Just a little update to say Book # 6 of the Smoky Mountain Novel Series will be out around the first of May. GRACE FOR ATTICUS has been one of my most challenging books in a long time, but I’ve been in love with it from the first paragraph. I thought I’d give you a little sneak preview just to stir up a tad of interest. See the excerpt below:
Copyright © 2021 Sandra Pavloff Conner
Excerpt: Chapter One
The glass front door of Tsalagi Craft and Trade Center flew open, the bell at the top of the door jangling so hard it sounded like an alarm. Grace Walela Ross looked up from the accounting work she was doing at the desk in the back left corner of the store.
Her black hair, cut in short tousled layers accented her black eyes and her bronze Cherokee skin. She rose to her full height of five feet, seven inches, and although she was quite delightful to look at as she stood behind her desk, the man stomping his way toward her had such fire in his eyes, it was unlikely he had taken time to notice.
“I understand you’re the one responsible for this trash,” he said, slamming a copy of The Sword newspaper down on top of the desk.
“I’m the editor of the paper, if that’s what you mean,” Grace replied, standing straight and looking him in the eye. He was a good half a foot taller than she was, and all powerful, barely restrained muscle. She felt only slightly intimidated, but had no intention of letting fear have a place.
“Do you have a problem with something in the this week’s issue, Mr. – ?”
“ A problem? No, I don’t have a problem. I have a legitimate complaint against your libelous excuse for journalism. You’re the one who has the problem, Ms. – ” He stopped and glanced at the masthead of the paper to double-check her name. “Ms. Grace Walela Ross! Because unless you print an immediate retraction – and on the front page – you’re going to court and pay through the nose.”
“And just what exactly are you referring to as libelous, Mr. Whoever-You-Are?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Atticus St. John. Doctor St. John to you.”
“Oh, I see.”
“I don’t think you do see, Ms. Ross. I don’t think you even try to see the whole picture. You’re so focused on your own personal rant that you don’t care how distorted you make your articles.”
Some kind of righteous anger mixed with personal hurt rose up in Grace. She rounded the desk and advanced toward him until she stood mere inches away. “I never distort my articles! How dare you come stomping in here and speak such lies!”
“Me speaking lies! You have the gall to accuse me after you’ve written and printed this hideous excuse for journalism?! You should be tarred and feathered!”
Grace’s head almost buzzed with the anger she felt. She prided herself in all the effort she put into being sure of all her facts, even down to the exact spelling of every single name she used. And she was always hard on herself to make sure she’d used proper restraint before assigning responsibility and fault to anyone in her articles. Such an attack as this on her character as a credible journalist was more than she could bear, and before she could even think about what she was going to do, she spit in his face. Instantly, the shock of what she had done hit her so forcefully that she gasped, and her hand flew to cover her mouth. Her eyes, wide with the horror of her actions, locked onto his.
But her shock was nothing compared to his. Followed by a new level of anger. “Why you little savage!” he said, grasping her by the shoulders and, without thinking, pushing her backwards against the desk, and pinning her there with his own body. Grace put up her hands against his chest in an instinctive defense, but he was much more powerful than she. Her eyes focused on his shoulders now, and her self-defense training came to mind, but for some reason, she felt a kind of dazed lack of energy to inflict any kind of retaliation.
He wasn’t sure what he’d intended when he’d grabbed her, but was responding to some primal need in him to exact revenge for such humiliation and put her in her place somehow. He fought within himself over whether to spit in her face as well or kiss her forcefully enough to prove his mastery over her.
He had decided on the ruthless kiss when, suddenly, her eyes met his again and held him with a look that said she knew he was in control, but she wouldn’t even consider backing down. There was something so pure in her eyes – an assurance of being in the right – something that pulled on him to side with her unflinching commitment to what she believed – that his own thoughts came crashing to a full stop.
In response, he gradually leaned forward almost touching her lips in what would have been an entirely different kind of kiss, but he caught himself just in time. He pulled back slowly and heard himself say in a tone of disbelief, “Grace? … You’re name is Grace? And if I’m not mistaken, your middle name is the Cherokee word for Hummingbird, is it not?”
Grace was silent with surprise at the sudden change in him, and she just nodded. He laughed softly then. “What a mistake your poor parents made. You most definitely are not a hummingbird. In fact I’d say you’re more like a she-bear – defending her domain – a spitting bear in fact,” he added, taking his right hand from her shoulder and wiping his cheek where her spittle had landed. He quickly grasped her shoulder again, but couldn’t hold back more laughter.
The laughter was genuine, but he was having a hard time understanding everything else he was feeling. Something powerful had passed between them in those moments – something so elemental he couldn’t put a name to it, but it pulled on him and caused him to want to stay close to her. A ridiculous feeling since she represented everything he had to fight against in order to carry out his own work – work that he believed in and had labored hard to be able to accomplish.
He finally released her and stepped back, glancing toward the floor and running his hand through his hair in a frustrated manner. But he looked right at her again and spoke in a disgruntled tone. “Never mind. I don’t really have time to bother with you.”
He turned away from her and started for the door, but just before he pushed the door open, he turned and almost spat out the words, “Just be careful, my little Spitting-Bear. The next victim of your irresponsible journalism may not be as willing to forego exacting his vengeance.” And with those words he walked through the door and almost stomped down the street.
Grace still leaned against the desk, almost as if she needed its support. Her adrenaline was rushing, and she knew she’d been frightened a little by the encounter, but there was something else involved that she couldn’t identify. She realized with a quickening of her breath that she actually wished he had followed through on his actions and kissed her. She shook her head in disbelief now and finally pushed herself away from the desk, making her way around it, where she sat down in the chair again. She closed her eyes and relived the whole experience.
In the heat of the moment, she hadn’t been conscious of noting his appearance, but now, in her memory’s eye, she saw again the strength that showed in the muscles of his arms and chest even beneath the fabric of his long-sleeved dress shirt. His hair was sandy brown and had been tousled by the breeze. She saw again the firm jaw, and the olive green eyes – eyes that kindled with his barely restrained temper as they bored into hers. She felt a stirring inside as she remembered those eyes – and the way his body felt barely touching hers. Suddenly, she shook herself lightly, trying to escape those memories and clear her head.
Everything about the man was the antithesis of her beliefs and agenda for her own life. How could she have wanted to kiss him – to stay in a place where she was touching him and looking steadily into his eyes? She leaned back in the chair and just sat, waiting for her thoughts to clear and for her day to get back to normal somehow.
She heard the bell again, but at a normal volume this time, and when she glanced toward the door she saw her brother Blaze heading her way. “Hey, Sis, I read your article this morning.”
Grace looked up at him as he stood now in front of the desk, but she seemed to be having trouble focusing.
“Is something wrong, Hon.” he asked, concern in his eyes now.
Grace really looked at him then, finally focusing, and shook her head again slightly, as if still trying to clear it. “No, not really. I guess I’m just a little dazed after having a confrontation with Dr. St. John.”
“St. John? As in the man you wrote about in the front page article?”
Grace nodded her head and, to Blaze’s relief, her impish grin kicked in, and he felt reassured that she was her old self.
Grace told him how Dr. St. John had stormed into the store and accused her of being irresponsible in her journalism and of telling lies, and how he’d threatened to sue if she didn’t print a retraction of her accusations.”
“I guess you set him straight, didn’t you?”
“Well … about that.” Grace said and started to squirm a little in her chair.
Blaze was intrigued by that move, because his little sister was generally straight-forward and outspoken with everyone, so he just stood there and looked at her intently until she glanced away and then, finally, looked back at him.
“Hummingbird, why do I feel that there’s something you should tell me, but you don’t want to? What really did happen?”
“Everything happened just like I said, except that … well … I guess he just made me so angry and so hurt … you know everything he said was totally unfair and just wrong … and … well … I … before I realized what I was doing, I spit in his face.”
Grace leaned forward on the desk putting her face into her hands and groaning. She felt ashamed and so guilty. Not only was she ashamed about what she had done to the doctor, but she was just as much ashamed to have her brother know that she had acted in such an un-Christlike manner to anyone. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she lifted her head just enough to reach for a tissue from the box on the corner of the desk.
“Oh, Honey, don’t cry. I can’t imagine your doing anything like that unless you were seriously pressed beyond endurance,” Blaze said and sat down in the chair in front of the desk.
He sat quietly for a few moments while his sister blotted her eyes and blew her nose. He thought back to last fall when she had decided to move back to Cherokee to be closer to their family and to help him with his craft center and store because the Lord was using him so much in a traveling ministry now that he didn’t have the time to devote to actually running the business alone.
She had worked for several years for a publishing company, but had long had a dream to begin her own newspaper with the aim of focusing on much needed moral and social change in both the local community and the nation. After deciding to move back home and work with her brother, she’d felt it was the right time and place to launch the paper, and she had been working hard at making it a real success for the past six months.
He smiled now as he watched her getting control of her emotions and blotting her eyes once more before looking up at him.
“You want to tell me the rest of it?” he asked, grinning at her. “What did he do when you spit on him?” Grace thought back through all of his reactions – and her own unexpected response to his grasping her and almost kissing her. She wasn’t ready to share that part with her brother just yet, but she could at least tell him about the doctor’s words.
She grinned now too as she answered. “He called me a savage.”
Blaze’s eyebrows rose at that. “Wow, that’s a little cowboy-and-Indianish, isn’t it?”
Grace laughed out loud at that. “But that’s not all. He also said that he knew my middle name was the Cherokee word for hummingbird but that my poor parents had made a serious mistake because I was more like a she-bear – in fact a spitting bear. And just as he walked out the door, he addressed me by that name again.”
“And he’s going to sue?”
“Well … that’s the really odd part,” she said. “He acted like he sort of got better control of his own anger and said he didn’t have time to fool with me. Then his parting words to me were that I should be careful because the next victim of my irresponsible journalism might not be so willing to forego exacting his vengeance.”
“Whew!” Blaze said, leaning back in his chair. “You’ve had quite a day, haven’t you?”
Grace nodded and leaned back in her chair as well. “But I don’t think he’s actually planning on a lawsuit now. And, of course, even if he did sue, he can’t possibly win because, as you know, I make absolutely sure of all my facts – right down to correctly spelled words – and he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”
“Still, I’d hate for you to have to be dragged through court over all of it.”
“Yeah,” she said, nodding her head again. “Me too. But, you know, Blaze – well, we both knew from the beginning – some of the situations I’m addressing in The Sword are going to be pretty volatile from time to time.”
Blaze nodded. “It’s true. And, as you say, you didn’t go into the work blind. I think, though, that this whole abortion issue is something the devil and his forces fight more intensely than anything else right now. It’s going to take the true sword of the Lord and a lot more prayer to make any headway against it.”
“And concerning my articles … it’s not as if I’m trying to shut down every abortion clinic in the country. Of course, you know I don’t believe they should be legal at all, but my recent articles are mainly fighting against adding another abortion clinic to this area when we already have enough of them. It’s a valid argument. But it’s true that I am hitting hard on the whole fact that abortion is immoral period, wherever people have it performed.”
“Did he say specifically what he considered libelous?”
She shook her head and picked up the paper, scanning her front page article again. “No … but I’m pretty sure he was going to focus on the fact that I called him ‘another professional exterminator.’”
“Is there any chance at all that he can make his charges stick?”
“ I don’t see how. I was very careful in my choice of words. I would have liked to use the term murderer, but the technical definition of murderer is ‘someone who illegally kills another person. And right now, in most states almost all abortions are considered legal. There are still a few states holding out on late-term abortions, but the scale is sliding downhill fast. And the states where he has his other two clinics are one hundred percent pro-abortion at any time during pregnancy, so that term would have left me open to question. But the term exterminator specifically means ‘someone who kills whole groups of people or animals. What he does fits the term exactly.”
She leaned back in her chair again and sighed. “I think when he gets rid of all his anger, he’ll be sensible enough to know that even if he forced me to retract the article, or even won a lawsuit, it would just prolong the attention people are giving the story, and if I made it clear that I was forced to retract, he would still end up looking like the bad guy to our readers.”
“I think you’re right. And I’ll let Joy know about your little … uh … adventure today,” he said grinning again, “and we’ll both be praying for the Lord to cover you in this. But, listen, I came in to do some work on the leather moccasins I started yesterday, but I wanted to ask you if you’d like to take a couple days off and get away from the store. You know Joy and I will be gone four days next week for that seminar in Dallas, but I’m here for the rest of this week, and you’ve been working non-stop for months now. I don’t want you worn out with this, especially since you’re still doing some editing for Milton Publishing.”
“Well, if you wouldn’t feel abandoned, I just might think about taking a couple days. I’d actually like to take Mom shopping in Nashville one day, and if we stayed over and went out to dinner, that would be fun for her and me both. I can also make a quick run by the publishing house and check in with the main office.”
“Hey, that sounds like a great idea.”
“Do you think Joy might want to go with us?”
“Well … I guess she might … but … I rather hope she doesn’t,” he said, grinning.
“You really are still newlyweds, aren’t you?” Grace teased him. “You don’t want her out of your sight if you can manage it.”
“Oh, it isn’t that bad, but I do really like having her around all the time. And after all, we have been married only five months.”
He heaved a sigh and added, “But I don’t want to be selfish, and it’s only fair that she have some time with you girls if she’d like to. I’m sure I can survive forty-eight hours,” he said grinning again.
“I know you can, but I just can’t keep from teasing you. I think I will ask her if she’d like to go with us. We haven’t all three had a chance to do anything like that together.”
“I know, and, honestly, I’d be happy for her to get that time with you and Mom if she’d like to go. Call her and let her know what you’re planning.”