Tuesday, March 30, 2010

FINDING INNER PEACE DURING TROUBLED TIMES




and the book:

The Barnabas Agency (December 4, 2009)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

My Two Cents' Worth:
This little book is a concise guide full of scripture dealing with true inner peace and how to find it. The author, William Moss, writes from his own journey to fill the spiritual void and turmoil in his own life, a very distinguished life full of public service and accolades, yet with a missing chunk until his later years. Now 90 years old, Mr. Moss only came to know Jesus in a personal way in the 1990's, and ever since he has been researching and practicing real Christian meditation. This is the subject of Finding Inner Peace During Troubled Times. It certainly is timely: no one would argue whether or not these are troubled times. For many of us, the verses and the points that Mr. Moss makes may be familiar, but it is handy to have it gathered together in one slim volume. You can use it for quick reference or choose verses from it for your own meditation. It's surprising just how much the Bible has to say about meditation and peace. In this rushed, busy, worry-filled life, we all could take a little time to read through this book and reflect upon the truths of scripture. It makes a world of difference.

(For an interview with William Moss, see an earlier post on February 24, 2010.)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Moss has become an important figure in the Republican Party and has been entrusted with several key responsibilities. In 1988 he served as Vice Chairman for the George H. W. Bush the President’s National Finance Committee. He also served on the George H. W. Bush for President National Steering Committee, was founder of Team 100, and also a member of the National Republican Senatorial Trust Committee.

In 1989, at the request of President George H. W. Bush, Moss organized and was chairman of the President’s Drug Advisory Council, which functioned as part of the Executive Branch of the White House. The Council was formed to advise the President on ways to involve the private sector in the war on drugs, ultimately resulting in the “Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America,” which is currently operating in approximately 40 states and communities across the nation. Having worked closely on several occasions with pollster George Gallup, Moss continues to research moral and ethical trends among voters—particularly young voters.

William Moss counts presidents, prime ministers, and other world influencers among his many friends. His career has been an unqualified success. But neither the friends nor the achievements could fill the spiritual void in Moss’s life. In recent years, he has found true inner peace in Christ and through the practice of Christian meditation. Moss joined Alcoholics Anonymous at the age of 85 and will soon celebrate 5 years of sobriety.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $5.99
Paperback: 64 pages
Publisher: The Barnabas Agency (December 4, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0578042444
ISBN-13: 978-0578042442

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The Biblical Writers


It is evident that the biblical writers want us to find peace because the Psalmist says,

“Turn from sin and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”1 In Romans Paul says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”2 In Ephesians the author says, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”3 In Colossians it says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.”4 In John Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”5



However, there are many difficulties, distractions and hardships that stand in the way of our inner peace. As Paul said to the Galatians, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under laws of Moses.”



Paul says “that the acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Today there are some

distractions Paul did not include such as: worry, self preservation, hunger, lack of money,

arrogance, competitiveness, criticism and illness, to name a few.


Paul continues. “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is by practicing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking

and envying each other.”6


Through prayer and meditation we can transcend all these distractions and difficulties

if we live by the Spirit and put God’s love and presence first.


1 Psalm 34:14; 2 Romans 5:1; 3 Ephesians 2:14; 4 Colossians 3:15; 5 John 16:33 6 Galatians 5:15-26

Friday, March 19, 2010

CHOSEN--Ginger Garrett


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

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



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.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Confession of Saint Patrick

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! For some that means green beer, pins with the message "kiss me, I'm Irish," jigs, happy Celtic music, and the wearin' o' the green. And what do you think of when you think of Saint Patrick? Ireland, without a doubt. He gets credit for chasing the snakes out of the Emerald Isle, but it is unlikely that snakes ever lived there. Some people know about the story of him using the shamrock to explain the Trinity, but not much more.

Most of what we know about Patrick comes from second or third-hand reports and legends that grew up over the years, but there are two important writings that are directly attributed to him. One is "A Letter to Coroticus," addressing the soldiers under this man who raided some of Patrick's converts, a scathing complaint lodged against such raids. The other is "The Confession of Patrick," an autobiography that he wrote in Latin near the time of his death. Most of what we actually know about Patrick comes from his confession. What is remarkable is his humility, devotion, love for God, desire to serve God and the Irish people. To commemorate this day of Saint Patrick, I feel like the best words are those of the man himself; well, a translation from Latin to English thanks to Ludwig Bieler. The following is just a small portion from the beginning, but hopefully it will inspire you as you read it. I chose it not so much for the historical content, but for insight into the beliefs and faith of a true servant of God.
...I was then about sixteen years of age. I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people---and deservedly so, because we turned away from God, and did not keep His commandments, and did not obey our priests, who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought over us the wrath of his anger and scattered us among many nations, even unto the utmost part of the earth, where now my littleness is placed among strangers.



And there the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my abjection, and mercy on my youth and ignorance, and watched over me before I knew Him, and before I was able to distinguish between good and evil, and guarded me, and comforted me as would a father his son.


Hence I cannot be silent---nor, indeed, is it expedient---about the great benefits and the great grace which the lord has deigned to bestow upon me in the land of my captivity; for this we can give to God in return after having been chastened by Him, to exalt and praise His wonders before every nation that is anywhere under the heaven.


Because there is no other God, nor ever was, nor will be, than God the Father unbegotten, without beginning, from whom is all beginning, the Lord of the universe, as we have been taught; and His son Jesus Christ, whom we declare to have always been with the Father, spiritually and ineffably begotten by the Father before the beginning of the world, before all beginning; and by Him are made all things visible and invisible. He was made man, and, having defeated death, was received into heaven by the Father; and He hath given Him all power over all names in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess to Him that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe, and whose advent we expect soon to be, judge of the living and of the dead, who will render to every man according to his deeds; and He has poured forth upon us abundantly the Holy Spirit, the gift and pledge of immortality, who makes those who believe and obey sons of God and joint heirs with Christ; and Him do we confess and adore, one God in the Trinity of the Holy Name.


For He Himself has said through the Prophet: Call upon me in the day of thy trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me. And again He says: It is honourable to reveal and confess the works of God.

{I invite you to read the whole translation at Episcopalnet or at Celtic Twilight, which contains both the Bieler translation and an older one (1905) by Rev. Dr. White of the Royal Irish Academy.}

Ronie Kendig's DEAD RECKONING: A FIRST Look

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

Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

Dead Reckoning
Abingdon Press (March 1, 2010)


NOTE: Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to read this one yet, but it sounds like one I will really enjoy, and I'm planning on getting a copy very soon.






ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Ronie Kendig has a BS in Psychology and is a wife, mother of four, and avid writer. In addition to speaking engagements, Ronie volunteers with the American Christian Fiction Writers and contributes monthly to the highly acclaimed Novel Journey blog, and is a columnist for the International Christian Fiction Writers blog. Her espionage thriller, Dead Reckoning, releases March 01, 2010 through Abingdon Press and the first in a military thriller series, Nightshade, will release July 2010 from Barbour Publishing. Ronie can be found online at or at Facebook.

Visit the author's website.
Visit the author's Facebook.



Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Abingdon Press (March 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 142670058X
ISBN-13: 978-1426700583

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Mumbai Harbor, India

Shafts of yellow light pierced the blue-green waters, silhouetting the dive rig that hovered on the surface of the Arabian Sea. Shiloh Blake stopped and watched a wrasse scuttle past, its tiny fins working hard to ferry the brightly striped fish to safety.

Clad in her wetsuit, Shiloh squinted through her goggles and tucked the underwater camera into her leg pocket. Gripping a small stone artifact in her gloved hand, she propelled herself toward the surface. Ten meters and she would reveal her historic discovery to long-time rival Mikhail Drovosky.

Shiloh smiled. The guy would go ballistic. Score one for the girls. Between her and her new dive partner Edie Valliant, they had surged ahead in finds. Not that this was a competition. Not technically. But everyone with the University of California-San Diego dig team knew it was make or break time.

Shiloh broke the surface. As the warm sun bathed her face, she slid off her mask and tugged out her air regulator before hauling herself onto the iron dive flat. She squeezed the saltwater from her hair, the auburn glints catching in the sunlight. Her long auburn hair glowed in the sunlight.

“What did you find?” Khalid Khan knelt next to her.

With a smirk, she peeked at her best friend. Her own excitement was mirrored in his dark eyes. Then she noticed Edie’s absence.

“Where’d she go this time? And Dr. Kuntz?”

“She wasn’t feeling well.”

“More like she had another date.” Irritation seeped through her pores like the hot sun, boiling her to frustration. She couldn’t believe her dive partner kept cutting digs to flirt with locals.

Khalid reached over to remove her dive tanks.

With a hand held up, she shifted away. “No, I’m going back down.”

Footsteps thudded on the deck. “It’s my turn.” Mikhail’s glower fanned her competitive streak.

“Sorry.” Shiloh grinned. “Not for another ten minutes. You’re not going to stop me from qualifying for the Pacific Rim Challenge.” She nearly sighed, thinking about racking up enough dive hours for the deep-sea assignment—her dream.

On his haunches, Khalid swiveled toward her, cutting off her view of Mikhail. “What’d you find?” he whispered. Damp from his last dive, Khalid’s jet black hair hung into his face. “Please tell me you aren’t playing games.”

From a pouch hanging at her waist, she produced the lamp. “This for starters.”

He took the piece and traced the contours. “Soapstone.” His gaze darted back to hers. “You mapped it on the grid, right? And photographed it?”

Any first-year grad student would know to take a picture to verify its location and record it on the mapped grid of the site. “Of course.” She patted the camera in the pouch.

Not so many years ago a sunken city had been found in the area. Would she find another? Her heart thumped at the prospect. Tools. She would need better tools to safely remove the vase waiting at the bottom of the sea. Shiloh stood and hurried to the chest to remove an air pipe to suction the silt and sediment away and grabbed an airlift bag. As she plotted how to excavate the piece, she tucked the tools into holsters strapped around her legs and waist.

“I’m coming down there whether you’re done or not.” Mikhail bumped his shoulder against hers and pursed his lips. “If you find it in my time, I get to log it.”

Eyebrow quirked, she swept around him to the stern and sat on the ledge.

“I mean it, Blake!” Mikhail’s face reddened.

She slipped the regulator back in her mouth, nearly smiling. With a thumbs-up to Khalid, she nudged herself into the water. Glee rippled through her. The look of incredulity on Mikhail’s mug buoyed her spirits. Finding the lamp had been exhilarating, but one-upmanship had its own thrill. Besides, how many divers worked this dig in the last year? Like them, she found a piece of history. Divers and researchers had scoured this area and other sites along the coast of India.

Dr. Kuntz would have insisted on diving with her if not for ferrying Edie around Mumbai. Irritation at her new dive partner swelled. Why they had ever agreed to take on that useless woman, she’d never know. How could partying compare with the discovery of the past?

Although the silt and sand shrouded the lip of the vase, Shiloh spotted its outline easily where she had marked the place with a flag. She lifted the red vinyl square from the sandy floor and worked quickly, refusing to relinquish this relic to the overblown ego of Mikhail Drovosky. He’d beaten her out of top honors for her bachelor’s degree, relegating her to magna cum laude, lessening her scholarship. Enough was enough.

Why hadn’t anyone else found this vase? As she brushed away the sediment, confusion drifted through her like the cool waters. A spot in the clay smeared. Her heart rapid fired. Had she ruined the relic? Yet something . . . Shiloh stilled, staring in disbelief. What on earth?

She rubbed the piece. Metal gleamed beneath the clay. The lip and handle floated away. This wasn’t ancient pottery. She turned it over in her hand. What was it? It almost reminded her of a thermos. About eighteen inches long, the cylinder’s weight surprised her. What was it doing here, buried like treasure? Just as she freed the object, her white watch face flashed, snapping her attention to the competition. Time was up.

Joy ebbed like the tide. Whatever this thing was, she wouldn’t leave it down here for Mikhail. Holding the bag open, she tried to ease in the metal tube. The piece teetered on the edge, nearly falling out, so she slipped it under her arm and started toward the surface. Light again directed her to the rig. Suddenly, thrashing ripples fractured the luminescent water, stirring particulates beneath the wake of a powerful motor.

A speedboat? Why were they so close to the dive area? Didn’t they see the warning beacon, the one that announced divers below? What kind of idiot would put someone’s life in danger for a thrill ride?

A torrent of waves rattled her, threatening her grip on the vase. What . . .? A half-dozen bicolor parrotfish shot past. Shiloh paused, watching their incredible color—like a psychedelic underwater show.

Thwat. Thwat.

A sound vibrated against her chest. She searched for the source but found nothing.

She continued upward, and then someone dropped into the water. Could Mikhail not wait? Sticking to the schedule ensured everyone’s safety. He wasn’t supposed to enter the water until she climbed out. He was in such a hurry to win that he would risk injury to her and anyone who got in his way. She’d throttle him. Only, it wasn’t Mikhail.

Khalid!

A plume of red swirled around his dark form like some freakish science experiment. Blood? Was he bleeding? Her heart skipped a beat—he wasn’t swimming.

Shiloh launched toward him as adrenaline spiraled through her. She struggled to breathe, threatening the nitrox mixture in her tank. Why wasn’t he swimming? He’d drown if it he didn’t paddle back up.

She pushed into his path, and he thudded against her. Hooking her arm under his, she aimed toward the surface, scissoring her legs.

A shadow loomed over the water. Another body plunged toward her, sinking deep and fast. Mikhail’s open, unseeing eyes stared back at her, a shocked expression plastered on his face. Reminding her of an Egyptian plague, the water turned red.

Watery tubes pursued him. Bullets!

What’s happening?

Khalid. He needed oxygen. She wrangled him toward her so she could share her air. The metal cylinder fumbled from her grasp and sunk back into the oblivion where she’d found it. Whatever the thing was, it couldn’t be worth a life—especially not her best friend’s. She removed her air regulator and stuffed it into his mouth.

Khalid jerked. Pain hooded his eyes. His dark brows knitted as he gazed at her. He gripped his side and grimaced. That’s when she saw the source of the red plumes. He’d been shot too. Her gaze flew to the rig. What about the captain and his son?

Khalid caught her arm. With a firm shake of his head, he pointed away from the rig. Escape.

Shiloh linked her harness to his and swam from the rig. Uncertain where they could find safety if someone was determined to kill them, she barreled away from the nightmare. If she could make it to an island—she remembered seeing a small one in the east—they might be safe. Khalid tried to pump his legs, but not successfully. At least he hadn’t passed out. Or died.

Her stomach seized. No way would she let Khalid Khan die. Shiloh wagged her fins faster, thrusting both of them farther from the boat. Seconds lengthened, stretching into what felt like hours. With each stroke, her limbs grew heavier, dragging her down to the ocean floor. She pushed upward, refusing to become a victim.

Suddenly, she was drawn backward, pulled out to sea by the strong natural current hugging the Indian coast. Battling the forces of nature, she did her best to keep herself and Khalid aimed in the right direction. Her chest burned from oxygen deprivation.

The mouthpiece appeared before her. Surprised at Khalid’s attentiveness, she stuffed it in her mouth and inhaled deeply, savoring the strength it gave her. Another twenty meters, and the water collided with mangroves. Shiloh struggled around the roots to a small, shallow inlet. On her knees, she tore out the regulator, dragging Khalid as she clawed her way to safety. He attempted to crawl, but collapsed. She yanked off her goggles and released their d-rings.

Khalid coughed, gagged, and vomited sea water.

Warm sand mired Shiloh’s trembling limbs as she laid there, panting and gasping. The swim had been harder and much longer than she’d expected. They both could have drowned.

She squeezed her eyes shut. Thoughts of what was lost . . . Mikhail! Was he truly dead? Who would attack grad students on a dig? Why?

Shiloh pressed her hand to her forehead, tiny grains of sand digging into her flesh. She rubbed her temples and tried to make sense of the chaos.

“What happened back there, Khalid?” She flipped onto her back, the sun blazing against her pounding skull. “Who was it? Did you see?”

Silence.

Shifting, she rolled her head to peek at him. He wasn’t moving. On all fours, Shiloh scrambled and shook him.

“Khalid!” His gray wetsuit glistened red from the blood that poured from his side. She clamped a hand over his wound, the warmth sickening. “Khalid, talk to me.”

He groaned.

“No!” Fire flashed through her. “You aren’t chickening out. Not now.” Again, she shook him, but this time he didn’t respond. “Please!”

Shiloh examined his chest. Not breathing. With two fingers pressed to his neck, she tried to feel past the hammering of her own heart to detect his pulse. Nothing! She started compressions and breaths, counting between each to keep a steady rhythm. His blood stained her hands. While she pumped his chest, she took a cursory glance around the thick vegetation. It was so thick, she’d never know if someone stood five meters off.

They needed help—now! She activated the emergency beacon on her watch as she again searched—hoped—for help. Her heart caught when she spotted a “mechanical giraffe” staggering in the shifting fog. Jawahar Dweep.

“Butcher Island,” she mumbled, as she tried to revive her friend. The isolated spot only offered isolation and oil. No help. They were alone.

“At least we’re safe,” she said. But would Khalid die? “Don’t you dare!”

She pounded his chest. More blood dribbled from the wound that seemed too close to his lungs.

A rasp grated the air. His ribs rose.

“Khalid?”
He moaned.

Tears stung her eyes as she slumped next to him. “Khalid, stay with me. I’ve activated the beacon.”

His blue lips trembled against his chalky skin. “C-cold.”

She’d always admired his dark olive complexion, but the pallor coating his rugged face worried her. Would she ever see his dark eyes ignite when she made some snide, inappropriate remark? Who would help her through her episodes? She’d told only him about her rare disorder.

“We should move you closer to the rocks to stay warm until help arrives.” Shiloh once again hooked her arms under his and drew him to the side. Blood stained the sandy beach.

A wave rolled in, then out. Red streaks reached toward the warm waters. She nestled him against a large boulder and lay close to keep him warm.

“Stay with me, Khalid. No naps. This is the ultimate test, got it?” She looked to where the ocean kissed the horizon. Mumbai sparkled in the distance. So close, yet so far away it might as well be a million miles. She could only hope they would be found in time.

“You just wanted to kiss me,” Khalid mumbled.

Shiloh jerked toward him, frowning. “What?”
“CPR. I didn’t need it . . .” He coughed. “You just wanted to kiss me.”

With her hand pressed to his forehead, she smiled. “Ah. Just as I expected—delirious with fever.”

A half-cocked grin split his lips.

She tried to swallow. He had been her rock for the last four years. Despite the tight-knit relationship between their parents, Khalid and Shiloh had forged their own friendship in the fires of college life. They’d been inseparable since he came to America to study.

How long would it take Search and Rescue to locate her signal? What if the SAR team didn’t make it in time? If this were American waters, it would only be a matter of minutes, but in the Arabian Sea . . .

Shiloh’s head dropped to her chest. She had to believe everything would be fine. They’d be found, a doctor would tend Khalid’s wounds, he’d recover, and then they’d be off to the Pacific Rim Challenge. She had worked so hard for it. They both had. For the last two years, they had prodded each other toward their common goal. Their requisite dive hours were nearly complete. No, nobody would die, especially not Khalid.

Mikhail died. She clenched her eyes shut and blotted out the image of her rival slipping through the water, sinking lower and lower.

Biting her lip, she groped for something to refocus her attention. Naming the scientific classification for the sun star. Animalia. Echinodermata. Asteroidea. Spinulosida. Solasteridae. Solaster dawsoni.

“Miss . . . Amer . . . ca . . .” Khalid’s words, though broken, speared her heart.

She scooted closer. “I’m here. Be still, Khalid. They’re coming.”

“Marry me.”

“You dork.” She let out a shaky laugh as a shudder tore through her, threatening to unleash tears. Lips pulled taut, she forced herself to remain calm and look at him. “Rest.”

His fingers twitched. She lifted his hand and cradled it in hers.

A gurgling noise bubbled up his throat. “I love . . .”

“No, shh.” He couldn’t love her. Not her.

“Shil . . .”

When he didn’t finish, she knitted her brow. His eyes closed, and his mouth remained open.

“Khalid?”

His arm went slack.

“Khalid!” Tears blurred her vision, making it impossible to see if he was breathing.

A horn blared in the distance. She whipped around and spotted the massive white Indian Coast Guard rig racing toward them with its lights swirling.

* * *

Reece Jaxon straightened and watched the woman without watching. Seeing without being seen. She batted her auburn hair, thick and tangled with ocean water, away from her face. Hiding in plain sight on the rescue boat, he tracked her movement with ease. She hadn’t noticed him yet, even though he was less than a dozen feet away.

Wrapped in a gray thermal blanket Shiloh Blake stared at the injured Pakistani on the medical stretcher as the local authorities churned across the water toward Mumbai. She hadn’t left the man’s side since the rescue.

Another man in his early fifties hooked an arm around her shoulders and drew her close. Dr. Kuntz, according to the file, was fifty-three. Married. Three grown children. An unfaithful wife and a divorce later he’d partnered with a local Indian museum to arrange underwater excavations with U.C. San Diego. Something about the man didn’t sit right with Reece.

“Noor Hospital,” Dr. Kuntz insisted to the Coast Guard captain.

An hour earlier Kuntz had stormed into the Coast Guard station and interrupted Reece’s conversation with the officer. Surprised at the man’s intrusion, Reece feigned disinterest, although Kuntz’s story corroborated what Reece had relayed to the authorities after witnessing the attack. Then? The emergency transponder signal erupted.

Reece noticed Shiloh stiffen under the professor’s protective touch. Kuntz spoke soothingly to her, reassuring her that Noor Hospital would give Khalid the best care. Bent to shield his face, Reece tightened the laces on his boots while memorizing everything that took place in the boat’s small cabin. Now if he had judged her character right, in about twenty seconds she’d pull away from Kuntz.

Shiloh took a step out of the man’s reach.

Bingo.

“I need something to drink.” Reece watched her cross through the hatch. “They said they had coffee up front.”

Dr. Kuntz laughed, his arms outstretched. “But you don’t drink coffee.”

“It’s chilly,” she called without looking back.

Chilly. Interesting. It was a mild sixty-five degrees on the Arabian Sea, and she was chilly.

Shiloh Blake strode straight toward him with her head held high. Calm. Relaxed. Confident.

Come on, look at me, Reece silently dared her.

Blue-grey eyes collided with his. He scratched his beard, wishing he had more than two weeks’ growth, but it was enough to conceal his identity. With an acknowledging nod, he stayed in position. Now if she would only hold his gaze.

Oh, what he wouldn’t give to smile his pleasure as she stared at him. She only tore her eyes from his when it became impractical not to. Reece guessed she would never show any weakness.

Atta, girl.

Although he’d already skimmed the preliminary data on the American students, Shiloh’s impressive character made him want to know more. She had a higher confidence level than most of the people he had monitored in the region. What gave her that unshakable demeanor? Reece determined to get a DNA sample and run her through the system. Was she working undercover?

As the ship bumped Victoria dock, he leaped off and lassoed the pylons. Heavy thuds sounded against the weathered planks as the emergency crew transferred the young woman and her Pakistani friend to a waiting ambulance. Dr. Kuntz doted on her once again, but with no room in the narrow mobile unit, the professor was relegated to a rickshaw.

Shiloh huddled on a small bench in the ambulance, her glassy gaze locked on her friend as the emergency personnel worked on him. Just as the doors swung closed, she glanced toward Reece. A load of steel partially blocked his line of sight. Yet, despite the stenciling on the rear window, he saw her tilt her chin just enough to look for him over the emblem. The ambulance bumped over the sandy path, and then settled on PD Mello Road. Sirens wailed. Lights whirled.

Reece strolled down the boardwalk toward the beach, retrieving the cell from his pocket. He hit autodial. Having to report one American dead was bad enough. But having to tell Ryan Nielsen that another sat neck deep in an ocean of chaos—

“We’ve got trouble.”

What was Shiloh Blake doing at a nuclear arms dead drop?

Monday, March 15, 2010

FIRST Looks at THE RAVEN SAINT by MaryLu Tyndall

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

Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

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



MY THOUGHTS:

I have already posted a review and an interview on this marvelous book. M. L. Tyndall uses words and ideas so deftly that I can't even imagine her writing a bad book. Thrilling, romantic, well-researched, action-packed--these are just a few of the words that come to mind when describing her work. While I was reading The Raven Saint, I felt like it was my favorite in the Charles Towne Belles series, but it's really hard to choose a favorite. Each one has its own pull. I can say, however, that this is one of the best books ever!



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.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A FIRST Look at THE COUNTRY HOUSE COURTSHIP

Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

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

MY THOUGHTS:
This is the kind of book that I can wander around and get lost in. I have always been a big fan of Jane Austen, and Linore Rose Burkard succeeds in creating a similar style with the same historical and social background. That is not to say that her writing simply mimics Ms. Austen; she most definitely
stamps her own personality in this beautiful tale. I love the witticisms and that cultured banter where words have importance. Mrs. Burkard paints a clear picture of the scene and the action. The characters are so well-developed and defined that we soon know what they are thinking and going to do. Although we are rather sure of certain outcomes in a story such as this, there are still quite a few surprises and unexpected obstacles. Part of the fun is discovering how the wrinkles get ironed out. The battle of self-will against God's will is prominent in the lives and choices of several characters, not all of whom chose wisely in the end.


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?



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

ONE SMOOTH STONE: First Chapter Excerpt



One Smooth Stone

Chapter One

   Alex Donnelly was alone. That’s how he wanted it. He told himself that’s how he liked it. That was a lie.


   He twisted the throttle on the boat motor to the off position, leaned back, pulled his floppy-brimmed river hat off his head and turned his face toward the sun. The silted water hissed against the bottom and sides of the boat. A breeze tussled his thick black hair. He heard a hawk whistle from a high cliff and squinted to watch it plummet from its perch.


   Closing his eyes, he slumped low. He would let the current take him home. He had all day and there wasn’t anyone waiting for him, except his dogs. At least they would welcome him, if only in anticipation of being fed.

   The hawk whistled again and Alex opened his eyes, letting them fill with the sweeping green hills and wide brown Yukon River. As the boat caught and circled in a whirlpool he dipped his hand into the cold flow. Two minutes, he’d been told. If he fell in – or jumped – it would take two minutes for this river to kill him. He knew it was true because it had almost happened. He’d been looking for the cabin where he now lived, had beached at the mouth of the wrong creek and decided to wade to the other side to search for a trail. Half way across he realized he was in trouble. It was deeper than he’d thought and his legs were giving out. Then the bottom dropped off completely and he’d had to swim. He barely made it to the shore in time; he couldn’t stand when he got there. His legs were useless for several minutes, even though the sun was high and hot that day. He remembered he’d shivered for two days.


   His eyes caught the gray shifting of mist in the rift of a small valley far ahead as thick clouds spilled their burden of moisture down toward the river. He could smell it as the wind brought the fragrance of poplar toward him. The trees on the banks seemed to turn their leaves toward it. He pulled his hat back on and shrugged into an old slicker. As the rain came toward him he started the motor and steered the boat closer to shore. He knew a wind could come up strong enough to keep him at a stand-still. He snorted as he thought about that. It was the story of his life right now. Standing still. But at least he wasn’t running anymore. He wondered how long it would last.

   Just before the rain hit him a sudden shifting of light curved over the hills in a faint rainbow. God’s promise. Funny how he always thought that when he saw a rainbow. Someone somewhere must have said it to him. He pulled his hat down and cut the motor again, to listen, as the first softness of rain touched him. Everything around him seemed to whisper. He breathed deeply and almost smiled. Out here a person could almost want to believe in God and promises. Almost.

****
August 19, 2003, Vancouver, British Columbia
   Inspector Stan Sorensen slumped into the driver’s seat of his unmarked car. Another case closed. It was a good feeling, but as his eyes absently scanned the neighborhood he knew it would not last. There was always another case, always more people who’d been hurt, more creeps to chase down. He sighed. There was a time when he’d thrived on it, but retirement was going to feel so good. He flipped open his notebook and wrote one more detail down, then reached for the ignition. His hand froze as his eyes rested on a small house across the street. Much like all the others, it had seen better days. What was it that made him … Sorensen’s eyes narrowed as the memory surfaced. A young girl’s face - dark eyes that held such longing it hurt him to even remember. He sat up straight. That case had never been closed. He reached for his notebook again and made another note. He hated loose ends.
****
August 20th, 2003, twenty miles downstream from Dawson City, on the Yukon River.
   Alex heard the boat but couldn’t see it. He took his binoculars down from a nail on the wall and walked to the bank. Making sure he was screened by the low slung branches of a spruce tree, he scanned upriver. He caught the long outboard, skimming with the current about a mile down. Adjusting the focus, he peered at the two people crouched in the back. He knew the one with his hand on the motor - the son of the mechanic in town. Alex couldn’t remember his name. Probably hired himself out to the man in the suit.
   The suit was hunched into himself, a large leather briefcase clutched in his arms, his knees drawn up, head down. His tie escaped now and then, flapping into the wind with sudden urgency until he caught it and tucked it in again. The sight of a man in a suit on the river was so out of context, Alex kept watching until the boat veered and headed directly toward him.
   He lowered the binoculars and squinted as it beached just below his cabin. Within seconds the men were out of sight but he knew they were scrambling up the embankment. They’d missed the trail. He considered slipping into the bush and pretending not to be there, but his curiosity got the better of him. He went back into the cabin and waited.
   As the two men breached the top of the slope, Alex's dogs erupted into high-pitched howls. The suit hesitated, peered around and seeing the animals were chained, approached the cabin. Alex stepped back from the window and waited for the knock. When he opened the door, he took in several things at once: the man looked young, no older than Alex himself, but smaller in stature. He was wiping his face with a handkerchief, but wasn't breathing hard from the climb. His hair was the color of sand and short, spiked at the front, reminding Alex of a small porcupine he'd seen that week. The man's eyes weren't visible behind dark sunglasses but Alex had the feeling he was being sized up in return.
   "Mr. Donnelly? Alexander Donnelly?"
   Alex kept one hand on the door latch, shoved one hand into his jeans pocket and willed his heart to stop racing. "Who's asking?"
   The man yelled over the barking. "I'm George Bronsky, of Adams, Ferrington, Lithgow and Bolt, attorneys at law, Seattle."
   When Alex did not respond, the lawyer slipped his sunglasses off. "You're a hard man to track down, Mr. Donnelly."


 


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