Monthly Archives: March 2010

Chosen by Ginger Garrett

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour 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! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Chosen

David C. Cook; New edition (March 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Focusing on ancient women’s history, critically acclaimed author Ginger Garrett creates novels and nonfiction resources that explore the lives of historical women. In addition to her writing, Garrett is a frequent radio and television guest. A native Texan, she now resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

Visit the author’s website.

Chosen, by Ginger Garrett from David C. Cook on Vimeo.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (March 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434768015
ISBN-13: 978-1434768018

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Prologue

Fourth Day of the Month of Av

Year 3414 after Creation

If you have opened this, you are the chosen one.

For this book has been sealed in the tomb of the ancients of Persia, never to be opened, I pray, until G-d1 has put His finger on a new woman of destiny, a woman who will rise up and change her nation. But we will not talk of your circumstances, and the many reasons this book may have fallen into your hands. There are no mistakes with prayer. You have indeed been called. If this sounds too strange, if you must look around your room and question whether G-d’s finger has perhaps slipped, if you are not a woman with the means to change a nation, then join me on a journey. You must return with me now to a place without hope, a nation that had lost sight of G-d, a girl with nothing to offer, and no one to give it to.

I must introduce myself first as I truly am: an exiled Jew, and an orphan. My given name was Hadassah, but the oppression of exile has stripped that too from me: I am now called Esther,2 so that I may blend in with my captors. My people, the Hebrew nation, had been sent out of our homeland after a bitter defeat in battle. We were allowed to settle in the kingdom of Persia, but we were not allowed to truly prosper there. We blended in, our lives preserved, but our heritage and customs were forced underground. Our hearts, once set only on returning to Jerusalem, were set out to wither in the heat

of the Arabian sun. My cousin Mordecai rescued me when I was orphaned and we lived in the capital city of Susa, under the reign of King Xerxes.3 Mordecai had a small flock of sheep that I helped tend, and we sold their fleece in the market. If times were good, we would sell a lamb for someone’s celebration. It was always for others to celebrate. We merely survived. But Mordecai was kind and good, and I was not forced into dishonor like the other orphans I had once known. This is how my story begins, and I give you these details not for sympathy, but so you will know that I am a girl well acquainted with bitter reality. I am not given to the freedom in flights of fantasy. But how can I explain to you the setting of my story? It is most certainly far removed from your experience. For I suspect that in the future, women will know freedom. And freedom is not an easy thing to forget, even if only to entertain an orphan’s story.

But you must forget now. I was born into a world, and into this story, where even the bravest women were faceless specters. Once married, they could venture out of their homes only with veils and escorts. No one yet had freed our souls. Passion and pleasure, like freedom, were the domain of men, and even young girls knew the wishes of their hearts would always be subject to a man’s desire for wealth. A man named Pericles summed up my time so well in his famed oration: “The greatest glory of a woman is to be least talked about by men, whether they are praising you or criticizing you.” Our role was clear: We were to be objects of passion, to receive a man’s attention mutely, and to respond only with children for the estate. Even the most powerful woman of our time, the beautiful Queen Vashti, was powerless. That was my future as a girl and I dared not lift my eyes above its horizon. That is how I enter this story. But give me your hand and let us walk back now, past the crumbling walls of history, to this world forgotten but a time yet remembered. Let me tell you the story of a girl unspared, plunged into heartache and chaos, who would save a nation. My name is Esther, and I will be queen.

1 Out of respect for God, Jews write the name of God without the vowels, believing that the name of God is too holy to be written out completely by a human. God is referred to as either “G-d” or “YHVH.”

2 The name Esther is related to the Persian name of Ishtar, a pagan goddess of the stars.

3 Esther refers to the king by his Persian name. In the Hebrew texts of antiquity, he is also referred to as Ahasuerus.

1

Eleventh Day of Shevat

Third Year of the Reign of Xerxes

Year 3394 after Creation

Was it today that I became fully awake, or have I only now begun to dream? Today Cyrus saw me in the marketplace haggling gently with my favorite shopkeeper, Shethana, over the price of a fleece. Shethana makes the loveliest rugs—I think they are even more lovely than the ones imported from the East—and her husband is known for his skill in crafting metals of all kinds. When I turned fifteen last year, he fashioned for me a necklace with several links in the center, painted various shades of blue. He says it is an art practiced in Egypt, this inlaying of colors into metal shapes. I feel so exotic with it on and wear it almost daily. I know it is as close to adventure as Mordecai will ever allow.

But as Shethana and I haggled over the fleece, both of us smiling because she knew I would as soon give it to her, Cyrus walked by eating a flatbread he had purchased from another vendor. He grimaced when he took a bite—I think he might have gotten a very strong taste of shallot—and I laughed. He laughed back, wiping his eyes with his jacket and fanning his mouth, and then, oh then, his gaze held my eyes for a moment. Everything in my body seemed to come alive suddenly and I felt afraid, for my legs couldn’t stand as straight and steady and I couldn’t get my mouth to work. Shethana noticed right away and didn’t conceal her grin as she glanced between Cyrus and me. I should have doubled the price of her fleece right then!

Cyrus turned to walk away, and I tried to focus again on my transaction. I could not meet Shethana’s eyes now—I didn’t want to be questioned about men and marriage, for everyone knows I have no dowry. To dream of winning Cyrus would be as foolish as to run my own heart straight through. I cannot dream, for it will surely crush me. And yet I can’t stop this warm flood that sweeps over me when he is near.

I haven’t told you the best part—when Shethana bought her fleece and left, I allowed myself to close my eyes for a moment in the heat of the day, and when I opened them again, there was a little stack of flatbread in my booth. I looked in every direction but could see no one. Taking a bite, I had to spit it out and started laughing. Cyrus was right—the vendor used many bitter shallots. The flatbread was a disaster.

©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Chosen by Ginger Garrett. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

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Testing my limits

It is always good to try your limits and do things you thought you never would do! Today I went to a lunch/playdate with other moms, one of which I knew, the others were strangers. It was really  fun! I am branching out! The weird thing was that I was one of the "older moms". I am feeling old  and do not have little children as much anymore, so it feels odd to me! It almost makes me want to have another baby  right now and that is not a good reason for it…..
It took T. awhile to warm up as we ended up there with just him as the other boys had classes. It was good for him and he had alot of fun. Nancy had made homemade pizza crusts that we all made out own pizza’s. She made the crusts with spelt and kamut and baked them on a stone in the oven. Mine had  tons of wonderful vegetables on it! Mushrooms, olives, green peppers, pineapple, feta cheese, grated carrots, pesto, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and I think that was all…..it was yummy!!!  Then she had a fruit salad and homemade whoopee pies made with agave nectar and coconut filling. Everything was really healthy, but really good tasting! It has been awhile since I have had yummy healthy stuff. Some things people say are healthy are kind of odd!!!<p>
I also agreed to teach a class for Teen MOP’s which I really hope goes well, I am pretty nervous about it, but I think I can do it! <p> I  am starting to feel older, probably look older, although I still get comments about it, but I feel ancient! <p>
Anyhow, I have to go start some dessert for a family who had a baby and need to bring dinner……I think we will make shepherds pie and a dessert…..I hope that is good!

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The Right Call by Kathy Herman

My Review: I have always enjoyed Kathy Herman’s books, and this one was no exception. Filled with mystery and intrigue, The Right Call concludes this series. I was a little confused at first because for some reason when I finished the second book in this series, I thought that the baby’s father was going to be in it, but then I realized I had him and Ethan confused. So, just a mix-up on my part…..anyhow, Ethan is finally getting the romantic relationship that he wants, but murder is happening all around him. Drive by shootings of college students, young children and others…..is anyone safe? The pressure is on for the police to find this killer and they seem to hit roadblocks every which way. Who is behind this and why are they doing it?

This book has some really tough moments and it was one that I for sure did not want to put down…. It deals with alot of tough family issues and the length some people will go to hide a secret. I am just thankful when I read this types of books that at least my family did not resort to murder to hide secrets. This ends on a sweet note to make you go “Awww….” and it will make you feel happy! A no main characters are murdered really, which makes this a really good book! I like them real, but not that real! – Martha

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour 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! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Right Call

David C. Cook; New edition (March 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Kathy Herman is a best-selling suspense novelist who has written fifteen novels since retiring from her family’s Christian bookstore business. Kathy and her husband, Paul, have three grown children and five grandchildren and live in Tyler, Texas. This is the third title in the Sophie Trace trilogy, which also includes The Real Enemy, and The Last Word.

Visit the author’s website.

The Right Call, by Kathy Herman from David C. Cook on Vimeo.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (March 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434767841
ISBN-13: 978-1434767844

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Drew Langley jumped at the loud thud upstairs and resisted the temptation to bang on the wall and dispel the roaring laughter that followed. Was he the only student in the apartment building still studying for finals?

A warm breeze rattled the blinds, and he closed his eyes, inhaling the intoxicating fragrance of magnolia blossoms wafting from the south campus of Stanton College. It took every ounce of discipline he could muster not to close his books and give in to the lure of spring.

He heard rubber soles on the hardwood floor and lifted his gaze as his roommate came to a quick stop in front of the mirror over the worn living-room sofa.

Tal Davison wet his fingers and smoothed his hair. “I see you’re still studying. I guess that means you’re not coming.”

“To what? I thought you had a date.”

“Why do you make me tell you everything twice? You’re worse than my grandmother.”

Drew put down his pencil. “Sorry, I’ve been focused on other things. Tell me again. I’m listening.”

Tal came and stood in the doorway of Drew’s bedroom, his arms folded across his chest. “I’m going over to Henry’s for a junk-food buffet and beer. You’re invited.”

“Thanks. But I really need to study for my English lit final. It’s next week, and I’ve got chapters of catching up to do.”

“Suit yourself. I’m brain-dead. I couldn’t learn another thing if you paid me.” Tal started to go and then stopped. “Listen, thanks again for letting me move in here for the last few weeks. It’s nice sharing an apartment that doesn’t reek of marijuana. I hope I haven’t been as big a pain as your other roommate.” He shot Drew a half smile.

Drew leaned back and folded his arms. “Hey, not at all, man. I hope you don’t think I’ve been ignoring you. It’s just that I have to keep up the grades. No four-oh, no scholarship. There’s no way I can afford to attend Stanton without it.” I don’t have a rich father footing the bill.

“Doesn’t it cramp your style to go to college in Sophie Trace? Your parents are pretty close by, aren’t they?”

“Thanks to the scholarship I can live off campus. That’s all the independence I need. It’s nice going home whenever I want. My parents really help me stay on track.” Drew studied Tal’s expression.

“I take it you wish your dad wasn’t so close?”

Tal got quiet for a moment and seemed to be somewhere else. “He’s much too busy to breathe down my neck. And he doesn’t care about my grades as long as I pass and he can tell his cronies that his namesake’s attending his alma mater and is going to work for him after graduation.”

“Is that so bad?”

“I just wish he cared more about me and less about his image. I’m not sure I can ever measure up to his expectations.”

“Come on, man. You’ve got it made in the shade. All you have to do is get through one more year, and he’ll hand you the job of a lifetime. I thought you were pumped about it.”

Tal flashed a crooked smile. “I’m trying to be. It’s my big chance to make Dad proud of me. It’s all he’s talked about for years. But there’s a lot of pressure, learning to run a big corporation. The closer I get, the more intimidated I feel.”

“He must think you can do it, Tal. There’s a lot at stake for him, too.” Even if he is handing it to you on a silver platter.

“Maybe I’ll buy a little time after I graduate—tell Dad I’m burned-out and need to backpack across Europe for a while before I jump into the corporate world.”

A grin tugged at Drew’s cheeks. “Then you’d need someone to babysit your Hummer. Can I apply for the job? Man, I wish I’d been there when your dad had it delivered to your birthday party.”

“It was an awesome way to turn twenty-one, all right. But I’d trade it in a heartbeat for a relationship with my dad like you have with yours.”

“I guess I take it for granted.”

“Well, don’t,” Tal said. “I can’t remember the last time I sat down and had a real conversation with mine. He’s either working himself to death or hiding out at the lake house with wife number four—the fashion model who’s got silicone for brains.”

“I didn’t realize she was his fourth wife.”

“And she’s pregnant with daughter number seven. Maybe he’s going for the record.”

“Yeah, but you’re still his only son. And you and your mother are close.”

“Not in proximity. She’s spending a lot of time in New York with her boyfriend. He deals in fine art, and she likes to go to the auctions with him. I doubt I’ll see her anytime soon.”

Drew shifted his weight. Why hadn’t Tal mentioned before that his mother was seeing someone?

“Actually, I’m happy for her,” Tal said. “And I don’t mind sharing her Nashville house with the maid, the cook, and the butler. I’ll lie around the pool and read sci-fi novels and give my brain a rest. I’m so burned-out I can’t stand to think about another year of studying.”

“You’ll be ready to hit it again in the fall. Just think how good you’ll feel when you get your degree.”

Tal smiled wryly. “Would you believe my dad’s executive bonus last year was ten million? I must be nuts not to be more excited about the job.”

No kidding. “So why aren’t you?”

“I don’t know … my dad’s ruthless. And the company takes precedence over everyone and everything. I want more out of life than that.”

“I hear you. But if it were me, I’d at least try it long enough to earn a couple million and then go do whatever I wanted.“

“I’ve thought of that.” Tal stood up straight, the result of his beer drinking and bingeing hanging over his belt. “But I have a feeling that once Dad has me under his thumb, I’ll never get out from under. What I really want to do is go to the police academy.”

“Have you told him how you feel?”

“I tried. But Dad doesn’t really care how I feel. It’s my duty as his only son to keep the family business going. If I turn my back on that, he’ll basically disown me. Not that we’re close now, but it’s hard to think of having no dad. Hey, enough serious talk. It’s party time. Sure you don’t want to come?”

“Yeah, I’ve got to hit the books. Who’s your designated driver?”

“Don’t need one. I’m walking.”

“You think that’s smart? Henry’s neighborhood isn’t exactly the safest part of town.”

“I’ll be fine. But I’ll tell you what”—Tal laughed and tossed his keys to Drew—“if I don’t make it back alive, the Hummer’s all yours.”

©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. The Right Call by Kathy Herman. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

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Gone all day….

I got the honor to be a doula today. It is always alot of work, but really worth it. I am so tired right now, I am not sure why I am still sitting here.
Sweet mama and baby……

Anyhow, being gone all day sure makes for a tired mama…..I came home though and my boys and my husband had been cleaning while I was  gone and did alot of work. I brought them ice cream home and corn dogs. Good night!

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The Country House Courtship by Linore Rose Burkard

My Review: I am looking forward to reading this book over this weekend….so will update with a review late on Saturday! I have enjoyed the first two, and I am sure this one will be no different!
<p> Alright, a day late for the review, but I got it read  last night and today! As I thought, it was an enjoyable read! Ariana (from the previous two books)is married happily with children in this Jane Austen type novel  and her  young 17 year old sister is growing up and looking for her own chances at marriage. When begging to go to Town be presented is not working, she finds herself presented with two chances of suitors in a much closer range. Will she make the right decision? Will she marry for money or for love? What role will faith play in her decision or will she leave behind all of that to pursue riches? So many questions for this young heroine. <p> I enjoyed reading this, Linore does a good job  keeping the era’s way of speaking authentic and entertaining! I was surprised at all the mention of nursing her babies, as  I know that was not common and she touched on this- Martha

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour 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! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Country House Courtship

Harvest House Publishers (January 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Linore Rose Burkard and Dave Bartlett (Harvest House Publishers) for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Linore Rose Burkard is the creator of "Inspirational Romance for the Jane Austen Soul." Her characters take you back in time to experience life and love during the era of Regency England (circa 1811 – 1820). Fans of classic romances such as Pride & Prejudice, Emma, and Sense & Sensibility, will enjoy Linore’s feisty heroines, heart-throb heroes and happy endings.

Enjoy the free resources on Linore’s website: http://www.LinoreBurkard.com/resources.html

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (January 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736927999
ISBN-13: 978-0736927994

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

London, England, 1818

Mr. Peter O’Brien felt surely he had a devil plaguing him, and the devil’s name was Mr. Phillip Mornay. The paper in his hand should have made him happy. Indeed, it ought to have elicited nothing but joy after two years of holding a curacy that didn’t pay enough to feed a church-mouse. Yet, instead he was staring ahead after reading a letter of recommendation for him as though he’d seen a ghost.

His previous naval commander, Colonel Sotheby, had recommended Mr. O’Brien to a wealthy landowner whose vicarage had gone vacant. It was the sort of letter that a poor Curate should rejoice over. The man who obtained the vicarage in the parish of Glendover, the Colonel said, in addition to having a decent curate’s salary, would have claim to a large glebe, a generous and well built house, and, in short, would see himself by way of having enough to begin a family. (If he found a wife to marry, first, of course. O’Brien could just hear the Colonel’s good-natured laugh ring out at that remark.)

But still his own mouth was set in an unpromising hard line: The landowner’s name was Mr. Phillip Mornay, none other than the Paragon, himself. And Mornay, Mr. O’Brien knew, would never grant him the living. To do so would go against everything he knew to be true of him. After all, no man who had once overstepped his bounds with Mr. Mornay’s betrothed, as Mr. O’Brien unfortunately had, would now be presented to the vicarage on the man’s lands. Of all the rotten, devilish luck! To have such a letter of commendation was like gold in the fiercely competitive world of the church, where there were more poor curates looking for a rise in their situations than there were church parishes who could supply them.

Therefore, instead of the boon from heaven this letter ought to have been, Mr. O’Brien was struck with a gloomy assurance that Mornay would sooner accept a popinjay in cleric’s clothing than himself. Even worse, his mother agreed with his appraisal.

He had taken the letter into the morning room of their house on Blandford Street, joining his mother while she sat at her breakfast.

“You do not wish to renew old grievances,” she said. “Mr. Mornay is not, to my knowledge, a forgiving man; shall you be put to the expense and trouble of travelling all the way to Middlesex, only to be turned down in the end? What can you possibly gain in it?”

Mr. O’Brien nodded; he saw her point. But he said, “I may have to do just that. The Colonel will never recommend me for another parish if he learns that I failed to apply myself to this opportunity.”

“Write to him,” replied his mama. “See if you can politely decline this honour, with the understanding that any other offer should be most welcome and appreciated!”

He doubted that any letter , no matter how ‘politely’ written, would be able to manage his desire to avoid this meeting with Mornay, as well as secure the hope of a future recommendation. But he thought about it, put quill to paper and sent the Colonel a reply. He asked (in the humblest terms he could manage) if the man might commend him for a living to be presented by some other landowner, indeed, any other landowner, any other gentleman in England than Phillip Mornay.

He could not explain the full extent of his past doings with Mr. Mornay without making himself sound like an utter fool; how he had hoped to marry the present Mrs. Mornay himself, some years ago. How presumptuous his hopes seemed to him now! Miss Ariana Forsythe was magnificent as the wife of the Paragon. He’d seen them in town after the marriage, but without ever presenting himself before her. It appalled even him that he had once thought himself worthy or equal to that beautiful lady.

When the Colonel’s reply came, there was little surprise in it. He assured Mr. O’Brien that his apprehensions were ill-placed; that Mr. Mornay’s past reputation of being a harsh, irascible man was no longer to the purpose. Colonel Sotheby himself held Mornay in the greatest respect, and insisted that the Paragon had as good a heart as any Christian. In short, (and he made this terribly clear) Mr. O’Brien had best get himself off to Middlesex or he would put the Colonel in a deuced uncomfortable spot. He had already written to Aspindon House, which meant that Mr. O’Brien was expected. If he failed to appear for an interview, he could not expect that another recommendation of such merit and generosity would ever come his way again.

Mr. O’Brien realized it was inevitable: he would have to go to Middlesex and present himself to Mornay. He knew it was a vain cause, that nothing but humiliation could come of it, but he bowed to what he must consider the will of God. He knelt in prayer, begging to be excused from this doomed interview, but his heart and conscience told him he must to it. If he was to face humiliation, had he not brought it upon himself? Had he not earned Mornay’s disregard, with his former obsession with Miss Forsythe, who was now Mrs. Mornay?

He no longer had feelings for the lady, but it was sure to be blesséd awkward to face her! No less so than her husband. Nevertheless, when he rose from his knees, Peter O’Brien felt equal to doing what both duty and honour required. He only hoped that Mr. Mornay had not already written his own letter of objections to the Colonel; telling him why he would never present the living to Peter O’Brien. The Colonel was his best hope for a way out of St. Pancras . It was a gritty, desperate parish with poverty, crime, and hopelessness aplenty—not the sort of place he hoped to spend his life in, for he wanted a family. A wife.

Prepared to face the interview come what may, Mr. O’Brien determined not to allow Mornay to make quick work of him. He was no longer the youthful swain, besotted over a Miss Forsythe. A stint in the Army, if nothing else, had hardened him, brought him face to face with deep issues of life, and left him, or so he thought, a better man.

******

Aspindon House, Glendover, Middlesex

Ariana Mornay looked for the hundredth time at her younger sister Beatrice, sitting across from her in the elegantly cozy morning room of her country estate, Aspindon. Here in the daylight, Beatrice’s transformation from child to warm and attractive young woman was fully evident . When Mrs. Forsythe and Beatrice had arrived the prior evening, Ariana had seen the change in her sister, of course, but the daylight revealed it in a clarity that neither last night’s flambeaux (lit in honour of their arrival) or the interior candlelight and fire of the drawing room had been able to offer.

Beatrice’s previously brown hair was now a lovely luminous russet. Ringlets peeked out from a morning cap with ruffled lace, hanging over her brow and hovering about the sides of her face. The reddish brown of her locks emphasized hazel-green eyes, smallish mischievous lips and a healthy glow in her cheeks. Beatrice noticed her elder sister was studying her, and smiled.

“You still look at me as if you know me not,” she said, not hiding how much it pleased her to find herself an object of admiration.

“I cannot comprehend how greatly you are altered, in just one year!”

“I regret that we did not come for so long,” put in Mrs. Forsythe, the girls’ mother. She was still feasting her eyes upon Ariana and the children (though the nurse, Mrs. Perler, had taken four year old Nigel, the Mornay’s firstborn, from the room, after he had spilled a glass of milk all over himself minutes ago). “We wished to come sooner, as you know, but Lucy took ill, and I dared not carry the sickness here to you with your new little baby.” At this, she stopped and cooed to the infant, who was upon her lap at the moment.”No, no, no,” she said, in the exaggerated tone that people use when addressing babies, “we can’t have little Miranda getting sick, now can we?”

Ariana smiled. “It matters not, mama. You are here, now. I only wish Papa and Lucy could have joined you.” Lucy, the youngest Forsythe sister, and Papa, had been obliged to stay home until the spring planting had been seen to. Mr. Forsythe did not wish to be wholly bereft of his family, so Lucy, who was a great comfort to him, had been enjoined to remain in Chesterton for his sake.

“I could not bear to wait upon your father a day longer,” she answered with a little smile. “They will come by post chaise after papa has done his service through Easter. And then we will all be together–except for the Norledges. Perhaps when Papa comes, he may bring your older sister and her husband?”

“I would want Aunt Pellham too, in that case,” murmured the blond-haired young woman.

“Oh, my! With your Aunt and Uncle Pellham, and the Norledges, even this large house would be filled with guests, I daresay!” said her mother.

Beatrice was still happily ingesting the thought that Ariana had evidently noticed her womanhood. At seventeen, hers was not a striking sort of beauty—one did not stop in instant admiration upon spying Beatrice in a room, for instance, as had often been the case for Ariana; but the younger girl had no lack of wits, a lively eye and countenance, and, not to be understated, an easy friendliness. Among a group of reserved and proper English young ladies, Beatrice would be the beacon of refuge for the timid; she was welcoming where others were aloof; inquisitive and protective where others looked away.

Nor was she the sort of young woman to glide across a floor, dignified and elegant. Instead, Beatrice was ever having to keep her energy in check; When rising from a chair (her mama had made her practice doing so countless times) she could appear as elegant as the next young woman. She ate nicely, even daintily. But left unchecked, her natural enthusiasm might propel her through a room with alarming speed. Her shawls were ever hanging from her arms, never staying in place over her shoulder; and her mother forbade her from wearing hair jewellery, as it tended to lose its place upon her head. Bandeaux were her lot; besides bonnets, of course.

“It is fortunate that I am only seventeen,” she had said to her mama only last week, while the woman was draping a wide bandeau artfully around Beatrice’s head. “Or I believe you would exile every manner of female head attire from this house, saving turbans! Although my hair holds a curl twice as long as Lucy’s!”

Mrs. Forsythe had paused from her ministrations and met her daughter’s eyes in the looking glass before them. “I daresay you are suited for turbans; perhaps we should shop for some. I believe they are very popular just now.” Since the last thing in the world Beatrice wished to wear upon her head was a turban—no matter how many ladies in the pages of La Belle Assemblée wore them—she simply gave voice to an exasperated huff, evoking a knowing smile upon her mama’s face.

“I should adore a full house of guests,” she said, now. “Please do invite the Norledges’ Ariana! Only think of the diversions we could have; play-acting with enough people to fill all the roles, for a change! Or charades; or even a dance!”

Ariana looked at her sister fondly. “Which dances do you like best?”

“The waltz!” she quickly responded, with a smile to show that she knew it was mischievous to prefer the waltz—the single dance which entailed more contact with the opposite sex than any other ballroom fare. Mrs. Forsythe clucked her tongue, but Beatrice blithely ignored this, taking a peek at her brother-in-law to gauge his reaction, instead. The host of the gathering was reading his morning paper, however, and not listening to the small talk between his wife and her relations.

And relations were virtually all around him. In addition to Beatrice and Mrs. Forsythe, there was his aunt, Mrs. Royleforst, staying with them at the present, and her companion, skinny, nervous Miss Bluford. These two ladies had not appeared yet for breakfast, which was probably on account of Mrs. Royleforst. She found mornings difficult and either slept in, or took a tray in her room.

“What do you think, sir?” asked Mrs. Forsythe, of her host. “Shall my daughter invite the Norledges to join Mr. Forsythe and Lucy when they set out for your house? Or is your home already filled enough for your liking?”

Mr. Mornay looked over his paper enough to acknowledge that he had heard her question. “As it is your and my wife’s family, I think the two of you must decide upon it. As long as there are bed-chambers enough,” he added, looking at Ariana, “you may fill them with guests as you please.”

“Thank you, darling,” she said, making Beatrice stifle a titter. Her sister and her husband were still inordinately romantic, to her mind. Good thing no one else was present save her mother! She would have been embarrassed for them in company.

“Shall I take the baby, mama?” said Ariana, for Miranda was beginning to fuss.

“I suppose she wants to be fed,” agreed her mother. Ariana nodded to a maid who was seated against the wall, who went and received the child from her grandmother and brought her gingerly to her mama. Ariana’s eyes sparkled with happiness as she took her little girl. She murmured to the baby, by turns picking her up and kissing her face, and then just holding her in her arms and gazing at her in loving adoration. “I shan’t feed her yet,” she said. “She isn’t insisting upon it.”

Beatrice’s thoughts were still upon the diversions that would be possible with a large group staying at the house. “If they all come, can you and Mr. Mornay hold a ball, Ariana? Or, will you take me to London this year for the Season? Then I may go to as many balls as I like, and you will not have the expense of holding them!”

“If she takes you to London for the Season,” put in her mama, “she will have a great deal more expense than just that of a ball! Besides which, you are too young for such.”

Beatrice looked at her mama, her enthusiasm temporarily dampened. “But my sister sees I am older, now,” she said, looking at Ariana with a silent plea in her gaze. “And I am not too young for a Season, according to the magazines. Many girls my age do have their coming out, mama!”

“Many gels,” she returned, instantly, “have little sense, and their parents, no better; your papa and I did not allow either of your sisters to go about in society at your age. You have been already too pampered, if you ask me. London society is out of the question!”

Beatrice was now thoroughly dampened in her spirits, but she looked about and settled her eyes upon her brother-in-law. “I daresay Mr. Mornay has seen many a girl of my age–and younger—make their debut during the Season. And to no ill effect! Why, I am sure some of them have made the most brilliant matches! Many a man of good standing prefers a younger lady for his wife. You had ought to let me go while I am young enough to enjoy this advantage.”

Mr. Mornay was frowning behind his newspaper. He knew that his young relation wanted his support in the matter, but Mr. Mornay was assuredly not in the habit of coming to the aid of young women, particularly regarding a London Season. So he said nothing, though an ensuing silence in the room told him the ladies waited for his opinion.

Ariana, who knew better, offered, “Let us discuss it another time. There are months, yet, before the Season. And with Miranda so young, I cannot decide at this point, in any case.”

Beatrice, who had no idea she was treading on dangerous ground, said, “Only let Mr. Mornay tell us his thoughts! I know my mother will listen if you tell her, sir,” she said, directly to him.

He put his paper down reluctantly, and then looked at Beatrice. “I think Ariana was young to face society at nineteen. At your age, you need to be sheltered, not put forth among the wolves.”

Her face fell so entirely, that he almost chuckled at it. “Why are you so eager for a Season?”

She smiled a little. This was better; he was inviting her to explain so that her mother could see the good advantage in it. “I have long lived with the memory of my sister’s tales of her experiences in London;” she said. “She met you there! Her coming out is what brought her to marriage, to Aspindon, to a better life! I have had my fill of Chesterton, I assure you! The prospects for marrying well in that region are as dismal as ever, if not worse;” she said. (Ariana closed her eyes at this; she could hardly bear to hear her sister telling all the reasons Phillip would most despise.) “Why does it seem that all the eligible young men in the county are either in a regiment somewhere, or at sea, or in need of a fortune? I must go to London or Bath, where there are more men one can meet!”

She paused, looking at him earnestly. “I have no fortune, sir, as you are well aware. And with your connexions, I am certain to make very advantageous acquaintances! What could be more certain? I shall end up, no doubt, just as my sister has, with a man like you, sir!” Beatrice evidently thought she was giving him a great compliment. She waited, expecting a gracious answer.

“Oh, Beatrice!” moaned Mrs. Forsythe. “You foolish gel!”

Mr. Mornay stood up, after folding his paper to a neat size. He said, “It takes more than wearing a corset to say a young lady is grown up, would you not agree?” He directed his remark to the whole room, and then settled his eyes upon Beatrice for one second too long, before giving a small bow to the women in general, and turning to leave the room. Beatrice considered his words for a moment. He had rested his eyes on her long enough so that she knew exactly what he meant.

Mr. Frederick met his master at the door, holding out a salver with a letter for Mr. Mornay, who took it but then looked curiously at the butler.

“It arrived in that condition, sir! I daresay it was lost in the mail or some such thing.”

“Hmm, very good, Freddie.” He held up a battered and ink-soiled missive for his wife to see, while eyeing it dubiously.

She looked amused. “Who is it from?”

He unfolded the paper, as the sealing wax was almost entirely worn off already, and scanned the signature at the bottom. “Colonel Sotheby. I’ll read it in my office.” She nodded, and Mr. Mornay left the room.

Beatrice was still smarting from his earlier remark, and said, as soon as he’d gone, “How ‘grown up’ can I be, when I am forced to exist in a small country village, with no prospects, and genteel company only upon a Sunday?”

“You overstate your case! That is not true,” answered her mama, disapprovingly.

“And as for wearing a corset,” Beatrice continued, after taking a sip of tea, “I do not pretend that wearing one is what makes me of age for a Season. I have formed my principles upon sound reason. I have sat beneath the tutelage of my father and of Mr. Timmons, and of his curate, and I should say my principles are well-founded.”

“We are glad to hear it,” Ariana said, with great forbearance, “but really, you should not be setting your mind upon seeking a man like my husband; you should be intent upon finding the man that God has chosen for you.”

“And so I am!” she protested, her eyes wide and laughing. “But look at the advantage He gives me in having you for my sister! Am I to ignore that? When it could be the very means of bringing me and my future husband together?”

Ariana played absently with little Miranda’s blanket, tucking it in about her chin more snugly. She met her sister’s eyes. “London is not the only place a young woman may meet a husband. And if you want my husband’s approval of your plan, the last thing in the world you should tell him is that you want to meet a man like him! Or that you wish to marry above you in any way!”
“But is it above me? To marry well? When my sister is Mrs. Mornay of Aspindon House?”

“It is above you,” said her mother, “because you are Miss Forsythe of Chesterton.”

“I am a gentleman’s daughter,” she replied.

“With no dowry to speak of,” said her mama.

Beatrice’s cheeks began to burn. “With a rich and famous brother-in-law!” she said, petulantly.

“That does not signify!” said her mother.

“It does, to me!”

“It should not!” Mrs. Forsythe was quickly growing ashamed of her daughter, and she was relieved that Mr. Mornay had left the room, and was not hearing Beatrice right now. Ariana’s eyebrows were raised and she was doing her best to act as though she had no part in the dialogue.

“But it does, mama!”

“Beatrice! You have already said far too much on this topic, which proves to me your great ignorance of the world.” She held up her hand for silence as Beatrice was about to protest; “Not another word! I shan’t have it, not another word.” Mrs. Forsythe turned her attention to her elder daughter.

“I think I will visit the Nursery to see how Nigel is faring. Do you mind?”

“Of course not! He will enjoy showing you his toys.” She smiled, while her mother rose to leave the room. “I’ll be up myself, shortly, to feed the baby.”

“Very good.” She nodded to her daughter, and then her eye fell upon Beatrice. “I think it would be wise if you said nothing more regarding a Season. In fact, I forbid you to mention it to Mr. Mornay again! Do you understand me?”

“I do, mama.” Beatrice was not happy but she recognized the tone of voice her mother was using. She considered, moreover, that it would be a simple matter to keep from mentioning her hopes to the man, for he evidently would not encourage her in them. But as for herself, she would continue to think of the Season in London. She would continue to hope; and some other day, when Ariana was in a good disposition, she would prevail upon her to sponsor her in London.

Beatrice did not want to seem disrespectful, but she knew that Mr. Mornay was quite in error regarding her. He did not know, for instance, that she was determined to make a good match, and recognized it as her lot in life. Every inch she saw of Aspindon just confirmed her sense that a rich life awaited her. She was born for it. And now all that was necessary was to meet her future husband—the man who could make it all happen. She had long prayed for just such a meeting, and knew that it was bound to occur. All she had to do was be properly outfitted, and in the proper company, for it to do so.

All she had to do was change her sister and brother-in-law’s mind on the matter. How difficult could that be?

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Genoa Bay by Bette Norberg

My Review:
This story opens with a young widow, trying to find her place in life for her daughter and herself, when she gets bad news that her foster mother suffered a stroke. Following her foster mothers death, she finds herself the owner of a unique house with a boat inside it on a marina. When she decides to take the plunge and fix it up, she discovers many roadblocks in her way. Brandy is learning one step at a time to trust God and live by faith, but there are so many twists and turns along the way! You will fall in love with Brandy and her daughter. You will see how one woman’s kindness (Maggie) turned a young runaway’s life (Brandy’s) into something useful and she then turned around and spread that care to others.

My only complaint about this book was it was not long enough! I wanted a bit more details there a the end…..what happened with the house, did she open a B&B and all that! It was a really good story though. I loved her daughter, Gabby, and the stories that twisted through the books with the old pictures and the hint of romance for the young widow! -Martha
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour 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! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Genoa Bay

Monarch (December 15, 2009)

***Special thanks to Cat Hoort of Kregel Publications for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


A professional author, Bette Nordberg has published many books, plays, and articles. Her previous novels have been published by Bethany and Harvest House; this is her sixth. Her best known, Serenity Bay, has sold over 22,000 copies. She lives in Washington and she and her husband, Kim, have four children.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Monarch (December 15, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0825462967
ISBN-13: 978-0825462962

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Prologue:

February 8th 2004

God talks to me.

Now, hear me out. Before you put me in the same category as the loony folks who hear voices just before they go on a shooting rampage at the local shopping mall, remember: In general, I don’t have visions. I don’t hear voices, either—at least not audible ones.

Still, sometimes, even in the most mundane of moments, I hear the voice of God.

Most recently, it happened down at Waterfront Park at Navy Point, right here in Pensacola. I’d taken Gabby, my seven-year-old and Liz our golden-doodle for a walk. Gabby rode her new bike, a fluorescent pink Speed Demon complete with training wheels, and Liz trotted along on a leash. By the time we began the final loop toward the car, my daughter had begun a serious meltdown.

“I don’t want to ride anymore,” she said, climbing off the silver seat. “It’s too hard. The wheels get stuck.”

She had me there. It seemed her bike’s only demon resided in the five inch balancing wheels that wobbled and froze in every quarter-sized pothole along the trail. Her short legs had powered their way through nearly two miles of these freeze-ups; she’d had enough. Who could blame her?

If Timothy were still alive, he’d have figured out a way to fix the wheels. Me? I’m no tool man. Instead of fixing the bike, I hoped that Mags would out grow the need for wheels.

“We’re almost to the van,” I said. “You can make it that far, can’t you?”
Gabby shook her head as tears began to roll down her cheeks. Crossing stubby arms across her chest, she said, “Go get the car!”

Wanting to avoid yet another battle, I resigned myself to pushing the bike back to the parking area. I wrapped the dog’s leash around my wrist, threw my purse strap across my back, and bent over to push the bike down the pavement. Glancing over my shoulder, I discovered that Gabby and the dog had chosen not to follow. Instead, Gabby—with both arms around the dog’s neck—was enjoying a face washing of sloppy dog kisses.

“Come on you two,” I called. “We don’t have all day.”

By the time we reached the van, my back ached, and sweat rolled down the space between my shoulder blades. I unlocked the car, started the engine and turned up the air conditioning. After settling Gabby in her safety seat, I loaded the little bike inside the passenger compartment. At last, holding the dog’s leash, I opened the back hatch and called for Liz. “Come on Liz,” I called. “Jump!”

The dog circled around behind me, as if to gain speed for the leap into the cargo space. But, just as her front paws touched the bumper, she balked, as if to change her mind. Liz jumped back to the ground, and sat down, whining. “Come on,” I pleaded. “Just get in the dumb car. We’re already late!”

Once again the dog circled. This time, instead of leaping for the cargo area, she stopped dead and circled back the other way. Apparently changing your mind is not a prerogative saved only for women. “Please, just get inside,” I begged, losing what little patience I had. After two more false starts, I began to exert my position as leader of the pack. This time, as Liz approached the car, I dragged her forward by the leash. Why wouldn’t the stupid dog just get into the car? How hard could it be?

That’s when I heard God speak. “Don’t be so critical,” his voice clearly said. “You’re not all that different from the dog.”

The problem with hearing from God, I’ve discovered, is that sometimes, he gives you an answer before you are even aware of the question. Such was the case that day at waterfront park. From the day Liz refused to enter the van, until I clearly understand his meaning, nearly four months passed. And until I put the pieces together, I felt as clueless as a blind man at the bottom of a deep well.

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National Pancake Day…… and H. Birthday

In the van…all of us on our way to IHOP for free pancakes!!!

Waiting patiently for our orders……..the boys had fun coloring!

It takes alot of concentration to get it right!!!
He still looks like my baby here to me!

H. on his birthday, with his special breakfast I made him! Crepes with raspberry filling and hot chocolate!
10 years old!!!
Cake!!!!

Everyone waiting for cake to be served, and no….we were not eating hot sauce on ice cream! Someone had a burrito for a snack right before cake!!!
Happy Birthday!!!!!

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The Raven Saint by M. Tyndall

My Review:
I hesitated to read this book as I did not enjoy the previous ones, so I would say to those of you who did not enjoy the others, try this one! I liked the character, Grace. Kidnapped for revenge against her father, she finds herself in a dangerous position of being on a ship full of men, who are not the most moral. Escape seems to be impossible, but when a two timing officer offers her a chance at Freedom, she jumps for it. Did she jump from the frying pan into the fire?

Grace had strict rules, morals, and is a bit straitlaced maybe for some people, but she really knows what she believes and is not afraid to witness about it. Her kidnapper, not so much, hurt by a father with similar rules, who was not a moral person, he has an aversion to all things religious and finds more comfort in a bottle of liquor. He tries to justify his actions of kidnapping and selling Grace, with his good intentions with the money.

This book was enjoyable, a bit cliche at times, but I think it had some very good points! -Martha

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour 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! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Raven Saint (Charles Towne Belles)

Barbour Books (January 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to MaryLu Tyndall for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

M.L. Tyndall, a Christy Award Finalist, and best-selling author of the Legacy of the King’s Pirates series is known for her adventurous historical romances filled with deep spiritual themes. She holds a degree in Math and worked as a software engineer for fifteen years before testing the waters as a writer. MaryLu currently writes full time and makes her home on the California coast with her husband, six kids, and four cats. Her passion is to write page-turning, romantic adventures that not only entertain but expose Christians to their full potential in Christ.

Visit the author’s website.
Visit the author’s blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (January 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602601585
ISBN-13: 978-1602601581

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Outside Charles Towne, Carolina, October, 1718

Chapter 1

Black, menacing clouds snarled a warning from the Carolina skies.

Clutching her skirts, Grace Westcott trudged down the muddy path. A shard of white light forked across the dark vault, and she glanced up as thunder rumbled in the distance.

“I hope the rain doesn’t catch us, miss.” Alice’s shaky voice tumbled over Grace from behind.

“Never fear, Alice, we are almost there.” Grace pushed aside a leafy branch that encroached upon the trail. As the wind picked up and raindrops began to rap on the leaves above them, the wall of greenery arching overhead provided a shelter that brought an odd comfort to Grace.

“Look, miss. This plant. Isn’t it bloodroot?” Alice squeaked. “To heal afflictions of the skin?”

Grace huffed. Her legs ached from the mile-long journey from Charles Towne. She could hear the rush of the Ashley River in the distance. They were close to the Roberts’ cabin, to poor little Thomas, sick with a fever and in desperate need of the medicines they brought.

Whirling around, Grace examined the leaf in her maid’s hands. “Nay. ’Tis not bloodroot, as you well know.” She searched Alice’s eyes but the maid kept her gaze lowered. “Whatever is the matter with you today?”

The maid cast a quick glance over her shoulder and shrugged. “I am only trying to help, miss.”

“You can help by hurrying along. Thomas may be failing as we speak.” Grabbing her skirts, Grace turned and forged ahead. A drop of rain splattered on her forehead, and she swiped it away.

“But the rain, miss. Shouldn’t we return home and don some proper attire?”

“Mercy me, Alice. We are nearly there. A bit of rain will not harm us. We’ve been in far more dangerous situations.” Grace hoisted the sack stuffed with herbs, fresh fruit, and rice farther up her aching shoulder. “Besides we are going about God’s work. He will take care of us.”

Grace heard Alice’s shoes squish in the mud “Indeed, miss.”.

Her maid’s voice quivered—a quiver that set Grace’s nerves on edge, along with the dark tempest brewing above them. Something was bothering the woman, Grace couldn’t guess what.

Another flash lit up the sky. Releasing her skirts to the sticky mud, Grace pushed aside a tangled vine that seemed to be joining forces with Alice in attempting to keep her from continuing. Musky air, heavy with moisture and laden with scents of earth and life, filled her nostrils. Thunder bellowed, closer this time, and raindrops tapped upon the canopy of leaves overhead. Plowing ahead, Grace ignored the twinge of guilt at her most recent expedition. One of many expeditions she’d been strictly forbidden to embark upon—both by her father, before he set sail for Spain, and more recently, her sister Faith and Faith’s new husband, Dajon. But Grace could not allow anyone or anything to stop her from doing what God had commissioned her to do: feed the poor, tend to the sick, and spread the good news of His Gospel.

She glanced up at the dark clouds swirling like some vile witch’s brew. Perhaps she should have left a note informing Faith of her whereabouts. No matter. She would drop off the food and herbs, attend to Thomas, and be home before sunset.

Grace emerged from the green fortress into a clearing. Thunder bellowed, and she shivered as a chill struck her. In the distance, the wide Ashley River tumbled along its course. A cabin perched by the water’s edge, smoke curling from its chimney. Squaring her shoulders, she took a deep breath and quickened her pace. “Here at last. And, as you can see, Alice, all is well.”

A nervous giggle sounded from behind her.

Hoisting the sack higher up on her shoulders, Grace clutched her skirts and climbed the steps of the cabin, but before she could knock on the door, it swung open. Mr. Roberts, a burly red-faced man with unruly dark hair, stared curiously at her for a moment then cocked his head and smiled. “Miss Grace. A grand pleasure to see you.” His glance took in Alice standing on the steps behind Grace. His forehead wrinkled. “What brings you this far from home on such a rainy day? Helen, Miss Grace has come for a visit,” he yelled over his shoulder. The scent of smoke and some sort of meaty stew wafted over Grace.

“Why, we’ve come to help Thomas of course.” Lightning flashed, casting a momentary grayish shroud over Mr. Roberts’s normally ruddy face.

“Thomas needs help?” He scratched his thick, dark mane.

Alice’s boots thudded on the steps, and Grace turned to see her maid inching away from the cabin, her chin lowered.

Shaking her head, Grace faced Mr. Roberts. “Yes, you sent Alfred yesterday to inform us of Thomas’s fever and ask for my help, did you not?” The man looked puzzled. Grace slid the sack from her shoulder and set it down on the planks of the porch. “I’ve brought elder root and dogwood bark for his fever and some fresh fruit and rice for you and your family.”

Mrs. Roberts appeared in the doorway, her infant daughter cradled in her arms. “Grace, what a wonderful surprise. Henry, don’t just stand there. Invite her in out of the rain.”

“Thomas isn’t sick.” Mr. Roberts’ nose wrinkled. “And Alfred was here with us all day yesterday.”

Grace swerved about to question Alice, but the girl was nowhere in sight. Descending the stairs, she dashed into the clearing, her heart in her throat as she scanned the foliage for any sign of her maid.

A swoosh of leaves and stomp of boots reached her ears, then a band of five men materialized from the foliage. Armed with cutlasses and pistols, they stormed toward Grace. She tried to move her feet, but the thick mud clung to them like shackles. Mr. Roberts cursed and ushered his wife inside. The baby began to howl.

A tall, sinewy man halted before her. A burst of wind struck him, fluttering the green feather atop his cocked hat and the tips of the black hair grazing his shoulders. He shifted his jaw, peppered with black stubble, and gazed at her with eyes the color of the dark clouds churning above them. A slow smile crept across his lips, lifting his thin, rakish mustache. “Mademoiselle Grace Westcott, I presume.” His thick French accent turned her blood to ice.

Grace met his gaze squarely. “I am, sir.”

With a snap of his fingers, two of his men flanked her. “You will come with us.”

“I will not.” The men wrenched her arms behind her back. Pain shot across her shoulders.

The snap of a rifle sounded, drawing the man’s attention to Mr. Roberts pointing his musket in their direction. “Leave her be.”

A flicker of relief eased over Grace, quickly fading when she examined the man before her. Instead of fear, amusement sparked in his eyes. The men on either side of Grace chuckled as if Mr. Roberts had told a joke.

“Quel homme galant, but I fear I cannot do that, monsieur.” The leader crossed his arms over his gray waistcoat and scraped a finger along his lean chin. “With a bit of fortune and a good aim, you may shoot one of us. Mais that would leave you and your family completely at our mercy. Comprenez-vous?”

Mr. Roberts stared at him for a long moment, obviously measuring the man.

“Toss your weapon to the ground, monsieur and go into your house. If you come out, we will shoot you. If you fire another weapon at us, we will kill your family.

A short, barrel-chested man beside the leader drew his pistol and leveled it at Mr. Roberts. The sneer on his face suggested he would love nothing more than to shoot the man where he stood.

The musket quivered in Mr. Roberts’s hands as he perused the band of ruffians, but still he did not relent. Grace shook her head, sending her friend a silent appeal. She would not allow him to put his family in jeopardy for her.

Mr. Roberts swallowed, threw his weapon into the mud, and gave her an apologetic look before slipping inside the cabin and closing the door with an ominous thud that echoed Grace’s fate.

She faced the leader. Thunder roared across the clearing. “What have you done with Alice?”

“Alice? Hmm.” His eyes lit up. “Votre servante? I merely paid her well for leading you to us.” He grinned.

The skies opened and released a torrent of rain upon Grace as if God Himself shed the tears that now burned behind her eyes. How could Alice have done such a thing? She had been Grace’s personal maid for the past five years—had traveled with her in the crossing from Portsmouth to Charles Towne.

The rain bounced off the cocked hat and the broad shoulders of the man before her. Drops streamed down Grace’s face, her neck, soaked into her gown, and befogged the scene before her. If only the fresh water from heaven could wash away these devilish creatures like holy water sprinkled upon evil.

The black-haired man turned and marched away as though her desperate wish had reached God’s ears. But then his two minions wrenched her arms again and dragged her behind him. Panic seized her. This couldn’t be happening! She dug her heels into the mud but her captors merely lifted her from the ground. Pain scorched across her arms and neck.

“Please, sir. Please. What do you want with me?”

But the only reply came from the rain pounding on the leaves and the thunder rumbling across the sky.

They plunged back into the thick forest. Grace struggled against the men’s meaty grips. Even if she did manage to break free from them, tree trunks rose like prison bars on either side of her holding her captive within the dense thicket. They trudged down the path for what seemed an eternity. Each step dug the knife of fear deeper into Grace’s heart. Silently, she appealed to God for her salvation, begging to hear His comforting voice, but her petitions were met with the same silence her captors afforded her. Finally, they emerged onto a secluded shore, and the men shoved her onto the thwart of a small boat then launched the craft into the rushing river. In the distance Grace saw a two-masted brig swaying with the rolling tide.

Lord, where are You? She clasped her hands together and tried to catch her breath.

The black-haired man locked a smoldering gaze upon her. He did not look away as propriety demanded but perused her with alarming audacity. Rain streamed off his hat onto his black breeches, and a smirk creased one corner of his mouth. Averting her gaze to the agitated water, she considered leaping overboard. She couldn’t swim. At least not well enough to fight the strong Ashley current. Besides, surely God would rescue her from these brigands. He was simply testing her faith by waiting until the last minute when things were at their worst. Lifting her chin, she cast a defiant look upon her captor, but it only caused his smirk to widen.

Within minutes, they reached the ship and thudded against its hull. Shouts pitched upon them from above as faces popped over the bulwarks to peer down at her. Grace glanced about for the rescuer God should have sent by now. The leader pulled her to her feet, and before she could make a move, he hoisted her over his shoulder like a sack of grain and climbed the rope ladder without effort.

Grace could no longer feel the fear or even the damp chill. Numbness gripped her, born of shock at her predicament. Blood rushed to her head, and she closed her eyes, breathing in the musky scent of the man’s damp wool waistcoat and praying for the nightmare to end.

Once aboard, he carried her across deck as he issued a string of orders in French, sending his crew scrambling in every direction.

“Welcome back, Captain,” a deep voice shouted, then a shock of brown hair appeared in Grace’s vision. “I see you found her.”

“Oui, bien sûr.” His tone carried the haughtiness that excluded any other possibility as he tapped her on the rump.

“How dare you!” Grace shouted and tried to kick her legs, but the captain’s arm kept them pinned to his chest. The two men shared a chuckle.

“Weigh anchor, away aloft, and raise the main, Mr. Thorn. We set sail immediately.”

Raindrops bounced over the wooden planks, pelting her from all directions. Her head bumped against his damp coat. His hard shoulder pressed into her aching stomach as he carried her down a ladder. She stretched her hand to grab the hilt of his rapier, but it taunted her from its sheath at his other side, out of her reach. She pounded her fists against his back. Muscle as unyielding as steel sent pain through her hands.

With a chuckle, he sauntered down a hallway and kicked open a door. Grace tensed, fearing the man would toss her to the floor. Instead, grasping her waist, he gently set her down inside the tiny cabin.

Gaining her balance, Grace wiped the matted strands of wet hair from her face and faced him. “Who are you and what do you want with me?” she said in a stalwart tone that surprised her.

He doffed his feathered hat and banged it against his knee, sending droplets over the floor. Tucking an errant strand of wet hair behind his ear, he bowed. “Captain Rafe Dubois at your service, mademoiselle. I welcome you aboard Le Champion. And regarding what I want with you”—he raised one brow and allowed his gaze to scour over her—“I am to deliver you to Don Miguel De Salazar in Columbia.”

“Columbia?” Grace took a step back and gripped her throat.

“Oui, he has promised to pay quite handsomely for you.”

“For me? But why? I don’t even know the man.” A shudder ran through her.

“Ah, but your father does apparently. The two men are not…how do you say? Agreeable? Don Miguel holds him responsible for the death of his son in a skirmish with a galleon. He thought you would be adequate payment for the transgression.”

“Payment!” Grace’s fear gave way to anger. “I am no one’s payment. How can you take part in such a wicked scheme?”

The captain shrugged as if her words rolled off of him. “Like I said, he’s willing to pay handsomely.” He offered her a devious grin then donned his hat and closed the door with a resounding thud.

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Totally messed up my meals this week…..

but hey, we still ate!!!
Today though we are having a roast meant for Saturday  and Sunday  we ate sandwiches instead……Saturday we ended up eating a really late lunch and having ice cream at dairy Queen, so we were all too full for dinner, although we had snacks later.
<p> Life goes on like that!!! <p>
We started soccer and it is overlapping with swimming and it is not good! Plus everyone got sick, which they always do every year this time of year and I am praying they all get better so we can  let things go smooth the rest of this week. <p> I am really ready for the next two months to just stay home and do school a whole bunch, but I kind of doubt it will happen, as there are some important things to be done. <p>
One thing is that a friend over in Spokane had a baby and he  had surgery this morning. I would really like to get over there to visit with his mother, but we will have to see how life goes, but I am hoping over spring break maybe we can.

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Prevailing Love: 3-in-1 Collection: Sealed With a Kiss, the Wedding Wish, Montana Sky by Loree Lough

My Review:
This is a three books in one book, I m not a big fan of the several connecting stories in one book, but these were cute, fun stories that were a little different, but just shorter books than normal.
In the first story you have a trouble young girl who really needs help, help her new foster father, even though he has everything money can buy, he has no idea how to help her. A young pretty therapist he engages to help little Molly, also helps with some healing in his own heart as well. …
The next story is about a dying young woman, who plays with matchmaking in order to see her dying wish come true. Her best friends get married and her daughter has a home……

They were different stories, but fun to read, a little cheesy, but sometime that is great!!! This was a good read for those nights when you just want to curl up with something light and refreshing. – Martha

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour 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! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Prevailing Love: 3-in-1 Collection: Sealed With a Kiss, the Wedding Wish, Montana Sky

Whitaker House (January 2010)

***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

A prolific writer, Loree Lough has more than seventy-three books, sixty-three short stories, and 2,500 articles in print. Her stories have earned dozens of industry and Reader’s Choice awards. A frequent guest speaker for writers’ organizations, book clubs, private and government institutions, corporations, college and high school writing programs, and more, Loree has encouraged thousands with her comedic approach to “learned-the-hard-way” lessons about the craft and industry. Loree and her husband split their time between Baltimore suburbs and a cabin in the Allegheny Mountains.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (January 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603741666
ISBN-13: 978-1603741668

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Prologue

May 31, London

Sam Sylvester was dying, and he knew it.

When he closed his eyes, he could picture the huge red truck careening around the corner on two wheels, its chrome bumper aiming straight for the convertible’s windshield.

Right before the impact, he’d glanced at Shari. As usual when they were driving, she’d had her nose buried in the pages of a romance novel. “It helps keep my mind off all the dangerous drivers,” she’d once said. It doesn’t get any more ironic than that, Sam thought.

He wondered where Shari was now. He’d seen the paramedics load her, bloodied and unconscious, into one of the ambulances at the scene. Had the Lord, in His infinite mercy, decided to take her home then and there, to spare her any suffering?

It was a struggle just to open his eyes, but Sam forced himself. Nothing in the bustling emergency room could possibly be as horrible as the pictures in his mind.

“Look ’ere, doctor,” came the mask-muffled Cockney accent of a nurse. “’e seems to be coming round.”

The broad, beefy face of a doctor peered at Sam from behind a surgical mask. “You know where you are, sir?” he asked, bushy brows drawn together in a frown.

Under other circumstances, Sam might have chuckled, because the doctor’s breath was causing the pleats of his white mask to puff in and out like the bellows of a tiny accordion. Instead, Sam tried to muster the strength to nod. Yes, he knew exactly where he was—on his way to heaven.

But you can’t go, he told himself. At least not yet. There was so much to do, so much to say, so many questions to ask before—

“M-my wife….” The words scraped from his parched throat like sandpaper across roughened wood. “W-where’s my wi—?”

“Down the hall,” said the nurse, patting his hand.

“Is she…is she—?”

The expression on her face told him everything he needed to know. Shari had already joined their Maker in Paradise. But maybe, just maybe, he’d read the blue eyes above the mask wrong….

He ignored the pain—pain that seemed to have no particular source, throbbing in every joint and every muscle. He screwed up his courage. He had to know for sure before he let go of this earthly life.

“Did she make it?”

In the moment of hesitation and silence that followed his question, Sam felt his own lifeblood seeping slowly onto the gurney beneath him. The doctors and nurses surrounding him were all perspiring, so why, he wondered, did he feel so cold?

Drowsiness threatened to take him far, far from the ER, but he fought it. “Did she make it?” he repeated with force.

“No, Mr. Sylvester,” said the whisper-soft voice of the nurse, “I’m afraid she didn’t.” Another gentle pat. “But I can promise y’ this—she didn’t suffer.”

Sam closed his eyes as a curious mix of gratitude and regret propelled a slow, groaning breath past his lips. Gratitude that his precious wife wouldn’t be “up there” alone for long. Regret because their sweet little girl would have to live the rest of her days without them.

At least Molly will have Ethan, thank God.

Ethan…every bit as alone in the world as Molly would soon be.

For the first time since he’d regained consciousness, Sam felt a profound fear pulse through him. Ethan…. They need to contact him right now because Molly’s going to need him!

With a strength that belied his condition, he gripped the nurse’s wrist. “What…what did they do with…where are my things?” he choked out.

“In a locker, just down the hall.” She fished in the pocket of her surgical gown as the corners of her eyes crinkled with a sympathetic smile. “I ’aven’t ’ad a chance yet to file it,” she said, withdrawing a key.

The way it caught and reflected the light made it look like a silvery cross, if only for an instant. In that instant, Sam pictured Jesus welcoming Shari home. “In my wallet,” he said, struggling for air now, “there’s a business card, and—”

Her blonde brows knitted with concern. “Please calm yourself, Mr. Sylvester.”

“Why?”

He watched as she blinked and tried to come up with a rational reason for him to calm down. His mind started to wander, and he recalled how he’d been a volunteer EMT in Maryland before moving to London. He’d witnessed enough accident scenes to know what impending death looked like. He knew that the remainder of his life could be numbered in minutes, and that he had just one reason to conserve his remaining strength: Molly.

He thought about the joy she’d brought into his life, into Shari’s. From the moment they’d picked up their round-faced infant at that crowded Korean orphanage eleven years ago, she’d enchanted them with her dancing brown eyes and elfin smile. And the first thing every morning since, Sam and Shari had thanked the Almighty for blessing them with their beautiful, raven-haired angel.

Life from now on would be hard for her. Very hard, especially at first. But Molly knew the Lord, and He would help her through those first sorrow-filled days. And she’d have her uncle Ethan to look out for her.

Molly adored Ethan, and Ethan had always loved Molly as much as if she were his own. Sam and Shari had discussed it dozens of times. The way he looked at Molly, the tenderness in his voice when he spoke to her—that was the reason they’d decided to make him godfather and guardian to their only child.

This would be hard for Ethan, too, Sam knew. But he’d be a good father to Molly. Sam was as certain of that as he was of God’s boundless love.

From out of nowhere, a line Sam had read somewhere reverberated in his head: In knowledge, there is power. Knowing Molly would be in good hands gave him enough physical power to persist with the nurse. “The card,” he said again, “will you…get it…for me?”

The doctor nodded his approval, and the nurse left to collect Sam’s belongings. He closed his eyes. Father, he prayed, let me hold on a little longer, for Molly’s sake….

“Is this it?”

Squinting, Sam smiled crookedly at the card held between the nurse’s thumb and forefinger. “After all that fuss,” he croaked out, “I’m ashamed to admit I…to admit that…that I can’t focus enough….to read it.”

“It says ‘Burke Enterprises,’ and under that, ‘Ethan Burke, President and CEO.’”

A relieved sigh rattled from his lungs. “Praise God,” he whispered. “Praise Jesus!”

For a moment, an odd stillness settled over the cramped, brightly lit cubicle, despite the blips and hums of the equipment monitoring his heart rate and pulse, despite the nonstop efforts of the medical team to repair his broken, battered body.

“What’s your name?” he asked the nurse.

She raised her eyebrows high on her forehead, her stethoscope bobbing, as she pointed to her chest.

“Yes, you.”

“Tricia Turner.”

Reaching for her hand, he said, “Will you call him for me, Tricia?” Sam squeezed her hand.

“I’ll see it gets done, soon as—”

Another squeeze, tighter this time, interrupted her. “I’d like you to do it.” Sam spoke slowly, knowing he had to conserve his waning strength until he could be sure Molly would be with Ethan as soon as was humanly possible. “You know as well as I that I’m not walking out of here, Tricia, so say you’ll grant me this last wish.”

She blinked once, twice, and then said, “I—I’ll try.”

“No,” Sam all but barked. “Promise me, before I die. Because my wife and I chose Ethan, there,” Sam said, nodding toward the card, “to be our daughter’s guardian, should anything happen to us. She’s only eleven, you see, and I—”

“I understand. And you have my word. I’ll phone him for you.”

“I have your word?”

She nodded just once, but it was enough. A feeling of great peace settled over Sam, and, smiling, he let go of her hand. “Thank you. And bless you, Tricia, for your kindness…for giving me peace.”

When she began to fade from view, Sam thought, Not a good sign. Not good at all. Good thing he’d given Molly an extra-big hug and an especially big kiss that morning. Good thing you told her how much you love her. And how you taught her to turn to God in times of trouble. The girl would need it—soon.

Soon, soon, soon, he chanted in his mind as a drowsy, dizzy sensation wrapped around him. The pain was gone now, and he felt nothing but the feathery weight of the stick-on patches that held the heart monitor wires in place on his chest. Sam closed his eyes and listened to the high-pitched one-note whine of the monitor.

“Code blue!” someone hollered.

“Crash cart, stat!” yelled someone else.

Their shouts didn’t startle him. Sam was beyond fear now. Somewhere in the deepest recesses of his conscious mind, he remembered his days as a paramedic, when he’d seen the flat line on the monitor signal the end of a life.

This is the last time you’ll have that memory…last memory you’ll have, period!

Did the saints in heaven remember their days on earth? And if they did, were they granted permission to visit their former world? Sam hoped so, because he wanted desperately to know that he could look in on Molly from time to time.

The lead surgeon on the team applied electric paddles to Sam’s chest, then bellowed “Clear!” as Tricia prepared a syringe for one last-ditch effort to save him. But Sam knew it was pointless. Soon, they’d realize the futility of their efforts, and by the time the doctor called time of death, he’d be with his Father, and with Shari, in Paradise.

Sam said one last prayer:

Lord Jesus, be with Ethan now. Guide his steps and his words, for Molly’s sake, as well as for his….

Chapter One

Same day, Potomac Hills, Maryland

There’d been a time when Ethan had enjoyed hosting parties—the bigger, the better—especially right here on his own riverfront estate. But his heart wasn’t in this one. Hadn’t been “in” much of anything lately.

Not so long ago, his parties had been described in the society pages as “colorful affairs.” But there hadn’t been much color in his life lately, either. Even the sun setting over the Potomac seemed drab and washed out.

Ethan stood on the pier, hands in his pockets, and looked back toward the great expanse of lawn, where no fewer than a hundred well-dressed guests meandered from tennis court to swimming pool to dual-level deck.

You’ve got it all, he thought, frowning. And from all outward appearances, he did have it all—a successful, self-made business; a big, beautiful house on three acres of prime Maryland real estate; seven automobiles—a sleek, high-priced sports car (for impressing the ladies), a classy, imported sedan (for impressing clients), and five roadsters of various vintages to impress himself…and neighbors who were rich and famous, to boot.

So why did he feel like something was missing? Something meaningful, something vital?

There were two bright spots in Ethan’s life: Burke Enterprises and his Korean-born goddaughter, Molly. The mere thought of the pretty preteen raised his spirits a bit. In another couple of weeks, Molly and her parents would arrive for a long, leisurely vacation, and already, he was counting down the days until the family would leave London for their annual trek to Maryland.

A woman’s shrill voice broke into his thoughts. “Peewee-than!” she hollered. “There you are!”

It was Kate, the six-foot, blonde marketing manager his vice president had appointed a couple months back. She waved a hand of red-taloned fingers above her head, and he sent a halfhearted salute in return, then faced the slow-surging river and ran both hands through his hair. He’d been neatly dodging her blatant flirtations all afternoon, pretending the ice bucket needed to be refilled or feigning a must-have conversation with someone across the way. But now he felt trapped, like a captive standing at the end of the gangplank on a buccaneer ship.

Her high-heeled sandals clickity-clacked as she pranced across the wide, weathered boards of the pier. “Ethan, what are you doing over here all by yourself? People are looking for you.”

Of course they were. And why wouldn’t they be? Somebody, somewhere, was always seeking him out for any one of a hundred reasons—a favor, a raise, a piece of advice, an introduction to another mover and shaker. With shoulders slumped, he shook his head. Quit feeling sorry for yourself, pal, he chided. As his mother would have pointed out, God had blessed him with a lot—materially and otherwise. But He’s taken away a lot, too….

“Ethan?”

You’ve got two choices, m’friend, he told himself, grinning slightly as he looked at the water swirling darkly around the pilings. Jump, or pretend you’re pleased to see her.

Turning, Ethan took a deep breath and fixed a practiced smile on his face. “Kate, darling,” he said smoothly, taking the goblet of iced tea from her hand, “looks like you need a refill. Let me get—”

Laughing lightly, she patted her flat stomach. “Please,” she gasped, “one more ounce of anything and I’ll positively pop!”

There was an awkward pause, and Ethan knew she was waiting for him to fill the void with some form of flattery about her figure. Unable to think of a single truthful thing to say, he let the moment pass.

A quick glance at his Rolex told him it was nearly four in the afternoon. Another hour or so and the party would be over. The crowd had already thinned considerably; once the last of them had gone, he’d call Sam and Shari to see if they’d made their airline reservations yet. Last time they’d talked, he’d promised to have a car pick them up at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. They were the closest thing to a family he’d likely ever have, so nothing but the best for them!

Kate linked her arm through his and led him back toward the house. “It sure was nice of you to throw a Memorial Day barbecue for Burke employees and their families,” she purred. “I want you to know…I’m especially happy to be here.”

Yeah, I’ll just bet you are, he thought.

His vice president, Pete Maxon, had told Ethan what he’d overheard Kate say two days prior: “If I play my cards right,” she told the gaggle of gals gathered near the water cooler, “I’ll be Mrs. Ethan Burke by this time next year!”

Mrs. Burke, my foot! “Couldn’t very well invite everyone else and leave your name off the guest list, now, could I?” was his bland reply.

By the time Sam and Shari had made him guardian of their only daughter six years earlier, Ethan had pretty much accepted the idea that Molly was the closest he’d come to having a child. He would have loved kids—a house full of them—but a man needed a wife for that. And every female he’d met so far had been like Kate, keeping her tummy flat and her sights firmly fixed on his checkbook. Hardly mother material!

“You look very handsome today,” she said, then threw back her back and laughed. “Which isn’t to say you don’t always look handsome. I just meant that in those jeans and that white shirt—”

A gale of robust laughter interrupted her. “Ethan, m’boy! There you are! Seems I’ve walked every inch of this plantation you call a home looking for you.” The silver-haired gentleman fixed his gaze on Kate. “Well, now, no wonder I couldn’t find him,” he told her, wiggling his eyebrows. Leaning in close, he lowered his voice to add, “I’d make myself scarce, too, if my date was as lovely as you.”

Ethan heard the phone ringing in the distance. Without knowing why, he tensed. Everyone who might have a reason to call him at home had been invited to the cookout. “Kate isn’t my date, Dad,” he said distractedly. “She’s—”

“Dad?” Kate interrupted. “This attractive young fellow is your father?” She flung an arm over his shoulders. “Why, you don’t look nearly old enough to have a son Ethan’s age,” she cooed.

The older man attempted a W. C. Fields imitation. “My dear, you’re an outrageous flirt!”

Kate kept her eyes on Ethan’s father. “Now I see where you get your good looks and your charm, Ethan.” She turned slightly, aiming a haughty expression at her boss. “We-e-e-ell?”

His stiff-backed stance and tight-lipped expression spoke volumes. At least they should have. Kate didn’t seem to notice at all how much her presence irked him.

“Aren’t you going to introduce us?”

Poor Kate, he thought. She somehow got the idea that Dad has more money than Donald Trump. Shoving both hands into his pockets, he stared at the close-cropped lawn in an attempt to hide his grin. If this is going where I think it’s going, you two deserve each other. “Dad, this is Kate Winslow,” came his bored monotone. “Kate, meet Sawyer Burke.”

During the introductions, he noticed that the phone had stopped ringing, and he wondered if Maria had answered it or if the machine had taken the call. Wondered, too, why a sense of foreboding still churned in his gut.

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, my dear,” Sawyer said, bowing.

Her hands clasped beneath her chin, Kate giggled like a silly schoolgirl. “Oh, but the pleasure is all—”

“Meester Burke! Meester Burke!”

All heads turned toward the deck, where Ethan’s housekeeper was leaning over the railing with a portable phone pressed to her aproned bosom. “Hurry,” she yelled, waving him closer. “Muy importante!”

Maria had worked for Ethan for years. The only other time he’d heard her carry on that way had been last Christmas, when the warmth of the fire had brought hundreds of praying mantis nymphs to life in the branches of the twenty-foot Douglas fir that dominated the living room. His heart pounding with fear and dread, Ethan took the steps two at a time.

There were tears in the eyes of the plump, gray-haired woman when she said, “Oh, Meester Burke…poor leetle Molly….”

Not Molly, Lord, he prayed silently. Please don’t let anything have happened to my sweet Molly….

With a trembling hand, he accepted the phone and slowly brought it to his ear. “Ethan Burke here….”

“Mr. Burke? Um, my name is, ah, Tricia Turner, and I’m a nurse at ’ampton ’ospital in London? I, uh, well….”

He had a yard full of guests, so why was the little Brit hemming and hawing? But the instant she finished her sentence, Ethan wished he’d never rushed her, even in his mind. Because not even her crisp Cockney accent made it easy to listen to the rapid-fire dispensation of information that followed. Sam and Shari had been killed in a car crash at Trafalgar Square, and their daughter was home alone with her nanny.

“She hasn’t been told yet?”

The long pause made him wonder if they’d been disconnected. But then she said, “No. Before Mr. Sylvester passed on, he told us you’re the child’s guardian. He said you’d take care of everything, including breaking the news about her mum and dad.” Another unbearable pause ensued before she added, “’e was one brave chap, that pal of yours, ’oldin’ on till ’e knew ’is li’le one would be in good ’ands….”

Ethan slumped into the nearest deck chair, one hand in his hair, the other gripping the phone so tightly his fingers ached. The nurse’s tone of voice rather than her words themselves told Ethan that Sam had suffered in the end. But how like him to bite the bullet until all the loose ends were tied up.

Suddenly, the full impact of the news hit him. Sam and Shari, gone? Ethan struggled to come to grips with the stunning reality—the finality—of it.

“Mr. Burke? Are y’there?”

The oh-so-British voice snapped him back to attention. “Yes. Yes, sorry.”

“’ow long d’you suppose it’ll take you to get ’ere? I don’t mean to be crass, but there’s the matter of…of….”

“Identifying the bodies?”

“Yes. Rules, y’know.”

The bodies. The funeral arrangements. Ethan was at a loss for words.

“So you’ll be ’ere soon, then…?”

Ethan hung his head, shading his eyes with his free hand. Sam and Shari had trusted him to do what needed to be done should anything like this ever happen. Of course, he hadn’t expected there would ever be a need for him to follow through; they’d always been so full of vim and vigor, always so alive.

The word reverberated painfully in his brain. If he’d known, when he’d signed the documents making him executor of their estate, that the prospect of making those hard, under-pressure decisions would turn his blood to ice, he might have suggested they hire a lawyer instead. An outsider. Someone who didn’t love them.

“How soon d’you think you can be ’ere, sir?”

A mental image of Molly, alone in the Sylvesters’ London flat with some barely-out-of-her-teens nanny, flashed through his head. She needed him, and if he had to pull every favor owed him, if he had to charter a private jet, he’d get there by morning. “I’ll be on the next London-bound plane leaving Baltimore,” he said. And, thanking her, Ethan hung up.

Propping the phone on the arm of the deck chair, he stared out at the Potomac. It wouldn’t be easy filling Sam’s shoes. The guy had made fatherhood look as natural as breathing. No matter how tired or overworked he had been, Sam had always dug deep and found the energy to spend time with his little girl.

Molly had told Ethan no fewer than a dozen times that he was her favorite grown-up. It was one thing playing part-time uncle. Being a full-time dad was something else entirely.

For that precious child’s sake, he hoped he was up to the task.

***

Three months later

Through the two-way mirror in the waiting room, Ethan watched the therapist working with Molly. Miss Majors had been recommended by Pastor Cummings. Ethan had prayed before making the decision, and he prayed now that it had been the right one.

He’d been at his wit’s end wondering how to cope with Molly’s sad, stoic silence. Then Maria had suggested he turn to his church for help. He might have thought of it himself, except that church hadn’t exactly been at the center of his life for the past few years. If not for Molly’s refusal to speak, he might not have started attending again. But he’d had no choice. Her condition was his fault—no ifs, ands, or buts.

His head in his hands, Ethan closed his eyes, unable to watch the child’s sorrowful expression a moment longer. He loved her as if she were his own flesh and blood; loved her the way he’d loved his sister Bess, his mother….

Why did it seem that whomever he loved deeply suffered?

With his eyes still squinted shut, he couldn’t see into the next room, but he could hear every word thanks to the speaker overhead. The pretty, young counselor was pulling out all the stops. She’d tried everything short of a song and dance act to this point, yet Molly hadn’t uttered a syllable.

Ethan slouched on the sofa. He kept his eyes closed and let his mind wander back to that terrible morning in London when he’d broken the tragic news to Molly. Despite the speech he’d practiced over and over during the red-eye flight into Heathrow Airport, he’d messed up big time when the moment finally came.

When he’d arrived at Sam and Shari’s, it had been easy to smile as Molly skipped around him in a slowly shrinking circle, clapping her hands and squealing with glee that her uncle Ethan had come to visit. They’d played this welcome game since she had been old enough to stand on her own, and he cherished every giggly moment.

That morning, she’d wrapped her arms around him, just as she’d done a hundred times before…and then stopped. “Mommy and Daddy haven’t called….”

Worry and fear were etched on her little face, and even as Ethan had prayed for the right words to erase them, he’d known no such power would be granted him that day.

“They always call,” she’d said, looking up into his face. “There must be something wrong….”

He’d perched on the edge of the sofa, invited her to sit down beside him, and then, with one arm resting on her slender shoulders, looked into those dark, trusting eyes…and lost it.

What kind of a man are you? Ethan had demanded of himself as tears coursed down his face. You’re blubbering like a baby…. It’s your job to comfort Molly, not the other way around! He’d never felt more like a heel than during those long, harrowing moments when she’d patted his shoulder, saying, “It’ll be okay, Uncle Ethan. Don’t cry. Won’t you tell me why you’re so sad?”

A minute or so later, after his carefully chosen words had been uttered, Ethan realized that in the space of a minute, maybe two, he’d completely destroyed her safe little world.

He hated the old adage that said, “Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.” However, looking into her shocked, pained eyes made him understand the truth of it as never before. He’d prayed for a kinder, gentler way to break the news. So, why hadn’t God delivered on His “ask, and ye shall receive” promise?

He should have been gentler. Should have eked out the information more slowly. Should have brought in a professional to help deliver the awful, life-changing news….

The ugly memory made him groan aloud and drive his fingers through his hair. The all-business attitude that had kept his nose to the grindstone while building Burke Enterprises had given him the drive and motivation to work until he thought he might drop, watch the market with a shrewd eye, and study his competitors even more closely. “Tell it like it is” had become watchwords—no exceptions. Straight talk had never let him down before, but it had backfired miserably that morning with Molly. He wondered what Miss Majors would say about his pathetic performance as a parent.

Well, at least he’d done one thing right—he hadn’t gone into detail about the accident. He’d been to the morgue and seen his friends’ battered, lifeless bodies. The poor kid sure didn’t need the image of that in her head for a lifetime!

Ethan didn’t think he’d ever forget the way her dark lashes had fluttered as her deep-brown eyes filled with tears. She’d begun to quake, as if each tremor was counting the beats of her breaking heart. “B-but…but they promised,” she’d whimpered.

“Promised what, sweetheart?”

“That…that they’d never leave me. Th-that they’d be here for me, forever.” She’d punched the sofa cushion. “They can’t be dead. It isn’t true! It isn’t!”

Not knowing what to say, he’d simply held out his arms, his own eyes filling with tears again as he sent a silent message with one nod of his head: Yes, it’s true.

For a moment, she’d simply sat, staring. Then she’d thrown herself into his arms, and they’d cried together. Ethan had no idea how much time had passed—minutes? half an hour?—before her rib-racking sobs and shirt-soaking tears subsided. Then, Molly had sat back, dried her eyes with the hem of her plaid skirt, and sucked in a huge gulp of air. “It’s my fault,” she’d whispered, staring blankly ahead.

She hadn’t said a word since.

And now, despite Miss Majors’ valiant efforts, Molly sat stiff and straight in the bright-red armchair, ankles crossed and hands folded primly in her lap, staring at some indistinct spot on the floor.

It would feel good, actually, to confess his faults and frailties to this stranger; it would feel equally good when she gave him the tongue-lashing he deserved, not that taking his lumps would change anything.

The counselor stood up and walked over to the two-way mirror, flipped a switch on the wall, and tapped on the glass. Up to this point, Ethan had been able to see and hear everything that was going on in the exam room without being visible to its occupants. But now, Miss Majors and Molly could see and hear him, too. The counselor’s beautiful green eyes zeroed in on his, and she smiled softly. “Mr. Burke, I realize Molly’s session has ended, but I’m hoping you’ll stay a few minutes to talk with me.”

Ethan blinked, unnerved by her intense scrutiny. Here it comes, he thought, the dressing-down of your lifetime. “I—uh, well, sure,” he stammered, running a hand through his hair. He had the sudden feeling that this nervous habit betrayed a deep psychological disorder, and she must have read his mind, because Miss Majors tilted her head and raised an eyebrow.

She opened the door in the exam room that led to the waiting room, then walked past him purposefully to her office, tossing Molly’s file on the blotter on her desk. He followed and stood in the doorway. “She’ll be fine in there,” the counselor assured him. “As you can see, Molly is all wrapped up in a book she found on the shelf.”

He glanced back into the exam room, where, sure enough, Molly was sitting in that same red chair with an open book in her lap. How long was I lost in thought? he wondered. “She hasn’t been that interested in anything since I brought her home,” he admitted, meeting the therapist’s eyes. “How’d you get her to do that?”

“It’s my job,” she said in the same no-nonsense tone he remembered from the telephone conversations that had led up to this appointment. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”

She gestured to an upholstered armchair facing her desk.

As comfortable as a body can get in a contraption like this, he thought, sliding onto its seat. Ethan immediately leaned forward, balanced elbows on knees, and said, “So, can you help her or not?”

Miss Majors was standing behind her chair, her pale pink-painted fingernails drumming on the wood-trimmed headrest. When she smiled, the room brightened. He was taken aback until he realized why her smile looked so different, so special. It wasn’t a flirty grin intended to knock him for a loop or a seductive smirk meant to advertise her availability, which were the types he’d grown accustomed to receiving from women of all ages. Her smile was honest, unpretentious. She was offering herself, all right…but on a caring, professional level.

Ethan found his respect for her growing, and he’d opened his mouth to compliment her when she said, “Yes, we can help her. But it’ll take time, perhaps a lot of it, to find out why she stopped talking.”

Pausing, she plopped into her chair. “And it’ll take a major time commitment from you, Mr. Burke.”

Her voice was soothing, rhythmic, like the calming sound of the Potomac lapping at the piling that supported his pier. Ethan sat back and crossed his legs, resting an ankle on his knee. “I intend to cooperate in any way I can. Tell me what to do, and it’s as good as done.”

Miss Majors wrote something in Molly’s file, then stood up and walked around to the front of her desk. Perching on one corner, she said, “I’m glad to hear that.”

His mind began to wander as she matter-of-factly outlined a course of treatment. She’s not much bigger than most of her clients, he mused. His gaze shifted from her big, green eyes to the mass of long, carrot-colored curls framing her face, making her look like a cross between Julia Roberts and Pippi Longstocking. And really, what kid wouldn’t be attracted to a woman like that?

Earlier, as she’d walked ahead of him into her office, he’d felt like a cartoon character floating along on the delectable scent of flowers and sunshine. The aroma reminded him of the hedgerow behind his childhood home…lilacs? Honeysuckle?

Ethan shifted in his chair, suddenly angry with himself. What sort of person was he, anyway, having thoughts like that about the woman who would help his little Molly escape her self-imposed prison of silence?

“If you’re agreeable, I’d like to hold all future sessions at your house,” she was saying. “At least, until we make some headway.”

It appeared she hadn’t noticed how far his mind had wandered from Molly, and after a quick prayer of thanks, he nodded.

“I think she’ll benefit from being in familiar surroundings.”

“I agree.”

Miss Majors lifted her chin a notch and tilted her head slightly as those bright eyes zeroed in on his face. “I think it’s important for you to be available for the first few sessions, if at all possible.”

“Of course, it’s possible,” he blurted out. “Nothing is more important than Molly.”

“Not even Burke Enterprises?”

He clenched his teeth. Hadn’t he just said that Molly came first? What did she mean by that crack, anyway? “Not even Burke Enterprises,” he affirmed.

She’d said it to put him to the test. He could see it in her eyes, in the way one eyebrow lifted at his response. He’d used the tactic himself plenty of times during hard business negotiations. And from the looks of her approving smile, he’d passed.

“Good,” she said matter-of-factly. She returned to the other side of her desk, sat down, and opened her daily planner. “Three times a week, an hour at a time, for starters,” she said, clicking a ballpoint pen into action. And without looking up, Miss Majors added, “Mornings are usually best for the kids.”

Most of Ethan’s business meetings were scheduled first thing in the morning. But he’d just underscored that nothing was more important than Molly, and he aimed to prove it. Reaching into his suit coat pocket, Ethan slid out his electronic calendar. “Nine o’clock?” he asked, hitting the On button.

The upward curve of her full, pink lips told Ethan she hadn’t expected him to agree so quickly.

“I owe you an apology, Mr. Burke.”

Confused, he blinked. “What? But…why?”

“For appearing inflexible.” She shrugged. “I’ve been at this long enough to know that people rarely say what they mean. Especially people like you—with plenty of money—who can hire others to do what….”

It seemed to Ethan that she hadn’t intended to be quite that open and honest. Maybe that would teach her not to judge all her wealthy clients by the abysmal behavior of a few.

“Most parents say they want to help,” she continued, “and that they understand therapy will take time, and patience, and cooperation. But what they really want is…for me to perform a miracle. Like I’m equipped with a magic wand that’ll fix everything with one quick stroke.” She gave another shrug. “It’s not an altogether fair tactic, but I’ll do anything, say anything, go to any lengths, to help my kids.”

Her kids? Was that something all the self-professed child experts said to worried parents? Half a dozen other specialists had said the same thing…and had failed to draw Molly out of her shell.

Still, there was something about Miss Majors that made Ethan believe she could no more look him in the eye and lie than leap from the roof of this three-story building and fly to the parking lot! It made him want to give her a shot, if for no other reason than that time was running out. The longer Molly remained in her wordless world, the harder it would be to coax her out of it.

“You’re the expert,” he conceded. “So even when it’s inconvenient, or difficult, I’ll make whatever changes are necessary to help Molly.”

With pen poised above her book, she smiled. “Just so we can get things started sooner rather than later, what do you think of my coming to your house at seven tomorrow evening? And when we wrap things up, we can schedule dates and times that work for all of us.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.” Without knowing it, she’d spared him having to cancel and reschedule tomorrow’s early-morning meetings. Ethan got to his feet and extended a hand. She stood up, too, and reached across her desk to shake it. The power of her grip surprised him, especially considering her slight frame. If her ideas about helping Molly were as solid as her handshake, things would right themselves in no time.

Ethan pulled a business card out of his pocket and plucked a pencil from a mug on her desk overflowing with writing implements. “It’s tough to find my driveway if you don’t know what to look for,” he said, sketching a small, crude map on the back of the card, “so this should make it a little easier. Just watch for a gray mailbox.”

Accepting the map, she thanked him and, nodding, watched him as he left her office and entered the exam room. He felt her eyes on him as he took the girl by the hand and led her down the hall. If he hadn’t glanced over his shoulder as he and Molly were waiting for the elevator, he’d never have seen her wiping tears from her gorgeous green eyes. The sight of it touched something in him, though he couldn’t say what, couldn’t understand why. Her reaction should have roused deep concern. After all, weren’t therapists supposed to remain aloof and unemotional if they hoped to obtain successful results?

It wasn’t like him to let go of a suspicion that quickly, that easily. He’d sealed many deals with nothing more than gut instinct to go on. So no one was more surprised than Ethan when he said a silent prayer asking God to help him figure out if he’d made the right choice for Molly—or if he simply wanted to believe he had—because something about the pretty counselor called to something desperately lonely deep within himself….

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