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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Montana Rose by Mary Connealy ~ Excerpt

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:

Montana Rose

Barbour Publishing, Inc (July 1, 2009)


An award-winning author, Mary Connealy lives on a Nebraska farm with her husband and is the mother of four grown daughters. She writes plays and shorts stories, and is the author of two other novels, Petticoat Ranch and Calico Canyon. Also an avid blogger, Mary is a GED instructor by day and an author by night.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc (July 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602601429
ISBN-13: 978-1602601420


Montana Territory, 1875

Cassie wanted to scream, “Put down that shovel!”

As if yelling at the red-headed gravedigger would bring Griff back to life. A gust of wind blew Cassie Griffin’s dark hair across her face, blinding her.

For one sightless moment it was as if the wind showed her perfectly what the future held for her.


Hovering in a wooded area, concealed behind a clump of quaking aspens that had gone yellow in the fall weather, she watched the hole grow as the man dug his way down into the rocky Montana earth.

Muriel, the kind storekeeper who had taken Cassie in, stood beside the ever-deepening grave. If Cassie started yelling, Muriel would start her motherly clucking again and force Cassie to return to town and go back to bed. She’d been so kind since Cassie had ridden in shouting for help.

In a detached sort of way, Cassie knew Muriel had been caring for her, coddling Cassie to get her through the day. But Cassie had gone numb since Muriel’s husband, Seth, had come back in with the news that Griff was dead. Cassie listened and answered and obeyed, but she hadn’t been able to feel anything. Until now. Now she could feel rage aimed straight at that man preparing the hole for her beloved Griff.

“I’m sorry, little one.” Cassie ran her hand over her rounded stomach. “You’ll never know your daddy now.” Her belly moved as if the baby heard Cassie and understood.

The fact that her husband was dead was Cassie’s fault. She should have gone for the doctor sooner. Griff ordered her not to, but first Griff had been worried about the cost. He’d shocked Cassie by telling her they couldn’t afford to send for the doctor. Griff had scolded Cassie if she ever asked questions about money. So she’d learned it wasn’t a wife’s place. But she’d known her parents were wealthy. Cassie had brought all their wealth into the marriage. How could they not afford a few bits for a doctor? Even as he lay sick, she’d known better than to question him about it.

Later, Griff had been out of his head with fever. She stayed with him as he’d ordered, but she should have doctored Griff better. She should have saved him somehow. Instead she’d stood by and watched her husband die inch by inch while she did nothing.

Cassie stepped closer. Another few steps and she’d be in the open. She could stop them. She could make them stop digging. Refuse to allow such a travesty when it couldn’t be true that Griff was dead.

Don’t put him in the ground! Inside her head she was screaming, denying, terrified. She had to stop this.

Before she could move she heard Muriel.

“In the West, nothing’ll get you killed faster’n stupid.” Whipcord lean, with a weathered face from long years in the harsh Montana weather, Muriel plunked her fists on her nonexistent hips.

Seth, clean-shaven once a week and overdue, stood alongside his wife, watching the proceedings, his arms crossed over his paunchy stomach. “How ’bout lazy? In the West, lazy’ll do you in faster’n stupid every time.”

“Well, I reckon Lester Griffin was both, right enough.” Muriel nodded her head.

Cassie understood the words, “lazy” and “stupid.” They were talking about Griff? She was too shocked to take in their meaning.

“Now, Muriel.” Red, the gravedigger, shoveled as he talked. “Don’t speak ill of the dead.”

On a day when Cassie didn’t feel like she knew anything, she remembered the gravedigger’s name because of his bright red hair.

One of the last coherent orders Griff had given her was, “Pay Red two bits to dig my grave, and not a penny more.”

Griff had known he was dying. Mostly delirious with fever, his mind would clear occasionally and he’d give orders: about the funeral, what he was to be buried in, what Cassie was to wear, strict orders not to be her usual foolish self and overpay for the grave digging. And not to shame him with her public behavior.

“Well honestly, it’s a wonder he wasn’t dead long before this.” Muriel crossed her arms and dared either man to disagree.

“It’s not Christian to see the bad in others.” Red dug relentlessly, the gritty slice of the shovel making a hole to swallow up Cassie’s husband. “And especially not at a time like this.”

It was just after noon on Sunday, and the funeral would be held as soon as the grave was dug.

Cassie looked down at her dress, her dark blue silk. It was a mess. She’d worn it all week, not giving herself a second to change while she cared for Griff. Then she’d left it on as she rode for town. She’d even slept in it last night. . .or rather she’d lain in bed with it on. She hadn’t slept, more than snatches, in a week. Ever since Griff’s fever started.

She needed to change to her black silk for the funeral.

Cassie wanted to hate Muriel for her words, but Muriel had mothered her, filling such a desperate void in Cassie that she couldn’t bear to blame Muriel for this rage whipping inside of Cassie’s head, pushing her to scream.

“Well, he was a poor excuse for a man and no amount of Christian charity’ll change that.” Muriel clucked and shook her head. “He lived on the labor of others ’n spent money he didn’t have.”

“It’s that snooty, fancy-dressed wife of his who drove him to an early grave,” Seth humphed. Cassie saw Seth’s shoulders quiver as he chuckled. “Of course, many’s the man who’d gladly die trying to keep that pretty little China Doll happy.”

Cassie heard Griff’s nickname for her. She ran her hands down her blue silk that lay modestly loose over her round belly. Fancy-dressed was right. Cassie admitted that. But she hadn’t needed all new dresses just because of the baby. Griff had insisted it was proper that the dresses be ordered. But however she’d come to dress so beautifully in silks and satins, there was no denying she dressed more expensively than anyone she’d met in Montana Territory. Not that she’d met many people.

But snooty? How could Seth say that? They were slandering her and, far worse, insulting Griff. She needed to defend her husband, but Griff hated emotional displays. How could she fight them without showing all the rage that boiled inside her? As the hole grew, something started to grow in Cassie that overcame her grief and fear.

Rage. Hate.

That shovel rose and fell. Dirt flew in a tidy pile and she hated Red for keeping to the task. She wanted to run at Red, screaming and clawing, and force Red to give Griff back to her. But she feared unleashing the anger roiling inside her. Griff had taught her to control all those childish impulses. Right now though, her control slipped.

[insert line break]

“A time or two I’ve seen someone who looks to be snooty who was really just shy. . .or scared,” Muriel said.

Red kept digging, determined not to join in with this gossip. But not joining in wasn’t enough. He needed to make them stop. Instead, he kept digging as he thought about poor Cassie. She’d already been tucked into Muriel’s back room when he’d come to town yesterday, but he’d seen Seth bring Lester Griffin’s body in. He couldn’t imagine what that little woman had been through.

“When’s the last time she came into our store?” Seth asked. “Most times she didn’t even come to town. She was too good to soil her feet in Divide. And you can’t argue about fancy-dressed. Griff ordered all her dresses ready-made, sent out from the East.”

Everything about Cassie Griffin made Red think of the more civilized East. She never had a hair out of place or a speck of dirt under her fingernails. Red had seen their home, too. The fanciest building in Montana, some said. Board siding instead of logs. Three floors and so many frills and flourishes the building alone had made Lester Griffin a laughingstock. The Griffins came into the area with a fortune, but they’d gone through it fast.

“That’s right,” Muriel snipped. “Griff ordered them. A spoiled woman would pick out her own dresses and shoes and finery, not leave it to her man.”

Seth shook his head. “I declare, Muriel, you could find the good in a rattlesnake.”

Red’s shovel slammed deep in the rocky soil. “Cassie isn’t a rattlesnake.” He stood up straight and glared at Seth.

His reaction surprised him. Red didn’t let much upset him. But calling Cassie a snake made Red mad to the bone. He glanced over and saw Muriel focusing on him as she brushed back wisps of gray hair that the wind had scattered from her usual tidy bun. She stared at him, taking a good long look.

Seth, a tough old mule-skinner with a marshmallow heart, didn’t seem to notice. “This funeral’ll draw trouble. You just see if it don’t. Every man in the territory’ll come a’running to marry with such a pretty widow woman. Any woman would bring men down on her as hard and fast as a Montana blizzard, but one as pretty as Cassie Griffin?” Seth blew a tuneless whistle through his teeth. “There’ll be a stampede for sure, and none of ’em are gonna wait no decent length of time to ask for her hand.”

Red looked away from Muriel because he didn’t like what was in her eyes. He was through the tough layer of sod and the hole was getting deep fast. He tried to sound casual even though he felt a sharp pang of regret—and not just a little bit of jealousy—when he said, “Doubt she’ll still be single by the time the sun sets.”

Muriel had a strange lilt to her voice when she said, “A woman is rare out here, but a young, beautiful woman like Cassie is a prize indeed.”

Red looked up at her, trying to figure out why saying that made her so all-fired cheerful.

Seth slung his beefy arm around Muriel with rough affection. “I’ve seen the loneliness that drives these men to want a wife. It’s a rugged life, Muriel. Having you with me makes all the difference.”

Red understood the loneliness. He lived with it every day.

“She’s a fragile little thing. Tiny even with Griff’s child in her belly. She needs a man to take care of her.” Muriel’s concern sounded just the littlest bit false. Not that Muriel wasn’t genuinely concerned. Just that there was a sly tone to it, aimed straight at Red.

Red thought of Cassie’s flawless white skin and shining black hair. She had huge, remote brown eyes, with lashes long enough to wave in the breeze, and the sweetest pink lips that never curved in a smile nor opened to wish a man good day.

Red thought on what he’d say to draw a smile and a kind word from her. Such thoughts could keep a man lying awake at night. Red knew that for a fact. Oh yes, Cassie was a living, breathing test from the devil himself.

“China Doll’s the perfect name for her,” Muriel added.

Red had heard that Griff called his wife China Doll. Griff never said that in front of anyone. He always called her Mrs. Griffin, real proper and formal-like. But he’d been overheard speaking to her in private, and he’d called her China Doll. The whole town had taken to calling her that.

Red had seen such a doll in a store window when he was a youngster in Indiana. That doll, even to a roughhousing little boy, was so beautiful it always earned a long, careful look. But the white glass face was cold. and her expression serious, rather than giving the poor toy a painted on smile. It was frighteningly fragile. Rather than being fun, Red thought a China doll would be a sad thing to own and, in the end, a burden to keep unbroken and clean. All of those things described Cassandra Griffin right down to the ground. Knowing all of that didn’t stop him from wanting her.

Cassie got to him. She had ever since the first time he’d seen her nearly two years ago. And now she was available. Someone would have to marry her to keep her alive. Women didn’t live without men in the unsettled West. Life was too hard. The only unattached women around worked above the Golden Butte Saloon and, although they survived, Red didn’t consider their sad existence living.

“You’re established on the ranch these days, Red. Your bank account’s healthy.” Muriel crouched down so she was eye level with Red, who was digging himself down fast. “Maybe it’s time you took a wife.”

Red froze and looked up at his friend. Muriel was a motherly woman, though she had no children. And like a mother, she seemed comfortable meddling in his life.

Red realized he was staring and went back to the grave, tempted to toss a shovel full of dirt on Muriel’s wily face. He wouldn’t throw it hard. He just wanted to distract her.

When he was sure his voice would work, he said, “Cassie isn’t for me, Muriel. And it isn’t because of what it would cost to keep her. If she was my wife, she’d live within my means and that would be that.”

Red had already imagined—in his unruly mind—how stern he’d be when she asked for finery. “You’ll have to sew it yourself or go without.” He even pictured himself shaking a scolding finger right under her turned-up nose. She’d mind him.

He’d imagined it many times, many, many times. And long before Griff died, which was so improper Red felt shame. He’d tried to control his willful thoughts. But a man couldn’t stop himself from thinking a thought until he’d started, now could he? So he’d started a thousand times and then he stopped himself. . .mostly. He’d be kind and patient but he wouldn’t bend. He’d say, “Cass honey, you—”

Red jerked his thoughts away from the old, sinful daydream about another man’s wife. Calmly, he answered Muriel, “She isn’t for me because I would never marry a non-believer.”

With a wry smile, Seth caught on and threw in on Muriel’s side—the traitor. “A woman is a mighty scarce critter out here, Red. It don’t make sense to put too many conditions on the ones there are.”

“I know.” Red talked to himself as much as to them. He hung on to right and wrong. He clung to God’s will. “But one point I’ll never compromise on is marrying a woman who doesn’t share my faith.”

“Now, Red,” Muriel chided, “you shouldn’t judge that little girl like that. How do you know she’s not a believer?”

“I’m not judging her, Muriel.” Which Red realized was absolutely not true. “Okay, I don’t know what faith she holds. But I do know that the Griffins have never darkened the doorstep of my church.”

Neither Seth nor Muriel could argue with that, although Muriel had a mulish look that told him she wanted to.

“We’d best get back.” Seth laid a beefy hand on Muriel’s strong shoulder. “I think Mrs. Griffin is going to need some help getting ready for the funeral.”

“She’s in shock, I reckon,” Muriel said. “She hasn’t spoken more’n a dozen words since she rode in yesterday.”

“She was clear enough on what dress I needed to fetch.” Seth shook his head in disgust. “And she knew the reticule she wanted and the shoes and hairpins. I felt like a lady’s maid.”

“I’ve never seen a woman so shaken.” Muriel’s eyes softened. “The bridle was on wrong. She was riding bareback. It’s a wonder she was able to stick on that horse.”

Red didn’t want to hear anymore about how desperately in need of help Cassie was.

Muriel had been teasing him up until now, but suddenly she was dead serious. “You know what the men around here are like, Red. You know the kind of life she’s got ahead of her. There are just some things a decent man can’t let happen to a woman. Libby’s boys are off hauling freight or I’d talk to them. They’d make good husbands.”

Muriel was right, they would be good. Something burned hot and angry inside of Red when he thought of those decent, Christian men claiming Cassie.

It was even worse when Red thought of her marrying one of the rough and ready men who lived in the rugged mountains and valleys around the little town of Divide, which rested up against the great peaks of the Montana Rockies. It was almost more than he could stand to imagine her with one of them.

But, he also knew a sin when he saw it tempting him, and he refused to let Muriel change his mind. She badgered him a while longer but finally gave up.

He was glad when Seth and Muriel left him alone to finish his digging. Until he looked up and saw Cassie as if he’d conjured her with his daydreams.

But this was no sweet, fragile China Doll. She charged straight toward him, her hands fisted, her eyes on fire.

“Uh. . .hi, Miz Griffin.” He vaulted out of the shoulder-deep hole and faced her. The look on her face was enough to make him want to turn tail and run.

She swept toward him, a low sound coming from her throat that a wildcat might make just before it pounced.

She’d heard it. All of it.

God forgive me for being part of that gossip, hurting her when she’s already so badly hurt.

Whatever she wanted to say, whatever pain she wanted to inflict, he vowed to God that he’d stand here and take it as his due. Her eyes were so alive with fury and focused right on him. How many times had his unruly mind conjured up the image of Cassie focusing on him? But this wasn’t the look he’d imagined in his daydreams. In fact, a tremor of fear ran up his backbone.

His grip tightened on his shovel, not to use as a weapon to defend himself but to keep her from grabbing it and taking a swing.

“Stop it.” Her fists were clenched as if to beat on him. “Stop saying those awful things.” Red saw more life in her eyes than he ever had before. She was always quiet and reserved and distant. “Give him back. I want him back!” She moved so fast toward him that, just as she reached his side, she tripped over her skirt and fell. A terrified shriek cut off her irate words.

“Cassie!” Red dropped the shovel and caught her just as she’d have tumbled into the open grave.

She swung and landed a fist right on his chin.

His head snapped back. She had pretty good power behind her fists for a little thing. Figuring he deserved it, he held on, stepping well away from the hole in the ground. He pulled her against him as she pummeled and emitted short, sharp, frenzied screams of rage. Punching his shoulders, chest, face. He took his beating like a man. He’d earned this by causing her more pain when she’d already been dealt more than she could bear. Of course he’d tried to stop it. But he’d failed now, hadn’t he?

“I’m sorry.” He spoke low, hoping to penetrate her anger. He could barely hear himself over her shouting. “I’m so sorry about Griff, Cassie. And I’m sorry you heard us speaking ill. We were wrong. So wrong. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” His voice kept crooning as he held her, letting her wale away on him until her squeaks and her harmless blows slowed and then ceased, most likely from exhaustion, not because she’d quit hating him.

Her hands dropped suddenly. Her head fell against his chest. Her knees buckled and Red swung her up into his arms.

He looked down at her, wondering if she’d fainted dead away.

In his arms, he held perfection.

She fit against him as if his body and his heart had been created just for her. A soul-deep ache nearly buckled his own knees as he looked at her now-closed eyes. Those lashes so long they’d tangle in a breeze rested on her ashen face, tinged with one bright spot of fury raised red on her cheeks.

“I’m so sorry I hurt you. Please forgive me.” His words were both a prayer to God and a request to poor, sweet Cassie. He held her close, murmuring, apologizing.

At last her eyes fluttered open. The anger was there but not the violence. “Let me go!”

He slowly lowered her feet to the ground, keeping an arm around her waist until he was sure her legs would hold her. She stepped out of his arms as quickly as possible and gave him a look of such hatred it was more painful than the blows she’d landed. Far more painful.

“I’m so sorry for your loss, Cassie honey.” Red wanted to kick himself. He shouldn’t have called her such. It was improper.

She didn’t seem to notice he was even alive. Instead, her gaze slid to that grave, that open rectangle waiting to receive Cassie’s husband. . .or what was left of him. And the hatred faded to misery, agony, and worst of all, fear.

A suppressed cry of pain told Red, as if Cassie had spoken aloud, that she wished she could join her husband in that awful hole.

Her head hanging low, her shoulders slumped, both arms wrapped around her rounded belly, she turned and walked back the way she came. Each step seemed to take all her effort as if her feet weighed a hundred pounds each.

Wondering if he should accompany her back to Muriel’s, instead he did nothing but watch. There was nothing really he could do. That worthless husband of hers was dead and he’d left his wife with one nasty mess to clean up. And Red couldn’t be the one to step in and fix it. Not if he wanted to live the life God had planned for him.

She walked into the swaying stand of aspens. They were thin enough that if he moved a bit to the side, he could keep his eye on her. Stepping farther and farther sideways to look around the trees—because he was physically unable to take his eyes off her—he saw her get safely to the store.

Just then his foot slipped off the edge of the grave. He caught himself before he fell headlong into the six feet of missing earth.

Red heard the door of Bates General Store close with a sharp bang, and Cassie went inside and left him alone in the sun and wind with a deep hole to dig and too much time to think. He grabbed his shovel and jumped down, getting back at it.

He knew he was doing the right thing by refusing to marry Cassie Griffin.

A sudden gust caught a shovelful of dirt and blew it in Red’s face. Along with the dirt that now coated him, he caught a strong whiff of the stable he’d cleaned last night. Cassie would think Red and the Western men he wanted to protect her from were one and the same. And she’d be right, up to a point. The dirt and the smell, the humble clothes, and the sod house—this was who he was, and he didn’t apologize for that to any man. . .or any woman.

Red knew there was only one way for him to serve God in this matter. He had to keep clear of Cassie Griffin.

The China Doll wasn’t for him.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Morningsong by Shelly Beach

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:


Kregel Publications (February 24, 2009)


Shelly Beach is a Christian communicator who speaks at women's conferences, retreats, seminars, and writers' conferences. She is a college instructor and writing consultant in Michigan and the author of Precious Lord, Take My Hand and the Christy Award-winning Hallie's Heart.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (February 24, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0825425417
ISBN-13: 978-0825425417


Chapter One

Halfway through her morning walk on the streets of Stewartville, Mona VanderMolen made her final decision to kill Miss Emily.

She pondered her decision as she stood at the edge of the lawn facing Glenda Simpson’s two-story, turn-of-the-century clapboard farmhouse.

What surprised her most was her numbness to the evil of it, even as her vision grew for how she’d carry out her plan. Sure, she’d done things she was ashamed of, things she and her girlfriends had laughed over at college reunions—things that kept her humble with memories of youth and stupidity. And then there were the years Ellen had blackmailed or manipulated her into being a silent accomplice to her rebellion—the times Mona had evaded her mother’s questions or pulled her drunk sister through a basement window in the dead of night.

But something intentionally evil, premeditated, and cold? Never in Mona’s forty-five years. Nothing like this. Since she’d moved to Stewartville, her public sins had been limited to an embarrassing unwillingness to observe the town’s forty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit and running up the highest tab in town for overdue library fines.

Killing Miss Emily would change everything. But then, that was the point of it, wasn’t it—to draw a line in the sand, to finally shut her up? Something in Miss Emily’s skittery eyes told Mona she knew she’d changed and could hear the voices that rang in her head.

Doubt. Fear. Indecision. Guilt.

Killing Miss Emily was the only way out of it, even if meant that everyone in Stewartville would know.

Mona VanderMolen was a good woman who had gone mad. Three months after she’d come out of her coma, she’d finally cracked.

The town would be stunned with the horror of it, and the sickening shame would separate her from the people she loved most: Elsie, Adam, Harold, Hallie, even Ellen. Mona pushed the thought from her mind.

The fact remained: it had to be done. She stared through the front window of Glenda’s house as the chill November wind bit through her black, French terry sweat suit and the lime green parka she’d layered over the top for extra warmth. Her thoughts rolled back to her first glimmering thoughts of murder. They’d drifted into her mind easily, like the russet oak leaves that had wafted downward to Stewartville’s lawns and sidewalks in gentle gasps and sputters of breeze as she’d headed west on Maple on her first lap that morning. By the time she’d turned north on Second, then east on Elm and south on Mercantile, the thought had grown to an idea, then to a resolve that hardened with the pain of each laborious step, until on her eighth lap, she found herself poised in front of Glenda Simpson’s bay window, holding a driveway paver brick in her right hand.

With one small twinge of pain, Mona’s vision had met flesh. The brick’s rough edges bit into the hammock of flesh between her thumb and index finger as she shifted its weight to get a better grip. She paused, then hefted it toward her shoulder, her arm trembling slightly as she drew it toward her chest. The weight was heavier than she’d expected, and she shifted her feet, then planted them wide apart for balance until the urge to lean to the right subsided.

Slowly, she closed her eyes and envisioned the throw. An overhand bullet that arched from her hand in a graceful swoop. The brick hurtling through the air and shooting through the pane of glass with perfect precision, raining glass shards into the juniper bushes below as the brick found its mark, leaving a starburst hole.

Then the sound of the thud, of stone meeting skull, and the sight of the body slumping to the living-room floor.

Mona opened her eyes and focused on the ripple of breeze through the juniper bush. If she thought about it another minute, she’d never follow through. It was pure evil, there was no getting around it, but some things in life weren’t to be tolerated. Tyranny came with a price, as Miss Emily was about to find out. And insurance would kick in and help with expenses, she was sure.

She raised her eyes and looked through the window at the face that had tormented her day after day.

You’re despicable, and I’ve taken all I’m going to take.

The face stared back silently. Mona could feel a trickle of blood running down the palm of her hand and the grit of the dirt on the tips of her fingers.

“I hate you.” She spoke the words out loud.

The face in the window continued to stare. Not even a blink broke the gaze. It was the staring Mona hated most, the fact that, to Miss Emily, the hard, violating gaze meant nothing, just like it meant nothing to the other faces who took in her stubble of auburn hair and the scarred scalp that still showed through. A few months ago her hair had fallen thick to well-muscled shoulders on a tall, athletic frame that could heft hay bales with the best of Stewartville’s men. But what did that matter now? Anger rose red-hot inside her like spewing lava, and she lifted the brick higher, staggering to regain her balance. But with the motion, her fingers lost their bite against the dirty chunk of concrete. She struggled to recover her grip, and the brick clattered to the sidewalk at her feet with a sonorous thud, landing inches from the raggedy hole where it had originally nested.

She blinked as she stood motionless and surveyed the streaks of blood on the palm of her right hand. Then she sighed, bent slowly to one knee, and nestled the brick back into place in the pattern of Glenda’s walkway where she’d found it kicked loose, like a half-dozen others.

So here I am, Lord, a pathetic crazy woman wasting your time, making you knock rocks out of my hand to save me from acts of insanity.

She eased the brick back and forth, working to make the edges lie even with the surrounding walkway.

This sure isn’t where I thought I’d be standing three months ago, after Elsie brought me home from the hospital. Of course, you know that. I was supposed to be finished with rehab by now, but your timetable and mine seem to be a little out of sync. And for some reason, praying and plowing through my agenda don’t seem to be working this time, even though they’ve worked pretty well in the past. I’m tired of all this, okay? I just want to lie down and sleep for a few weeks and wake up again when I’ll be able to walk again without staggering or read faster than a third grader or push three-syllable words through my brain.

She gave the brick a final smack, then lowered her head to her hands and rested on one knee before she slowly stood and blinked against the spinning. She fought against the swells that rose in her stomach and the flash of frustration that coursed through her veins.

Dr. Bailey’s warnings about post-craniotomy strokes and transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs, had simply been a doctor spouting medical protocol when he’d released her from the hospital. The headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and flashes these past few weeks were nothing, and she’d prove it to him if she had to. She’d fought every other hard thing in her life—her father, Stacy’s drowning, Hallie’s rebellion, her own near death—and she could fight this. She only had to get past her three-month MRI and hope that Dr. Bailey didn’t notice she’d already rescheduled it twice.

In the distance, the shriek of an ambulance approached as it headed in the direction of Stewartville Community Hospital’s emergency room.

With each bad day, I’m more exhausted and one step closer to losing it, Lord. Part of me wants to give up and crawl off into the dark with the doubt and fear that keep shouting that this is as good as it will ever get. The other part of me is outraged that I can’t control even the simplest things about my own body anymore. In five minutes, I swing from faith to depression to anger and then top it all off with a few ladles of guilt because I’m so weak.

And it’s no secret to you that I can’t walk by this house without fixating on killing Miss Emily because she’s the living, breathing embodiment of all the things I hate about myself. She’s as broken down and worthless as I’m becoming. Since we both know I’m losing it, what other excuse do I need to want her dead?

The calico with the flickering, crooked tail stared at her through the bay window that separated her from the outside world by a thin pane of glass. Mona had been told the story of Miss Emily soon after she’d moved to town. She was somewhat of a Stewartville celebrity, with her lightning-shaped tail, flinching fur, and skittery eyes that never rested anywhere for long unless she was shielded from the world in the protective recess of the bay window. Then, and only then, she would stare. She was one of Glenda Simpson’s six well-fed and pampered cats.

Rumor had it that one Saturday Miss Emily had ambled into Glenda’s dryer for an afternoon siesta, and Glenda had unknowingly tumbled both the cat and her husband’s Carhartts on permanent press for a good fifteen minutes before she’d figured out that the high-pitched shrieking she was hearing wasn’t coming from reruns of Cops in the next room. Miss Emily had emerged from the Kenmore with a walk that listed permanently to the left, a reengineered tail, and an aversion to anything remotely resembling the fragrance of Downy.

For the first time, Mona traced the lines of the lopsided tail and noticed the angles of the two breaks. Miss Emily’s eyes glared back, and Mona felt a surge of remorse.

“I’m sorry I’m staring, and I understand why you must have a deep-seated mistrust of humans. And I’m sorry I was planning your demise in kind of an . . . imaginative way. I was letting my mind play with how good it would feel to just hurl something . . . you know, let it all fly, inflict some pain because I’m hurting. We people commit murder like this dozens of times a day. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying we’re more messed up than we like to admit. But I think I at least owe you a peace offering of canned albacore.”

Mona tamped the brick with the toe of her tennis shoe as she glanced over her shoulder. The last thing she needed was for someone to have seen her apologizing to a cat. But no harm done. To the casual passerby, it would have appeared she’d taken a neighborly interest in replacing one of Glenda’s loose bricks. Not for one moment would anyone ever guess that Mona VanderMolen had contemplated an actual act of violence like pitching a brick through Glenda Simpson’s bay window in a random act of feline homicide.

She pulled a tissue from her jacket pocket, dabbed it on her tongue, and wiped the blood from her palm.

And what would Adam think if he realized he was dating a middle-aged wack job whose mind and body were disintegrating like cotton candy in a rainstorm? He was a good man who deserved a healthy, sane woman, not one who believed a cat could read minds and understand apologies.

Mona felt suddenly exhausted. After two months of laps around the same three blocks, she’d finally figured out why she hated Miss Emily so much. After all, she was just a beat-up calico with a busted tail and eyes that looked east and west at the same time. A cat with a mortal fear of household appliances. A cat that through a freak accident had been left to navigate the sea of life without a centerboard that went fully down, steering a little off-center and listing a bit to port.

Miss Emily was a reminder of who she’d become—one of the broken and dazed who listed a bit to port with a body that longed to be what it once had been. She wore her imperfections where everyone could see them, and people pitied her for it.

Mona shoved the blood-stained tissue back into her pocket. It was time to move on.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What the Bayou Saw by Patti Lacy

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:

What the Bayou Saw

Kregel Publications (March 24, 2009)


Patti Lacy graduated from Baylor University with a B.S. in education. She taught at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois, until 2006, when she began to pursue writing full-time. She has two grown children and lives in Illinois with her husband, Alan, and a dog named Laura.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (March 24, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0825429374
ISBN-13: 978-0825429378



Hold the Wind, Hold the Wind, Hold the Wind, don’t let it blow.

—Negro spiritual, “Hold the Wind”

August 26, 2005, Normal, Illinois

“I’m meteorologist Kim Boudreaux.” Clad in a dark suit, the petite woman smiled big for her television audience. “Katrina’s track has changed.” She pointed to a mass of ominous-looking clouds that threatened to engulf the screen. “She’s no longer headed for Mobile but is on course for the Crescent City.”

Sally Stevens checked her cell phone, then paced in front of the television, as if that would make her brother Robert pick up the phone. She needed to talk to him, needed to know that he’d gotten her nieces and her sister-in-law out of the death trap that New Orleans suddenly had become. Needed to have him assure her, with his balmy Southern drawl, that he and his National Guardsmen were going to be okay.

A slender hand pointed to what must be a fortune’s worth of satellite and radar imagery. “As you can see, Katrina’s moving toward the mouth of the Mississippi, toward the levees . . .” The meteorologist buzzed on, seemingly high on news of this climactic wonder.

Every word seeped from the television screen, crept across the Stevens’s den, and crawled up Sally’s spine. Louisiana had once been her home. Her heritage. What would this hurricane do to the Southern state that she still loved?

A glance at her watch told Sally to get moving. Instead, she once again punched in Robert’s number. If she could just hear his voice, she’d know how to pray later as she stood in her classroom pretending to be passionate about her lecture on the history of American music, pretending to act like it was another ordinary afternoon in Normal, Illinois, while this mother of a storm wreaked wrath and vengeance upon her brother. Her home.

“. . . the next twenty-four hours are crucial . . .” The camera zoomed in for a close-up, focusing on a perfect oval face that, for just a moment, seemed to stiffen, as if a personal levee was about to be breached. “I’m not supposed to say this.” Urgency laced the forecaster’s voice “But I’m telling you. Leave. This is a killer.” The pulsating weather image seemed to confirm her report, a mass of scarlet and violet whirling about an ominous-looking eye. Growing like a cancer. Moving in for the kill . . .

Talk turned to evacuation, log-jammed roads, but Sally barely listened. Years flew away as she studied Ms. Boudreaux’s flawless mocha complexion, the tilt of her chin. The determination of this woman to save her city, or at least its people. So like the determination of Ella, that first friend, who’d taken off for New Orleans. It was as if the lockbox of Sally’s memories had somehow sprung open. Ella, that friend who’d saved her. Ella. And her brother Willie, if he’d gotten out of the pen. Were they digging in, evacuating—

A classical song Sally’s kids had downloaded onto her phone poured from the tiny speaker as the device vibrated in her palm.

“God, let it be—” She glanced at the readout. 504 area code. New Orleans. Robert. Her fingers suddenly clumsy, she struggled to flip open the phone.

Static greeted her.

“Robert? Bobby?” She was shouting, but she didn’t care. “Are you there? Are you—”

“Ssss—got them out.”

He’s out there somewhere, right in the elements, from the sound of it. “Where are you?” Sally cried. “Robert, what’s going on?” Sally pressed the phone against her ear until it hurt. All this technology, yet she could barely hear him, could barely—

The whooshing stopped. So did Robert’s voice. Sally stared at the readout. Ten seconds she’d had with him. Ten seconds to gauge the climate of a city. A city that might still claim as a resident that once-best friend. Sally whispered a prayer as she grabbed her briefcase and headed to class.


August 29, 2005, New Orleans, Louisiana

“It’s no use! The generator’s flooded!” A single battery-operated hallway light revealed the faint outline of Dr. Powers, the thin, impeccably groomed physician whom Ella Ward had worked with for a decade. “Ella? Ella?” He groped against the hospital’s second floor wall, his hands and arms made ghoulish by the shadowy dark. “Are you there? Ella? We’ve got to get them out of here! Now.”

Screams, howling winds, and debris crashing against boarded-up windows swirled into a hellish cacophony that tore at Ella’s heart. What were the three of them, she, Willie, and the doctor—no. Willie didn’t count. What were the two of them going to do for sixty-three patients writhing in excrement, gasping for breath, thousands of dollars of ventilators and BiPAPs rendered powerless? Dying, minute by minute, second by second?

Just to keep from falling down, Ella dug her fingernails into a wall sweaty with humidity. She opened her mouth to answer, but no words came out. At Dr. Powers’s side, she’d watched an aortic artery explode, a patient gurgle in his own blood . . . “The scalpel, Ms. Ward?” he’d said. “Suction, please.” With ice-blue cool, Dr. Powers had plucked life out of mangled messes and never even raised his voice. Now his screams pierced Ella’s ears, and her hopes. Even with one of New Orleans’ best surgeons at her side, the prognosis of surviving this storm was dim. There was nothing for Ella to do but close her eyes and beg. “Oh God. Please Spirit. Please Lord Jesus, please.”

Dr. Powers clutched at the sleeve of Ella’s cotton scrub. “Where’s Willie?”

The doctor’s touch and the mention of her brother brought Ella around. Still, she could barely speak for the quivering of her lip. “Where . . . do you think a junkie would be?”

“The . . . pharmacy?”

Even though Dr. Powers most likely couldn’t see her nod, Ella went through the motion. Twenty-four hours ago, she’d decided she and Willie would come here together. Yet even in her worst nightmare, she hadn’t really believed that they’d die here together.

“Someone, anyone, let me outta here!” It was Mrs. Smith, in Room 215.

“Hold the wind, Lord!” Mr. Lunsford, who’d thought he’d die of cancer.

Ella gritted her teeth. One by one, the patients were seeing the storm’s demonic fingers etching out a death sentence, and screaming their response.

“We’ve got to do something.”

Dr. Powers’s words sent a shiver through Ella. Had he read her mind? Or had she babbled without even knowing it? She clamped her hands over her ears. Lord! I’m goin’ crazy! Help me, Lord!

“What’s happenin’, Lawd? Oh, Lawd Jesus!”

“Sweet Jesus! Where are you?”

What had acted as a twisted tonic to incite the patients to a new level of chaos? Was it the howls of the winds, the thuds and crashes against the windows, the doors, the very roof of this place?

“Jesus, oh Jesus!”

Every moan, every scream, knifed into Ella like a scalpel. Nursing school hadn’t trained her for this. Nearly thirty years working at understaffed facilities hadn’t trained her for this. Nothing had trained her for this. With taut fingers, she pulled the doctor close, then shoved him to his knees and knelt by him, her hands flush against the wall. “We gotta pray,” she said.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ransome's Honor by Kaye Dacus ~ Excerpt

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:

Ransome’s Honor

Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 2009)


Kaye Dacus has a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a minor in history, and a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction. Her love of the Regency era started with Jane Austen. Her passion for literature and for history come together to shape her creative, well-researched, and engaging writing.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736927530
ISBN-13: 978-0736927536


Portsmouth, England
July 18, 1814

William Ransome pulled the collar of his oilskin higher, trying to stop the rain from dribbling down the back of his neck. He checked the address once more and then tucked the slip of paper safely into his pocket.

He took the four steps up to the front door of the townhouse in two strides and knocked. The rain intensified, the afternoon sky growing prematurely dark. After a minute or two, William raised his hand to knock again, but the door swung open to reveal a warm light.

A wizened man in standard black livery eyed William, bushy white brows rising in interest at William’s hat, bearing the gold braid and black cockade of his rank. “Good evening, Captain. How may I assist you?”

“Good evening. Is this the home of Captain Collin Yates?”

The butler smiled but then frowned. “Yes, sir, it is. However, I’m sorry to say Captain Yates is at sea, sir.”

“Is Mrs. Yates home?”

“Yes, sir. Please come in.”

“Thank you.” William stepped into the black-and-white tiled entry, water forming a puddle under him as it ran from his outer garments.

“May I tell Mrs. Yates who is calling?” The butler reached for William’s soaked hat and coat.

“Captain William Ransome.”

A glimmer of recognition sparkled in the butler’s hazy blue eyes. In the dim light of the hall, he appeared even older than William originally thought. “The Captain William Ransome who is the master’s oldest and closest friend?”

William nodded. “You must be Fawkes. Collin always said he would have you with him one day.”

“The earl put up quite a fight, sir, but the lad needed me more.” Fawkes shuffled toward the stairs and waved for William to join him. “Mrs. Yates is in the sitting room. I’m certain she will be pleased to see you.”

William turned his attention to his uniform—checking it for lint, straightening the jacket with a swift tug at the waist—and followed the butler up the stairs.

Fawkes knocked on the double doors leading to a room at the back of the house. A soft, muffled voice invited entry. The butler motioned toward the door. It took a moment for William to understand the man was not going to announce him, but rather allow him to surprise Susan. He turned the knob and slowly pushed the door open.

Susan Yates sat on a settee with her back to him. “What is it, Fawkes—?” She turned to look over her shoulder and let out a strangled cry. “William!”

He met her halfway around the sofa and accepted her hands in greeting. “Susan. You’re looking well.”

Her reddish-blonde curls bounced as she looked him over. “I did not expect you until tomorrow!” She pulled him farther into the room. “So—tell me everything. When did you arrive? Why has it been two months since your last proper letter?” Susan sounded more like the girl of fifteen he’d met a dozen years ago than the long-married wife of his best friend. “Can you stay for dinner?”

“We docked late yesterday. I spent the whole of today at the port Admiralty, else I would have been here earlier. And I am sorry to disappoint you, but I cannot stay long.” He sat in an overstuffed chair and started to relax for the first time in weeks. “Where is Collin? Last I heard, he returned home more than a month ago.”

Susan retrieved an extra cup and saucer from the sideboard and poured steaming black coffee into it. “The admiral asked for men to sail south to ferry troops home, and naturally my dear Collin volunteered—anything to be at sea. He is supposed to be back within the week.” She handed him the cup. “Now, on to your news.”

“No news, in all honesty. I’ve been doing the same thing Collin has—returning soldiers and sailors home. I only received orders to Portsmouth a week ago—thus the reason I sent the note express, rather than a full letter.”

“But you’re here now. For how long?”

“Five weeks. I’ve received a new assignment for Alexandra.”

“What will you do until your new duty begins?”

“My crew and I are on leave for three weeks.” And it could not have come at a better time. After two years away from home, his crew needed some time apart from each other.

“Are you going to travel north to see your family?”

“At the same time I sent the express to you announcing my return to Portsmouth, I sent word to my mother telling her of my sojourn here. When I arrived ashore earlier today, I received a letter that she and Charlotte will arrive next Tuesday.”

“How lovely. Of course, you will all stay with us. No—I will brook no opposition. We have three empty bedchambers. I could not abide the thought of your staying at an inn when you could be with us.”

“I thank you, and on behalf of my mother and sister.”

“Think nothing of it. But you were telling me of your assignment. Your crew is not to be decommissioned?” Susan asked.

“No. I believe Admiral Witherington understands my desire to keep my crew together. They have been with me for two years and need no training.”

“Understands?” Susan let out a soft laugh. “Was it not he who taught you the importance of an experienced crew?”

William sipped the coffee—not nearly as strong as his steward made it, but it served to rid him of the remaining chill from the rain. “Yes, I suppose Collin and I did learn that from him…along with everything else we know about commanding a ship.”

Susan sighed. “I wish you could stay so that I could get out of my engagement for the evening. Card parties have become all the fashion lately, but I have no skill for any of the games. If it weren’t for Julia, I would probably decline every invitation.”

“Julia—not Julia Witherington?” William set his cup down on the reading table beside him. He’d heard she had returned to Portsmouth following her mother’s death, but he’d hoped to avoid her.

“Yes. She returned to England about eight months ago and has become the darling of Portsmouth society, even if they do whisper about her being a ‘right old maid’ behind her back. Although recently, Julia’s presence always means Lady Pembroke—her aunt—is also in attendance.” The tone of Susan’s voice and wrinkling of her small nose left no doubt as to her feelings toward the aunt.

“Does Admiral Witherington attend many functions?”

“About half those his daughter does. Julia says she would attend fewer if she thought her aunt would allow. I have told her many times she should exert her position as a woman of independent means; after all, she is almost thir—of course it is not proper to reveal a woman’s age.” Susan blushed. “But Julia refuses to cross the old dragon.”

“So you have renewed your acquaintance with Miss Witherington, then?” The thought of Miss Julia Witherington captured William’s curiosity. He had not seen her since the Peace of Amiens twelve years ago…and the memory of his behavior toward her flooded him with guilt. His own flattered pride was to blame for leading her, and the rest of Portsmouth, to believe he would propose marriage. And for leading him to go so far as to speak to Sir Edward of the possibility.

“Julia and I have kept up a steady correspondence since she returned to Jamaica.” The slight narrowing of Susan’s blue eyes proved she remembered his actions of a dozen years ago all too well. “She was very hurt, William. She believes the attentions you paid her then were because you wished nothing more than to draw closer to her father.”

William rose, clasped his hands behind his back, and crossed to the floor-to-ceiling window beside the crackling fireplace. His reflection wavered against the darkness outside as the rain ran in rivulets down the paned glass. “I did not mean to mislead her. I thought she understood why I, a poor lieutenant with seeming no potential for future fortune, could not make her an offer.”

“Oh, William, she would have accepted your proposal despite your situation. And her father would have supported the marriage. You are his favorite—or so my dear Collin complains all the time.” Silence fell and Susan’s teasing smile faltered a bit. “She tells the most fascinating tales of life in Jamaica—she runs her father’s sugar plantation there. Collin cannot keep up with her in discussions of politics. She knows everything about the Royal Navy—but of course she would, as the daughter of an admiral.”

A high-pitched voice reciting ships’ ratings rang in William’s memory, and he couldn’t suppress a slight smile. Julia Witherington had known more about the navy at age ten than most lifelong sailors.


“My apologies, Susan.” He snapped out of his reverie and returned to his seat. “Did Collin ever tell you how competitive we were? Always trying to out-do the other in our studies or in our duty assignments.” He recalled a few incidents for his best friend’s wife, much safer mooring than thinking about the young beauty with the cascade of coppery hair he hadn’t been able to forget since the first time he met her, almost twenty years ago.

Julia Witherington lifted her head and rubbed the back of her neck. The columns of numbers in the ledgers weren’t adding properly, which made no sense.

An unmistakable sound clattered below; Julia crossed to the windows. A figure in a dark cloak and high-domed hat edged in gold stepped out of the carriage at the gate and into the rain-drenched front garden. Her mood brightened; she smoothed her gray muslin gown and stretched away the stiffness of inactivity.

She did not hear any movement across the hall. Slipping into her father’s dressing room, she found the valet asleep on the stool beside the wardrobe. She rapped on the mahogany paneled door of the tall cabinet.

The young man rubbed his eyes and then leapt to his feet. “Miss Witherington?”

She adopted a soft but authoritative tone. “The admiral’s home, Jim.”

He rushed to see to his duty, just as Julia had seen sailors do at the least word from her father. Admiral Sir Edward Witherington’s position demanded obedience, but his character earned his men’s respect. The valet grabbed his master’s housecoat and dry shoes. He tripped twice in his haste before tossing the hem of the dressing gown over his shoulder.

She smothered a smile and followed him down the marble staircase at a more sedate pace. The young man had yet to learn her father’s gentle nature.

Admiral Sir Edward Witherington submitted himself to his valet’s ministrations, a scowl etching his still-handsome face, broken only by the wink he gave Julia. She returned the gesture with a smile, though with some effort to stifle the yawn that wanted to escape.

He reached toward her. “You look tired. Did you rest at all today?”

She placed her hand in his. “The plantation’s books arrived from Jamaica in this morning’s post. I’ve spent most of the day trying to keep my head above the flotsam of numbers.”

Sir Edward’s chuckle rumbled in his chest as he kissed her forehead. He turned to the butler, who hovered nearby. “Creighton, inform cook we will be one more for dinner tonight.”

“Aye, sir,” the former sailor answered, a furrow between his dark brows.

That her father had invited one of his friends from the port Admiralty came as no surprise. Julia started toward the study, ready for the best time of the day—when she had her father to herself.

“Is that in addition to the extra place Lady Pembroke asked to have set?” Creighton asked.

Julia stopped and turned. “My aunt asked…?” She bit off the rest of the question. The butler did not need to be drawn into the discord between Julia and her aunt.

The admiral looked equally consternated. “I quite imagine she has somebody else entirely in mind, as I have not communicated my invitation with my sister-in-law. So I suppose we will have two guests for dinner this evening. Come, Julia.”

Once in her father’s study, Julia settled into her favorite winged armchair. A cheery fire danced on the hearth, fighting off the rainy day’s chill. Flickering light trickled across the volumes lining the walls, books primarily about history and naval warfare. She alone knew where he hid the novels.

He dropped a packet of correspondence on his desk, drawing her attention. She wondered if she should share her concern over the seeming inaccuracy of the plantation’s ledgers with her father. But a relaxed haziness started to settle over her mind, and the stiffness of hours spent hunched over the plantation’s books began to ease. Perhaps the new steward’s accounting methods were different from her own. No need to raise an alarm until she looked at them again with a clearer mind.

She loved this time alone with her father in the evenings, hearing of his duties, of the officers, politicians, and government officials he dealt with on a daily basis while deciding which ships to decommission and which to keep in service.

The sound of a door and footsteps in the hallway roused her. “Papa, how long will Lady Pembroke stay?”

Sir Edward crossed to the fireplace and stoked it with the poker. “You wish your aunt to leave? I do not like the thought of you without a female companion. You spend so much time on your own as it is.”

“I do not mean to sound ungrateful. I appreciate the fact that Aunt Augusta has offered her services to me, that she wants to…help me secure my status in Portsmouth society.” Julia stared at her twined fingers in her lap.

“It seems to have worked. Every day when I come home, there are more calling cards and invitations on the receiving table than I can count.” Going around behind his desk, he opened one of the cabinets and withdrew a small, ironbound chest. With an ornate brass key, he unlocked it, placed his coin purse inside, secured it again, and put it away.

“Yes. I have met so many people since she came to stay three months ago. And I am grateful to her for that. But she is so…” Julia struggled for words that would not cast aspersions.

The admiral’s forehead creased deeply when he raised his brows. “She is what?”

“She is…so different from Mama.”

“As she was your mother’s sister by marriage only, that is to be expected.”

Julia nodded. To say anything more would be to sound plaintive, and she did not want to spoil whatever time her father could spare for her with complaints about his sister-in-law, who had been kind enough to come stay.

Sir Edward sat at his desk, slipped on a pair of spectacles, and fingered through the stack of correspondence from the day’s post. He grunted and tossed the letters back on the desk.

“What is it, Papa?”

He rubbed his chin. “It has been nearly a year…yet every night, I look through the post hoping to see something addressed in your mother’s hand.”

Sorrow wrapped its cold fingers around Julia’s throat. “I started writing a letter to her today, forgetting she is not just back home in Jamaica.”

“Are you sorry I asked you to return to England?”

“No…” And yes. She did not want her father to think her ungrateful for all he had done for her. “I miss home, but I am happy to have had this time with you—to see you and be able to talk with you daily.” Memories slipped in with the warmth of the Jamaica sun. “On Tuesdays and Fridays, when Jeremiah would leave Tierra Dulce and go into town for the post, as soon as I saw the wagon return, I would run down the road to meet him—praying for a letter from you.”

His worried expression eased. “You looked forward to my missives filled with nothing more than life aboard ship and the accomplishments of those under my command?”

“Yes. I loved feeling as if I were there with you, walking Indomitable’s decks once again.”

His sea-green eyes faded into nostalgia. “Ah, the good old Indy.” His gaze refocused and snapped to Julia. “That reminds me. An old friend made berth in Spithead yesterday. Captain William Ransome.”

Julia bit back sharp words. William Ransome—the man she’d sworn she’d never forgive. The man whose name she’d grown to despise from its frequent mention in her father’s letters. He had always reported on William Ransome’s triumphs and promotions, even after William disappointed all Julia’s hopes twelve years ago. He wrote of William as if William had been born to him, seeming to forget his own son, lost at sea.

Her stomach clenched at the idea of seeing William Ransome again. “He’s here, in Portsmouth?”

“Aye. But not for long. He came back at my request to receive new orders.”

“And where are you sending him, now that we’re at peace with France?” Please, Lord, let it be some distant port.

Sir Edward smiled. “His ship is to be in drydock several weeks. Once repairs are finished, he will make sail for Jamaica.”

Julia’s heart surged and then dropped. “Jamaica?” Home. She was ready to go back, to sink her bare toes into the hot sand on the beach, to see all her friends.

“Ransome will escort a supply convoy to Kingston. Then he will take on his new assignment: to hunt for pirates and privateers—and if the American war continues much longer, possibly for blockade-
runners trying to escape through the Gulf of Mexico. He’ll weigh anchor in five weeks, barring foul weather.”

Five weeks was no time at all. Julia relaxed a bit—but she started at the thump of a knock on the front door below.

“Ah, that must be him now.” Sir Edward glanced at his pocket watch. “Though he is half an hour early.”


“Aye. Did not I tell you? Captain Ransome is joining us for dinner.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Critical Care by Candace Calvert ~ Excerpt

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:

Critical Care (Mercy Hospital Series #1)

Tyndale House Publishers (May 6, 2009)


CANDACE CALVERT is a writer and ER nurse who believes that love, laughter, and faith are the very best medicines of all. After an equestrian accident broke her neck, she shared the inspirational account of her accident and recovery in Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul, and her writing career was launched. Born in Northern California and the mother of two, Candace lives in the hill country of Texas.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (May 6, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414325436
ISBN-13: 978-1414325439


Don’t die, little girl.

Dr. Logan Caldwell pressed the heel of his hand against Amy Hester’s chest, taking over heart compressions in a last attempt to save the child’s life. Her small sternum hollowed and recoiled under his palm at a rate of one hundred times per minute, the best he could do to mimic her natural heartbeat. A respiratory therapist forced air into her lungs.

Don’t die. Logan glanced up at the ER resuscitation clock, ticking on without mercy. Twenty-seven minutes since they’d begun the code. No heartbeat. Not once. Time to quit but . . .

He turned to his charge nurse, Erin Quinn, very aware of the insistent wail of sirens in the distance. “Last dose of epi?”

“Three minutes ago.”

“Give another.” Logan halted compressions, his motionless hand easily spanning the width of the two-year-old’s chest. He watched until satisfied with the proficiency of the therapist’s ventilations, then turned back to the cardiac monitor and frowned. Asystole—flatline. Flogging this young heart with atropine and repeated doses of epinephrine wasn’t going to do it. A pacemaker, pointless. She’d been deprived of oxygen far too long before rescue.

Logan pushed his palm into Amy’s sternum again and gritted his teeth against images of a terrified little girl hiding in a toy cupboard as her day care burned in a suffocating cloud of smoke, amid the chaos of two dozen other burned and panicking children.

“Epi’s on board,” Erin reported, sweeping an errant strand of coppery hair away from her face. She pressed two fingers against the child’s arm to locate the brachial pulse and raised her gaze to the doctor’s. “You’re generating a good pulse with compressions, but . . .”

But she’s dead. With reluctance, Logan lifted his hand from the child’s chest. He studied the monitor display and then nodded at the blonde nurse standing beside the crash cart. “Run me rhythm strips in three leads, Sarah.” After he drew in a slow breath of air still acrid with the residue of smoke, he glanced down at Amy Hester, her cheeks unnaturally rosy from the effects of carbon monoxide, glossy brown curls splayed against the starched hospital linen. Dainty purple flower earrings. Blue eyes, glazed and half-lidded. Tiny chin. And lips—pink as a Valentine cupid—pursed around the rigid breathing tube, as if it were a straw in a snack-time juice box. Picture-perfect . . . and gone.

He signaled for the ventilations to stop and checked the code clock again. “Time of death—9:47.”

There was a long stretch of silence, and Logan used it to make his exit, turning his back to avoid another glance at the child on the gurney . . . and the expressions on the faces of his team. No good came from dwelling on tragedy. He knew that too well. Best to move on with what he had to do. He’d almost reached the doorway when Erin caught his arm.

“We’ve put Amy’s parents and grandmother in the quiet room the way you asked,” she confirmed, her green eyes conveying empathy for him as well. “I can send Sarah with you, if—”

“No. I’ll handle it myself,” Logan said, cutting her off. His tone was brusquer than he’d intended, but he just wanted this over with. “We need Sarah here.” He tensed at a child’s shrill cry in the trauma room beyond, followed by the squawk of the base station radio announcing an ambulance. “There are at least five more kids coming in from the propane explosion. We’ll need extra staff to do more than pass out boxes of Kleenex. I want nurses who know what they’re doing. Get them for me.”


Why am I here?

Claire Avery winced as a child’s painful cry echoed up the Sierra Mercy emergency department corridor and blended with the wail of sirens. Almost an hour after the Little Nugget Day Care explosion, ambulances still raced in. Fire. Burns. Like my brother. No, please, I can’t be part of this again.

She leaned against the cool corridor wall, her mouth dry and thoughts stuttering. Being called to the ER was a mistake. Had to be. The message to meet the director of nursing didn’t make sense. Claire hadn’t done critical care nursing since Kevin’s death. Couldn’t. She wiped a clammy palm on her freshly pressed lab coat and stepped away from the wall to peer down the corridor into the ER. Then jumped, heart pounding, at the thud of heavy footfalls directly behind her.

She whirled to catch a glimpse of a man barreling toward her with his gaze on the ambulance entrance some dozen yards away. He looked a few years older than she was, maybe thirty-five, tall and wide shouldered, with curly dark hair and faded blue scrubs. He leveled a forbidding scowl at Claire like a weapon and slowed to a jog before stopping a few paces from her.

“What are you doing?” he asked, grabbing his stethoscope before it could slide from his neck.

“I’m . . . waiting,” Claire explained, awkwardly defensive. “I was paged to the ER.”

“Good. Then don’t just stand there holding up the wall. Let’s go. The charge nurse will show you where to start.”

“But I—,” she choked, her confusion complete.

“But what?” He glanced toward sounds at the ambulance bay and then back at her.

Claire cleared her throat. “I don’t know why I’m here.”

He shook his head, his low groan sounding far too much like a smothered curse. “If that question’s existential, I don’t have time for it. But if you’re here to work, follow me. Erin Quinn will tell you everything you need to know.” He pointed toward a crew of paramedics racing through the ambulance doors with a stretcher. A toddler, his tiny, terrified face raw and blistered behind an oxygen mask, sat bolt upright partially covered by a layer of sterile sheets. “See that boy? That’s why I’m here. So either help me or get out of the way.” He turned and began jogging.

Speechless, Claire stared at the man’s retreating back and the nightmarish scene beyond: burned child, hustling medics, a flurry of scrubs, and a hysterically screaming parent. Help or get out of the way? What was she supposed to do with that ultimatum? And what gave this rude man the right to issue it?

Then, with a rush of relief, Claire spotted the Jamaican nursing director striding toward her. This awful mistake was about to be cleared up.

“I’m sorry for the delay,” Merlene Hibbert said, her molasses-rich voice breathless. “As you can imagine, there have been many things to attend to.” She slid her tortoiseshell glasses low on her nose, squinting down the corridor. “I see you already met our Dr. Caldwell.”

Claire’s eyes widened. Logan Caldwell? Sierra Mercy Hospital’s ER director?

Merlene sighed. “I’d planned to introduce you myself. I hope he wasn’t . . . difficult.”

“No, not exactly,” she hedged, refusing to imagine a reason she’d need an introduction. “But I think there’s been a mistake. He thought I’d been sent down here to work in the ER.” Tell me he’s mistaken.

“Of course. A natural mistake. He’s expecting two more agency nurses.”

Claire’s knees nearly buckled with relief. “Thank goodness. They need help. I can see that from here.” She glanced at the ER, where patients on gurneys overflowed into the hallway. A nurse’s aide held a sobbing woman in her arms, her face etched with fatigue. Styrofoam coffee cups, discarded cardboard splints, and scraps of cut-away clothing littered the floor. All the while, the distant cries of that poor child continued relentlessly.

“Yes, they do,” Merlene agreed. “And that’s exactly why I called you.”

“But I’ve been at Sierra Mercy only a few months, and my hours are promised to the education department—to train the students, write policies, and demonstrate new equipment.” Claire floundered ahead as if grasping for a life preserver. “I’ve interviewed to replace Renee Baxter as clinical educator. And I haven’t done any critical care nursing in two years, so working in the ER would be out of the—”

“That’s not why you’re here,” Merlene said. Her dark eyes pinned Claire like a butterfly specimen on corkboard. “I need you to assess my staff to see how they’re coping emotionally. I don’t have to tell you this has been one miserable morning.” She studied Claire’s face and then raised her brows. “You listed that in your résumé. That you’ve been recently trained in Critical Incident Stress Management?”

CISM? Oh no. She’d forgotten. Why on earth had she included that? “Yes, I’m certified, but . . .” How could she explain? Merlene had no clue that Claire’s entire future—maybe even her sanity—depended on never setting foot in an ER again. It was the only answer to the single prayer she’d clung to since her firefighter brother’s death in a Sacramento trauma room two years ago. Being helpless to save him left her with crippling doubts, sleep-stealing nightmares, and . . . She’d mapped her future out meticulously. The move to Placerville, a new hospital, a new career path, no going back. Everything depended on her plan.

Claire brushed away a long strand of her dark hair and forced herself to stand tall, squaring her shoulders. “I understand what you’re asking. But you should know that I haven’t done any disaster counseling beyond classroom practice. I’m familiar with the principles, but . . .” What could she possibly offer these people? “Wouldn’t the chaplain be a better choice?”

“He’s going to be delayed for several hours. Erin Quinn’s my strongest charge nurse, so if she tells me her ER team is at risk, I believe it. They received six children from that explosion at the day care. Four are in serious condition, and a two-year-old died.” Merlene touched the amber and silver cross resting at the neckline of her uniform. She continued, frowning. “Dr. Caldwell’s working them ragged. An agency nurse threatened to walk out. Security’s got their hands full with the media. . . . You’re all I can offer them right now.”

Claire’s heart pounded in her throat. With every fiber of her being, she wanted to sprint into the northern California sunshine; fill her lungs with mountain air; cleanse away the suffocating scents of fear, pain, and death; keep on running and not look back. It would be so easy. Except that these were fellow nurses in that ER; she’d walked in their shoes. More than most people, Claire understood the awful toll this work could take. The staff needed help. How could she refuse? She took a breath and let it out slowly. “Okay. I’ll do it.”

“Good.” Relief flooded into Merlene’s eyes. She handed Claire a dog-eared sheaf of papers. “Here’s our hospital policy for staff support interventions. Probably nothing new there.” She gestured toward her office a few yards away. “Why don’t you sit down and review it for a few minutes before you go in? You can report to me later after I make my rounds.”

Before Claire could respond, the ambulance bay doors slammed open at the far end of the corridor. There was an answering thunder of footsteps, rubber-soled shoes squeaking across the faded vinyl flooring.

Logan Caldwell reappeared, shoving past a clutch of reporters to direct incoming paramedics. He raked his fingers through his hair and bellowed orders. “Faster! Get that stretcher moving. Give me something to work with, guys. And you—yeah, you, buddy—get the camera out of my face! Who let you in here?” The ER director whirled, stethoscope swinging across his broad chest, to shout at a tall nurse who’d appeared at the entrance to the ER. “Where are those extra nurses, Erin? Call the evening crew in early; a double shift won’t kill anyone. We’re working a disaster case here. Get me some decent staff!”

Claire gritted her teeth. Though she still hadn’t officially met him, there was no doubt in her mind that Logan Caldwell deserved his notorious reputation. Dr. McSnarly. The nickname fit like a surgical glove. Thank heaven she didn’t have to actually work with him—the man looked like he ate chaos for breakfast.

Claire turned to Merlene. “I’ll do the best I can,” she said, then drew a self-protective line. “But only for today. Just until the chaplain comes.”

“Of course. Very short-term.” Merlene began walking away, then stopped to glance over her shoulder. “Oh, a word of caution: Dr. Caldwell hates the idea of counseling. I’d watch my back if I were you.”

Claire hesitated outside the doors to the emergency department. She’d reviewed the summary of steps for an initial critical stress intervention and was as ready as she’d ever be. Considering she’d never done any peer counseling before. I’m a fraud. Why am I here?

She shut her eyes for a moment, hearing the din of the department beyond. It had been stupid to put the CISM training on her résumé. She’d taken the course last fall and participated reluctantly in the mock crisis situations, mostly because it would look impressive on her application for the clinical educator position. But afterward Claire knew that she could never volunteer as a peer counselor. Never. It felt too personal, too painful.

Healing the healers, they called it, the basis for the work of volunteer teams that waded into horror zones after events like 9/11, the killer tsunami in Indonesia, and the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And a Sacramento, California, trauma room after a warehouse fire that killed seven firefighters.

Claire fought the memories. Yes, the counseling teams made sure that caregivers took care of themselves too, assessing them for burnout and signs of post-traumatic stress. Like difficulty making decisions, sleeplessness, nightmares, and relationship failures. Claire knew the symptoms only too well. She’d struggled with most of them herself these past two years, exactly the reason she’d run away from that Sacramento hospital—after refusing its offer of stress counseling—and never looked back.

But here she was at another ER door, peeking inside through a narrow panel of bulletproof glass. And now she was responsible for helping these people deal with everything she was trying so hard to forget and expected to offer the kind of counseling she’d never accepted herself. Beyond ironic—impossible and completely at odds with her plan.

Claire raised her palm and pushed the door inward.

Heal my heart and move me forward. She’d prayed it every single day.

So why was her life slamming into reverse?

The essence of Sierra Mercy ER hit Claire’s senses like an assault. Sounds: anxious chatter, a burst from the overhead PA speakers, beeping of electronic monitors, inconsolable crying, and painful screams. Smells: nervous perspiration, stale coffee, surgical soap, bandaging adhesive, the scorched scent of sterile surgical packs . . . and of burned hair and flesh.

No, no. Claire’s stomach lurched as she clutched her briefcase like a shield and scanned the crowded room for the charge nurse. Find Erin Quinn. Concentrate on that.

She took a slow breath and walked farther into the room, searching among the eddy of staff in multicolored scrubs—technicians, nurses, and registration clerks. She forced herself to note the glassed-in code room, a small central nurses’ station and its large dry-erase assignment board, the semicircular arrangement of curtained exam cubicles with wall-mounted equipment at the head of each gurney, and the huge surgical exam lights overhead.

Claire tried to avoid the anxious faces of the family members huddled close to the tiny victims. Because she knew intimately how much they were suffering. No, much worse than that. I feel it. I still feel it.

When she’d agreed to do this for Merlene, she’d hoped this smaller ER—miles from the Sacramento trauma center and two years later—would be somehow different, but nothing had changed. Especially how it made Claire feel, the same way it had in those weeks after Kevin’s death. Unsure of herself for the first time in her nursing career, she’d been antsy, queasy, and clammy with doubt. Dreading the wail of approaching sirens and jumping at each squawk of the emergency radio. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t shake the irrational certainty that the very next ambulance stretcher would be carrying someone she loved, someone she’d be unable to save, and . . .

A cry in the distance made Claire turn. Her breath caught as the young charge nurse opened a curtain shielding a gurney.

A child, maybe three years old, rested upright in a nest of blue sterile sheets, tufts of his wispy blond hair blackened at the tips—some missing in spots—reddened scalp glistening with blisters. One eye had swollen closed, and his nose was skewed a little to one side by the clear plastic tape securing a bandage to his cheek. The other blue eye blinked slowly as if mesmerized by the drip chamber of the IV setup taped to his arm. An oxygen cannula stretched across his puffy, tear-streaked face.

Beside him, a stainless steel basin, bottles of sterile saline, and stacks of gauze squares sat assembled on a draped table. Burn care: control pain, cool the burn to stop it from going deeper, monitor for dehydration, and prevent tetanus and infection. All the bases covered. Unless the burns are horrific and complicated, like Kevin’s. Unless there is profound shock, heart failure, and . . . No, don’t think of it.

Claire exhaled, watching as Erin Quinn pressed the button on a blood pressure monitor and efficiently readjusted the finger probe measuring the child’s lung status. She made a note on a chart and moved back to the bedside as the child stirred and cried out.


“Mom’s getting a bandage on her leg, Jamie, remember?” she explained gently, then caught sight of Claire and acknowledged her with a wave. She called to another nurse across the room. “Sarah, can you finish the ointment on Jamie’s scalp? watch him for few minutes?” After giving a brief report to the petite blonde nurse, she crossed to where Claire stood.

“Good, you found me,” Erin said, noting Claire’s name badge and offering a firm handshake. Strands of coppery hair had escaped from her ponytail, and her blue scrubs were splotched with snowy white burn ointment. She nodded as Claire glanced once more at the injured boy. “Second-degree burns. No explosion trauma, otherwise he’d be on a chopper ride to Sacramento. But Jamie’s got asthma, and the smoke stirred things up. So . . .”

“He needs close observation,” Claire finished. “I understand.”

Erin smiled. “Hey, I really appreciate your coming here. We’ve had a horrible shift, and my staff are workhorses, but the Hester child was a real heartbreaker. We worked a long time to save her, but it didn’t happen. And only last weekend we had the first drowning of the season. Junior high boy fishing on the river. Overall my crew seems to be coping fairly well, but today might be that last straw, you know? So I have a couple of issues I’d like to discuss with you. I can spare about ten minutes to fill you in. Will that be enough to get you started?”

“Yes . . . okay.” Claire tried to recall the details of her review. How much could she offer here? One person couldn’t do more than a brief assessment and let the staff know more assistance was available. At least she’d found the self-help pamphlets. “But first I should tell you that I left a message for the hospital social worker because if an actual debriefing is needed, then a mental health professional is required. That’s policy.” She swallowed, hoping she sounded more confident than she felt. “The debriefing should be done tomorrow or the next day.”

“What?” Erin shot her a look that clearly implied Claire was the one who needed mental help. “Tomorrow? I called you here because we need help now. Didn’t Merlene tell you that?” She pressed her fist to her lips. “Look, I’ve had a lab tech faint, the media’s harassing family members in the waiting room, and an agency nurse threatened to walk out. Walk out, when I’m short-staffed already! I’m sorry if I seem testy, but I’m responsible for the quality of nursing care here. My team needs help, and I’ll do everything it takes to make that happen. Merlene told me you were a trained peer counselor. Aren’t you?”

She hated herself. Erin Quinn was right. Claire needed to do whatever she could for these people. Somehow. She reached into her briefcase and grabbed a sheaf of glossy pamphlets. “Yes, I’ve been trained. And I can start an initial assessment, get things going in the process. I promise I’ll do as much as I can to help, and . . .” Her voice faltered as heavy footsteps came to a stop behind her. She fought an unnerving sense of déjà vu and impending doom.

“Help?” A man’s voice, thick with sarcasm, prodded her back like the devil’s pitchfork.

Claire turned, several pamphlets slipping from her fingers.

It was time to officially meet the newest threat to her plan, Dr. Logan Caldwell.