I think I’m allergic to bees.”

“You think you’re allergic?” She hoped he wasn’t.

“Last time I had a bee sting, it got all swollen.”

If that was all, that wouldn’t be too bad. “Well, we’ll see if it happens again.”

“And I had a little trouble breathing. Not very much.”

She took another breath.

“The last time, I was hunting, too. My father and I were deer hunting in the Adirondacks. We spend a lot of time hunting and fishing. I practically grew up outdoors.”

That was probably true by New York standards, but he still seemed like a cheechako to her. A greenhorn.

He scratched at his wrist.

“Don’t scratch it. That’ll make it worse,” she said. It was already pink.

They passed by a creek tumbling down the hills to the east and turned another bend in the river. When she looked at Henry’s wrist again, there was a pink lump. Henry scratched it again as he looked up at an eagle circling overhead.

“Is that an eagle?”

“Yes, a golden eagle. Stop scratching at it. Here, put this over it.” She untied the bandanna from around her neck and tied it over the sting. As she touched his skin, she felt an electric thrill that she hadn’t expected.

“Thank you, Sharon.”

“Charlotte. My name is Charlotte.”

His face was red again when she looked up. “I’m sorry, Charlotte. I keep putting my foot in my mouth. Thank you again, Charlotte.”

He couldn’t even get her name right. Maybe he was just bad at names. Some people were. But she hadn’t felt anything like the sensation when she’d touched his hand. Was it because he was so attractive? Or just part of his vibrant energy?

“You’re welcome.” She was starting to get concerned about his bee sting. It was swelling quite a bit. At least his breathing seemed all right. He was irritating, but she didn’t want him to get sick.

One more turn to the right, and then they were home. They navigated the last stretch and brought the boat in to the loading dock. Charlotte glanced at the bandanna on Henry’s wrist as Daddy and Stinky unloaded the supplies.

“I think we’d better show your bee sting to Mama. She can put something on it for you.” She grabbed his left hand and pulled him toward the house, ignoring the vibration that went through her at touching him.

“Thank you, that’s very kind.”

 

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The Rancher Takes a Cook

When their South Carolina home burns to the ground, Anna Stewart’s only choice is to move with her younger brother to the wilds of a Texas ranch.

Their prospects are beginning to look better, until the rancher’s son, Jacob O’Brien, shows up with his alarmingly blue eyes to put a kink in Anna’s well-controlled plans.

When danger escalates in the form of a band of cattle thieves with deadly intent, can Anna learn to release control to God’s capable hands…and those of the blue-eyed cowboy who’s stolen her heart?

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EXCERPT

Copyright 2015 © Misty M. Beller

The acrid air was thick and hazy as nineteen-year-old Anna Stewart struggled to sit up in bed. Confused and disoriented, she looked around. What woke her? Her mind refused to focus.

“Anna…” The voice was distant, as if coming from another world. Why is it so hot in my room? Edward must have put too much wood on the fire before bed. She tried to focus on something—anything—but her mind was thick mud and her chest ached.

Need air. The craving consumed her. Bolting from her bed, she ran toward the doorway.Thud. Clang. Her hands hit rough wood and warm metal. Scrambling to her right, she tripped and fumbled for something familiar. Panic rose in her chest. The darkness slowed her down like a sea of murky water, then Anna’s shin struck solid metal and she lost her balance. The floor rose up to meet her, and she landed hard, a moan escaping between gasps.

“Anna.”

Edward’s voice broke through the smoke like the sun parting the clouds. Or maybe it wasn’t her brother, but God calling her home to heaven. The fog in her mind suffocated every thought. And then strong arms lifted her like a limp sack. Thick, smoky air whispered across her skin as she was jostled down the stairs.

* * *

Air. Anna gulped in a blessed breath then forced open her stinging eyes. Her chest was on fire and a coughing fit seized her. Sucking in another breath, she looked around in the dim light. She lay on a rough blanket in the grass, with people scurrying around. Confusion muddled her mind as she struggled to sit up.

“Edward?” She croaked past the shooting pain in her lungs.

“Here, sis. I’m here.”

Relief flooded her and she twisted around. Concern etched her fifteen-year-old brother’s youthful face as he knelt beside her.

“What happened?” Anna rasped.

“It burned, Anna. All of it.” Edward’s voice cracked. “All of Columbia’s been burned to the ground by them heathen Yanks.” His words tumbled faster as his brown eyes grew wide.

“Our candle shop?” Her heart thudded faster as she waited for his answer.

“Gone. Everything we own. And Emmett’s Dry Goods, too.”

“Thank God Mrs. Emmett is away visiting her sister,” Anna mumbled. Her mind ached as she forced it to focus on the words her brother uttered.

“Thank God? Thank God? How can you thank God when people are homeless or dead all around us? We are homeless.” The vehemence in Edward’s voice wrenched Anna’s heart as she stared at the ache in his wide brown eyes.

She pulled him into an embrace and his body went limp. Her little brother… How she wanted to make his hurt go away. But, what now? Surely not all of their things were burned. With Papa away in the war, would God leave them totally stranded?

Taking a deep breath, Anna sat back and tried to turn on her soft southern drawl that always seemed to soothe. “C’mon, honey. Let’s go home and see what’s left.”

As she rose, a breeze tickled Anna’s ankles. She glanced down at her cotton nightgown, coated in soot and grime and a bit worse for the wear. To maintain a scrap of modesty, she crossed her arms in front of her.

Anna glanced around to get her bearings. People milled around the small grassy area. Most of those present were huddled in little groups—some crying and some appearing to be in shock. Remnants of smoke still clung to the air, shrouding the atmosphere in a dismal cloak.

“This way.” Her brother led the way down the muddy street. As they walked, they passed black skeletons of buildings—charred remains sticking out in jagged angles with smoke still rising from their midst. The buildings looked eerily familiar, like dear friends who were disfigured almost beyond recognition.

Edward paused in front of a structure that was almost unrecognizable in its horrid condition. The candle shop and their home. Nothing was left. No bright red sign over the door announcing Stewart’s Candle Shop. No second story windows with the pretty blue curtains where their home had been. Just two stairs leading up to the porch and black smoldering ashes. Her heart sank and tightness pulled in her chest. What now?

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Patriot’s Pride

 

With knowledge, he believed he could find answers. She had only faith. Derrick, a surgeon, is haunted by his brother’s death. When his prayers went unanswered, he turned his faith to science. He believes studying with an esteemed surgeon in England will return meaning to his life. Margaret’s fiancé died at the hands of a doctor who bled him to death. On board the Prosperity, she meets the arrogant Doctor Fortune who considers her no less than a milkmaid. She considers him a butcher. Though she must journey to England to hear the reading of the will of her grandfather, the Earl of Broadcraft, she finds herself constantly confronting Derrick on his methods of healing. Yet, there is something about his soulful eyes that attracts her. When a British ship presses the Prosperity’s sailors into service, Margaret and Derrick must work together if they are to reach England. But can they ever learn to trust each other enough to allow love into their hearts?

 

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EXCERPT

Copyright 2015 © Penelope Marzec

 

Margaret McGowan watched the distance between the ship and the pier widen into a watery chasm. Swamped by an overwhelming sense of loneliness, she clenched her teeth and scolded herself for being such a ninny. She had the opportunity to go to England. She would visit Broadcraft Hall, the ancestral home where her mother was born and her grandfather had died. In all her eighteen years, she had seldom traveled far from Leedsville, New Jersey, until now.

A grand adventure awaited her.

Despite reasoning with herself on the importance of this enterprise, a renegade tear rolled down her cheek as she leaned on the rail. She loved her family, but they barely scraped by after losing the house and the livestock during the war. The doling out of a hundred acres for every soldier in the Continental army had been an empty promise. Worst of all, though Uncle Fitz had returned from his service, her father never did. He died on a prison ship.

She offered a heartfelt prayer for her dear ones. In truth, this journey was for them too.

Calmer, she opened her eyes and took in a ragged breath. The harbor blended into the line of hills in the distance, and she turned away from the rail. She pulled the shawl tighter about her body and set her jaw. This trip was essential. In his last will and testament, her grandfather, the Earl of Broadcraft, stipulated that either Margaret or her sister must be present for the reading of the will. The solicitor explained much concerning the entail in a long letter. Since her mother had married a commoner, neither Margaret nor her sister would inherit the estate or, as women, the title.

Therefore, the entail and title belonged to Lord Isaac Whittington, the earl’s first cousin, once removed. Yet everyone assumed Margaret and her sister would receive something of value. Otherwise, why should one of them be present when the will was read?

Margaret hoped for a portrait of her mother, whom she had never known, and perhaps even a portrait of the earl himself. In the past six years, they had corresponded by letters. She would value a likeness of her grandfather as a true treasure.

Her gaze swept the deck, and a shiver of apprehension moved through her. Though the ship was far larger than the McGowan’s barn, the vast ocean surrounding it made it appear quite small. What if it sank?

She shoved the frightening idea to the back of her mind and watched the other passengers strolling on the deck. In the front of the ship, she spied the two women who were to share a tiny cabin with her and her companion. Cecelia Cavendish, who was blind, and her cousin, Louisa Boulton, were young, probably near to Margaret’s own age of eighteen. Cecelia intended to go to Paris to meet Franz Mesmer, who claimed his treatment cured blindness. Margaret never heard of Franz Mesmer. Furthermore, she doubted his method. Only the Lord performed the miracle of giving sight to the blind.

Louisa’s behavior disturbed her. Shying away from everyone, Louisa muttered to herself. She sat tucked between a mast and a barrel, staring at her fancy shoes. It seemed apparent the two women with their silk gowns came from wealthy families. Cecelia wore dark glasses but possessed fine features. She sang in a sweet voice, entertaining the sailors as they went about their chores.

Margaret glanced down at her plain brown frock which she wore to church on Sundays. The midwife had given it to her three years ago in exchange for her baked goods. Cecilia and Louisa came aboard with two large trunks each, while Margaret’s necessities fit into a single small one. Still, the cousins must travel farther, for the ship would be going on to France after it stopped in London. Cecelia claimed she and her cousin spoke fluent French.

Margaret did not know French. She’d acquired several German words from Hobart, her family’s hired man, and some Latin from her brother-in-law, but few Frenchmen stopped for any length of time in the small town of Leedsville.

She rubbed the top of each shoe on her stockings to remove the dust. Despite her common clothing, she was the granddaughter of an earl. With her head held high, she decided upon a promenade around the deck. However, walking became difficult when the ship reached open water. Monstrous waves soon stymied her plans.

She stumbled twice, holding onto railings as the ship went up and down. Out of nowhere, something hit her in the face. Unprepared for the force of the blow, she lost her balance and fell backwards. Two strong arms caught her, which prevented her from crashing on the wooden deck in an ungracious heap.

“Are you hurt?” The deep male voice came from behind her as he set her on her feet.

She stared at the rather elaborate hat on the deck in front of her and touched the welt swelling on her forehead. “No. Startled, though. I didn’t realize I needed to watch out for flying hats. Thank you for catching me.”

“My pleasure.” He steadied her as she straightened her skirts. “If I may introduce myself, I am Derrick Fortune, of Philadelphia.”

He carried an unmistakable note of pride in his tone. Did he think she had heard of him? Well, she had not.

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Sarah and a Midnight Cruise to Catalina

Dyslexic and bumbling love angel, Sarah, comes to earth to unite Carolyn with a mate. Her orders from the Superiors specify she must make this happen while Carolyn cruises to Catalina Island. Sarah fears she’ll fall into the ocean and drown under the pull of her soggy wings. Facing a cruise might just be worse than facing a scary ferris wheel, but on this visit to earth, there’s more to fear than ocean waves… Talen is an evil spirit is assigned to thwart Sarah’s efforts by any means possible. The two destined lovers must not unite. Will Talen complete his task? Can Tomas, the Warrior Angel, successfully protect Sarah? Or will she goof up the battle between the holy and unholy spirits? Poopty doopty… Mayhem is bound to happen.

 

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EXCERPT

Copyright 2015 Gay N Lewis

Oh no, not the ocean. Please, please, please—not the deep sea.

How could she possibly stay upright on a cruise ship when the mere sight of white caps made her head spin? This voyage might make her too dizzy, and my stars! She’d toddle around on deck and fall flat on her face. Or maybe hit her bottom, or worse yet, maybe somersault overboard.

Angels weren’t supposed to become woozy, and she didn’t know any who had even once upchucked while on assignment. Would she be the pioneer for such an unsightly, non-angelic, ghastly behavior? She’d certainly been the first to do other bizarre things.

Sarah crossed her fingers and looked skyward. Oops, God’s chosen helpers shouldn’t use any good luck signs—especially that one. She untwisted her digits and made a prayer steeple with her hands.

“Help. Couldn’t You send another spirit being for this mission? One who acted more like Noah? He stayed on the arc while the whole Earth flooded. How about someone comparable to Jonah? Waves tossing about didn’t bother him—he slept during a raging storm.” Sarah drew her brows together. “That is until the sailors on the ship threw him overboard.” Sarah grimaced. “Then that huge fish swallowed him.”

From her position on top of a tall, Houston skyscraper, Sarah gulped as she gazed upward. “Lieutenant, sir, are you certain I must do this?”

The clouds parted, and the Lieutenant nodded. No words—just a gesture of the head to indicate a yes, and then her Superior vanished.

So here again, while on Earth, she must carry out another impossible task. Sarah, the little love angel from The Heavenlies, known by everybody up there as a major goof-up. Her bumbles kept other angels rolling on the golden paths in laughter.

Okay, time to get with it. She needed to find a mate for Carolyn, a lonely young woman, and she had to do it on an aquatic craft, no less. Excited about staying on the planet? Sure. Happy, thrilled witless about staying on Earth—as in Terra Firma. Solid ground. Dry land. But no such good fortune—the Commander gave the assignment to find a husband for Carolyn on a cruise ship—out on the great, big body of water.

The Commander thought she would get over the need to throw up when she flew over H2O. Harrumph! Easy for him to say—he held no such problems.

A loud clap of thunder bolted Sarah from her disgruntled reverie. “Okay. Sorry. I’ll adjust my attitude.” Sarah set out her blue blanket and made a comfortable spot on the roof.

After receiving orders in The Heavenlies, she’d bolted back to Houston. Her new assignment, Carolyn Baker, lived here. Sarah sighed. At least this place was somewhat familiar. This city had been home base for several missions, and she’d grown fond of the inhabitants. From her spot on top of the building, she surveyed the city. Although she’d traveled around it many times, she never became totally at ease. This Texas city spread far and wide, and finding her way remained a constant problem.

Could Texas be any hotter, especially this time of year? The end of summer might be around the corner, and even though the human calendar read mid-September, heat lingered. Maybe Carolyn wanted to escape the extreme temperatures and thought sea breezes might be cooler.

“Guess I’ll find out if that’s true.” Sarah sighed and placed a hand in her robe to retrieve her briefings. She pulled the deep pouch inside-out, and then searched the pocket on the other side. “Not again! I must have lost the dossier. I did that on my first time around. Don’t tell me I’ve repeated that same mistake. Just what I need—already a problem and I haven’t even started the assignment.”

Sarah glanced upward again. “Mother Goodness, would you send someone down with the file on Carolyn Baker?”

No one appeared.

Sigh. Sarah sat down on her blanket to wait. She touched the freckle on her left wrist to adjust her body temperature. Too bad the humans possessed no powers to do that. Coolness settled over her, and she gazed skyward. Nothing and no one appeared.

Should she make another request? Sometimes answers from above came quickly, and at other times, they didn’t. Why wouldn’t The Heavenlies reply to all her urgent prayers? That question stayed a mystery. Reasons for not hearing back? Known only to the Almighty, but poopty doopty, the responses were sometimes difficult to wait for.

Her stomach growled. When had she eaten? Chef Andrew had prepared a delicious breakfast for her before she’d left—upscale coffee, cranberry muffins, omelet, and a waffle. Had breakfast been long ago? Such things were difficult to tell. Time didn’t register in The Heavenlies, but now on Earth, it seemed hours ago.

While she waited for the info on Carolyn, why not catch lunch? Uh-oh! Donning a human disguise remained a challenge. But she might as well kill time with a productive activity, and eating hit the list as one of her favorite events. Who to be this time?

She’d done relatively well when she appeared before as an elderly lady. Why not try that again? No one could see her atop this tower, so she felt a certain amount of freedom to assume a masquerade. With a flutter of her hand, Sarah colored her hair white and added several shimmering shades of blue to the sheen. She brandished it into a bun of sorts and perched the thingy on top of her head. Then she supplemented seventy pounds to her petite frame and slipped eyeglasses on. Now. What to wear?

She chose a green paisley dress, panty hose, and low-heeled, black orthopedic shoes. Okay—that should do it. After dropping from the roof, she surfaced inside the building. In the dimly lit area, the space appeared quite small.

Oops! She’d meant to appear on the street. Oh well. She was inside now. What location had she bopped into?

Judging from a dress hanging on a rack, she decided she must’ve relocated to some kind of interior closet. She wondered what might be behind the wooden door. She cautiously opened the access and ventured out.

“Hey! How did you get in there?” A man yelled at Sarah as he suddenly sat up in a bed.

A woman pulled a sheet up under her chin. “Who is that, Norman?”

“I have no idea.” The man threw a protective arm over the female lying beside him. “Lady, who are you, and what are you doing in our hotel room?”

Merciful heavens! What had she done? Think fast, Sarah. Make your voice sound crackly and old.

“Well, hello, young fella.” Sarah pushed the glasses higher on her nose. “The hotel sent me in to help a couple make a love connection. Do you need any advice? I’m a psychologist.”

“No, my wife and I are very happy—just trying to sleep late. Would you get out of our room, please?”

“Oh sure. Don’t bother showing me to the door. I’ll see myself out. Guess they gave me the wrong room. I counsel people who have problems, but ya’ll look blissfully married. Tootle-loo.” Sarah waved, opened the closet door and disappeared from view. She backed against the wall with her heart pounding, gulping air as if she’d run a marathon.

“What in the world? She went back into the closet.” Sarah heard the lady’s alarmed voice.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get that old bag out of here and you’d better believe I’m going to complain to the front desk.”

In her invisible, miniature form, Sarah watched the closet door burst open.

“What?” Norman squinted around the mostly empty closet. “Where did she go?”

Sarah held her breath.

“The closet is empty.” Wearing orange and white striped pajamas, the lady peered over her husband’s shoulder. “Did we dream her?”

“Both of us?” Norman sounded incredulous.

“What other explanation is there? She wasn’t in the closet when we checked in last night, and she isn’t there now.” The lady glanced at the outer door. “The door is locked and bolted.”

Norman scratched his head. “On second thought, I think I’ll keep quiet about this incident. Forget the complaint. I can’t think of a way to explain a disappearing granny who claims to make love connections.”

“Do you think those mushrooms we ate last night caused us to see things? They were sautéed in brandy, and we both thought they tasted odd.”

Norman rubbed his forehead. “No, I don’t think so. It was just a new dish, and the server assured us they were fresh. We might say we ate poisoned mushrooms, but that sounds nutty. No one would believe we had them in a reputable restaurant. Let’s keep this incident to ourselves.” He closed the door.

“Norman, I’m scared. Do you think we should go to the hospital and have our stomachs pumped?”

“Don’t worry, honey. We’re okay. I don’t know what just happened, but when we are as ancient as that woman who came out of the closet, we’ll tell our grandchildren the story. It oughta make a good fairy tale.”

 

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Fiona’s Knight of Dreams

The good ladies of Timber are ready to find a wife for their new single minister.  Charles has ideas of his own when he meets Fiona, the lovely accident-prone and outspoken part-time librarian. Fiona, on the other hand is holding out for a knight on a white charger to carry her away from her humdrum small town life. Fiona and Charles are thrown together as they begin to solve an old mystery which has turned up in a library book. Will Fiona’s white knight ever show up to sweep her away? Will Charles ever run out of invitations for cream cakes and lemon slice? Fiona might just discover the sound of hoof-beats when she least expects it.

 

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EXCERPT

Copyright 2015 © Sharon McGregor

 

“I can look to see who checked out the book last,” said Fiona,” but it was likely a long time ago. I mean, how many people would—” There she went again, putting her foot in her mouth. “I’ll check the records.” She clamped her mouth firmly shut before she could shoot herself in the foot again. She giggled a little. What was this fetish she was developing for feet?

She pulled out the pouch card for the book and looked up the member number in the card index. “Last time this book went out was nearly three years ago. It was checked out by Reverend Hamilton.”

“But my predecessor was Jonas Micklethwaite.”

“Yes, but he was only here for a couple of years. I think he got tired of small town life, or his wife did, and they moved to a larger place. Before him, it was Reverend Hamilton. He was here for…well, forever, just about. He christened me and my brother, too. Then his wife got sick and he had to look after her until…well, until she died. He was pretty much ready to retire then, he was quite old, and so he went over to Greenway to live with his daughter.”

“I wonder if these letters are important to him.”

“Well, let’s check,” said Fiona, sliding her nail under one flap.

“We can’t do that! They’re someone’s private letters!” Fiona gave a quick look at Reverend Redpath’s face and concluded the outrage in his words wasn’t echoed in the curiosity in his expression.

“And you call yourself a detective?” she said. Then she flushed as she realized this was her minister she was bantering with, not one of her friends.

“I don’t call myself a detective. You’d asked me why I didn’t become one. Anyhow, we can mail them to him in Greenway.”

“Look, this one isn’t even sealed,” said Fiona, picking up the other letter. “So they’re not really private.” She flipped it open and out popped a sheet of paper. She pushed it between them sideways on the counter so they could both read.

Ch9:15 Blessed be the woman who walketh by the banks of the river.

They exchanged puzzled looks.

“That’s strange,” Fiona spoke first.

“It’s definitely not biblical, I can’t recall that verse in the scriptures anywhere, but it was written by someone copying King James English.”

“It sounds like it comes from Psalms?” asked Fiona.

“It’s made to sound like a Psalm. But Psalm chapter nine verse fifteen is something quite different.”

“Maybe it’s a sort of code?” said Fiona, turning over the envelope. “It has a letter J on the front. Maybe it was a message for someone, James, or Jane, or Jack?”

“But why in code?”

“A rendezvous!” said Fiona. “It’s code for a lover’s tryst.”

“You read too many romance novels.”

“I do not! I read mysteries, and biographies, and even Shakespeare. Well, maybe the odd romance. Anyhow, it’s not a Bible verse, so why make it look like one? And, what is the real quotation? Maybe it’s a clue.”

“Psalm nine is written by King David and it’s a song of praise.”

“But the exact quotation?”

“I’ll have to look it up.”

“I thought ministers knew the Bible by heart.”

“Not all of it verbatim. Where do you have a Bible?”

Fiona took a quick run to the shelves and brought back a Bible with both the Old and New Testaments.

She handed it to Reverend Redpath who thumbed through it until he came to the right page. “‘The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made. In the net which they hid is their own foot taken.’ Not at all like the quote in the message.”

Fiona considered for a moment. “So, if 9:15 doesn’t refer to a Bible verse, it has another purpose. A time? Perhaps a 9:15 meeting?”

“You’re determined it’s a lover’s rendezvous, aren’t you?”

“Can you think of anything better?” Fiona retorted.

“I think you’re probably right about the time.” Then he grinned. It totally transformed his face from the ascetic one of an intellect to the curious one of a small boy about to start an adventure. Fiona had to smile in response. He went on. “But the jury’s still out on the purpose of the meeting.”

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A Dose of Danger

Her refuge invaded, her serenity shattered, her heart captured…

 When researcher, Grace Talbot, and her team discover a possible solution for weight loss, they become targets of a group dedicated to controlling the multi-billion dollar a year diet-product industry. Her unsanctioned testing methods bring tragedy to the family ranch, and the attention of the local sheriff’s deputy. With her colleagues dead, missing, and on the run, she soon realizes she must trust the deputy with her life, but can she trust him with her heart?

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EXCERPT

Copyright 2015 © Kim McMahill

The unmistakable haze of smoke filled the valley below. Snow covered the ground and weighed heavily on the pine boughs lining the highway, ruling out a forest fire as the source of the dark billows. The old rancher rolled down his window, despite the bitter cold, and inhaled deeply. The air smelled of fire, destruction, and death.

With the last switchback navigated, he shifted up and pressed the accelerator down as far as he dared while driving on icy roads. He tried not to let his imagination get the best of him, but couldn’t help but fear the worst. Someone, maybe even him, was suffering a loss.

As he approached the turnoff to his ranch, he realized immediately the nightmare was indeed his. Gunning the one-ton’s motor, he churned down the snow-covered dirt lane at such a rate of speed he didn’t even notice the fresh set of tire tracks cutting through the white powder—new tracks, since he’d left for town just hours before.

The large truck skidded to a stop. The rancher leapt out and raced toward the burning building, praying there were no animals inside. The real terror came as he realized his ranch manager was nowhere in sight. Hoses remained coiled up, hanging on a fence post, not connected to the spigot, as would be expected if anyone were attempting to control the blaze.

Flames and smoke poured out of the second-story loft, sucking the oxygen out of the air as he approached the now fully engulfed building. Grasping the handle on one of the barn doors, he yanked back with all his might. It didn’t budge. He could hear the crashing of timbers collapsing onto the floor and the crackling and popping of fire eating away the interior of the building. Throwing his shoulder into the solid wood, he could feel the intense heat through the door and his heavy winter coat.

Still nothing.

The situation made no sense. The large double doors had no lock and could, in fact, swing inward or outward. Glancing at the ranch manager’s house, he prayed his longtime friend and employee was sleeping through the chaos, but he knew better. If the startled cry of hens harassed by raccoons in the middle of the night could stir him, the fire would have drawn him out instantly.

Yelling at the top of his lungs, the old man got no response but inhaled a choking dose of smoke in the process. He doubled over as he tried to expel the smoke from his lungs and gather his strength. His eyes burned and his lungs ached as he backed up, giving himself a running start. He threw his body against the door, but the strong timbers held fast. After several more attempts to break through, he realized the futility in his efforts. As the heat, flames, and smoke intensified, he knew he had to act quickly. If anyone were inside, it might already be too late.

He ran toward the row of small windows on the side of the barn which allowed light into the stables. Each pane was high enough to prevent a horse from breaking the glass, and too small for an adult to crawl through. Sliding a metal five-gallon bucket close, he hoped to elevate himself enough to see if anyone was inside. The instant he got one foot on the bucket, the windows blew out, showering him with glass shards, burning his flesh and throwing him to the ground hard.

He rolled across the snow to extinguish the flames, which burned through his coat. He ignored the searing pain on every piece of exposed flesh. He struggled to his feet, grasping for a plan. Get the truck. Nothing can stop that beast. It will break through those doors, he thought as he turned away from the building.

Then everything went black.

 

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She must choose between love and duty…

 

A captivating tale of love and duty as the last princess of Meigen searches for her true purpose amidst conflict and betrayal.

It is 626AD, and the ancient Kingdom of Meigen is left vulnerable to neighboring Saxons. To unite the kingdoms and bring peace, Princess Alena must enter into a royal marital alliance. But when the handsome physician, Sherwin, befalls her, matters become complicated. Torn between obligations to her young son and country, she faces a difficult decision. Will Alena obey the king’s orders, or choose to follow her heart?

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EXCERPT

Copyright 2015 © Rachel James

Alena dropped the pot and pressed her hand to her chest. The bowl shattered on the floor, and the kitchen grew silent.

“Princess?”

She squinted hard to shut out the pain, but it was too intense.

“Just breathe, Alena. Try not to panic.”

That was the problem—she could not do either.

Strong arms picked her up and rushed her out of the smoky room and into her chamber. Gradually, her lungs filled with air, and the tightness eased. She opened her eyes and exhaled.

“Thank ye, Orvin,” she said to the manservant, “but I had it under control.” She pushed herself up with her elbows, only to be pushed back down again.

“Nay, Princess, rest here a while. Yer duties can wait.”

She frowned. The servants might understand, but the King did not. The Feast would commence shortly, and she needed to finish the table arrangements. “Tell ye what, fetch Tristan for me, he could assist.”

Orvin quirked an eyebrow. “Yer four-year-old laddie will not be able to help if ye have another attack.”

“Oh, he’s stronger than ye think. Now,” she rose to her feet and flashed him her sweetest smile, “off ye go.”

She gave him little time to protest, and shooed him out the door. She smiled to herself. The palace servants meant well even if they were overprotective at times.

She moved toward the window and inhaled the fresh air. Something wasn’t right. She sensed it. She’d have to be careful around the fires this eventide. Mayhap Tristan could fetch the items from the kitchen. Still, the Great Hall would not be much better with the meat roasting on spits.

“Mama, are ye well?”

She spun around at the sound of her son’s voice. “Oh, there ye are, laddie.” Alena took his tiny hand and placed in her own. “I wondered if ye’d help me this night. My chest is a wee bit troublesome.”

The little boy’s eyes grew wider. “Will it be a secret, like last time?”

She laughed. “Aye, ye’re not to inform the king or he might get cross.”

Tristan scratched his head. “How about Orvin—can we tell him?”

“I should think so…”

He let out a whistle. “Grand, I’m not verra good at keeping secrets from everybody.”

“Well then, shall we be going? I’ll need ye to help with flowers to begin with.”

“But that’s lassie work.”

Alena ruffled his hair. “The lifting is a man’s task, is it not?”

“Aye, I s’pose.”

They made their way down to the kitchen, now a hive of activity. The guests were to arrive shortly, and her father-in-law was sure to be worked-up.

“There ye are, Princess. The master is in a frightful mood. Ye’d best keep out of his way.”

Alena glanced up at the cook who was arm deep in bread dough. “Where is he?”

“Prowling the Great Hall as we speak.”

Dread filled her. “Is he angry with me?”

“I do not doubt it, although what about I’ve nay idea.”

She chewed her lip. Like it or not, she had to take the arrangements into the hall. If the King saw someone else doing her job, he’d be seething. But if she went in now…. She sighed. She’d have to face his wrath, either way.

She knelt down to Tristan’s level. “Ye stay here, do not let the King see you. Am I clear?”

“Aye, Mama.”

Her hand trembling, she picked up a bough of holly and ivy and headed for the Great Hall. Just before reaching the large oak doors, she remembered her hair. Alena dropped the decorations and quickly pinned up her fair-rose locks and covered them with a delicate veil. That was close.

She had hoped for an inconspicuous entrance. However, the smoke coming from the central spits caused her coughing to return. She tugged the material down over her nose and mouth.

She sensed his presence even before she turned around. “Sire,” she sputtered in-between coughs.

The man, hunched over the fire, appeared far older than his years.

“Why are ye not ready?”

She shuddered at his cold demeanor. “I-I thought ye wanted me to attend to the decor…”

“’Tis too late,” he whispered.

She sucked in her breath. “I’m sorry, sire. I was delayed…”

The King rose slowly and turned to face her. “Get changed. Ye need to look yer best.”

Alena frowned. What was he up to? He usually wanted her to blend in the background, not dress to impress. “Aye, sire, of course.”

“Make certain the boy is present also.”

She froze. “Tristan? Surely ye do not wish him at the Feast?”

“Ye question yer king?”

“Nay, sire.” She lifted her skirts, bobbed a half-hearted curtsy, and fled the room. She passed by the traveling minstrels and other servants bringing food in for the banquet. She didn’t have much time to get herself prepared.

She popped her head round the kitchen door. “Tristan. Come with me, please.”

Orvin followed behind Tristan. “Worry not, Princess. I’ll see to the decorations.”

Alena patted the sturdy man’s shoulders. “Thank ye, Orvin. What would we do without ye?”

The manservant grinned, revealing a mouth with missing teeth. “I’d hate to think. Will ye want Elsha to assist ye?”

“If she can be spared—the King has requested I make an effort, for some reason or another.”

Orvin nodded. “Aye, because of our visitors from Angularem.”

Alena halted. “And, pray tell, what consequence am I to them?”

Orvin shifted his feet and gazed at the ground.

“Orvin?”

He glanced up at her. “I know not for sure, although I overheard something about an alliance…through marriage.”

Alena stood, dumbfounded. “But I have been a widow for not even a year. I still officially mourn.”

“Aye, as do we, Princess. But the Saxon’s threat to invade Meigen increases daily. Our Kingdom will do well with a strong alliance.”

Her mouth dropped open. “Ye side with the king on this?”

“Surely ye’d be happier elsewhere.”

She swallowed. Mayhap even an unhappy marriage would be better than the predicament she found herself in at the moment.

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Amanda Running Scared

Someone wants her dead… But why?

 
When Amanda Vanderbilt is attacked at a party, she hides in a cowboy’s horse trailer to elude the masked man suddenly stalking her relentlessly.

Bruce Palmer is on a mission to pick up horses for his boss across country in Seattle. A loner, he wants nothing to do with the pretty blonde he finds stowed away.

But like it or not, he’s been lassoed into the mess, and it’s now his duty to protect her.

Who is the masked man and why is he chasing them in a semi?

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EXCERPT

Copyright 2015 © Georgina Sellwood

 

Run! Get away!

The man’s hands bit into Amanda Vanderbilt’s upper arms as she struggled and spat at his face, to no avail. The man wore a ski mask, but the opening around his eyes let her see the shape and color of them and how his thick, black eyebrows met above the bridge of his nose.

“Shut up and come with me,” her attacker growled. Her face stung where he’d hit her.

At the back of the garden, no one at the party would hear her. To scream was useless. Tears of frustration ran down her face as dance music floated on the wind.

“Let me go,” she yelled in desperation. What else could she do? She’d tried all the defensive moves she knew—kicking, biting, spitting, and there was only one thing left. She would have to hurt him.

She lifted her knee high and hard. The man fell like a stone, groaning and holding himself. Her blouse ripped as he grabbed at her on his way down.

“I’ll find you, Amanda. You can’t hide. I know where you and the doctor lived and I know you are living with your mother now,” he yelled.

The light from a street lamp shone through a gap in the hedge. She dove and crawled through the hole on hands and knees. Branches scraped her arms as dew from the grass ruined her clothes. She hobbled out of the hedge and struggled to cross the dark lawn on her broken shoe.

Was he coming? The hedge shook behind her. She gained her balance and hobbled on.

When she made it to the sidewalk, the broken heel of her Italian sandal clattered on the pavement. Her hand trembled when she raised her arm as she hailed an approaching New York cab. Thank heavens, it’d just pulled out of a driveway two doors away.

Footsteps pounded the ground behind her.

When the car stopped, she dove into the sanctuary of the backseat, holding the ripped pieces of her yellow silk blouse together. “Go,” she screamed, slamming the door and locking it.

Her breath came in ragged gasps while her head spun. The scent of citrus cologne lingered in the enclosed space, making her want to gag.

She met the cabbie’s wide-eyed stare in the rearview mirror. “Are you all right, lady?”

All right? Far from it. Who was that man who’d attacked her at the party? Kneeing him had given her the seconds she’d needed to get away. Her heart thudded against her ribs, and terror still gnawed at her nerves.

A week ago, she’d received the party invitation from a friend.

“Who’s that from?” her mother had asked, nodding at the scented, pink paper Amanda held in her right hand.

“Karin Rockefeller.”

“Well, surely you’re not going to refuse another one. You have to stop sitting around here moping and start getting out again. Brad was killed two years ago, and it’s time you get over it.”

Pain had stabbed Amanda’s heart after her mother’s insensitive remark. Depression had descended like a shroud, enveloping her. Didn’t her mother realize how much it hurt to lose her husband and move into her parent’s house with her three-year-old toddler, Monica? She had felt like a dog coming back with its tail between its legs. Did anyone her age return home to their mother?

She’d been in a fog of pain for—was it really two years?

She knew she had to make the effort. Get out and be active again. Karin’s party would be a good place to start. She wouldn’t know too many people there, and she wouldn’t have to put up with the gazes full of pity that she hated so much.

“You’re right, Mother. I’ll e-mail her today and accept.”

“Good. We’ll leave Monica with Consuela and I’ll take you to Fifth Avenue to shop after lunch.”

They’d found the perfect outfit, a yellow silk blouse and a matching skirt with a ruffle at the hem.

The party happened to fall on the staff’s day off and Mother was at an Arts Culture meeting, so she’d left Monica with a new babysitter. Monica had clung to her hand when Amanda dropped her off. For the last two years, she’d been by Amanda’s side almost constantly. Amanda had to pretend she didn’t see the tears gathering in her sweet baby’s eyes as she closed the door and walked to the waiting cab.

The driver sent another concerned glance over his shoulder, bringing her back to the present. “Lady, are you okay?”

“Yes.” The quiver in her voice made her sound far from convincing. “Go. Just go.” She swallowed, tamping back the tears that stung her throat and intensified, threatening to overwhelm her. As she bit her lip, fear beat in her chest and wouldn’t be controlled as easily as her urge to cry. She looked back. A shadowy figure broke through the hedge.

The gearshift clunked as they pulled away from the curb into the overcast night. The man, still bent over and holding himself, staggered after them. He chased the car a few steps, then stumbled and fell.

“Where to, miss?”

Where should she go? Certainly not home. The attacker knew where she lived. His last words haunted her. I’ll find you, Amanda. You can’t hide. I know where you and thedoctor lived, and I know you are living with your mother now.

Who wanted to hurt her? Obviously it had to be someone who knew her if he knew her address.

Her stomach rolled—she was going to be sick. She clutched at her chest and tried buttoning her blouse. It didn’t help, it was ruined. Ripped and stained. Anyone who saw her would know there’d been a struggle.

The cabbie’s hard gaze met hers in the rear view mirror. “Miss, I need an address. Where do you want to go?”

What should she do? Where could she go? Anywhere but to the police. When her husband had died, they’d put her at the top of the list of suspects, grilling her for months until her nerves nearly shattered. They still hadn’t found his killer, and if she brought this attack to their attention, they might resume interrogating her. As far as she knew, no one at the party had seen it happen, and the police were unlikely to put out an all-points bulletin for an unknown man wearing a ski mask.

She let out a frustrated sigh, trying to clear her confusion. She wouldn’t impose on her friends and relatives. What if she put them in danger? She couldn’t go home or stay in town. The attacker might be anyone, and he was coming after her. She clasped her hands to control their trembling. She wanted her toddler, Monica, with her, but that would be selfish and dangerous.

Amanda hadn’t been at the Rockefellers’ party long when a man had bumped into her. He’d bent to pick up her clutch and apologized for knocking it out of her hand. When he’d handed it back, his dark, empty eyes had set alarm bells ringing, but she’d ignored them.

She had thought her friends would be interested in reconnecting with her after her extended absence, but when she walked to the edge of several groups, they’d ignored her and kept talking amongst themselves. They had seemed indifferent to her wanting to reintegrate. It hurt. Maybe she had been out of their circle too long, or they were just too self-centered and spoiled to notice her.

The realization had hit her hard. She’d needed to get away before someone noticed the tears that were gathering and close to spilling. She walked to the end of the garden where she knew there was a three-person swing with a bench seat.

It’d turned out to be a bad decision, because that’s when the masked man had pulled her into the bushes. Thank goodness, she’d thought to use her knee.

She needed to get away to safety so she could make a plan.

“Do you want me to just drive around, or are you gonna give me an address?”

What about Monica, her little three-year-old angel? Much as she would have loved Monica to be with her, it was better to leave her where she was safe. No one would think of her being with her friend, Kate’s, babysitter. Monica had never stayed with Barb before. Not even Amanda’s mom would know to search for her there. Kate let Barb watch her children all the time, so she must be loving and reliable.

“Okay. Take me…umm, to the hotel on the highway,” she murmured, tasting the salt of her tears.

“It’s a bad time of night to be goin’ there and it’s gonna take a while.”

Amanda brushed at her expensive clothes, trying but unable to remove the dirt and grass stains. “Yes, but I have to get out of here. Will you drive me somewhere out of town?”

“Lady, it’s almost midnight. My shift is over soon. I can’t.”

Fresh tears stung the back of her eyes. An impossible situation. “Then, please…drop me at the nearest hotel out on the interstate.”

“Okay, miss, but that’ll cost you. I hope you know what you’re doin’.”

To pay the cabbie, Amanda peeled off a couple of bills from the meager cash in her diamond-studded clutch purse. She’d only taken enough money to get home.

“Stay safe. Don’t do nothin’ stupid.” The cabbie shook his head one last time before driving away.

Stay safe. It wouldn’t be easy. Gravel pelted her legs as he gunned the engine and sent the yellow cab streaking out of the lot and down the highway, leaving her alone in the hotel’s parking lot.

Opening her wallet again, she counted the bills. Not enough for the hotel. What was she going to do?

The sound of rumbling engines caused her to turn. Fear hitched her breath as she faced a multitude of parked tankers and semis. They appeared monstrous in the tinted lights of the truck stop next door. The echo of their engines and the stench of diesel brought to mind the scary, shape-shifting toys from her childhood.

Through the window, she saw two truckers sitting at the counter in the café. She shivered in the cold. Though tempted to order something hot to drink, she decided against it, not wanting to face their reactions to her torn and soiled clothes. Glancing in the direction of town, Amanda wondered if the masked man had recovered enough to hunt for her.

Would he look here? No, of course not, but she needed to find a safe way out of the area.

A truck with a horse trailer stood at the card-lock gas pump at the edge of the lot next to the hotel. She hobbled toward it on her broken sandal. She loved horses. Dreamed of living outside the city and having one of her own to ride someday. She thought if she could just pet one…

When she drew near, she saw there were no horses inside. Disappointment saddenedher.

A hunky cowboy with tanned skin and a handsome face started washing the windshield of the truck. She ducked along the far side of the trailer where he wouldn’t notice her.

Darkness shrouded this side of the animal carrier. She slipped along beside the horse stalls. This one—the type owners took to competitions, staying in them while they showed their horses—had living quarters at the front.

Unable to stop her body shaking and teeth chattering, she looked to the RV part of the trailer as a warm place, out of the chilly night air. She tried the handle and it clicked open. A wave of relief washed over her.

Just then, the cowboy, his black Stetson slung low shadowing his eyes, sauntered to her side of the truck to finish washing the window. Amanda tore the door open wider and dove inside.

It was hard to see in the dim light. Her left hand rested on a three-burner stove. She had grabbed the corner of it to hoist herself inside. The dark space on the counter next to it was probably a sink. Across from her, a sofa sat along the far wall.

Footsteps shuffled in the dirt along the side of the truck. He was coming her way. In a panic, she scrambled up into the double bed on her right, at the front of the trailer.

Her breath came in ragged gasps as boots scuffed the concrete outside. She burrowed into the untidy mess of covers on the bunk, to hide if the cowboy entered. The scent of the man clung to the sheets, and she tried to regulate her breathing.

He stopped a moment then continued. Kicking the tires on his way by, he made a circuit of the truck and trailer. She took a second to catch her breath.

The truck rumbled to life and she grabbed at the sheets for support. Should she jump out or stay?

While she debated, they bumped onto the highway. They moved far too fast for her to escape. Wherever this handsome man was going, she was going, too.

She hoped she hadn’t put herself in more danger by stowing away in this cowboy’s trailer.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

While reading the internet, Georgina found a quote that said, ‘If you write a page everyday you can have a novel in a year.’ Well it wasn’t that easy. She spent the next four years studying the craft of writing, taking courses and having other writers critique her chapters.  While taking a course, she was asked to find three publishers she’d like to submit to. The covers at Prism Book Group drew her in. The rest is history as they say Family Matters that she had been working on for two years was contracted. Having conquered sweet romance, she is now working on romantic Christian stories.

 

Hidden Storms

Outer storms, inner storms, and nowhere to hide…

~ 1938 ~

 

 

Lilli Clarke. They call her the marked girl. Beginning at her left shoulder, a pink birthmark tracks up her throat just past her jaw, like a finger pointing to her brain. Abandoned by her family, she is ostracized by everyone but her grandmother and cousin Bert, Six years of dust storms have left sixteen-year-old Lilli close to death with dust pneumonia. Now she must leave the only real home she’s ever had, or risk death when the next storm hits.

Lilli is sent to her aunt and cousins in Florida to recover. The possibility of a different life presents itself, yet circumstances snatch it away, and she flees to New York City. Unable to find a safe place, she yearns for the storm ravaged home she left. All doors appear to be closed to her, and she resigns herself to the lonely fate of a marked girl. Once again, she is close to death, this time with no one to help her. Will this storm prevail, or is there a new answer for Lilli?

 

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EXCERPT

Copyright 2015 © Nancy Shew Bolton

 

Maybe the silence woke me. Had I finally died? My eyes blink open and the ever-present grit hurts my eyeballs while I survey the room. The weathered clapboard walls and roof still stand. I lift a pale hand and study it. I’m still here, too.

The front door yawns open, and the two windows on either side are un-shuttered. A portion of cloudless blue sky shines above the flat, brown landscape. I draw in a shaky breath, relieved that only a slight rattle sounds in my chest. Voices flutter in from somewhere on the porch.

Gram says, “I decided. When she’s strong enough, I’ll send her to my sister.”

“What if Aunt Margaret don’t want her?” Cousin Gerald clears his throat. “Lilli’s bad luck. Cursed. Everybody knows that. She’s marked.”

If I had enough damp in my eyes, I might cry. How unfair people are. It always surprises me, though by now I should have wised up.

Gram’s sweet voice calms my flush of anger. “It’s wrong to blame her for things that happened. It’s not her fault. And I don’t believe in luck.”

“Aunt Helen, open your eyes. When bad things happen, you got to ask why. Cousin Sally lost her wits after she birthed Lilli. She was fine after she had Frank and Jasper. Then, after Lilli, there goes her right mind.”

“It’s not Lilli’s doing. I’ll never believe that.”

“Well, you’re the only one who don’t. This family’ll never live down what happened.” A chair leg scrapes and Cousin Gerald’s boots sound on the porch steps. “I’m glad she’ll be going, though, for your sake. You ain’t had a moment’s peace the years you’ve had her.”

My heart breaks for Gram. Maybe he’s right. Nothing has gone well for her since I came. The few pleasures she did enjoy have been stripped away. Invitations to social gatherings and friendly drop-by visits have dried up like the creek in our back yard. People avoid her, even at church, because she brings me there. They say God marked me, like Cain, though I never murdered anyone like he did. But murder followed me anyway, so they say.

God can smile on her once I leave. The slight, rhythmic thump of her rocker punctuates her humming of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”

His eye is on you, Gram. But He doesn’t care a lick about me. Why do I have to go live with Great-Aunt Margaret? I hardly know her, but she’ll hate me like everyone else does. Everyone except Gram and Bert. I heave out as big a sigh as I can manage and drift back to sleep.

The smell of food cooking wakes me and Gram’s soft singing from the porch makes me smile. Bert will come by soon, like he does every afternoon. I roll onto my side and sit up on the edge of the bed. Dust plumes up from the mattress and settles on the floor, coating my bare feet. I stifle a cough. If Gram knows I’m up, she’ll leave her singing and come see about me. Let her have a few moments of enjoyment.

“Lilli? You awake, hon?”

Oh, well. “Yes, Gram. I’m okay. Don’t need anything.”

She hustles in and settles her tall, spare frame next to me. Dust motes dance in the sunlight from the windows. The sight of her heart-shaped face and gentle, blue eyes always cheers me. I get my baby-fine, brown hair from her, and my blue eyes, but not her calm, even temper. Or her hopeful faith. She studies me and pats my left shoulder. Nobody else except Bert ever touches my marked shoulder.

“What you need is some water and food. Your cousin, Gerald, brought us a jackrabbit this morning and I fixed some stew. Think you could manage some?”

I nod. While she fetches a bowl and wipes the dust out of it, Bert’s tall body comes into view across the yard.

“Best dish up some more, Gram. Bert’s coming.”

He stands in the doorway and grins at me. Though adopted by Cousin Gerald as a toddler, Bert acts more like family to me than my own ever did. “Well, well. She lives, after all. You finished scarin’ Auntie?”

Gram clucks her tongue at him. “Let her eat something before you rile her with teasing.”

“She must be better if she’s up to getting riled.”

Gram chuckles. “Sit down and have some stew with us. Your daddy brought us a jackrabbit.”

Bert pulls out one of our chairs and parks himself. Heads bowed, Gram gives thanks while I peek at Bert’s dusty head and shoulders. Years of short rations had carved any extra flesh off his sturdy body. We all look the same now, rangy as starved wolves.

The watery jackrabbit and turnip stew is devoid of fat, like we are. Fat. The days of butter melting on vegetables, glasses of creamy milk, and stews made with fattened meat, are the stuff of fond memory now. The crispy fat of a pork chop haunts my dreams. If it weren’t for food relief, we’d live on thistles.

Bert slurped his stew and thankfully refrained from any jokes about how dust improved the flavor. “Sam Gordon up and left. Must have gone before this last storm.”

Gram nodded, her face drawn down in sorrow. “I figured, once he lost his boy, he’d leave. He looked mighty sick at the funeral. Poor soul.”

Though hungry, I had to force down the stew. What’s the sense of hanging on? How many more awful stories can I bear, how many more storms? If I had the strength, I’d jump up from the table and run, past all the dust. Faster than an automobile. I’d outrun all of it. But not without Gram or Bert. Does she hang on for me, the way Sam Gordon had for his last living child? With my family gone, she wants to leave the farm to me. She says someone with our blood has to remain.

But there is no farm. Only acres of dust. Once she sends me from here, will she give up? No, she’ll still have Cousin Gerald and Bert. And all the folks in town will come around again once I’m gone. I can see that. They’ll greet her at church the way they used to, with big smiles, not the careful nods they dish out now.

I’m tired of it all. Tired of being judged. When I go, Bert and Gram won’t have to stick up for me anymore or try to keep me alive. At least I have that much to hold on to.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Shew Bolton is a wife of 41 years, mother of five grown sons, and grandmother to a boy and girl. Ever since she learned to write, she would jot down her thoughts and impressions in little snippets of inspiration in the form of poetry, song lyrics, or short essays. About six years ago, she decided to try her hand at writing a full-length book. She’s since written five works of fiction, two non-fiction, and is working on an idea for a children’s book, as well as more fiction manuscripts. Writing a full-length work is much more challenging than she thought, and she has received so much valuable assistance from other writers, especially from the ACFW critique groups. Her husband has been supportive of her long hours spent at the keyboard. Many thanks to her beloved Johnny! She thanks God and His Son for her life, her loved ones and the spark of creativity inside every person. She believes each person is a unique creation, with their own special voice and place in this amazing universe. God’s handiwork amazes her every day!

 

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Pesto and Potholes

Renata tries escape her past and runs straight into . . . love.

 

Renata Blake has moved to the Milwaukee area to leave behind a painful past as a victim of abuse. She discovers a family like she’s never had before, at Orchard Hill Church and is drawn to handsome Packer fanatic, Antonio. After all she’s suffered through, could she ever trust a man again?

Antonio DeLuca has a full life with his family, church and his job as chef and manager at DeLuca’s Cucina. Having been betrayed in love, he is afraid to trust a woman again. How would he fit her into his already full life anyway?

As circumstances draw them together and attempt to tear them apart, life becomes a combination of savory pesto and painful potholes as both Tony and Renata learn that with God’s help, and the support of a faith community, they can both learn to love again.

And maybe fight a few ninjas along the way.

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EXCERPT

Copyright 2015 © Susan M. Banagz

August 2008

Renata placed the last candlestick on the table. The pastor had told her to submit. Be kind and cheerful for her husband. She hadn’t had time to change out of her work clothes, but had at least put on lipstick and combed her hair. She was bursting to tell Mick the news.

The click of the doorknob sent a shiver of fear up her spine. How can a doorknob…? Peace, Renata, God will not abandon you.

Mick strode in. She smiled at him. “I’m glad you’re home, Mick. I have something to tell you.”

He scowled at her, and she swallowed her fear. The cold look in his eyes chiseled away at her joy. “I went to the doctor today for an ultrasound. We’re having a girl!”

The force of the slap he delivered snapped her neck back. She should have anticipated it from the look in his eyes. She had prayed he would come around to being happy about being a father. She had hoped for a miracle for their marriage. “But Mick—” she cried.

He mimicked her in a high voice. “But Mick.” He slapped her again. “Don’t expect me to be happy. A girl? You thought I’d want a girl? Even if I wanted a kid, the last thing I’d want is a girl.”

“Please, Mick—” She was pleading now. She dared to look up at him. God, please, help me.

His hand came up, and she shrank back. Warm moisture flowed out of her nose as his fist withdrew. He grabbed her hair and jerked her head with such force she saw stars. She struggled to stay on her feet as he dragged her to the living room and tossed her like a rag doll to the floor.

She gasped for air as his steel-tipped boots ravaged her side, her stomach, her back. She lost track of any specific pain. Everything hurt. She tried to curl up. Please, please don’t hurt my baby. God, rescue me!

A final kick to the head was the last thing she remembered as she slid into darkness.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan M. Baganz chases after three Hobbits, and is a native of Wisconsin. She is an Acquisitions Editor with Prism Book Group, specializing in bringing great romance novels and novellas to publication. Susan writes adventurous historical and contemporary romances with a biblical world-view.

Her stories have been featured in in Splickety Magazine and in the I Choose Youanthology with OakTara Press. This is her first contemporary romance novel in the Orchard Hill Series, the second, Salsa and Speedbumps, will follow. She is represented by Mary Sue Seymour for her adventurous Regency Romances.

Susan speaks, teaches, and encourages others to follow God in being all He has created them to be. With her seminary degree in counseling psychology, a background in the field of mental health, and years serving in church ministry, she understands the complexities and pain of life as well as its craziness. She serves behind-the-scenes in various capacities at her church. Her favorite pastimes are lazy…snuggling with her dog while reading a good book, or sitting with a friend chatting over a cup of spiced chai latte.

You can learn more by following her blog www.susanbaganz.com, her Twitter feed @susanbaganz or her fan page, www.facebook.com/susanmbaganz.

 

 

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