Monthly Archives: May 2009

First Wild Card Tours- Firstborn

<a href="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SAad94Trj7I/AAAAAAAAArA/Yn05_E4V0fY/s1600-h/wild+card.jpg"><a href="http://firstwildcardtours.blogspot.com/"><img id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5190009307003588530" style="FLOAT: left; MARGIN: 0px 10px 10px 0px; CURSOR: hand; TEXT-ALIGN: center" alt="" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SAad94Trj7I/AAAAAAAAArA/Yn05_E4V0fY/s200/wild+card.jpg&quot; border="0" /></a></a>It is time for a <span style="color:#990000;"><strong><a href="http://firstwildcardtours.blogspot.com/">FIRST Wild Card Tour</a></span></strong> book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! <span style="color:#990000;"><strong>Enjoy your free peek into the book!</strong></span><br /><br /><span style="color:#cc0000;"><em>You never know when I might play a wild card on you!</em></span><br /><br /><br /><div align="center"><strong>Today’s Wild Card author is: </strong><br /></div><br /><div align="center"><strong><span style="font-size:180%;color:#cc0000;"><a href="http://firstbornnovel.blogspot.com/">Conlan Brown</a></span></strong><br /></div><br /><p align="center"><strong><span style="font-size:180%;color:#cc0000;"><span style="font-size:100%;color:#cc0000;">and the book:</span> </span></strong><br /></p><br /><p align="center"><strong><span style="font-size:180%;color:#cc0000;"><a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1599796074">The Firstborn</a></span></strong><br /></p><p align="center">Realms (May 5, 2009)<br /></p><br /><div align="left"><strong><span style="font-size:130%;color:#333399;"><span style="color:#cc0000;">ABOUT THE AUTHOR:</span> </span></strong></div><br /><br /><a href="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/Sg9iQI-BlhI/AAAAAAAACwo/x1t3PENj-2E/s1600-h/Conlan_Brown_-_(17_1).jpg"><img id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5336592112882390546" style="FLOAT: left; MARGIN: 0px 10px 10px 0px; WIDTH: 134px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 200px" alt="" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/Sg9iQI-BlhI/AAAAAAAACwo/x1t3PENj-2E/s200/Conlan_Brown_-_(17_1).jpg" border="0" /></a>By the end of his sixteenth year Conlan Brown had completed his first novel, his first stage play, and his first year of college. Brown now holds a Master’s degree in Communication and lives on Colorado’s Front Range where he is working on his next book. He enjoys video editing, film scores, and developing high octane, thought provoking fiction that turns pages and excites the senses.<br /><br />Visit the author’s <a href="http://firstbornnovel.blogspot.com/">website</a&gt;.<br /><br />Product Details:<br /><br />List Price: $13.99<br />Paperback: 311 pages<br />Publisher: Realms (May 5, 2009)<br />Language: English<br />ISBN-10: 1599796074<br />ISBN-13: 978-1599796079<br /><br /><span style="color:#cc0000;"><strong><span style="font-size:180%;">AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:</span> </strong><br /></span><br /><br /><a href="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/Sg9j2c5r6CI/AAAAAAAACww/POcj4RpJQOc/s1600-h/firstborn"><img id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5336593870579558434" style="FLOAT: left; MARGIN: 0px 10px 10px 0px; WIDTH: 90px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 135px" alt="" src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/Sg9j2c5r6CI/AAAAAAAACww/POcj4RpJQOc/s200/firstborn&quot; border="0" /></a> <div style="OVERFLOW: auto; HEIGHT: 307px">The door to the gas station opened with a tinny gling, the antiquated bell chiming as Devin entered the store. The sound was a testament to the essence of the small backwoods town. At best it was quaint; at worst it was a sign of dilapidation in the middle of snowy nowhere.<br /><br />As he entered he picked up one of the newspapers by the door, reading the headline: Holy Man Murdered Outside of Ohio Mosque—Imam Basam Al Nassar Shot to Death in Car.<br /><br />The person behind the counter was a young man. He was too old to be a boy, but he hardly exuded an aura of maturity. He was blond, with shaggy hair that hung in his eyes. Lips, nose, eyebrows, and ears were all pierced. The Virgin Mary was tattooed on the side of his neck. He didn’t seem to notice Devin’s approach at first, until the clipping sound of expensive shoe heels were within feet of the counter. The checker looked up, face startled.<br /><br />Devin was used to it. His skin was black, which meant he looked different from the locals. The result was distrust. He didn’t like it, but he didn’t sink to showing it—no sign of weakness. Instead he advanced with purpose, stopping at the counter.<br /><br />“Can I help you?” the checker asked, eyes darting over the new face.<br /><br />Devin said nothing, simply sliding a crisp fifty-dollar bill across the glass.<br /><br />The checker nodded through his unsettled demeanor. “Just the gas?” he asked.<br /><br />“And the newspaper,” Devin said, voice articulate and commanding. Then something changed. He felt it in his stomach this time. No images, just the sinking feeling of finality and irreversible death:<br /><br />Soon. Too soon.<br /><br />Not days or hours.<br /><br />Now.<br /><br />His cellular phone came open with a snap.<br /><br />—no signal—<br /><br />Devin reached into his wallet, swiftly removing and writing on a business card before sliding it across the glass countertop. He tapped his index finger on the card, indicating the neatly written script across its back. He tightened his vocal cords, voice intense.<br /><br />“I need you to call the police. Tell them to send a car to this address. A woman’s life is in danger. Do you understand?”<br /><br />Devin was looked over skeptically. “That all depends on what you have in mind. What’s your business here?”<br /><br />Small towns, Devin thought cynically. People always talked about the joys of small town living, but he personally found it infuriating—nosy people who didn’t trust you if they hadn’t grown up with you. At least in the city you had a reason not to trust each other.<br /><br />“Do it,” he said with a commanding edge, “and do it now.” He left the store, pushing through the curtain of early-spring snow.<br /><br /><br />The young man behind the counter looked over the letters, taking a moment to let the information sink in. He brushed his thumb anxiously across his lower lip, shifting a piercing. “Hey . . . ” His voice dragged inarticulately. “Hey, Gary.” The checker lifted his head, calling to the far end of the gas station near the refrigerators on the back wall.<br /><br />“Yeah?” a voice called back.<br /><br />“Come here.”<br /><br />A gruff-looking man with a craggy face approached the counter. “What is it?”<br /><br />“That guy just told me to have the cops sent here,” the checker said, handing over the business card.<br /><br />Gary looked it over, thinking for a second. “I know this place,” he said with a nod. “Outsiders trying to tell us how to run our own town,” he growled, then crumpled the card in his fist.<br /><br /><br />The eggs were burning.<br /><br />Brett cursed quietly under his breath as he reached for the skillet, trying to keep breakfast from turning to coal.<br /><br />The kitchen phone rang.<br /><br />He lifted it from the cradle, positioning it snugly between his shoulder and cheek as he fought with the eggs, waving smoke away with a towel.<br /><br />“Yeah?” he said through a cough.<br /><br />“This is Gary.”<br /><br />“Hi, Gary; how can I help you?”<br /><br />“Some guy just came by the gas station. Black fella, nice suit, fancy coat—looked like he might work for the IRS or something.”<br /><br />Brett paused. “Did he say what he wanted?”<br /><br />“He wanted somebody to send the cops over.”<br /><br />“Why?” Brett stammered, eyes moving toward the CCTV monitor on the countertop.<br /><br />“Didn’t say.”<br /><br />“Do you think he’s headed here now?”<br /><br />“Don’t know.”<br /><br />Brett continued to stare into the monitor. “How long ago did he leave?”<br /><br />“Just a second ago.”<br /><br />He watched as the black-and-white screen flickered: it showed the image of the girl as she sat tied to her chair in the dark basement room below, hair hanging across her bowed face, morose from her captivity. “I can’t talk right now,” Brett said shortly, then hung up.<br /><br />This was a problem.<br /><br /><br />Hannah’s head hung, long brown hair in her eyes.<br /><br />Her face felt pasty with cold, fatigue, and pain. Dark lumps covered her body, swelling bruises on her cheek and forehead from rough treatment. Arms behind her back, she sat in a chair, wrists and ankles tied to the wooden frame, chair legs bolted to the floor.<br /><br />The room was dark. Mattresses and foam padding lined the walls and windows to soundproof the basement room. Tan foam lined the seams between sound-buffering pads, rippling in imperfect bubbles and waves, frozen solid in time as it had been spewed from an aerosol canister. A tiny security camera was fixed in an upper corner.<br /><br />Time stood still for her. One long unbroken moment of darkness and fear was all that filled her memory. Hours? Days? Weeks? She had no perception of how long she had been there. They had turned on lights at moments, brilliantly hot and bright, stabbing at her eyes, then extinguished them for what could have been days on end.<br /><br />Every time she fell asleep they woke her. Feedings were sporadic—two meals she knew could have only been forty-five minutes apart. Judging time had been easier when they were still playing music—something they had done to make sure she couldn’t hear them until they realized how well they had soundproofed her room. The length of the songs had given her a perception of time, but now that measure was gone, and her sanity was going with it.<br /><br />Hannah had been raised in a conservative Christian home. It was something she had taken at varying degrees of seriousness throughout the phases of her life, but here, now, in the abyss, in her hour of darkness, she clung to it.<br /><br />At first her prayers had been specific, personal, and directed to God as if He were standing right in front of her. Now she was tired, her mind swimming. Her lips mumbled out a tiny incoherent appeal, begging for rescue, pleading for light, imploring for continued safety, hoping upon terrified hope that the sanctity of her body would not be violated. Through her pleas she felt God draw closer and her sanity slip further away.<br /><br />She was hallucinating. She had to be, seeing things that had happened long ago or not at all—and she felt it coming on again. It had been different each time, but she always felt it coming. This time it was a taste, like the bright tang of a penny in her mouth.<br /><br />Then she began to see things that weren’t there—<br /><br />A cold car.<br /><br />An Islamic holy man praying for forgiveness that Allah, the merciful and just, would have pity on him. He had recruited young, innocent Palestinian men to bind explosives to themselves—to walk into crowds of Israelis—to kill—and to die.<br /><br />He had failed for years to free Palestine from Israel.<br /><br />He was an American now, the imam of a small Ohio mosque. A man of peace.<br /><br />Sitting in the car, waiting for it to warm up.<br /><br />Thoughts of his sons—wanting to kiss them before they went to sleep.<br /><br />A pedestrian in a heavy coat walking in the direction of his car.<br /><br />Eye contact.<br /><br />The man reached into his jacket.<br /><br />—a gun—<br /><br />Panic.<br /><br />Clawing at the car door—trying to escape. The first bullet punching through the glass.<br /><br />Pain. Skin breaking. Muscle splitting. Bone shattering.<br /><br />Horror. Pain. Grief. Screaming.<br /><br />The windshield blistering with holes.<br /><br />Thoughts of his wife—of his children.<br /><br />Body torn to pieces by the striking of lead.<br /><br />Darkness.<br /><br />Minutes later a jogger in the middle of the street, stammering into his cell phone. “The windshield is filled with bullet holes and there’s blood . . . everywhere!”<br /><br />It all came over her like a flood, a pouring out of pictures in her mind. But then there was one more thing. Not an image, but a feeling—that half a continent away someone else had felt it all happening too.<br /><br /><br />The sedan thundered down the wet, snowy dirt road. White snow, brown mud, and ashen gravel kicked up and out from the sides of the vehicle. The silver automobile cut through the road’s debris like a blade as the surrounding world blurred into fleeting streaks.<br /><br />A midsize luxury sedan with a manual transmission—as always, the vehicle of choice the rental company had in his file. Devin had rented it at the airport expecting to have more time, but he didn’t. He hadn’t expected to cut it so close, but there was no reasoning with it now. All he could do was drive, hands gripping the wheel as if he had to wrestle the sedan to the ground like a beast.<br /><br />The snow had stopped falling for the moment, and that helped—a little. But what a horrid frozen wasteland to be trapped in. Back home in New York, spring had already begun—sunshine all over. But he had to be called here: to the only place in the entire continental United States to have a blizzard, where snow had fallen in buckets and the sun hadn’t been seen in days.<br /><br />To his right Devin saw the house appear over the horizon as the silver car glided up the hill. Five minutes at the most. He was almost there. He checked his phone again and snarled—too far from any kind of cell tower—a snowy wasteland.<br /><br />Somewhere in the back of his mind he focused himself, aligning his will and his strength in faith. Some would call it a prayer. Devin resisted that word prayer. To him it was a necessary requisitioning of needed resources—spiritual or otherwise, it didn’t matter.<br /><br />It was his thoughts narrowing into a finely focused, single-minded bolt of mental force, preparing for imminent havoc.<br /><br /><br />Hannah’s mind swam.<br /><br />She saw him as her world dissolved to white.<br /><br />Tall, handsome, dark skin.<br /><br />Sitting at a dinner party.<br /><br />Pausing. Something changing.<br /><br />A thought or epiphany.<br /><br />The man boarding a plane.<br /><br />Searching for . . . <br /><br />Her.<br /><br />Strikingly handsome in an olive-colored suit that seemed to radiate class, money, and power. His frame stood strong in the midst of the frozen breeze, his tight muscular body accented by the hang of the trench coat over his strong shoulders.<br /><br />He had been afraid for her, more than just for her captivity; for something far more treacherous. She paused. How afraid should she be for herself?<br /><br /><br />Brett growled in anger. It was really fear, but he denied it by letting it bubble out in a swell of wrath.<br /><br />“I should never have let you use my home!” He was frantic, nearly wringing his hands. “This can’t be happening!”<br /><br />Snider and Jimmy stared at him, unmoved. They didn’t take him seriously. They thought he was prone to panic, that was all.<br /><br />“Calm down,” Jimmy said sarcastically.<br /><br />“Calm down? Calm down?” His face burned. “We’ve got a girl in the basement. That’s kidnapping! And this fella’s gonna bring the cops!”<br /><br />Snider, middle-aged and dressed in black, stepped forward. “And what if he’s not?” He was the leader, the one who had approached Brett, offered him money for the use of his home. Brett knew he had a reputation for being somewhat shady, but Brett liked money. And now things were getting serious.<br /><br />“If you don’t settle down, you’re going to look suspicious,” Snider continued. “And then what will you do when he really does bring the cops?”<br /><br />Brett waved his hands nervously. “This has gotten out of hand. We can’t do this anymore.”<br /><br />“What do you suggest?” Snider asked. “That we dispose of her?”<br /><br />There was a long silence as they all looked at one another; then Brett turned sharply, heading for his room.<br /><br />“Where are you going?” Snider asked.<br /><br />Brett called back, “I’ll deal with this!”<br /><br /><br />The turn was a blind corner, covered by snow. Devin slammed on the brakes, and the car lost control.<br /><br />The back end of the car swung wide, losing traction in the slick of white. The tires left wide swaths of grime as the side of the car crunched into a pack of snow. Devin worked the sedan into gear and eased into the gas—the engine revved, the vehicle rocked, but he didn’t move forward. He gave the pedal a futile stomp, but he knew all he was doing was chopping ground into snowy pulp.<br /><br />His eyes lifted, mind calculating the distance—maybe a hundred or so meters. He shoved the door open and climbed out into the snow. Cold ran up his foot, into his throat. It wasn’t the cold of the snow; it was—<br /><br />Panic. Anger. Desperation.<br /><br />Blam. Blam. BLAM!<br /><br />The killer’s face, covered with relief.<br /><br />His foot slipped, his body nearly going down. It had snowed again the night before, and the snow was as deep as three feet in some places. Devin lifted his burning legs, body heaving forward through the thick mass beneath him.<br /><br />He’d done forced marches before. Ten years of military life had provided him with everything he needed in this moment, everything he’d ever needed to live this life.<br /><br />Devin looked up.<br /><br />Almost there.<br /><br /><br />Beretta 9mm.<br /><br />Shimmering blue steel nestled in a form-fitting glove of padding. The scent of gun oil wafted from the case, sweet and lethal. Brett lifted the firearm, felt its weight as he removed a magazine swelling with a full allowance of rounds and thrust it into the grip’s base.<br /><br />“What are you doing?” Snider demanded from behind as he cursed in exasperation.<br /><br />Brett snapped the safety off, shoving past Snider toward the door. Snider shoved back, slamming Brett’s shoulder blades into the wall.<br /><br />“Let go!”<br /><br />“Answer me!” Snider shouted, face filled with wrath. “What do you think you’re going to do with that?”<br /><br />Brett’s face burned with reckless emotion. “This is my house. I’m going to protect myself my way!” He stared into furious, unforgiving eyes.<br /><br />“I swear if you do anything stupid I will put you in the ground!”<br /><br />Brett shoved back to no avail. A third voice called from the hall.<br /><br />“Hey, guys. There’s somebody coming.”<br /><br /><br />Snider moved to the window, betraying none of his worry. To his left Brett leaned, hand resting against the window frame, twitching with near-frantic energy.<br /><br />The man outside was coming up the snowy drive, drawing closer and closer.<br /><br />“This is bad,” Brett said again. “This is very bad.”<br /><br />“Calm down,” Snider ordered. “I’ll deal with this.”<br /><br />“We’ve got to get rid of the girl.”<br /><br />Snider shook his head. “Do you want him to find the girl or a dead body?”<br /><br />Brett groaned, agonized.<br /><br />“That’s not the answer.”<br /><br />“Then what do you suggest?”<br /><br />Snider went calm, looking at the other two men. “Let our visitor in—”<br /><br />Brett tried to protest.<br /><br />“—then kill him.”<br /><br /><br />Devin reached out to the door with an ebony hand.<br /><br />Frantic whispers slipped through the door. They were stalling.<br /><br />The door opened, and a middle-aged man in black jeans, a black button-up shirt, and a tan undershirt looked back at Devin.<br /><br />Devin smiled disarmingly. “Good morning, sir. I hate to say it, but it looks like I might have been driving too fast for the conditions. I seem to have slipped into the snow.” Devin pointed back over his shoulder to the sedan’s front end consumed by a drift. “My cell phone isn’t getting a signal, and I was wondering if I could use your phone.”<br /><br />The man looked past Devin, examining the buried vehicle in the distance. “We can help you dig that out.” He gestured toward a younger man standing behind him.<br /><br />“Thank you.”<br /><br />The man stepped aside welcomingly. “My name’s Snider. You look completely frozen—why don’t you come in and warm up? I’ll pour you a cup of coffee. There’s a fireplace in the next room if you want to sit there for a few minutes before we dig out your car.”<br /><br />“Thank you, sir.” Devin stepped across the threshold, knocking the snow from an expensive shoe. The interior carpet was factory standard beige, the walls white. Devin’s eyes scanned the room, looking for any hint of the girl. He remembered what he’d seen. She had to be in the basement, but for now he was just going to have to see what he was up against.<br /><br />Snider squared up to Devin. “Jimmy here can take that wet jacket of yours and put it in front of the fire to dry it out.”<br /><br />Jimmy reached for Devin’s trench coat.<br /><br />“Thank you,” Devin said, as he felt strong arms grab his own—restraining him from behind.<br /><br />He threw his weight back, shoving against Jimmy. Fighting. Struggling. Lashing out.<br /><br />Throwing his weight back he lifted his legs, heel landing in Snider’s chest with a thud, sending the man crashing back. The man behind him spun him and the world blurred. Devin kicked backward, going for the knee—<br /><br />Something jammed into his neck, hard.<br /><br />He tried to fight. Tried to knock it away. A repetitive, electric clicking.<br /><br />Too late.<br /><br /><br />Brett heard the fighting and the sound of dead weight hitting the floor as he ran back up the stairs, Beretta in hand. The intruder lay on the floor, limp. Brett’s hands began to shake.<br /><br />“We’ve been found,” he said, voice anxious and wavering.<br /><br />Jimmy groaned. “Shut up, Brett.”<br /><br />Brett’s face flushed, his ears turning bright pink. “No. I’m not going to shut up,” he shouted, gripping his pistol. “This is bad. This is very, very bad, and we’re neck-deep in it.”<br /><br />“Knock it off.”<br /><br />“No. We’re all going to go to prison. Do you understand that?”<br /><br />“It was just one guy—”<br /><br />“—who’s now lying limp on my floor!” Brett’s tone raised an octave.<br /><br />Snider knelt over the intruder’s slumped form. “Take him to the lake in his car. Make it look like he lost control and went in.”<br /><br />“Like an accident?” Jimmy clarified.<br /><br />Snider nodded. “These roads can be treacherous in snowy conditions.”<br /><br />Brett watched as Jimmy hoisted the intruder over his shoulder, heaving him out the front door. “You know the police are going to tie this back to me.”<br /><br />“Calm down,” Snider snapped.<br /><br />“Stop telling me to calm down. They’re not going to tie this to you. They’re going to tie this to me.”<br /><br />Snider ran a hand through his hair wearily. “Where’s breakfast?”<br /><br />“Don’t try to change the subject. This is serious!”<br /><br />“Finish breakfast,” Snider ordered as he moved down the hall, back turned.<br /><br />“Don’t you walk away from me!” Brett blustered as he stomped after him, gun in hand. “I’m talking to you!” He reached out, putting a hand on the black-clad shoulder, then felt it twist as Snider spun.<br /><br />Brett doubled over with his arm cocked violently in the air, wrist screwed in an unnatural direction, a strong hand shoving his shoulder down like a fulcrum. A knee to his stomach and the pistol hit the carpet.<br /><br />Snider came close to Brett’s ear. “You do not talk to me that way”—his tone was soft but ferocious—“or so help me you’ll find yourself in the lake next to our uninvited guest here. Got it?”<br /><br />Brett felt like his arm was about to be torn from its socket.<br /><br />“Got it?”<br /><br />Brett didn’t say anything; he only groaned in agony. A whimper escaped him; then he felt the force of the floor as Snider gave a brutal shove. He lay there, groaning, carpet pressed to his cheek as he watched Snider scoop up the pistol and walk away.<br /><br />Jimmy came back in the front door and Snider handed off the Beretta, then looked back at Brett.<br /><br />“Finish breakfast. I’m hungry.”<br /><br />Brett sat up, leaning his aching body against the wall, seething. He touched his nose. Blood.<br /><br />His shaking hands clenched.<br /><br /><br />Hannah listened intently. They’d done a good job of soundproofing the room, but there was only so much foam and mattresses could keep out. She held her breath, trying to hear more.<br /><br />It had sounded like fighting. Shouting mostly, but things hit the walls, shaking the beams down to her shadowy basement.<br /><br />There wasn’t much time for her, she supposed. They were getting desperate. What little she could make out from the tone of the shouting told her that. They weren’t going to keep her around much longer. That was certain.<br /><br />What was the point? Two decades of living. She was nineteen years old and alone. A college freshman, living in the dorms, failing to adapt. Her roommate liked to drink and liked guys even more—Hannah had come home to find a “do not disturb” sign hanging from her own door at least once a week all semester, forcing her to sleep on a couch in the downstairs commons. The food in the dining halls was bad, the company worse. All she had wanted was to go home.<br /><br />She didn’t want to be a college graduate with a career. All she wanted was to meet a nice man and love him, feed him, raise his children. It was an old-fashioned and naïve desire, all her professors and friends had told her that, but still it was the life she wanted.<br /><br />She wanted peace and quiet and love and cookies made for her children—not an education or a life in the fast lane, but her<br />grandfather had made her go, wanting her to get a degree in business so she could make the family business more profitable.<br /><br />The sensation was in her temples this time—soft images blending one to another.<br /><br />Her eighth birthday party.<br /><br />She wore a cowgirl hat and boots.<br /><br />A chocolate cake with sprinkles.<br /><br />The number eight embedded in frosting, a single flame rising from the wick.<br /><br />Her friends smiling.<br /><br />Her childhood dog, Max, licking her face.<br /><br />Bees.<br /><br />The stinging all over her.<br /><br />Crying in her grandfather’s arms.<br /><br />—her grandfather’s arms.<br /><br />Hannah lifted her head. She wanted to live.<br /><br /><br />Snider dialed the phone.<br /><br />“Yes?” his employer said across the line.<br /><br />“It’s me.”<br /><br />There was a pause. “What do you need?”<br /><br />“Some guy started snooping around.”<br /><br />Silence.<br /><br />“I think it’s time you told me exactly why you hired us to kidnap the girl.”<br /><br />“I’m sorry, but I can’t—”<br /><br />“I swear, we’ll kill her now.”<br /><br />There was another pause.<br /><br />“Are you watching the news?”<br /><br />“Do you mean the murdered imam?”<br /><br />“Yes.”<br /><br />“Are you guys responsible for that?”<br /><br />“We need control of our situation.”<br /><br />“And the girl’s kidnapping provides you with that?”<br /><br />“We’ll double your money.”<br /><br />Snider sneered. “We’re now connected to a politically charged killing. You’ll triple our money, and you’ll have the rest of it for us tonight, because after that we’re sending her back in a garbage bag!”<br /><br /><br />Devin’s thoughts floated.<br /><br />Confused—in the front seat of the car. The car hood breaking the ice, plunging into the water.<br /><br />The windshield cracking—leaking. Breaking. Cold water spilling in.<br /><br />Body seizing from the shock. Lungs filling with ice water.<br /><br />Devin’s eyes opened—darkness everywhere. His whole world shook as his head slammed into something. How had he gotten here? On his back, in some dark, confined place.<br /><br />His world shook again with a jarring slam as he heard the engine rev.<br /><br />He was in the trunk of a car.<br /><br />It smelled new or at least freshly detailed—like his rental car. He shivered in the chilled trunk as his mind put it all together. It was his rental car. He remembered what had flashed through his mind. They were going to send the car into a lake with him in it, make it look like an accident. But it wouldn’t look like an accident if he was in the trunk. He remembered what he’d seen—<br /><br />They weren’t going to leave him in the trunk. How had they gotten him here in the first place?<br /><br />Something had pinched him in the neck, hard. There had been some sort of ticking sound and—<br /><br />They’d hit him with a Taser, an electrical stun gun. Police and military used them for restraint purposes. He’d had to use one himself on several occasions when he was with intelligence. They were available to private citizens too for self-defense, and he’d been hit with one of those.<br /><br />They weren’t going to take any chances. They were going to stun him again for good measure, put him in the front seat, and send him into the lake. He wouldn’t even have to drown. The water was cold enough that the chill would get him first. The shock of it alone would be enough to suck the air from his lungs, cause his muscles to seize. The impact would batter his body, and the breaking glass would slash him to ribbons. The water would cut off his air, choking him to death.<br /><br />And if he survived all that, his lungs would fill and burst.<br /><br /><br />Brett moved into the living room, his body still sore. The TV was on—the morning news—all about this murdered imam in Ohio.<br /><br />Brett watched for a moment and thought.<br /><br />They were going to have to get rid of the girl, no matter what Snider said. It was going to have to happen.<br /><br />He looked on the ottoman.<br /><br />The Beretta.<br /><br /><br />Devin fumbled in the dark. He couldn’t find what he was looking for.<br /><br />Just the previous summer he’d been led to the trunk of an older-model car where a four-year-old boy had accidentally trapped himself on a sweltering day. He read up on it afterward. He’d learned of the eleven children who had died in the summer of 1998, trapped in the trunks of automobiles. As a result, new standards required the auto manufacturers to have interior release handles inside every trunk manufactured after 2000. Most glowed in the dark with pictographic instructions inscribed on them. Devin saw nothing.<br /><br />He searched with his eyes and his fingertips. He couldn’t find the latch. This wasn’t right. The rental was a brand-new car with all the latest safety requirements. They must have removed the safety latch somehow in the fear that he might come to and search for it, exactly as he was doing now.<br /><br />There was another option—he could kick out the backseat and find himself face-to-face with his captor, a fight he would have to win against a man who was almost certainly armed.<br /><br />He turned back to the trunk latch, feeling with his fingertips.<br /><br /><br />Snider stood in the kitchen, touching his forehead. It all gave him a headache—the logistics of it all. It was supposed to be a simple job, not this. The news was playing in the background—some Muslim had been murdered. He rubbed his temples.<br /><br />He trusted Jimmy, but it still bothered him to delegate something like ditching a body to him. Why hadn’t he done it himself? Why hadn’t he made sure it was flawless?<br /><br />Because, he reminded himself, Brett was the biggest problem they had. Someone needed to keep an eye on that trigger-happy . . . <br /><br />Where was Brett, anyway?<br /><br />Snider stepped out of the kitchen and looked around. Then his eyes fell on the ottoman.<br /><br />The pistol was gone.<br /><br /><br />Devin’s fingers glided across the plastic surface of the trunk’s latch cover and found the edges. He worked at the plastic, but his short, manicured fingernails couldn’t work their way underneath.<br /><br />He traced the cover farther up. The cover was the size of his hand, roughly the shape of an egg, and at the top he felt two small indentations, one on each side of the release. His fingers worked their way in and the cover came loose. He felt blindly at the mechanism, working at it with his fingers.<br /><br />Cold metal and a long, thick wire running the length of the mechanism.<br /><br />That’s it, he thought. He pulled. The trunk popped and white light exploded off of the snow, flooding Devin’s eyes.<br /><br />An old country road. Trees streaming away on each side.<br /><br />He hurled himself out into the snow, rolling with the impact.<br /><br /><br />Brett moved to the door, unlocked it, and pushed it open gently.<br /><br />There was the girl. She looked up and saw his face. His heart skipped as he tightened his stranglehold on the pistol’s grip behind his back. She’d seen his face. She could identify him.<br /><br />Now there was no changing his mind.<br /><br />He stepped in, closing the door.<br /><br /><br />Jimmy slammed on the brakes as he saw the trunk burst open in his rearview mirror. To the left he saw the man lift himself out of the snow and dash for the trees at the edge of the road.<br /><br />The vehicle came to a sliding stop in the snow. He lunged at the passenger’s seat, clawing at a pile of things he’d brought along for cleanup. He snatched the Glock pistol with his rubber-gloved hand and glanced back at the escaping figure in the mirror.<br /><br />He launched out of the car door, spinning in a single fluid motion, the handgun resting on the roof of the car as he braced himself to fire.<br /><br />Only time for one shot before the man slipped into the trees . . . <br /><br />The gun sounded like thunder.<br /><br /><br />Snow exploded off the burdened branches of an evergreen, sending white scattering through the air like a starburst. Devin hit the ground and rolled, then quickly scrambled back to his feet and sprinted into the trees.<br /><br /><br />Hannah stared at the man. He stared back, hand hiding something behind him.<br /><br />He stood there, not moving, as if he were trying to work up the courage to do something. Her mind skimmed across the surface of possibilities. There were only a few options of things he had come for: her body or her life—or both.<br /><br />The doorknob at the far end of the room turned, and someone pushed on the door. The man in front of her flinched, then turned around quickly, showing her his back—and the pistol he was holding.<br /><br />The door opened.<br /><br />“What are you doing?” Another man, dressed in black, looked around the room.<br /><br />“Nothing. I was just . . . ”<br /><br />Hannah stared at the pistol. She wanted to scream, to tell the second man what she saw, but she couldn’t. She tried to speak, but her voice held in her throat.<br /><br />“You don’t belong in here,” the second man announced.<br /><br />The first man nodded. “You’re right.” As he spoke he tucked the firearm discreetly in his belt and moved toward the door, following the other man.<br /><br /><br />Jimmy moved into the trees, lowering his head beneath a branch—eyes sharp and attentive, handgun at the ready. The tracks were clear and distinct in the deep snow.<br /><br />Just beyond, the world was darker, the ground shadowed by the canopy of trees. He looked for blood—there was none, but there were gaping tracks in the snow. He pushed on toward his quarry.<br /><br /><br />Silence.<br /><br />That was all Hannah heard for several moments. Then she heard it, even through the padding—<br /><br />Her captors.<br /><br />Arguing. Yelling. Shouting.<br /><br />Violence?<br /><br />She held her breath for a moment then threw her head up, attentive to the noise—<br /><br />The gunshot was deafening.<br /><br /><br />Devin pressed his back against the tree, his stalker so close he could hear the crunch of snow. He took a long, deep breath—and held it. He had to be completely undetectable, or he was dead.<br /><br /><br />Jimmy squinted. Just ahead he saw it—the cloth of a trench coat peeking out from behind a small tree. He took in a breath and stepped gently.<br /><br />Carefully. Silently. Agonizing as he placed his feet in the packed snow at the bottom of each track he followed.<br /><br />He was getting closer. Rounding the tree. Then his moment—<br /><br />Jimmy threw himself forward, the pistol in his hand blasting.<br /><br />One—two—three rounds.<br /><br />He stopped.<br /><br />The coat was empty. Riddled with bullets, it hung from a branch, limp and vacant. Cursing to himself he looked around frantically.<br /><br />Something rammed between his shoulder blades, and he went face-first into the snow, pain stabbing at the base of his skull, chest slamming into the icy cold. His vision only went black for a moment.<br /><br />He pushed up with a fist then felt an arm swoop around his neck, his chin locking in the cleft of the man’s elbow. Jimmy fought to bite the other man’s arm as he struggled to gain hold with his clawing fingertips. A hand pressed expertly against the base of his skull.<br /><br />He threw elbows to the side, punches to the face. He clawed, scratched, and tried to jam a thumb under the man’s eye to put it out. The choke hold only tightened. Jimmy felt his body being thrown as he was fought deeper into submission, forced to his knees, his vision swinging hard to the right—<br /><br />He saw it.<br /><br />In the snow.<br /><br />The pistol.<br /><br />He snatched the cold metal, swinging it upward toward the black man’s face.<br /><br />One bullet would do—<br /><br />The pistol bucked in Jimmy’s hand as a round exploded from the muzzle, firing off into the air as a well-placed strike knocked the weapon away. The other arm continued squeezing, and Jimmy reprised violently.<br /><br />Sweat ran down his back, sweet and slick.<br /><br />His face burned. Muscles flaming.<br /><br />Frustration. Burning rage.<br /><br />He fought to bring his restrained arm to bear—the pistol going off again and again and again, blasting away at the snow near their feet.<br /><br />He screamed in anger.<br /><br />The man he would have murdered was quiet, calculated.<br /><br />Jimmy snarled as the weapon was stripped from his hand, tumbling into the snow.<br /><br />They both went back, slamming into snow. The air left Jimmy’s lungs and he gasped. The other man’s legs wrapped around his own, holding him down tightly. Trapped.<br /><br />How did this happen? He was going to kill this man. In cold blood. But he was losing control, body locked in an expertly executed choke hold.<br /><br />He gasped for air. Gray crept into his vision. Sight blurred. Consciousness slipped.<br /><br />His world went dark.<br /><br /><br />Hannah was bleeding from her wrists, the ropes cutting deep into her soft flesh as she tried to work her way free. Her bruised wrists twisted under the stinging strain of the ropes that bit into her. A trickle of her own warm blood slithered down her finger. It hurt so much, but she just kept working.<br /><br />She wanted to live. She wanted to see the sun.<br /><br />Footsteps down the hall. Nearing.<br /><br />Her work became more rapid, trying harder to free herself from the expertly tied fetters.<br /><br />The door opened. She saw a man dressed all in black. He came close, leaning by her ear. Hannah went stiff—except for her lip, which quivered uncontrollably.<br /><br /><br />Devin climbed into the silver rental car and looked around. The keys were still in the ignition. He turned them and heard the rush of air—<br /><br />The woods. The girl.<br /><br />Snider, aiming his pistol deliberately.<br /><br />“Please don’t kill me. Please!”<br /><br />The girl, back turned, walking away.<br /><br />Death.<br /><br />Devin set the sedan into reverse, easing into the gas. He felt the tires grip and begin to slowly roll out of the snow—couldn’t rush it or he’d get stuck. He turned the car around, working the wheel to the left.<br /><br />Devin pushed the gearshift forward, locking it in place, and fed the gas. The car began to move forward, gaining speed, then took off, blazing down the snowy road. His eyes glanced at the dashboard—a mile ticked over faster than it should have for the conditions. Then another. And another.<br /><br />“Please don’t kill me. Please!”<br /><br />The words played over again in his mind, frantic and desperate.<br /><br />He was driving much, much too fast for the conditions. The back end slipped, and he adjusted the gearshift. The car was fishtailing. Too fast, he thought again, but he had no choice now. No other option. Not now. Not with the future racing toward him.<br /><br />He recognized the landscape. From the other side, but this was it: his turn was just ahead, where he’d hit the drift before.<br /><br />Devin’s fist wrenched the emergency brake skyward.<br /><br />He spun the wheel.<br /><br />The car snapped to a ninety-degree angle, sliding to a stop—right in front of the long drive.<br /><br />First gear. The sedan leapt into action.<br /><br />The engine snarled.<br /><br />Second gear. He laid into the gas.<br /><br />Over a small hill.<br /><br />The house ahead.<br /><br />Like the chiming of a bell announcing the drawing of midnight, the words repeated in his mind:<br /><br />“Please don’t kill me. Please!”<br /><br />No more time. The future was becoming the present.<br /><br />The gas pedal touched the floor. The car began to fishtail, the front end nosing to the right. Devin overcorrected as control of the car slipped away from him. He fought the vehicle as he felt it tipping inexorably out of control. Something slipped beneath the car, the tires losing all traction—he was completely out of control, the car swerving perpendicular to the long drive. His foot pumped the brake, but the wheels were no longer propelling the car, only the force of gravity pulling him down the incline—screaming across a layer of slippery packed snow—careening toward a tall embankment at the end of<br />the drive.<br /><br />Devin braced for impact, and his entire body shuddered as the silver sedan plowed into the drift. The seat belt snapped tight, constricting against his chest as the force of the blow threatened to throw him out the far side of the car. The shock wave subsided, and he reached for the door handle with a disoriented hand.<br /><br />Devin threw the door open and got out, Glock pistol in hand—raised in anticipation of trouble.<br /><br />He stared down the iron sights at the front door of the house, only feet away. Devin moved from the car with purpose and speed, eyes locked on the front door, weapon held out in front of him as he moved up the steps.<br /><br />Devin turned the door handle and gave a hearty kick, sending the door flinging in. He charged across the threshold and paused, weapon ready, arms locked in place, body turning with the pistol. He moved in.<br /><br />Left turn—one sharp movement as he glared down the iron sights.<br /><br />Nothing.<br /><br />To the right—same.<br /><br />Devin moved into the kitchen. On the counter was a black and white monitor—a room. Chair, bonds—that was where he’d seen the girl—but the room was empty.<br /><br />Then he saw it—something more shocking. Next to the monitor was a lapel pin. A royal crest—he recognized the symbol. The Trinity knot—a triquetra—under a crenulated label: the sign of the Firstborn.<br /><br />No color—simply the symbol itself. It didn’t have any of the distinctive colors: the red of the Domani, the gold of the Ora, or the blue of the Prima. But it was the symbol of the Firstborn—that was simple enough to see. And more disturbing than anything else he could consider.<br /><br />A cool draft played against his cheek, and he turned. The sliding glass door was slightly ajar. Devin moved forward, looked through the glass at the distant trees—<br /><br />And saw them.<br /><br /><br />Hannah screamed again.<br /><br />Snider shoved her into the trees. She fell down, and he reached for her, grabbing her hair roughly with a fist.<br /><br />“Do not make my life more difficult than it has to be. Do you understand?”<br /><br />She quavered.<br /><br />“Do you understand?”<br /><br />Hannah nodded, and he pulled her to her feet. They kept walking, deeper and deeper into the trees.<br /><br />Snider stopped in a clearing, a hundred yards beyond the tree line. She went to her knees. He lowered himself down to her ear, whispering.<br /><br />“That way,” he said, pointing deeper into the trees. “Start walking that way, and don’t look back.”<br /><br />She turned and looked at him. Her first thought was that he was letting her go, then she looked him in the eye and felt—<br /><br />He’d killed before—<br /><br />A deal gone bad.<br /><br />A job gone wrong.<br /><br />Intimidation gone too far.<br /><br />To survive in prison.<br /><br />To repay a debt.<br /><br />For money.<br /><br />For safety.<br /><br />For revenge.<br /><br />For convenience . . . <br /><br />She saw it all—<br /><br />He was going to kill her too.<br /><br />“Get up.” His voice soft but stern.<br /><br />She stood and looked into his face. “Please don’t. Please don’t kill me. I won’t tell anyone. I promise.”<br /><br />“Start walking,” he said flatly, “and don’t turn around.”<br /><br />She held for a moment.<br /><br />“Now.”<br /><br />Hannah turned slowly, facing the snowy trees ahead of her, and began to walk. One foot in front of another, waiting expectantly for it to happen any moment. She turned her head, saw the man in the corner of her eye still standing there, pistol in hand.<br /><br />“Keep going,” he instructed.<br /><br />Another step. Another moment of life.<br /><br />Another step—<br /><br />Crack!<br /><br />Her entire body went stiff and she looked down—she’d stepped on a twig.<br /><br />“That’s good.”<br /><br />She stopped, turning back to Snider.<br /><br />“I didn’t tell you to turn around,” he reprimanded, as if she were a child. As she looked back into the trees she sucked air, slowly.<br /><br />She looked at the trees. So beautiful. The snow and the early-morning sun. Her heart slowed. Her muscles relaxed. If this was going to be the last thing she ever saw, she was going to embrace it.<br /><br />Days in a dark basement had driven her back to the faith of her childhood; now it filled her entire heart and mind.<br /><br />She was coming home.<br /><br /><br />The gunshot was loud, hammering in her temples as if a hole had been punched in her eardrums. A single round fired in the stillness of the snow, echoing endlessly through the trees.<br /><br />Snow dropped from branches. Birds took off into flight. And the blast rolled through the world.<br /><br />She stood for a moment, waiting to feel it, but all she felt was the chill in her feet and in her lungs. Hannah looked down. No wound.<br /><br />Slowly she turned around and saw Snider clutching his chest, bleeding from a steaming wound. He coughed, face confused, and a trickle of blood ran down his lip. The man hit his knees and went face-first into the snow.<br /><br />The body lay there, steam rising from the hot wound. Beyond stood a man—tall, handsome, black skin—a pistol in hand raised expertly, face blank, a single twist of smoke rising from the muzzle of the weapon.<br /><br />He approached Snider’s body, weapon pointed down, kicking the Beretta pistol away. Kneeling down, he checked for a pulse. When he was satisfied, he put his own weapon on safety and looked up at Hannah.<br /><br />“Are you hurt?”<br /><br />She shook her head.<br /><br />“Good.” Then he took her by the arm and led her away.<br /></div><br />

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Menu and my week plan

This next few days are going to be a bit hectic, so  I am trying to plan out the menu with that in mind. I know i will not have alot of time to cook, but everyone still wants to eat, otherwise we have alot more mess!

Wednesday:  Pasta with sauce and sausage, salad
Thursday: BBQ chicken legs, french fries, carrot sticks and cucumbers
Friday: Tator Tot casserole, Salad
Saturday: Shredded beef tacos (put in crockpot in the morning)
Sunday: Leftovers, popcorn
Monday: Chili, cornbread
Tuesday: Chicken, potatoes, carrots roasted with garlic

We will see how this goes……..I also have to budget in for some extras for me eating lunch elsewhere for two days and them at home having easy stuff to grab!

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My item on my list this week….

I  am going to do # 52 on the list….Bring a box of giveaway to the second hand store or freecycle it. I gave away a bunch of play coats a couple days ago and I have a box of misc to bring too as I cleaned the boys room and got a bunch of stuff.  There is a ton more, I know and I am going to keep working on it! <p>
Have you used Freecycle? If you have not, you should check it out! It is a neat way to recycle things! <p>

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The winner is…..

AaronAmber!! Congratulations, Amber for winning Making Work at home work! Those of you who did not win, check out the website and your library for  a copy! It is a great book!

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First Wild Card tours- The Moment Between

<a href="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SAad94Trj7I/AAAAAAAAArA/Yn05_E4V0fY/s1600-h/wild+card.jpg"><a href="http://firstwildcardtours.blogspot.com/"><img id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5190009307003588530" style="FLOAT: left; MARGIN: 0px 10px 10px 0px; CURSOR: hand; TEXT-ALIGN: center" alt="" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SAad94Trj7I/AAAAAAAAArA/Yn05_E4V0fY/s200/wild+card.jpg&quot; border="0" /></a></a>It is time for a <span style="color:#990000;"><strong><a href="http://firstwildcardtours.blogspot.com/">FIRST Wild Card Tour</a></span></strong> book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books.  A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured.  The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between!  <span style="color:#990000;"><strong>Enjoy your free peek into the book!</strong></span><br /><br /><font color="#cc0000"><em>You never know when I might play a wild card on you!</em></font><br /><br /><br /><div align="center"><strong>Today’s Wild Card author is: </strong><br /></div><br /><div align="center"><strong><span style="font-size:180%;color:#cc0000;"><a href="http://www.nicolebaart.com/">Nicole Baart</a></span></strong><br /></div><br /><p align="center"><strong><span style="font-size:180%;color:#cc0000;"><span style="font-size:100%;color:#cc0000;">and the book:</span> </span></strong><br /></p><br /><p align="center"><strong><span style="font-size:180%;color:#cc0000;"><a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1414323220">The Moment Between</a></span></strong><br /></p><p align="center">Tyndale House Publishers (April 8, 2009) <br /></p><br /><div align="left"><strong><span style="font-size:130%;color:#333399;"><span style="color:#cc0000;">ABOUT THE AUTHOR:</span> </span></strong></div><br /><br /><a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SgYS1pPuO0I/AAAAAAAACvg/FzkB66MMHX4/s1600-h/nicole_baart.jpeg"><img style="float:left; margin:0 10px 10px 0;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;width: 133px; height: 200px;" src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SgYS1pPuO0I/AAAAAAAACvg/FzkB66MMHX4/s200/nicole_baart.jpeg&quot; border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5333971521481096002" /></a><br />Nicole Baart was born and raised in a small town in Iowa, where she and her family now live. <br /><br />She is the mother of two young sons and the wife of a pastor. After the adoption of their infant son, Nicole discovered a deep passion for global issues and is a founding member of a nonprofit organization that works with a church and orphanage in Liberia. <br /><br />Nicole is the author of three novels. After the Leaves Fall was published in 2007 and was followed by a sequel, Summer Snow. The Moment Between is Nicole’s first stand-alone novel.<br /><br />Visit the author’s <a href="http://www.nicolebaart.com/">website</a&gt;.<br /><br />Product Details:<br /><br />List Price: $13.99<br />Paperback: 384 pages <br />Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (April 8, 2009) <br />Language: English <br />ISBN-10: 1414323220 <br />ISBN-13: 978-1414323220 <br /><br /><span style="color:#cc0000;"><strong><span style="font-size:180%;">AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:</span> </strong><br /></span><br /><br /><a href="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SgYSwskFLWI/AAAAAAAACvY/5bHS_zccU5c/s1600-h/the_moment_between_medium.jpeg"><img style="float:left; margin:0 10px 10px 0;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;width: 133px; height: 200px;" src="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SgYSwskFLWI/AAAAAAAACvY/5bHS_zccU5c/s200/the_moment_between_medium.jpeg&quot; border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5333971436472446306" /></a><div style="OVERFLOW: auto; HEIGHT: 307px">~ I ~<br /><br />Abigail Bennett was the definition of unexpected. She was one year on the wrong side of the knife blade that was thirty, but if she turned up at your restaurant and ordered a glass of wine, even high-heeled and clad in a black sheath, you’d card her every time. Petite and narrow-waisted, with a pixie flip of hair the exact color of coffee beans, Abigail could easily pass for sixteen in a pair of ripped jeans and an Abercrombie T-shirt.<br /><br />   Not that she liked looking younger than her age. In fact, most of the time Abigail hated the constant reminders that no matter what she did or where she went, she would not be taken seriously. This explained the harsh line of bobby pins that held her wayward hair out of her face as if the severity of it could add years. It also explained the almost-dowdy clothes, the earth-toned makeup, and the hard, thin line of a mouth that could have been very beautiful.<br /><br />   Once people got past the fact that she wasn’t a teenager, Abigail looked very much like the ideal kindergarten teacher. Her stature and dress were the opposite of intimidating, yet there was a spark in her dark eyes as if from time to time a match was struck behind the velvety chocolate of her corneas. These eyes could freeze hell over with a well-timed look, a piercing arrow of unmistakable meaning. But there was also the hint of tenderness in Abigail that translated into quiet strength when paired with the sharp edges that were inevitably unveiled before anyone had a chance to form a false opinion of her. But then again, maybe it was all a facade. She didn’t let people get close enough to find out.<br /><br />   In reality, Abigail was not a kindergarten teacher, nor could she remember a phase in her life when she ever wanted to be one. She was an accountant. Numbers were stable, unchanging, and best of all, incapable of being mysterious or of forcing people to act and think and feel in ways that they would not normally act and think and feel. Numbers were predictable; people were not. And because Abigail trusted the reliability of her chosen field, she was good at her job, meticulous and capable of holding the smallest detail in her mind for as long as it was useful.<br /><br />   During tax season Abigail worked more hours than anyone else at her firm, and that was saying a lot. It was why she was made a partner after only five years with the company and why she occupied one of two corner offices, the one with a view of the swampy man-made pond that graced the complex of professional stucco buildings on Key Point Drive. Johnson, McNally & Bennett was a Rosa Beach institution, and though Blake Johnson and Colton McNally could claim most of the honor behind their prestigious position in the community, Abigail knew she filled an important and indispensable role. Southern Florida had its share of widows and divorcées, and for some not-so-surprising reasons they preferred to have a woman handle their money. Abigail was happy to oblige. It kept her busy and the firm in business.<br /><br />   Keeping busy was what Abigail did best. When she wasn’t working, which averaged sixty hours a week, she was either running or reheating days-old Chinese takeout in a dented wok. Both activities were little more than a personal experiment; they were representative of the only two things in Abigail’s life that she really, deep down hoped to accomplish someday: run a marathon and learn to cook.<br /><br />   The marathon was a goal that she had already partly achieved. On the day of her twenty-ninth birthday, she ran a half marathon in Miami. Abigail could have easily completed it, and in fact, the finish line was in sight only two blocks ahead when she realized it was enough to know that she could do it. Crossing the finish line would have meant that she ran for someone else, that she ran for the glory, the recognition.<br /><br />   So Abigail had slowed down a little and then a bit more until someone thrust a cup of water in her hand and yelled, “You’re almost there!” She smiled her thanks, sipped the water, and folded herself into the crowd while all eyes were watching the other runners throw their arms into the air for the last few triumphant yards.<br /><br />   The cooking, on the other hand, was little more than a pipe dream. Abigail’s greatest accomplishment was adding a diced chicken breast and some soy sauce to leftover chicken chow mein. It was too salty. But propped on her counter in an antique, wrought-iron bookstand was a Williams-Sonoma cookbook with full-color photographs and extensive instructions on how to cook homemade delicacies like potato gnocchi with wild mushroom sauce and baked clams with pine nuts and basil. Every morning, while she waited for the last few drops of coffee to drip into her Gevalia carafe, Abigail would thumb through the glossy pages of the cookbook and imagine what it would be like to make a wine reduction sauce as the sound of laughter filled her apartment. Someday, she told herself.<br /><br />   And though there were many somedays in Abigail’s life, she tried not to let the particulars of her existence get her down too much. It didn’t matter that she didn’t have a boyfriend. It didn’t matter that every day plodded on with the same pitfalls and small successes. It didn’t matter that her apartment was quiet but for the hum of her empty stainless steel refrigerator. It was the life that Abigail had chosen, and she was a grim optimist, resigned to the path she was on—she was getting exactly what she had always wanted. So what if it was tilted heavily toward work, personal discipline, solitude? So what if it left little room for the things other people craved? So what if her cupboards were as bare of exotic ingredients as her apartment was bare of cheerful company?<br /><br />   But sometimes, alone in her apartment with the shades drawn tight, Abigail would stand in front of the full-length mirror on the back of her bathroom door and relax enough to admire what she saw. Tousling her wet hair and practicing a self-conscious smile that showed her teeth—her impossibly white, perfectly straight teeth that were a genetic legacy instead of the result of extensive dental work—Abigail could almost pretend that she was ten years younger and that the world was unfurling itself before her.<br /><br />   For those moments in the steam and warmth, dark ringlets of hair curling around her temples as if she were some Grecian empress, Abigail wished much more for herself than what she had. She wished that she could rewind the clock and find Abby, the girl she used to be, perched on the cusp of her life instead of entrenched in the middle of it with no apparent way out.<br /><br />   Every once in a while, she could gather the courage to admit that it would be a very different life if she had it to do all over again.<br /><br />      ***<br /><br />When Abigail first came to Johnson & McNally, she had a chance at a different life.<br /><br />   It was no secret around the office that Colton McNally had a thing for the new accountant. He was twelve years older than Abigail and divorced, and that seemed somehow estimable according to Abigail’s less-than-high expectations. It wasn’t that she would settle for just anyone, but she also didn’t enter into much of anything with a long list of prerequisites.<br /><br />   In truth, Abigail found Colton very attractive. She thought his salt-and-pepper hair was distinguished—even though she suspected it came from the hands of a very talented colorist as he wasn’t quite forty—and she liked the way his tailored suits fell across the straight line of his shoulders. Best of all, he was nothing like the immature, self-absorbed boys Abigail had dated in college. They had nearly turned her off of men altogether. So when Colton turned his attention toward her, Abigail let him flirt. For a while, she even stopped wearing the stern bobby pins so that her dark curls framed her rather nicely arched forehead.<br /><br />   And yet Abigail wasn’t naive. She knew that her employer loved her because of the photo. It would have been too much to ask for Colton to love her, or at least think he did, because of herself. But while she probably should have been reticent of attention resulting from such a faint and improbable notion, Abigail accepted—almost expected—the source of Colton’s desire.<br /><br />   The photograph in question hung neatly squared and centered on a fabric-covered board adorning the west wall in the reception room. It was a concession to the more traditional bulletin board, replete with employee photographs that were intended to look candid but often looked overposed.<br /><br />   Abigail knew of the board, she even shot glances at it whenever she could to detect updates and changes, but she was not aware upon settling into her position that tradition dictated a spot for her photo front and center ASAP.<br /><br />   It was her third day of work, and Abigail was immersed in balancing infinitesimal details and worlds away from the air-conditioned office she inhabited when Colton startled her with a quiet “Ahem.”<br /><br />   Her head was bowed, and her forearms rested on endless pages that sprouted like an unruly crop of paper weeds across her generous desk. Abigail blinked and raised her eyes, just her eyes, in time to be blinded by the flash of Colton’s expensive Canon. He laughed and snapped a few more pictures for which she cleared off her desk, sat up straight, and smiled, thin-lipped and toothy and even coy, trying them all in the hopes that one would be right.<br /><br />   But the next day, Abigail was surprised to see that the photo gracing the quasi bulletin board was the first of the batch. She knew she was looking at herself because seeing the small, hunched form over the crowded desk was a sort of déjà vu—she had been there before. If not for that, Abigail would have never believed that the woman staring back at her was her own reflection. The woman in the photograph had luminous—there was simply no other word for them—luminous black eyes of the starry-sky variety: endless and opalescent and dark like a time before the genesis. Like the event horizon of identical black holes—no way out, but no matter, for who would ever want to leave? Beneath the twin universes of those eyes, her lips were slightly parted, pink and full and evocative of bruised raspberries. Her skin glowed faintly (fluorescent light reflecting off all that white paper?), and her shadowy curls were framing and soft. The woman was lovely.<br /><br />   But what unnerved Abigail the most was that Colton had caught her at a moment between. A rare, uncovered moment between expressions: a moment of evaporation before the advent of her surprise became the dutiful smile that spread across her face in the split second after the shutter snapped. This woman was a living mystery.<br /><br />   Abigail wished she knew her.<br /><br />***<br /><br />One day, a few months after she started at the firm, Abigail went into Colton’s office to ask him a question about the tax return of a dual citizen living out of country. It was a legitimate question, but Blake’s office was closer than Colton’s, and her admirer acknowledged that fact the second Abigail rapped her knuckles on the doorframe. She realized almost too late that her presence would be read as an invitation, and sure enough, a smile unfolded across Colton’s face like a flag pulled taut in a billowing wind.<br /><br />   “Come in, Abigail! Why don’t you close the door behind you? There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”<br /><br />   Abigail did as she was told and crossed the plush, carpeted floor of Colton’s office with her heart stuck fast in her throat. <br /><br />   “But first—” Colton set aside what he had been working on—“what can I do for you?”<br /><br />   Passing him the papers, Abigail lowered herself to balance on the arm of one of the leather chairs facing the wide, black walnut desk. But Colton raised an eyebrow at her, motioned that she should cross behind the desk to stand beside him.<br /><br />   They had flirted before, secret half smiles conveyed across crowded rooms and careful conversations littered with possibilities. And it seemed that the unmistakable chemistry between Colton and Abigail was a favorite topic around the watercooler, boasting far more people in favor of a match than against it. It was impossible for Abigail not to get caught up in it a little. But she also couldn’t help being cautious, and suddenly, with the door closed and Colton looking far more handsome than she remembered from only the day before, she knew that he was a man who wouldn’t play games for long.<br /><br />   Colton waved her over again and Abigail moved slowly, explaining about the nonresident and his recent payout from a life insurance death benefit. She had just gotten to the part where he intended to give enough of it away to slip below the line of taxable income when Colton grabbed her wrist and, in one smooth movement, pulled her forward until her face was inches from his. He studied her, still smiling, then kissed her full on the mouth as if he had been intending to do so for a long time.<br /><br />   It wasn’t that Abigail didn’t want to kiss him back. Actually quite the opposite. It wasn’t even that she was stunned by the inappropriateness of such a gesture. Instead, it was a Tic Tac that ruined everything, a burning little grain of peppermint that she inhaled when Colton’s lips touched hers.<br /><br />   She drew back, pulling out of Colton’s embrace and coughing violently until tears collected at the corners of her eyes. Abigail struggled for a moment, choking mutely as she watched Colton bolt out of his chair and grab her upper arms. When the breath mint was dislodged from her throat and she could feel it hot and peppery on her tongue, she knew it was a very small thing that would be significant in ways that might cause her years of lament.<br /><br />   “I’m sorry,” Abigail murmured, utterly mortified for one of the first times she could remember. “I . . .” She couldn’t continue.<br /><br />   Colton stared at her, concern and disbelief gathering foglike across his forehead. At first, Abigail thought he might fold her into his arms, that the almost-pitiable comedy of what had just happened would become the sort of story they laughed about months down the road when they told people the tale of how they came together. But then Colton laughed, rubbing his hands up and down her arms. The moment shattered and fell away, disappearing in a shimmer of doubt that made Abigail wonder if she had merely dreamed it.<br /><br />   “As long as you’re okay,” he boomed. And then he sat back down and pretended nothing had happened. He never mentioned it again and neither did she.<br /><br />   Eighteen months later, Colton married Marguerite, the receptionist who was hired at the same time as Abigail. Marguerite was a few years younger than Abigail, but she looked much older due to a succession of bad dye jobs and what appeared to be a lifetime of sun damage spotting her skin. Colton seemed happy; from what little Abigail could discern of her boss’s marriage, he genuinely longed for companionship and Marguerite’s horselike laugh didn’t turn him off so much that he considered her a poor match.<br /><br />   Although it was against her nature, shortly after the happy couple’s beach wedding, Abigail went through a brief stage where she fixated on what might have been. The entire office had once been invited to Colton’s sprawling house only a block off the ocean, and Abigail could almost picture herself the mistress of his columned colonial. What sort of a woman would she be if she were Mrs. McNally? What would she look like offering guests a second martini and lounging in some bright sari that she had bought on their honeymoon in Belize?<br /><br />   It was a nice scenario, but Abigail wasn’t one to waste too much energy on regret, and she abandoned such nonsense the same way she set aside every other impossible dream: she placed it firmly out of her mind. A few years later when Blake and Colton approached her about being a partner, she was even able to congratulate herself that her business card would read Johnson, McNally & Bennett instead of Johnson, McNally & McNally. She convinced herself that it was much more satisfying this way.<br /><br />   For his part, after their less than romantic encounter in his office, Colton was nothing but a gentleman to Abigail. He treated her with the same respect, the same quiet yet somehow condescending pride of a father figure. Abigail was reduced from a possible lover to the discarded role of a dependable daughter. It was a character she was rather good at playing.<br /><br />***<br /><br />Lou Bennett was a father when he could have been a grandfather.<br /><br />   He met Melody Van Bemmel at Chevy’s Café a week after he turned forty-five. It was nearly a blizzard outside, and she blew into the warm restaurant off-balance and trembling as if she were a leaf driven by the vicious wind. When the door slammed behind her, Melody gasped, stomped her booted feet, and flung the hood of her parka back. She smiled shyly, looking around as if her entrance had been staged, as if she were taking her place beneath the spotlight and now that she was front and center she had forgotten her lines.<br /><br />   Everyone in the café glanced up at her for the blink of an eye and then turned back to their coffees and specials of the day without a second thought. Everyone except Lou. He had fallen in love the moment Melody raised her hands to turn back her hood. They were little hands swimming in a pair of men’s work gloves that were so big on her fingers they nearly slid off. Lou imagined they were his gloves. He wished they were.<br /><br />   And just as quickly as he longed for her, Lou hated himself for it. She was a child. Her eyes were too clear, her skin too bright for her to even look twice at a man whose own skin was as deeply lined as those etchings he had seen on display in the American National Bank. But when she caught his eye, when her lips pulled up slightly just for him, Lou knew there was nothing that could be done about it. He was hers, even if she never acknowledged his existence. Even if he loved her in secret until the day he died.<br /><br />   As it turned out, he didn’t have to. Melody came to Lou in the most natural, ordinary way: she brushed against the edge of his life and found herself inexorably pulled in. He didn’t even know he was drowning until he felt himself reach for her and cling for dear life.<br /><br />   They were married less than a year later, and though Melody was not as young as Lou had imagined, when she walked down the aisle in a confection of white, a little shiver crept up Lou’s spine because she did not look twenty-five. Twenty years, he thought in the second before the preacher asked him if he would have her and hold her until “death do you part.”<br /><br />   Lou said, “I do” without hesitation, but somewhere in the back of his mind he faltered. There was a nagging suspicion, an accusatory guilt that made him wonder if he had made her the happiest woman alive like she claimed or if he had involuntarily ruined her life.<br /><br />   It took Melody almost six years to get pregnant, though they tried to make a baby on their wedding night. She saw doctors and gynecologists and fertility specialists, but no one could tell her why her womb would not swell with a child. For a while, Lou entertained the possibility of joining her at one of her appointments, but those sorts of things made him unbearably uncomfortable. He avoided the conversation he knew Melody wanted to have the same way that he avoided the drawer where she kept her neat pile of lace-trimmed underwear.<br /><br />   When Lou was fifty-one, Melody’s cheeks took on a greenish hue in the early morning, and the waist that he so loved to encompass in his enormous hands began to expand. She wouldn’t admit it at first—maybe she was scared to hope—but Lou knew almost immediately. Something about Melody had changed, the scent of her skin or the complexity of the air around her when she entered a room. Maybe both. Either way, Lou was relieved. It wasn’t him, it had never been him, and now she would be happy. They would be a family.<br /><br />   Lou didn’t think much about the baby until the doctor handed him a tiny, tightly wrapped bundle with a pink cap sliding down over her lashless eyes. They were two little commas, those eyes, a break amidst all the words that comprised his many years of life, though certainly not a beginning or even an end. Lou stared at her and realized that he had planned on having a son.<br /><br />   “Abigail Rose,” Melody called weakly from the bed. She smiled at him with all the energy she could muster, and her eyes were dancing with tears. “Rose for my mother and Abigail because it’s the most beautiful name I’ve ever heard. I think we’ll call her Abby.”<br /><br />   What was there to say? It was a fine name, and Lou hadn’t wasted a single thought on another. “Pretty,” he said finally and brushed his lips tentatively across the soft forehead because it seemed like the right thing to do. <br /><br /><br />Taken from The Moment Between by Nicole Baart. Copyright ©2009 by Nicole Baart. Used with permission from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.<br /></div><br />

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Book Review- Get a jumpstart on college

Getting a jumpstart on College- A Practical Guide for teens
By Janice Campbell

Reviewed by Martha Artyomenko
<p>

Want to get a head start on life? Start earning college credits while in high school.  Most teens graduate at eighteen, but a few have discovered how to make the most of the teen years by getting a jumpstart on college. You can do it too!  This hands on guide reveals exactly how to earn college credits in a way that fits your learning style and your life. <p>
You’ll discover how to
– Earn college credit at any age
– Use exams to earn a semesters worth of college credits in half a day, for under $200
– Use a portfolio to document learning and experiences
– Choose a college where you can earn your degree your way
– Create a degree plan so you know exactly what you need to do next<p>

Review:
This basic guide will walk you through the steps to help you to get the best and fastest way to get a college degree earlier rather than later. You can use Janice’s basic guide to help you understand CLEP tests, costs of credits, applying for financial aid and more.
This book is a great guide to have to answer those hard things when your teen wants concrete plans to follow!
The Website is www.everydayeducation.com
You can also go to www.getajumpstartoncollege.com
While you are visiting there you can also check out her book Transcripts made easy. It is a wonderful resource and one I am going to look forward to having when my son gets to high school.  It makes the process of writing your own transcripts sound like a breeze! One thing I thought was really neat,  was the inclusion of how to write transcripts for special needs students as well.

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My husband’s bus

My husband went to work earlier than he usually does one day and had an extra couple of minutes so he drove in front of the house with his bus and the boys were so excited! it was like going on a field trip!! He even talked to them on his microphone and told them to "Calm down"!! It was hard to get good pictures as they did not want to stay still!
This one is sort of dark as the sun was shining in good!
Running through the bus!
Using the loud speaker was alot of fun as well as opening and closing the door was a thrilling experience…. = )

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First Wild Card Tours;

<a href="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SAad94Trj7I/AAAAAAAAArA/Yn05_E4V0fY/s1600-h/wild+card.jpg"><a href="http://firstwildcardtours.blogspot.com/"><img id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5190009307003588530" style="FLOAT: left; MARGIN: 0px 10px 10px 0px; CURSOR: hand; TEXT-ALIGN: center" alt="" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SAad94Trj7I/AAAAAAAAArA/Yn05_E4V0fY/s200/wild+card.jpg&quot; border="0" /></a></a>It is time for a <span style="color:#990000;"><strong><a href="http://firstwildcardtours.blogspot.com/">FIRST Wild Card Tour</a></span></strong> book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books.  A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured.  The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between!  <span style="color:#990000;"><strong>Enjoy your free peek into the book!</strong></span><br /><br /><font color="#cc0000"><em>You never know when I might play a wild card on you!</em></font><br /><br /><br /><div align="center"><strong>Today’s Wild Card author is: </strong><br /></div><br /><div align="center"><strong><span style="font-size:180%;color:#cc0000;"><a href="http://www.brandilyncollins.com/">Brandilyn and Amberly Collins </a></span></strong><br /></div><br /><p align="center"><strong><span style="font-size:180%;color:#cc0000;"><span style="font-size:100%;color:#cc0000;">and the book:</span> </span></strong><br /></p><br /><p align="center"><strong><span style="font-size:180%;color:#cc0000;"><a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0310715393">Always Watching, book 1 in the new Rayne Tour series</a></span></strong><br /></p><p align="center">Zondervan (May 1, 2009) <br /></p><br /><div align="left"><strong><span style="font-size:130%;color:#333399;"><span style="color:#cc0000;">ABOUT THE AUTHORs:</span> </span></strong></div><br /><br /><br /><a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SgEX-HeNCEI/AAAAAAAACuo/NhMVlC_je0g/s1600-h/amber+and+brandilyn"><img style="float:left; margin:0 10px 10px 0;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;width: 181px; height: 200px;" src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SgEX-HeNCEI/AAAAAAAACuo/NhMVlC_je0g/s200/amber+and+brandilyn&quot; border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5332569789708437570" /></a>Brandilyn and Amberly Collins are a mother/daughter team from northern California. Brandilyn is a bestselling novelist, known for her trademarked "Seatbelt Suspense". Amberly is a college student in southern California. She and her mom love attending concerts together. <br /><br />Visit the author’s <a href="http://www.brandilyncollins.com/">website</a&gt;.<br /><br />Online Promotions-Sweepstakes, Book Trailer, Facebook and More<br /><br />The Rayne Tourseries is being promoted heavily to teen readers online. The LIVE LIKE A ROCKSTAR SWEEPSTAKES is a chance for teens ages 13-18 to win an $850 night out on the town, including dinner for six at a restaurant of their choice and limo service. To enter, teens must promote the series online. They can post information about the new series and the sweepstakes on their Blog, favorite social media sites, or other Web site. The first 200 entrants will receive a free copy of Always Watching. Official rules and entry details are available <a href="http://www.brandilyncollins.com/books/aw_contest.html">here</a&gt;.<br /><br />Other promotions include <a href="http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=57145200562">“The Rayne Tour Series” Fan Club page on Facebook</a> and <a href="http://shoutlife.com/theraynetour">“The Rayne Tour Series” Shoutlife page</a>.<br /><br /><br /><br />Product Details:<br /><br />List Price: $9.99<br />Reading level: Young Adult<br />Paperback: 224 pages <br />Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2009) <br />Language: English <br />ISBN-10: 0310715393 <br />ISBN-13: 978-0310715399 <br /><br /><span style="color:#cc0000;"><strong><span style="font-size:180%;">AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:</span> </strong><br /></span><br /><br /><a href="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SgEYC2ZZt6I/AAAAAAAACuw/6N3Qa6h9cIU/s1600-h/always+watching"><img style="float:left; margin:0 10px 10px 0;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;width: 200px; height: 200px;" src="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SgEYC2ZZt6I/AAAAAAAACuw/6N3Qa6h9cIU/s200/always+watching&quot; border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5332569871024240546" /></a><div style="OVERFLOW: auto; HEIGHT: 307px">FRIDAY <br /><br />   PROLOGUE<br /><br />   It’s not my fault I have to kill. <br /><br />   He’d been watching since the tour began. Eyes straight ahead, keeping cool, like he wasn’t even paying attention. But he noticed everything. Even got a sense for what was happening behind his back. His past life had taught him how to do that—out of necessity. When it was something bad, he felt a vibration in the air, pulling up the hair on his arms. And he’d know. He’d just know.<br /><br />   Sometimes he acted behind the scenes. Nothing that would be noticed. Just ended up in a certain place at a certain time—a presence that kept the wrong thing from happening. Other times he’d say what needed to be heard. Real casual, not sounding like a threat at all. No, he was just talking, shooting the breeze about some previous experience. But beneath the words there’d be a point: don’t cross me or mine.<br /><br />   Sometimes people were too dumb to get it. He’d give them every chance, trying to be the nice guy. Trying to do it the easy way. But no. Those kind of people had stubborn minds and black hearts. Couldn’t be trusted. They were headed for a fall and about to take some good people with them. His people.<br /><br />   That’s what it had come to now. <br /><br />   “Hey, can I see you a sec before you go?” He motioned, and the one who must die came, humming. <br /><br />   Humming. <br /><br />   Like a lamb to slaughter. <br /><br /><br />   CHAPTER 1<br /><br /><br />   The screams of twenty thousand people sizzled in my ears.<br /><br />   “Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign! …”<br /><br />   At the sold-out HP Pavilion in San Jose, California the crowd chanted and clapped and stomped for my mom’s group, Rayne—named after her—to do one more song as they left the stage. As usual I stood backstage with Tom Hutchens, my mom’s twenty-five-year-old hair dresser and makeup artist, and my closest friend on tour. Tom was short and slim, with thick black hair and an intense-looking face that didn’t match his crazy personality at all. <br /><br />   Tom feigned the pucker of a hip-hop artist and splayed his fingers in front of his red T-shirt. “Yo, she reign, they go insane!” He had to shout at me, his Vans-clad feet dancing. Tom always wore these wild-looking sneakers with blue, white, and red checks and a red racing stripe on the sides. “Ain’t nothin’ plain about rockin’ Rayne!”<br /><br />   I punched him in the arm, laughing. His silly rap rhymes were getting worse by the day.<br /><br />   Blonde hair bouncing, Mom came flying down the steps on the way to her private dressing room for the two-minute break. Sweat shone on her forehead as she passed by. She flashed her red-lipped grin at me and raised a palm. We high-fived as she sped past.<br /><br />   “They love us, Shaley!” <br /><br />   “’Course, Mom, they always do!”<br /><br />   The rest of the rock group—Kim, Morrey, Rich and Stan—descended more slowly, their faces showing fatigue. None of them had the energy of my mother after a concert. Tom and I gave them a quick thumbs-up before scurrying after Mom. <br /><br />   As we hit the dressing room with Rayne O’Connor’s name on the door, I checked my watch. 10:45. Yay! Almost time to head to the airport and pick up my best friend, Brittany. I hadn’t seen her since Rayne started touring three months ago, and I couldn’t wait to be with her again. This was Rayne’s third tour, and I always found it hard to leave all my school friends behind. <br /><br />   Without Tom to keep me laughing, touring would be terribly lonely.<br /><br />   I closed the dressing room door, shutting out some of the noise.<br /><br />   “Whoo.” Mom crossed to the left side of the room and plopped into the makeup chair facing a long, brightly lit mirror. To her right sat a wooden armoire full of her clothing. She always changed outfits during intermission. Along the back wall were the blue sofa and matching armchairs specified by contract for her dressing area in every arena. Opposite the makeup counter was the table loaded with catered food, also specified by contract—bowls of fruit, sandwiches, pasta salad, cheese cubes, chips, and M&Ms for me. <br /><br />   Mom studied herself in the mirror with her large crystal blue eyes. “Okay, Tom, do your magic.” She guzzled a drink from a water bottle on the counter.<br /><br />   Like she needed any magic. With her high cheekbones, oval face, and full lips, Mom was drop-dead gorgeous.<br /><br />   Tom winked at me as he snatched up a tissue. Sticking his scrawny neck out, he scrutinized Mom with animation, eyes narrowed and his mouth a rounded O. “Hm. Hmm.”<br /><br />   He sighed, stood back and spread his hands as if to say nothing to be done here, you’re perfect.<br /><br />   Mom rolled her eyes at me. I shrugged. As if I could control Tom’s antics. <br /><br />   “All right, lover boy.” Mom took another swig of water. “Get to it, I’ve got one minute left.”<br /><br />   “Yo, big Mama.”<br /><br />   Mom swatted his hand. “Would you stop calling me that? I don’t know why I put up with you.” Her mouth curved.<br /><br />   Tom leaned in to blot her face with the tissue. “’Cause I make you look bodacious, that’s why.” Expertly he retouched her blusher and lipstick, fluffed her hair. <br /><br />   Out in the arena the crowd’s yells and applause was growing louder. I smiled and squeezed Mom’s shoulder. Every concert the fans went wild, but it never got old for me. Night after night their adoration set pride for my mom welling in my chest. <br /><br />   Five years ago when I was eleven and Mom was twenty-eight, Rayne was barely hanging on. Mom and the band played little concerts here and there, working night and day to get noticed. I remember how hard she tried back then. A great lyric writer with a distinct, throaty-edged voice, she deserved to make it big. Then the song Far and Near hit the radio and after that—a rocket launch. <br /><br />   Tom stood back and surveyed Mom, his head cocked to one side. “Not bad. Not bad a-tall.”<br /><br />   “Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign!” The crowd was going crazy out there.<br /><br />   Mom tossed her hair back, looked at herself from side to side. “Great.” She sprang from the chair. “Gotta go.” She hurried toward the door.<br /><br />   I moved out of her way. “Mom, don’t forget we’re going to pick up Brittany in ten minutes. We’re leaving a little early because Tom wants to stop by a drugstore.” <br /><br />   “Oh, that’s right.” Mom pulled up short, one hand on the door knob. She looked to Tom. “Somebody else doing your clean-up?”<br /><br />   He glanced at me. “Got it taken care of.”<br /><br />   Disappointment pulled at my mouth. Mom knew how I’d counted the days until Brittany’s and my junior year of high school ended—just yesterday. My tutor had flown home this morning, and now Brittany was coming for two weeks. Mom was paying all her expenses—for that I was so grateful. But Mom could get so wrapped up in her work. Sometimes I just needed her to remember me. <br /><br />   Mom looked my way—and caught my expression. She smiled too wide, as if to make up for her distraction. “I’m so glad Brittany’s coming, Shaley. We’ll show her a great time.”<br /><br />   I nodded.<br /><br />   “Mick’s going with you, right?” <br /><br />   “Yeah.” <br /><br />   Mick Rader had been my mom’s main personal bodyguard for the past three years. The other two, Bruce Stolz and Wendell Bennington, would guard her on her way to the hotel tonight while Mick was with me. <br /><br />   “Okay, good. You’ll be safe.” Mom smiled as she opened the door. The crowd’s screams rushed in. “See you at the hotel.”<br /><br />   She blew me a kiss and disappeared.<br /><br />   The yelling suddenly frayed my nerves. I pushed the door shut and leaned against it.<br /><br />   Tom shot me his sad clown look, his lips turned down and eyebrows pulled into a V. He always read my mind so well. <br /><br />   I couldn’t help but smile. “It’s okay.”<br /><br />   His expression whisked away. Tom struck his hip-hop pose. “Got a new one for ya.”<br /><br />   “Oh, yeah?” I knew he’d create the lyrics as he went along, just to get me laughing again. <br /><br />   Tom’s feet started their shuffle-dance. “Let’s go for a ride down the avenue. Top down, wind-blown, my VW. The talk of the town in all we do. Shaley O’Connor puttin’ on the view—”<br /><br />   He froze, mouth open, frowning hard. Then jerked back into dancing. “Can’t think of another line, can you?”<br /><br />   I giggled. “Great, Tom, as fabulous as all your others.”<br /><br />   He bowed. “Thank ya, thank yaaa.”<br /><br />   Pulling up straight, he glanced at the wall clock. “Yikes, I gotta take care of some things before the limo comes. Meet you at the back exit?”<br /><br />   “Okay.”<br /><br />   As the door closed behind him, I crossed the room to check myself in the mirror. Excitement pulsed through my veins. Almost time to see Brittany! I chose a neutral lipstick and leaned toward the glass to apply it. Thanks to Tom I’d learned a lot of makeup tricks, and my face needed little retouching. Finished with the lipstick, I ran a brush through my long brown hair. Tom had recently layered it and feathered the bangs. I liked the look.<br /><br />   Despite the difference in hair color, many people said I looked like my mother. I considered that a high compliment.<br /><br />   I stood back and turned side to side. Not bad. My new designer jeans fit well and the blue top matched my eyes. Brittany would love the outfit. I grinned at myself, then glanced at the clock. Almost time for the limo to arrive.<br /><br />   In the arena the crowd roared. Rayne was taking the stage. The first of two encore songs started—the band’s new hit Do it Up Right. <br /><br />   For a few minutes I paced the room impatiently, munching M&Ms. Rayne launched into their final song of the night.<br /><br />   Two hard knocks sounded on the door—Mick’s signal. He stuck his square-shaped head inside. Mick is in his forties, ex-military. A thick neck and muscles out to here. Nobody messes with Mick. “Shaley, you ready?” <br /><br />   “Yes! Is the limo waiting?”<br /><br />   “Yeah.” His deep-set brown eyes swept the room. “Where’s Tom?” <br /><br />   “He said he had to take care of a few things. He’ll meet us at the door.” I crossed to the couch to pick up my purse.<br /><br />   “Okay. I’m going to stop in the bathroom, then I’ll see you there.” He gave me his squinty-eyed stare. “Don’t step outside of the building without me.”<br /><br />   I flicked a look at the ceiling. “Yeah, yeah.” Mick was so protective. It’s not like I’d be in any danger walking out that door. As with all arenas where Rayne sang, the HP Pavilion had a special entrance for performers, guarded by their own local security. And that whole section of the parking lot was roped off and guarded. No chance for any fans or paparazzi to sneak in.<br /><br />   Mick jabbed a finger at me for emphasis, then left. <br /><br />   Tingling with anticipation, I scurried out the door, intent on checking the other dressing rooms for Tom. No time to wait, let’s go, let’s go! Having been at the arena since four o’clock when sound checks began, I’d already learned the layout of the backstage area. There were eight dressing rooms—Mom’s the biggest. <br /><br />   I hurried down the wide hall, mouthing “hi” to people I passed. The sound and light crew were still working, but the backline crew—the guys who maintain all the instruments and switch them out during performances—were done now. Set carpenters, the managers, and all the people who tore down the stage also milled around until the concert ended. <br /><br />   First I went to the back exit and peeked outside. Tom wasn’t there.<br /><br />   I returned all the way up the hall, figuring I’d work my way back down.<br /><br />   For the first time I noticed all the dressing room doors were closed. Strange. If Tom had gone into one to pack up something, he’d have left the door open as a courtesy. Those assigned rooms were personal space to members of the band and Rayne’s production manager, Ross Blanke. <br /><br />   I peeked in the one next to Mom’s.<br /><br />   Empty.<br /><br />   Shoving my purse handles higher up my shoulder, I went to the third. <br /><br />   Empty again.<br /><br />   The fourth.<br /><br />   No Tom.<br /><br />   This wasn’t right. Tom was never late. Where was he?<br /><br />   Mick approached, signaling me with a roll of his finger—let’s get moving. <br /><br />   I nodded. “He wasn’t in the bathroom?” <br /><br />   Mick shook his head. <br /><br />   Together we walked to the fifth dressing room. Mick poked his head inside. <br /><br />   Empty.<br /><br />   I ran down to look in the sixth. No Tom. <br /><br />   I banged the door shut and looked around. What was going on? If he didn’t show up soon we wouldn’t have time to go out of our way to a drugstore. The airport was minutes away from the arena. We didn’t want Brittany waiting around by herself after dark.<br /><br />   “You take the next one.” Mick strode past me. “I’ll look in the one on the end.”<br /><br />   The seventh dressing room had been allocated as Ross’s office. At every venue he needed a private area for calling people, dealing with last-minute problems and basically seeing that everything in the contract was honored. I couldn’t remember seeing Ross in the hall. He might be inside, and I didn’t dare just barge in. The production manager’s office was off-limits to everyone unless invited.<br /><br />   I knocked, waited. Knocked harder. <br /><br />   No answer.<br /><br />   I opened the door.<br /><br />   Like Mom, Ross ordered the same room set-up each time. For him that included an oversized desk with black leather chair. On the desk he would stack his papers and folders, carefully position his laptop. A fax machine had to be on his left, a telephone with multiple lines on his right. Looking at Ross—a short, fat man with scraggly hair to his shoulders—you’d never guess what a neat freak he is. <br /><br />   And always on the wall—a large round clock. <br /><br />   As I stepped into the room, my eyes grazed that clock. 10:55. Brittany’s plane would be landing soon. <br /><br />   On the floor beside the desk I glimpsed a splash of color. <br /><br />   Something twisted inside my stomach, almost as if my subconscious mind had already registered the sight. Time seemed to slow. <br /><br />   Clutching the door handle, I turned my head toward the color.<br /><br />   A foot. On the floor sticking out from behind the desk. Wearing a Vans with blue, white and red checks, and a red racing strip. The foot lay on its side, toes pointed away from me, heel dug awkwardly into the carpet. <br /><br />   Deathly still. <br /><br /> <br /><br /> <br /><br /><br />   <br /><br /> <br /> <br /> <br /> <br /> <br /><br />   CHAPTER 2<br /><br /> <br /> <br /><br />   I stared across the room at the foot. The back of my neck prickled. <br /><br />   Run, my mind shouted. Run and check on Tom!  But my feet rooted to the carpet, my fingers digging into the doorpost. <br /><br />   Onstage, the music stopped. Wild clapping and cheering rose from the arena. <br /><br />   The noise jerked me out of my zombie state. I lowered my purse from my shoulder. Set it on the floor. Holding my breath, I crept forward.<br /><br />   As I edged around the side of the desk, Tom’s jeaned leg came into view. <br /><br />   It wasn’t moving.<br /><br />   My legs stopped. <br /><br />   “T-Tom?” My voice cracked into a whisper. <br /><br />   No answer. <br /><br />   So what? He couldn’t have heard me above the crowd.<br /><br />   I took another step. Now I could see his second leg, drawn up and bent at the knee. Tom was lying on his side. I moved again and saw an arm flung out, fingers half-curled toward the palm.<br /><br />   I leapt forward until his head came into sight. Tom’s second arm lay crumpled against the carpet, his face partially turned into the short sleeve of his red T-shirt. His one visible eye was open, staring at the wall. <br /><br />   Air gushed out of my mouth. He was tricking me. <br /><br />   “You rotten thing!” I pushed at his leg with my toe. “How—”<br /><br />   No change. Just that wide-eyed stare.<br /><br />   All the relief that had spilled out of me reversed back down my throat. My windpipe closed until I could hardly breathe. I sank to my knees beside his chest. <br /><br />   “Tom?” I leaned down to look into both his eyes. <br /><br />   The other one was gone. <br /><br />   I mean gone. Just a black, bloody, gaping hole. <br /><br />   For the longest second of my life, all I could do was stare. It pulled at me, that hole. Like it wanted me to tumble inside it, a horror-film version of Alice in Wonderland. <br /><br />   Faintness gripped me. I swooned toward Tom’s ravaged face, my nose almost touching where his eye used to be …<br /><br />   At the last possible moment, my muscles jerked me back.<br /><br />   I shoved to my feet and screamed.<br /><br /> <br /><br /> <br /><br /><br />   <br /><br /> <br /> <br /> <br /> <br /> <br /><br />   CHAPTER 3<br /><br /> <br /> <br /><br />   My shrieks bounced off the walls during the crowd’s final shouts. In the same second all noise died away. <br /><br />   Silence rang in my ears.<br /><br />   I turned and ran.<br /><br />   Mick materialized in the doorway as I hurtled into it. I rammed into his rock-solid chest. With another scream I bounced off and collapsed on the carpet.<br /><br />   “What–?” Mick bent over me. I looked up, mouth flopping open. No sound came. I pointed a shaking finger toward Tom. Mick’s head jerked up. <br /><br />   Horror crossed his face.<br /><br />   He jumped over me and ran to Tom, his hand reaching for the gun clipped to his belt. <br /><br />   Mick bent down and disappeared behind the desk. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t do anything.<br /><br />   Voices of band members mingled in the hall, commenting on the performance. How strange the words sounded. So naïve. So unknowing. <br /><br />   Heavy footsteps approached. Ross rounded the corner and almost stepped on me. <br /><br />   “Ahhh!” I rolled away from him. <br /><br />   Mick raised up from behind the desk. Ross froze at the look on his face. “What’s going on?”<br /><br />   “Tom’s dead.” Mick’s voice was tight. <br /><br />   “What?”<br /><br />   “Somebody shot him.”<br /><br />   Ross blinked rapidly, then leapt around me to see for himself.<br /><br />   Mick reached for the phone on the desk. “I’m calling 911.”<br /><br />   I stared at the ceiling, mind going numb. My limbs felt like water. Tom was dead. Dead. My heart couldn’t grasp it. I’d just been with him. How could he be gone? <br /><br />   “Oh.” The word choked from Ross’s throat. He backed away from Tom. <br /><br />   “Yes,” Mick said into the phone. “I need to report a homicide. Hang on a minute.” He shoved the phone into Ross’s hand. “You talk to them. I need to get Bruce and Wendell. We’ll round up the band members, make sure they’re safe.”<br /><br />   Mom. Could whoever did this to Tom want to hurt her?<br /><br />   Mick ran past me, gun in hand. “Shaley, stay here.”<br /><br />   I barely heard him. Panic pushed me onto weak knees. I had to find my mother!<br /><br />   Somehow I crawled out the door. “Mom. Mommmm!” <br /><br />   Every person in the hallway jerked around. <br /><br />   Mick spun back to me. “Shaley, stay there!” He swung toward the others. “Everyone, against the wall and don’t move. Wendell, Bruce, where are you?”<br /><br />   People melted back, calling questions, their voices buzzing like a thousand bees in my head.<br /><br />   “Where’s my mom!”<br /><br />   Bruce ran out of the men’s bathroom, hand automatically going for his weapon. “What?” At six-foot-six, he has powerful, long legs and arms. I could see his head about everyone else’s.<br /><br />   Wendell burst from the stage area. “Here!”<br /><br />   “Shaley?” Mom’s sharpened voice filtered from up the hallway. “What’s happening?” She came toward me, eyes wide. <br /><br />   “Rayne, stay where you are!” Mick shouted.<br /><br />   Mom picked up speed. Her head whipped back and forth, gawking at everyone pressed against the walls. She started to run. “Shaley, are you all right?<br /><br />   I teetered to my feet. “Tom’s dead, Mom, he’s dead!” <br /><br />   Gasps rose from dozens of throats. Mom didn’t even slow. Mick grabbed her arm, but she yanked away. As if in a dream—a nightmare—I watched her tear-blurred form hurtle toward me. Mick, Bruce and Wendell spread their feet, guns raised, eyes darting back and forth, searching the hall for danger.<br /><br />   I flung myself forward, sobbing.<br /><br />   After an eternity Mom reached me. I collapsed into her arms, screaming Tom’s name.<br /></div><br />

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Two cousins

These two cousins are almost like brothers! They love playing with each other most of the time, but as you can see here there is a big disagreement about something VERY important!! Guess what it was? Where the bag of grapes should be while they were eating it! <p> It makes me think of how we often as we grow up make huge deals out of little things and if it were toddlers, we would look and laugh, but often as grown ups we make mountains out of molehills and  talk, argue, don’t speak to one another or whatever we feel like because of these little things. Even in the church, we take issues with clothing, music or the like and  because some people are different we  treat them a certain way……sometimes I sit back and wonder if God looks at us like we look down on  these 4 years olds and thinks "How silly!!! Don’t they know it would be so much better if they would JUST GET  ALONG!!" i know I feel that way about 4 year olds sometimes!!!

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Lots of things going on this month

i finished my apron on Sunday and got it mailed off. I took a picture, but it is hard to take pictures of an apron not on a person and have it look right. It is big on me, so i did not want to wear it! It turned out nice though!
You can’t see the pockets in the picture, but they are neat looking!
<p> On Monday, I managed to get the van registered….whoo, hoo!  We got the title straightened out! The company had signed in the wrong spot, but we got it straightened out! It could have been a mess!<p> it was my sister’s and brother’s birthday on Monday, so my sister and I drove up to spend the day. My sister is 13 and my brother is 10…..
We went to their school and had pizza and pie and this really good tortellini salad mom made!
My brother- getting his pie!
My sister and her friends……she is in the gray sweatshirt jacket…
They then went to the pet store to get a fish tank and fish for my brother’s present, it smelled pretty bad, to me anyhow, so we stopped and waited at a park while they went. They also had rats which gave me the shivers…they were jumping and trying to get out, which was worse! At least they were not gray, that would have been awful!
H. love monkey bars!
My lovely sister!
One of my nephews!!
After the park we went back to the house for dinner and more cake….and a wonderful spinach salad! i left my camera in the car then so not many pictures…..
Anyhow, today we went grocery shopping and i decided to do #32 on my list for this week, send out three birthday cards….because i had to send out some anyhow! I have to do one more, and I am not sure who i will send it to though!
<p> My menu this week:
Wednesday: Spaghetti, bread, salad
Thursday: Chicken ceasar salad, crusty french bread
Friday: Steak, Oven fries, steamed broccoli
Saturday: Mashed potatoes, meat gravy, cabbage salad
Sunday: Kids cook and clean, hopefully!
Monday: Salami sandwiches, salad
Tuesday: Pizza, salad

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