Monday, May 31, 2010

book review – A Tailor-Made Bride

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:

A Tailor-Made Bride

Bethany House (June 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Karen Witemeyer for sending me a review copy.***


Karen Witemeyer holds a master's degree in psychology from Abilene Christian University and is a member of ACFW, RWA, and the Texas Coalition of Authors. She has published fiction in Focus on the Family's children's magazine, and has written several articles for online publications and anthologies. Tailor-Made Bride is her first novel. Karen lives in Abilene, Texas, with her husband and three children.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Bethany House (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0764207555
ISBN-13: 978-0764207556



San Antonio, Texas—March 1881
“Red? Have you no shame, Auntie Vic? You can’t be buried in a scarlet gown.”

“It’s cerise, Nan.”

Hannah Richards bit back a laugh as Victoria Ashmont effectively put her nephew’s wife in her place with three little words. Trying hard to appear as if she wasn’t listening to her client’s conversation, Hannah pulled the last pin from between her lips and slid it into the hem of the controversial fabric.

“Must you flout convention to the very end?” Nan’s whine heightened to a near screech as she stomped toward the door. A delicate sniff followed by a tiny hiccup foreshadowed the coming of tears. “Sherman and I will be the ones to pay the price. You’ll make us a laughingstock among our friends. But then, you’ve never cared for anyone except yourself, have you?”

Miss Victoria pivoted with impressive speed, the cane she used for balance nearly clobbering Hannah in the head as she spun.

“You may have my nephew wrapped around your little finger, but don’t think you can manipulate me with your theatrics.” Like an angry goddess from the Greek myths, Victoria Ashmont held her chin at a regal angle and pointed her aged hand toward the woman who dared challenge her. Hannah almost expected a lightning bolt to shoot from her finger to disintegrate Nan where she stood.

“You’ve been circling like a vulture since the day Dr. Bowman declared my heart to be failing, taking over the running of my household and plotting how to spend Sherman’s inheritance. Well, you won’t be controlling me, missy. I’ll wear what I choose, when I choose, whether or not you approve. And if your friends have nothing better to do at a funeral than snicker about your great aunt’s attire, perhaps you’d do well to find some companions with a little more depth of character.”

Nan’s affronted gasp echoed through the room like the crack of a mule skinner’s whip.

“Don’t worry, dear,” Miss Victoria called out as her niece yanked open the bedchamber door. “You’ll have my money to console you. I’m sure you’ll recover from any embarrassment I cause in the blink of an eye.”

The door slammed shut, and the resulting bang appeared to knock the starch right out of Miss Victoria. She wobbled, and Hannah lurched to her feet to steady the elderly lady.

“Here, ma’am. Why don’t you rest for a minute?” Hannah gripped her client’s arm and led her to the fainting couch at the foot of the large four-poster bed that dominated the room. “Would you like me to ring for some tea?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, girl. I’m not so infirm that a verbal skirmish leaves me in want of fortification. I just need to catch my breath.”

Hannah nodded, not about to argue. She gathered her sewing box instead, collecting her shears, pins, and needle case from where they lay upon the thick tapestry carpet.

She had sewn for Miss Victoria for the last eighteen months, and it disturbed her to see the woman reduced to tremors and pallor so easily. The eccentric spinster never shied from a fight and always kept her razor-sharp tongue at the ready.

Hannah had felt the lash of that tongue herself on several occasions, but she’d developed a thick skin over the years. A woman making her own way in the world had to toughen up quickly or get squashed. Perhaps that was why she respected Victoria Ashmont enough to brave her scathing comments time after time. The woman had been living life on her own terms for years and had done well for herself in the process. True, she’d had money and the power of the Ashmont name to lend her support, but from all public reports—and a few overheard conversations—it was clear Victoria Ashmont’s fortune had steadily grown during her tenure as head of the family, not dwindled, which was more than many men could say. Hannah liked to think that, given half a chance, she’d be able to duplicate the woman’s success. At least to a modest degree.

“How long have you worked for Mrs. Granbury, Miss Richards?”

Hannah jumped at the barked question and scurried back to Miss Victoria’s side, her sewing box tucked under her arm. “Nearly two years, ma’am.”

“Hmmph.” The woman’s cane rapped three staccato beats against the leg of the couch before she continued. “I nagged that woman for years to hire some girls with gumption. I was pleased when she finally took my advice. Your predecessors failed to last more than a month or two with me. Either I didn’t approve of their workmanship, or they couldn’t stand up to my plain speaking. It’s a dratted nuisance having to explain my preferences over and over to new girls every time I need something made up. I’ve not missed that chore.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Hannah’s forehead scrunched. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought Victoria Ashmont might have just paid her a compliment.

“Have you ever thought of opening your own shop?”

Hannah’s gaze flew to her client’s face. Miss Victoria’s slate gray eyes assessed her, probing, drilling into her core, as if she meant to rip the truth from her with or without her consent.

Ducking away from the penetrating stare, Hannah fiddled with the sewing box. “Mrs. Granbury has been good to me, and I’ve been fortunate enough to set some of my earnings aside. It will be several years yet, but one day I do hope to set up my own establishment.”

“Good. Now help me get out of this dress.”

Dizzy from the abrupt starts, stops, and turns of the strange conversation, Hannah kept her mouth closed and assisted Miss Victoria. She unfastened the brightly colored silk, careful not to snag the pins on either the delicate material of the gown or on Miss Victoria’s stockings. Once the dress had been safely removed, she set it aside and helped the woman don a loose-fitting wrapper.

“I’m anxious to have these details put in order,” Miss Victoria said as she took a seat at the ladies’ writing desk along the east wall. “I will pay you a bonus if you will stay here and finish the garment for me before you leave. You may use the chair in the corner.” She gestured toward a small upholstered rocker that sat angled toward the desk.

Hannah’s throat constricted. Her mind scrambled for a polite refusal, yet she found no excuse valid enough to withstand Miss Victoria’s scrutiny. Left with no choice, she swallowed her misgivings and forced the appropriate reply past her lips.

“As you wish.”

Masking her disappointment, Hannah set her box of supplies on the floor near the chair Miss Victoria had indicated and turned to fetch the dress.

She disliked sewing in front of clients. Though her tiny boardinghouse room was dim and lacked the comforts afforded in Miss Victoria’s mansion, the solitude saved her from suffering endless questions and suggestions while she worked.

Hannah drew in a deep breath. I might as well make the best of it. No use dwelling on what couldn’t be changed. It was just a hem and few darts to compensate for her client’s recent weight loss. She could finish the task in less than an hour.

Miss Victoria proved gracious. She busied herself with papers of some kind at her desk and didn’t interfere with Hannah’s work. She did keep up a healthy stream of chatter, though.

“You probably think me morbid for finalizing all my funeral details in advance.” Miss Victoria lifted the lid of a small silver case and extracted a pair of eyeglasses. She wedged them onto her nose and began leafing through a stack of documents in a large oak box.

Hannah turned back to her stitching. “Not morbid, ma’am. Just . . . efficient.”

“Hmmph. Truth is, I know I’m dying, and I’d rather go out in a memorable fashion than slip away quietly, never to be thought of again.”

“I’m sure your nephew will remember you.” Hannah glanced up as she twisted the dress to allow her better access to the next section of hem.

“Sherman? Bah! That boy would forget his own name if given half a chance.” Miss Victoria pulled a document out of the box. She set it in front of her, then dragged her inkstand close and unscrewed the cap. “I’ve got half a mind to donate my estate to charity instead of letting it sift through my nephew’s fingers. He and that flighty wife of his will surely do nothing of value with it.” A heavy sigh escaped her. “But they are family, after all, and I suppose I’ll no longer care about how the money is spent after I’m gone.”

Hannah poked her needle up and back through the red silk in rapid succession, focused on making each stitch even and straight. It wasn’t her place to offer advice, but it burned on her tongue nonetheless. Any church or charitable organization in the city could do a great amount of good with even a fraction of the Ashmont estate. Miss Victoria could make several small donations without her nephew ever knowing the difference. Hannah pressed her lips together and continued weaving her needle in and out, keeping her unsolicited opinion to herself.

She was relieved when a soft tapping at the door saved her from having to come up with an appropriate response.

A young maid entered and bobbed a curtsy. “The post has arrived, ma’am.”

“Thank you, Millie.” Miss Victoria accepted the envelope. “You may go.”

The sound of paper ripping echoed in the quiet room as Miss Victoria slid her letter opener through the upper edge of the flap.

“Well, I must give the gentleman credit for persistence,” the older woman murmured. “This is the third letter he’s sent in two months.”

Hannah turned the dress again and bent her head a little closer to her task, hoping to escape Miss Victoria’s notice. It was not to be. The older woman’s voice only grew louder and more pointed as she continued.

“He wants to buy one of my railroad properties.”

Hannah made the mistake of looking up. Miss Victoria’s eyes, magnified by the lenses she wore, demanded a response. Yet how did a working-class seamstress participate in a conversation of a personal nature with one so above her station? She didn’t want to offend by appearing uninterested. However, showing too keen an interest might come across as presumptuous. Hannah floundered to find a suitably innocuous response and finally settled on, “Oh?”

It seemed to be enough, and Miss Victoria turned back to her correspondence as she continued her ramblings.

“When the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway out of Galveston started up construction again last year, I invested in a handful of properties along the proposed route, in towns that were already established. I’ve made a tidy profit on most, but for some reason, I find myself reluctant to part with this one.”

An expectant pause hung in the air. Keeping her eyes on her work, Hannah voiced the first thought that came to mind.

“Does the gentleman not make a fair offer?”

“No, Mr. Tucker proposes a respectable price.” Miss Victoria tapped the handle of the letter opener against the desktop in a rhythmic pattern, then seemed to become aware of what she was doing and set it aside. “Perhaps I am reticent because I do not know the man personally. He is in good standing with the bank in Coventry and by all accounts is respected in the community, yet in the past I’ve made my decision to sell after meeting with the buyer in person. Unfortunately, my health precludes that now.”

“Coventry?” Hannah seized upon the less personal topic. “I’m not familiar with that town.”

“That’s because it’s about two hundred miles north of here—and it is quite small. The surveyors tell me it’s in a pretty little spot along the North Bosque River. I had hoped to visit, but it looks as if I won’t be afforded that opportunity.”

Hannah tied off her thread and snipped the tail. She reached for her spool and unwound another long section, thankful that the discussion had finally moved in a more neutral direction. She clipped the end of the thread and held the needle up to gauge the position of the eye.

“What do you think, Miss Richards? Should I sell it to him?”

The needle slipped out of her hand.

“You’re asking me?”

“Is there another Miss Richards in the room? Of course I’m asking you.” She clicked her tongue in disappointment. “Goodness, girl. I’ve always thought you to be an intelligent sort. Have I been wrong all this time?”

That rankled. Hannah sat a little straighter and lifted her chin. “No, ma’am.”

“Good.” Miss Victoria slapped her palm against the desk. “Now, tell me what you think.”

If the woman was determined to have her speak her mind, Hannah would oblige. This was the last project she’d ever sew for the woman anyway. It couldn’t hurt. The only problem was, she’d worked so hard not to form an opinion during this exchange, that now that she was asked for one, she had none to give. Trying not to let the silence rush her into saying something that would indeed prove her lacking in intellect, she scrambled to gather her thoughts while she searched for the dropped needle.

“It seems to me,” she said, uncovering the needle along with a speck of insight, “you need to decide if you would rather have the property go to a man you know only by reputation or to the nephew you know through experience.” Hannah lifted her gaze to meet Miss Victoria’s and held firm, not allowing the woman’s critical stare to cow her. “Which scenario gives you the greatest likelihood of leaving behind the legacy you desire?”

Victoria Ashmont considered her for several moments, her eyes piercing Hannah and bringing to mind the staring contests the school boys used to challenge her to when she was still in braids. The memory triggered her competitive nature, and a stubborn determination to win rose within her.

At last, Miss Victoria nodded and turned away. “Thank you, Miss Richards. I think I have my answer.”

Exultation flashed through her for a brief second at her victory, but self-recrimination soon followed. This wasn’t a schoolyard game. It was an aging woman’s search to create meaning in her death.

“Forgive my boldness, ma’am.”

Her client turned back and wagged a bony finger at Hannah. “Boldness is exactly what you need to run your own business, girl. Boldness, skill, and a lot of hard work. When you get that shop of yours, hardships are sure to find their way to your doorstep. Confidence is the only way to combat them—confidence in yourself and in the God who equips you to overcome. Never forget that.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Feeling chastised and oddly encouraged at the same time, Hannah threaded her needle and returned to work. The scratching of pen against paper replaced the chatter of Miss Victoria’s voice as the woman gave her full attention to the documents spread across her desk. Time passed swiftly, and soon the alterations were complete.

After trying the gown on a second time to assure a proper fit and examining every seam for quality and durability, as was her custom, Victoria Ashmont ushered Hannah down to the front hall.

“My man will see you home, Miss Richards.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Hannah collected her bonnet from the butler and tied the ribbons beneath her chin.

“I will settle my account with Mrs. Granbury by the end of the week, but here is the bonus I promised you.” She held out a plain white envelope.

Hannah accepted it and placed it carefully in her reticule. She dipped her head and made a quick curtsy. “Thank you. I have enjoyed the privilege of working for you, ma’am, and I pray that your health improves so that I might do so again.”

A strange light came into Miss Victoria’s eyes, a secretive gleam, as if she could see into the future. “You have better things to do than make outlandish red dresses for old women, Miss Richards. Don’t waste your energy worrying over my health. I’ll go when it’s my time and not a moment before.”

Hannah smiled as she stepped out the door, sure that not even the angels could drag Miss Victoria away until she was ready to go. Yet underneath the woman’s tough exterior beat a kind heart. Although Hannah didn’t fully understand how kind until she arrived home and opened her bonus envelope.

Instead of the two or three greenbacks she had assumed were tucked inside, she found a gift that stole her breath and her balance. She slumped against the boardinghouse wall and slid down its blue-papered length into a trembling heap on the floor. She blinked several times, but the writing on the paper didn’t change, only blurred as tears welled and distorted her vision.

She held in her hand the deed to her new dress shop in Coventry, Texas.

Chapter One

Coventry, Texas—September 1881
“J.T.! J.T.! I got a customer for ya.” Tom Packard lumbered down the street with his distinctive uneven gait, waving his arm in the air.

Jericho “J.T.” Tucker stepped out of the livery’s office with a sigh and waited for his right-hand man to jog past the blacksmith and bootmaker shops. He’d lost count of how many times he’d reminded Tom not to yell out his business for everyone to hear, but social niceties tended to slip the boy’s notice when he got excited.

It wasn’t his fault, though. At eighteen, Tom had the body of a man, but his mind hadn’t developed quite as far. He couldn’t read a lick and could barely pen his own name, but he had a gentle way with horses, so J.T. let him hang around the stable and paid him to help out with the chores. In gratitude, the boy did everything in his power to prove himself worthy, including trying to drum up clientele from among the railroad passengers who unloaded at the station a mile south of town. After weeks without so much as a nibble, it seemed the kid had finally managed to hook himself a fish.

J.T. leaned a shoulder against the doorframe and slid a toothpick out of his shirt pocket. He clamped the wooden sliver between his teeth and kept his face void of expression save for a single raised brow as Tom stumbled to a halt in front of him. The kid grasped his knees and gulped air for a moment, then unfolded to his full height, which was nearly as tall as his employer. His cheeks, flushed from his exertions, darkened further when he met J.T.’s eye.

“I done forgot about the yelling again, huh? Sorry.” Tom slumped, his chin bending toward his chest.

J.T. gripped the kid’s shoulder, straightened him up, and slapped him on the back. “You’ll remember next time. Now, what’s this about a customer?”

Tom brightened in an instant. “I gots us a good one. She’s right purty and has more boxes and gewgaws than I ever did see. I ’spect there’s enough to fill up the General.”

“The General, huh?” J.T. rubbed his jaw and used the motion to cover his grin.

Tom had names for all the wagons. Fancy Pants was the fringed surrey J.T. kept on hand for family outings or courting couples; the buggy’s name was Doc after the man who rented it out most frequently; the buckboard was just plain Buck; and his freight wagon was affectionately dubbed The General. The kid’s monikers inspired a heap of good-natured ribbing amongst the men who gathered at the livery to swap stories and escape their womenfolk, but over time the names stuck. Just last week, Alistair Smythe plopped down a silver dollar and demanded he be allowed to take Fancy Pants out for a drive. Hearing the pretentious bank clerk use Tom’s nickname for the surrey left the fellas guffawing for days.

J.T. thrust the memory from his mind and crossed his arms over his chest, using his tongue to shift the toothpick to the other side of his mouth. “The buckboard is easier to get to. I reckon it’d do the job just as well.”

“I dunno.” Tom mimicked J.T.’s posture, crossing his own arms and leaning against the livery wall. “She said her stuff was mighty heavy and she’d pay extra to have it unloaded at her shop.”

“Shop?” J.T.’s good humor shriveled. His arms fell to his sides as his gaze slid past Tom to the vacant building across the street. The only unoccupied shop in Coventry stood adjacent to Louisa James’s laundry—the shop he’d tried, and failed, to purchase. J.T.’s jaw clenched so tight the toothpick started to splinter. Forcing himself to relax, he straightened away from the doorpost.

“I think she’s a dressmaker,” Tom said. “There were a bunch of them dummies with no heads or arms with her on the platform. Looked right peculiar, them all standin’ around her like they’s gonna start a quiltin’ bee or something.” The kid chuckled at his own joke, but J.T. didn’t join in his amusement.

A dressmaker? A woman who made her living by exploiting the vanity of her customers? That’s who was moving into his shop?

A sick sensation oozed like molasses through his gut as memories clawed over the wall he’d erected to keep them contained.

“So we gonna get the General, J.T.?”

Tom’s question jerked him back to the present and allowed him to stuff the unpleasant thoughts back down where they belonged. He loosened his fingers from the fist he didn’t remember making and adjusted his hat to sit lower on his forehead, covering his eyes. It wouldn’t do for the kid to see the anger that surely lurked there. He’d probably go and make some fool assumption that he’d done something wrong. Or worse, he’d ask questions J.T. didn’t want to answer.

He cleared his throat and clasped the kid’s shoulder. “If you think we need the freight wagon, then we’ll get the freight wagon. Why don’t you harness up the grays then come help me wrangle the General?”

“Yes, sir!” Tom bounded off to the corral to gather the horses, his chest so inflated with pride J.T. was amazed he could see where he was going.

Ducking back inside the livery, J.T. closed up his office and strode past the stalls to the oversized double doors that opened his wagon shed up to the street. He grasped the handle of the first and rolled it backward, using his body weight as leverage. As his muscles strained against the heavy wooden door, his mind struggled to control his rising frustration.

He’d finally accepted the fact that the owner of the shop across the street refused to sell to him. J.T. believed in Providence, that the Lord would direct his steps. He didn’t like it, but he’d worked his way to peace with the decision. Until a few minutes ago. The idea that God would allow it to go to a dressmaker really stuck in his craw.

It wasn’t as if he wanted the shop for selfish reasons. He saw it as a chance to help out a widow and her orphans. Isn’t that what the Bible defined as “pure religion”? What could be nobler than that? Louisa James supported three kids with her laundry business and barely eked out an existence. The building she worked in was crumbling around her ears even though the majority of her income went to pay the rent. He’d planned to buy the adjacent shop and rent it to her at half the price she was currently paying in exchange for storing some of his tack in the large back room.

J.T. squinted against the afternoon sunlight that streamed into the dim stable and strode to the opposite side of the entrance, his indignation growing with every step. Ignoring the handle, he slammed his shoulder into the second door and ground his teeth as he dug his boots into the packed dirt floor, forcing the wood to yield to his will.

How could a bunch of fripperies and ruffles do more to serve the community than a new roof for a family in need? Most of the women in and around Coventry sewed their own clothes, and those that didn’t bought ready-made duds through the dry-goods store or mail order. Sensible clothes, durable clothes, not fashion-plate items that stroked their vanity or elicited covetous desires in their hearts for things they couldn’t afford. A dressmaker had no place in Coventry.

This can’t be God’s will. The world and its schemers had brought her to town, not God.

Horse hooves thudded and harness jangled as Tom led the grays toward the front of the livery.

J.T. blew out a breath and rubbed a hand along his jaw. No matter what had brought her to Coventry, the dressmaker was still a woman, and his father had drummed into him the truth that all women were to be treated with courtesy and respect. So he’d smile and doff his hat and make polite conversation. Shoot, he’d even lug her heavy junk around for her and unload all her falderal. But once she was out of his wagon, he’d have nothing more to do with her.


Hannah sat atop one of her five trunks, waiting for young Tom to return. Most of the other passengers had left the depot already, making their way on foot or in wagons with family members who'd come to meet them. Hannah wasn’t about to let her belongings out of her sight, though—or trust them to a porter she didn’t know. So she waited.

Thanks to Victoria Ashmont’s generosity, she’d been able to use the money she’d saved for a shop to buy fabric and supplies. Not knowing what would be available in the small town of Coventry, she brought everything she needed with her. Including her prized possession—a Singer Improved Family Model 15 treadle machine with five-drawer walnut cabinet and extension leaf. The monster weighed nearly as much as the locomotive that brought her here, but it was a thing of beauty, and she intended to make certain it arrived at the shop without incident.

Her toes tapped against the wooden platform. Only a mile of dusty road stood between her and her dream. Yet the final minutes of waiting felt longer than the hours, even years, that preceded them. Could she really run her own business, or would Miss Ashmont’s belief in her prove misplaced? A tingle of apprehension tiptoed over Hannah’s spine. What if the women of Coventry had no need of a dressmaker? What if they didn’t like her designs? What if . . .

Hannah surged to her feet and began to pace. Miss Ashmont had directed her to be bold. Bold and self-confident. Oh, and confident in God. Hannah paused. Her gaze slid to the bushy hills rising around her like ocean swells. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” The psalm seeped into her soul, bringing a measure of assurance with it. God had led her here. He would provide.

She resumed her pacing, anticipation building as fear receded. On her sixth lap around her mound of luggage, the creak of wagon wheels brought her to a halt.

A conveyance drew near, and Hannah’s pulse vaulted into a new pace. Young Tom wasn’t driving. Another man with a worn brown felt hat pulled low over his eyes sat on the bench. It must be that J.T. person Tom had rambled on about. Well, it didn’t matter who was driving, as long as he had the strength to maneuver her sewing machine without dropping it.

A figure in the back of the wagon waved a cheerful greeting, and the movement caught Hannah’s eye. She waved back, glad to see Tom had returned as well. Two men working together would have a much easier time of it.

The liveryman pulled the horses to a halt and set the brake. Masculine grace exuded from him as he climbed down and made his way to the platform. His long stride projected confidence, a vivid contrast to Tom’s childish gamboling behind him. Judging by the breadth of his shoulders and the way the blue cotton of his shirt stretched across the expanse of his chest and arms, this man would have no trouble moving her sewing cabinet.

Tom dashed ahead of the newcomer and swiped the gray slouch hat from his head. Tufts of his dark blond hair stuck out at odd angles, but his eyes sparkled with warmth. “I got the General, ma’am. We’ll get you fixed up in a jiffy.” Not wasting a minute, he slapped his hat back on and moved past her.

Hannah’s gaze roamed to the man waiting a few steps away. He didn’t look much like a general. No military uniform. Instead he sported scuffed boots and denims that were wearing thin at the knees. The tip of a toothpick protruded from his lips, wiggling a little as he gnawed on it. Perhaps General was a nickname of sorts. He hadn’t spoken a word, yet there was something about his carriage and posture that gave him an air of authority.

She straightened her shoulders in response and closed the distance between them. Still giddy about starting up her shop, she couldn’t resist the urge to tease the stoic man who held himself apart.

“Thank you for assisting me today, General.” She smiled up at him as she drew near, finally able to see more than just his jaw. He had lovely amber eyes, although they were a bit cold. “Should I salute or something?”

His right brow arced upward. Then a tiny twitch at the corner of his mouth told her he’d caught on.

“I’m afraid I’m a civilian through and through, ma’am.” He tilted his head in the direction of the wagon. “That’s the General. Tom likes to name things.”

Hannah gave a little laugh. “I see. Well, I’m glad to have you both lending me a hand. I’m Hannah Richards.”

The man tweaked the brim of his hat. “J.T. Tucker.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Tucker.”

He dipped his chin in a small nod. Not a very demonstrative fellow. Nor very talkative.

“Lay those things down, Tom,” he called out as he stepped away. “We don’t want them to tip over the side if we hit a rut.”

“Oh. Wait just a minute, please.” There was no telling what foul things had been carted around in that wagon bed before today. It didn’t matter so much for her trunks and sewing cabinet, but the linen covering her mannequins would be easily soiled.

“I have an old quilt that I wrapped around them in the railroad freight car. Let me fetch it.”

Hannah sensed more than heard Mr. Tucker’s sigh as she hurried to collect the quilt from the trunk she had been sitting on. Well, he could sigh all he liked. Her display dummies were going to be covered. She had one chance to make a first impression on the ladies of Coventry, and she vowed it would be a pristine one.

Making a point not to look at the liveryman as she scurried by, Hannah clutched the quilt to her chest and headed for the wagon. She draped it over the side, then climbed the spokes and hopped into the back, just as she had done as a child. Then she laid out the quilt along the back wall and gently piled the six dummies horizontally atop it, alternating the placement of the tripod pedestals to allow them to fit together in a more compact fashion. As she flipped the remaining fabric of the quilt over the pile, a loud thud sounded from behind, and the wagon jostled her. She gasped and teetered to the side. Glancing over her shoulder, she caught sight of Mr. Tucker as he shoved the first of her trunks into the wagon bed, its iron bottom scraping against the wooden floor.

The man could have warned her of his presence instead of scaring the wits out of her like that. But taking him to task would only make her look like a shrew, so she ignored him. When Tom arrived with the second trunk, she was ready. After he set it down, she moved to the end of the wagon.

“Would you help me down, please?”

He grinned up at her. “Sure thing.”

Hannah set her hands on his shoulders as he clasped her waist and lifted her down. A tiny voice of regret chided her for not asking the favor of the rugged Mr. Tucker, but she squelched it. Tom was a safer choice. Besides, his affable manner put her at ease—unlike his companion, who from one minute to the next alternated between sparking her interest and her ire.

She bit back her admonishments to take care as the men hefted her sewing machine. Thankfully, they managed to accomplish the task without her guidance. With the large cabinet secured in the wagon bed, it didn’t take long for them to load the rest of her belongings. Once they finished, Tom handed her up to the bench seat, then scrambled into the back, leaving her alone with Mr. Tucker.

A cool autumn breeze caressed her cheeks and tugged lightly on her bonnet as the wagon rolled forward. She smoothed her skirts, not sure what to say to the reticent man beside her. However, he surprised her by starting the conversation on his own.

“What made you choose Coventry, Miss Richards?”

She twisted on the seat to look at him, but his eyes remained focused on the road.

“I guess you could say it chose me.”

“How so?”

“It was really a most extraordinary sequence of events. I do not doubt that the Lord’s Providence brought me here.”

That got a reaction. His chin swiveled toward her, and beneath his hat, his intense gaze speared her for a handful of seconds before he blinked and turned away.

She swallowed the moisture that had accumulated under her tongue as he stared at her, then continued.

“Two years ago, I was hired by Mrs. Granbury of San Antonio to sew for her most particular clientele. One of these clients was an elderly spinster with a reputation for being impossible to work with. Well, I needed the job too badly to allow her to scare me away and was too stubborn to let her get the best of me, so I stuck it out and eventually the two of us found a way to coexist and even respect each other.

“Before she died, she called me in to make a final gown for her, and we fell to talking about her legacy. She had invested in several railroad properties, and had only one left that had not sold. In an act of generosity that I still find hard to believe, she gave me the deed as a gift, knowing that I had always dreamed of opening my own shop.”

“What kept her from selling it before then?” His deep voice rumbled with something more pointed than simple curiosity.

A prickle of unease wiggled down Hannah’s neck, but she couldn’t quite pinpoint the cause.

“She told me that she preferred to meet the buyers in person, to assess their character before selling off her properties. Unfortunately, her health had begun to decline, and she was unable to travel. There had been a gentleman of good reputation from this area who made an offer several times. A Mr. Tuck…”

A hard lump of dread formed in the back of Hannah’s throat.

“Oh dear. Don’t tell me you’re that Mr. Tucker?”



My thoughts:


I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is a great summer read, perfect for by the pool or inside on a rainy day.


I loved the character of Hannah Richards and the quick friendship that builds between Hannah and J.T.’s sister.


All in all, I would highly recommend this book.

Friday, May 21, 2010

book review – Refuge on Crescent Hill

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:

Refuge on Crescent Hill

Kregel Publications (March 11, 2010)

***Special thanks to Cat Hoort, Trade Marketing Manager, Kregal Publications for sending me a review copy.***


Melanie Dobson is an author as well as the owner of the publicity firm Dobson Media. A former corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family, Melanie has worked in the fields of journalism and publicity for more than twelve years. Her first book is Together for Good. Melanie lives in Oregon with her husband, Jon, and their two adopted daughters, Karly and Kinzel.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (March 11, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0825425905
ISBN-13: 978-0825425905


The glass door was locked, but that didn’t stop Camden Bristow from yanking on the handle. The imposing desk on the other side of the glass was vacant, and the receptionist who usually waved her inside had disappeared. Behind the desk, the Fount Magazine logo mocked her, whispering that the money she so desperately needed had disappeared as well.

She pounded on the glass one last time, but no one came to the door.

Turning, she moved to a row of windows on the far side of the elevator. Sixteen stories below, swarms of people bustled toward their next appointment. Someplace they needed to be. Not long ago, she’d been rushing too, up and down Park Avenue to attend meetings at ad agencies and various magazines . . . including the suite of offices behind her.

Human rights. Natural disasters. Labor disputes. Whenever the photo editor at Fount needed the most poignant pictures for news articles, he called her, and nothing had stopped her from capturing what he needed for the next edition. She’d dedicated the past five years to responding to Grant Haussen’s calls, but after she came back from Indonesia two months ago, he stopped calling her.

She’d e-mailed him the pictures of the earthquake’s aftermath along with her regular invoice of fees and expenses. He’d used the pictures in the next issue, but apparently discarded the invoice. She never received a check, and he didn’t return even one of her many calls.

A few years ago, she wouldn’t have worried as much about the money—those days her phone rang at all hours with freelance assignments to shoot pictures around the world—but her clients had slashed their budgets and were using stock photos or buying photographs from locals. The current results weren’t as compelling as sending a professional, but keeping the lights on—the rent paid—trumped paying for the best photography.

Her clients may be making rent, but she hadn’t been able to pay hers for two months. Her savings account was depleted. The income from her Indonesia shoot was supposed to appease her landlord and credit card company. Even though she hadn’t heard from Grant Haussen, she held out hope that she might at least recoup the expenses for her trip so she could pay off the whopping flight and hotel charges on her credit card.

All hope shattered when she read the morning’s headline.

Fount Magazine Declares Bankruptcy

Others may have skimmed past this article, but the news stunned her. Three hours ago, she left her studio apartment and started walking until she found herself in Midtown, in the lobby of the Reinhold Building. A few staff members might remain at the Fount office, packing things up. Or if there were some sort of bankruptcy proceedings . . . maybe she could collect a few thousand dollars. Just enough to pay a portion of her bills while she tried to find more work.

It appeared that no one had stuck around to say goodbye.

The elevator dinged behind her, and she turned away from the windows and watched a skinny man in overalls push a mop and bucket into the hallway. He was at least two inches shorter than her five foot six.

She forced herself to smile, but he didn’t smile back. She pointed at the offices. “I need to find someone at the magazine.”

He grunted as he dipped his mop into the gray water and wrung it out. Shoving her fists into the pockets of her long jacket, she stepped toward him. “They owe me money.”

“You and half this dadgum town.”

“Yes, but—”

“They ran outta here so fast last night that the rubber on their shoes was smokin’.” He flopped the mop onto the tile floor and water spread toward his boots. “I’d bet good money that they ain’t comin’ back.”

Camden slumped against the window. Even if she were able to track down Grant, it wasn’t like he would personally write her a check for money the magazine owed. He was probably out hunting for a job already, or maybe he was stretched out on his couch watching Oprah, enjoying the luxury of not having to report for duty. He could collect unemployment while he slowly perused for a new gig.

Unfortunately, there was no unemployment for freelancers.

The janitor swabbed the mop across the tile in straight brushstrokes like he was painting instead of cleaning it, taking pride in his work.

She understood. At one time she had been proud of her work too. There was nothing more exhilarating than flying off to a country rocked by tragedy and immersing herself into an event that most people only read about. She was onsite to see the trauma, feel the aftershocks, though she never allowed herself to get personally involved. It was her job to record the crisis so others could help with the recovery. All she needed to do her job was her camera equipment and laptop.

Because of all her travels, she hadn’t accumulated much stuff over the years. Her landlord had furnished her flat before she moved in, but for almost five years, the apartment and everything in it had felt like hers. It was the longest she’d lived in one place her entire life.

But tonight, her landlord was changing the locks. Her home had been rented by someone else.

The man pushed his mop by her, ignoring her. She couldn’t blame him for his indifference. This city was full of people who needed a job—he was probably trying as hard as he could to keep his.

She would mop floors if she had to. Or scrub toilets. It wouldn’t pay enough for her to make rent, but maybe it would keep her from having to call her mom and beg for cash. If she called, her mother would pass the phone to her latest boyfriend—a retired executive living outside Madrid. Camden would rather sleep in a shelter than grovel to him.

She hopped over the wet trail left by the mop and stepped into the elevator.

Her landlord said she had until five o’clock to pack her stuff and vacate the building. The little credit she had left on her card wouldn’t pay for a week in a Manhattan hotel. And the few friends she’d made when she wasn’t traveling were struggling as much as she was. One of them might let her sleep on a couch, but she’d be expected to help with rent.

The elevator doors shut, and she punched the button for the lobby.

Where was she supposed to go from here?

The basement of the town hall smelled like burnt coffee and tobacco. The navy carpet had faded to a dull gray, and the dais at the front of the room was scuffed with shoe marks. Five men and two women sat behind a table on the platform—the bimonthly summit of Etherton’s City Council.

As the town mayor, Louise Danner presided over the city council from the middle chair. Her hoop earrings jangled below the signature Bic pen she propped behind her left ear. Copper-colored bangs veiled her smudged eyebrows.

Three steps below Louise’s chair, Alex Yates drummed his fingers on a stack of proposals and tried to listen as Evan Harper begged the councilors to let him tear down the barn on his property and replace it with a guesthouse.

In the eight months since he’d moved to Etherton, he learned that Louise Danner was almost as permanent a fixture in Etherton as the town hall. Within days of him taking this job, she told him exactly how she became mayor over the eleven thousand people in their town.

She had been born in a small house off Main Street and reigned as valedictorian over Etherton High’s Class of ’67. Armed with a degree from Marietta, she returned home after graduation and worked in several businesses across town until she secured the job of hospital administrator. Louise served on almost every town committee for the next thirty years, from historical preservation to the garden club, but when she landed the mayorship almost eight years ago, she dropped anchor.

She’d spent a boatload of money to retain her position during the last election, and with the state of the town’s economy, she would be fighting to keep her job when voters went to the polls in five months.

Alex rechecked his watch. It was almost lunchtime, and Evan Harper was still pleading his case. Alex saw the dilapidated barn every morning on the short drive to his office. Guesthouse or no guesthouse, he agreed with Evan—someone needed to put the structure out of its misery. A hearty gust of wind would end its life if the council wouldn’t approve demolition.

Alex stifled a yawn as Evan named all the people who could stay in the guesthouse including his wife’s elderly parents and his daughter’s college friends. Apparently, no one had told the man he couldn’t filibuster city council. If the mayor didn’t curtail Evan’s speech, he’d probably pull out the local phone book and read until the councilors adjourned for lunch. And once they walked out of the room, they may not reconvene in time.

Alex couldn’t wait for approval. He needed an answer today.

For the past month, he’d been quietly courting the owner of the ten-acre property at the edge of town—part of the old Truman farm. If the council concurred, the owner was ready to sell the land and farmhouse for a pittance. The town could buy it and use the property to help with their plans to revitalize the local economy.

Alex caught the mayor’s eye and tapped his watch.

“Thank you.” Louise interrupted Evan before he finished listing off every construction supply he’d purchased for the guesthouse. “I think that is all the information we need to make a decision.”

Evan plucked another piece of paper from his stack. “But I haven’t read the neighborhood petition.”

“We appreciate all the time and thought you’ve put into this, Evan.” Louise propped her chin up with her knuckles. “We’ll let you know if we have any other questions.”

Evan sat down on the wooden folding chair at the end of the row, and Alex leaned back as the council began discussing the hot issue of preservation versus progress.

Most of the councilors were successful business leaders and attorneys, passionate in either their pro-growth or anti-development stance. Today he needed to convince them that voting “yes” on his proposal would commemorate the town’s history and lay the foundation for their legacy while generating new revenue and development for the town.

Alex glanced at his watch and sighed. If it took the councilors forty minutes to decide the fate of a rickety barn, how long would it take them to make a decision on his proposal?

When he parted ways with corporate mania last year, he thought he’d left behind the constricting strands of red tape that kept him from doing his job, but he’d learned that Etherton’s residents, along with the city council, rode the high of debate until they were forced to vote. Sometimes the debate lasted weeks, or even months.

Edward Paxton led the charge against development. He didn’t want his town to change nor did he want Alex involved with any of the town’s business. Rumor had it that he wanted his grandson, Jake, to take the economic development position that Louise had created last spring to solicit new business. The only problem was that no one else on the council wanted Jake Paxton to be involved. Edward seemed to hold a personal vendetta against Alex for stealing his grandson’s job.

At least the mayor was on his team. She’d gambled when she hired him, but he assured her and the council that he’d deliver. On their terms.

After almost an hour of discussion, Louise called for a vote, and Evan smacked his knees when they approved his guesthouse with a 4–3 vote. He saluted the row of councilors as he rushed out, probably on his way to rent an excavator. Alex guessed the barn would be in a heap when he drove home tonight.

He sighed. If only getting the council to approve a project was always this easy . . .

Etherton needed the tax revenue from new businesses to fix its brick streets, increase the police force, and build a high school. The city’s officials expected Alex to find a way to merge their small town charm with big city business.

Blending these two ideals was no small feat. Not long after he moved to Etherton, he worked a deal to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter on a piece of farm property at the edge of town. Some towns didn’t want a Wal-Mart, but since their local economy had tanked, he thought most of the locals would welcome the store. After all, most of them drove forty-five minutes each week to visit the Wal-Mart in Mansfield, and this would bring discount clothes, groceries, car care, and—most importantly—jobs to their back door.

He was wrong.

When the council voted last December, residents of Etherton packed City Hall, a chorus of dissension over why their town couldn’t bear the weight of a conglomerate. The icy room turned hot as tempers flared. Small business owners threatened to overthrow the seats of every council member who supported the proposal.

In the end, the council rejected his plan. The town desperately needed the revenue and the jobs, but apparently not enough to put out the welcome mat for a mega store. A local farmer bought the field to plant corn, and Etherton missed out on the much-needed sales tax that would flood into Fredericktown when Wal-Mart opened its doors there this fall.

The council told him they wanted new business, but they wanted something quaint that would fit the town’s celebration of all things old. It was a hard task—but he’d found the perfect solution. If the residents were willing to risk a little, he was ready to deliver both quaint and classy . . . wrapped up in a pretty package and tied together with a sound financial bow.

Louise slid the pen out from behind her ear and tapped it on the table. She dismissed the few people in the audience, explaining that the rest of the meeting was a closed session, and then she pointed at him. “You’re up, Alex.”

He straightened his tie and stood to face the councilors. It was about to get hot again.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

book review –Starlighter

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:


Zondervan (March 19, 2010)

***Special thanks to Pam Mettler, Associate Director of Public Relations, ZonderKidz for sending me a review copy.***


Bryan Davis is the author of the bestselling fantasy series Dragons in Our Midst, Oracles of Fire and Echoes from the Edge. He and his wife, Susie, have seven children and live in western Tennessee where he continues to cook up his imaginative blend of fantasy and inspiration.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (March 19, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310718368
ISBN-13: 978-0310718369


Browse Inside

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

book review – Darlington Woods

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:

Darlington Woods

Realms; 1 edition (May 4, 2010)

***Special thanks to Anna Coelho Silva | Publicity Coordinator, Book Group | Strang Communications for sending me a review copy.***


Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Mike now lives in Hanover, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Jen, and their three daughters. He is a regular columnist for, was a newspaper correspondent/columnist for over three years, has published several articles for The Candle of Prayer inspirational booklets, and has edited and contributed to numerous Christian-themed Web sites and e-newsletters. Mike is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers association, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, the Relief Writer’s Network, and FaithWriters, and plans to join International Thriller Writers once published. He received his BA degree in sports exercise and medicine from Messiah College and his MBS degree in theology from Master’s Graduate School of Divinity.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 281 pages
Publisher: Realms; 1 edition (May 4, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1599799189
ISBN-13: 978-1599799186


Present day

As he pressed his beat-up Ford down an uneven stretch of asphalt, Rob Shields had death on his mind. His own. The void within him had grown to colossal proportions, opening its gaping black maw and swallowing any hope or happiness he once had. Lost forever. No chance of return. Death welcomed him, enticed him, drew him in with its easy ways and comfortable charm.

Oh, he knew he would never do it. Taking his own life had a certain appeal to it, held a certain freedom that his bleak outlook on life longed for, but it took a much braver— or dumber—man than he to actually pull it off. But still he wanted, maybe needed, to pretend he was as serious as murder. And that meant it was time to see the house. If he was to fantasize about putting an end to his journey, he at least wanted to see the place that had promised a better life. Just one visit, one look, would satisfy him.

He glanced over at the empty passenger seat then into the rearview mirror at the vacant spot in the backseat. Kelly would be jabbering about what beautiful country this was.

“Look at the wildflowers. Oh, I love wildflowers.”

And little Jimmy would be singing away to his MP3 player, getting the lyrics all wrong.

Man, he missed them.

A familiar sadness overcame him, and he once again thought of his own death. He couldn’t bear to live without them any longer . . .

Life had become a great burden, an endless source of sadness. Every day was lived in despair. Unhappiness and discontent had become his bedfellows. He would see the

house, allow himself one evening of pleasant dreams about what could have been, then return to Massachusetts to live out the rest of his life in isolated misery. And in his mind,

that in itself was a form of suicide. A living death.

Rob depressed the accelerator, and the odometer needle climbed nearer to seventy. On the horizon, heat devils performed an arrhythmic dance, and the sun-scorched

blacktop appeared to be glossed with mercury. The road cut through pastureland like a hardened artery. To his right, a handful of horses stood motionless, their noses to the ground. To his left, the land stretched out like a green sea, undulating slowly to an even tempo.

Mayfield had to be no more than an hour away, but the fuel

gauge said he needed gas now. Up ahead, an elderly man in a ball cap was on both knees working his garden. Rob slowed the car and stopped beside him. The older gent turned his body slowly, revealing a patch over one eye.

Rob leaned across the center console and spoke loudly. “Where’s the nearest gas station?”

The old man cupped one hand around his ear and raised his eyebrows.

Rob said it louder. “Where’s the nearest gas station?”

The man nodded in the direction Rob had been traveling. “’Bout a mile down the road. Shell station on the left.”

“Thanks,” Rob said, and he pulled away. In the rearview mirror he could see the man watch him for a moment then return to his garden.

Exactly one mile down the road Rob steered into a cracked-asphalt lot and up to an old-style analog gas pump, the kind with the rotating numbers. He didn’t even know those kind still existed. The station had seen better days. From the sun-bleached Shell sign to the grime-coated plate-glass window of the little convenience store to the scarred and faded blacktop, everything spoke of neglect. This was one outpost time had forgotten.

Rob got out of the car and noticed the handwritten sign on the pump: Pre-pay inside. Management.

Walking across the lot, he could feel the day’s heat radiating through the soles of his shoes. A little bell chimed when he opened the door. A thin, fair-skinned man with shoulder-length hair nodded at him from behind the counter.

“Thirty in gas,” Rob said, reaching for his wallet.

The clerk punched some buttons on the register and said, “Thirty.”

Rob paid him. “How far to Mayfield?”

The clerk looked up. “Where?”


After a quick shrug, “Fifty, sixty miles.” He looked like he wanted to say more, so Rob waited. “Not much in Mayfield.”

“A house,” Rob said.

“Your house?”

“Should have been.” Then he turned and left. The bell chimed again on his way out.

At the pump, Rob unscrewed the fuel cap and inserted the nozzle. Jimmy always loved to squeeze the trigger.

“Can I pull the trigger, Daddy?”

That’s what he called it, a trigger. He’d pretend the nozzle was a cowboy gun. Thoughts of his son flooded Rob’s mind, and he did nothing to stop them. Now was a time for remembering, for soaking up every good feeling and every fond image left to enjoy.

When the rolling numbers hit seventeen dollars, a quick movement caught Rob’s attention. He jerked his head up and toward the side of the store where a stand of shrubs sat quiet and motionless. Then he heard it, a muffled giggle, and his breath caught in his throat. He knew that giggle. Knew it like the sound of his own voice. The movement was there again. An image ran from the shrubs to the rear of the store and out of sight. The nozzle snapped off and fell to the ground with a solid clunk. Rob knew that run too, the shortened stride, the slightly exaggerated pumping of the arms. He could feel his heart thudding all the way down to his fingertips.

It was Jimmy. His little buddy.

Crossing the lot in large walking strides at first, then a run, Rob rounded the building fully expecting to find his son, Jimmy, red-faced with brown hair matted to his forehead,

waiting in a crouch to scare him.

“I got you, Daddy!”

Instead, all he found were a few rusted-out fifty-gallon drums, a stack of dry-rotted tires, and a haphazard pile of rebar. His breathing rate had quickened from the short sprint, and beads of sweat now popped out on his forehead and upper lip. He wiped them away with the sleeve of his T-shirt.

He walked the length of the building, scanning the field of

knee-high grass behind it. “Jimmy?”

But no answer came. Not even a rustle of grass. And no giggle.

“Jimmy,” Rob said in a normal volume, more to himself than the phantom of his son that had haunted him now for going on two months. The visions—the psychologist called

them hallucinations—had come frequently at first, sometimes as much as once a day, then grew more sporadic. Until now, he hadn’t had one for over two weeks. At first,

Rob was convinced there was a purpose to them, a meaning. Maybe they even meant Jimmy was still alive, waiting for his daddy to find him and rescue him. Maybe. The psychologist disagreed. Rob thought he was a quack and stopped attending the weekly sessions.

Scolding himself for once again allowing his frazzled imagination to dupe him, Rob returned to his car like a man taking his final stroll down the long corridor to the electric

chair. The sun’s heat now seemed more intense, and his shirt clung to his back and chest.

He picked the nozzle up from the ground and balanced it in his hand.

“Can I pull the trigger, Daddy?”

Every time he pumped gas he’d think of Jimmy. It was one of those little things that would haunt him the rest of his life. But it was a haunting he welcomed. After squeezing out the rest of his thirty bucks, Rob returned the nozzle to the pump, opened the car door, and was hit by a breath of heat.

Sitting in his car was like hanging out in an oven, but Rob did not turn the ignition. The air outside was still and the heat sweltering. Sweat seeped from his pores, wetting the front of his shirt. He thought of the image of his son and that familiar gait and noticed his hands were trembling. Tears formed in his eyes, blurring his vision.

“Jimmy.” He said the name again, as if it were some holy word that could cross the span of the finite and infinite and bring his little boy back. He wanted to hold him, bury his

face in Jimmy’s hair, and draw in the smell of sweat and cookies.

“I like how you smell, Daddy. You smell like a daddy.”

Wiping the tears from his eyes, Rob started the car, pulled away from the pump, and headed east toward Mayfield.

As he drove, the empty seats beside and behind him burned like hot coals. As much as he tried, he could not dismiss the memory of Kelly reaching over and placing a graceful hand on his thigh, her hair rippling in the wind, a smile stretched across her face. Nor could he stop glancing in the rearview mirror, half hoping to see Jimmy bouncing against the back of the seat.

Rob slapped at the steering wheel. He knew he was going mad, that the solitude of the last three months had nearly driven him over the edge and blurred the line between reality and fantasy. And he was obsessing again. He had to think of something else, so he turned his mind to the house his great-aunt Wilda had left him. He’d never seen the place, had never even met Wilda. But when he found out he was the sole heir to the house, his mother raved about how much Kelly and Jimmy would love the place. That was six months ago.

Before his world got flipped on its head and everything went to pot.

Before he went insane and entertained thoughts of death. The boy and his mommy walk back to the car to clean his hands. He’s been working on a candy apple for some time, and it’s creating quite the mess. Daddy told them he’d meet them at the lemonade stand. Lemonade is great for a warm day, he said. The grass in the parking area is brown and ground into the dry dirt from everyone walking and driving on it. His mommy is holding his clean hand and singing a Sunday school song about Joshua and the battle of Jericho. The boy is still thinking about the eagle the man behind the table was holding. He never knew eagles were so big. And when it looked at him, it seemed to see right past his skin and into his insides. They had other things at the stand too—an owl with big yellow eyes, a couple different kinds of snakes, and an aquarium full of toads—but the eagle was his favorite. He wondered what it would be like to be able to fly like an eagle, way up in the sky where no one could bother you, seeing the whole world at once.

“Here we are,” Mommy says. Their car looks extra clean because Daddy washed it just before they left. The black paint looks like a dark mirror and makes him look funny, like one of those curvy mirrors at the carnival.

Mommy opens the trunk and leans over into it, looking for the napkins. It reminds him of a poem about a crocodile with a toothache. He wishes he could remember all the words. Something about the crocodile opening so wide and the dentist climbing inside, then SNAP! Mommy always claps her hands real hard at that part, and it always makes him jump.

A man comes up behind Mommy. He’s wearing dirty old blue jeans and a tight black T-shirt. His face is big and round, and there are a lot of little scars on his cheeks. His eyes are placed real close together and pushed back into his head. With his shaggy hair and large face, the boy thinks he looks like a head of cabbage.

“Excuse me,” the man says. He reaches out to touch Mommy’s hip then looks at the boy.

Mommy jumps and stands up fast. She turns around and looks at the man, crossing her arms in front of her. She seems nervous. “Yes?”

Cabbage Head looks nervous too. He pushes his hand through his hair, and the boy notices the sweat on his forehead. It makes his hair wet where it comes out of the skin. “It’s your husband—”

Now Mommy looks scared. “Wha–what’s wrong?” Her voice shakes.

“I need you to come with me.” He looks at the boy with those deep eyes then back at Mommy. “The boy can stay here at the car. We’ll only be a minute.”

Mommy bites her lower lip and looks around. She kneels beside the boy. She looks real scared and is breathing fast. Her hands are shaking, and she’s still biting her lower lip. “Stay here, OK? Don’t leave the car. I’ll be right back. Don’t leave the car.”

She hugs the boy then kisses him on the cheek. Opening the back door of the car, she motions for the boy to get in. “Remember, stay here. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be back for you soon.” She closes the door, blows him a kiss, and leaves with Cabbage Head. The boy watches as they walk away and disappear behind a trailer.

It doesn’t take long for it to get too hot to stay in the car. He opens the door and slides out, staying low to the ground so no one will see him. He leans against the car, but the black metal is too hot. So he sits Indian-style on the ground next to the back tire and picks at the grass. He wonders what could be wrong with Daddy. Did he have a heart attack or get cancer? Mr. Davies next door got cancer last year and died. This scares the boy. Maybe Daddy’s just lost and the man needs Mommy to help find him. He thinks about the man and his deep eyes. They were like the eagle’s eyes. Something about them didn’t look right, though. The boy feels like if he looked at them long enough he’d see things that would give him nightmares for a very long time. And they would see things in him too.

It seems like a long time of sitting by the tire and picking at brown grass before the boy hears footsteps coming, the sound of dry grass crunching like stale potato chips. He stands and looks around, hoping it’s Mommy. But Cabbage Head is coming toward him, alone. Where’s Mommy? Is she with Daddy, and the man is coming to take him to them?

Cabbage Head comes close. He’s sweating even worse now, and his hair looks like it has been messed up. He offers the boy his hand, a big meaty thing that looks like a bear’s paw. “C’mon, son. You must come with me.”

“Where’s my mom?” the boy asks. He notices his own voice is shaking.

“She’s fine. She wants me to bring you to her.”

The boy can tell the man is lying. He wants to run away but is afraid he’ll never find Mommy or Daddy on his own. “Where is she?”

Cabbage Head closes his hand and opens it again. His wide palm is all shiny with sweat. “Come. She’s waiting for you.”

There’s no way the boy is going to hold the man’s hand. He turns to run but the man catches him by the arm. “Oh, no, you don’t. You’re coming with me.”

The boy tries to holler, but the man’s sweaty hand is over his mouth, pressing so hard it hurts. The boy has never known what it is like to be so scared. He’s sure Cabbage Head is going to kill him, or worse, keep him alive but never allow him to see his mommy or daddy again.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

book review – Real World Parents


About the book:

If news stories and some high-profile Christian leaders are to be believed, the task of parenting—particularly of parenting a teenager—has never been more difficult or terrifying. The often-quoted statistics, which, like a fisherman’s tale, seem to grow more fantastic with each retelling, have produced a groundswell of panic within many Christian circles. Pharmacy parties, oral sex, and apostasy…oh my! Many parents live in constant fear that they will fail, that their children will be devoured by the world—unless mom and dad can inspire good behavior for 18 full years. But what if parents are only hearing part of the story? What if the real world isn’t so scary, after all?


In his new book Real World Parents: Christian Parenting for Families Living in the Real World, popular author and speaker Mark Matlock offers a perspective that directly contrasts the usual fear and guilt-based parenting programs that focus on shielding kids from the evils of the world and producing good behavior. Parents, he says, become fearful and controlling because they are listening to the wrong story—the world’s story. Real World Parents is about a fundamental shift in focus towards God’s epic, timeless story and His understanding of reality, which is unchanging, regardless of the world’s traps and trends.


What readers won’t find in the pages of Matlock’s book is a rigid program or magic formula for churning out good kids because Real World Parenting is not about what parents do. It’s about who they are.


“Many Christian parenting books focus on helping parents figure out how to raise well-behaved, well-mannered kids. And while that's an important element, not many focused on raising kids to have hearts that seek after Christ. The goal of parenting, in the long run, isn't for our kids to be known for how well behaved they are, but for how well they know and respond to God,” Matlock says. “Our behaviors are ultimately driven by our understanding of the way the world works, of what we believe to be true and false about the universe, of our perception of reality. How can we communicate God’s worldview to our kids? What story are we telling them about the universe, both intentionally and—more importantly—in the way we live with and for God over time?”


Matlock teaches a wisdom-based approach to passing God’s story on to young people and teaching them by example how to navigate the real world. Along the way, Real World Parents will discover:

· Why God likes us and is already happy with our families

· Surprising statistics about teen sex, drugs, and smoking that raise the question: are things really getting worse?

· The three most common parental responses to a scary world—and why they don’t work

· Why parents should teach their children how to “fail productively”

· What kids really need to become spiritually healthy—and how parents can provide those things

· How to evaluate media through the lens of God’s story

Just like the Real World Parents seminars, the book guides parents through the seven marks of a wise person, encouraging them to examine their definitions of success, their management of resources, the sources they turn to for wise counsel, and the health of their relationships. Matlock believes it is only through embracing and modeling God’s wisdom to their families that parents will create an environment that promotes the true spiritual growth of their children.

Real World Parents is, at the heart, a message of hope for families. “We wonder how God could ever look at our families in the shape they’re in and grin. And the problem is that as parents we sometimes forget that we’re also children, that our God is our Father, that he’s even more lovingly inclined to smile at us than we are to smile at our own kids. Our father likes us, and he forgives even our parenting shortcomings and our family failings,” Matlock says. “No matter how good or bad you think your family is God has plans for you that will unfold in the Real World. God will continue to move your family along in the journey he has in store for you. That’s what real world parenting is about—understanding that journey and communicating it to our kids.”


My thoughts:


Mark Matlock has written an engaging book that is well-written and easy to understand. It is a must read for every Christian parent.


It is astonishing to me that divorce rates are going down not up, drug use is down, premarital sex is down, etc. It was a very eye-opening book for me.


I was given this book by B&B Media Group for purpose of review – I received no other compensation or payment.

Friday, May 14, 2010

book review – Code Blue

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:

Code Blue (Prescription for Trouble)

Abingdon Press (April 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Susan Salley of Abingdon Press for sending me a review copy.***


After his retirement from a distinguished career as a physician and medical educator, Richard turned his talents to non-medical writing. Code Blue is his debut novel, the first of the Prescription For Trouble series, featuring medical suspense. Richard and his wife, Kay, make their home in North Texas, where he continues his struggles to master golf and be the world’s most perfect grandfather.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Abingdon Press (April 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1426702361
ISBN-13: 978-1426702365


The black SUV barreled out of nowhere, its oversized tires straddling the centerline. Cathy jerked the steering wheel to the right and jammed the brake pedal to the floor. Her little Toyota rocked as though flicked by a giant hand before it spun off the narrow country road and hurtled toward the ditch and the peach orchard beyond it.

For a moment Cathy felt the fearful thrill of weightlessness. Then the world turned upside down, and everything went into freeze-frame slow motion.

The floating sensation ended with a jolt. The screech of ripping metal swallowed Cathy’s scream. The deploying airbag struck her face like a fist. The pressure of the shoulder harness took her breath away. The lap belt pressed into her abdomen, and she tasted bile and acid. As her head cleared, she found herself hanging head-down, swaying slightly as the car rocked to a standstill. In the silence that followed, her pulse hammered in her ears like distant, rhythmic thunder.

Cathy realized she was holding her breath. She let out a shuddering sigh, inhaled, and immediately choked on the dust that hung thick in the air. She released her death-grip on the steering wheel and tried to lift her arms. It hurt—it hurt a lot—but they seemed to work. She tilted her head and felt something warm trickle down her face. She tried to wipe it away, but not before a red haze clouded her vision.

She felt a burning sensation, first in her nostrils, then in the back of her throat. Gasoline! Cathy recalled all the crash victims she’d seen in the emergency room—victims who’d survived a car accident only to be engulfed in flames afterward. She had to get out of the car. Now. Her fingers probed for the seatbelt buckle. She found it and pressed the release button. Slowly. Be careful. Don’t fall out of the seat and make matters worse. The belt gave way, and she eased her weight onto her shoulders. She bit her lip from the pain, rolled onto her side, and looked around.

How could she escape? She tried the front doors. Jammed—both of them. She’d been driving with her window partially open, enjoying the brisk autumn air and the parade of orange and yellow trees rolling by in the Texas landscape. There was no way she could wriggle through that small opening. Cathy drew back both feet and kicked hard at the exposed glass. Nothing. She kicked harder. On the third try, the window gave way.

Where was her purse? Never mind. No time. She had to get out. Cathy inched her way through the window, flinching as tiny shards of glass stung her palms and knees. Once free from the car, she lay back on the grass and looked around at what remained of the orchard, blessing the trees that had sacrificed themselves to cushion her car’s landing.

She rose unsteadily to her feet. It seemed as though every bone in her body cried out at the effort. The moment she stood upright the world faded into a gray haze. She slumped to the ground and took a few deep breaths. Her head hurt, her eyes burned, her throat seemed to be closing up. The smell of gasoline cut through her lethargy. She had to get further away from the car. How could she do that, when she couldn’t even stand without passing out?

Cathy saw a peach sapling a few feet away, a tiny survivor amid the ruins. She crawled to the tree, grabbed it, and walked her hands up the trunk until she was almost upright. She clung there, drained by the exertion, until the world stopped spinning.

Something dripped into her eyes and the world turned red. Cathy risked turning loose with one hand and wiped it across her face. Her vision cleared a bit. She regarded the crimson stain on her palm. Good thing she was no stranger to the sight of blood.

Now she was upright, but could she walk? Maybe, if she could stand the pain. She wasn’t sure she could make it more than a step or two, though. A stout limb lying in the debris at her feet caught her eye. It was about four feet long, two inches thick—just the right size. Cathy eased her way down to a crouch, using the sapling for support. She grabbed the limb and, holding it like a staff, managed to stand up. She rested for a moment, then inched her way along the bottom of the ditch, away from the car. When she could no longer smell gasoline and when her aching limbs would carry her no farther, she leaned on her improvised crutch to rest.

Cathy stared at the road above her. The embankment sloped upward in a gentle rise of about six feet. Ordinarily, climbing it would be child’s play for her. But right now she felt like a baby—weak, uncoordinated, and fearful.

Maybe if she rested for a moment on that big rock. She hobbled to it and lowered herself, wincing with each movement. There was no way she could get comfortable—even breathing was painful—but she needed time to think.

Had the SUV really tried to run her off the road? She wanted to believe it was simply an accident, that someone had lost control of his vehicle. Just like she’d wanted to believe that the problems she’d had since she came back home were nothing more than a run of bad luck. Now she had to accept the possibility that someone was making an effort to drive her out of town.

She’d never thought much about the name of her hometown: Dainger, Texas. She vaguely recalled it was named for some settler, long ago forgotten. Now she was thinking the name seemed significant. Danger. Had the problems she’d left behind in Dallas followed her? Or did the roots lie here in Dainger? Possibly. After all, small towns have long memories. Of course, there could be another explanation. . . . No, she couldn’t accept that. Not yet.

Cathy turned to survey the wreckage of her poor little car. She saw wheels silhouetted against the sky, heard the ticking of the cooling motor. Then she picked up new sounds: the roar of a car’s engine, followed by the screech of tires and the chatter of gravel. It could be someone stopping to help. On the other hand, it could be the driver of the SUV coming back to finish the job. She thought of hiding. But where? How?

She watched a white pickup skid to a stop on the shoulder of the road above the wreckage. A car door slammed. A man’s voice called, “Is anyone down there? Are you hurt?”

No chance to get away now. She’d have to take her chances and pray that he was really here to help. Pray? That was a laugh. Cathy had prayed before, prayed hard, all without effect. Why should she expect anything different this time?

“Is someone there? Are you hurt?”

How should she react? Answer or stay quiet? Neither choice seemed good. She tried to clear the dust from her throat, but when she opened her mouth to yell, she could only manage a strangled whisper. “Yes.”

Footsteps crunched on the gravel shoulder above her, and an urgent voice shouted, “Is someone down there? Do you need help?”

“Yes,” she croaked a bit stronger.

“I’m coming down,” he said. “Hang on.”

A head peered over the edge of the embankment, but pulled back before she could get more than a glimpse of him.

In a few seconds, he scrambled down the embankment, skidding in the red clay before he could dig in the heels of his cowboy boots. At the bottom he looked around until he spotted her. He half-ran the last few feet to where she stood swaying on her makeshift crutch.

“Here, let me help you. Can you walk?”

Blood trickled into her eyes again, and even after she wiped it away, it was like looking through crimson gauze. Cathy could make out the man’s outline but not his features. He sounded harmless enough. But she supposed even mass murderers could sound harmless.

She gripped her makeshift staff harder; it might work as a weapon. “I don’t think anything’s broken.” Her voice cracked, and she coughed. “I’m just stunned. If you help me, I think I can move okay.”

He leaned down and Cathy put her left arm on his shoulder. He encircled her waist with his right arm, supporting her so her feet barely touched the ground as they shuffled toward the slope. At the bottom, he turned and swept her into his arms. The move took her by surprise, and she gasped. She felt him stagger a bit on the climb, but in a moment they made it to the top.

Her rescuer freed one hand and thumbed the latch on the passenger side door of his pickup. He turned to bump the door open with his hip, then deposited her gently onto the seat. “Rest there. I’ll call 911.”

Cathy leaned back and tried to calm down. His voice sounded familiar. Was he one of her patients? She swiped the back of her hand across her eyes, but the image remained cloudy.

The man pulled a flip-phone from his pocket and punched in three digits. “There’s been a one-car accident.”

She listened as he described the accident location in detail—a mile south of the Freeman farm, just before the Sandy Creek Bridge. This wasn’t some passer-by. He knew the area.

“I need an ambulance, a fire truck, and someone from the sheriff’s office. Oh, and send a flatbed wrecker. The car looks like it’s totaled.”

“I don’t need an ambulance,” Cathy protested.

He held up a hand and shushed her, something she hadn’t encountered since third grade. “Yes, she seems okay, but I still think they need to hurry.”

Cathy heard a few answering squawks from the phone before the man spoke again. “It’s Will Kennedy. Yes, thanks.”

Will Kennedy? If she hadn’t been sitting down, Cathy might have fallen over. She scrubbed at her eyes and squinted. Will? Yes, it was Will. Now even the shape of his body looked familiar: lean and muscular, just the way he’d been—. No. Don’t go there.

Will ended his call and leaned in through the open pickup door. “They’ll be here in a minute. Hang on.”

He took a clean handkerchief from the hip pocket of his pressed jeans and gently cleaned her face. The white cotton rapidly turned red, and Cathy realized that the blood had not only clouded her vision. It had masked her features.

“Will, don’t you recognize me?”

He stopped, looked at her, and frowned. “Cathy?”

“Yes.” There were so many things to say. She drew in a ragged breath. “Thanks. I appreciate your stopping.”

He gave her the wry grin she remembered so well, and her heart did a flip-flop. “I’d heard you were back in town, and I wondered when you’d get around to talking to me. I just didn’t know it would be like this.” He paused. “And forget about telling me not to have them send an ambulance. I don’t care if you are a doctor now, Cathy Sewell. I won’t turn you loose until another medic checks you.”

Cathy opened her mouth to speak, but Will’s cell phone rang. He answered it and walked away as he talked, while she sat and wondered what would have happened if they’d never turned each other loose in the first place.

* * *

As the ambulance sped toward Summers County General Hospital, Cathy wondered what kind of reception she would get there. Who would be on duty? Would they acknowledge her as a colleague, even though she hadn’t been given privileges yet? When her thoughts turned to recent events, she forced herself to shut down the synapses and put her mind into neutral.

The ambulance rocked to a halt outside the emergency room doors. Despite Cathy’s protestations, the emergency medical technicians kept her strapped securely on the stretcher while they offloaded it. Inside the ER, Cathy finally convinced her guardians to let her transfer to a wheelchair held by a waiting orderly.

“Thanks so much, guys. I’ll be fine. Really.”

At the admitting desk, the clerk looked up from her computer and frowned.

“Cathy?” She flushed. “I . . . I mean, Dr. Sewell?”

“It’s okay, Judy. I was Cathy through twelve years of school. No reason to change.” Cathy looked around. “Who’s the ER doctor on duty?”

“Dr. Patel. He just called in Dr. Bell to see a patient. Dr. Patel thought it might be a possible appendix.” She lowered her voice. “Dr. Bell took one look and made the diagnosis of stomach flu. I couldn’t see the need to call in another doctor for a consultation, but Dr. Patel is so afraid he’ll make a wrong diagnosis.” She pursed her lips as she realized her mistake of complaining about one doctor to another.

“Just be sure Dr. Patel doesn’t hear you say that.” Cathy tried to take the sting out of the words with a wink, but the blood dried around her eyes made it impossible. “Can you call him? I’ve been threatened with dire punishment if I don’t get checked out.”

Judy reached for the phone.

“Don’t bother, Judy. I’ll take care of Dr. Sewell myself.”

Cathy eased her head around to see Marcus Bell standing behind her. He wore khakis and a chocolate-brown golf shirt, covered by an immaculate white coat with his name embroidered over the pocket.

This was a trade Cathy would gladly make—finicky Dr. Patel for superdoc Marcus Bell. In the three years he’d been here, Marcus had built a reputation as an excellent clinician. He was also undoubtedly the best-looking doctor in town.

“Let’s get you into Treatment Room One,” Marcus steered Cathy’s wheelchair away from the desk. “Judy, you can bring me the paperwork when you have it ready. Please ask Marianne to step in and help me for a minute. And page Jerry for me, would you? Thanks.”

Cathy had been in treatment rooms like this many times in several hospitals. Now she noticed how different everything looked when viewed from this perspective. As if the accident and the adrenaline rush that followed hadn’t made her shaky enough, sitting there in a wheelchair emphasized her feeling of helplessness. “I feel so silly,” she said. “Usually I’m on the other end of all this.”

“Well, today you’re not.” Marcus gestured toward the nurse who stood in the doorway. “Let’s get you into a gown. Then we’ll check the extent of the damages.”

Marcus stepped discreetly from the room.

“I’m Marianne,” the nurse said. Then, as though reading Cathy’s mind, she added, “I know it’s hard for a doctor to be a patient. But try to relax. We’ll take good care of you.”

Marianne helped Cathy out of her clothes and into a hospital gown. If Cathy had felt vulnerable before this, the added factor of being in a garment that had so many openings closed only by drawstrings tripled the feeling. The nurse eased Cathy onto the examining table, covered her with a clean sheet, and called Marcus back into the room.

“Now, Cathy, the first thing I want to do is have a closer look at that cut on your head.” Marcus slipped on a pair of latex gloves and probed the wound.

Cathy flinched. “How does it look?”

“Not too bad. One laceration about three or four centimeters long in the frontal area. Not too deep. The bleeding’s almost stopped now. We’ll get some skull films, then I’ll suture it.” He wound a soft gauze bandage around her head and taped it.

Marcus flipped off his gloves and picked up the clipboard that Cathy knew held the beginnings of her chart. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?”

At first, Cathy laid out the details of the accident and her injuries in terse clinical language, as though presenting a case to an attending physician at Grand Rounds. She did fine until she realized how close she’d come to being killed, apparently by someone who meant to do just that. There were a couple of strangled hiccups, then a few muffled sobs, before the calm physician turned into a blubbering girl. “I’m . . . I’m sorry.” She reached for a tissue from the box Marcus held out.

“No problem. If you weren’t upset by all that, you wouldn’t be normal.” Marcus took an ophthalmoscope from the wall rack and shined its light into her eyes. “How’s your vision?”

“Still a little fuzzy—some halos around lights. I figured it was from the blood running into my eyes.”

He put down the instrument and rummaged in the drug cabinet. “Let’s wash out your eyes. I don’t want you to get a chemical keratitis from the powder on the air bag. I’ll give you some eye drops, but if your vision gets worse or doesn’t clear in a day or so, I want you to see an ophthalmologist.”

“Oh, right.” The fact that she hadn’t thought of that underscored to Cathy how shaken she still was.

“Now, let’s see what else might be injured.” Marcus took her left wrist and gently probed with his fingers. Apparently satisfied, he proceeded up along the bones of the arm. His touch was gentle, yet firm, and Cathy found it somehow reassuring. “We’ll need some X-rays. I want you to help me figure out the right parts.”

“I can’t help you much. I’m hurting pretty much everywhere,” Cathy said. “But, I haven’t felt any bones grating. I think I’m just banged up.”

Marcus turned his attention to her right arm. He paused in his prodding long enough to touch her chin and raise her head until their eyes met. “You’re like all of us. You think that because you’re a doctor you can’t be hurt or sick.”

“That’s not true. I don’t— Ow!” His hand on the point of her right shoulder sent a flash of pain along her collarbone.

“That’s more like it. We’ll get an X-ray of that shoulder and your clavicle. Seatbelt injuries do that sometimes. Now see if you can finish telling me what happened.”

This time she got through the story without tearing up, although Marcus’s efforts to find something broken or dislocated brought forth a number of additional flinches and exclamations.

“I really do think I’m fine except for some bruises,” she concluded.


“Okay, I’m also scared. And a little bit mad.”

A tinny voice over the intercom interrupted her. “Dr. Bell, is Marianne still in there?”

“I’m here,” the nurse replied.

“Can you help us out? There’s a pedi patient in Treatment Room Two with suspected meningitis. They’re about to do a spinal tap.”

“Go ahead,” Marcus said. “We can take it from here.”

No sooner had the nurse closed the door than there was a firm tap on it.

“Jerry?” Marcus called.

“Yes, sir.”

“Come in.”

The door creaked open, and Cathy turned. The pain that coursed through her neck made her regret the decision. A man in starched, immaculate whites strode into the room and stopped at an easy parade rest. A smattering of gray at the temples softened the red in his buzz-cut hair.

Marcus did the honors. “Dr. Sewell, this is Jerry O’Neal. Jerry retired after twenty years as a Marine corpsman, and he’s now the senior radiology technician at Summers County General. He probably knows as much medicine as you and I put together, but he’s too polite to let it show.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Doctor,” Jerry said.

Marcus handed the clipboard chart to Jerry. “Dr. Sewell’s been in an auto accident. She has a scalp laceration I’ll need to suture, but first, would you get a skull series, films of the right shoulder and clavicle?” He thought a bit. “Right knee. Right lower leg. While we’re at it, better do a C-spine too.”

“Yes, sir,” Jerry said. “Is that all?”

Marcus looked back at Cathy. “If you catch her rubbing anything else, shoot it. Call me when you’ve got the films ready.”

Cathy half- expected Jerry to salute Marcus. Instead, he nodded silently before helping her off the exam table and into a wheelchair.

“Don’t worry, Dr. Sewell. You’re in good hands.”

She tried to relax and take Jerry at his word. “Why haven’t I seen you around before this?”

Jerry fiddled with some dials. “I work weekdays as a trouble-shooter for an X-ray equipment company in Dallas. I’m only here on weekends. It fills the empty hours.”

That’s why I was taking a drive on Saturday afternoon. Filling the empty hours. That started a chain of thought Cathy didn’t want to pursue. Instead, she concentrated on getting through the next few minutes.

The X-rays took less time and caused less discomfort than Cathy expected. She could see why Marcus thought so highly of Jerry. Soon she was back in the treatment room, lying on the examination table. Jerry put up two of the X-rays on the wall view box and stacked the others neatly on the metal table beneath it.

“I’ll get Dr. Bell now. Will you be okay here for a minute?”

Cathy assured Jerry that she was fine, although she finally realized how many bumps and bruises she’d accumulated in the crash. Every movement seemed to make something else hurt.

When she thought about what came next, her anxiety kicked into high gear. Would Marcus have to shave her scalp before placing the stitches? She recalled her own experiences suturing scalp lacerations in the Parkland Hospital Emergency Room. Maybe it was a woman thing, but she’d felt sorry for those patients, walking out with a shaved spot on their head, a bald patch that was sometimes the size of a drink coaster. She hated the prospect of facing her patients on Monday in that condition. Truthfully, she even hated the prospect of looking at herself in the mirror. She was thinking about wigs when Marcus reentered the room.

“Let’s see what we’ve got.” He stepped to the view box and ran through the X-rays. “Skull series looks fine. . . . Neck is good. . . . Shoulder looks okay. . . .The clavicle isn’t fractured. . . . You are one lucky woman. Looks like all I have to do is suture that scalp laceration.”

Cathy was surprised when Marcus didn’t call for help, but rather assembled the necessary instruments and equipment himself. When he slipped his gloves on, she closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. The fact that she’d been on the other end of this procedure hundreds of times just made her dread it more.

Marcus’s touch was gentle as he cleaned the wound. Soon she felt the sting of a local anesthetic injection. After that, there was nothing except an occasional tug as he sutured.

Cathy processed what she’d just felt. “You didn’t shave my scalp.”

“Now why would I want to mar that natural beauty of yours? I didn’t paint the wound orange with Betadine, either. I used a clear antiseptic to prep the area and KY jelly to plaster the hair down out of my way. The sutures are clear nylon that won’t be noticeable in your blonde hair. When I’m finished, I’ll paint some collodion over the wound to protect it. In the morning, clean the area with a damp cloth, brush your hair over it, and no one will know the difference.”

Cathy couldn’t believe what she’d heard. “Natural beauty?” This was certainly at odds with what she’d been told about Marcus Bell. Since the death of his wife, Marcus apparently wanted nothing to do with women. Rumor had it he’d turned aside the advances of most of the single women in Dainger. Was he flirting with her now? Or was this simply his bedside manner?

Marcus snapped off his gloves and tossed them in the bucket at the end of the table. “See me in a week to remove the stitches—unless you want to stand on a box and look down on the top of your own head to remove them yourself.”

“Okay, I get it. I’ll stop being my own doctor,” she said.

“How about something for the pain?”

“I think I’ll be okay.”

“Tetanus shot?”

“I’m current.”

“Then how about dinner with me next Thursday?”

Once more, Cathy felt her head spin, but this time it had nothing to do with tumbling. about in a runaway auto.

* * *

Cathy had always dreaded Monday mornings, but none so much as this one. Today it was time to show her face to the world.

She took one last look in the mirror. Cathy had figured that her fair complexion would make her bruises show up like tire tracks on fresh snow, but the judicious application of some Covermark had done its job well. The redness she’d noticed in her eyes two days ago had responded well to the eye drops Marcus prescribed. And, true to his prediction, she’d been able to style her hair so that the blonde strands almost hid the stitches in her scalp. A little more lipstick and blusher than usual, drawing attention to her face instead of her hair, and maybe she could fake her way through the day.

No matter how successful she’d been in covering the outward signs of the accident, it was still impossible for her to move without aches and pains. She popped a couple of Extra Strength Tylenol, washed them down with the remnants of her second cup of coffee, and headed out the door to face another week. If the medication kicked in soon, maybe Jane wouldn’t notice that Cathy moved like an old woman. Maybe Jane hadn’t heard the news about the accident. Yeah, and maybe the President would call today and invite Cathy to dinner at the White House.

Cathy tried to sneak in the back door, but Jane’s hearing was awfully good for a woman her age. She met Cathy at the door to her office, clucking like a mother hen and shaking her head. “Dr. Sewell, what happened to you?”

What a break it had been for her when Jane—a trim, silver-haired grandmother with a sassy twinkle in her eye—answered her ad for a combination office nurse and secretary. She’d helped Cathy set up the office, given her advice on business, and provided a sympathetic ear on more occasions than she could count.

Cathy recognized Jane’s question as rhetorical. Having grown up in Dainger, Cathy knew how quickly news spread in her hometown. She’d bet that Jane had known about the accident before Cathy had cleared the emergency room doors on Saturday. By now, probably everyone in town knew.

“I was out for a ride in the country. I needed to relax and clear my mind. Then someone ran me off the road out near Big Sandy Creek. My car went out of control, flipped, and took out a row of Seth Johnson’s peach trees.” Cathy winced as she dropped her purse into the bottom drawer of her desk. “Dr. Bell sutured a laceration on my scalp.”

“Any other injuries? Do we need to cancel today’s patients?”

Cathy shook her head, aggravating a headache that the Tylenol had only dulled. “Other than the fact that I feel like I’ve just finished a week of two-a-day practices with the Dallas Cowboys, I’m okay.”

“It’s good that you have a nice light schedule today. You can take it easy.”

Cathy frowned. A “nice light schedule” for a doctor just getting started as a family practitioner wasn’t exactly the stuff she dreamed about. She needed patients. The money from the bank loan was about gone, and her income stream was anything but impressive. But, she’d do the best she could. Anything had to beat living in Dallas, knowing she might run into Robert.

Speak of the devil. Cathy actually shuddered when she saw the return address on the envelope sitting in the middle of her desk: Robert Edward Newell, M.D.

She clamped her jaws shut, snatched up a brass letter opener, and ripped open the envelope. Inside were two newspaper clippings and a few words scribbled on a piece of white notepad with an ad for a hypertension drug at the top of the page. The first clipping announced the engagement of Miss Laura Lynn Hunt, daughter of Dr. Earl and Mrs. Betty Hunt, to Dr. Robert Edward Newell. The second featured a photo of Laura Lynn and Robert, she in a high couture evening gown, he in a perfectly fitting tux, arriving at the Terpsichorean Ball. The note was brief and to the point: “See what you’ve missed?” No signature. Just a reminder, one that made her grit her teeth until her jaws ached. Leave it to Robert to rub salt in her wounds.

She forced herself to sit quietly and breathe deeply, until the knot in her throat loosened. Then she wadded the clippings and note into a tight ball, which she consigned to the wastebasket with as much force as she could muster.

No use rethinking the past. Time to get on with her life. “Jane,” she called. “May I have the charts for today’s patients? I want to go over them.”

Jane returned and deposited a pitifully small stack of thin charts on Cathy’s desk. The look in Jane’s eyes said it all. Sorry there aren’t more. Sorry you’re hurting. Sorry.

Cathy picked up the top chart but didn’t open it. “Do you think I made a mistake coming here to practice?”

Jane eased into one of the patient chairs across the desk from Cathy. “Why would you ask that?”

“I applied at three banks before I got a loan. When I mention to other doctors that I’m taking new patients, they get this embarrassed look and mumble something about keeping that in mind, but they never make any referrals. Several of my patients tell me they’ve heard stories around town that make them wonder about my capabilities. And my privileges at the hospital have been stuck in committee for over a month now.” Cathy pointed to the stitches in her scalp. “Now the situation seems to be escalating.”

“You mean the accident on Saturday?”

“It was no accident. I’m convinced that someone ran me off the road and intended to kill me.”

“Did you report it?” Jane asked.

“Yes, but fat lot of good it did. If Will Kennedy hadn’t insisted, I think the deputy who came out to investigate the accident would have written the whole thing off as careless driving on my part.” Cathy grimaced. “Of course, he may do that anyway.”

“What was Will Kennedy doing there?”

“He came along right after the wreck. When I couldn’t manage under my own power, Will carried me up the embankment. Then he insisted I go to the emergency room, and when they were loading me into the ambulance he slipped his card into my hand and whispered, ‘Please call me. I want to make sure you’re okay.’” Cathy pulled a business card from the pocket of her skirt, smoothed the wrinkles from it, and put it under the corner of her blotter.

“Did you phone him?”

Cathy shook her head. “I started to, but I couldn’t. I’m not ready to get close to any man. Not Will Kennedy. Not Marcus Bell. Not Robert Newell.” She took in a deep breath through her nose and let it out through pursed lips. “Especially not Robert Newell.”

“Who is—?”

Before Jane could finish, Cathy spun around in her chair and pulled a book at random from the shelf behind her. “Not now. Please. I need to look up something before I see my first patient.” She paged through the book, but none of the words registered.

Jane’s voice from behind her made Cathy close the book. “Dr. Sewell, you asked me a question. Let me answer it before I go. I don’t know if someone’s really making an effort to run you off. I’ve heard some of those rumors. They’re always anonymous, like ‘Somebody told me that Dr. Sewell’s not a good doctor.’ Or ‘I heard Dr. Sewell came back to Dainger because she couldn’t make it in Dallas.’ You have to ignore the gossip and rumors. They’re part of living here.”

Cathy swiveled back to face Jane. “I thought it would be easier to get my practice started in my hometown.”

“It might be, except that people here will compare you to your daddy, who was the best surgeon Dainger ever saw. In that situation a young, female doctor will come up short, no matter how qualified she is.”

Cathy tossed the book on her desk and held her hands up, palms forward. “If someone wants to get rid of me, they’re close to succeeding. I don’t know how much longer I can go on.”

“You’re a fighter, and I’m right here with you. Just stick with it.” Jane turned and walked toward the doorway.

“Thanks. I appreciate it.”

Jane stopped and faced Cathy once more. “Have you been out to visit your folks?”

“It won’t do any good. There’s nothing for me there. I don’t have anything to say.”

Jane shook her head. “Sometimes you don’t have to say anything. Sometimes you simply have to make the effort and go. It’s the only way you’ll ever put all that behind you.”