Thawing The Ice

The following story is an excerpt from my Christmas anthology: STOCKING FULL OF STORIES.  If you’re interested in more stories, you can find the book on Amazon in paperback or digital.


 

ABSTRACT WHITE CHRISTMAS POND-B & WTHAWING THE ICE

Misty laced up her skates and glided smoothly across the ice. It had been more than a year since she’d come to her favorite pond. The trees were stark silhouettes against the deep snow, barren and seemingly useless in this white wilderness. She felt that way herself. The gray world around her matched her gray and barren heart. Words came back to her now from the whispering past.

“You can’t just give up, Misty. Marcus wouldn’t want you to quit skating. He wouldn’t want you to give up the life you’ve always loved.”

She continued to circle the pond, listening to conversations in her head – all from last year. After the accident. “I can’t skate alone. I’m no good by myself. It’s always been Marcus and me together – from the time we were seventeen.”

“But you’re so gifted, dear,” Mother had insisted. “You were skating beautifully long before you even met Marcus. Why, from the time you put on your first pair of skates – remember? – the pink pair you got for Christmas when you were six? – from that very first day, you’ve been a star in the making. All your fans want to see you back out there on the ice.”

Misty had merely hung her head and wept. She new her mother meant well, but she’d never be able to understand. And Misty was glad her mother had never known that kind of loss.

But her family didn’t understand about the fans either. Yes, her own family were her personal fans, but the fans in all the ice rinks around the world hadn’t been hers. They were fans who loved Misty and Marcus – together – “the darling duo” as they’d been dubbed in more than one news story. The fans wanted to see both of them on the ice, not just one lonely girl –  lost now in a world that had been her own kingdom little more than a year ago.

The cold wind bit at her, but she welcomed the pain. It matched the pain in her heart. And she welcomed the gray world she skated in now. It matched the world she lived the rest of her life in with Marcus dead.

So she skated – round and round the pond – one hour – then another. And with each trip around that pond of her childhood came the memories – like warm flashes of sunlight:  the first time she’d skated in her pink skates; the first day she’d invited Marcus to skate with her there; the first competition they’d entered – and won; the grueling hours of practice that both of them had loved.

Gradually, as the happy memories flooded back and thawed the ice that had held her soul in its lonely, gray world for the past year, Misty began to feel alive again. A smile spread across her face and she flung out her arms as if to embrace this precious pond with its stark trees and white emptiness. She found herself skating into routines she’d used before she and Marcus had become a team. And gradually, she found herself adding moves to those routines. They weren’t done consciously. They just flowed from her as naturally as water flows down a hill when a barrier has been removed.

Her heart began to sing. Her body followed suit. And although the pond and all it’s surroundings were still as gray and barren as they’d been when she’d arrived, Misty discovered that she was now skating in sunshine – in the warmth of her love for Marcus and in the fire of the passion she felt for skating. Perhaps her family and friends had been right after all. Perhaps she did still have a life to live and a gift to give to the world from her kingdom on the ice.

 

 

~~~

Advertisements

‘Everything’s Jake’ Preview — 2 Chapters

EVERYTHING'S JAKE AMAZON COVER - FRONTEVERYTHING’S JAKE
Inspirational Romance

 

CHAPTER ONE

Mariah Jacoby paced the tiny office, taking the confined distance from wall to wall in four agitated strides as she waited for her boss to join her. She was fairly certain what the outcome of this meeting would be. She’d be looking for another job. She shook her head from side to side now in frustration. If only she could convince her boss that she could probably sell more from this boutique in the long run if she were honest with her customers!

Well, that wasn’t going to happen. Convincing Patricia there was something to be gained by telling a woman she looked fat in one of her dresses was about as likely as going over Niagara Falls in a barrel without getting hurt … seriously hurt! Hadn’t somebody tried that once? She thought she’d remembered reading something about it, but … right now her mind was too muddled with the mess she’d made of her third job in two years. Of course, it’s not like this latest one was something in her field. With a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in journalism, selling in a boutique was a little wide of the mark on both counts.

But her one year working at the Excel Learning Center had been enough to convince her that trying to teach students how to learn better was definitely not her forte. Her second job, the one with The Beacon, had been more in her line, but evidently news reporting was not what she really felt called to do either. Well, Mariah did feel a genuine interest in writing for a newspaper. It was actually her editor who had felt that she wasn’t right for the part. “You’ve got to quit editorializing, Mariah!” he said, through his gritted teeth. How many times had he said that? She couldn’t be sure, but it seemed to average about once a week, until finally, he had given her the bad news: She’d have to go. And he’d warned her one last time that if she thought she’d ever really want to get serious about a career in journalism, she’d better start working harder on her ability to remain objective when she covered the news.

She sighed now and finally dropped into one of the two chairs that sat in front of the desk, just settling into the seat when her boss opened the door and came in with a purposeful stride. Patricia wasn’t a time-waster; that was for sure. She marched around her desk and leaned over it toward Mariah. “I guess you know what this means?” Mariah opened her mouth to protest … or defend herself … or something … but nothing came out. She dipped her head and then nodded.

“I know,” she said on a resigned sigh. “I really do try to do what you want though, Patricia.”

Her boss shook her head as she sat down behind the desk. “Not hard enough, Mariah. I’ve told you repeatedly that we do not tell any of our customers that they don’t look terrific in whatever they choose.”

Mariah’s head came up, and she looked directly at her boss. “But that’s lying! I can’t believe that’s the best way to do business!”

“The point is that this is my business, Mariah. And the only one who needs to be satisfied with the way we do business here is me. Besides, I don’t really consider it lying. When our customers have chosen something that they like on themselves, it makes them feel good about themselves, and that does make them look good. Happy people always look better than those who are unhappy. And more importantly, happy customers keep coming back!”

“But Mrs. Jamison wasn’t unhappy when I told her that I thought she’d look better in something else.”

“No? Well, just what would you call that frown on her face, that furrowed brow, and her flustered attitude?”

“She was just trying to think about what I’d said while I was showing her the other possibilities.”

“All possibilities that she did not like herself! That’s just my point. She’s been a customer here for five years, and she had already disqualified the style of dress you kept trying to push off on her!” She leaned back with a sigh. “I’m sorry, Mariah, but I did warn you that you may not be cut out for this kind of work. I know you’ve tried, but you’re not going to be able to treat my customers differently. This is the fourth time I’ve had to deal with the situation and try to soothe the people you’ve upset. I’ll give you the rest of this week doing jobs that won’t require you to work with customers, and I’ll give you the two week’s severance pay that your contract specifies, but I’ll definitely have to replace you with someone who’s comfortable with my rules here.”

It didn’t take long for the end of the week to arrive, and Mariah found that she wasn’t all that emotional about having to say goodbye to Patricia and the two other women who worked at the boutique. She was very emotional, however, about not having a job. She had managed to save a little money while she’d worked on her masters because she’d decided to attend the university at home and stay at the house with her parents. They had been eager to have her there again, even for that period of time, and they just refused to let her pay for much of anything at all. She’d tried to make up for it by treating them to special dinners out and a weekend away a couple of times, but she had put most of her money from the job on campus into a savings account. Good thing! She’d already gone through half of it, and it looked like the second half would soon be in hot pursuit of the first.

She made her way back to the one-bedroom apartment in a very unfashionable, but comfortable part of town, dropped her purse and jacket on the table just inside the door, kicked off her shoes, and headed for the tiny kitchen to make tea. Her granny had always sworn by tea as the fix-it potion for any problem. Of course, Granny had always held faithful to all the little details that constituted a traditional English tea – the boiled water, the warmed teapot, the unrushed brewing time. Mariah filled the teapot and stuck it in the microwave. What Granny didn’t know wouldn’t cause her any unhappiness.

While she waited for the water to boil, she picked up the mail that lay on her kitchen counter. She hadn’t had time to go through it carefully for the last two days, and now she was surprised to see a card from a friend of hers in another state. Abigail Harland, who had gone through the first four years of college with Mariah, was now a happily married wife and the mother of two rambunctious little boys. She took to that lifestyle like a duck to water, Mariah thought, smiling now as she remembered the last time she’d visited Abby and Seth.

She scanned the lines eagerly, moving over to the microwave as it dinged to let her know the water was ready. A few minutes later, as she sipped the fragrant tea and began to relax, she came to the end of the note, which included another invitation to visit as soon as possible. “Come for a whole weekend if you can,” Abby had written. “Better yet, I wish you’d look for a job here so we could be close like we used to be.”

Mariah laid the note on the counter, deep in thought. Well, why not? Why not at least try? She certainly had nothing holding her here. Of course she was only an hour from her parents living here, but Abby’s home wasn’t more than three hours from them. She shrugged her shoulders. She was going to have to start somewhere, and she might as well try to find something close to her best friends. She’d made a couple of local friends since moving here to work, and of course, she was comfortable with most all of the people she’d met at church. But there wasn’t anyone she felt she could bare her soul to the way she could Abby and Seth. Maybe this was a good time to move on.

She got up and added more tea to her cup, then moved into the living room and snuggled into the corner of the sofa. She had an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach … almost a fear. Only she refused to let herself be afraid. It was just that … well … she had never figured herself for a failure. She had always done well in school. And she’d taken a variety of electives just to expand her mind and her horizons. Hadn’t she even taken those two auto-shop courses?

She grinned now as she remembered how surprised a couple of the guys in the class had been when they’d discovered how much she already knew. That was thanks to her big brother Mitch, of course. From the time she’d been a preteen, she had helped him work on his cars. And he’d had several over the years that he virtually rebuilt. Of course, it was just a hobby with him. He’d opted for a career in marketing, but he’d really had a gift for working on cars! And he’d told her she was a natural too, but of course, no other girls she knew were interested in becoming auto mechanics, so she dismissed that idea as less than good if she were going to have to compete with them for the guys out there that were worth having.

She snorted now as she thought about the fact that even though she was never in overalls or smudged with grease and oil these days, the guys weren’t exactly beating a path to her door. She thought about what she had to offer a man. Well … there was her open, friendly nature … her quick mind … her Christian lifestyle …. She sighed. Those things didn’t sound like attention grabbers to her.

She took mental stock of her physical assets: She had a clear complexion. Her hair was a rich brown, and the pixie cut she currently wore framed her face perfectly and drew attention to her eyes. And they were probably her most positive feature, weren’t they? She had always considered them plain old brown until one of the men she’d dated in college had told her they were the warm color of a glass of sherry. Her relationship with that man had taken a definite upswing from that moment, although they’d never gotten serious, and he’d graduated the following year. Still, he remained one of her favorite dating memories just because he’d given her a whole new confidence about her looks.

She sat her empty cup on the table beside the sofa and stretched out, thinking. What kind of job should she look for? She laughed lightly. She’d lain on the sofa in her home as a child and daydreamed just this way, asking herself, what she wanted to be when she grew up? But this wasn’t like those times. This was no daydream; this was reality. She was grown-up. She was 25, and it was time she made a career for herself.

The following Friday evening, she arrived at Seth and Abby’s door with a large suitcase, having told them of her plans to look for a job close to them. They had insisted she stay with them while she searched, but she had been adamant about not staying more than a week. If she hadn’t found something by then, she would either move into a motel or start looking in a different town.

But by the end of the week, she was no closer to having employment. She had checked with the area schools about possible openings for the next school year, which was right around the corner. She knew she wasn’t licensed to teach in the state, but she also knew there were ways to deal with that as long as she was working toward meeting the requirements within a certain time period. But there wasn’t anything in her field. Then she’d checked with a couple of local newspapers, but still nothing permanent. They had told her they’d consider some free-lance articles from her if she wanted to turn something in, and she had, in fact written one article and had it published. But she knew that she had managed that feat mainly because it was the kind of thing she didn’t have to be objective about.

Then she’d checked with a couple of department stores, but their waiting lists were long, and besides … she could tell by the manner of the women who’d talked to her that she would be right back in the same boat as she had been with Patricia. So she’d signed up with an employment agency, and had even gone to one interview that they’d set up, but to no avail. They’d been pleased with her credentials, but they were equally pleased with those of some of the other applicants, and two of those people had lived in the town all their lives. The company just considered them a better risk, all other things considered.

On the Friday evening a week after she’d arrived, Abby tried to convince her that she should stay at least another week. “You know we love having you here, Ry,” she said. “And you’ve been so much help with the boys. They really love you.”

Seth had reached over and patted Mariah’s hand. “We both want you to stay, Ry. Give it at least one more week.” He glanced over at his wife, a light in his eyes that made no secret of the fact that he was in love with her. “Besides,” he said, a teasing note in his voice, “my sweety would never forgive me if I didn’t do everything in my power to make sure you move here permanently.”

Mariah had laughed with them, but she felt sad too. Something was wrong with her. Why couldn’t she find a job? And a job that she liked? What did she really enjoy doing, anyway? She thought long and hard on that subject after she retired for the night. Lying there in bed, she tried to remember every time she’d ever felt happy at work, and she realized with a good deal of surprise that she had actually felt pretty good about all of her jobs. The problem was that her happiness had really been coming from her interaction with people, which she always enjoyed, and not from the work itself. In fact, the last time she remembered feeling really happy about the work she was doing was when she had been in the auto mechanics class, helping her project partner put an engine back together.

The following morning at breakfast, Abby’s four-year old climbed up on Mariah’s lap and put his arms around her neck. “You stay wif us,” he said. Then he reached up to pat her cheek. “ Me don’t want you to leave. You stay wif us, Ry.” She squeezed him tightly and kissed his cheek.

Abby sat down at the table with a cup of coffee. “See,” she said, grinning. “You can’t break his little heart by leaving yet.”

“Oh, all right. You’re all ganging up on me. I’ll take one more week, but … Abby … you know if I don’t find something by then, I need to try to get something in a larger city. There’s bound to be some kind of newspaper and teaching jobs both in a large enough city.”

“Well, just try one more week here then. I can’t bear to think you’ve come so close to living in the same town as us again and then not have it work out.”

Mariah chuckled and reached over and gripped her friends hand briefly. “Me too, Ab. I’ll really try this week, and I’ll spend more time praying about it too. Maybe I’ve been trying too hard on my own and not looking to the Lord for the guidance as I should have been.”

So after breakfast was cleaned up, Mariah went out to their back yard to sit on the patio in the shade and read her Bible and pray. She’d been a Christian most of her adult life, and she thought she had lived according to God’s will, but sometimes she had to admit that she didn’t spend nearly as much time listening to what the Lord might have to say to her as she did talking to Him. So for the next week, that was her primary goal, and her job search would have to be secondary.


CHAPTER TWO

The next Monday she was on her way to apply for a position she had heard about at church the previous day and began having trouble with her car. It kept dying at every stop sign, and then began jerking and trying to die in the middle of traffic. She remembered passing an auto repair center several times on that end of town, so she made her way there now, gritting her teeth and praying that she could make it there without getting stranded in the middle of the road somewhere.

As she pulled in, she realized that there were several cars ahead of her, but she hoped that since she had a sort of emergency situation, that might weigh heavily with the manager. If she’d had tools and parts, of course, she could have fixed it herself, but that was like wishing for the moon, since she didn’t even have a screwdriver with her this trip. And boy was that stupid, she told herself. At least she could have come better prepared to cope with car problems. But she had been pretty depressed by the time she’d set out for Abby’s, so that probably accounted for her lack of thought on the subject.

She got out and walked toward the open work bays. Even though the day was warm, she could feel the change in temperature as she entered the cool interior and adjusted her eyes to the darker atmosphere. She sniffed the air, recognizing the smells of a normal auto shop … smells she was comfortable with … and she smiled slightly. She could hear the sounds of someone working and finally managed to see a man half submerged beneath the hood of a luxury car leaning over the engine, totally absorbed. She needed to go into the office area. Turning half circle, she saw the office door and headed inside.

Even cooler air from the office air conditioner hit her as she stepped through the door. There was one man inside, leaning slightly on a high counter, writing something out by hand. He looked back at his computer screen, which was sitting on a desk behind the counter, then turned back and wrote some more. He looked a little taller than her, and slightly heavy set. It was obvious that he weighed in a little over normal. Probably most of it was muscle, but she doubted that all of it was. He had dark brown hair, liberally striped with gray. His face had a few lines that she could see around his mouth and eyes, but it was rather nice looking … at least what she could see of it with his head down a little. He looked back at his computer again, and spoke something in an exasperated voice, scratched his head, and turned back to the counter.

But before Mariah could get his attention, the front door to the office opened, and a man came in with a set of keys in his hand. “Here’s my keys, Neil. I’ll be back around closing time to pick it up.”

The man behind the counter slapped his palm against his forehead. “Oh, for crying out loud, Paul. I forgot all about you coming in today, or I’d have called you.”

“Somethin’ wrong?”

“Boy is that an understatement! Kurt’s off sick with the flu, and Bobby fell off a ladder at home yesterday and broke his arm … pretty bad break too.”

“Wow, that’s tough. Is he going to be all right?’

“Well, they seem to think so, but they’re saying at least six to eight weeks until he can come back to work.”

The customer let out a slow whistle. “So I guess that mean’s you’re too short-handed to service mine today, huh?”

Neil nodded from behind the counter and Paul continued. “No problem. It’s not really giving me any trouble. It was just past time, and I thought this week would work schedule-wise. I’ll give you a call next week and see if you’ve managed to get a temporary replacement.”

Neil shook his head in obvious exasperation. “I appreciate it, Paul. I can’t tell you how sorry I am … for Kurt and Bobby … for all my customers … for Bill out there who’s all by himself except for me … and not least of all for me personally.” He finished that statement with a sheepish grin that made him look like a self-conscious teenager instead of a man old enough to have gray hair. Mariah felt a pang of sympathy for him.

“Well, I’ll get on my way and let you take care of your other customer,” Paul said, looking toward Mariah and nodding briefly. For the first time, the man behind the desk … she assumed he was Neil … looked over to the side where she still stood close to the door. His eyes widened in surprise.

“Oh … sorry miss. I didn’t realize you were here.” He glanced back at Paul. “Thanks again, Paul. I’ll get to you as soon as possible; I promise.” His customer lifted his hand in a brief salute and headed out the door. Neil turned back to Mariah. “Can I help you?”

Mariah had been entertaining the wildest idea ever since she had heard the conversation between the two men. Rather than ask this man who was obviously the garage manager to help her, why not offer to help him? Her eyes twinkled as she stepped closer to the counter, and he looked at her more intently, a slight question in his eyes. Mariah had butterflies in her stomach, but she just knew in her heart that somehow this was right. She spoke with all the confidence and authority she could, so as to drown out her own doubts.

“Well, actually, I think it’s more a question of whether I can help you,” she said, smiling directly into his eyes. He got an even more harassed look in his eyes, brushed his hand through his already disheveled hair and answered her. “Look, ma’m, if you’re selling something, this isn’t the time to talk to me. I’m not going to try to make any decisions about buying anything at all this week!”

“Oh, but I’m —“

He held up his hand as he interrupted her. “Absolutely nothing at all!”

“But I’m not selling anything. Except … maybe … myself.”

His eyes grew even wider and his face flushed just a little as he looked her up and down, trying to consider what a basically decent woman was doing standing in his office offering to sell him sexual favors. He hadn’t figured out how to answer her without insulting her when it dawned on Mariah that what she had said could have been seriously misinterpreted. Then it was her turn to flush, but she did so with no half-way measures. She turned red and felt as hot as if she’d been standing in front of a 500 degree oven.

“Oh, I … I didn’t mean … I mean … I don’t mean what you think I mean!” She put her hands to her cheeks and felt the heat. She closed her eyes in misery at her foolish words.

“And … uh … just what is it that you think I think you mean?”

“Well … it’s obvious … at least from the look on your face … that you think I mean I’m hear to offer you … uh … well ….” It just kept getting worse with every word, so she stuttered to a stop.

By this time, Neil was starting to feel relieved to know that evidently he’d been mistaken about her words and breathed a sigh of relief. Now he was able to take a little pity on her and he chuckled. “Would you like to start again?”

“Please,” she said, finally beginning to return to normal color.

“But, miss, I have an unbelievably busy day, so could you make it kind of quick?”

“Well, that’s just it,” she said, coming all the way up to the counter now and standing just across from him … only the width of the counter separating them. “You see, I did come to have my car checked out, but when I heard you tell the other man that you were so short-handed, I knew that wasn’t a possibility. But … well, I’m a mechanic myself, and I can fix my own car if I have the tools and a way to order parts.” His jaw dropped open, but she hurried on. “But even more important for you … I can help you with your work here,” she finished, beaming her happiest smile at him.

Once again Neil’s eyes widened, but somehow he did manage to close his mouth. Was there no end of the surprises to come from this perky girl? At the same time he was considering this question, another part of his mind was taking in the fact that, although he wouldn’t have called her beautiful, she had a certain something that drew a man’s attention. She had the kind of face that made you feel good looking at her, especially her eyes. They were inviting somehow. Good grief, he needed to get his mind back on his work!

His eyes connected with hers again. “Your … uh … a mechanic, you say?” He didn’t have to say he didn’t believe her. It was too obvious.

“Yes,” she answered eagerly. “Well, not a professional one, you understand.” Neil didn’t think he was understanding much of anything that had happened since he’d looked up and spotted her, but he didn’t have a chance to say so before she added. “But I’ve taken a number of auto mechanics courses in college, and I used to help my brother all the time. I’ve done most of the things that your customers would need done.”

He ran his hand through his hair again. He couldn’t seem to get hold of a sensible response. She still stood there beaming at him. Finally he tried to say something. “Look … miss … I can’t hire just anyone off the street —“

“Oh, I understand,” she interrupted. “You may even feel you have to have someone with a degree. But couldn’t you take me on as an apprentice for right now, and at least you’d have two more hands to get your customer’s cars serviced and repaired.”

Her eyes sparkled at him, holding him entranced for a few seconds. Just enough time to make him waver in his reply again, and Mariah took advantage of his hesitation. “Tell you what. I have some time right now, so how about if I go to work on my own car, and you can watch me and see if I’m not telling you the truth about how good I am.”

By this time, she was leaning over the counter, close enough for him to see the tiniest sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose, almost completely hidden by her modest make-up. He looked into her warm, sherry-colored eyes and was momentarily lost. “Well … uh … I … I don’t know …”

Her eyes grew more intense, and she pulled back from the counter and stamped her foot. “Well, what have you got to lose?”

He didn’t like being put on a spot like this and made to feel stupid. His voice was a little harsh as he replied out of his frustration: “My business?”

Mariah opened her mouth to answer him, but then closed it again. She had to admit that some strange girl coming into an auto repair shop asking to use the man’s tools and dig through his parts to fix her own car and then expecting to be hired on the spot did seem pretty unorthodox. And she had to admit to herself that most of the mechanics she’d known who owned their own shop had struggled like crazy and invested every last thing they had in it to try to make a go of it. Asking one of them to let some stranger go to work there out of the clear blue would put any of them in a tough spot.

Finally, she nodded her head with a resigned look on her face. “Of course,” she said, her voice considerably subdued now. “I understand. It’s asking a lot of you to take a chance like that with a business you’ve no doubt invested every single resource in. I’m sorry,” she added with a sigh. “I guess since you don’t have time to take on any more work, I’ll look for someone else to fix my car too.” She turned toward the door, and Neil’s heart turned over. He scratched his head again. He was probably going to regret this, but he just couldn’t stand to see her so disappointed. She had seemed so excited at the prospect of working here for a while. He supposed he ought to at least give her a chance. She seemed so sure of herself. But … a woman mechanic was something he didn’t have any experience with at all.

“Wait!” he heard himself saying before he had sorted through all those thoughts. She turned back to look at him, and he continued. “Uh … I’ll tell you what. Pull your car into the last bay down there, and I’ll show you where everything is and get you started.”

“Really?” Her eyes were brilliant again, and the smile on her face was worth the butterflies in his stomach as he asked himself silently whether his insurance would cover this if something went wrong. He took a deep breath.

“Yeah … really.” He said.

She stepped back to the counter and held her hand out toward him across the top. “You won’t be sorry. I promise you,” she said, as he took her hand in his. It was warm and strong, but just soft enough that it sent a little tingle along his arm. He had to remind himself to let go, but finally he turned to walk around the counter and lead her back into the work bays.

“By the way, I’m Mariah … Mariah Jacoby.”

Mariah pulled her car into the last bay, got out and raised the hood. Then she looked around to size up what she had to work with. She spotted a blue coverall hanging on a hook along the side wall and went over to get it. “Do you mind?” she asked Neil. “ I was dressed to go to an interview,” she added, looking down at her light colored skirt and short-sleeved knit top.

“Sure. Go ahead,” he answered, and she slipped into the uniform, rolling large cuffs on the sleeves and legs. She thought about her hair, but one look at the only greasy cap hanging there convinced her she was better off taking her chances without it. That done, she began looking around at the array of tools and collecting what she thought she’d need. She had a pretty good idea what was at the root of the problem, knowing there were only a couple of possibilities likely to cause just that set of symptoms, and she also knew the job could take quite a while.

She told Neil what had been happening with the car as she began to check some things out, and then she began to tell him exactly what she was looking for, figuring that should give him a good idea of whether she knew her stuff or not. Neil nodded and grunted his agreement, silently coming to the conclusion that maybe she really did know something about engines. She worked without talking for the majority of the time, and Neil excused himself after a while, saying he had to get back to his accounting for a few minutes.

As he passed the young man who was still leaning under the hood of the other car, he stopped momentarily. “How’s it going with this one, Bill?”

The blond-haired younger man raised up and wiped his hands on a cloth. “I think I’ve got this one licked. I’m about ready to give it a test drive.”

“Great,” Neil answered about the time Bill glanced over and saw Mariah. He raised a questioning brow at his boss.

Neil cleared his throat and motioned with his head for Bill to follow him into the office. Bill did so with a big grin on his face. He’d never seen his boss flustered any time in the last three years, but something was up with this woman. He couldn’t resist teasing Neil a little. “You hire a new mechanic?” he asked, grinning from ear to ear.

“Maybe,” Neil answered and looked Bill in the eye. The grin dried up immediately, and Bill’s mouth just sort of hung open. “Huh?”

“Well, it’s like this,” began Neil, and then proceeded to tell him how all of the last half hour had transpired.

Bill just shook his head and chuckled. “Well …” he said, looking back out through the window in the door, watching Mariah for a moment. “Well, she sure acts like she knows what she’s doing, doesn’t she?”

Neil sighed. “We’ll see,” he answered and then looked back at his computer. “I’ve got to get this finished and then go out there and watch her at work some more before I know for sure. Go ahead and take yours out for the test, and get back as soon as you can.”

“Sure thing,” Bill said and hurried back into the work area. When he brought the Continental back, he parked it outside, satisfied that it was fully repaired, and then he drove a gray and white truck into the bay he’d left empty. As he got out, he heard Mariah talking to Neil about how the repair to her own car was coming. Bill couldn’t resist walking over to where the other two were working, Neil mostly handing Mariah tools and making a suggestion here and there.

“So, how’s it goin’?” Bill asked.

“Great,” Mariah answered before Neil could decide what to say. “I should have this baby running right in another half hour or so.”

“So what was it, anyway?” Bill asked her, walking around to the other side of the car to be closer to her.

She told him and then began to talk about how the repair was going in a little more detail, Bill agreeing with her on all points that she made. Neil was beginning to feel like a fifth wheel, and he just slipped away and walked over to the truck. He remembered what the owner had told him about the problem with this particular truck, so there was no need to go back into the office to get the work order. He just started to gather his tools and get to work. He knew he should direct Bill to get to another vehicle in the third bay, but, surprisingly, the quiet conversation between Bill and Mariah in the bay beside him was soothing to him as he worked, and for the first time in the last 24 hours, he was actually beginning to relax.

By the time Neil had the truck running smoothly, Mariah was ready to take her car for a test spin. As she pulled it out of the bay, Bill walked over to Neil, who was just putting down the truck hood. “Boy, I think that little lady really does know her business, Boss? You gonna let her stay on and help us?”

Neil was wiping his hands on a rag. “Maybe,” he said, looking a little preoccupied.

Bill nodded. “Hard decision, huh?”

Neil grinned a little. “Toughest one I’ve made since deciding to go into business.” Bill nodded his understanding and Neil spoke again. “Take this one out for a test, will ya?”

“Sure thing,” he said, hopping into the cab and backing the truck out of the building.

Mariah was back in a few minutes, beaming. “It’s right as rain,” she announced. “Do you want to test it out yourself just to be sure I really did fix it?” she asked, looking at him so earnestly that his heart turned over again. For some reason this little gal really wanted to work at this garage. He made his final decision in a second.

“Nope,” he said, grinning back. “You’re hired.”


For the rest of the story, get your copy on Amazon. Paperback or Digital.

 

 


~~~

A Little Bit More of My Shameless Marketing

PROFESSOR'S EDUCATION FOR AMAZON FRONT ONLY - 2Just wanted to let readers know that the inspirational novel The Professor’s Education is now selling on Amazon in paperback and digital. Many of you read the novel free right here on this site a few months ago. And many of you expressed your enjoyment of it as well. Thank you again.

Now, here’s my pitch. If you did read it for free here and enjoyed it, how about purchasing a copy for a friend or loved one who enjoys inspirational romance?

Paperback: $7.99
Digital: $2.99

And, by the way, did you know that a lot of men enjoy inspirational romance novels? It isn’t just us gals. I’ve had a number of gentlemen tell me how much they appreciate reading a good Christian love story.  Sooooo, girls, why not buy one for your boyfriend or hubby?

And thanks in advance.

 

 


 

EXCERPT: Chapter Three of ‘Set Free To Love’

This post is a continuation of “Still In Love with Maddison Holt after All These Years.” I included Chapter One of the novel in that post and promised two more. Here’s the final installment:

SET FREE AMAZON FRONT COVERCHAPTER THREE

Exhausted beyond words, Maddison pulled up to the farmhouse, dragged his suitcase out of the trunk and himself up the steps. Since the lights were out except for the one over the stove in the kitchen, he knew he’d need to use his own key.

As he stepped into the kitchen, warm, familiar, homey smells surrounded him and soothed him. In the dim light, his eyes automatically sought and rested on the oversized wooden table that stood right in the middle of the big room, and on all of the white metal and enameled cabinets and appliances that flanked the two walls opposite the door. The stove and sink were modern enough to be convenient, but the cabinets had seen at least two generations of living in this house.

The sight of them, along with the hardwood floor, polished to a shine and scattered with colorful rugs, the dried flowers hanging beside the old wooden coat rack to his right, Uncle Matt’s worn Bible open on one end of the table where he’d had his bedtime snack … they all welcomed him and comforted him.

He crossed over to the table, seeing that there was a note propped against the napkin holder. He picked it up and switched on the ceiling light to see it better. It read:

“Dear Maddison,

Since you said you didn’t have any idea what time you’d be here, I didn’t wait up. I figured if you forgot your key,    you could pound on the door loud enough to wake me. Just come on in and get comfortable. Your room’s ready, and there’s loads of stuff to eat in the kitchen. Just sleep until you wake up in the morning. We’ll have plenty of time to talk after that. I love you, Maddison, and I’m sure glad you’re going to be here with me for a while.

Uncle Matt.”

Maddison grinned and spoke out loud: “Sleep until I wake up. If I do that, Uncle Matt, it may be two whole days before you see me.” He tucked the note into his shirt pocket, picked up his suitcase, turned out the lights, and headed upstairs to the room that was always reserved for him. Just before sleep claimed him, his mind recalled Beth’s engaging face, surrounded by tousled honey-colored curls, her deep golden eyes full of compassion as he’d told her about his brother. And with that unbidden image came an unexpected, quiet comfort that wrapped around his heart and led him to the first peaceful rest he’d had in weeks.

Not too many miles away, Beth was saying “Goodnight” to her mom and brother. They had talked over the plan Maddison had laid out. Adele, naturally wanted Lex to help her understand what had brought him to this place, but all he did was take her hand in his and say, “I’m just too tired to talk any more tonight, Mom.” She knew better than to press right now, so she just hugged him and told him to sleep well.

Just before he left the room, though, another thought struck her, and she asked, “But, Lex, what about the gun?”

“Mr. Holt took it. He said he had a way of getting it turned over to the police without getting me into more trouble.” He grinned and shook his head. “I just bet he can do it too.”

Adele had finally agreed to turn in after Beth promised to do so herself once she’d had a cup of tea. So Beth finally found herself alone in the quiet living room, snuggled into a corner of the sofa, sipping tea, and trying to gather and settle her erratic thoughts.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t tonight’s events that her mind kept returning to. It was last year … her engagement to Derek … and all that had happened since her mother had become ill. She had thought she knew Derek well enough to want to spend the rest of her life with him. They had dated regularly for about a year before becoming engaged.

True, he was selfish at times, but then most all of the men she knew were that way. Her father hadn’t been, but then that was another generation. The world was different now, so people were different. Besides, she couldn’t keep waiting all her life for some “Prince Charming” like she’d read about in all those romance novels she used to turn to during school years as a respite from studying.

Still, the force of Derek’s objections had come as a complete surprise. Their discussions replayed in her mind now, as they had several times this past ten months. “Don’t be ridiculous!” Derek had said. “You can’t honestly be considering messing up our plans and turning yourself into a nursemaid for months! I’m due for this promotion in two months, and we need to get the wedding out of the way, so you can make the move to Maryland with me.”

“But, Derek, to consign my mother to a nursing home, with a visit from me only once a month isn’t right. And you’re wrong about Lex. He won’t do just as well staying with our eighty-year-old aunt until he finishes school.”

“I thought you loved me,” he’d said, a wounded expression on his face.

“It isn’t a question of whether I love you. I love my mother too. She never failed to be there for me, to nurse me and love me through everything .… In fact, she was always there for all of us, never holding herself back. How could it be fair, the way she’s suffering already, for me to relegate her to some strange place, surrounded by strange people, when I’m strong and healthy enough to take care of her?”

“But that’s what those places are for.”

“Derek, I’ve always tried to live by what I see in God’s Word. You know that. I just don’t see anything in His Word that says it’s all right to shove our sick parents off into the hands of strangers when we have the ways and means to care for them.”

“You can’t expect every little decision you make to be covered in the Bible!” Derek had said.

“Actually, Derek, I think you can, at least to some extent. But that doesn’t matter. God’s Word does say to honor our parents. I know that obeying them comes to an end when we become adults, but honoring them is supposed to last their whole life, isn’t it? And I just can’t see that what you’re suggesting is a way of honoring my mother. I just can’t do it.”

It had been the same argument a number of times, and they had finally agreed to get some counseling from their pastor. He had tried to help Derek see that a few months, or even a year, of sacrifice for a loved one shouldn’t be considered as something destructive to the love between Derek and Beth. “If what you two have for each other is going to last a lifetime,” he’d said, “it’s going to have to withstand much greater stresses than this one over the intervening years.”

But Derek had remained adamant, and had even said some things to Beth that had been unnecessarily hurtful, so they had parted. He had maintained that she didn’t love him enough if she could make the choices she’d made, and after a while, Beth realized that probably she hadn’t, at least not enough to be the wife he wanted. Perhaps, after all, God had stepped in and shown her the truth before she made a bigger mistake, and both of them had ended up a few years from now broken-hearted by a marriage that never should have taken place at all.

The heartbreak she’d expected to feel had never materialized. She felt sad that their relationship had ended with bad feelings on Derek’s part, and for a short time, she had mourned not having the marriage she’d dreamed about for months. But she knew now that marriage to Derek wouldn’t have fulfilled that dream anyway.

She’d talked it over with the Lord several times the last few months, and she prayed again now as she had prayed those other times. “Dear Lord, I’m believing You to help Derek find the kind of woman he needs for a wife … one who sees things the way he does and who can appreciate him and his beliefs. … And maybe … maybe not … but just maybe, there’s a man out there who sees things the way I do.” She sighed. “I’ll admit it seems like a long shot, Lord, but if anybody can come up with a man like that, You can.”

Suddenly, in the midst of her prayer, she saw again a pair of black-lashed, searching gray eyes. Once again there was a sense of recognition. … Then the vision was gone, drifting away like all of her other thoughts and words, on a wave of exhaustion that finally forced her to her bed. Trying to understand any of it any better would have to wait for another day.


Purchase SET FREE TO LOVE

Paperback:  $7.75

Digital: $1.99

On sale this week only .

~~~

EXCERPT: Chapter Two of ‘Set Free To Love’

This post is a continuation of “Still In Love with Maddison Holt after All These Years.” I included Chapter One of the novel in that post and promised two more. Here’s the next installment:

SET FREE AMAZON FRONT COVERCHAPTER TWO

Beth Hanover was an attractive young woman, although she didn’t feel particularly attractive or young as she stood gripping the telephone receiver, trying to pull her thoughts together and settle the thudding in her heart. In fact, she hadn’t had much opportunity in the last ten months to bother about how she looked or felt most of the time.

But that didn’t change the facts. Her clear, healthy complexion and the thick, honey blond hair that covered her head in soft, loose curls that barely touched the collar of her blouse gave their own evidence. Her eyes had been described more than once as looking like melted gold, and most of the time there was a twinkle in them, due to the fact that Beth kept her fellowship with the Lord as the most important part of her life. That fellowship made her able to deal with hard things that came her way without losing her joy.

Ten months ago, when her mother had had to have major surgery and long convalescent care, and was facing the possibility of an early death, Beth’s world had become a little shaky. Then when she had told her fiancé that she felt it necessary to postpone their wedding while she nursed her mother and helped her fight for her life, Derek had become so angry that he’d given her an ultimatum that had shaken her world even harder.

But the Lord had intervened for Beth’s mother, in answer to much prayer, and Adele had succeeded in holding on to life. Then they continued to rejoice as God’s healing power had caused health and strength to flow back into her body until she was now almost completely well.

But their great joy in Adele’s recovery was marred by another shadow that hovered over them. Something had been happening with Lex that caused both of them great concern. They had prayed much about it, and were determined not to worry. “We’re just going to believe God will keep Lex safe and show us what to do,” Adele had said.

Nevertheless, their faith had been strained by the fact that Lex seemed so sullen and wanted to keep to himself, refusing to talk to them about almost anything these days. Now, this phone call from Mr. Walker was starting to pull a detailed picture out of that vague, heavy shadow that had been hovering.

Adele, hearing Beth’s side of the conversation, had come to stand beside her daughter, fear in her eyes. Beth closed her own eyes and took a deep breath to try to settle the pounding in her chest before she spoke. “No, Mr. Walker, I don’t believe that’s the solution either. Mother and I have been praying because we knew something was wrong, but we didn’t know what. We just know that God’s the only answer. Thank you for calling me instead of the police. I’ll be with you as fast as I can get down there.”

Abel returned to the back room, and Maddison scooted his chair over to let him in. “Beth’s on her way,” Abel said.   “Thank God it’s the time of night when we have almost no business, but just to be safe, I turned off our big sign out front and put a closed sign on the door. I left it unlocked, though, for Beth.” Looking at Lex, he added, “I’ll get the first-aid kit and clean up your face, Son.”

“Ah, just leave me alone!”

Abel ignored the gruff answer and stepped into the bathroom, returning immediately with the kit.

“Here, let me,” said Maddison, taking the kit from the hands of the tired man. He put on a pair of the disposable gloves, then soaked a piece of gauze with hydrogen peroxide and turned toward Lex. He grabbed the boy’s jaw and pulled his head up so he could get a good view. “This is going to hurt a little, but I guess if you’re big and tough enough to rob a store single-handedly at gun point, you can take it.”

His point hit home, and Lex tried to jerk away from Maddison’s hands. Maddison jerked him back into position and looked him in the eyes. “Listen, kid, idiots that pull this kind of stunt are a dime a dozen where I come from, and believe me, I’ve had more than my fill of them. So if you don’t want to hurt a whole lot more than you do right now, you hold still!”

He finished cleansing the scratches, two of which were still bleeding, and then proceeded to apply antibiotic and some bandaging. Just as he was finishing, they heard the screech of tires, followed by a slamming car door. By the time Maddison had closed the first aid kit and disposed of the gloves, Beth was standing in the doorway, her golden eyes large and wet with tears that she was holding back by sheer will. She was a little pale, and her face looked strained, but she had herself under control.

Maddison, who had expected the kind of hysterical outbursts he’d experienced from so many mothers and sisters in similar situations over the years, didn’t quite know what to make of this woman. He stared at her, studying her, wondering what to expect.

For the first few seconds, her eyes were centered on her brother. Suddenly, she glanced up at Maddison. As their eyes met and held for a moment, there was a spark of something between them … a sense of having found something unexpectedly … that was gone so quickly he thought perhaps he’d imagined it. Then just as quickly, she had turned to the manager and, reaching out both hands, laid hold of his arm, saying, “Mr. Walker, I’m so very sorry. I know you could have been injured or killed tonight. I can never tell you how grateful I am to you for giving Lex another chance.”

Patting her hand, Abel Walker replied, “You’ve given so much of yourself to your mother during this long illness … and to Lex. I just couldn’t see it end with him going to jail.” He turned to Maddison. “This gentleman … I’m sorry, I never even asked your name.”

“Maddison Holt,” Maddison said, returning his attention to the store manager.

Abel smiled at him warmly. “Mr. Holt, this is Beth Hanover, Lex’s sister.” Maddison and Beth nodded to each other, and Abel continued. “Mr. Holt was able to tackle Lex as he ran across the parking lot and get him back into the store. I’ve returned the money to the drawer, so we don’t have to worry about that, but that’s all we know right now.”

At that point, Beth turned back to Lex. She walked over to his chair and lifted his head up gently as she spoke. “Lex, look at me, dear. … Look at me,” she repeated, when he kept his eyes downcast. He finally looked up at her, and as his eyes met his sister’s, Maddison saw something soften in the boy’s face.

Beth squatted down so that they were on a level and began to talk again. “Lex, Mother and I have known for some time that you were troubled about something, and we’ve been praying. I don’t have any idea what’s brought on tonight’s action, but I know who’s at the root of it, and so do you in your heart. It’s Satan. And I know one other thing,” Beth continued, speaking calmly and quietly, but with absolute authority. “I know that whatever this is about, we are going to solve it together, just like we always have … you, Mom, me, and Jesus. We’re going to work through it and overcome it. You will not destroy your life or break our mother’s heart, and we’re going to get you back to where you were before this started!”

Again Maddison was amazed at her reaction. There was no hysterical crying or harsh questions or accusations. There was just a quiet determination and authority that made it obvious to him that this girl knew what she was talking about. Even in the midst of this hellish situation, this girl knew that they were going to win over this thing. She even had him believing it!

He envied the fact that, in spite of this horrible situation, she still believed. This woman has the kind of faith my parents have always had, he thought … the kind I thought I had. But she hasn’t lost her grip on hers the way I have.

Mr. Walker moved the second chair close so that Beth could be seated, and as she sat, she turned back to Lex, saying, “Now start at the beginning and tell me exactly what’s been happening. Tell us where you got the gun and who it belongs to, and don’t even try to leave anything out.”

For the next hour Lex told them how he’d begun to feel pressured to join one of the local gangs, how the robbery was part of his initiation, and how the gun wasn’t even loaded. A number of times Maddison groaned out loud at the stupidity of it all, but for the most part, he held himself in check. By 2:00 in the morning, however, he faced the inevitable. He didn’t know if it was the Christian, the cop, or the big brother in him that won out, but he finally admitted that he had to take the controlling hand in this boy’s situation.

The conversation had come to an end, and he felt as if he were on a stage, with the audience waiting for him to say his lines. “Okay,” he said, levering himself away from the old desk he’d been leaning on, “this is the way it’s coming down.” He looked at Lex. “It’s obvious you’re going to need a workable plan to keep you away from this gang and any other peers who are a bad influence. So we’re going to make one. How many hours are you in school through the week?”

“I don’t have to answer any of your questions! This is between me and Beth and Mr. Walker!”

“Lex!” Beth said. “Mr. Holt is trying to help us here!”

“Well, it’s none of his business!”

“Now that’s where you’re wrong, Lex.” Maddison said, looking the boy sternly in the eyes. “It’s very much my business. Keeping criminals off the street is my main business, and right now you fit the definition of the word criminal.”

Three pairs of stunned eyes looked at him, and Lex, who was the most shaken, asked, “Are you a cop?”

“I was a cop for ten years. Right now I’m a private investigator, but both jobs are all about putting criminals behind bars and keeping descent people safe.” As he spoke, he drew his identification from his pants’ pocket and handed it to Beth. While she looked at it, he continued talking to Lex. “Have you forgotten that I’m an eyewitness to your crime? I know the police officers in this area pretty well, and I guarantee you that if I take the facts of this case to them, they’ll have you behind bars in ten minutes tops. And by the time I testify in court, you’ll get a sentence that will keep you there a long time.

“If you don’t want that to happen … you’ll agree to whatever plan your sister and I work out, and you’ll stick with it. Now, I’ll ask you again … how many hours are you in school through the week?

“I get out at 2:00 in the afternoon, because I got put on the work program schedule so I could work here at the store.”

Maddison turned to Abel. “Any chance he could get his job back?”

“I could still use him from 4:00 to 9:00 three afternoons a week.”

Maddison nodded and then looked at Beth. “I assume you go to church regularly?” he asked, accepting his I.D. back and restoring it to his pocket.

“Oh, yes,” she answered. “We’re very active in our church. I came here to care for my mother, who was seriously ill, but now that she’s so much better, we’re both very involved in church again. And I work for the pastor in the office several hours a week, because his secretary just had a baby and needs more time off.”

Maddison nodded his head, obviously considering a number of thoughts at the same time. He sighed now, both from his own exhaustion, and from a sense of hurt on Beth’s behalf. She had obviously been loaded down with some serious problems with her mother’s health, and now she was trying to shoulder this responsibility too. He guessed that her father was deceased but felt that he needed to be sure before he could decide exactly how to proceed.

“Is your father deceased, Miss Hanover?”

“Yes, he went on to be with the Lord about five years ago. There’s just our mother now … and Lex and myself.”

“I see.” He sighed again. “Well, then, that being the case, while I don’t want to offend you by taking complete control, I do have the most experience in dealing with these situations, and I’m going to suggest the plan I think is best. If you see any major flaws in it from your perspective, you can say so.”

Beth nodded her head. “That sounds reasonable to me.”

“All right, young man,” he said, turning back to Lex. “You’ll go to school for all your classes. As soon as school is out, you’ll go straight home or come here to this back room, and you’ll do all your homework. If by some chance, you have no homework, you’ll study something else: your Bible, some book about a hobby you enjoy, or an encyclopedia if necessary … but you’ll spend the time from 2:00 to 4:00 studying something constructive.

“Three days a week you’ll work here from 4:00 to 9:00, and the other three workdays, I think the best thing to do is arrange for you to work at my uncle’s farm where I’ll be staying for the next month. That way I can keep an eye on you and help you stay out of trouble.”

He looked back to Beth now. “My uncle is Matthew Vickers, and his farm is just about five miles from here.”

At the mention of his uncle’s name, Beth’s eyes lit up, and Maddison noticed that Lex looked up with interest.

“Why, we know your uncle!” Beth exclaimed, a smile spreading across her face for the first time. “We all go to the same church.”

Maddison breathed another sigh, this time from relief. Maybe helping this family wouldn’t be such an uphill struggle after all. “Well, that makes things a little easier, then, doesn’t it?”

He turned his attention to Lex again. “Okay … every Sunday, you’ll go to church with your family and take part in whatever they feel is right. The rest of the day you’ll spend in their company or at home. Any free time you have you can spend with any friends who are welcome in your home, but they’ll come to your home to see you. You won’t go out and meet them anywhere else. You’ll stay on this plan for one month, and then we’ll see how things look.”

“But that’s practically like being in prison!”

Maddison walked over to stand in front of Lex, so close that he was almost touching him. When he spoke, his voice was a little husky, and his words were wrapped in a weariness that went beyond the physical. “Son, you don’t have an inkling of what being in prison is really like.” He sighed deeply. “And I hope with all my heart you never have to find out.”

“Lex,” Beth said now, laying her hand on his arm, “it does sound like a workable plan, and it’s what you need.” She looked up at Maddison again. “Did you say you’ll only be here a month?”

Maddison nodded. “I don’t normally stay that long, but I will this trip, and I’ll stay on top of things.” He looked back at Lex. “Now that’s the deal. Take it or leave it. I’m going out front and see if I can find myself some stale coffee while you think it over.”

“Oh, let me make you some fresh, Mr. Holt,” Abel offered, following him to the doorway.

“Don’t bother,” Maddison waved him back. “As tired as I am, I wouldn’t notice the difference. As long as it’s hot and caffeinated, it’ll keep me awake until I get where I’m going.”

He stuck his head around the door again a few seconds later, with a grin on his face. “By the way, I just remembered that I never did get any gas. I’m going out to fill up now.”

“You do that, Mr. Holt, and don’t you pay a penny. We owe you,” Abel said with a warm smile.

When Maddison entered the store again after filling his gas tank, Beth was waiting for him just inside the door. “Mr. Holt,” she said and extended her right hand to him.

Maddison closed his hand gently around hers. It fit into his perfectly, and with the connection, he felt something like a strong, warm current flow into him. I seemed so right, somehow, to keep standing there holding her hand in his own. In fact, he was concentrating so intently on that feeling that he almost missed her words.

“The Lord brought you to this store at just the right moment. I have no doubt about that. My whole family will be eternally in your debt.”

Embarrassed, Maddison did let go of her hand and ran his through his hair in what Beth thought was a rather endearing gesture. “Miss Hanover, you don’t owe me anything … particularly not if you believe God brought me here. He’s the One to thank. I’m just doing what I would have appreciated if … if it had been … my brother,” he said, his voice becoming husky.

“Oh, do you have a younger brother too?”

Maddison was stunned by the intensity of the wave of sorrow that rolled through him … and by the sense of having been assaulted … blindsided by such an innocent question. His hands curled into fists at his sides, and he swallowed hard. Beth could see that the question had disturbed him and felt bad, but helpless to change the situation now.

Finally, the stunned look left his eyes, and he refocused on Beth. “I did have.” Maddison spoke quietly, his face rigid.     “He was killed a couple of months ago.”

“Oh, I’m so very sorry.” Beth reached out and laid her hand gently on his arm. “Was it an accident?”

“No! … It was no accident!”

Beth looked at him expectantly, hoping he would tell her what had happened. Finally, with a sigh born of weariness and resignation, Maddison answered the question in her eyes.

“My brother” … He had to stop and clear his throat. “My brother was working with me on a case. … We got too close to the truth, and one of the guys we were after shot and killed him.”

He looked away again and just stared at nothing, obviously lost in thought and fighting for control. “But then again … I guess you could say it was something of an accident too.”

“I don’t think I understand,” said Beth.

“The man who shot my brother was trying to kill me.” He heard Beth’s quick, indrawn breath, and looked straight into her eyes as he added, “And I don’t understand either.”

Lex and Mr. Walker joined them at that moment, and Maddison welcomed the distraction. “Well, Lex, what have you decided?” he asked the boy, recognizing the look on his face. He’d seen it dozens of times on the faces of boys who had recently stumbled into accepting crime as their way of life. It was a mixture of shame for what they’d done and a kind of bitterness at being forced to take the consequences. But Lex’s face had softened considerably now, remorse getting the controlling hand, and Maddison felt hope for him.

“I’ll follow your plan, Mr. Holt … and … thank you,” he said, extending his right hand tentatively toward Maddison.

Maddison gripped his hand firmly. “Good. I’ll leave one of my business cards with the phone number at the farm on the back,” he said, as he proceeded to take three cards from his case and write on them. “I’ll leave one with your sister and Mr. Walker also.” Looking at Beth, he said, “I’d appreciate it if you’d give me your address and phone number too if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” she said. “I’ll write it down for you.” She quickly did so and handed him the slip of paper.

“What day will Lex begin work with you?” he asked Abel.

“Tomorrow afternoon at 4:00.”

“Good. I’ll be by some time during that shift to check on things and make more definite plans for the work at the farm. I’d better take the gun with me and lock it up,” he added, reaching under the counter and retrieving the plastic bag Abel had used for it, to avoid any more fingerprints. “I’ll get it into the hands of the proper authorities tomorrow.” At Beth’s look of alarm, he added, “I think I can manage to keep it from causing any more trouble for Lex at this point.”

His face wore just the hint of a tired smile now. “Well, … good night folks.” He nodded to all three in general and headed for his car.


Purchase SET FREE TO LOVE

Paperback: $7.75

Digital: $1.99

On sale this week only

~~~

Still In Love with Maddison Holt after All These Years

SET FREE AMAZON FRONT COVERIt all started the evening of Thanksgiving Day, 2002. I’d been toying with the idea for months, but hadn’t done anything about it. I’d written non-fiction books and articles for years – and for all sorts of venues – but the idea of sitting down and writing an entire novel was still just that: an idea. I knew I was ready to get started, but I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted the story to go. Thoughts popped in and out of my head, sometimes melding, but sometimes bouncing off each other, and I didn’t really have an entire plot settled in my mind yet. I did know the setting. I had just returned two months prior from my favorite place on the planet – The Great Smoky Mountains – and I knew for sure that I was going back there in the first novel I wrote.

I had spent most of Thanksgiving Day with my family – feasting, fellowshipping, celebrating. But I excused myself earlier than usual because I was anxious to get home and open up my Canon electric typewriter. I’d made up my mind that procrastination had come to an end, and the time had come to dive into my first novel.

And, yes, it’s true. I was still using a typewriter. I hadn’t moved into the computer age at all, and, quite frankly, had no intention of doing so at that time. I was perfectly happy pounding my little typewriter keyboard and hearing its quiet hum and the gentle, but efficient sound of its carriage return. The only desk in the house was so loaded with various kinds of office equipment that I didn’t even consider trying to clean it off enough to use it for the writing project. Besides, I didn’t have a chair that was comfortable to sit in for long periods of time if I used the desk. So after a little deliberation, I placed a rather large round footstool in the middle of my living room floor, sat my Canon on top of it, pulled up a chair that was just the right height, and sat down to write chapter one.

I didn’t have a title, of course, not being completely sure where I was going with this story. I had the beginning, and I wanted to get it down while it was fresh. Then after that, there would be time to do some more thinking and try to set down some sort of outline for the rest of the project. As a creative writing teacher, I always tell my students to follow their creativity, and when an idea is hot, get it into print right then. You don’t have to wait until you have the entire story in your head and have a clear outline printed out before you start. But once you have the material that was throbbing through your brain safely under wraps, then it’s a good idea to lay out some form of outline (although it can be very informal) to help keep yourself on track as you move through all the succeeding chapters.

I knew my main character, Maddison Holt. He was a private detective from the moment he came to life in my thoughts. I’d had plenty of experience with P. I’s. My husband, after years in regular law enforcement positions, had opened his own detective agency and managed it for many years. He hired others to work with him, and, believe me, after several years of hanging around with those detectives – and serving as secretary for some of those years and writing up their reports for my husband’s agency – I knew what a detective’s life was like. So I had that part pretty well covered. And, of course, I had planned a romance as part of the story all along. And, thankfully, I knew about romance as well – the good side and the bad side.

But as I wrote chapter one, I didn’t know Maddison nearly as well as I was going to before the novel was finished. He grew from chapter one and became a much more interesting and lovable person as he walked through his life-changing experiences.

Now, just in case a few of my readers are concerned that the name Maddison seems strange for a man, perhaps I’d better set the record straight. I’ve had one or two people mention that concern to me when they read the book. But, you see, the name Madison (or Maddison) was, for multiple decades, primarily a name given to boys – not girls.

That habit of naming children incurred a significant change in 1984, when the movie Splash came to the big screen. In that movie, the main female character – a mermaid who turns into a woman — discovers that, in order to function successfully with other people, she needs a name. As she’s walking down the street with the male lead, trying to decide on a name, she looks up and discovers a street sign for “Madison Avenue.” She decides that she likes the name Madison and adopts it for her own.

From that point on, and for at least the next decade, hundreds of baby girls found themselves christened “Madison,” and the tide was turned. Now the name is used for many more girls than boys, but, the truth is still the same. Madison is a good strong name for a man. I’m not sure why I gave my Maddison two d’s in his name. I did so without conscious thought, and once when I considered changing it, I just couldn’t seem to make myself do so. I knew him by that name, and he just wasn’t the same person if I changed his spelling. Call me peculiar if you’d like, but I’m the author, and I got to make that call.

Maddison was hurting when he first stepped onto the pages of Set Free To Love, and he had good reason. He was tormented by problems caused partly by the results of evil at work in this world, and partly by his own faulty thinking. But as he struggled to hold onto his faith in God – and as he learned to let God take control and work through His holy Word to change Maddison – the tide of battle turned, and Maddison came into the victory he so grievously needed. Other characters faced their own crises as well – which also affected Maddison – and they, too, learned to find their solutions in the Word of God. Readers of the book were drawn into the characters’ lives and their victories through God’s Word in ways that, hopefully, encouraged and inspired them as they proceeded through the book.

Well, Set Free To Love came out in the market place about twelve years ago, and since then, many readers have come to know and love Maddison Holt. And they’ve been inspired to trust God every day for His love and mercy in their own lives in the same way they experienced the characters in the book trusting God and receiving deliverance and victory in their lives.

The book has been my best-selling novel by far, and although I truly love all of the other eleven novels I’ve written – and I have to say I have no actual favorites – I can say without hesitation that SET FREE TO LOVE will always have the same special place in my heart that a firstborn child has in the heart of most mothers. And as for Maddison himself – well, let’s just say I’m as much in love with him as I was on Thanksgiving Day, 2002 – maybe more so. And why not? He’s been one of the best things to happen to me in my entire life.

This month is a special celebration month for me. Although I’ve had my books on the market for over twelve years, this month marks my third year of publishing with Amazon. So I’m celebration with a special sale on SET FREE TO LOVE. I’m also posting excerpts of the first three chapters. Just below this paragraph, you’ll find Chapter One, and in the next two posts coming up, you’ll find Chapter Two and Chapter Three respectively. Now, enjoy first excerpt below. And if you feel that you – just maybe – could fall in love with him too, hop on over to Amazon and order a copy of SET FREE TO LOVE for yourself.


SET FREE TO LOVE  –  EXCERPT

CHAPTER ONE

As his vision suddenly blurred, Maddison realized he’d let it happen again. He swiped at his eyes with a thumb and forefinger, trying at the same time to pinch back more tears. He’d have to pull off the highway, if he didn’t get better control of himself. The next moment, he could feel the anger boiling up from deep inside, needing an outlet. He’d swung back and forth like this relentlessly, between the tears and the anger for … how many weeks had it been now … way too many … but then not really enough … not enough to dull the pain or answer any of the questions.

He had cleared his vision in time to see the turn into the rest area he’d been anticipating for several miles. He parked in a space right in front of the two well lit buildings and managed to drag his body from the car, feeling as if every part of him were too heavy to move of its own volition.

Mmm-Mmm!” It felt so good to stretch arms and legs … and back and neck … and … everything, for that matter. His last stop had been almost six hours ago, and after driving that long without a break, just standing up and breathing the crisp night air felt like a blessing.

Maddison Holt was used to driving, though. It was part and parcel of his work. Ten years as a police officer had naturally included extended hours behind the wheel of a squad car, but since he had established his own detective agency eight years ago, he had really laid on the miles. Even the brand new Avalon he’d bought only a couple of months ago already registered past three thousand on the odometer.

He leaned against the side of that car now, breathing in the fall night, thinking that during those eight years, he must have made close to a hundred stops like this at public rest areas along the interstates he’d traveled. It was late enough that there was no one else around except a couple of truckers over on their side of the park, obviously getting in their required quota of sleep. That was good. He needed the stillness … the aloneness.

He was a tall man … six foot, two, and strongly built … all muscle. There hadn’t been time for any of it to turn to fat, and at forty, he knew it had been a blessing that he’d had to push himself hard enough to stay in shape. But his strength wasn’t all physical. Anyone who met him instantly recognized a power and authority that emanated from him without any conscious effort on his part.

His dark brown hair was streaked with gray, but that didn’t detract from his looks. He wasn’t exactly handsome; most of his features were unremarkable. But thick, curling, black lashes always drew attention immediately to his eyes … gray eyes that seemed to change their shade with every emotion. They lit up, flashing shades of silver and blue when he laughed, which rarely happened these days. But when his feelings became intense, they turned to charcoal. Tonight, though, they were just tired, red-streaked, and burning, from the strain of driving so long … and … he had to admit to himself … probably from all the hours of crying that had gone on intermittently over the past several weeks.

He wasn’t ashamed to cry, but … He shook his head now at his own thoughts. “Man!” His voice was gruff in the still night air. “I can’t even keep from crying any more! How does a tough cop get to be so weak that he just gives in to whatever feelings overpower him at the moment?”

But he finally pushed all these thoughts from his mind as he pushed himself away from the car and headed for the lighted building that housed the vending machines. Coffee, hot and strong, that’s what he needed right now. At least two cups, he thought, as he dug his wallet from his back pocket. “I hope these machines have plenty of change,” he muttered out loud. “I need a load of sugar too.”

He had thrown a couple of sandwiches and some soft drinks into a cooler on the floor of the car, but he had finished those off at the last rest stop, not stopping again until now even to go to the bathroom … a fact that he suddenly now realized needed to be remedied before he slipped this dollar bill into the machine.

Having taken care of that most pressing need, he sat down at one of the isolated tables and polished off a chocolate-coated ice cream bar and a twin-pack of chocolate cupcakes covered with icing, along with the already pre-determined two cups of coffee. Disposing of his trash and heading for the car, he spoke out loud in a surprised tone: “I do feel better!” He couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “I guess maybe it isn’t just the female gender who benefit from all that chocolate.”

Back on the interstate, he was glad traffic was light because his mind kept wandering. In about another three hours, he’d be turning gratefully into the long driveway at the farm. Uncle Matt’s farm … nestled in close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park … just close enough to Gatlinburg to benefit from any entertainment it offered, but just far enough out to miss the relentless press of the tourists.

How many times the two Holt brothers had made this journey together, pushing eagerly to get to the one place on earth they could always totally relax. … The Holt brothers … five years apart in age, but so close in spirit and soul. Maddison had been named for Grandfather Holt, and five years later, baby brother had come along and been christened after their only uncle, Matthew Vickers.

There it was again: the moisture in his eyes … the constriction in his throat… . Maybe he’d made a mistake deciding to come to the farm after all. There’d be so many memories. But he had to go somewhere where he couldn’t keep trying to work himself to death. His mother had certainly insisted that this was the right move. He smiled now at the thought.

What a mother he had! Refused to be dependent on any of her family, but wanted them all close enough to love on. He chuckled softly now as he remembered his last visit with her before leaving for Tennessee. She had speared him with those sharp, still bright, green eyes of hers, pointed her finger in his nose, and said, “Son, you get yourself down to your Uncle Matt’s, and don’t you come back until you and the Lord have got this all worked out, and you have peace and joy in your heart again.”

As he let out a deep sigh, he spoke out loud now, “Lord, when You chose a mother for Matt and me, You sure did a number one job. I know she was devastated by all that happened, and she didn’t need me leaving town so soon. But she could see that her big, strong, hunk-of-lawman son couldn’t handle the pain as well as she could and showed me the door. … Love doesn’t get any more unselfish than that.” He let his thoughts dwell on that truth for a moment or two. “Just take good care of her, Lord, and make her know that I love and appreciate her more than I can ever put into words …”

The big, slow yawn that sneaked up on him made him realize that he had actually started to relax while he’d been praying. “Thanks, Lord,” he spoke again softly. “Even when I don’t know if I can really believe or trust anymore, You’re still there.”

Maddison realized he was only about five miles from his uncle’s place when he passed a familiar convenience store. Seeing the gas pumps triggered an automatic glance at his gas gauge, and he almost choked. It was sitting on empty. As quickly as possible, he made a turn and headed back to the convenience store, chiding himself the whole time. “For crying out loud, Holt, you’ve been in police work for eighteen years! You know you keep your car filled up all the time!”

Just as Maddison slid his car even with the gas pump, the door of the convenience store burst open and a male figure wearing a blue ski mask ran through it and headed across the parking lot. He had ducked his head low. One arm was hidden beneath his jacket, and with the other, he jerked the mask off of his head as he ran, revealing enough of his face to make it obvious that he was only a youth. Just a few feet behind him came an elderly man shouting, “Stop! You can’t get away with robbery!”

Instinct and adrenaline kicked in at the same time, and before he could have a conscious thought, Maddison was out of the car and tackling the boy, bringing him to the ground. A gun flew from one of the kid’s hands and a brown paper bag fell from his jacket as he sprawled across the concrete drive.

From long habit, Maddison pinned the boy’s arms behind his back and hoisted him to his feet, just barely stopping himself before he recited the Miranda rights to him. By this time, the elderly store manager was beside them, and Maddison, straining to keep the resisting boy under control, spoke roughly: “I’ll stick around and help hold on to him until the police get here.”

“Oh, no … no, that won’t be necessary,” the manager said to Maddison, and then immediately addressed the boy. “Lex! It is you! I thought I recognized your voice. … Why Lex? … Why me? … Why at all?” … When he got no response, he turned back to Maddison. “There’s no need for the police,” he said. “We’ll have the money back, and nobody else needs to be involved … except his sister, of course. I’ll have to call Beth.

Wait a minute,” Maddison almost shouted, “what do you mean no need for the police? This is armed robbery! And I gather you know this stupid punk,” he added, as he jerked the boy into a position where he could force him to precede him back into the store. Then he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and thrust it at the manager with the order, “Pick up that gun with this, and be sure you take hold of it by the barrel! Get the bag too. I assume that’s where the money is,” he added, continuing to push the boy to the store. Maddison could see that the kid’s face was scraped and bleeding on the side where he had come into contact with the concrete, but the boy wasn’t saying a word, nor was he resisting quite as strongly as at first.

The store manager did as he had been ordered, retrieving the gun and the bag, and hurriedly followed them into the store, thankful there were no other customers. “Let’s go to the room at the back where we can talk,” he said.

All right by me,” Maddison replied, “but you get on that phone to the police, or I will. I can’t hang around here all night to see he doesn’t do you any worse harm!”

NO! PLEASE!” the manager urged, seemingly more agitated at the thought of the police than he had been by the robbery itself. “Please, let me explain,” he said as he ushered them into a small room accommodating two scarred wooden chairs and an old desk half buried beneath cardboard boxes and stacks of papers.

Maddison shoved the boy into the nearest chair with the threat, “Don’t even look like you want to move!” The boy’s only response was to pull his jacket back up onto his shoulders and hang his head.

“My name is Abel Walker,” the elderly man said as he extended his right hand to Maddison, “and I want to thank you … and … to explain. You see, I know this boy … Alex Hanover. He used to work for me, and he was a good worker. … He was a good kid … until he started running with a couple of local gang members. They need to be in jail, but not Lex. Jail would only do him more harm. He just needs enough time away from them to get his thinking straight again. I’m going to call his sister. It’ll break her heart, but she has to know. Will you just keep an eye on him until I can talk to her?”

Why not,” Maddison sighed. “I’m into it this far. I guess you might have a point … if you’re really sure this is his first offense.” He pulled the second chair in front of the door and sat down on it wearily. This was about the last thing he needed tonight. Some vacation. … Well, all the years on the force had drilled into him the fact that a law enforcement officer is never really off duty, but … man! … could he use some sleep! He could hear Abel Walker on the phone now in the other room, so he tried to follow the conversation.

“Beth, dear, this is Abel Walker. I’m down at the store. … Yes, it is late for me, but my night clerk couldn’t get his car started. But listen, Beth, Lex is down here … and … he’s in a little trouble. … He tried to rob the store … with a gun, I’m afraid. … Oh NO! NO! He didn’t shoot anybody! Nobody’s been hurt … except for a few scratches on Lex himself. But I thought you’d want to come down, and we’ll decide what to do. … No, I haven’t called the police. I don’t think that’s the solution, do you?”


SET FREE TO LOVE – On Sale This Week Only

Paperback: $7.75

Digital: $1.99

~~~

Hey, Jake, Wanna Buy a Book?

EVERYTHING'S JAKE COVER FOR FBBOOK SALE — ONE WEEK ONLY — STARTS TODAY

EVERYTHING’S JAKE

E-Book: $0.99

Paperback:  $4.00

It’s just a little love story. But, then again, it’s a whole lot more than a love story. It’s about finding out who you really are and learning to like that person – and discovering that liking who you are opens the door for the best relationships with other people. It’s about family – and friends who are just like family. It’s about letting God’s way of loving take control of your heart.

Meet Mariah Jacoby. She’s happiest working under the hood of a car, but she’s convinced that grimy hands and greasy smudges on her face aren’t exactly what guys are looking for in a girlfriend. Unfortunately, though, she’s having trouble holding down a job in any other field, despite college degrees and an upbeat personality. Desperate to change her unemployed status, she finally admits it’s time to face the fact that she’s really a “grease monkey” at heart, but dare she hope there’s a guy in her future who’s dreaming of a girl who smells like engine oil?

 

 


 

A Different Kind of Love Story

SLATE AMAZON PAPERBACK FINAL COVER - front A DIFFERENT KIND of Love Story.
With an ending you’ll never forget.
 

SLATE — On Sale This Week Only

Digital: $0.99
Paperback: $6.99

See the book trailer below. And find the books at this link:
_____________________

 

 

 


 

More Than Hugs & Kisses

It’s February, the month of love. Wouldn’t you like to read some satisfying love stories that give you a whole lot more than just hugs and kisses? I’d like to introduce you to four men who want very much to love and be loved, but who are facing some serious challenges to love that only God and His Word can overcome.

Private Detective Maddison Holt, who is so bound by grief, guilt ,and self-incrimination that he feels he has no right to have real love in his life. Pastor Cameron McDaniels, who has finally found the woman who is the answer to his prayers for a helpmate but discovers that, since losing a fiance, she is now afraid of loving anyone else at all. Lionel Butler has caused many a girl’s heart to flutter, but he never even notices because he’s convinced he’s destined to be a bad husband and father. His future looks bleak and empty. And violinist, conductor Jonah McDaniels, now in his 40’s, finally recognizes the one woman who can fill his heart and life, but is fearful that the age difference between them makes his situation hopeless.

When these four leading men in the “Smoky Mountain Series” novels put their faith and the Word of God to the test, they find the God of miracles is a master in the subject of true romance. There are plenty of hugs and kisses, to be sure, but sooooo much more in the “Smoky Mountain Series.”

Paperback or Digital at Amazon.

Find this series and more inspirational reading at this link:

 

 

~~~

A Happy Plug for a Happy Little Book

RALPH'S AMAZON COVER - frontA great friend and ministry colleague of mine, Pastor Ralph Brandon, has written a book of uplifting, life-enriching devotions, and it has recently become available on Amazon.

Ralph has served the Lord for more than 45 years as a pastor, professional Christian counselor, and founder and administrator of a large Christian school. He is also a columnist for two newspapers, and those columns have been so popular that his readers began to clamor for him to put those articles into a book.

So a few years ago, he did so. The book Stories From the Sunnyside of Life, offers a unique look at truths from God’s Word. What makes them unique is that he’s wrapped up these truths in stories filled with the “down-home” humor from his life experiences since childhood, growing up in a little hamlet known locally as “Sunnyside.” I’m going to let him tell you about his work in his own words below.
______________________________

“Nestled deeply into the southern portion of the state of Illinois, USA, is a little hamlet known as Sunnyside. I grew up there, and my wife Barbara and I still make our home there today. 

“That little hamlet — and the wonderful people who have populated it — have molded me in multiple ways, so it’s only natural that as I go about the work I’ve been assigned in this world — pastoring, professional counseling, teaching and administrating Christian schools — I find myself applying years of Sunnyside experiences to those endeavors. 

“So years ago, when I began writing a column for two local newspapers, I found myself sharing Sunnyside in my lessons and exhortations in those columns. As a result, readers began requesting me to put those articles into a book, and I finally complied. My first book “Stories From the Sunnyside of Life” is the result. 

“Early in my life, I discovered that the Lord has evidently given me a gift for comedy, and, to my joy, He has made much use of that gift as an asset in carrying out my work in every part of my service to Him. He’s made significant use of that gift in my writing. I love sharing the powerful, life-changing truths from God’s Word, and when I can offer those truths and lessons wrapped up in some of the “down-home” humor of life in Sunnyside, it’s a great delight. I’ve been thrilled and grateful to see how popular the first book is, and I’m looking forward to offering a second volume of similar stories in 2018.

“The Word of God says in Acts 17:26 that He “appointed … the boundaries of our habitation.” I thank God that He chose the boundaries of my habitation to be Sunnyside. The stories I share are not mine alone. They belong to all of those wonderful people.”
_______________________________

Ralph will be putting out a second volume of similar stories this year, but if you’d like to check out Book # 1, you can find it in digital or paperback HERE.

I hope many of you read it and find it a boost to your life and your faith.

 

 

~~~

Excerpts from my Christmas Anthology

STOCKING AMAZON COVER - frontHi, there dear readers. Merry Christmas!  It’s almost here. And today I’m posting a few excerpts from my Christmas Short Story Anthology:  STOCKING FULL OF STORIES.  Just five teasers, but hopefully they’ll give you the right idea.

‘What right idea is that?’ you ask. Why, the idea that you should hop over to Amazon and order a copy of the book just for yourself — or maybe someone you love — or maybe both. It’s available in digital and paperback RIGHT HERE.

Now for the teasers:

GOING HOME:

“I have a family somewhere. I must have. I can feel it. Admittedly, I don’t have a clue where they are, but I’ve made up my mind that I’ll find them.” I spoke the words somberly as Dr. Randall sat looking at me. I’d been thinking those same words over and over for weeks now, but today I’d decided to say them out loud. They sounded good, but they sent a shiver of fear coursing through me.

“But you’re sure you’ve had no flashes of memories since you regained consciousness?” Dr. Randall asked.

“None,” I responded, shaking my head. It still hurt when I moved it to any extent. I winced, and he walked over to the wall-mounted light, slapping up my latest x-ray for us to look at. He pointed to an area we’d been discussing for the past two months. “Well, this is encouraging, Peter (my choice of temporary names we’d resorted to since I had no identification on me.)

“What’s encouraging?”

“This area right here,” he said, running his index finger around in a circle over one spot on the picture of my brain. “It used to be covered in heavy shadows, if you remember.” I nodded.

“But those shadows are gone now. Yesterday’s CAT scan confirms what I’m seeing here – that the bleeding has stopped completely, and the last of the old blood is cleared away. The tissues look like they are almost normal again.”

“Then why can’t I remember anything?”

He sat back down, relaxing in his chair, his hands on the two armrests. “We don’t know, Peter. As I told you earlier, with memory, it’s sometimes as much an emotional recovery as a physical one that’s required for complete restoration. By the way, any idea yet why you chose the name Peter?”

I shook my head. “The frustration is almost unbearable, you know. It’s now my constant companion, and I fight really hard to keep it from driving me crazy.”

He sighed and straightened in his chair, resting his elbows on the desk in front of him. “I can only imagine – albeit that imagination is helped along considerably by all the research I’ve done and the other amnesia patients I’ve worked with.” He sighed gain. “And I always find myself a little frustrated as well. I want to remember for them, if you know what I mean.”

I nodded. “Yes, I can understand that.”

“I struggled terribly the first time or two that I worked with amnesia patients. All the textbooks and clinical studies didn’t prepare me adequately for the emotional trauma in the patient – or the emotional turmoil that the attending physician can find himself in. “But – ” He smiled suddenly. “The really good news is that in every one of the twenty cases I’ve been associated with, the patient regained either all or most of his memory.

“There were two patients whose memories for certain segments of life remained fleeting. But even those two people were able to recognize close family and friends again and were able to return to their normal occupations – one with a short period of re-training in some complex work that his job required. So the future looks bright, Peter. And, as I’ve said several times already, keeping a positive attitude and positive thoughts can make a world of difference.”

“I’ll keep trying, Doctor,” I said on a sigh as I rose to go.

“And don’t discount prayer, my friend. Pastor Patterson, who’s been visiting you and praying for you, has seen some pretty heavy-duty miracles in his ministry.”

“I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

“Oh, have you changed your mind about the online search?”

“Not as of this morning. I understand that, considering I was found beaten up out in a field, the police naturally had to run my picture through their data base. And I don’t mind telling you that I heaved a huge sigh of relief when that didn’t turn up anything. But I still can’t bear the idea of seeing my picture plastered all over the internet with a plea for someone to tell me who I am. Just the thought of how vulnerable that makes me has been too much to deal with.

“But … my resolve on the subject is beginning to weaken. It’s almost Christmas, and although the townspeople have been very hospitable to me, I don’t want to feel I’m the object of charity at some family’s Christmas gathering. I want to be home for Christmas!”

I couldn’t hold back a chuckle as I added, “In fact, I was at the library yesterday, and I checked out a holiday CD with that song, ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ as the first track. I’ve already played it a dozen times.”

Dr. Randall’s eyes lit up. “That’s good; that’s good. Keep playing it. Something within the deepest part of you led you to that song, and who knows what keys it may hold to open doors for you.”

As I put on my coat, I asked one more question: “Now that the bleeding has stopped, can I start working around the farm for the Morgans? They’ve given me free room and board and spending money for five weeks now – ever since I got out of the hospital.”

“I’d say you’re fine to do a little work, but keep it to just three or four hours a day for the rest of this week, and we’ll see how it goes. If the headaches get worse, stop and lie down a while.”

As I left the office I felt lighter than I had for weeks. At least I would be able to repay Edgar and Becky Morgan for their kindness in taking me into their home when I had no place to go – no money – no extra clothes – not even a name. But someday ….


 

SURPRISE!

. . .
“Vicky, we’ve got problems,” Dale Springer said as he entered Victoria’s office on the top floor of Springer’s Department Store.

“What’s up?”

“All those mannequins we ordered to use in our front Christmas window have been in an accident.”

“What kind of accident can dummies get into?”

“A real accident – auto accident – well, in this case a truck accident.”

“Oh, you mean the truck they were shipped in.”

“Right, and evidently all the merchandise in that truck was totaled. There will be no mannequins in time for the display to go in by Black Friday.”

Victoria leaned back in her chair and rubbed the back of her aching neck. She’d been working day and night the past two weeks – partly because she was trying to get Steve Templeton off her mind – and partly because, as head of the window display division at Springer’s, her busiest season was in full swing. She let out a deep sigh. “Well … I’ll have to think of something. Thanks for letting me know as soon as you could, Dale.”

“Sure thing.” He turned to leave, but then turned back. “You know, I thought those mechanical mannequins were a terrific idea. That scene you described to me would really be an eye-catcher. The scenes would have looked like real life. Too bad,” he said and finally started down the hall.

“Yeah,” Victoria said, even though she knew Dale was already too far down the hall to hear her response. “That was the idea. To look like real
li – ” She stopped mid-sentence because an idea had struck full force. It would mean going out on a limb, but did she actually have much choice?

As her mental wheels continued to turn, excitement began to build. “Yep. I really believe it will work,” she told herself out loud and swung around in her chair to reach for her Rolodex. Her list of close acquaintances included two agents in the city who each had a long list of actors who were out of work or looking for more publicity. They should be a lot of help.

The following morning, Dale was back in her office. “Sonya just told me about the all-out search for live actors for our window. Are you sure this is going to be cost-effective, Vicky? It’s a lot of money.”

“Now, Dale, you said yourself that the idea of a scene that looked like real life would attract a lot of attention – and that converts to a lot of buyers – which converts to lots of money. We’ll be a sensation, and just think, we will be setting the bar high this year. All of our competitors will be scurrying to try to catch up.”

“Well … I admit that knowing Springer’s is leading the way in innovative advertising has a nice ring to it. Okay … I’ll back you on this, but … by jingles, girl, you’d better make it good enough to pay off.”

Victoria gave him two thumbs up and grinned at him.

Two days later, Steve Templeton entered her office. He hesitated at the door, but she put on her business face and greeted him with a smile. “Good morning, Steve. I bet you’ve come about the window display.”

“Well, my agent sent me over. He said you were racing the clock on your displays and wanted live actors. But if you’re uncomfortable …”

“Don’t be silly, Steve. Our relationship is in the past. All I’m concerned about right now is getting enough actors to do our front Christmas window. We hope to make a dramatic impact this year, and we need a real hunk to pull it off – after all it’s the window that covers half the front of the store.”

Steve preened and sat down in a chair opposite her desk. “Well, if that’s what you need, this is your lucky day, Vic. It’s just too bad I can’t clone myself, isn’t it.”

Victoria pasted on another false smile and said, “The hours are 10:00 to 6:00 with a break for lunch, and the actors will take turns working every other day so that no one gets too tired.”

“Hey, that’s not necessary. I can do every day from now ’til Christmas if you want. And let’s face it, there aren’t too many of us who can fill the bill,” he added, sliding his hand lovingly over his trendy hair.

. . .


FIVE VIGNETTES: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
(A Futuristic Look at Characters from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol )

# 1 Ebeneezer the Suitor

Ebenezer had never felt his heart stop beating before. Was that what was happening, or was he just forgetting to breathe? He wasn’t sure, but He did know he was looking at the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen, and he was glad he’d worn the new suit.

“Ebenezer, meet my cousin, Marilee Cratchit,” said Bob.

Marilee extended her hand, and Scrooge took it, becoming submerged in the magical cloud of her cologne. He’d been nervous about attending this party, but since his regeneration on Christmas day last year, he was welcomed everywhere. Right now he felt ten feet off the ground. It seemed being a kind, generous man really was the most important thing in life.

“Ebeneezer, I’ve been very eager to meet you,” Marilee cooed. “Come sit with me and talk.”

He was so thrilled he could have danced. He couldn’t believe anyone so beautiful and fragile would be interested in spending time with him. His heart skipped a couple beats as he wondered: was he actually going to get another chance at love?

“What shall we talk about?” he asked her, contemplating ways to express his renewed heart to her. Ever since his transformation, he found that he wanted to tell everyone how good life was when you learned that people are more important than money.

“I’d like to talk about your money, of course!” she said.

. . .

# 3 The Spirit of Christmas Past: Request For Transfer

“Mr. Alexander, the Spirit of Christmas Past is here for his 2:00 appointment.”

“Send him in.”

As the door opened, his boss could see that Past was unhappy.

“Good to see you, Past. We haven’t had a talk in – what – three or four years?”

“Four years, Sir,” Past said, taking a seat.

“I get a lot of good reports about your work. But you look unhappy. Is something wrong?”

“Yes, Sir. Something’s very wrong!”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Can I help?”

“Well, Sir, I was wondering if I couldn’t trade places with Christmas Present for a while.”

“But you’re an expert at what you do, Past. Why would you want to have to learn a whole new job?”

“Because I never get a chance to use any of the new stuff, sir – any of the new technology and advanced equipment and devices that men have invented in the last several decades. I never get to play video games, or use cell phones, or those gadgets they call iPods. Why, do you realize I’ve never even had a chance to use a computer?”

“Well, I have to admit that I hadn’t given that point any thought, Past, but you don’t need any of those devices in your work, do you?”

“That’s just the point, sir. I don’t need any of those things in my work, so I get none of the fun involved with using them. And there’s something else that’s just recently come out – a brand new thing-a-ma-jig that they call Google Glass. Wow! It looks like a blast!”

“Google glass, huh?”

“Yes sir.”

Mr. Alexander just shook his head in consternation. He didn’t understand all this new-fangled equipment either, but that fact hadn’t bothered him before now. Maybe he was starting to fall behind himself. He looked back at Past, unsure what to say because he knew there was no way The Boss would go along with moving Past to a totally new time dimension.

Past looked at him hopefully. “It just isn’t fair, Sir! And that’s why I’m asking for a transfer. I was sure you’d understand when I explained.”

Mr. Alexander leaned back in his chair and looked at Past kindly. “Let me think this over for a bit, Past, and, of course, I’ll have to run it by The Boss.

One week later, Past walked back into Mr. Alexander’s office, having been summoned there to discuss the troubling issue again.

. . .


THE RESCUE

The old woman knelt shivering before the tombstone as her husband pulled away a pile of decayed leaves that seemed to cling defiantly to its base in spite of the wind that whipped at them repeatedly. It wasn’t bitterly cold — at least not like it had been many other Decembers in this city. But the wind was always stronger up here at the cemetery, and today, with no sun smiling down its warmth, the chill just seemed to beat its way into their elderly bones. Of course, sorrow had its own chill, and sometimes it was hard to tell if the icy feeling came more from the weather or from the pain within.

The old man finished his work and then joined her, slowing sinking to his own knees and removing his warm felt hat. Tears glistened in his eyes, but he wouldn’t let them fall. He had to be strong for her right now. He glanced sideways at her, seeing the tears flowing freely down her cheeks. She kept pressing her handkerchief to her face, to try to stem the bitter stream, but it did no good.

It had been a year and a half now since they had lost their second son. He had followed his brother into military service and then into war … and, finally, into the grave.

The old man shuddered out a deep sigh. He had brought his new bride to this country just one year before their first son had been born, and it had been a time of promise and happy expectation. The Lord had blessed them with two handsome, healthy sons, and they had been the sweetest blessing life had to give. He sighed now as he thought back over the years of raising two strong-willed, but tender-hearted boys. They had all been so happy … until ….

But he shook off the heaviness of those years of war … and the funerals … and the nights of wishing he could have gone in their stead. He knew his boys weren’t really in these graves here. He knew that for certain. They had believed in Jesus Christ, both of them, from the time they had been tiny little curly-haired boys. And they were in Heaven now. He couldn’t grieve for them, but for himself and his beloved wife … he couldn’t not grieve.

He leaned over toward her and put his arm around her shoulders now. “The wreaths look lovely, my dear. You’ve done yourself proud. I think these are the most beautiful you’ve ever made.” And she had made some beautiful flower arrangements, this wife of his. It had been her life’s work and a great joy at one time. Now, it seemed to always remind her of the need for flowers on these graves, and she took no joy in the work of her hands. Still … it kept her from sitting and mourning all the time, so he encouraged her to keep the business going.

And the money helped. There was no doubt about that. His pension and the little bit he made working as the church custodian were just enough to enable them to keep their house, modest as it was, and to cover their basic utilities.

But … with both their incomes … and with a little extra help from the Lord from time to time … they lived well enough. And every year at this Christmas season they pulled out their special bank … the little treasure box where they had put aside a very small offering each morning during their prayer time with the Lord. They paid the tithes on their monthly income faithfully, of course, but this little extra offering represented their desire to do more than just what was expected of them. And each Christmas they asked the Lord what He would have them do with the money to help someone not as fortunate as they.

The old man smiled to himself now. Christmas Eve was just three days away. They needed to get to asking the Lord what His plan was for this year. He leaned over and kissed his wife on the cheek. “Come, Mama. We need to get into the warm. The wind is getting bitter.” She allowed him to help her rise from her knees and pull her coat tighter around her neck.

The wool scarf she wore on her head had almost blown off, and he straightened that too and then placed his hands tenderly on either side of her worn face. “Our wonderful boys are warm and safe in Heaven, Mama … looking down on these wreathes you have made for them and feeling proud. Now … we will go home and fix some hot cocoa and take out our silver bank and have our talk with the Lord about His plans for the money, hmm?”

She nodded her head in agreement, and they turned together to plod arm-in-arm out of the cemetery and down the lane to their car.

As they entered their back door, he stopped a moment and breathed deeply. “Ahhh . . . your kitchen still smells like molasses cookies and shortbread, Mama,” he said, pinching her cheek tenderly and grinning at her. “What do you say we have some with our cocoa?”

His wife was taking off her scarf and coat and hanging them on the pegs beside the door. “You’ll ruin your supper if you eat all that sugar right now, Papa,” she scolded him. It never occurred to either of them to refrain from calling each other by those names, even though they had no children living now. They had rarely called each other anything else since their two little ones had started talking and calling them by those names. It had thrilled them so to be parents that they took pride in the names and wore them like crowns of honor.

Now he hung his coat and hat beside hers and grabbed her around the waist with both hands and began waltzing her around the kitchen. “Well, I have the solution to that!” he announced boldly. “We’ll just have molasses cookies and Scottish shortbread for our supper!”

“Now listen to you go on. What kind of supper is that?”

“Well … we’ll have a chunk of that delicious cheese you bought yesterday along with it, for protein,” he announced, as if that solved the whole question, whirling her around one last time and depositing her in a chair beside the table. At least she was laughing now, and that gave his heart a little ease. “You make the cocoa, and I’ll go get the treasure box.”

So while the milk warmed on the stove, Mama set the food out on the table. She was pouring out the cocoa when he returned carrying a small silver box that looked a little like a treasure chest. “Here it is, Mama,” he said setting it in the middle of the table and taking a seat beside her. “Now, let us thank the Lord for our food and enjoy it while the cocoa is good and hot, and then … then we shall count the money!”

When they had eaten their fill, and their faces were rosy with the warmth of the kitchen and the good food, they moved their utensils out of the way, and Papa pulled the box to him, unlocking it with the key that he always kept tucked away in his top dresser drawer. He dumped out the contents and began to straighten out the paper and sort the coins. “You count the coins, Mama, while I count the bills,” he said, and so they sat quietly, adding up their respective parts of the treasure.

When he was done, Papa picked up the little pad and pencil that he also kept in the box and wrote down his amount. Then he wrote down the amount Mama had in coins and added them together. He looked up at her beaming. “Mama, God has truly blessed us this year. We have put a total of six hundred, fourteen dollars, and seventy-two cents in our bank!”

“Oh, that’s more than last year or the year before either one!” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So after having a cozy breakfast, the couple loaded the flowers into the car and headed into the main part of the city. As they passed the corner one block from the church, they noticed a small boy sitting on a concrete bench on the sidewalk. “Would you look at that little tyke, Papa,” Mama said with a chuckle. “He’s bundled up all the way to his nose.”

“Well it is awfully cold,” Papa answered. “Wonder what he’s doing sitting there all by himself.”

“Oh, his mama probably told him to stay put while she ran into the bank behind the bench there.”

“Mmmm, probably, but … I don’t know … in these times, I don’t think I’d leave my little boy sitting by himself for even that long in a city this big.”

Mama sighed, “I know, Papa. Sometimes it seems to me that parents don’t take the dangers waiting for their little ones seriously enough.”

“Well, here we are,” Papa said in a more cheerful voice as he slowed down to look for a parking place close to the first store. “Are you sure you want to walk back down to the church? I can come and get you, you know.”

“Oh, Papa! Don’t be silly. It’s only two blocks. You just carry in one of the arrangements for me, and as soon as I’m done here, I can manage to carry the last one on to the shop two doors down. I’m sure they’ll both want to talk a few minutes, and then I’ll come down to the church to meet you.”

“Okay,” he answered, sliding into one of the few parking spots left on the street in this part of the city. While Mama carried the arrangement for the proprietor of this first shop, Papa carried in the other piece and set it down where Mama could get to it easily. He went on to the church and began his work, stopping almost an hour later when he realized that Mama had not returned yet. But just as he started down the hallway to the outside door to check on her, she walked in, bringing the biting air from outside with her, but flushed with a smile and twinkling eyes.

“Oh, Papa, they raved about my arrangements! They said they’d never seen anything they liked any better!”

He hugged her. “Well, of course, Mama! What else did you expect with your talent for working with flowers?”

“Thank you, Papa, but I happen to know you’re just a little prejudiced,” she said, pinching his cheek gently. “But come … I’ll help you with your work.”

So they worked side by side, finishing up the day’s list of tasks by noon, and left the church together. As they drove back the way they had come, they noticed that the small boy was still at the same corner, sitting on the bench alone.

“He’s been there all morning, do you think, Papa?” Mama asked, her tone beginning to sound worried. Papa looked at the boy as they passed and noticed that he kept looking in both directions, stretching his neck as if looking for someone or something in particular.

. . .


To read the rest of these stories — and all eleven stories — hop over to the Amazon store and get your copy.
Digital: $1.99
Paperback: $5.50

I hope you enjoy the reading as much as I enjoyed the writing.  🙂

~~~

Simon Stone Mystery – Daily Post Prompt

CHAPTER ONE

Deanna Forbes sat straight in the uncomfortable wooden chair. She kept her shoulders back and her right leg crossed over her left knee, making sure to hold her foot perfectly still. That effort, along with the pleasant expression on her face, cost her considerable energy, but she was a strong-willed woman and had had a lot of practice at maintaining proper demeanor.

Her ash blond hair, blunt cut to just below her jawline, was shiny smooth and added to her cool, collected composure. Only her gray eyes darted from place to place, taking in all the details of her surroundings and keeping up with her rapidly shifting thoughts.

“Now, Ms Forbes,” Detective Simon Stone addressed her from the opposite side of the table where they sat in the interrogation room. Her eyes focused totally on him as he continued. “I have here your earlier statement that you were with friends at a private party the evening Peter Crandell was shot, but so far, our office hasn’t been able to make contact with any of these – uh – friends.” As he said the last word, his left eyebrow lifted in a question, and his blue eyes pinned her.

The implication that real friendship was somewhat lacking here wasn’t lost on Deanna, but she couldn’t seem to keep herself from focusing on those eyes – well – on his whole appearance, which was commandingly attractive: dark complexion, black, wavy hair, and strong brows – all accented by the most brilliantly blue eyes she’d ever seen on a man. This meeting was the second time she’d sat with Simon Stone for questioning, and both times his extravagant good looks and his virile, no-nonsense manner, coupled with a surprisingly melodious voice, had interfered with her efforts to concentrate. That wasn’t good — not good at all. She needed all her wits about her for this one.

“Well, Detective Stone, as I explained in my original statement, it was a bon voyage party, and two of the couples were sailing that night. The other two couples live in Montrose, some 100 miles from here, so God only knows where they may be by this week. Besides – as I also said previously – you won’t find anyone who honestly thinks I had a motive for killing Peter Crandell. Why on earth would I want poor Peter dead?”

“I don’t know that you did want him dead, Ms Forbes. But right now we can’t rule out anyone who knew him, and an alibi for your whereabouts at the time of death is crucial.” There was a knock at the door of the interrogation room, and Stone got up to answer it. After the briefest whispered conversation, he turned to Deanna. “Excuse me a moment, Ms Forbes. I’ll be right back with you.” He then stepped out into the hall to continue the conversation.

After a good five minutes, he returned with a smile on his face. “Well, good news: “ he said, closing the door and returning to his seat at the table, “our men have finally made contact with one of the couples from the bon voyage party. They have corroborated your alibi completely, so it looks as though you’re free to go. I’m sorry we had to detain you so long.”

Deanna smiled widely. “That is good news, Detective. And I’m glad to know you think so too. I’d hate to have you believe I was guilty of such a terrible act as shooting someone.”

“Just because we question a person doesn’t necessarily mean we believe they committed the crime, Ms Forbes. But in cases like this, there are usually a number of people who are possible suspects until we can find good reason to eliminate them from the list.”

“I understand, Detective Stone. But I want to make sure I have the facts right: You are saying that your department no longer consider me a suspect in the shooting of Peter Crandell. Is that correct?”

Stone smiled. “You are correct, Ms Forbes,” he said and rose from his chair.

Deanna rose as well, and on a sudden impulse, she said, “Well … now that we’ve got all that matter cleared up, I wonder if you might consider having dinner with me tomorrow evening, Detective Stone. I feel I’d like to get to know you better.”

Stone’s first response was one of surprise, but it registered only momentarily. His easy smile replaced it, a smile that reached his eyes, and Deanna suddenly realized that it was that smile that came from deep inside of him that made him particularly attractive.

“I should be free tomorrow evening ─ barring some unexpected homicide, that is,” he said with a grin. “Do you have a particular place in mind?”

“I like dining at The Captain’s Table in the restored lighthouse a little south of the city. Do you know it?”

“Yes, I’m familiar with it. I enjoy it myself. Shall I pick you up?”

“It’s probably better if I meet you there. Say 7:00?”

“Fine. I’ll look forward to it, Ms Forbes.”

Deanna smiled widely again. “Why don’t you just call me Dee? All my friends do, and I think we could become friends now that this nasty murder business is behind us.”

“Well, then, Dee,” he said moving to the door and holding it open for her, “I’ll see you at The Captain’s Table at 7:00 tomorrow evening.”

“Good bye Detective Stone.” She smiled again and gave him a questioning look. “Perhaps you’ll give me permission to call you Simon when we meet for dinner.”

“Perhaps I shall,” he answered with a teasing grin. Deanna turned and walked out of the office and exited the police station without looking back. Keeping her back straight and her head up was second nature to her; smiling at everyone she passed didn’t come quite so naturally. However, she was determined not to let that smile slip until she was well out of sight of any law enforcement officers.

Simon Stone returned to his own desk and filled out his report on the interrogation – but he didn’t sign off on it. Instead, he entered Deanna Forbes’ name into a data base he used only when the normal sites failed to give him satisfactory information. He waited, holding his breath.

In the meantime, Deanna Forbes sat behind the wheel of her Lexus. Driving back to her home, she questioned her own sanity. Why on earth had she invited Simon Stone to dinner? Well, she knew the answer on the surface, of course: he was stunning, sexy, and captivating. He was also dangerous, but she had lived with danger most of her life.

Having been raised by a drunken father who came home to beat up on his wife and two kids on a regular basis ─ and then living with a grandmother who ran a gambling casino, with all the attending crime element casinos attracted ─ she was no stranger to dealing with danger and its threats to her own peace and security. In fact, sometimes she wondered if she had become too comfortable with danger. Maybe that’s why she’d never stuck with any relationships in the past that didn’t carry with them any kind of threat.

She shrugged her shoulders now. Oh well, her die was cast. She was having dinner with a man who, up until an hour ago, had considered her a possible murderer. Come to think of it, he hadn’t told her which couple had corroborated her alibi for that night. Of course, all six of the other guests had been so drunk that they couldn’t have been sure about who was there and who wasn’t.

One thing about most of her friends: they were so irresponsible in their own lives that they didn’t think twice about checking up on anyone else to make sure they weren’t doing something they shouldn’t be doing. It would never occur to them that one of their guests might have slipped away from the group long enough to put old Peter away and slipped right back into the crowd as if nothing had transpired except a trip to the bathroom.


INNOCENT FRONT COVER = AMAZONThe mystery continues in book #1 of the Simon Stone Detective Series.
Read all of INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. Available in paperback and digital at Amazon.

 

Daily Post Prompt: Mystery

 

 

~~~

Read It If You Dare . . .

Read it if you dare: You’ll never look at Halloween the same way again.

RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT: Supernatural Warfare in Inspirational Fiction

LAST 4 DAYS ON SALE

When a small coastal town is invaded by witchcraft that threatens the lives of the school children and the future of the entire community, the citizens must learn to fight back with a Higher Power.

Exhausted after a battle with supernatural forces, Sheriff Noah Bennett, with his white stallion Moondancer, travels to a small coastal community seeking rest and healing for his battered soul. While there, he befriends David, a 6-year-old boy who loves horses, and his aunt, beautiful Serenity Lawrence.

But the same forces of evil that invaded his own hometown have now invaded this small haven, and Noah must decide if he’s ready to be used as an instrument in God’s hands again to apply the principles of His Kingdom in defeating these powers once more. It will mean setting aside his recuperation – and his budding romance – until the job is done.

Can he teach the believers of Hamsted how to use the name of Jesus and His blood to destroy the witchcraft and the Satanic roots behind it? And is he willing? Walk through this journey with Noah, as he struggles to find a way to overcome his own fear and weakness in order to commit himself to fighting a new battle with forces from beyond this world.

Experience the power of God as angels and demons engage on the spiritual plane while believers discover the truth about their position of authority and their victory in the name of Jesus Christ and His blood.

RACING AMAZON COVER = 2 LINES - FRONT

Paperback and Digital — ON SALE at Amazon throughout October.
Paperback regularly sells for $10.49,  but you can buy it this month for $9.00
Digital is slashed from $3.99 to $2.99 until midnight October 31.

October Sale – ‘Racing Toward The Light’

Read it if you dare,
and you’ll never look at Halloween the same way again.

 

RACING AMAZON COVER = 2 LINES - FRONT

When a small coastal town is invaded by witchcraft that threatens the lives of the school children and the future of the entire community, the citizens must learn to fight back with a Higher Power.

Exhausted after a battle with supernatural forces, Sheriff Noah Bennett, with his white stallion Moondancer, travels to a small coastal community seeking rest and healing for his battered soul. While there, he befriends David, a 6-year-old boy who loves horses, and his aunt, beautiful Serenity Lawrence.

But the same forces of evil that invaded his own hometown have now invaded this small haven, and Noah must decide if he’s ready to be used as an instrument in God’s hands again to apply the principles of His Kingdom in defeating these powers once more. It will mean setting aside his recuperation – and his budding romance – until the job is done.

Can he teach the believers of Hamsted how to use the name of Jesus and His blood to destroy the witchcraft and the Satanic roots behind it? And is he willing? Walk through this journey with Noah, as he struggles to find a way to overcome his own fear and weakness in order to commit himself to fighting a new battle with forces from beyond this world.

Experience the power of God as angels and demons engage on the spiritual plane while believers discover the truth about their position of authority and their victory in the name of Jesus Christ and His blood.

Paperback and Digital — ON SALE at Amazon throughout October.
Paperback regularly sells for $10.49,  but you can buy it this month for $9.00
Digital is slashed from $3.99 to $2.99 until midnight October 31.

 

 

***

Lost Without A Trace: Daily Post Prompt

 

SLATE AMAZON PAPERBACK FINAL COVER - frontToday’s Daily Post Prompt –Trace — gives me the perfect opportunity to plug one of my newest inspirational novels: SLATE.  The story of Slate and Vanessa plays out over a second story concerning Vanessa’s brother Ken. A private investigator, Ken traces a young girl from her home in Missouri to the Gulf coast of Florida, but then Ken himself suddenly disappears without a trace. That event causes Vanessa to head to Florida to look for him, and from the day she arrives and meets Slate, her life is changed forever. So is Slate’s.

Inspirational Fiction: Digital or Paperback at Amazon.

HERE’S 2 EXCERPTS:

From Chapter 1:

He hopped out of the metallic-blue corvette convertible, tossing his cigarette down and extinguishing it with his boot, then set off down the sidewalk toward Katy’s Koffee Korner. He walked with a definite swagger, and it was hard to tell if it was because of or in spite of the almost skin-tight blue jeans that covered his long legs. His light blue sleeveless, knit shirt exposed brown, sinewy arms and hugged a tight stomach before being swallowed up by the leather belted waistline that sported a gold buckle shaped like a pirate ship.

His hair was such a dark brown it looked black in certain light, and although he didn’t wear it long, any activity on his part, or the slightest of breezes, kept throwing one thick lock across his forehead. In spite of the fact that he brushed his hand through it periodically, that one lock just seemed to have a mind of its own.

As he passed a bench on the sidewalk where two older men sat chatting over Styrofoam cups of coffee, one of the men called to him, chuckling.

“Hear you spent the night in the clink again last Friday, Slate.”

The man he’d addressed stopped long enough to grin at him and then wink. “Trying to save on my electric bills, Chet.” Both of the old boys laughed, enjoying the little joke, as they did almost any little bit of conversation throughout the day as they sat on their favorite bench, trying to ease the tedium of their otherwise empty lives.

“Coffee’s especially good this morning,” Chet replied now, holding up his half-empty cup and motioning toward the café behind where he and his friend sat.

“I’m just on my way in to try it,” Slate answered and, giving them a thumbs-up sign, turned in to the doorway and opened the door to the Koffee Korner. …

This morning, though, Hally was on duty, and she always kept an eye out for Slate. She liked to wait on him … and flirt with him. Actually, she liked to flirt with him … and she tolerated having to work as a waitress in order to get the chance to do some serious flirting. Of course she didn’t save all of her attention for Slate. She shared it with several of the other men in town, but Slate was one of her favorites. He had taken her out two different times several months ago, and both times had proved to be the kind of night she liked … the kind that didn’t end until the following morning. …

While he ate, stopping every now and then to say something to one of the other patrons who passed his booth on the way to the restroom or back, Slate glanced over at the woman across from him. She had raised her head now and was sipping her coffee, her eyes closed. Her hair was a warm light brown shade, with just a tinge of highlights from the sun here and there. It barely skimmed her shoulders in soft waves. Her features weren’t classically beautiful, but she was really pleasant to look at. Her complexion was unblemished, and her eyes and eyebrows seemed to be etched in at exactly the right angles to highlight her whole face. Her mouth was rather wide, and her lips looked as if an artist had sculptured them. Yes, all in all, the sight was something he took pleasure in this morning.

He’d evidently taken just a little too much pleasure, because he’d been staring. Suddenly, she looked up and right at him, a question in her large, brown eyes. Almost exactly the color of a copper penny, Slate thought to himself as his attention focused on those eyes. He was caught off guard by the vulnerable look on her face, and instinctively he smiled his most genuine smile at her and then went back to concentrating on his food. A minute later, he heard her conversation with the waitress who had come back to bring her a fresh carafe of coffee.

“Can you give me exact directions from here to the Sandstone Motel?” she asked.

“Sure, Hon. It isn’t hard. I’ll write it down for you and be right back.”

“Thank you,” she answered, smiling and lighting up her face for just a moment, but when the waitress left, she went back to rubbing her temples and then her eyes. She finally leaned her head back against the high divider of her booth and closed her eyes, but Slate, glancing sideways at her, noticed a couple of tears trickling down her cheeks. After a minute more, she took a deep breath and opened her eyes, wiping the tears from her face with her hands, and by that time the waitress was back with her directions.

“Thank you so much,” she said and handed the waitress some bills. “This is for you.”

“Thanks, and you come and see us again, Okay?”

“If I have time,” she said smiling slightly at the retreating waitress, and then she slid out of her seat and stood up. Before she could take a step, she swayed and reached for the back of the booth to regain her balance. She was sitting in the last booth across from him, and no one else had noticed the unusual action. She sat back down on the edge of the booth, holding her head. Slate had learned better than to interfere in someone else’s business, but something about her just seemed so vulnerable that he couldn’t keep from getting up and walking over to her booth.

“Are you all right, Miss?” he asked, resting one hand on the table and leaning towards her. She looked up at him then, her eyes registering her pain.

“Yes,” she answered in almost a whisper. Then she cleared her throat and tried to speak louder. “It’s just this stupid migraine headache. They often make me woozy. Eating should help, but I guess the food just hasn’t had time to get into my system yet. I’ll just sit here another minute. Thanks,” she added, smiling wanly.

Slate sat down in the other side of the booth. “How about another cup of coffee?”

She turned back into the normal sitting position in the booth and nodded her head as he picked up the carafe and poured some into her cup. She began drinking it immediately, and Slate stepped over to his own booth and retrieved his cup, bringing it back with him. He poured fresh coffee for himself and topped hers off again. She smiled at him, her eyes seeming to show a little relief now.

“My sister often has migraine headaches,” he said. “They make her sick for days.”

She nodded her head. “They do some people. Usually, I’m not ill, but I have to be careful when they make me dizzy.” She took a deep breath. “I’m feeling better now. Thank you for your concern, Mr… .?”

“Slate’s fine,” he answered. “I heard you ask the waitress about the Sandstone. Is this your first visit in this area?”

“Yes, and it really isn’t a visit exactly.”

“Oh …?”

“Well … I guess there’s no reason to be secretive about it, so I might as well tell you. Anybody I meet around here just might be able to tell me something that will give me a lead.”

His eyebrows rose. “Are you a private detective?”

She chuckled a little. “No … I’m not, but my brother is. And he was on a case that led him to this area. His last call to his wife a week ago was from the Sandstone, and then he just disappeared.”

“Disappeared?”

She nodded. “None of us has heard from him again, not even the family whose daughter he was trailing. She was a runaway, and only seventeen. They had hired him to find her and bring her home, and he had caught up with her in Lakeland. Then she took a bus to Tampa, then hitched a ride out to this little town and on to the Sandstone Motel. He followed her that far, but we don’t have any idea what happened after that.”

“Have you contacted the police?”

“Oh yes. He’d been calling his wife every day, so after the third day without a call from him, we contacted our own sheriff’s department at home. He’s been in touch with the one here, but they don’t seem to have any leads.” She shrugged. “Not that I have any either, but I just couldn’t sit at home and do nothing when Kendall could be in some kind of serious danger or …” She stopped and swallowed hard. “Or worse,” she finished.

He leaned back in his seat. “Well, the sheriff’s department here is usually pretty thorough. I’ll say that for them at least.”

“I need to go talk to them personally, but I’ve been driving all night, and I want to get a room and shower and rest first. Hopefully I can get rid of the last of this headache.” She looked at him more intently then, taking in his manner of dress and his almost lazy way of leaning back in the booth.

“Please don’t let me keep you,” she said then in a tone he’d have attributed to some socialite addressing a lower-class citizen. “Thanks for your concern, but I can take care of myself from here,” she added, lifting her chin a little higher than normal, her voice edged with a bit of frost. Slate felt that he’d been dismissed. Well, so much for trying to help. How many times did he need to learn to mind his own business before he’d pay attention?

He rose from his seat and gave a sketchy salute. “Yes, M’am,” he said, a little frosty himself. He walked to the front and paid his bill. …

On his way down the highway twenty minutes later, headed back to the dock, he was in a foul mood. Most of the supplies he needed were back-ordered, and he was going to be in a bind. He was trying to force himself to stop worrying about it when he spotted what looked like Vanessa’s car up ahead sitting on the side of the road. He slowed as he passed, and recognizing her, he pulled over just in front of her. Part of his mind was telling him to stay out of her business and save himself another snubbing. But the other part was responding to the code he’d lived by all his life about helping anybody that was down. He got out now and walked back to her driver’s side, leaning down to see in the window. “Problems?”

“Yes … I don’t have any idea what’s wrong. A few minutes ago it just sputtered and then died. I barely got it off the road.”

“Are you out of gas?”

She looked daggers at him. “I’m not an idiot! I know a car has to have gas to run. There’s plenty of gas!”

Whew, he thought. I wish I didn’t have enough conscience to bother me if I just left her here. “Well … pull your hood release, and I’ll take a look.”

“Do you know anything about cars?”

He chuckled as he walked toward the front of the car. “No … I just get my kicks stopping by stranded motorists and asking to play under the hood of their cars.”

Vanessa got out and walked closer to him. “You don’t have to be sarcastic. A lot of men don’t know how to repair cars. I was just asking.”

“Well, I don’t know everything about ‘em; that’s for sure. But since I have to keep my boat engines in good running order, I can usually do a thing or two about car engines as well.”

“You have boats?”

He glanced up momentarily. “A few.” Vanessa recognized by his tone of voice that the conversation was at an end for the time being, so she remained quiet.

He checked a couple possible causes of the problem, but came up short of a solution. He was pretty sure he knew what was wrong, but didn’t have the equipment to fix it. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the equipment necessary to fix it out here. We’ll have to get you towed in.” He stepped back and looked at her license plate again. “I’m guessing your name is Vanessa. Am I right?” he asked, grinning.

She seemed a little affronted that he’d asked, but she did answer him. “Yes … Vanessa Hayes.”

“Well, Vanessa Hayes, I can give you a lift to the Sandstone.”

He saw the briefest flash of fear in her eyes before she answered. “Oh … oh well … I don’t want to trouble you Mr. uh …”

“Slate’s good enough.”

“But don’t you have a last name?”

He looked straight at her, his blue eyes piercing hers, but he stood silent for another moment before he spoke again. “I’ll call for a tow truck.”

“I have a cell phone,” she said and started to turn back to the car.

“Never mind, I’ve got it,” he answered, already punching in some numbers. “I’ve given these guys a lot of business, so I think I can talk them into getting to you today.”

“I really don’t want to put you to this trouble, Mr. uh …”

He was talking to the man on the other end of the phone now, but he gave her an exasperated look. When he had finished the call, he snapped his phone shut and clipped it back onto his belt. “They said they’ll try to get here in a couple of hours.”

“Oh … well … I’ll just wait then.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” He slammed down the hood. “There’s no point in you’re waiting out here two hours. By then it will be the hottest part of the day. Let’s get your luggage, and I’ll take you to your motel.”

Vanessa stepped back. “No … no, thank you, Mr. uh …”

“Slate!”

“Mr. Slate, thank you for your offer of a ride, but I’m going to stay here with my car.”

“That isn’t necessary. I told them I’d be by their place to check on it this evening, so you can be sure they’ll take good care of it.”

“Do you have that much influence?” she asked, her eyes widening with her obvious surprise. “I would have thought that someone like you wouldn’t …” She stopped in mid-sentence, realizing that what she had started to say would sound pretty rude.

He raised one eyebrow. “You mean you thought that someone like me wouldn’t have any good influence anywhere, right?”

“Well, it was a logical mistake,” she excused herself, in reality hating herself for such a stupid and unkind blunder. Who was she to judge this man by his outward appearance and manner? She could tell she’d made him angry.

“Just get in my car. I’ll get your bags.”

She pulled herself up to her full five and a half feet and stepped in front of her car door. Then she held out her hand to him as if to shake hands. He just looked at her for moment and then extended his hand too, not sure what a handshake right now meant. Vanessa spoke again. “Thank you for stopping, Mr. Slate, but you can be on your way now. I prefer not to ride with you.”

He could feel that she had tried to withdraw her hand after the briefest of contacts, but he had deliberately held on for several more seconds. He realized it discomfited her, but he felt she deserved it for the way she was acting. As soon as he released her hand, she wiped it down the side of her slacks as if to clean something off.

Slate stepped back a step and folded his arms across his chest, staring at her and squinting a little against the sun. “The uppity Miss Priss. Too good to ride with the likes of me. Well … suit yourself, Miss Priss. Sit out here and bake in this sun if you want to, but don’t be surprised if that tow truck doesn’t show up for four or five hours.”

“But you said they told you two!”

He laughed. “They did, and I knew that meant that they’d at least get to it before nightfall. That’s a lot around here, Miss Priss, and you’d best be thankful for that much.”

“Don’t call me that!”

“What?”

“Miss Priss!”

He chuckled. “You’re the prissiest little fox I’ve seen around here in a lifetime, Honey. The name suites you to a ‘T.’” He turned and started back to his car then. Let the prudish snob sit out here by herself, he thought as he reached to open his car door. But then he looked up at her. She was rubbing her temples again, and he remembered that she was suffering with a migraine. He remembered again how his sister wasn’t fit to live with when she had one because they affected her so badly.

He let out a heavy sigh and started back toward Vanessa. “Look,” he said as he got within a couple feet, “I’ll call the sheriff’s office. They know me. I give them a lot of business too. You can talk to the officer on duty, and I’ll tell them that I’m taking you to the Sandstone. That way, you know I’ll not abduct you into some isolated field and rape and kill you. How’s that?”

“Thank you,” she said in what was almost a whisper now. Then she turned and opened her door. “I’ll get the keys and open the trunk.”

From Chapter 4:

About twelve miles down the highway from the Sandstone Motel, a poorly paved road turned West and wound several miles out into the countryside. A half dozen old houses dotted the area, each one at least two or three miles away from its neighbor in any direction. But a little over five miles out on the paved road, there was a gravel turnoff, almost hidden by overgrown bushes, that led another four miles out to a house that sat on an inlet with its own worn out boat dock.

Inside that house, in an empty back bedroom, two people sat on the floor, their backs propped against the wall, their hands and feet tied securely enough to make sure they couldn’t leave their accommodations at will. The man was tall and muscular, with golden brown hair that matched that of his younger sister so much that people often thought they were twins. He wore thin, gold-rimmed glasses, and ordinarily made a handsome picture to most observers. Right now, though, his face was marred by an ugly scratch and a couple of bruises, and his clothes were wrinkled and stained.

His companion was a young girl with stringy, blond hair … which at one time had probably been thick and shiny enough to attract a second and third look from most men. Right now, she was sitting beside him, sick with fear and wishing she’d never seen most of the men she’d ever known in her seventeen years. The one exception to that wish was her companion in this make-shift prison.

The only reason he was here at all was because he had tried to come to her rescue when she had tried to get away from what had turned out to be a group of drug dealers, and had been losing the battle for her freedom. He hadn’t succeeded in his attempt to help her. And now they were both facing whatever unknown horrors were being planned for them by the thugs that had tied them up while they carried out their own ugly business.

Kendall Hayes leaned his head back against the wall, his eyes closed, and prayed for the umpteenth time that day … as he had done for the last six days sitting in this room. The one drug dealer of the bunch who interacted with him and Sarah, his cell-mate, was Gary – Sarah’s boyfriend until his true identity and occupation had come to light. Gary came in twice a day with food and water, and led them away, one at a time, to the bathroom, standing guard just outside the door. That was the only precaution necessary, since the bathroom didn’t have even one window, and there was certainly no chance of escape from that cubbyhole. If they made enough fuss, he came and escorted one of them to the bathroom at other times, but it was a chore to convince him he needed to heed their urgency.

After the first four days of incarceration, Sarah had talked Gary into allowing her and Kendall a change of clothes from the suitcases they’d had with them. But other than those concessions, the plight of the inhabitants of this back bedroom seemed to be of no interest to anybody else on the premises.

“You prayin’ again?” Sarah asked her companion now as she saw he had his eyes closed and his lips moving.

He opened his eyes and smiled at her slightly. “Yeah … gotta stay at it.”

“You really believe your God’s gonna get us outta here?”

He sighed. “You ask me that every day, Sarah. And the answer is still the same. Yes … I really believe that.”

Tears welled up in the girl’s eyes, as they had several times during the last several days. “I sure wish I could believe.”

She had said that at least a dozen times in the days they’d shared this room, and Kendall had always given her the same answer. “You can, Sarah. Just ask Jesus to make Himself real to you, and you’ll be able to believe.” She hadn’t been able to bring herself to do that yet, but Kendall could tell she was closer than she had been the first couple of days. He closed his eyes again now.

“Please, Lord Jesus,” he whispered just loud enough for the girl to hear him too, “please make Yourself real to Sarah. She can’t ask You for herself, Lord, so I’m asking for her. Just help her a little more, Lord to recognize that You’re here and that You love her and want to help her. And please, Lord … send your angels to open up this prison and lead both of us out of here. I’m trusting you, Lord. I’m trusting you with all the faith I have.”

He’d prayed those same words, or some very similar, so many times his rational mind told him that it was no use to pray them again. But he had belonged to Jesus Christ for most of his life, and he’d always found Jesus faithful in times of trouble. Kendall was determined even now that he would not give up his faith in God’s love and delivering power.