RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT – CHAPTER 6

RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT

© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER SIX

Monday morning David was up bright and early, eager to go to the Library Club. He had told Trent about it, and his friend had signed up to go too, so Serenity was going to pick up Trent on the way and drop off both boys. Then Trent’s mom was going to bring David home. Serenity liked Elizabeth and Lucas, Trent’s parents. They were strong Christians and had become members of one of the other churches in town very shortly after moving to Hamsted. Serenity and Clint had met the family on the beach, and the Lord had just seemed to unite all their hearts together immediately. She was grateful that the Lord had provided David with a good friend who was being brought up to love Jesus and obey His Word.

When she got to the school, she was surprised at the number of kids that were attending. She wondered how Miss Parker could handle all of them herself, but maybe she had some help that Mr. Kelso hadn’t mentioned. Of course, he did say that she often used the middle school students as helpers, so that was probably enough. She went to the library door to see if there was anything else she should know before leaving the children, and she was surprised to see that several of the students were sitting quietly at tables already reading avidly. Wow, this program must really instill a desire to read, she thought.

When Miss Parker assured her that she needn’t be concerned about anything else except to have the boys picked up at 12:00, Serenity told David and Trent to have a good time and went back out to her car. She had decided to do the grocery shopping while in town anyway, so she headed for the store. As she was going down the cereal aisle, she came up behind Noah, standing there trying to decide between corn flakes and corn pops. She couldn’t resist surprising him by sneaking up close and getting as close to his ear as possible to say, “You might as well take one of each,” but before she had finished her statement, he had jumped and whirled around so fast that he almost knocked her over. Instinctively, he dropped both boxes of cereal, which conveniently landed in his cart, and reached out to grab Serenity with both hands.

The shock of the whole event had nearly taken Serenity’s breath away, and when Noah grabbed her around the waist to steady her, she gasped, using up what little breath she had left. He instinctively pulled her closer to him, until her hands rested on his chest, and since her eyes, wide with surprise, were intent on his own, he was momentarily lost in their depths, unable to say anything else. Finally, he roused himself to say, “I’m so sorry, Serenity. I didn’t mean to practically knock you down. I didn’t know you were there.”

“It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have sneaked up on you like that,” she said, finally able to laugh lightly at the whole episode. But she was still shaking inside, not from almost being knocked down, but from being held so close to Noah Bennett. She stepped backward a step and removed her hands from his chest, but he didn’t let go of her immediately, so she tried to take another step away from him.

With that move, he did release his hands, the look on his face indicating that he had actually forgotten that he was holding her. “So you’re not hurt?” he asked now.

“No,” she answered on another shaky laugh. “How about you?”

“No, I’m fine, but then I didn’t have some big brute of a man almost knock me off my feet like you did.”

Serenity glanced down at his cart. “Well, at least your cereal landed in your cart safely,” she said.

He looked at it then. “Yeah . . . and what was that you were telling me when I turned on you?”

“Oh . . . I just said you might as well go ahead and get both.”

“Why is that?”

“Because, if you’re having such a hard time deciding, it usually means you’d like to have both of them, and whichever one you take home, by tomorrow, you’ll be wishing you had a bowl of the other. This way, you can have whichever one you’re in the mood for when you get up each morning.”

“You know, I’ve never done it that way before, but you’re right; I have gotten home from the store and ended up wishing I’d made the opposite choice . . . a number of times.”

“Well, I’m glad I could be of help. I guess I’d better finish my shopping.”

“Are you in town on other business too — oh, I remember, David started his library thing today, didn’t he?”

“Right. I drove Dave and Trent to school, and Elizabeth will pick them up and bring David home.”

“That sounds fair enough. Well, listen, are you in a hurry to get home?”

“Well . . . not particularly I guess. Why?”

“Why don’t you have a cup of coffee with me. I skimped on breakfast this morning, and I’m starting to feel it now. I suppose you ate a healthy meal?”

“We had scrambled eggs this morning, but I guess I could drink another cup of coffee.”

“Good, and maybe I can talk you into eating a little something else too.”

“The only problem is that I have to get milk and yogurt, and I don’t want to leave them in the car.”

“Well, let’s get everything that isn’t perishable, and then when we’re through at the restaurant, we’ll come back and grab the one or two remaining items that need refrigeration. How’s that?”

“It’ll work, I guess.”

“Great. We can put the groceries in our cars, and walk to the café in the next block.”

“All right. I’ll get going on my list then, and I’ll meet you at the check out lane.”

Noah nodded. “See you there,” he said, and took off for the next aisle.

Over at the school, Miss Parker was well into her day’s work with the students. She had welcomed them and given each one a name tag so that they could get to know each other more easily. Then she began with the younger students, and any middle school students who weren’t familiar with libraries, and she showed them how to make use of the various parts of the library itself. She assured them that they would go through all of these points again and again during the month, and that they would each have ample opportunities to practice what they learned until they could use everything in the library that they might need, including the two computer terminals.

By that time, it was time for their snack, and right after that, she began to give out reading assignments. She began with the youngest and when they were started, with an older student to help them, she progressed through each group. She had chosen Lacey Dillard to be the helper for David and Trent’s group, and their reading for this week was to be from one of the Sally Stone books, Sally and the Shaman’s Secret.

Lacey introduced the book as one she had read twice herself, and she told them that the school library had three copies if they wanted to check a copy out when they got ready to go home. Then she began the story, reading with enthusiasm and even changing her voice to portray each character realistically. Most of the children sat enthralled. Some of them had read the book, and most of them had seen the movie, but they still sat quietly and attentively, as if they couldn’t wait to hear what happened next.

David understood most of what she read, but he knew that all of the stuff about becoming a witch and the descriptions of what the witches did was not something he was supposed to read. He put up his hand to tell Lacey so, but she didn’t pay any attention, so he leaned over to Trent and whispered, “This stuff is bad stuff. We’re not supposed to read about this,” he said, and at that point, Lacey did pay attention to him.

“You have to be quiet while I’m reading,” she said. But she didn’t have a chance to read another word before David answered her. “We’re not supposed to read that stuff. It’s bad, and God says not to be a witch and do all those bad things that witches do.”

“All witches aren’t bad. In these books the good witches almost always win in the battles with the bad witches and wizards,” Lacey answered him.

“But there’s no such thing as good witches.”

“Unhuh!” two of the other students spoke up, nodding their heads, and one of them added. “Yeah, in this story Zota is a really good witch. She only puts spells on people who are mean . . . well, and sometimes people who make her mad . . . but she teaches all the new wizards how to fight the most evil witch there is.”

“That’s right,” Lacey added. “Now just be quiet, and you’ll see.” So she continued to read, and David became more and more uncomfortable. She had just finished the part about how the shaman changed himself into the shape of his animal spirit – the spirit that gave him his power – when Miss Parker rejoined their group. She sat quietly with the group until Lacey came to the end of that chapter, and then she told the children that it was time for their first project.

“The modeling clay I had each of you bring is for you to use to create the kind of animal that you believe would be your animal spirit, like the shaman had in the book. I want all of you to get a package of clay and sit at one of the low tables, and then I want you to close you eyes and get really quiet. There’s to be absolutely no talking. While your eyes are closed, I want you to think about what kind of animal you would like to get extra power from . . . you know . . . try to imagine what kind of animal would be most likely to make you able to do some of the things you find it hard to do, or maybe things you secretly want to do. Then I want you each to create that animal out of your clay.”

So the children got up from the floor where they had been sitting, on a colorful rug, listening to the story, and they each took their package of clay to a table toward the back of the room. David closed his eyes, but he couldn’t concentrate. This was the silliest thing he had ever heard. Nobody got power from a dumb animal. People only got power from God . . . or sometimes the devil. But he didn’t want to cause trouble, so he sat there with his eyes closed for quite a while, but that was all he did.

When Miss Parker came around again, she noticed that David and Trent hadn’t made anything out of their clay. She stooped down to talk to them, since they were sitting side by side, and asked, “What’s the trouble, boys?”

“I don’t understand what we’re supposed to do,” Trent said. He was dealing with the same feelings that David had, but he didn’t know quite how to put them into words. David didn’t seem to have that trouble.

“People don’t get power from animals. They get power from God or the devil, but they don’t get it from animals.”

“Well, it’s true, many people can’t, David, but special people can, and I’d like for all of you students to have a chance to find out this summer if you are some of those special people.”

“That’s stupid!” David said, feeling uncomfortable enough that he forgot momentarily that he’d been trained to never raise his voice to grownups. Miss Parker was experienced enough to understand that she was dealing with a problem that resulted from David’s obviously extensive religious training . . . something she personally thought had far too much influence in the lives of some young people these days. But she was also wise enough to know that a serious confrontation at this point would only stifle the development of the other children who didn’t seem to have the same reservations as David and Trent. So she spoke placatingly. “Well, I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you two just create the kind of animal that is your favorite . . . maybe your own pet, or an animal that you’d like to own as a pet. How’s that?”

David thought for a few seconds and then nodded his head. “Okay, we can do that.” He looked at his best friend. “Can’t we, Trent?”

“Sure, I can do that,” he agreed.

“Great,” Miss Parker said and moved on to check on the work of the other children at the table.

A little before noon, she came around again and checked one last time on the work, and found that David had created a large white horse, and Trent had created a brown and white dog. “Well, you like horses, I see,” she said to David.

“Yeah, this is Moondancer. He’s Noah’s horse, and he lets me ride him.”

“Well, you’ve done a good job. And you’ve done well with your little dog, Trent.” She looked around the room then. “Each of you may take your project home if you like, or you may leave them here for the rest of this week.” She then had all the children clean up their work area and begin to collect their possessions and line up to be dismissed. At 12:00 sharp she walked them all out to the front door of the school, and saw that they were being met by someone they knew. When they were all gone, she breathed a deep sigh of relief.

She wasn’t sure how she was going to handle David Hartford. She certainly couldn’t come right out and say that his religious training would hinder the whole project. This little community wouldn’t be able to handle anything quite so progressive yet. But it was coming along. The positive reception of all of the Sally Stone books and movies had gone a long way in opening up the thinking of the people in Hamsted, but as a firm believer in new age humanism, Miss Parker was zealous to push them along as quickly as possible to even higher levels of revelation.

When David arrived home, Serenity was just fixing lunch, and as she put a tuna salad sandwich and some pickles and chips on the table for Gramps, David, and herself, she asked him about the morning.

“Some of it was fun. We learned a lot about using the library. I’ll be able to find a lot of books there to read,” he said excitedly.

“Wasn’t all of it fun?” she asked.

He took time to swallow a mouthful of food and then stick a couple more chips in for good measure before he answered, shaking his head. “Some of it was stupid.”

“Oh?”

He nodded. “They read to us from some dumb book about witches. I tried to tell them that we aren’t supposed to read about that stuff, but they didn’t listen to me. Me and Trent were the only ones in our group that even knew there isn’t any such thing as good witches! Can you believe that?”

“What was the name of the book?” Serenity asked, her concern growing stronger with each point David made.

David shrugged as he took a drink of his juice. “Oh, I don’t know . . . Sally something . . . and some kind of secret.” He shook his head again. “It was stupid.”

“Well, I’m proud of you for trying to tell the other kids the truth. What else did you do? I see you brought home a white horse. Did you make that?”

“Yeah!” David said, jumping up and going over to the chair where he had deposited his things when he came in. He brought the horse back to the table. “This is supposed to be Moondancer. She said to make my favorite animal, so I knew I had to make Moondancer.” He looked up as if he had just remembered something. “Oh, yeah, that was another thing that was stupid. This weird guy in the story thought he got power from an animal . . . its spirit or something . . . and Miss Parker wanted us to imagine what kind of animal we could get power from and make that. But I told her that people don’t get power from animals, and she said I could just make whatever was my favorite. And Trent too. He made a little dog with great big ears,” he said giggling now.

Serenity looked at her grandfather briefly, seeing that he was a little concerned too, but she didn’t say anything else until after David had finished eating and gone outside to play. “I’m concerned, Gramps,” she said now. “What he was telling us sounds a lot like new age teaching to me. And I know these witchcraft books are really popular now, but I wouldn’t have thought that the school would promote them.”

“Maybe you should talk with Miss Parker on Wednesday when you take David.”

“Well, this is his first experience with the other kids he’ll be going to school with all next year. I hate to make a fuss or cause a problem right at the beginning. It could turn out to be embarrassing for Dave. I’m not sure what to do.”

“Well, pray about it. And I don’t think waiting one more time or two will hurt. He certainly seems to have known how to handle himself . . . and the ‘stupid’ material,” he said, grinning at her.

“That’s true. All the Godly things Tom and Patience taught him from his earliest years have really taken root in him.”

“And you can add to that everything he’s learned virtually at your knees this past year, Serenity.”

She nodded. “And all the Bible stories his Gramps tells him evidently haven’t gone amiss either,” she answered, finally able to grin about it all herself. “I think I’ll give it a little time and pray and see how things go the next time or two.”

“I think that’s wise. Now, I’m off to George’s cottage to help him paint his boat.”

“Okay, see you at the next meal,” she said, laughing. “I think I’m going to chain myself to my computer until I get the next three chapters of my book done.”

“I’m anxious to read them,” he said walking to the hat rack by the door and taking up his cap. He placed it on his gray head and winked at his granddaughter. “I’ll see you about 5:00.”

“Have a good time, and both of you try to get more paint on the boat than on your clothes.”

At that, he walked back over to her and pinched her nose the way he had when she was a tiny girl. “Girl, I’ve been painting more years than you’ve been alive, so I’ll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head.” They both laughed, and he turned and headed out the door.

Noah had told Serenity that he had some business to take care of in Barclay in the afternoon, and he wouldn’t be back home until early evening, but he insisted that David could still get in his ride on Moondancer. He had promised to call when he got home and arrange for her to send David down to his cottage. So about 6:30 that evening, with the sun still plenty high enough for a long ride, David took off for Noah’s place, and, by 7:30, Noah was on the phone again saying that David wanted to stay over at his cabin for the night.

Serenity didn’t mind David staying, but she didn’t want him to be a nuisance either, and she told Noah so.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Dave and I are pals. We enjoy each other’s company,” he replied and then spoke away from the phone to the boy. “Isn’t that right, Dave?”

“Right!” he yelled loud enough for his aunt to hear him.

“And this cabin has the extra bedroom with the twin bed, remember?”

“Well, okay, but doesn’t he need some pajamas?”

“We’ll ride down on Moondancer pretty soon and get them.”

“Well, that’s fine with me if it is with you and David. But promise me that you’ll call if he turns out to be more than you bargained for.”

“I promise. And you can take advantage of an evening to pamper yourself without a little boy running around.”

“What I’ll probably do is take the extra time to write. I’m finally getting toward the climax of this novel, and I could use two or three more hours of uninterrupted concentration.”

“Personally, I think you work hard enough as it is. I still vote for the pampering, myself,” he said with just a hint of a chuckle.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think I know how to pamper myself. I guess I’ll just have to wait until there’s someone else around who knows how to do it,” she replied, entering into his bantering tone.

“Well, lady . . . you’re talking to a man who knows how,” he answered now, his voice taking on a serious, almost intimate tone. “Maybe it’s time I showed you.”

“Uh . . . well . . . I . . . I wasn’t hinting, Noah.”

He chuckled again then. “I know you weren’t, Serenity. But I was. However, since I have company this evening, I’ll get back to you on it.”

“Well, you two enjoy your evening.”

“Oh, we will! We’re going into town and get a good video and then we’re going to build a fire on the beach and roast marshmallows before we settle down to watch it.”

“Wow, I think I’m jealous.”

“Sorry, this is boys’ night. Can’t invite you. Besides . . . what I have in mind for you calls for some place a lot more romantic than these four walls.”

Serenity cleared her throat. Her heart had picked up its beat when he started talking to her about pampering her, and every added comment just quickened it that much more. But she didn’t want to be reading something into this relationship that wasn’t there. She needed to be careful.

“Well, I’ll say goodnight then,” was all she could think of to say.

“Goodnight, Serie. Sweet dreams.” Noah hung up the phone and sat for a few moments thinking how glad he felt to be able to give Serenity a whole evening just for herself.

Later, as he and David sat roasting their marshmallows and watching the sun splash its last orange streaks across the horizon, Noah picked up the clay horse that David had brought down with him in order to show it to Noah. “You really did a great job with this, Dave,” he said now. “What else did you do today?”

But when David answered him, telling him pretty much the same things he had told Serenity, Noah felt his chest tighten and his heart start to pound. By the time David had finished, Noah was wishing with everything in him that he hadn’t asked the question. The strain he was feeling must have registered on his face momentarily because David asked suddenly, “Are you okay, Noah?”

At those words, Noah forced himself to take a deep breath and smile at the boy. “Sure, I’m fine. I’m just thinking about something. So . . . uh . . . what did your aunt say about what happened today?”

“She said she was proud of me for saying what I did, and then I heard her talking to Gramps about maybe talking to Miss Parker about what we learn at the Library Club.”

“Well, that’s probably a good idea.”

“I heard her say she would pray about it and wait until I went another time before she decided.”

“I see,” Noah answered, and then was quiet for several minutes. “Well . . . what do you say we douse this fire and go watch our movie?”

“Yeah,” David said, jumping up, ready to do his part in putting out the fire the way Noah had taught him.


Find Chapter Seven here tomorrow.


RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT – CHAPTER 4

RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT

© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER FOUR

Monday had turned out to be just as pretty a day as Sunday had been, and when Monday night had come and gone, again without another storm, the people along the coast breathed a deep sigh of relief. It looked as if that weird weather system had finally dispersed. Nobody in the weather service had been able to explain it even yet, but the citizens of Hamsted and the surrounding beach area didn’t really care, as long as the storms were over.

Tuesday morning, Noah called Serenity and invited her family to a cookout at his cottage, along with the two neighbors who had rented the cottages on either side of him. Everyone accepted immediately, and offered to bring a dish of some kind to add to the menu. So around 5:00 that evening they all gathered at Noah’s part of the beach, one or two bringing along beach umbrellas and several bringing folding lawn chairs and blankets to sit on. Noah had set a picnic table out where all the food could be spread out, and each person helped himself to a plate full and then milled around until he found a seat that suited him.

There were two other children, twins, who had come with their grandparents for a month on the beach. They were ten years old, but since David was fairly mature for his age, they didn’t seem to have any problem joining with him in playing some games and having fun. David asked Noah if he could take the twins to visit Moondancer in his corral, and Noah agreed with the stipulation that they were not to open the gate for any reason, and they all agreed.

Noah had been riding Moondancer along the beach every night since the storms had passed. They usually rode for about three miles along the coast and then back to the cottage. It had been good for both of them, and Noah wasn’t sure which of them looked forward to those moonlight rides the most. He had let David come every day to pet Moondancer and talk to him, but he had kept his word about waiting a whole week before giving David another ride. The week would be up on Friday, and David had reminded Noah of that fact every time he saw him. Noah just hoped that Moondancer was as receptive to the boy’s riding him the second time as he had been at first.

About 8:00 the group built a small bonfire on the beach and began to roast marshmallows. By that time everyone was tired and wanted to just sit and share thoughts and memories. The kids told each other their own stories, in between mouthfuls of their sticky treats, and then the twins’ grandmother moved over to the kids’ group and began telling them one of her favorite stories. The other guests were talking about some memories of previous years when they had all visited the coast, and eventually the talk turned to a history of the lighthouse itself, which suited Clint perfectly.

Noah sat silent, looking out over the ocean, breathing deeply every so often, trying to let the peace soak into him, but having to work a little at keeping nagging thoughts from the past year from forcing themselves into his mind. Serenity was sitting within arm’s reach of him, and she couldn’t help watching him. The firelight flickered over his face, casting shadows in such a way that the tension in his features seemed even more noticeable. She was sure he was troubled about something, and she was trying to decide whether to ask about it or not. Finally, she decided to ask a question and see if he would open up to her.

“You look serious, Noah. There’s something troubling on your mind isn’t there?” she asked in a quiet enough voice that the others engaged in their own conversations couldn’t really catch her words clearly.

Noah turned and looked at her. For the first second, he seemed to have just then realized that she was there, but in the next moment, his eyes began to skim over her face in a look that was almost a caress. Serenity felt warmth suffuse her, but then she told herself that she was letting her imagination run away with her. Why would Noah Bennett look at her in that way? He barely knew her. But it had seemed that his eyes registered pleasure in what he saw. He still hadn’t answered her though, so she tried again.

“Is something bothering you tonight, Noah?”

He dropped his eyes for a moment and then looked back out to the sea. Finally, he spoke in that soothing, baritone voice she had come to appreciate over the past several days. But he too spoke softly, as if he didn’t really want anyone else to hear. “We seem to be on the same wave length all the time, don’t we?”

He hadn’t answered her directly, but Serenity knew what he meant. They had both sensed the same sinister element in the storms they’d had. Then Noah had known exactly what Serenity had needed him to say to David to back her up in her discipline. Now tonight, she had picked up on his troubled spirit, even though he had done nothing all evening to indicate that he had problems on his mind.

“Sometimes it just works that way, I guess,” was all she could think of to say. “Would you like to talk about it?”

He gave a quiet chuckle, but it really had no joy in it. It was more of an indication of some kind of bitter irony in what he was about to say. “No, actually, I don’t want to talk about it, but I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s what I need to do . . . with the right person, that is.”

“Well, I don’t know if I’d qualify, but I’d certainly be glad to listen, and I can promise you it won’t go any further.”

He nodded briefly, still not looking at her. “I think I know that. But I’m not sure it’s something you need to be burdened with.”

“I don’t usually take on burdens. I usually pass them on to the Lord in prayer, whether they concern me or someone else that I care about.”

He gave her a sideways look then. “You’re not only beautiful; you’re also very wise,” he said with a grin, watching her just long enough to see her blush. It was visible even in the dim light, and for some reason he seemed to enjoy causing her to blush like a schoolgirl. Then he looked back out to the ocean, silent again.

“Keith mentioned that you’d been through some pretty trying experiences in your work this past year and that you were hoping to get some rest during the two months you were here.”

Noah looked at her again, concern on his face. “I didn’t realize he’d told anyone that.”

“Oh, he didn’t say any more than that,” she hurried to reassure him. “He didn’t indicate any details at all, and I really think I’m the only one he told. I had come down to help him air out the cottage and get it ready for you. June was just too close to her time of delivery for Keith to let her do any of the work, so David and I volunteered our services,” she said grinning.

“That was kind of you. I know they both appreciated it . . . and so do I, by the way. The place was spotless and as fresh as spring when I arrived. Thank you, Serenity.”

“It was no trouble at all, Noah. And truly, your brother-in-law didn’t tell any of your personal business beyond saying it had been a trying year, and he hoped you’d get some much deserved rest. I hope that hasn’t upset you.”

Noah shook his head. “No . . . I’m not upset.” He sighed deeply. “It’s just not the kind of thing that’s easy to talk about. In fact . . . with most people, it would be impossible to talk about.”

“So am I one of those people?”

“No . . . not at all. At least . . . I’m pretty sure you’re not. I’m just not sure I can bring myself to go into all of it now, Serenity. But if I can at a later time . . . I’d be more likely to do so with you than anyone else I can think of right now.”

“Then I won’t push you, but if you do need to talk, Noah . . . or even if you just want to talk . . . I’d be honored to think you could trust me.”

“I’m sure I can . . . and thank you.”

Serenity just nodded and then glanced over to the large blanket where the kids were. David was sprawled out, most likely sound asleep. “Well, it looks as if David has called it a night.”

Noah followed her glance and then he chuckled. “He’s had a full day. I guess the lullaby of the sea was just too much after all that hard playing.”

“I suppose I need to get him home.” She turned to her grandfather. “I think David’s conked out on us, Gramps. Do you think we need to be getting home?”

“Probably a good idea,” he said, and the other adults began to get up from their seats too. “Yeah, we need to go too,” the twins’ grandfather said, and, gradually, they all collected their dishes and lawn chairs and began to make their way toward their own places, as Clint began to put out the fire.

Noah moved to help with that, and then he said, “You two go ahead and collect your dishes, and blankets, and I’ll pick David up and carry him back to the lighthouse.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that, Noah,” Serenity said. “I’m sure I can get him awake enough to get him home.”

“Don’t be silly, Serie,” he answered, calling her by her nickname for the first time. It gave Serenity a warm feeling. Noah continued: “Why should you wake him up, when I can easily carry him down there. It’s not as if I have a whole lot of other pressing things to take care of, you know.” He was grinning at her by the time he’d finished, so she gave in.

“All right, Sheriff Bennett, I yield to your voice of authority,” she said, chuckling. But she wasn’t prepared for the pain she saw flash through his eyes momentarily when she had addressed him that way. There was definitely something troubling this man, and it had to do with his work as a law enforcement officer. She wished she could help him. But for now, she packed up their two covered plastic bowls and stuck them in their picnic basket, along with David’s ball, and his plastic pail and shovel. Clint picked up the two beach blankets they’d brought. When they were ready, Noah lifted David into his arms, and except for a very drowsy move to reach one arm up around Noah’s neck, the child barely indicated he had wakened at all. And he was obviously sound asleep again before they had gone ten feet.

Friday morning, David was exuberant at the breakfast table. He hurried through his cereal and English muffin, even though his aunt kept admonishing him to slow down. And when he hopped off his chair announcing he was ready to go ride Moondancer, Serenity had to grab his arm and insist that he sit back down until he’d finished his juice. “And then you have to wait twenty minutes for your food to settle before you take off,” she said.

“Oh, Aunt Serie . . . I’ve been waiting a whole week already!”

“Well, then, twenty more minutes won’t make much difference, will it?” she asked with a wide grin.

“But what if Noah forgets and goes someplace before I get down there?”

“You know he won’t, David. And even if he did, you can ride later on this afternoon.”

“Okaaaay,” he said, giving in ungraciously, but he did sit back down and drink his juice.

“Good,” Serenity said. “Now if you want, you can go outside and sit on the porch steps for twenty minutes, and I’ll come and tell you when that’s up. Then you can go for your ride.”

So David slipped out onto the porch and sat down, fidgeting a little every couple of minutes, but he managed to stay seated at least. In about ten minutes, Noah came riding along the beach on Moondancer, and headed straight for the lighthouse. David jumped and yelled for his aunt. “Aunt Serie! Aunt Serie! Noah’s here! And Moondancer!” With that he was off the porch and racing to meet his guests before they had entered the yard.

Serenity came to the door and then stepped out onto the porch about the time Noah was dismounting. She didn’t speak immediately, because David was talking a mile a minute. “I’m sure glad you remembered, Noah. I was coming to your house, but Aunt Serie made me finish my juice first, and then she made me sit on the porch . . . to let my food settle, she said. And then I was coming.”

“Well, I figured you’d be anxious to get in your ride as soon as possible.” He looked up at Serenity then. “Good morning.” He suddenly felt flooded with sunshine as he looked at her standing there in a yellow cotton sundress, with her hair pulled back at the nape of her neck and tied with a yellow ribbon. He didn’t think she had on any makeup, but the woman didn’t need any makeup — she didn’t need anything extra at all to make herself the focus of his attention.

“Good morning, Noah,” she answered, smiling in that way she had that lit up her whole face. Fleetingly, he wondered what it would be like to wake up beside her every morning. Whoa! He shook his head slightly. Where had that thought come from? He’d better watch his step for sure. He needed rest, not an emotional roller-coaster called romance!

“So is it all right if David goes for his ride now?” he finally asked.

“I guess so,” she said, looking just a little unsure. “Are you sure it’s safe, Noah? I mean . . . Moondancer is so big.”

Noah laughed. “You forget, Serie. Your nephew has already been on this horse’s back and enjoyed a ride that, from what I could tell, was a little on the brisk side . . . if not downright wild. I’m sure he can handle something a little tamer. Besides, I’m going to get on and ride with him first, and then walk alongside. Then next time, if everything is still going well, we can let them ride along the beach on his own for a while.”

“Well, if you’re going to do it that way, I guess it’s bound to be all right.”

“I promise, Serenity. I won’t leave him alone with Moondancer unless I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

She nodded. “Okay.”

“Noah, did you say that I can ride Moondancer again? More than today?”

“Yes, assuming you and he get along as well as you did the other night.”

“We will, won’t we boy?” David said, gently caressing the horse’s neck.

“Well, then, let’s get you up here,” Noah said, picking the boy up and lifting him into the saddle. Then he got up behind him. “I know you’re used to riding bareback, but I like the saddle when I ride, and I figured it would help you stay in place better, even if your feet don’t reach the stirrups.

“Okay, Noah,” David answered, grinning and almost bouncing in the saddle.

Noah gave the horse a flick of the reins that was their own signal for him to start off in a slow walk, and gradually, as they covered more of the beach, he let the horse move into a trot, and eventually into an easy run. On their way back toward the lighthouse, Noah had Moondancer walking again, and he began to explain to David more about handling the reins. When they returned to Serenity, sitting on the porch watching them, Noah dismounted and handed the reins to David.

“Now, David, you and Moondancer can go for a walk back toward my cottage, but don’t flick the reign again and try to get him to run yet, do you understand?”

David nodded. “I promise, Noah.”

“Okay, I’ll walk beside you this time, and then maybe next time you can go all by yourself.”

“Okay,” he said and urged the horse into a gentle walk.

Serenity laid her hand gently on Noah’s arm, and he felt the heat of that touch travel to his chest as he turned to look at her.

“Are you sure, Noah . . . about letting him sit up there by himself? You said Moondancer usually didn’t want anyone else riding him.”

“Serenity, very few people are truly natural-born horsemen, but your nephew is one of those rare people. And Moondancer knows it. He’s taken to David as if he’d belonged to him all his life. I don’t understand it, but I know it’s a fact.” He reached up and nudged her under the chin very lightly. “Trust me. He’ll be fine,” he said and started to turn away to catch up with David, who was several feet along the beach by now.

“Noah,” Serenity said, and he turned to look at her again. As he did so, she came closer and reached up and kissed him on the cheek, very briefly. Heat engulfed him so that he barely caught her words. “You’re very sweet to take this much time with him. I haven’t seen him this excited about anything in a long time. Thank you so much.”

He smiled slightly and nodded, turning to go again. But he had taken only a couple of steps before he turned around again, his caramel-colored eyes piercing her dark green ones. “If I don’t catch up with David right now, I’m going to find myself returning that kiss. . . . And it won’t be on your cheek.

Even though she blushed to the roots of her hair, Noah managed to tear his eyes away from hers and take off jogging down the beach toward the horse and rider. Serenity felt hot and cold all at the same time, and as her knees began to feel just a little unsteady, she turned to sit back down on the porch.

What on earth was wrong with her that just the thought of kissing Noah Bennett had her shivering like a teenager? She’d certainly been kissed a number of times before. But she had to admit that none of those kisses had brought on a reaction like this — and so far he’d done nothing but threaten to kiss her. She wrapped her arms around herself as she sat there lost in thought. At least she guessed that it would be considered a threat. Actually, she hoped that it was more of a . . . promise.

Clint came out on the porch then, his second cup of coffee in his hands. “We just got a call from the secretary at the elementary school, Serie. She said she needed to change your appointment with Mr. Kelso to Monday afternoon instead of Monday morning. I knew you all were getting David started on his ride, so I didn’t call you in. I just told her I thought that would be fine, but if not, I’d have you call her back before noon.”

“That’s no problem. Monday afternoon’s just as good. I just need to get a better idea of the school and how it’s run . . . and exactly what they teach . . . so that we can decide for sure what to do for the next school year.”

“Well, you know, of course, that I’d love to have both of you stay here, but if you feel that it isn’t what’s best for David . . . or for you . . . then you’ll have my blessing on whatever you decide,” he said, putting an arm around her shoulders.

“I know, Gramps. And I’ve been thinking that maybe staying here a few more years just might really be what David needs most. He seems to be getting his joy and lust for life back, and he loves it here so much.”

“But there’s something else to consider, Serenity, and I think you keep forgetting that.”

She looked up at him, concern in her eyes. “What, Gramps?”

“You’re forgetting yourself, Child. You can’t start making every decision you make just for David’s benefit.” She opened her mouth to interrupt, but he put up his hand in a restraining motion. “No, hear me out, Serie. You are only thirty-two years old, you’re beautiful, inside and out, and you’re a talented writer. You deserve a full, satisfying life for yourself . . . including a good man to love you and share that life with you. And in the long run, you will serve David’s interests best if you do what’s truly best for you personally. Because then you’ll be a more fulfilled, more satisfied person, and therefore better able to help him be the same.” He looked at her sternly for a moment. “Do you understand me?”

Serenity nodded, tears brimming in her eyes, and then she reached out to hug her grandfather. “I understand, Gramps. And thank you.”

He just nodded his head and then drained the last of his coffee. “Now,” he said, rising, “I need to go up and clean the lenses.”

Serenity got up too. “And I need to clean off the breakfast table,” she said, going in ahead of her granddad. “I forgot to ask Noah how long he and David would be gone, but as long as he’s keeping an eye on him, I guess I won’t worry about it.”

“That’a girl,” he said. “I’ll be up top if you need me,” he added, and started up the spiral stairs.


Look for Chapter Five here tomorrow.


RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT — CHAPTER TWO

RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT

 

© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner

If you haven’t read Chapter One yet, you can find it HERE.

CHAPTER TWO

Serenity jerked awake suddenly, not sure why until she heard a horrible clap of thunder and realized that the noise of the storm was what had pulled her from sleep so abruptly. Another storm. She sat up and slipped her feet into her house shoes, reaching at the same time for her robe. She turned on her bedside lamp and then started toward the door, intending to check on David. But first, she walked over to put her window down because the rain had started.

When she opened David’s door, she stood speechless and almost stopped breathing. The last thing she had expected to see was an empty bed. But when she saw that the screen had been removed from the window, she almost panicked. Had he been kidnapped? She couldn’t even allow herself to think the words. “Oh, please, Lord,” she whispered. She fought down fear as if it were her worst enemy, which it was in a situation like this. She knew the Word of God enough to know that she had to make a choice right now whether to believe only what things looked like or to believe the promises of God.

“Dear Heavenly Father, I pray Your promises of protection over all of us every day, and I know You’re faithful to them. I believe You’re taking care of David. So please . . . help me to hold onto my faith now . . . and show me where David is.” She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, and then another, finally sitting down on the bed and trying to settle her mind. She needed to decide whether to wake Gramps or call the police . . . or just go outside and try to find her nephew herself.

But the very next minute the phone rang. She hurried to answer it, sure that it was about David. “Hello,” she said almost breathlessly.

“Hello, Miss Lawrence?”

Serenity thought she should recognize this voice, but she couldn’t be sure. “Yes.”

“This is Noah Bennett. Perhaps you remember that I’m renting one of the cottages on the beach this summer?”

That’s why she thought his voice sounded familiar. “Yes, Mr. Bennett. What is it?”

“I called in case you were worried about your nephew.”

“Yes, I am. I’ve just discovered he’s not in his room. Do you mean you know where he is?”

“He’s with me right now, safe and out of the weather.”

“What on earth is he doing with you!”

Noah chuckled. “Well, it’s kind of a long story, but I take it he’s fascinated with horses.”

“What! You’re not making any sense!”

“I’m sorry, Miss Lawrence. I didn’t mean to upset you. David evidently decided to take a late-night ride on my horse, who had wandered down the beach toward the lighthouse, and he ended up here about the time the storm broke.”

“Your horse! I haven’t seen any horse!” She thought this man sounded sane, but she was beginning to wonder if her mind were playing tricks on her as a result of the lateness of the hour and her nervous state.

“No, I had stabled him with some friends in Pennsylvania until I made sure of this corral, and I just brought him down today.” He chuckled now. “I guess it wasn’t as secure as I thought, because he got out of the corral and wandered down to your place. He doesn’t usually let anyone else ride him, but evidently he and your nephew became instant friends.”

“And David’s with you now?”

“Yes. He’s just finishing off a big mug of cocoa. Would you like to talk to him?”

“Oh, yes! Please!” Serenity felt as if her knees would give out at any minute and she scurried to sit in the chair nearest the phone.

“Aunt Serie,” the dear little voice spoke hesitantly on the other end of the phone. “I’m . . . I’m sorry, Aunt Serie. I thought I’d be back home before you woke up,” David said, and she could hear tears in his voice now.”

“Are you all right, Honey?” was all she could say.

David sniffed. “Yes. I got a little wet and kind of cold, but Noah dried me off and gave me one of his shirts.” His voice was getting stronger now that he was past the time of remorse and seemingly past the time of what he had expected to be a severe scolding. “Aunt Serie, Noah has the most beautiful horse you ever saw!”

“And you rode him?”

“Yes,” he said, just then remembering that he still would probably have to face the consequences of his actions. “But Moondancer wouldn’t have hurt me, Aunt Serie. And Noah said that if I’d promise not to ever go out at night without telling you first, that he’d let me ride Moondancer again in the daytime. Is that all right?”

Serenity was wiping the tears of relief from her cheeks and sniffing just a little herself, but she managed to answer. “Well, we’ll talk about it later, David. Right now I just want to get you home safe and sound.”

“I’m safe and sound right here, Aunt Serie. Oh, Noah wants to talk to you again.”

Before Serenity could respond, Noah was back on the line. “He really is all right, Miss Lawrence, and he can stay right here until the storm abates enough for me to bring him home.”

“There’s no need for that, Mr. Bennett. I can come and get him.”

“Please call me Noah. I realize you don’t know me all that well, but you do know something of my family. Don’t you think you could trust me to keep him safe for just another hour or so? The wind is driving that rain pretty hard right now, and none of us needs to be out in it, even in a car.”

Serenity sighed. “Could you give me your phone number there, and I’ll talk to my grandfather about it.”

“That’s a good idea. I think he’ll agree with me,” Noah answered, and then proceeded to give her his number.

Serenity hung up and went to Gramps’ room. He was just putting on his robe, having been awakened by the conversation, but not knowing what it was all about. Serenity explained the situation to him, and he nodded, smiling just a little. “I’ve known the family pretty well for the past three years. His sister and brother-in-law come down every summer, you know, and Noah has spent a week or two with them each time. I don’t know him as well as I do June and Keith, but I’m positive he’s trustworthy in a situation like this. He’s been a policeman and then a county sheriff for many years, so he’s spent his life protecting and helping people.” He put his arm around her shoulders in a comforting squeeze. “David’ll be fine with him, Serie. The Lord’s taking care of things.”

So Serenity breathed a sigh of relief and said she guessed she’d call him back.

“Would you like for me to call him and feel things out one more time?” he asked.

“Yes, Gramps, I think that’s a good idea,” she said and moved to sit down close to the phone while he dialed the number. As he talked, he sounded pleased with the way the conversation was going, so she leaned back on the sofa and began to relax. As she did so, she began to think in more detail about Noah Bennett. She had met his sister June Campbell and her husband the year before last, when she had been vacationing here at the lighthouse.

They were a young African-American couple, married only four years and still waiting and hoping for children. Serenity had had a number of conversations with them, and they had all enjoyed community picnics on the beach during the weeks she was here. And then last year, she had met Noah while he was visiting, but she had spoken with him only that one time, because she had needed to leave the next day for home.

He was an attractive man, tall and strongly muscled, as would be expected of a man who lived his life enforcing the law. He had the deep brown skin of his race, of course, but his eyes were light brown, almost the color of caramel. She had guessed his age at around forty, since his short black hair had been showing just the first traces of silver. But his closely trimmed beard was still its original black. He was obviously well educated, and she remembered that she had responded warmly to his deep, resonant voice.

Anyway, she’d liked him. He’d been open and friendly . . . and she had been intrigued by the small, gold ring he wore in one ear. It was made even more interesting by the tiny cross that hung from it. There was certainly nothing ostentatious about it, but, somehow, she hadn’t been able to equate an earring with a law enforcement officer at all. Well, the main thing was that now that she was remembering all of these things, she was feeling much more at peace about David’s being with Noah Bennett until the storm was past. Gramps was off of the phone by now, and he still seemed totally at peace, so she decided she needed to make a pot of coffee and get out the cake they had sampled at supper.

While they ate, she and her granddad talked about June and Keith Campbell and how they had decided to forego their summer on the beach since June was finally expecting a baby in July. Keith had come down to open up the cabin and air it out last week, and that was when Serenity had found out that June’s brother would be taking it for the whole summer. Keith had said that Noah had been through some trying experiences during the past year, and he was planning on taking the summer on the beach to get some much needed rest and restoration. Serenity couldn’t help but wonder what had happened, and she let her mind drift over a few possibilities as she finished her coffee.

In about an hour, they could tell that the storm was pretty well past their area, and even the rain had stopped, so they were watching out the window for Noah and David. Finally, Serenity saw them, David sitting in front of Noah on the back of a large white horse, coming toward the lighthouse. As the bright beam passed over them methodically, she could see that they were talking and laughing. David apparently still had on Noah’s shirt. She could tell that it engulfed him, but she was grateful for Noah’s thoughtfulness.

Serenity belted her robe a little more securely around her waist and rushed to the door, flinging it open just as they came into the yard. “David!” she cried, holding out her arms as soon as the two had dismounted. Her nephew ran into her embrace, grateful that she was hugging him instead of scolding him. But he was smart enough to know that scolding still might come later. “Oh, David, you had me so frightened,” she said, gently pulling him farther into the house and stooping down to look him in the eye. “You promise me that you’ll never, and I mean never, do that again!” Her voice was stern, and her eyes sparked with fire, but there was such obvious love in both her voice and her eyes that David’s remorse was immediate.

He nodded his head fervently. “I promise, Aunt Serie. I’m real sorry,” he added, the truth of his words reflected in his eyes, which were so like her sister’s.

She tousled his hair. “All right. You’re forgiven,” she said and then hugged him again.

“I promised Noah too, and he said I could ride Moondancer in the daytime if it’s all right with you.”

“Well, I’ll tell you what,” she said, taking his little hands in hers, her eyes twinkling at him enough to take the sting out of her words, “I think we’ll have you wait one whole week before you get to ride any more . . . just to make sure that you don’t forget that what you did was serious and never to be repeated.”

“Oh, Aunt Serie . . .”

Noah spoke up then from where he stood just inside the door. “I think that’s an excellent idea, David. It will help you remember. So let’s say you can have a ride a week from today, how’s that?” Noah glanced at Serenity to get her approval, and he could see gratitude in her eyes for his support. He saw more than that in her eyes though. He saw a light and an energy that captured his attention, and the smile she beamed at him made him feel as if the sun had just come out. That was what impacted him about this woman tonight. She seemed to radiate life. How had he missed recognizing that before? Too busy with his own problems to notice much of anything, he guessed.

But he was noticing everything now. He was taking in her thick, shining, black hair that hung in a curtain past her shoulders, curving under just a little at the ends. She had worn it pinned up on the back of her head with a clip the other two times he’d seen her, and it hadn’t had this effect on him. Tonight, standing here looking at her in the soft living room light, he was getting a whole different picture. Even her modest robe didn’t hide the fact that she had a very womanly figure. And she seemed just plain nice on top of everything else. All in all, she was a woman to be noticed, and he had to remind himself that he was here for only one reason . . . to recover his own equilibrium emotionally . . . and he certainly didn’t need any other emotional upheavals to add to his list.

Serenity’s grandfather stepped forward now and shook Noah’s hand. “Thank you, Noah, for taking such good care of my great-grandson.”

“No problem, Clint. He was good company.”

“You might as well stay and help us finish up the coffee and cake we started on about an hour ago. I don’t think any of us is likely to be ready for sleep right now.’

“Oh, that’s all right,” Noah said, waving his hand slightly to indicate that he didn’t need anything. The truth was that he wanted to stay. This home was full of love and warmth and light, and he felt good in it, but he didn’t want to intrude at 12:30 in the morning.

“Nonsense,” Clint said now. “We insist. Don’t we Serie?” he added, looking at his granddaughter.

She looked up at Noah again from where she still knelt in front of David, unbuttoning the shirt so that she could give it back to him. “You’re very welcome to stay, Mr. Bennett.” She beamed a smile at him. “Gramps is right. We’ll be wide awake for a while yet.”

“All right . . . on one condition,” he said. Serenity lifted an eyebrow enquiringly. “That you call me Noah.”

She laughed at that. “All right, Noah it is.”

“And if you don’t mind, I’ll call you Serenity. That’s a beautiful name. It creates a peaceful feeling just hearing it.”

Serenity was so obviously surprised by the compliment that she couldn’t answer for a moment. “Thank you,” she finally answered. “And no, I don’t mind at all.”

“Good, now come on into the kitchen,” Clint said, leading the way.

Noah had changed into some dry jeans and a knit shirt before they started for the lighthouse, and he took off his jacket now and hung it on the back of the chair where he sat. Then he accepted a plate bearing a large piece of chocolate cake with white fluffy icing and coconut sprinkled over the top. “Wow! This looks absolutely delicious!” he said, picking up a fork and digging in.

“Do I get a piece too, Aunt Serie?” David asked a little uncertainly, obviously thinking that his night’s activities might keep him from getting to take part in this midnight feast.

“Of course,” his aunt said, smiling at him and handing him a smaller piece. “And a glass of milk if you think your tummy can hold that much at this time of night.”

“I only had cocoa at Noah’s house, so I’m hungry enough for milk too.”

“Here you go then,” she said, setting his milk in front of him and then taking her own seat. Clint had poured coffee for the three adults, and now they all just enjoyed the snack without saying anything for a few minutes. Then David spoke again.

“Aunt Serie, I know why Noah wears that ring in his ear.” He looked at her expectantly, and she answered, knowing that he wanted to tell her the story.

“You do?”

“Unhuh,” he said, nodding his head. “He told me all about it. Do you want to know?”

“Well, only if Noah wants us to know, Dear.”

David looked at Noah. “You want them to know, don’t you, Noah?”

“I’m not sure anybody but you will be that interested, David,” he answered, unable to hold back a laugh. He looked at Serenity and Clint now and continued. “David kept eyeing it and wanting to know why I wore it, so I figured answering that question was as good as anything else we could do while waiting out the storm.”

Clint answered him. “Well, to tell you the truth, I hadn’t given it much thought until now. These days, I see men wearing an earing now and then. But did they let you wear it in your police work?”

“Some agencies do, and some don’t . . . depending on what kind of uniform code they have. When I was on the beat in the city, they frowned on it, but when I applied for a deputy position and explained to the sheriff why I wore it, he just shrugged his shoulders and said he figured it was part of my religious freedom and let it go.”

“Well now my curiosity is aroused,” Clint replied, “so you’re going to have to satisfy it.”

“I’ll tell you,” David said, looking at Noah to make sure that was okay. When Noah nodded at him, he continued. “Noah said that after he gave his life to Jesus, he was reading in the Bible and read about a slave that was getting set free. But he didn’t want to leave the man who owned him. He wanted to stay and work for him as a servant. Noah said that’s kind of like a slave, except you get paid.” David glanced at Noah to make sure he was telling the story correctly, and Noah nodded again.

“So anyway,” David continued, “the rule was that if somebody wanted to be one of these servants, he was supposed to let the man who owned him put a hole in his ear and put a ring in it, and that meant that he would stay and work for him all the rest of his life. And when Noah read that, he decided that since he was going to be the Lord’s servant for the rest of his life, he would put a ring in his ear to show that that’s what he was.”

Clint spoke up then. “Yes, I think I remember that in scripture. I had forgotten about it, and I’ve never known anyone personally who took it so literally for today.”

“I’m going to serve Jesus all of my life too,” David piped in again. “So can I have a ring in my ear, Aunt Serie?”

“Oh-oh, David. You may get me into trouble now,” Noah said, grinning at him and then at Serenity.

She was trying hard not to laugh out loud, but she managed to answer her nephew as seriously as possible. “Well, we’ll have to think about that, David. I know you’ve given your heart to Jesus, but I think you need to be a little older before you decide about having your ear pierced.”

“Okay,” he said around a big yawn that almost drowned out the word. Then he added. “Aunt Serie, when you wear earrings, you always wear two. What does that mean?”

Noah answered him. “David, your aunt wears her earrings to make her look pretty when she goes somewhere . . . although . . . I don’t think she needs anything extra to make her pretty, do you?” He glanced briefly at Serenity as he spoke and saw her blush. Then he felt his heartbeat quicken. He was definitely going to have to be careful.

But David piped up with an answer. “No, I don’t think she needs anything. She’s beautiful as soon as she gets up in the morning with her hair all over the place and only her gown on.”

Serenity blushed again and spoke to her nephew as she rose from the table. “That’s a nice compliment, little man, but I think it’s time we get you into your bed . . . where you supposedly were headed when you took off for your midnight ride. I have to get your screen back into your window too, where you pushed it out. I forgot all about it in the confusion of trying to find you. I hope the rain was coming from the other direction.”

Noah spoke up then. “Is it outside? I’ll go get it and put it back in for you.”

“Oh, thank you. That’ll help,” she said as she moved to David’s side and wiped his mouth with a napkin, doing a better job than he had done himself. “Say goodnight now, Dave.”

“Okay,” he said, yawning again, sleep fast catching up with him now. He went to his grandfather’s chair and reached up to give him a hug. Then he turned to Noah and held out his hand for a handshake. “Thank you for the cocoa, and don’t forget my ride,” he said, blinking his eyes to keep them open just a little longer.

“It was my pleasure, David, and I won’t forget. Goodnight.” Noah stood and started for the back door, not bothering with his jacket. “I’ll go get your screen.”

Ten minutes later, David was snuggled beneath the covers, closing his eyes, his window back intact, and Serenity and Noah slipping quietly out of his room. As they walked back to the kitchen, Noah said, “I need to get my jacket and take off too.”

They were just entering the room when he thought of something else, and he asked the question of both of his hosts. “Did I understand David correctly that you’ve had a storm like that every night for almost two weeks?”

Clint answered, motioning for Noah to sit back down. “About that I guess. It’s certainly been much more frequent than I can ever remember.”

“Having been here only three days myself, I haven’t had a chance to hear much about them. Have they caused any damage?”

“Not right here close to the lighthouse, but farther in, close to town, there were one or two roofs blown off and some outbuildings torn up,” Clint said. “And then some pretty large hail did a little damage here and there. No people hurt though, thank God.”

Serenity had returned to her seat too, and she sat nodding her head now. “Yes, thank God, because there’s something about these storms.” She paused for a moment, as if trying to search for the right words. “I can’t put my finger on it, and I didn’t even notice it for the first three or four nights, but especially this past week, I feel as if there’s something . . .” she stopped again and looked a little sheepishly at Noah. “You’ll probably think I’m weird . . . and I guess I am a little more sensitive to the spiritual side of things than a lot of people . . . but it just seems as if there’s something particularly evil in the way these storms keep coming and coming and coming.”

Noah just looked at her for a moment, his eyes piercing. She had felt it too . . . what he had felt when he’d stepped out of the cottage earlier . . . something sinister. But he didn’t want to go there. He’d had enough of that kind of thing to last a lifetime.

Serenity looked at him almost apologetically. “I’m sorry . . . I . . . well, as I said, I figured you’d think I was weird.”

Now Noah felt sorry for her because, obviously, she thought she had let her imagination run away with her and was embarrassed now that she’d been so open with him. So he had to at least tell her that he’d felt something too. “Well, actually, I was wondering if my imagination were playing tricks on me earlier, because I sensed something . . .” he waved his hand in the air, trying to express the frustration of finding the right word to use. “I guess ‘evil’ or ‘sinister’ would be the best way to describe it. I’ve worked in the midst of a number of severe storms, but this one had another element about it.” He just shook his head. “I can’t explain it any better than that right now.”

Serenity breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, at least I know it wasn’t just my imagination. Thank you for telling me that, Noah.”

He rose as he spoke again and began putting on his jacket. “Hey, it doesn’t help much, but at least there’s two of us.” He reached out to shake Clint’s hand again. “Thanks, both of you, for the midnight snack and the good company. I’ll no doubt see you several times on the beach for the next couple of months, but maybe you can join me for a barbecue after I get settled in.”

“We’d like that,” Clint said, rising to see Noah to the door.

“Thank you, Noah,” Serenity said. “You’ve been more than a good neighbor tonight.”

“Glad to do it,” he said, and waved a hand as he stepped out the door and started across the yard to where he’d tied Moondancer. He breathed in the air from the sea now. It smelled good, and everything felt fresh. There was no sinister heaviness left. He could almost make himself believe it had been his imagination . . . almost . . . but not quite. He’d experienced too much this past year. But he’d made up his mind he would let nothing keep him from getting the rest and restoration he needed this summer. And that meant nothing . . . nothing and no one!”

About two miles away, in the little coastal town of Hamsted, five middle school students were gathered in a garage, sitting in a circle, their only light that which came from the candles they had lit to carry out the ritual they were involved in. Their parents had no idea they had sneaked out of their respective homes, but then they were getting quite good at doing so, since this was their seventh time to meet this way since school had been out. One of the girls, blond-haired Lacey Dillard, who had just finished seventh grade two weeks ago, seemed to be in charge of the meeting, but she was being confronted by her brother Troy, who was a year younger.

“Are you sure you’ve thought of everything we’re supposed to do, Lace? It seems to me we must be missing something.”

“Listen, you little pea-brain, I know what I’m doing! Get out your copies of the pages I copied from the spell book.”

Each member of the group dug around in their pockets to get their copies of the pages Lacey had copied from the book of spells that had been part of a spell kit she and Troy had ordered via the Internet. The kids had been reading the series of Sally Stone books for the past year and a half and had just finished book number five. They were enthralled with how Sally and her friends were being trained in the arts of witchcraft. And when they had scoured the sites listed on the Sally Stone web page, they got some clues as to other web pages concerning witchcraft, and finally found the one where they had been able to order the spell kit and other information concerning mixing potions and casting spells.

But the sixth Sally Stone book had come out just last week, and they were anxious to get their hands on it too. They were also excited about going to see the third movie based on the series. It would be a while before it came to their small town, so Troy’s parents had arranged to take him and Lacey, along with their closest friends, into one of the larger cities to see it as part of Troy’s birthday party next month.

“Since they didn’t give details of real spells in the books,” Lacey was continuing, “it took a little searching to get what we were after, but it was worth it.” She was looking through her pages and finally stopped and held one up. “See . . . it’s this one. It has the whole thing here. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t work. It’s probably the rest of you who aren’t concentrating and really believing with me!”

“Now, just a minute,” said Darrin, who was also Lacey’s age. “Don’t go blaming us. We all did our part. But you’ve got to admit, conjuring up a hurricane is a pretty big job. We’ve only done little things so far, like making the Mitchell’s cat run around in circles for two days, and making all three of Tommy Miller’s gold fish die at the same time.”

“Yeah,” agreed Kelly, who would just be entering sixth grade next year.

Nick was the only member of the group who hadn’t spoken yet. He too would be starting sixth grade next year, and he wanted to sound as grown up as the rest of them. He added his thoughts now. “And after all, we have been getting some real storms every night.”

“But you know what Sally’s professors at the school of witchcraft told her when she was learning to work her spells,” Lacey said. “You have to really concentrate and believe.”

“Well, I don’t know how much harder we can concentrate than we are now,” her brother said.

“Maybe we need to meet more often than we have been,” Lacey suggested now.

“I can’t take the chance on sneaking out of the house any more than I already do,” Kelly said. “I almost got caught last time. Besides . . . I don’t know why we have to conjure up a hurricane anyway. It was your idea, Lacey, but I’m still not sure I want to be in a hurricane.”

Lacey turned angry eyes on Kelly. “See . . . you weren’t really agreeing with the rest of us and believing with us! You’re the problem!”

“I am not! I was believing the best I could. It’s just that I’m scared!”

Darrin was Kelly’s cousin, and he patted her on the shoulder as he spoke. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Kelly. We’re the one’s in control of this stuff. We can conjure up the hurricane just enough to enjoy all the excitement, and then we can get rid of it . . . right, Lacey?” He looked at their leader as he asked the question.

“Of course. Stop being a baby, Kelly.”

“Well, I have to go home now,” Nick said. “Are we going to try to meet more often or not?”

“Why don’t we wait and see if everything we did tonight will make the storm tomorrow night any worse than this one,” Troy said. “Then we can decide.”

“Okay,” Lacey agreed. “We won’t meet again until the night after tomorrow, but let’s start a little earlier. Maybe that will make a difference. Unless, of course, we get our hurricane tomorrow night. We said those extra chants tonight after the storm died down, so maybe that will be enough.”

“Okay,” they all agreed in chorus and got up from their positions and began blowing out the candles. They collected the various symbols and potions that it was their responsibility to bring to the meetings, and began to disperse to their own homes, slipping through neighbors’ yards and down alleys.

They all lived within three blocks of each other, so it wasn’t hard to get around that way, but as soon as they left the garage, all five of them ran as fast as they could to get home. For some reason . . . even though they never admitted it . . . they always felt scared after they’d had a séance or been conjuring. But they believed what they’d read in all the Sally Stone books: They would get over being scared as they gained power.


Look for Chapter Three tomorrow.


RACING TOWARD THE LIGHt — CHAPTER ONE

I’ve decided to offer my inspirational novel RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT for free reading on this website — unabridged — one chapter a day. I wrote the story several years ago, and it was first published in 2016. It’s available in paperback and digital on Amazon, but I wanted to share it with my followers this month for free. At the end of October, the chapters will be removed from this site.

The story is fiction, but it conveys the reality of witchcraft and its dangers, and also conveys the truth that Jesus Christ and His blood are more powerful than all witchcraft. Because the book focus on the spiritual warfare that takes place when demonic forces try to capture the hearts and lives of people, but God’s forces move in to defeat those demonic powers, I felt it was fitting to offer it in the weeks leading up to Halloween. After reading RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT, no one can ever look at Halloween quite the same as they did before reading the book.

I thought perhaps some of my readers might like a little background concerning the creating of the book so I’m offering that background here first. If you’re the kind of reader who isn’t interested in background and just want to get right into the story, you can skip down to where Chapter One begins. 🙂



Here’s How It All Began

Most of my friends know that I have a great love for lighthouses, and several years ago, two of my best friends, Roy and Donna Manasco, came across a small print of a painting by Steven Sundram, “Sureal Moments,” which focused on a lighthouse standing as sentry over a vast expanse of beach during a storm, and a beautiful solid white horse approaching the lighthouse. They bought the print for me and presented it to me as a gift on a Sunday morning at church. I was delighted with the scene immediately, and after arriving home with it, I sat and looked at it for some time before setting it aside to concentrate on my work. I was in the middle of writing two novels at the time, and they needed all my attention. So I had intended to work on one of them most of the rest of the day.

However, I placed Steve Sundram’s picture against the music rack of my keyboard, and sat down on the sofa across from it to eat some lunch. As I ate, I kept looking at the picture, and it literally drew me into it until my imagination began to build to the point that I felt I knew the place personally. Words began flowing through me, as if I were describing it in detail for someone else. I felt that I knew the people who lived there, who walked that beach and shared their lives on it. (Although they are not visible in the painting, they are there.) I even felt as if I knew the horse. I knew his name was Moondancer.

But I also recognized what was happening inside me: I was on the verge of birthing a brand new novel based on that picture. Now, at that time, I had already written six inspirational novels, three of which had been published and were currently on the market. However, every novel I had written previously had been born out of a specific story in my own mind — based on a particular character, problem, or theme. I had never written a novel that focused on a setting of any kind, and even my five-book series The Smoky Mountain Series, keeps the focus on the setting at a minimum.

So starting a book based solely on a physical setting was completely out of character for me. Furthermore, I scolded myself for even thinking about starting a new novel when the current books were still not finished. Immediately, I jumped up, walked over to the picture, turned it around backwards so that I could not see it anymore, and tried to finish my lunch.

But by the time I had finished eating, the descriptive passages flowing through my mind had grown into paragraphs. I fought off the temptation to sit down to the computer and pull up a blank page. I told myself that I absolutely had to finish the other work, one part of which was facing a specific deadline. But those words kept pressing through me. I managed to leave the room and do something else for several minutes, but before I knew it, I was back in the living room, turning the picture back around and looking at it again. I put it down and picked it up multiple times.

Eventually I began to get a handle on the main character — a man who had suffered serious emotional trauma and needed healing. A man who had made his way to this ocean, this beach, this place – in order to find peace and quiet, time and solitude, a touch of eternity — so that he could heal. At that point I didn’t know what he had suffered or what he was running from. Nor did I have any insight into what form and process his healing would take. I just knew that the story would be his story; he would be living there temporarily, and that the other people who lived there were going to have a significant part to play in his healing.

I fought the temptation and the draw of that painting until 3:00 in the afternoon, at which time, I sat down at my computer, pulled up a blank page, and began writing the novel Racing Toward the Light. Of course, it didn’t have the title at that point. But I wrote everything I saw and felt in that painting, and I didn’t stop writing until I had the lighthouse inhabited and the main character named Noah Bennet. I still didn’t know what his terrible past was or what would happen to him in the story, but I was determined to find out. And I can say, without any reservation, that I virtually lived in that painting for the entire three months it took to write the story.

Over the next two weeks, I realized two things: this story would take the bold step of dealing with the subject of the supernatural, which had been experiencing a resurgence in literature and movies at the time. Several conversations that I had with other people concerning the surge of interest in supernatural subjects, especially witchcraft and its effects, led me to realize that I had the rest of the story in that subject matter.

I’ve learned that when an author lets a story begin to tell itself on paper, he finds that it has within itself much more than he ever thought about when he wrote the first word. This story, conceived out of a picture of an unnamed place, built itself into a masterpiece that takes an intimate look into the world of the supernatural while, at the same time, allowing readers to follow the earthly characters as their lives relate to and are impacted by the supernatural realm. The story of spiritual warfare in both realms is sure to inspire and encourage faith in the readers.   

Racing Toward The Light also gradually eased its way into a powerful love story. That’s the second thing I realized: that in every book, whether the author planned it or not, there is a love story just waiting to be told. So I’ve told this one.

I want to express my appreciation once again to artist Steve Sundram for his generous arrangement for the use of his painting for the cover of the book. It you’d like to check out more of his great work, you can find him at sundramstudios.com.

Now, to get into the story …


RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT

© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER ONE

He was forcing his way through bushes and tree limbs that pulled at his sleeves and scratched his face. Moving as quickly as he could, he wasn’t even trying to be quiet. There wasn’t time to be quiet. Please, God, let us be in time! Please let us be in time! But it was so dark. Was it usually this dark? He’d camped in these woods, but he didn’t remember the feeling of being smothered in thick darkness like he was experiencing now.

Three deputies flanked Noah Bennett on either side, each of them sweeping the wooded terrain with the same kind of high-powered flashlight that he was carrying himself. I should have tried harder! I should have made myself stay focused on this! His breathing was ragged and his chest so tight; he wondered if he might actually be having a heart attack.

“Over here,” one of the deputies called out, and Noah turned abruptly toward the clearing on the right, crushing a portion of a bush beneath his boot to get past it in a hurry. All the light beams converged on the spot the deputy was looking at on the ground. There was the pentagram. And close to it a recently dowsed fire.

“This must be the place,” Noah heard himself say,

and as he began to sweep the beam of his light around, one of the other deputies pointed out a silver flash with his own light. The steel of the ritualistic knife glittered tauntingly at all of the men, as one of them reached down to pick it up with a gloved hand.

And then … they saw her.

Noah felt the agonizing groan begin in the deepest part of his abdomen. He felt the full force of it as it raged all the way through him. He felt his knees hit the ground with a painful thud as the groan finally escaped in a tormented cry ….

Sheriff Noah Bennett woke up sobbing like a child … again. He was wringing wet with sweat, and his sobs shook his whole body. He finally sat upright and grabbed his head. He had to get his stomach to settle down quickly, or he’d throw up again too. By sheer willpower, he managed to swallow the bile and begin to take deep enough breaths that the sobbing finally subsided. When he was under control enough to be able to move, he shoved himself off the bed and onto his knees beside it. Burying his head in the damp sheets, he tried to pray … again. This had to end. … Sometime … this had to end!

A mile out from shore, the ocean was a vast, undulating, lead-gray blanket. But as the currents approached the beach that held them in check by the decree of God, the waves became gentle, but persistent swirls of iridescent silver. As they washed against the land, their substance danced high into the air as if a huge bottle of champagne had been poured out into a giant punch bowl.

The dramatic change in the water’s color resulted from the fact that a lighthouse stood atop a modest knoll whose base stretched across the beach almost to the very edge of the water at high tide. The arm of light rushed out to meet the darkness, which was made more intense because of heavy clouds that almost rested on the surface of the water a couple of miles out and covered most of the sky over the coast. The only opening in the cloud cover was just to the right of the lighthouse itself, but it wasn’t letting any moonlight through. So the only radiance came from the beam that swept its ruling arc across its vast domain every fifteen seconds. But the darkness was no match for that penetrating light. The beacon was so intense that it forced, not only the ocean, but even those heavy clouds to reflect that light into the atmosphere. It was in the brilliance of that light that the caps of the waves became like silver lace, and the hundreds of water droplets like sparkling diamonds.

The wind had picked up. But it was often stronger on this part of the beach than it was farther inland, and the combined sound of wind and waves usually served more as a lullaby to the inhabitants of the lighthouse than it did a disturbance. At least that used to be the case . . . until the last couple of weeks. The light itself had been automated several years ago, but the house was still a quaint, but quite livable place. That being the case, the old man who had operated the light during the last decade had opted to lease the house for his home, with the understanding that he would service and repair the equipment that carried on most of the operations now.

His six-year-old great-grandson David had come to live with him almost a year ago, along with his aunt Serenity, the old man’s elder granddaughter. David’s mother was Serenity’s younger sister, and she and her husband had died in an accident while traveling abroad, leaving their son in the guardianship of his aunt.

The boy was sitting now in the window seat of his bedroom, looking out at the beach, the light beam sweeping enough light through the window periodically to bring a glow to his room and turn his blond head into a bright halo. He had his chin propped in his hand, his elbow propped on the windowsill, and he was deep in conversation with the Lord.

“And if I did have a horse, You know I’d take really good care of him, so Gramps and Aunt Sere wouldn’t have to do anything at all. I’d feed him and brush him and clean out his stall . . . well . . . when he had a stall.” That point was where he always got stuck in his well-rehearsed plan. He had his eye on an old shed that stood in back of the lighthouse and even had a rather wobbly fence part of the way around it. But he hadn’t figured out a way to convince his grandfather and aunt that he was old enough to help fix both the fence and the shed so as to allow for the housing of a horse.

“Well, Lord, I bet Trent’s dad would help fix it all up,” he finally said now. Trent was the seven-year-old boy whose parents had moved to Hamsted the week after school had let out for the summer. The boys had become almost inseparable friends over the next two weeks, and now they shared their dreams and plans with each other. Naturally, Trent thought the idea of David’s having a horse of his very own was “super,” and he had assured David that he would help all he could to figure out a way to make it happen.

As David continued talking with the Lord, his aunt, in the adjacent room was having her own conversation with her Heavenly Father. Serenity, who had been a writer for the last fifteen of her thirty-two years, was not used to having a child to care for, but she loved her nephew David fervently, and her decision to move him and herself to the lighthouse with her grandfather had been based on three things.

One was the fact that she was especially concerned about Gramps, particularly since he lived completely alone and in a rather isolated area. Since the family’s tragic loss, he hadn’t made much effort to mix with the people in the small town two miles up the road from the coast . . . or with the visitors that rented cottages on the beach during the summer. But Serenity had hoped that her and David’s presence there would encourage her grandfather to rejuvenate his waning friendships and to become an active part of the small community again.

The second reason she had made the decision was that she felt David needed a place of quiet and peace in which to recover from his own grief, and his devotion to his great-grandfather could only be an added help. And thirdly, Serenity knew that if she were going to be able to concentrate on her own work, so as not to lose her income, she would also need a quiet place, as well as someone to help take responsibility for David from time to time. This decision seemed the perfect solution since Gramps was eager to spend much of his time with David, and all three of them were delighted with the arrangement. For now, at least.

Since the family’s tragedy had occurred right after the school year had begun, and then Serenity and David had moved to be with Gramps immediately, she and her grandfather had decided that home-schooling David for the first year would be better than causing him to have to get used to a brand new school and then perhaps be moved again in another year. But soon he would be seven years old, and she felt that before long, he would once again need to be in an environment where he was with other children his own age more than he was now. He went to church and Sunday School, and he got along well with all of the other children there, but he had been so withdrawn and quiet since his parents’ deaths that Serenity had been a little worried. However, just lately, he seemed to be getting back to being the active, joyful child he’d always been previously.

Her thoughts drifted now as she changed into her gown and prepared for sleep. She didn’t usually go to bed at 10:00, but she’d been up writing until 3:00 A.M. the last two mornings, and the need for sleep was finally catching up with her. She started thinking about David’s schooling again.

“I’m just not sure what’s best, Lord,” she prayed now. “It’s so hard making all the decisions for someone else’s life, knowing that if I make a mistake, David could be the one to suffer.” She smiled now as she thought of her nephew in the room next to hers. Maybe he needed to be in a bigger town where he could interact with more different kinds of people than he could in this little place on the coast. The town of Hamsted was hardly more than a village actually, but she liked the people. And most of the town seemed to really care about keeping their school up to date and academically sound.

She let out a sigh. “Well, Lord, there’s still a few more weeks yet before we have to make a final decision. I know You’ll show me what You want me to do.”

She stretched out on her bed now. Sometimes she found herself wishing she had found someone to love and begin a family with, the way her sister had. She loved children and would like several of her own, even if it meant not having nearly as much time to write. She had dated from time to time, and she had a number of men friends and writing associates, but nothing had ever really “clicked” somehow. And, now, she realized she had added another dimension to the way men would see her, because she was now, to all intents and purposes, a mother as well as a successful career woman . . . not the most attractive combination to most single men in their thirties or forties.

Oh, well . . . she’d have to leave all that in the Lord’s hands. And she was usually pretty good at doing just that. But sometimes . . . like tonight she lay in her bed watching the beam of light sweep across the terrain … she felt unutterably lonely for the arms and the quiet, comforting, love words of a strong Christian man.

She sighed gently, rolling over to her other side, where she couldn’t see out the window, and closed her eyes. Then she returned to the prayer she had left unfinished when her thoughts had started to drift. “You know what I need better than I do, Lord. You know that I need more than just someone for myself now. I need someone who will be able to love David and help me raise him up in Your Word. I still have serious doubts about being able to do that by myself. But please, Lord, help me not to jump into some relationship out of fear that I can’t do it alone. That would be worse than anything.”

She yawned and pulled the cover a little higher until it nestled beneath her chin. “Thank You for making us able to come here, Lord. It’s helped all three of us a lot.” She yawned again, and somewhere in the midst of thanking the Lord for working everything out, she drifted into a peaceful sleep.

David was still happily chatting with the Lord about the desire of his heart, convinced that the Lord would provide a horse soon, As he continued to plan, he looked out at the beach. The broad expanse of sand stretched away from the lighthouse, eventually spreading out in front of the summer cottages that dotted that area for about two miles along the coast. David couldn’t see the first cottage from his room, but up in the top of the lighthouse, he could see almost all of them. They were spread out far enough to allow each family to feel as if they had their own private part of the beach, but were within easy walking distance of each other.

As his blue-gray eyes scanned the wave-swept coast, seeing only dim outlines except when the rhythmic arc of light swept around, David suddenly came to attention. Was he seeing things? Had he fallen asleep and started dreaming, he wondered. He sat up straighter and squinted his eyes to try to see better, but he had to wait for the light to pass over the beach again to be sure.

“Yes!” he said out loud, jumping to his knees on the window seat and pushing out the lightweight, temporary screen so that he could lean out of the window. “A horse . . . a real horse!” Right before his eyes a large, solid white stallion came galloping straight toward the lighthouse. A short distance away, the horse stopped and seemed to turn and prance around for a while, almost as if he were frolicking in the surf. Then he ran toward the lighthouse again, stopping again after several yards to do the same thing.

David was enthralled. He’d never seen such a beautiful animal. He’d often imagined what his own horse would look like, but he’d never imagined anything like this. He laughed softly as he watched, enjoying the horse’s antics almost as much as the stallion himself seemed to do. Suddenly, the horse stopped and arched his neck, whinnying softly. He looked right at David and started to trot over closer to the house.

By this time, David was leaning way out of the window, reaching his arm out to encourage the horse to come closer. He was aware that he needed to be quiet if he didn’t want to wake his aunt, but he just couldn’t resist calling softly to the horse. “Come on, Boy,” he said, trying to keep his voice down, but finding it very hard to do since he didn’t want to miss a chance to pet this horse. “Come on, Boy,” he said again, motioning the horse toward him from where it had stopped a few feet away from the house. Slowly, the stallion sidled up to the window, snorting and blowing softly, and David was finally able to touch his nose and pet him.

“You’re the best horse I’ve ever seen in my whole life!” he said now, and was rewarded with the horse’s moving close enough to nuzzle David’s shoulder as he hung way past the window ledge. Finally, David couldn’t resist any longer. He climbed swiftly out of the window, thankful that it was only a couple of feet from the ground, and stood beside the stallion. He hadn’t realized quite how big the horse was until he was standing in his bare feet beside the animal. But he wasn’t afraid. This horse must be an answer to his prayers.

Of course, his very next thought was that he probably belonged to somebody living in one of the cottages, but . . . well . . . he could pretend for a little while, couldn’t he? “Would you let me ride you?” he asked the horse now, and his only answer was the same soft blowing sound the animal had made before. So David figured it was worth a try and began looking around for a way to get up on the white stallion’s back. Finally he spotted the small boat that was turned upside down on a sand dune off to the side of the lighthouse, and he slowly moved toward it, never letting his hand slide from the horse’s neck.

“Come this way, Boy,” he said, and the horse moved with him as if he had been obeying the boy his whole life. As soon as David had himself and the horse in position, he climbed up on to the highest part of the boat and reached up to grab the horse around the neck. He threw his strong young body into one giant jump and managed to land on the stallion’s back, holding onto his mane in a vice grip so as not to slide off. He had no idea it would feel this way to be so high off of the ground. But as he felt the horse shift its stance slightly, moving beneath him, he felt as if they were one, and he knew he was right where he’d always wanted to be.

“Okay, Boy,” he said, leaning over the horse’s neck to talk as close to his ear as possible. “Take me for a ride.” He pulled very gently on the mane to try to turn the animal’s head in the direction of the beach, and then he nudged his heels . . . also very gently . . . against the stallion’s sides to encourage him to get started. “Giddy up,” he said, not knowing what else to say to a horse to get him moving, and to his great delight, the stallion began to trot across the lighthouse yard and move along the beach, back the way he had come. Once he was several feet away from the house, he began to run along the surf’s edge, and David, holding on for dear life, was laughing with delight. By this time, he was far enough away from the house to feel pretty sure he wouldn’t wake his aunt or Gramps.

They raced along the beach, boy and horse, free as the wind and the waves, flying past the first cottage and then the second, but still within the protective arc of light that swept over their path in its appointed intervals. But the wind was picking up even more, and thunder started to roll through the clouds that had continued to thicken during the past hour. After another minute, lightening began to flash in jagged arrows out over the ocean as the brewing storm began to move inland.

Those warning signals, which would have meant a great deal to any adult considering going out at that time, were lost on the six-year-old boy, who was finally realizing the power of a dream come true. And besides, he’d lived on the ocean long enough to see a number of storms there, especially recently, and he didn’t have any fear of them. Why should he? As far as he was concerned, they were all just part of the water, the sky, and the earth that he’d come to appreciate with a new passion since he’d come here to live. So he felt free to abandon himself to the ride as only a child can do.

About a mile down the beach, in the fourth cottage, Noah Bennett was wakened from his sleep for the second time. As he turned over, he heard the heavy roll of thunder and noticed that the lightening looked pretty intense. Exhausted by the earlier sobbing prayer, he had finally managed to get back to sleep an hour ago. There was just no rest tonight. But since he was wide awake again, he decided to get up and step outside to see what was going on with the weather. It wouldn’t hurt to check on Moondancer either. This was the stallion’s first night in the makeshift corral on the beach, and he wasn’t sure how the animal would take to it in rough weather.

He slipped a pair of blue jeans over the underwear he usually slept in, and since he knew the wind over the ocean was usually chilly, he grabbed up his lightweight jacket and put it on over his tee shirt. When he stepped out the door, he sniffed the air, aware that there was something about the atmosphere that made him feel unpleasant. It was nothing he could put his finger on, but . . . he just stood on his porch, looking out over the water at the fast approaching storm, trying to figure out what it was he felt.

Storms didn’t frighten him. He’d worked right through some of the worst of them in his years in law-enforcement. When he’d been a cop in a midwestern city, he’d had his share of experience with weather catastrophes. Then when he’d made the switch to a deputy sheriff position in the Southwest, and had eventually been elected sheriff himself, it was torrential rainstorms and the dangerous flash floods that he’d had to concentrate on in order to protect his people. He shook his head now, in thought.

No, it wasn’t the fact that there was a heavy storm approaching that made him feel this way. But it was something in the air. Almost as if the whole atmosphere were boiling with a menacing attitude, and as if the storm were just the outward manifestation of whatever it was that was at the root of the situation. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders. He’d come here to get some rest and recuperation. He’d better stop letting his gut feelings have so much effect on him if he expected to be successful at getting that much needed rest.

But he knew the Lord had given His followers spiritual authority over the elements of nature, and it was his habit to take that authority over storms, so he did so now. “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I take authority over all of you elements of weather right now. I command you to submit to your Creator, and I bind you from becoming destructive in any form anywhere along this beach, or in the town connected to it.” Then he spoke to the Lord personally. “Father, I thank you for that authority, and for Your protection in the name of Jesus. Amen.” He stepped off the porch then and started for the corral and shed where he had installed Moondancer.

But what he saw when he rounded the cottage stopped him in his tracks and struck him dumb. The corral gate was open and Moondancer was gone. He shook his head. That horse! There wasn’t even a moon out tonight, he thought, looking up at the sky and around the beach. Of course, there was the lighthouse, and that arc of light was brilliant. It just might have been enough of a calling card for a horse that seemed to have been born to frolic at night when the moon was bright. He’d never seen a horse so fond of racing around and just plain having a good time in the middle of the night.

That’s how he’d come by his name, of course. Noah had bought the stallion when he was just a year old, and from the first time he’d taken him home, he’d recognized that he had a horse with a unique personality. But it had suited Noah most of the time, because some nights when he’d come home, burdened down by some of the crime he’d had to deal with, Moondancer was literally champing at the bit to get out in the moonlight and run. They’d raced across many a field and country road at night, and even in the wee hours of the morning, letting the crisp night air and the star-studded sky wash Noah clean from the crud that seemed to cling to some parts of his job.

But tonight was different. Moondancer wasn’t at home. He was in a strange place. Noah decided he’d better walk along the beach and see if he could find him before the storm really broke. He didn’t have to guess which way to head. That horse always ran toward the light. Noah chuckled softly to himself at that thought. Well . . . that was a good plan for a man as well as for a horse. Wasn’t that what the Word of God said? Jesus came to bring light . . . and He was the light of men. So no matter what was going on in a person’s life, his best plan was to always turn toward the light and head for it as straight as he could go.

Noah had been walking along with his head down, thinking, but now suddenly he jerked it up. He thought he’d heard a horse whinny. Sure enough, here came that beautiful white stallion, flying like the wind, the ocean spray splashing around his ankles.

But then Noah looked closer. “What on earth!” he said out loud. There was someone on Moondancer’s back. That horse never let anyone ride him unless Noah got on his back with the new rider and let Moondancer get used to him gradually. And then he refused most people even after all of that. How in the world did some kid . . . he could see now that the rider was a child . . . how in the world did that boy get Moondancer to take him up and allow him to stay there?

As they came within a few feet of Noah, the horse slowed to a trot and gradually sidled up to his owner. Noah could see now that the boy was the great-grandson of the lighthouse manager. He’d met the family last season when he’d been here visiting his sister and brother-in-law for a week. He’d really liked Clint, the grandfather, and they had swapped some good fishing stories. Then he’d spoken momentarily to David and his aunt on the beach two days ago. He looked up at the boy whose face was wreathed in an enormous grin. As he did so, he reached out and placed an authoritative hand on Moondancer’s neck. The horse knew to stand still and wait for instructions.

“Well, well,” Noah spoke to the boy in a friendly voice, “what have we here? Are you playing cowboy in the middle of the night?”

“Is this your horse, Mister Bennett?” David asked, excitement still filling his voice as a result of the ride.

“Yep. He’s mine. His name’s Moondancer. And my first name’s Noah, by the way. Why don’t you call me that?”

“Okay. Do you remember my name?”

“It’s David, right?”

David nodded his head. “Right.”

“Well, David, I’m just wondering . . . do your aunt and grandpa know you’re out riding at this time of night?”

David looked a little sheepish, dropping his eyes and letting his tongue slip out between his lips and slide back and forth slowly . . . a habit he had when he was nervous or unsure of himself. Noah almost grinned, but he knew he’d blow his whole image as a disciplinarian if he did, so he fought the urge. “It looks like you’re in your PJ’s to me. Aren’t you cold?”

David looked up then and just shrugged his shoulders. Noah figured the boy was probably just now discovering how chilly it really was out in this damp wind and that he wasn’t going to admit it for any reason. “I’ll tell you what, why don’t you come on in and have something warm to drink, and then I’ll see about getting you back home, okay?”

David nodded, and Noah began to lead Moondancer toward the cottage, David still on his back. “Why do you call him Moondancer?” the boy asked as they sauntered along.

“Well, from the time he was barely more than a colt, he’s loved to go out at night and race in the moonlight. Sometimes, when I don’t have time to ride him myself, I’ll look out and see him trotting and prancing around almost like he’s putting on a show. So the name just seemed to fit him. What do you think?”

David nodded again. “That’s what he was doing over by my house. And then he just came right up to my window and let me pet him.”

“How did you get on his back?”

“I climbed up on an old boat that was turned upside down and then I jumped the best I could, and there I was!”

“And Moondancer didn’t seem to mind?”

“Huhnuh! He stood real still.”

Noah just shook his head. It was certainly a first. But by that time, he had the boy and horse back to his cottage, so he reached up and took David off of Moondancer’s back and stood him on the porch. It was beginning to rain steadily, so he said, “You step on inside where it’s dry, and I’ll be right in . . . as soon as I make sure old Moondancer here can’t do any more running around on his own.”

When the horse had been secured to Noah’s satisfaction, he returned to the cottage and put some milk in the microwave for some cocoa. He got a towel and dried David off the best he could and then dried himself. He slipped off his wet jacket and went into the bedroom for a shirt to put around David to help get him warm quicker. “You know, Dave, I think I should call your aunt and let her know you’re safe, because it’s raining so hard now that we may have to sit here a while before I can take you home. We don’t want her to worry if she checks on you and finds you gone, do we?”

David shook his head, but he was holding it down, knowing there was bound to be some trouble when his aunt found out what he’d been doing. But after a brief moment, he looked up at Noah, his eyes shining and declared, “It was worth it!” He didn’t have to say anything else, because Noah knew exactly what he meant.

In fact, Noah was a little envious right at that moment. It had been a long time since he’d done something just because it fulfilled a dream or a great desire of his heart, not stopping to count the cost, but just throwing himself into living the moment and savoring it. He reached out and tousled David’s blond hair. “I’ll ask her to go easy on you,” he said, and then added, “but . . . I want you to promise me that you won’t take off in the middle of the night for any reason at all without telling your aunt first . . . not for any reason.” David looked at him out of very solemn eyes, and Noah continued. “If you’ll promise me that, I’ll think about letting you ride Moondancer sometimes in the daytime, when it’s safer. What do you say?”

David’s eyes grew bigger and brighter, and then his little face took on a serious demeanor. “I promise,” he said, nodding his head for emphasis. “I promise.”

“Good,” Noah said, and reached into the microwave to get the cocoa. He set the mug in front of David and turned to the phone.


Watch for Chapter Two tomorrow.


DIGITAL NOVEL SALE


Special sale on all my digital novels through the 4th of July weekend.

EVERY DIGITAL NOVEL WILL BE ONLY $0.99.

Sale does not include anthologies, non-fiction, or poetry (unless the item was priced that low to begin with).

Prices good now through Monday, July 5, 2021 — Midnight CDT

13 Novels to choose from.
You can make your selections from my author’s page on Amazon at THIS LINK.


Smoky Mountain Series Continues

Just a little update to say Book # 6 of the Smoky Mountain Novel Series will be out around the first of May. GRACE FOR ATTICUS  has been one of my most challenging books in a long time, but I’ve been in love with it from the first paragraph. I thought I’d give you a little sneak preview just to stir up a tad of interest. See the excerpt below:

GRACE FOR ATTICUS

Copyright © 2021 Sandra Pavloff Conner

Excerpt: Chapter One

The glass front door of Tsalagi Craft and Trade Center flew open, the bell at the top of the door jangling so hard it sounded like an alarm. Grace Walela Ross looked up from the accounting work she was doing at the desk in the back left corner of the store.

Her black hair, cut in short tousled layers accented her black eyes and her bronze Cherokee skin. She rose to her full height of five feet, seven inches, and although she was quite delightful to look at as she stood behind her desk, the man stomping his way toward her had such fire in his eyes, it was unlikely he had taken time to notice.

“I understand you’re the one responsible for this trash,” he said, slamming a copy of The Sword newspaper down on top of the desk.

“I’m the editor of the paper, if that’s what you mean,” Grace replied, standing straight and looking him in the eye. He was a good half a foot taller than she was, and all powerful, barely restrained muscle. She felt only slightly intimidated, but had no intention of letting fear have a place.

“Do you have a problem with something in the this week’s issue, Mr. – ?”

“ A problem? No, I don’t have a problem. I have a legitimate complaint against your libelous excuse for journalism. You’re the one who has the problem, Ms. – ” He stopped and glanced at the masthead of the paper to double-check her name. “Ms. Grace Walela Ross! Because unless you print an immediate retraction – and on the front page – you’re going to court and pay through the nose.”

“And just what exactly are you referring to as libelous, Mr. Whoever-You-Are?”

“St. John.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Atticus St. John. Doctor St. John to you.”

“Oh, I see.”

“I don’t think you do see, Ms. Ross. I don’t think you even try to see the whole picture. You’re so focused on your own personal rant that you don’t care how distorted you make your articles.”

Some kind of righteous anger mixed with personal hurt rose up in Grace. She rounded the desk and advanced toward him until she stood mere inches away. “I never distort my articles! How dare you come stomping in here and speak such lies!”

“Me speaking lies! You have the gall to accuse me after you’ve written and printed this hideous excuse for journalism?! You should be tarred and feathered!”

Grace’s head almost buzzed with the anger she felt. She prided herself in all the effort she put into being sure of all her facts, even down to the exact spelling of every single name she used. And she was always hard on herself to make sure she’d used proper restraint before assigning responsibility and fault to anyone in her articles. Such an attack as this on her character as a credible journalist was more than she could bear, and before she could even think about what she was going to do, she spit in his face. Instantly, the shock of what she had done hit her so forcefully that she gasped, and her hand flew to cover her mouth. Her eyes, wide with the horror of her actions, locked onto his.

But her shock was nothing compared to his. Followed by a new level of anger. “Why you little savage!” he said, grasping her by the shoulders and, without thinking, pushing her backwards against the desk, and pinning her there with his own body. Grace put up her hands against his chest in an instinctive defense, but he was much more powerful than she. Her eyes focused on his shoulders now, and her self-defense training came to mind, but for some reason, she felt a kind of dazed lack of energy to inflict any kind of retaliation.

He wasn’t sure what he’d intended when he’d grabbed her, but was responding to some primal need in him to exact revenge for such humiliation and put her in her place somehow. He fought within himself over whether to spit in her face as well or kiss her forcefully enough to prove his mastery over her.

He had decided on the ruthless kiss when, suddenly, her eyes met his again and held him with a look that said she knew he was in control, but she wouldn’t even consider backing down. There was something so pure in her eyes – an assurance of being in the right – something that pulled on him to side with her unflinching commitment to what she believed – that his own thoughts came crashing to a full stop.

In response, he gradually leaned forward almost touching her lips in what would have been an entirely different kind of kiss, but he caught himself just in time. He pulled back slowly and heard himself say in a tone of disbelief, “Grace? … You’re name is Grace? And if I’m not mistaken, your middle name is the Cherokee word for Hummingbird, is it not?”

Grace was silent with surprise at the sudden change in him, and she just nodded. He laughed softly then. “What a mistake your poor parents made. You most definitely are not a hummingbird. In fact I’d say you’re more like a she-bear – defending her domain – a spitting bear in fact,” he added, taking his right hand from her shoulder and wiping his cheek where her spittle had landed. He quickly grasped her shoulder again, but couldn’t hold back more laughter.

The laughter was genuine, but he was having a hard time understanding everything else he was feeling. Something powerful had passed between them in those moments – something so elemental he couldn’t put a name to it, but it pulled on him and caused him to want to stay close to her. A ridiculous feeling since she represented everything he had to fight against in order to carry out his own work – work that he believed in and had labored hard to be able to accomplish.

He finally released her and stepped back, glancing toward the floor and running his hand through his hair in a frustrated manner. But he looked right at her again and spoke in a disgruntled tone. “Never mind. I don’t really have time to bother with you.”

He turned away from her and started for the door, but just before he pushed the door open, he turned and almost spat out the words, “Just be careful, my little Spitting-Bear. The next victim of your irresponsible journalism may not be as willing to forego exacting his vengeance.” And with those words he walked through the door and almost stomped down the street.

Grace still leaned against the desk, almost as if she needed its support. Her adrenaline was rushing, and she knew she’d been frightened a little by the encounter, but there was something else involved that she couldn’t identify. She realized with a quickening of her breath that she actually wished he had followed through on his actions and kissed her. She shook her head in disbelief now and finally pushed herself away from the desk, making her way around it, where she sat down in the chair again. She closed her eyes and relived the whole experience.

In the heat of the moment, she hadn’t been conscious of noting his appearance, but now, in her memory’s eye, she saw again the strength that showed in the muscles of his arms and chest even beneath the fabric of his long-sleeved dress shirt. His hair was sandy brown and had been tousled by the breeze. She saw again the firm jaw, and the olive green eyes – eyes that kindled with his barely restrained temper as they bored into hers. She felt a stirring inside as she remembered those eyes – and the way his body felt barely touching hers. Suddenly, she shook herself lightly, trying to escape those memories and clear her head.

Everything about the man was the antithesis of her beliefs and agenda for her own life. How could she have wanted to kiss him – to stay in a place where she was touching him and looking steadily into his eyes? She leaned back in the chair and just sat, waiting for her thoughts to clear and for her day to get back to normal somehow.

She heard the bell again, but at a normal volume this time, and when she glanced toward the door she saw her brother Blaze heading her way. “Hey, Sis, I read your article this morning.”

Grace looked up at him as he stood now in front of the desk, but she seemed to be having trouble focusing.

“Is something wrong, Hon.” he asked, concern in his eyes now.

Grace really looked at him then, finally focusing, and shook her head again slightly, as if still trying to clear it. “No, not really. I guess I’m just a little dazed after having a confrontation with Dr. St. John.”

“St. John? As in the man you wrote about in the front page article?”

Grace nodded her head and, to Blaze’s relief, her impish grin kicked in, and he felt reassured that she was her old self.

“What happened?”

Grace told him how Dr. St. John had stormed into the store and accused her of being irresponsible in her journalism and of telling lies, and how he’d threatened to sue if she didn’t print a retraction of her accusations.”

“I guess you set him straight, didn’t you?”

“Well … about that.” Grace said and started to squirm a little in her chair.

Blaze was intrigued by that move, because his little sister was generally straight-forward and outspoken with everyone, so he just stood there and looked at her intently until she glanced away and then, finally, looked back at him.

“Hummingbird, why do I feel that there’s something you should tell me, but you don’t want to? What really did happen?”

“Everything happened just like I said, except that … well … I guess he just made me so angry and so hurt … you know everything he said was totally unfair and just wrong … and … well … I … before I realized what I was doing, I spit in his face.”

“What!”

Grace leaned forward on the desk putting her face into her hands and groaning. She felt ashamed and so guilty. Not only was she ashamed about what she had done to the doctor, but she was just as much ashamed to have her brother know that she had acted in such an un-Christlike manner to anyone. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she lifted her head just enough to reach for a tissue from the box on the corner of the desk.

“Oh, Honey, don’t cry. I can’t imagine your doing anything like that unless you were seriously pressed beyond endurance,” Blaze said and sat down in the chair in front of the desk.

He sat quietly for a few moments while his sister blotted her eyes and blew her nose. He thought back to last fall when she had decided to move back to Cherokee to be closer to their family and to help him with his craft center and store because the Lord was using him so much in a traveling ministry now that he didn’t have the time to devote to actually running the business alone.

She had worked for several years for a publishing company, but had long had a dream to begin her own newspaper with the aim of focusing on much needed moral and social change in both the local community and the nation. After deciding to move back home and work with her brother, she’d felt it was the right time and place to launch the paper, and she had been working hard at making it a real success for the past six months.

He smiled now as he watched her getting control of her emotions and blotting her eyes once more before looking up at him.

“You want to tell me the rest of it?” he asked, grinning at her. “What did he do when you spit on him?” Grace thought back through all of his reactions – and her own unexpected response to his grasping her and almost kissing her. She wasn’t ready to share that part with her brother just yet, but she could at least tell him about the doctor’s words.

She grinned now too as she answered. “He called me a savage.”

Blaze’s eyebrows rose at that. “Wow, that’s a little cowboy-and-Indianish, isn’t it?”

Grace laughed out loud at that. “But that’s not all. He also said that he knew my middle name was the Cherokee word for hummingbird but that my poor parents had made a serious mistake because I was more like a she-bear – in fact a spitting bear. And just as he walked out the door, he addressed me by that name again.”

“And he’s going to sue?”

“Well … that’s the really odd part,” she said. “He acted like he sort of got better control of his own anger and said he didn’t have time to fool with me. Then his parting words to me were that I should be careful because the next victim of my irresponsible journalism might not be so willing to forego exacting his vengeance.”

“Whew!” Blaze said, leaning back in his chair. “You’ve had quite a day, haven’t you?”

Grace nodded and leaned back in her chair as well. “But I don’t think he’s actually planning on a lawsuit now. And, of course, even if he did sue, he can’t possibly win because, as you know, I make absolutely sure of all my facts – right down to correctly spelled words – and he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”

“Still, I’d hate for you to have to be dragged through court over all of it.”

“Yeah,” she said, nodding her head again. “Me too. But, you know, Blaze – well, we both knew from the beginning – some of the situations I’m addressing in The Sword are going to be pretty volatile from time to time.”

Blaze nodded. “It’s true. And, as you say, you didn’t go into the work blind. I think, though, that this whole abortion issue is something the devil and his forces fight more intensely than anything else right now. It’s going to take the true sword of the Lord and a lot more prayer to make any headway against it.”

“And concerning my articles … it’s not as if I’m trying to shut down every abortion clinic in the country. Of course, you know I don’t believe they should be legal at all, but my recent articles are mainly fighting against adding another abortion clinic to this area when we already have enough of them. It’s a valid argument. But it’s true that I am hitting hard on the whole fact that abortion is immoral period, wherever people have it performed.”

“Did he say specifically what he considered libelous?”

She shook her head and picked up the paper, scanning her front page article again. “No … but I’m pretty sure he was going to focus on the fact that I called him ‘another professional exterminator.’”

“Is there any chance at all that he can make his charges stick?”

“ I don’t see how. I was very careful in my choice of words. I would have liked to use the term murderer, but the technical definition of murderer is ‘someone who illegally kills another person. And right now, in most states almost all abortions are considered legal. There are still a few states holding out on late-term abortions, but the scale is sliding downhill fast. And the states where he has his other two clinics are one hundred percent pro-abortion at any time during pregnancy, so that term would have left me open to question. But the term exterminator specifically means ‘someone who kills whole groups of people or animals. What he does fits the term exactly.”

She leaned back in her chair again and sighed. “I think when he gets rid of all his anger, he’ll be sensible enough to know that even if he forced me to retract the article, or even won a lawsuit, it would just prolong the attention people are giving the story, and if I made it clear that I was forced to retract, he would still end up looking like the bad guy to our readers.”

“I think you’re right. And I’ll let Joy know about your little … uh … adventure today,” he said grinning again, “and we’ll both be praying for the Lord to cover you in this. But, listen, I came in to do some work on the leather moccasins I started yesterday, but I wanted to ask you if you’d like to take a couple days off and get away from the store. You know Joy and I will be gone four days next week for that seminar in Dallas, but I’m here for the rest of this week, and you’ve been working non-stop for months now. I don’t want you worn out with this, especially since you’re still doing some editing for Milton Publishing.”

“Well, if you wouldn’t feel abandoned, I just might think about taking a couple days. I’d actually like to take Mom shopping in Nashville one day, and if we stayed over and went out to dinner, that would be fun for her and me both. I can also make a quick run by the publishing house and check in with the main office.”

“Hey, that sounds like a great idea.”

“Do you think Joy might want to go with us?”

“Well … I guess she might … but … I rather hope she doesn’t,” he said, grinning.

“You really are still newlyweds, aren’t you?” Grace teased him. “You don’t want her out of your sight if you can manage it.”

“Oh, it isn’t that bad, but I do really like having her around all the time. And after all, we have been married only five months.”

He heaved a sigh and added, “But I don’t want to be selfish, and it’s only fair that she have some time with you girls if she’d like to. I’m sure I can survive forty-eight hours,” he said grinning again.

“I know you can, but I just can’t keep from teasing you. I think I will ask her if she’d like to go with us. We haven’t all three had a chance to do anything like that together.”

“I know, and, honestly, I’d be happy for her to get that time with you and Mom if she’d like to go. Call her and let her know what you’re planning.”


The Wait Is Over

 

Yes, it’s official. Book # 5 of the Smoky Mountain Series of inspirational novels is on the market. THIS FIRE IN MY HEART, which continues the story of many of the original characters from the earlier books while introducing us to new ones as well, is finally ready for readers.

Many of my readers who have followed my website for a few years know that when I lost my best friend (who had also been my best book editor) a little over three years ago, the grief and the loss were such that I was not able to return to any of the novels I had been working on, or to start any new works. I was able to write poetry during those years, which provided a healing process for me, but after writing and publishing 11 novels, I was suddenly at a complete standstill when it came to fiction writing. It was a terribly unhappy time for me, not only because of my personal loss, but because of the creative loss as well.

Many of you prayed for me, and the Lord did a wonderful work, particularly during the past year.  Earlier this year, I was able to pick up the second novella in another series that had been about half done when my friend and editor died. And I was able to finish that short work and get it into the marketplace. But taking up the task of writing a completely new novel again — and one that fit into the series which has been the most popular of my works — was still quite daunting.

But during the past few months, I’ve experienced a fresh flow of creativity, and I am thrilled with the results. Not only did I write book 5 and get it into publication, but book 6 began to push its way into my psyche so strongly that it almost interrupted my completing book 5 just because I had to keep stopping to write down notes for book 6 that I didn’t want to forget. It’s a very happy problem for an author to have.  🙂

Anyway, folks, that’s a long way of saying that I’m celebrating. So I’ve launched both the E-Book and the Paperback versions of THIS FIRE IN MY HEART  at special sale prices through the end of the month.

E-Book — $0.99

Paperback — $6.99

I’ll include a brief description of the story below, and if you’re interested in your own copy, you can find the book HERE.


What’s it about????

He was Cherokee, she Scottish-American. But the moment they met in the airport coffee shop, they were connected. Waiting out the fog, they talked like old friends. When her plane was called, he carried her bag to her boarding gate.

With disappointment in her voice, she said, “Wow, Chicago and Dallas – talk about two people going in opposite directions.”

Light flared in his eyes as he realized she didn’t want their connection to end any more than he did. Her pull on him was so strong that he reached out, thinking to touch her cheek, but caught himself just in time. Such an intimate touch with someone he hardly knew wasn’t like him, He quickly bent and picked up her bag and handed it to her, smiling.

“Opposite directions today,” he said, “but not always, I think. I will see you again, Joy.”

How do you know when you’ve met the right person to spend the rest of your life with? For a Christian believer, the Lord has guidelines. Even so, Joy McDaniels struggles with her heart and mind in conflict. But determined to focus on God’s Word and His way of doing things, she finally allows her heart to take the lead.


Book # 5 Has Crossed the Finish Line!

Just a teeny-tiny update for those of you who have been following my progress and cheering me on toward the completion of book # 5 in my Smoky Mountain Novel Series: Book # 5 — This Fire In My Heart — has crossed the finish line! We’re currently ironing out a few last details about publication, and it should be available to purchase in about a week.

It’s a love story that will probably bring a sentimental tear to your eye now and then, but will warm your heart all the way to your toes by the end.

I’ll be in touch with links for purchasing as soon as I have them.


The Author Adventures # 3

Most of my friends know that I have a great love for lighthouses, and several years ago, two of my best friends, Roy and Donna Manasco, came across a small print of a painting by Steven Sundram, “Sureal Moments,” which focused on a lighthouse standing as sentry over a vast expanse of beach during a storm, and a beautiful solid white horse approaching the lighthouse. They bought the print for me and presented it to me as a gift on a Sunday morning at church. I was delighted with the scene immediately, and after arriving home with it, I sat and looked at it for some time before setting it aside to concentrate on my work. I was in the middle of writing two novels at the time, and they needed all my attention. So I had intended to work on one of them most of the rest of the day.

However, I placed Steve Sundram’s picture against the music rack of my keyboard, and sat down on the sofa across from it to eat some lunch. As I ate, I kept looking at the picture, and it literally drew me into it until my imagination began to build to the point that I felt I knew the place personally. Words began flowing through me, as if I were describing it in detail for someone else. I felt that I knew the people who lived there, who walked that beach and shared their lives on it. (Although they are not visible in the painting, they are there.) I even felt as if I knew the horse. I knew his name was Moondancer.

But I also recognized what was happening inside me: I was on the verge of birthing a brand new novel based on that picture. Now, at that time, I had already written six inspirational novels, three of which had been published and were currently on the market. However, every novel I had written previously had been born out of a specific story in my own mind — based on a particular character, problem, or theme. I had never written a novel that focused on a setting of any kind, and even my five-book series The Smoky Mountain Series, keeps the focus on the setting at a minimum.

So starting a book based solely on a physical setting was completely out of character for me. Furthermore, I scolded myself for even thinking about starting a new novel when the current books were still not finished. Immediately, I jumped up, walked over to the picture, turned it around backwards so that I could not see it anymore, and tried to finish my lunch.

But by the time I had finished eating, the descriptive passages flowing through my mind had grown into paragraphs. I fought off the temptation to sit down to the computer and pull up a blank page. I told myself that I absolutely had to finish the other work, one part of which was facing a specific deadline. But those words kept pressing through me. I managed to leave the room and do something else for several minutes, but before I knew it, I was back in the living room, turning the picture back around and looking at it again. I put it down and picked it up multiple times.

Eventually I began to get a handle on the main character — a man who had suffered serious emotional trauma and needed healing. A man who had made his way to this ocean, this beach, this place – in order to find peace and quiet, time and solitude, a touch of eternity — so that he could heal. At that point I didn’t know what he had suffered or what he was running from. Nor did I have any insight into what form and process his healing would take. I just knew that the story would be his story; he would be living there temporarily, and that the other people who lived there were going to have a significant part to play in his healing.

I fought the temptation and the draw of that painting until 3:00 in the afternoon, at which time, I sat down at my computer, pulled up a blank page, and began writing the novel Racing Toward the Light. Of course, it didn’t have the title at that point. But I wrote everything I saw and felt in that painting, and I didn’t stop writing until I had the lighthouse inhabited and the main character named Noah Bennet. I still didn’t know what his terrible past was or what would happen to him in the story, but I was determined to find out. And I can say, without any reservation, that I virtually lived in that painting for the entire three months it took to write the story.

Over the next two weeks, I realized two things: this story would take the bold step of dealing with the subject of the supernatural, which had been experiencing a resurgence in literature and movies at the time. Several conversations that I had with other people concerning the surge of interest in supernatural subjects, especially witchcraft and its effects, led me to realize that I had the rest of the story in that subject matter.

I’ve learned that when an author lets a story begin to tell itself on paper, he finds that it has within itself much more than he ever thought about when he wrote the first word. This story, conceived out of a picture of an unnamed place, built itself into a masterpiece that takes an intimate look into the world of the supernatural while, at the same time, allowing readers to follow the earthly characters as their lives relate to and are impacted by the supernatural realm. The story of spiritual warfare in both realms is sure to inspire and encourage faith in the readers.   

Racing Toward The Light also gradually eased its way into a powerful love story. That’s the second thing I realized: that in every book, whether the author planned it or not, there is a love story just waiting to be told.

But now, to the second leg of this author adventure: When the book was finished, I wanted, with all my heart to be able to use Steven Sundram’s painting for the cover. I contacted him to find out what terms he could offer for the use of his work, and I must say that he offered me a very generous proposal. That fact, in itself, was a blessing. Nevertheless, I did not feel that I could afford to accept. I knew that even if I got my hands on that amount of money, I would feel obligated to apply it to a number of other necessities. In fact, even before I contacted Steve Sundram, I had worked diligently to try to create a “second-best” cover, using a friend’s picture of another lighthouse. It was not very satisfying, of course, but I knew it would serve the purpose if necessary.

However, unknown to me, a very dear friend, who had read and been intrigued by Racing Toward The Light — and who had done a thorough job of editing it for me — had been meditating on the fact that this painting had been so powerful that it had ignited the spark that became this bold and brave story. He felt in his heart that it was wrong for the book to use a “second-best” cover. His words were, “It would be an injustice for this book to have any cover other than the painting that inspired it in the first place — the painting you lived in all the time you wrote the story.”

He insisted that I stay in touch with Steve Sundram and not refuse his offer. I couldn’t figure out why he was so adamant that I continue to plan on using the picture that inspired the book, and I felt a little uneasy about continuing to communicate with the artist, knowing I did not actually have the money in my hands.

Then one day, about two weeks after I had begun to confer with Steve Sundram concerning the use of his painting, this friend, who insists on remaining anonymous, simply handed me the money necessary to purchase the rights to use the painting. Now this individual does not consider himself a Christian, but he was so touched by this Christian-themed novel that he wanted to be a part of sharing it with others.

Because most of the novels I write focus on truths from God’s Word as they apply to our every-day lives, I do believe that the Lord inspires most of what I write.  And He has had to work out some problems along the way with the writing, publishing, and marketing of several of those novels. But Racing Toward The Light seems to me to be the recipient of an extra amount of the Lord’s intervention. I consider the original gift of a painting that captured my heart so completely — and the outright gift of all the finances necessary to purchase rights to the painting for the cover — to be proof that the Lord has taken a hand in bringing this book to the reading world. The book was first published in paperback in 2009, and it has been available on Amazon in paperback and digital for the past four years.

Writing Racing Toward The Light was truly one of my greatest adventures as an author, and, personally, I believe it offers an adventure and a great blessing for everyone who reads it.

I’m offering the E-Book version of Racing Toward The Light at a special discount price of $0.99 for the rest of the month of October. The price is good from now until midnight October 31, 2020 (U. S. Central Standard Time). If you don’t own a Kindle, Amazon offers a free Kindle app for any device when you order the book.

You can find your copy HERE and start your own adventure with Racing Toward The Light.


The Author Adventures – #2

People often ask me where I get ideas for my novels, and they also like to know the “behind-the-scenes” details of the actual writing. So periodically I share some of those details — especially the ones that I found personally enjoyable or that helped me grow as a writer. The writing of Quenton’s Honor taught me much about dedication and commitment to a project — the kind of commitment that refuses to throw in the towel because tracking down those miniscule details takes multiple phone conversations, some with foreign speaking individuals, and hours poring over dusty facts and figures and then double-checking to see if any of them have changed since I started the research. But it also taught me that even the drudgery work has its own rewards in the positive results of self-discipline.

Quenton’s Honor was actually my third novel, but it was the first of all my novels to be published, with the first printing coming out  in 2008. It was marketed by its original publisher for several years, but now it is currently available on Amazon as well. The basic story had been hanging around in my mind and my heart for months before it took enough shape to send me to the keyboard to write the first words. Once I was started, however, there was no stopping. I had to do a considerable amount of research where Pakistan was concerned, and I had to keep reminding myself that I was dealing with a huge time difference between St. Louis Missouri, and Karachi, Pakistan. That time difference didn’t cause me nearly as much trouble, though, as the loss of 12 whole days when I decided — after finishing the novel — to substitute Chapter 3 for Chapter 1.

As often happens in writing a work this long, once it’s done, the author can look back and see new possibilities for the beginning chapter — scenes that will better help grab the reader and get him involved with the story immediately. I realized that Quenton’s Honor would be a better story if I took Chapter 3 and gave it to the readers first. It was a beautiful trade, and I was very happy with it, except for the fact that I had lost 12 days of action. Not to be thwarted, however, I managed to squeeze in a little flashback to grab those 12 days. Of course, I’ll admit it took me 3 days to figure out how to make it all work. But in the end, all was well.

Another editing change came when I turned it over to a friend who reads all my novels critically. I like to have him read my works before anyone else, if possible, because he is very particular about the quality of books he reads and is eager and quick to speak up if a book is lacking in any area. When he read Quenton’s Honor, he loved the book overall and was genuinely touched by several parts, but he was not at all happy with one scene where Quenton’s life is about to be snuffed out by his terrorist guards, and the men sent to rescue him have not arrived. My friend insisted the scene needed more energy and physical action.

Now, this friend is a very shy, introverted, quiet-spoken person, and definitely not the physical confrontation type. However, when I asked him for his ideas about changes to that particular scene, he got up from his desk and began to act out all the parts of the physical confrontation for the scene. I sat and watched him with my mouth open. Here was an entirely different person from the one I’d known several years. He was so energized as he acted out all the parts that he made a believer out of me, and I went home and re-wrote that scene exactly the way he had acted it out. Of course, I acknowledged him gratefully in the front of the book.

Making those changes before publication seems to have been the right decision. The feedback from the book has been very positive — more positive, I think, than it would have been if I hadn’t gone beyond just writing a good story. The fact that I grabbled with the troublesome places until I got them “right” has made all the difference in my opinion.  Any of the rest of you who read the book are welcome to let me know what you think as well. To say that writing Quenton’s Honor was an adventure is a bit of an understatement. I think the extent that I grew as an author during its creation makes it more of a major life event for me. I love that I was able to write the story and share it, and I love that I learned so much that helped me hone my craft more effectively for the sake of all the books that came afterwards.


If any of you readers would like to check out Quenton’s Honor for yourselves, you can find it here.


My Latest Watercolor Project

My latest watercolor project.
DREAMCATCHER W- CROSS
In book # 5 of my “Smoky Mountain Novel Series” — which is currently in the writing process — the main character, a Cherokee artisan, is inspired by the Lord to create these Christian-themed dream catchers as a way of helping spread the Gospel truth that Jesus and His Holy Spirit are the only true protection in our lives and the only trustworthy power for man to believe in.

At Long Last — Book 5 Is In the Works

HEMLOCK PHOTO WITH GENERAL SERIES TITLE

Several years ago, the first four books in my Smoky Mountain Novel Series went on the market. I had always intended to write at least one more book in the series — and did get two chapters of it done — but life just sort of got in the way — if you know what I mean. And part of that life was other books that were pressing from within to get out. During these intervening years, I have written 8 other novels and loads of short stories and poetry. But book number 5 of the series just wouldn’t materialize — at least not all the way.

I love the family of wonderful characters in the series, and many readers have felt the same. In fact, I just had one reader tell me this past week — as she was reading the whole series — one complete book a day — that the people in the stories felt like family. I was delighted to hear it, and her telling me that just nudged me that one more little bit to get back to the keyboard and finish book 5 this time.

So, that’s my assignment for this week. And I thought in light of that fact, I’d re-post a super short piece I did a few years ago that gave an excerpt from Book # 5’s story. I wrote this super condensed piece in response to a flash fiction challenge, but it’s from the first chapter of This Fire In My Heart — which is now well on its way to seeing daylight as Book # 5 in The Smoky Mountain Series of inspirational novels:
______________________

He was Cherokee, she Scottish-American. But the moment they met in the airport coffee shop, they were connected. Waiting out the fog, they talked like old friends. When her plane was called, he carried her bag to her boarding gate.

A question in her eyes, she said, “Wow, Chicago and Dallas – talk about two people going in opposite directions.”

Light flared in his eyes as he realized she didn’t want their connection to end any more than he did. He reached out, thinking to touch her cheek, but caught himself just in time. Such an intimate touch with someone he hardly knew wasn’t like him, but the pull of her was so strong — so elemental. He quickly bent and picked up her bag and handed it to her, smiling.

“Opposite directions today,” he said, “but not always, I think.”

A spark in her eyes leaped to his, just as the boarding line began moving, and he promised: “I will see you again, Joy.”

________________________________________________
Excerpt: This Fire in My Heart


Hog Wild Book Sale

THREE PIGS WITH SALE SIGN
`
ALL of my KINDLE E-BOOKS are just $0.99.

For 10 days — today through July 31 at midnight, central daylight time.

All 18 of my E-books are on a hog wild sale for that time. And if you don’t have a Kindle reader, Amazon has a free Kindle app for any of your devices. Just download it when you order any of the books.

Check out the huge variety by visiting my author’s page at this link:


‘QUENTON’S HONOR’ – Now Available on Amazon

QUENTON FRONT COVER -- NICE AND SHARP FROM CD FOR KINDLE - croppedWhat happens when twenty-first century technology comes face to face with the most powerful force the human race has ever known? Find out in this story of intrigue, romance, courage, and faith:  QUENTON’S HONOR.

A man’s love for his country; a man’s love for a woman.

Securing a nation; capturing a heart.

It’s a story of patriotism.  It’s a love story.  It’s a story of one man’s journey to God.

American industrial magnate Quenton Sutherland’s efforts at humanitarian aid carry him on a fact-finding tour into the Middle-Eastern hotbed of war-torn Pakistan. While there, he uncovers a terrorist plot involving three cells already poised for attack back in the U.S. Before he can foil their plan, he is taken hostage to prevent his exposing their plot.

In the days that follow, Quenton comes face-to-face with his need for the God he abandoned decades before — while he, along with investigative journalist Honor Fairfield, and the Department of Homeland Security, begin an ever-twisting adventure and discover life-changing connections that none of them could have foreseen.

I wrote this book years ago, and it was first published in 2004. But this is the first time its been offered in paperback through Amazon. I still love the story. Even though I’m the author, the story still makes me cry in all the right places, makes my heart beat faster with each embrace of the lovers, and thrills my soul when the characters encounter a God whose love is focused on blessing them every step of the way on this journey.

The story has been called a cross between ‘You’ve Got Mail’ and ‘Song of Solomon.’ I don’t know about that, but I do know amazing things — even spiritual things — can happen through the wonders of computer technology and in the world of cyberspace. You’ll just have to see for yourself.

Get your copy in paperback or digital here.
The E-book is on sale for $1.99 through June.

You can read a short sample at this link, but bear in mind that Amazon’s samples on the product page are sometimes a little screwed up. Hopefully, you’ll at least get enough of the text to make a decision on whether the story’s for you or not.