Tag Archives: Christian fiction

A Conversation with Gary L. Doman, Author of Vinland Viking

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Gary L. Doman, whose (pen-)surname rhymes with “roman”, the French word for “novel”, was born in Syracuse (New York) and has spent the majority of his life in Connecticut.  He has degrees from Fairfield University and the University of Connecticut.  He has developed an interest in just about everything, especially history, geography, religion, language, and the natural world.  He began writing as a child and has never really stopped, although he does periodically need to eat and sleep, and also devotes considerable time to his other creative and intellectual endeavors; these include his “weblog” the Doman Domain and one of the items of interest found there, namely, “The Best Comic Strip Ever!”.  Further, he has taught himself to sing and founded his own political philosophy.  His greatest accomplishment may be remaining humble despite the preceding! 

Visit Gary online at http://domandomain.blogspot.com/

Q: Thank you for this interview, Gary. Can you tell us what your latest book, Vinland Viking: An Original Saga by Gary L. Doman, is all about?

A:  Vinland Viking is an “epic novella” and a “Christian historical fantasy-adventure” set at the time of the conversion to Christianity of Iceland and Greenland.  The protagonist is a young Northman who longs to lead the storied life of the pagan Vikings. His opportunity comes with Leif Ericsson’s exploration in North America, but his fortunes change in a way and by a means that no one could have anticipated, and which lead him ultimately (in a surprise ending) to the one true god.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters? 

A:  The protagonist, Yngar (later Brand-Yngar) Magnusson, is a native of the Orkney Islands.  He’s basically virtuous but also young and obstinate. He resents the fact that the Scandinavian world is accepting Christianity, which is putting an end to the practice of going “Viking,” that is, raiding.  Like me, he admires character in women at least as much as he does beauty, and he finds both those qualities in Asny Svansdottir, Vinland Viking‘s leading lady (or, to use a silly coinage of mine that does not appear in the book, “Viqueen”).  She’s even younger than Yngar, being just 16 when she first appears. Unlike him, she’s a devout Christian.  These two are really the only main characters.  The supporting cast consists largely of giants, dragons, other monsters, dwarves, and even some gods.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

A:  Only the monsters are based on “real people.”  Actually, I create characters from my imagination, since, for me, the ability to do that is one of the greatest rewards of writing.  I cannot say, though, that no actual human beings have any influence on them.  As I stated in my answer to the previous question, Yngar shares my taste in the opposite sex; he’s also obstinate, and I think that at least the potential for obstinacy exists in my personality.  It ought to be noted here that Vinland Viking is just one tale in what I regard as an “epic cycle” built around several protagonists of a common ancestry, who live in different periods of history (over a total span of 13,000 years) and together represent all mankind, and that I’m trying to give each a different prime character trait that I deem present in myself.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write? 

A:  The plot can evolve somewhat as I write, but my policy is to map it out with as much detail as I can before starting one of this fella’s novellas.  A nightmare of mine is writing a large portion of a story and then realizing that it just won’t work as planned, because of something that I’d failed to consider. (I’ve always succeeded at whittling down the edges of a square peg so that it fits into a round hole, but I’d rather that everything just proceeded smoothly.)

Q: Your book is set in lands that border the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean.  Can you tell us why you chose this place in particular? 

A:  Yes: The reason why my story is titled “Vinland Viking” is that Yngar Magnusson, who has just settled in Greenland, flees to the part of North America that Leif Ericsson has explored and named “Vinland;” in my novella, it’s part of Newfoundland.  This gives him the opportunity to fulfill his dream of becoming a true Viking (one who goes “Viking”, or raiding), although, as I hinted in my answer to the first question, his life takes an unexpected turn. 

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story? 

A:  It does.  One of my chief interests is geography, and so I try to make the most of the location of a scene.  Local weather phenomena such as blizzard and fog, and even local wildlife, play a very significant role in advancing the plot. 

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening? 

A:  If you mean page 69 of the print version, the answer is “nothing,” because that edition is only 67 pages long.  Since the revised, electronic Vinland Viking is readable on various techno-gizmos that allow one to change the font size and so forth, which page is number 69 is largely a matter of one’s preference, but, let me look at the manuscript in “reading view;” this yields 110 screens.  On number 69 of those, I see that Brand-Yngar is examining weapons that dwarves have just given him so that he can fulfill a certain mission. I provide a detailed description of the weaponry, rather as Homer did for the armor and shield of Achilles in the Iliad

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts? Vinland Viking cover

A:  Only if you promise to give it back!  I don’t want to excerpt material that gives away too much of the plot, and I like to think that every part of Vinland Viking is the best part, but I’ll provide the following:

Long after they had left the sight of the Kraken, Brand-Yngar and his cohort could see nothing in the bleakness except an occasional skua, ptarmigan, or arctic tern, all of which were too adept at flying to be caught by a party of such limited resources.  Nonetheless, since snow did not currently cover the ground, the trio considered that they had a good chance of locating whichever animals had already donned their white winter fur or plumage.  They also remembered to examine the nearby shore, knowing that the ocean might provide what they needed.

Later they spotted another avian, but one that seemed to hold out more promise of being caught: a beautiful, black-barred female snowy owl, roosting in a depression in the treeless tundra.  On Brand-Yngar’s advice, he and the others flattened themselves on the frozen earth and inched toward the bird.  As they did so, Brand-Yngar felt hypocritical, for he had recently admonished these same charges of his that “A Viking never crawls!”

The men continued to slide and grind forward on their bellies; if this part of the island had been frosted by snow and ice, they might have resembled oversized penguins.  They had approached their quarry within a few score of yards, never knowing whether it failed to detect their presence, merely bided its time before taking flight, or perhaps had to stay put to protect eggs or owlets, when abruptly its mate winged to the attack from a heretofore unseen post on the summit of a boulder.  In silence the golden-eyed, nearly pure-white partner repeatedly and fearlessly swooped upon the hunters, each time wheeling away to strike from a new angle; the flustered Northlanders sought to down the large bird with their weapons, but it manoeuvred around the flailing steel, getting its talons so close to their eyes that they thought it very capable of gouging them from the sockets.  In frustration they conceded victory to the owls, and swiftly circumvented the area.

As the group trod further along, the air grew noticeably chillier.  This did not alarm anybody until one observed that the very storm that had forced the dragon ship ashore was moving northwest.  Worse, it now qualified as a blizzard, for the winds were beginning to dust Helluland with snowflakes.  Death was merely a possibility to those staying with the Kraken, whereas it was a certainty here in the midst of a snowstorm; Brand-Yngar therefore instructed the other members of the triad to attempt to retreat to the longship, even though this meant going straight into the powerful and blinding air currents.  They saw several animals hiding from the atmospheric fury; to catch these would have been easy, but all their attention was now dedicated to their own immediate survival.

Brand-Yngar felt his legs growing heavier with each step, and he had no doubt that the rest were growing similarly exhausted; the fact that they had to lift their feet steadily higher to extract them from the swiftly accumulating snow didn’t improve matters.  During particularly strong gusts it seemed to the comrades that they were barely progressing, for the might of the wind was nearly equal to their remaining determination.  Brand-Yngar would have offered words of encouragement, but the frigidity had numbed his lips.  He couldn’t avoid marveling that he was experiencing a worse blizzard than any that he could recall as an Orcadian, where his home had lain at 59 degrees North Latitude, yet this was not yet autumn!  Being ignorant of the Gulf Stream, which brought warm water to his birthplace, and of the Labrador Current, which carried cold water south in the Western Hemisphere, he wondered in his distress if this might be a stage of the Fimbulwinter, the severe winter or winters that the sages had foretold would precede Ragnarok.

Hours passed.  His associates faltered, first temporarily, and then permanently.  Their leader wanted to give them a proper burial, but he knew that to expend the necessary time and energy would merely expedite his own demise.  He could only unsheathe each dying man’s sword and place it in each man’s hand, so that the pair would, in Norse belief, be granted entrance to Valhalla.  Brand-Yngar himself continued onward as long as he was capable of movement, and prayed, as long as he had consciousness, to the deity who, as the creator of storms, had the power to calm them: Thor.  Then, he blacked out. 

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Gary.  We wish you much success! 

A:  You’re welcome, and thank you.

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First Chapter Reveal: When the Morning Glory Blooms by Cynthia Ruchti

When the Morning Glory Blooms smTitle: When the Morning Glory Blooms
Author: Cynthia Ruchti
Format: Paperback, ebook
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Abingdon Books

Purchase at AMAZON

Becky rocks a baby that rocked her world. Sixty years earlier, with her fiancé Drew in the middle of the Korean Conflict, Ivy throws herself into her work at a nursing home to keep her sanity and provide for the child Drew doesn’t know is coming. Ivy cares for Anna, an elderly patient who taxes Ivy’s listening ear until the day she suspects Anna’s tall tales are not just idle ramblings. They’re Anna’s disjointed memories of a remarkable life.

Finding a faint thread of hope she can’t resist tugging, Ivy records Anna’s memoir, scribbling furiously after hours to keep up with the woman’s emotion-packed, grace-hemmed stories. Is Ivy’s answer buried in Anna’s past? And what connects them to Becky?

Becky, Ivy, Anna—three women fight a tangled vine of deception in search of the blossoming simplicity of truth.

“Ruchti’s gorgeous novel follows three women in different eras, all dealing with pregnancy out of wedlock. The interrelated stories show that time may change some perceptions, but love and faith are needed to reach out to a hurting world. The writing is evocative and laced with heart.”—RT Book Reviews, 4½ stars, TOP PICK!

“Ruchti (They Almost Always Come Home) weaves a potentially confusing storyline involving different eras into an intricate tapestry. She keeps it real, not wrapping up every conflict with a pretty bow of resolution. She also displays superb comedic timing in breaking the tension of emotionally heavy scenes. Readers will enjoy her delightful sense of humor and the richly developed secondary characters.”—Publishers Weekly

When the Morning Glory Blooms focuses on one of my passions—loving those who face unplanned pregnancy. Told through the lives of three women, this is a novel of hope, of truth, and of grace. I lost track of the number of times tears filled my eyes, both tears of heartache and joy. As someone who faced an unplanned pregnancy myself and mentors teen moms on a weekly basis, I was impressed! Cynthia Ruchti told the story beautifully. This novel has made the list of one of my all time favorite books!”—Tricia Goyer, bestselling author of 34 books, including The Promise Box.

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CHAPTER 1

Becky—2012

The hand on her cheek weighed no more than a birthmark. It fluttered, stirred by the breeze of a dream, but remained tethered to Becky’s face.

Her neck stiffened. A neutral position was out of the question. She was trapped at an odd angle between the arm of the porch swing and the breath of the child.

With one foot planted on the porch’s floorboards, and the rest of her a cradle, Becky kept the swing in motion. A smooth backstroke. Hesitation. Then as she lifted her foot, the forward stroke was accompanied by a two-toned creak the baby must have thought white noise.

Becky guessed thirteen pounds. The bulk lying stomach-down across her torso like a seatbelt might have come into the world a wisp of six—less than a gallon of milk. But seven hundred bottles later, give or take, and he could hold his own against the Costco-sized bag of sugar.

A sweat bee did a fly-by. Becky waved it off. Baby drool puddled at the top of her breastbone. She let it be, let it be.

The rich, woody scent of the neighbor’s cottonwoods melded with the lingering aroma of her caramel latte, the one in her favorite pottery mug on the small table just out of reach. The mug, her book, sanity—so much seemed just out of reach.

The baby lifted his head. Feather lashes still closed, he nestled the opposite cheek into the hollow of her neck. She patted his diapered bottom with a rhythmic, unspoken “Shh. Back to sleep, little one.”

The buzz returned, but not above them. Underneath Becky’s right hip, her cell phone thrummed. She reached for it, motionless except for the espionage-worthy stealth of her retrieve arm and the unbroken choreography of her swing foot.

The phone buzzed again, against her ear. She held it away from her, saw the familiar caller ID, and hit the “talk” button with her thumb. “What’s up, Lauren?”

An opportunity, no doubt. Chance du jour.

A finals study group that included two brainiacs and a certified member of the National Honor Society had invited Lauren to a cram-fest.

“Please don’t stay out late.” Becky felt the vibrations of her words in her chest. The baby lifted his head and nestled facing the other direction again.

Not late, Lauren answered. No. But Becky did realize the group would have to go get something to eat after studying, didn’t she?

Becky disconnected the call. She may or may not have remembered to say goodbye.

The baby oozed awake and pushed against her chest until he’d raised himself enough to lock gazes with her. Those denim blue eyes looked so like his father’s, if her suspicions were correct about the child’s paternity. She brushed strands of corn silk hair off his cherub forehead.

“Your mommy called.” Becky kissed one barely-there eyebrow, then the other. “She says hi.”

###

Dodging scattered mounds of clothes—distinguishable as clean or dirty only by odor—Becky crossed Lauren’s room to the crib lodged between Lauren’s dresser and her shoe jungle. Well-practiced, Becky eased the baby from her shoulder to the mattress. She pulled a blanket from the corner of the crib, but its sour smell told her it belonged in one of the piles on the floor, not wrapped around her grandson. Stifling a groan, she bent to the plastic storage tub tucked under the crib. One clean blanket, too thick for an Indian summer afternoon.

Laying babies on their backs? The “let’s change everything we knew for sure” revised recommendation from the pediatric society or some other entity still disturbed her. Hard habit to break. Aren’t they all?

Her dentist wouldn’t appreciate her new habit of grinding her back teeth. She untensed her jaw, laid the blanket to Jackson’s waist, then exited the room with an armload of laundry she shouldn’t have to wash.

Mid-hallway, she leaned against the wall. Baby socks and a pair of skinny jeans drizzled to the floor as she searched for a way to readjust her load. Not the laundry. The pieces that stuck to the rough edges of her fractured hopes.

Monica’s well-intentioned voice thundered through the throbbing tunnels in her head. “Don’t do everything for Lauren, Becky. You’re enabling her. She’ll never take responsibility if she doesn’t have to.”

Great advice, Monica. And who suffers if I don’t bathe that child, if I don’t put diapers on my grocery list, if I don’t make sure he has something to wear that doesn’t smell like curdled milk? Lauren won’t even notice.

Drafting an apology for words her friend would never hear, Becky pushed off from the wall and aimed for the laundry room.

Jackson’s cry stopped her before she recapped the Tide.

###

Mamas don’t get to stay out past midnight.

How had pushing a baby through her woman parts given Lauren the right to abandon the house rules? And on a school night?

Becky steeled herself for a confrontation. She’d say, and then Lauren would say, and then she’d say…

No. That hadn’t worked the last four times they’d had a similar conversation.

She drowned another tea bag—fragrant, impossibly smooth white peach—and forced her gaze away from the clock on the kitchen wall. But the digital display on the stove and microwave mocked her attempts to forget what time it was, where her daughter should be, the lure of her pillow, and the fact that Lauren’s father was missing all the fun.

I hope you’re enjoying California, Bub. She should probably use his real name. It wasn’t Gil’s fault his job demanded the kind of travel she’d find more fulfilling than he did. Wait. It was only a little after ten, Pacific time. She could call.

One ring. Two.

“Hey, honey. How’s my angel?”

“She’s not home yet.”

“I meant you, Becky.”

The sincerity in his voice was like ointment for a scraped knee. “I—”

“Are you okay, my pugalicious?”

“Gil. Not in the mood for nose-related terms of endearment, okay?”

“Sorry.”

Of course he was. Good man. The kind she’d hoped Lauren would choose one day.

“Is Jackson sleeping?” He whispered as if he could wake the baby from six states away, as the stork flies.

She swirled her teabag through the steaming water. If it were her typical daytime choice—Black Pearl—it would by now be over-steeped, the deep molasses of Gil’s eyes. “Jackson? Sleeping obliviously. Like I should be.”

“I wish I were there.”

“I know.”

“What’s Lauren’s excuse this time?”

“Study group.”

Gil’s exhale traveled through the fiber optic phone lines and tickled the hairs in Becky’s ear. “Is she still talking college?”

A slosh of tea left a mini-puddle on the white countertop. She swiped at it with her palm, which turned the small puddle into a smear. “We want her to further her education, don’t we? I mean, providing she gets through this last year of high school.” She ripped a paper towel from its holder. “That’s not a given.”

“We knew this would be hard.” Blistered. His voice sounded blistered, like life’s shoes had rubbed too long on a tender spot.

“He’s our grandson.”

“And she’s our daughter.”

“That’s been confirmed, hasn’t it?”

Gil chuckled. “You mean, how did two fully responsible, completely mature adults manage to raise a daughter who seems allergic to responsibility?”

“Something like that.”

“She’s not fully grown yet, Becky.”

“Oh, that’s comforting.” The baby monitor let Becky know her not-fully-grown-yet daughter’s infant son squirmed in his crib.

“Do you want me to call Lauren on her cell?”

“I tried that. It went to voice mail.”

Gil huffed. “That’ll be the last time.”

“It’s on my list.” Becky turned away from the glare of the microwave’s time keeper.

California said, “We’re in this together, hon.”

She should have replied instantly with something that meant, “We sure are.” But six states of separation and full-time versus part-time parenting left an awkward gap she didn’t have the energy or wisdom to fill.

“Becky?”

Somewhere beyond the walls, a car door slammed. “Never mind. She just got home.”

###

“Five, six, seven, eight!

Monica’s ever-present ebullience grated today like a hangnail on silk. So did the fact that nothing bulged over the lip of her yoga pants.

Becky retrieved Jackson’s pacifier from the floor of Monica’s lower level exercise room, squirted it with water from her sports bottle, and stuck it back in his pouty mouth before returning to the video segment Monica seemed to enjoy far more than a normal person should.

“We didn’t…use…pacifiers…with our…kids,” Monica puffed out, proving she was working hard enough to make conversation difficult.

Mimicking a scaled-back version of Monica’s arm and leg movements, Becky fought to catch the beat of the exercise video. “Yeah, well…”

“And none…of our…kids…needed braces…or had…”

“Cavities, either. Yes, I heard.”

“I’m just…saying…”

Was she serious or teasing? “Two different schools of thought on it, Monica.”

“And…slow it on down.”

Oh. The exercising. No problem there.

“Beck, honestly, I don’t know how you do it.” Monica wiped a delicate dot of perspiration from her forehead with the back of her wrist. “You’re an amazing woman.”

“Even though I take full advantage of disposable diapers when cloth is more environmentally friendly and have been known to rock Jackson clear through his entire nap?”

Monica’s arms flapped to her side. “You don’t really— Oh. You were kidding.”

Perfect mothers sometimes can throw a pall on the best friend idea.

“No, I mean it,” Monica said, lunging forward just for the fun of it. “I don’t know that I could do what you’re doing.” She switched position and lunged again.

“Lauren needs to graduate.” As if that explained it all.

With the video segment complete and Jackson temporarily content, the two women rehydrated and sat cross-legged on the floor near Jackson’s bouncy chair. Becky knew her knees would give her grief for choosing that position, but she found herself drawn to eye-level with the cherub who didn’t know any better than to love her.

“Doesn’t it bother you that you had to quit work?”

“Bother me? Other than the loss of the paycheck and the fact that I loved what I did? No, not a bit.”

Monica tilted her head as if to say, “Oh, you poor thing.”

Thanks, Monica. That helps. Pity—every woman’s deepest need.

Attitude adjusted with a Lamaze technique, Becky pressed out a smile. “We do what we have to do.” With a Vanna White wave of her hand, she added, “This is all…temporary.”

“He’s gorgeous, Beck.”

The two friends watched him breathe, watched his fists bat the air, his feet engage in a dance to silent music.

Becky caught a whiff of something other than a wet or dirty diaper. Sweat. Her own. Had she remembered deodorant this morning? She ran her tongue over her teeth. Had she brushed them? These were things new moms were supposed to fret about, not new grandmothers. No doubt Lauren had time to straighten or curl her hair, depending on her mood, and do a complete makeup routine before leaving for school. Becky reached into the outside pocket of Jackson’s diaper bag, the area she claimed for herself, and grabbed a stick of gum. If Monica left the room for any reason, she’d dust a handful of Jackson’s baby powder under her armpits.

She wouldn’t, couldn’t let herself think about what she would be doing at work today. The magazine layout she’d be supervising. The interviews other editors craved but couldn’t secure. The adrenaline jolt from editing an article to its crispest, laser-sharp edge.

Becky rubbed her left elbow. Infant Seat Elbow, Gil called it. He joked about inventing collapsible legs with wheels for the infant carrier. Becky teased back that a little thing called a stroller had been invented long ago but the two items couldn’t swap duties. Days ago, she’d dreamed he’d engineered the ideal answer. When she woke, the dream dissipated without leaving a blueprint. Dreams do that.

“Vitamin water?” Monica held one toward her.

Eww. She tipped her sports bottle Monica’s direction to signal she was good. The bottle’s stainless steel sides kept its contents—unvitamized, uninteresting, electrolyte-deficient tap water…with a hint of lemon juice—a secret. Becky didn’t need another reminder about the proper way to do things. And hadn’t she seen a segment on Good Morning America about vitamin water? Yay or nay? She couldn’t remember the point. More than a few things lost their crisp edge with midnight feedings when Lauren had a test the next day. She rubbed her forehead. Brain fog could lift any time now without her objection.

“Beck, do you—” Monica hesitated, as if sifting her words through a tightly woven screen. “Do you regret not making Lauren go to youth group?”

Patience, get out of my way. I’m putting you on Time Out. “Monica, come on. You really think Gil and I could have prevented Lauren from getting pregnant if we had forced her to go to youth group?” Blood pressure? Rapidly approaching nuclear meltdown.

“Brianne can’t stop talking about all she’s learning under Pastor Jon’s leadership. Did you know she’s serving on the youth worship team now? We’ve always had an intentional family devotional time—we call it God Circle—at home, but the church is offering our young people tools to help them navigate the dangerous waters of—”

Is this the same church that didn’t know how to react, where to look, what to say when Lauren came to the morning service in a skin-tight maternity top? The same church people who scheduled, then quietly canceled a baby shower?

Becky didn’t know she had the oomph to go from cross-legged to fully upright with lightning speed. “Monica, we’re done here.”

The sitting one looked like she’d never been interrupted before. “This is only the first round cool down. We have four more tracks to complete the exercise series.”

Becky took mental note of her internal temperature. She could boil pasta. Cool down? “I mean, we are done. You were the one person I thought I could count on for support.”

Monica jumped to her feet. “You always have my support, Beck.”

Her fingers fumbling with the safety belts, Becky unlatched Jackson from the bouncy chair, then propped him on her left hip, slung the diaper bag over her right shoulder, grabbed the front lip of the chair, which slammed against her shin, and headed for the door.

“Becky, don’t go.”

“We’re done.”

“I’ll call you later.”

Becky had no hands left to turn the doorknob. The burning sensation rose from her stomach to her throat to her jaw to her ears. Forehead to the door, her voice squeezed out, “A little…help…here?”

Jackson’s pacifier hit the floor. The scream that came from his mouth is the one Becky thought she had dibs on for that moment.

Monica’s hand on Becky’s back felt like a branding iron. Apparently when an animal is branded, it reacts with tears.

“Please, hon, let’s talk about this. That was insensitive of me. I’m sorry. Please stay.”

Becky managed to grab the doorknob with the fingertips of her left hand. “Not now, Monica. I need a God moment. A God circle. God.”

###

The contents of Jackson’s diaper bag left a Hansel-and-Gretel trail from Monica’s front door to Becky’s Honda Civic. The contents of his diaper left a wet spot on her hip. She strapped him into the—to hear him tell the story—strait jacket car seat and dug a spare pacifier from the glove compartment to quiet the noise while she retrieved the crumbs of their morning’s adventure.

Hot tears splatted the concrete paver sidewalk and driveway as she bent over the strewn baby paraphernalia. Lauren. You should be doing this. You should be the one with urine on your hip. You should be holding that child to your breast, making room for car seats and high chairs and losing sleep and shreds of sanity.

She was probably in Biology II right now. Biology class. A little late for that.

Becky slid into the driver’s seat and glanced at the rear view mirror’s reflection of the back window’s baby mirror. Jackson’s eyelids drifted shut over flushed cheeks.

Why am I doing this? Why am I doing any of this? Because I love that child.

She sighed as she turned the key in the ignition. Jackson, too.

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First Chapter Reveal: The Heart Stone by Sherry Kyle

The Heart StoneTitle of Book: THE HEART STONE
Genre: Christian fiction
Author: Sherry Kyle
Website: www.SherryKyle.com
Publisher: Abingdon Books

PURCHASE THE HEART STONE AT AMAZON

SUMMARY:

When the biological father of Jessica MacAllister’s son decides to break their custody agreement, Jessica and her son visit her Uncle George for advice and refuge…

Following a year of grief, Evelyn Sweeney is finally ready to move on. Pondering her new path in life, her mind drifts to her first love, George MacAllister…

When the lives of these two women cross, they discover that one heart-shaped ring binds their stories together. But will the results be a rekindled faith and new hope, or will it lead them both back into the darkness they’ve fought for so long?

FIRST CHAPTER

“Jessi, it’s Andrew . . . Andrew Lawson.”

At the sound of his voice, Jessica MacAllister’s knees went limp and her palms grew moist. She sat down on the wooden stool near the kitchen counter and leaned her head on her hand, her elbow resting against the cold tile. Why was he call- ing? She hadn’t heard from him since he signed the papers relinquishing his rights to Jacob six years before.

“Jessi, you there?”

She fought the urge to hang up the phone. “I’m here.”

“I want to see him.”

Her heart beat a strange rhythm. She had prayed this day would never come. “Andrew, I—I—I don’t know,” she stut-tered. As a speech pathologist, she prided herself on her communication skills, but this man could trip her up regardless of her training.

“We can meet at a park. I’ll sit at a distance and watch.” The desperation in his voice was palpable. Jessica’s jaw clenched and her stomach churned. How could she trust that he wouldn’t rush up to Jacob and tell him that he was his biological father? Or worse, what if he wasn’t sober? His behavior when he was drunk could be . . . No.

She wouldn’t let a man who had no part in Jacob’s upbringing suddenly waltz into his life—especially someone who had shown her the ways of the world. But Andrew wasn’t entirely to blame. She’d given in.

“No. No, that won’t work.” Jessica ran her hand through her shoulder-length hair.

“How about a restaurant? I’ll eat at a separate table. I only want to see our son.”

Our son. Jacob was not their son. He was hers and hers only. Andrew wasn’t there for her when she was pregnant or gave birth. He’d never been there. Why the sudden interest now?

When Jessica woke this morning, she planned to spend the whole afternoon with Jacob—alone. What right did Andrew have to show up in her life after she’d assumed he was long gone? He’d abandoned her when she needed him most. The wound hurt deep and it would take a lot more than a casual demand.

A fire burned in her belly. “The answer is no—”

“Mommy, who you talking to?” Jacob padded into the kitchen, softly clad in his dinosaur pajamas. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

“Is that my boy?” Andrew’s voice rose.

Jessica stared at her innocent son. Her hand shook and a lump lodged in her throat. She couldn’t tell Jacob who was calling, and she couldn’t tell Andrew the small voice he heard was indeed his son’s.

“Come on, Jessi, work with me here—”

A firm resolve flowed through her veins. She wouldn’t allow Andrew to worm his way into her son’s life. Not now, not ever.

“I’ve got to go.” She pressed the off button and hung up the receiver.

“Hungry, buddy?” On shaky legs, she swung around the counter. She hoped Jacob didn’t notice how rattled she felt.

“How about some pancakes?”

“With chocolate chips?” He hopped on a stool and grinned, showing the gap that once held a baby tooth.

Several months ago, she’d made his favorite pancakes for his birthday. And now, after receiving the unexpected phone call from his birthfather, she’d give Jacob anything he wanted.

“Sure.” She smiled back.

“Can we go see Uncle George today?” Jacob pleaded.

“Thought you wanted to spend the day with me.” A twinge of jealousy twisted her insides.

She chided herself, and then grabbed a mixing bowl from the cabinet. Uncle George had been through a difficult patch lately. If they could spend an hour or two visiting, it would make a world of difference to the older man.

“I’ve never seen someone without a leg.” Jacob’s eyes grew big and round.

Jessica cringed—neither had she. Why hadn’t she taken the time to visit her uncle before now? The answer made her pulse race. Fear. The smell of hospitals and rehabilitation centers turned her stomach. Glancing down at her hand, the heart-shaped stone glistened and caught the light filtering through the window. Uncle George had given her the diamond ring when he found out she was pregnant with Jacob to fend off any unwanted advances—or unwanted questions. He had said, “It’s hard enough being a single parent.”

“Can we, Mom?” Jacob’s voice interrupted her thoughts.

The phone rang. She recognized the number from moments ago. Andrew.

The phone rang twice more.

Jessica continued to gather the utensils and ingredients for the pancakes. Maybe if she ignored him, he’d go away.

“Can I answer it?” Jacob reached for the phone.

“NO!” She stopped him, and then clicked the off button of the answering machine before it could pick up.

“Who keeps calling?” Melissa, her roommate of a couple years, strode into the room. Her short blonde hair stuck out here and there, and her pink jersey T-shirt hung almost to her

knees over her navy sweat pants.

Jessica shot her a “don’t ask” look, and then gestured to her little boy. “Jacob and I are going to Santa Cruz today to see Uncle George.”

“Yeah!” Jacob hopped off the stool and thrust his arms in the air. He ran around the table like a speeding train pumping his small fists.

“Whoa, buddy.” Jessica caught him, wrapping her arms around his chest. “Jacob, listen. I need to talk with Melissa.

Why don’t you watch cartoons and I’ll call you when the pancakes are ready.” Jessica rubbed the top of his head, his soft, brown hair slipping between her fingers.

“Okay.” He ran toward the couch. On his way, he reached down and grabbed his favorite dump truck from the floor, and then huddled in the corner cushion of the sofa. Jessica flipped on the television, then motioned for her roommate to join her in her bedroom.

“What’s up?” Melissa planted her hands on her hips. “You’re acting strange.”

“It’s Jacob’s birthfather. I spoke with him this morning.

Jessica paced the room. She grabbed her purple terrycloth robe and slipped it over her shoulders. “I hung up on him. And now he’s calling again.”

“What does he want?” Melissa sat on the edge of Jessica’s unmade bed and covered her legs with the striped comforter.

“To see Jacob.” Jessica leaned against the wall, slid down, and landed with a thud on the hardwood floor.

“Has he ever been part of Jacob’s life?”

“No, and I won’t let him start now. When he found out I was pregnant, he made it clear he didn’t want anything to do with the baby or me. He even blamed me for sleeping around, saying the baby wasn’t his.” Jessica hugged her legs with both arms. “I wish I’d never gone to Mexico on that college trip. But I did.” She sighed. “My roommates and I wanted to celebrate. I knew better.”

“Celebrate what?”

“Graduation from Fresno State.” Jessica bit her lower lip.“We were seniors looking for a good time. That’s where I met Andrew.” She stared at the floor, wishing the memories away.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. You have a beautiful little boy.” Melissa stood and meandered over to where Jessica sat.

Holding out both hands, she pulled her up. “From now on, I’ll answer the phone. I think Jacob’s waiting for those pancakes.”

Her roommate was never one to mope and she wouldn’t allow Jessica to either.

She cinched the belt of her robe. “Please don’t tell Jacob who called.”

“Never in a million years.” Melissa led her back to the kitchen. “So, when do you leave for Santa Cruz?”

“Right after breakfast.”

“It’s spring break. Why don’t you take the whole week? I’ll ward off any unwanted callers.”

With Jacob having time off from school, Jessica had cancelled all her clients. Her speech pathology business, SpeakEasy, would take a hit financially but she’d promised Jacob to spend time with him. Santa Cruz sounded great. Still . . . .

“But tomorrow is Easter and we planned a big dinner. I can’t leave you alone.” Jessica poured a cup of coffee and handed it to Melissa. “I bought more vanilla creamer. It’s in the side door of the refrigerator.”

“Don’t worry about me.” Melissa’s eyes danced. “A guy from work hinted he had no place to go.”

“Oh, I get it.” Jessica grinned. “Don’t let us get in your way.”

“It’s not like that, and you know it.” Melissa returned the tease. “I was going to ask you today if he could join us, but since you’re leaving town, I didn’t want you to worry.” She grabbed the creamer and poured a hefty portion into her coffee.

“If it makes you feel any better, I’m glad you’ll have company.”

“Where will you stay in Santa Cruz?”

“My uncle has a trailer. I’m sure we can crash there.” Jessica cracked two eggs into a bowl and beat them before adding the flour, baking powder, sugar, and milk to the bowl. “He’s going to be surprised to see us. I’ve been hesitating—didn’t want to scare Jacob. He’s never seen someone without a leg.”

Melissa took a swig of her coffee. “Jacob didn’t look scared to me. Are you sure you’re not the one who’s nervous?” She winked.

Jessica placed a small bowl of butter in the microwave.

“Okay, you got me there. I admit I’m scared. I can’t imagine my uncle, someone I’ve leaned on for strength my whole life, needing assistance. I’m glad the nurses at Pacific Coast Manor are available around the clock.” She stirred the batter gently, leaving small clumps of dry ingredients. “I almost forgot the chocolate chips.”

“In the pancake batter? It’s not anyone’s birthday.” Melissa opened the cabinet above the dishwasher and handed the bag to Jessica. “You really are worried about that phone call.”

Jessica nodded and let out a breath.

Melissa sidled up to her and spoke in hushed tones. “Remember, it’s not the end of the world. So, he wants to see his son. Are you sure that would be a bad thing?”

Jessica scrunched up her nose and looked directly at her roommate. “I’m positive.” She placed a frying pan on the stove and turned the heat to medium low before she added a handful of chocolate chips to the mix.

Melissa dropped a pat of butter into the pan. “Okay, if you’re sure, then I’m with you on this.”

“Thank you.”

“But promise me you’ll take this week to really think it through. Jacob needs a man in his life. And you haven’t brought one around since he was born.” Melissa sprinkled a few flecks of water into the pan. The drops sizzled.

“You forget. We’re going to visit my uncle. He’s the best role model I could ask for. No other man is needed.” Jessica poured circles of batter onto the hot griddle.

“If you say so.”

“Jacob, can you please turn off the television,” Jessica called. “It’s time for pancakes.”

“Buckle up.” Jessica glanced over her shoulder at her six year old. He sat in his booster seat between several suitcases, clutching his stuffed teddy bear.

“How long ’til we get there?” Jacob clicked the seat belt.

“About three hours, give or take.”

She couldn’t get out of her apartment fast enough.

Considering she hadn’t heard from Andrew in years, he’d suddenly become persistent. He must have done plenty of searching to locate her unlisted phone number. She’d been careful to keep her whereabouts a secret.

Melissa stood by the curb waving as Jessica turned the key. “Jacob, wave goodbye.”

“Why can’t Melissa come?” Jacob leaned toward the door and moved his hand back and forth.

“Because she has a special guest coming for Easter dinner tomorrow.” Jessica grinned.

No one should be alone on a holiday, including Uncle George. It had been at least two years since the last time they’d been together, and she hadn’t been with him much before that either, although they’d always stayed in touch. His ministry to the people in the Philippines had spanned decades. She knew he’d hoped to live out his days there, but his high fever and toe infection brought him back home to the States. No amount of antibiotics could cure the gangrene that set in or the hearing loss in his right ear. His left leg was amputated below the knee, and he was fitted for a hearing aid. And now, according to the nurses, he was becoming more and more withdrawn as the days wore on. Jessica could hear it in his voice every time she called.

After weaving through town to load her car with gas, she turned onto CA-180W toward CA-99 and drove her Honda Civic with the air conditioner on full blast. She flipped on the radio and sang along.

“Mommy.”

Jessica looked into her rearview mirror. “Yes?”

“I need to go potty.” He bit his lower lip.

Jessica let out a sigh and stared back at the road. “Didn’t I tell you to go before we left?”

“I forgot.”

“I’ll look for a rest stop. You may need to wait until we get to Madera.”

“How long is that?”

“Twenty miles.” Jessica glanced at him once more. Her son’s brows were furrowed, his lips pinched, and his arms were tightly wrapped around his stuffed animal. The life of a six-year-old was hard. She stifled a grin. If worse came to worst, she’d pull over to the side of the road.

“When we gonna get there?” Jacob whined.

This was going to be a long trip.

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Announcing Linda J. White’s Seeds of Evidence Blog Tour

Seeds of Evidence banner

Linda J. White, author of the Christian fiction, Seeds of Evidence, will be on virtual book tour May 6 – 31 2013! By day, Linda writes editorials for The Free Lance-Star, a newspaper in Fredericksburg, VA. By night, she plays the “what-if?” game, entangling engaging characters in “white-knuckle” plots. Her first FBI thriller, “Bloody Point,” was published in 2005. “Seeds of Evidence” (Abingdon Press) will be released in April 2013. Linda’s husband, Larry, was a video producer/director at the FBI Academy for over 27 years. Married since 1970, they have three grown children and now live with two dogs and two cats on two beautiful, wooded acres in Virginia.

You can visit Linda’s website at www.lindajwhite.com.

Connect with Linda!

Seeds of EvidenceAbout her book:

Stressed-out FBI Special Agent Kit McGovern returns to her grandmother’s Chincoteague Island home in search of peace. But when a little boy’s body washes up on the beach, Kit cannot resist throwing herself into the mystery of his murder. Her only clues: the tomato seeds in the Latino boy’s gut, and the acorns in his pockets.

The medical examiner points out that the volume of tomato seeds in the boy’s gut could indicate he was from a farm worker’s family. But the acorns? Kit discovers they’re from a Virginia live oak, not native to the area where the boy was found. Can she use those to identify his origins anyway? And why hasn’t anyone reported him missing?

Kit meets David O’Connor, a D.C. homicide detective in Chincoteague recovering from a shooting incident. She makes it clear she’s not interested in a relationship, but their passion for justice is mutual and they soon forge a partnership to find the boy’s murderer. As plant DNA evidence leads them straight into the dark world of human trafficking, Kit and David wrestle with the depths of human evil, with questions of faith, and with possibilities for hope. “Seeds of Evidence” takes readers on a white-knuckle ride they won’t soon forget.

Purchase Your Copy:

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE

Visit Linda’s official tour page here.

Linda J. White’s Seeds of Evidence blog tour is brought to you by the fine folks at Pump Up Your Book. Visit us at www.pumpupyourbook.com.

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Read-a-Chapter: A Texan’s Choice by Shelley Gray

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the Christian fiction, A Texan’s Choice by Shelley Gray. Enjoy!

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  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Abingdon Press (October 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1426714653
  • ISBN-13: 978-1426714658

When notorious outlaw Scout Proffitt wins a rundown ranch in west Texas, he expects to find the home he’s never had. Instead, he finds a run-down shack, a barn in dire straits…and a lovely woman who’s in no hurry to give up her ranch.

When Scout discovers that Rosemarie has nowhere else to go, he   reluctantly allows her to stay with him for two weeks until she can find another home. But soon the locals get involved and insist they marry.

Determined to do at least one thing right in his life, he marries Rose. Then people from his past come back and give him an offer he can’t refuse. If things go well, he can make a fresh start. If not, he’ll be even worse off than before.

Which was something he never thought possible…

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Chapter One

November, 1874

West Texas

They’d been waiting for her father to die for five days.

Only a strong sense of duty drove Rosemarie back into the darkened room, where the scents of whiskey and sickness grabbed her the moment she crossed the threshold. When she coughed, both to adjust her nose and eyes to the dim, thick air, six faces turned to her in surprise. The seventh occupant  was oblivious.

“Sorry,” she murmured around yet another cough.

“Rosemarie. Hush now,” her mother ordered. “You’re gonna disturb your pa.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Yet-as much as Rose could tell-Pa continued to lay motionless. The only sign he was still alive was the faint fluttering of collar of his nightshirt. Though she hadn’t been invited to do so, Rosemarie edged closer to the bed.

It wasn’t easy to do. There were a lot of people packed into the too-small bedroom, and the place had never been much to begin with.

Of course, it went without saying that their whole house had never been much. Her father had built it from a slew of cast-off boards from someone else’s broken barn. Judging by the gaps in the planks, Rose had always assumed the former owners had known what they were doing when they’d left the wood for scrap before heading back east.

Her family had settled into the place eight years ago, in the midst of the war, and had promptly named it the Circle C. Though the red dirt and loads of dust didn’t look like much of anything, Pa had said it the land was as good as any.

He was happy to settle and escape the fighting, though Rose never had exactly understood what was wrong with him.

Her mother had slapped her silly the one time she’d asked.

Now, though, her father seemed dwarfed by his past as much as the old iron bed frame above his head, the pair of oak rocking chairs to his left, and group of bodies surrounding him.

Rosemarie stood in the perimeter, looking in, trying to see her father’s face. Even if it was for one last time.

But all she saw was the jumble of covers covering the majority of his chest. A wide splotch of brownish liquid that had soaked into the warring rings making up the quilt. The once pristine white and soothing pink rings looked pretty pitiful, and that was the truth.

His breathing was labored.

“How is he doing? Any change?” she finally asked, unable to bear the silence anymore. Unable to bear the idea that the waiting would continue. And continue.

“Ah, Rose.” Doc glanced her way over a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles. “I’m afraid I have no good news for you. He’s about the same.”

“His breathing slowed,” her mother added, somewhat hopefully.

With a weary nod, the preacher nodded. “I believe it has. He’ll be with the Lord soon.”

“That’s good.” She said the words without thinking, really.

The comment had come from a sense that too much had happened that could never be repaired. They’d known for days now that their father wasn’t going to get better, and since they’d begun the deathwatch, the atmosphere among all of them had turned into a helpless sense of inevitability.

And sickness.

Actually, the air in the room was so thick with the mingling of warm bodies, the light so dim, and the smell of sickness and despair so overpowering, Rose knew death would have to be better than the current situation.

But she probably should never have acknowledged that.

To her right, her sister Annalise gasped. “Rose, how could you say such a thing?”

Though Rose knew Annalise had probably felt the same way-as did everyone else in the room, she apologized. “I’m sorry. I spoke out of turn.”

“You certainly did.”

“However, I dare say that heaven is a whole lot better,” Rosemarie said, not quite able to hide the irony she was feeling. After all, this place had never been good.

At least not for her.

Since Annalise only blinked, looking determined to pretend that they were in the middle of one of those fancy homes owned by the cattle barons-and the others looked grateful to have something to think about besides her father’s labored breaths, Rose continued. “Heaven is supposed to be a wonderful place, right? A whole lot better than this?” When her sister merely continued to look shocked, Rose looked to the preacher for support.

Pastor Grant, however, was bent over his clasped hands and praying.

“You need to learn to keep your thoughts to yourself, daughter,” her mother murmured. “No one wants to hear your opinions.”

No one ever had…well, not since her brother Pete had died under her watch. “Yes’m.”

The atmosphere relaxed a bit as all eyes turned back to Bill Cousins. With bated breath, they continued watched Pa gasp and struggle to wheeze. No one touched him, not the doctor or the preacher. Not Annalise. Not even her mother.

Maybe not especially May Cousins. Rose couldn’t blame her mother for that, though, because her Pa had never been much of a good man. In many ways, he hadn’t been bad one either.

No, more like, her father was more a study in what-could-of-beens. He could have been brighter, smarter, handsomer, or even nicer. Maybe even meaner. Instead, he’d often faded into the woodwork, not doing much of anything.

The thing was, no one expected him to do much, anyway. Not even to stay fighting in the war.

If Rosemaire was a betting woman, she’d pretty much bet all her worth that no one had actually ever liked Bill Cousins, except, perhaps, his momma.

After all, what did you do with a man who clung to dreams like strings from kites and who’d made promises with the smallest amount of hope possible? Dreams only got you so far in the middle of November when the wind was howling, the fireplace was bare and there wasn’t a thing in a rickety house worth eating.

Once, when Rose had been supposed to be sleeping but it hadn’t been possible because her parents were going at it something fierce, May Cousins had let forth a stream of dire words. “You’re nothing but a waste and a wastrel, Bill. Day after day I’ve been waiting for you to go do something of means, but all you do is say that you don’t feel well, or that you’ve got plans in town. You’re nothing but a worthless mass of bones and skin.”

Rose knew that to be a pretty fair description.

Pa had been all of that and more. Full of shiny smiles and made-up promises. A shell of a man, his pride and confidence as brittle and fragile as one of the eggs the hens laid on a good day.

Now, as he lay dying, he wasn’t much better.

Predictably, he was taking forever to meet his maker, holding up a mess of chores and work in the meantime.

Maybe Jesus wasn’t in a real hurry to visit with him, neither?

As if reading her mind, May Cousins looked up from her perch next to her husband’s side, the damp rag limp in her hand. Five other pairs of eyes stared at her, as well, each looking more vacant than the last. “Rosemarie, do something. Fetch more water, would you?”

“Yes, Mama.”

Rose knocked into the thick door as she hastily walked back out. Her clash with the door’s frame ringing out a racket, drawing her older sister’s scorn. “Can’t you even walk right?”

Her sister’s impatience was no surprise. Annalise Cousins Petula was only three years older, but comprised of a lifetime of different choices. At twenty-two, she was married, was nursing a new baby, and still managed to look fresh and beautiful. ‘Course, Annalise had always managed to look perfect, even when she’d lived with them.

In contrast, Rosemarie, with her riot of brown curls and murky blue eyes, always seemed to be in need of a mirror.

She’d never had a patient nature, had hardly ever been able to sit still. That was surely why she’d spent the day brewing coffee, frying flatbread, and fetching for everyone else. It was why she’d gotten up early to take care of the chickens and Sam, the pig. It was why her hair was falling out of its hastily pinned bun and her bare feet were dirty.

Even in November.

Knowing that even if she got a pail of water and brought it back without dripping a drop, her mother would still find fault, Rose passed the pump and just kept going. She threw open the rickety back door, raced down the four steps, and welcomed freedom.

Dirt, cold and hard and unforgiving, spat up underfoot, mixing with the hem of her calico, puffing up in dismay around her toes. Pebbles scattered, flaying in her path. One hit the wheel of the doctor’s buggy, the sharp sound spurring his horse to lift his ears in annoyance.

But, oh, it felt so good to be outside.

The sun was setting, bringing with it a riot of color in the otherwise mud-brown horizon. In the distance, an owl hooted, signaling his dismay about the intrusion to the peaceful silence.

Rose didn’t care. With eager feet, she passed the doc’s buggy and the preacher’s mare. She scurried by chicken pens. Around the gate to the garden. Finally with care, she  approached the lone fence post. Pa had pounded it in the earth years ago, back when he’d intended to fence in their property. He’d never gotten any farther. It was as good a symbol as any, showing the world that the Cousins never’d had much, and weren’t likely to, neither. Just beyond their land was opportunity. Rose clasped it gratefully.

As the sun continued to set, she spoke, praying and talking. Communicating with the only one who seemed to care about her. “Why’s is it taking so long, Lord? I’m thinking Pa’s suffered enough.”

The wind howled, slapping her in the face, bringing her shame for even wishing her Pa would hurry up and do the inevitable.

After all, their neighbors the Wilsons, had crops to tend to. Annalise needed to get on home to her snooty husband. And, well, everyone else just seemed plumb worn-out from all the waiting.

Was wishing for death so wrong? Rosemarie wasn’t sure. But there had to be hope in death if there wasn’t in life, right?  And, well, Doc said Pa’s condition wasn’t going to get better. Ever. Everyone had been on deathwatch for days. Rose couldn’t remember for certain the last time her Pa had been awake. One week ago? Ten days? Too long, for sure.

So shouldn’t they all be hoping that Pa’s glorious salvation would come sooner than later?

Life, such as if was, needed to go on.

As the sun sank and darkness flooded the plains, a stillness rose. No moon, or even a star deigned to keep her company. Only the wind, that howling, never-ending factor that was always present. Cool air sank into her bones. Crept in, teasing her with its company. Spurring her to duty, no matter how unpleasant. It was time to go back.

But then, in the distance, a shadow appeared. As it got bigger, Rose felt the vibration of horse hooves on the ground. Who now?

Unafraid, Rose watched the rider approach. Was it Mr. Kowalsky, their Polish neighbor to the north? Mr. Benedict, the sheriff?

Annalise’s husband? No doubt he would be looking for his dinner and his wife.

But as the shadow formed a man in a black Stetson and the type of posture that could drive nails in a wall, Rose sensed he was unfamiliar.

He came closer.

Rose noticed his boots were black. The horse’s bridle had a bit of silver. His duster was long and black and worn.

Who was he?

His horse slowed as he approached, then finally came to a stop a good four feet away. Under the brim of the hat, gray eyes met her own.

For the first time in her life, Rose was afraid to speak. This man looked powerful and strong. Vaguely threatening.

“Ma’am?” His voice sounded scratchy, like he wasn’t used to talking. Very slowly he tipped the rim of his hat.

After swallowing hard, she found her voice. “What do you want?”

Before he could answer, a scream tore through the night, spooking the horses, even the stranger’s. For a good two minutes, it danced a bit as he fought to control it, dust flying up into her face all the while.

After the man gained control, he glanced at the window, then looked at her in concern. “What’s going on? What just happened?”

Rose knew. She knew as sure as if she’d been asked to stand by the bed, been allowed to hold her Pa’s hand. Loosening her right hand’s death grip on the post, she pointed behind her. “I do believe my pa just died.”

The sound of crying curled through the chinks of the old barn’s boards then dissipated into night air. To her surprise, Rose found she was not immune. Tears trekked down her cheeks-though maybe her eyes were watering from the dust?

In front of her, still mounted on his very fine, very tall horse, the man in the black hat cursed under his breath. Finally, he spoke again, his voice low and husky. “Now, don’t that beat all? My timing never was worth beans.”

“Mister, who are you?”

After a lengthy pause, he spit out the words. “Name’s Scout Proffitt.”

Reprinted with permission from A Texan’s Choice by Shelley Gray. © 2012 by Abingdon Press

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Interview with Author Kathi Macias

Kathi Macias is a multi-award winning writer who has authored more than 30 books and ghostwritten several others. A former newspaper columnist and string reporter, Kathi has taught creative and business writing in various venues and has been a guest on many radio and television programs. Kathi is a popular speaker at churches, women’s clubs and retreats, and writers’ conferences, and was named 2008 Member of the Year by AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association). Kathi “Easy Writer” Macias lives in Homeland, CA, with her husband, Al, where the two of them spend their free time riding in Al’s new sunburst orange Corvette. You can reach Kathi or find out more about her writing and speaking at www.kathimacias.com. You can also visit her “Easy Writer” blog at http://kathieasywritermacias.blogspot.com/.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Kathi. Can you tell us what your latest book, People of the Book, is all about?

In a nutshell, it deals with the very real issue of honor killings. Here is a brief synopsis:

Eighteen-year-old Farah, who lives inRiyadh,Saudi Arabia, with her family, wants nothing more than to develop a deeper, more meaningful devotion to her Muslim faith. She sees the month of Ramadan as her chance to draw nearer to Allah, and she pursues that goal throughout the holiday. All goes well until the prophet Isa—Jesus—appears to her in a dream and calls her to Himself. At the same time, her only brother, Kareem, who has never liked Farah, actively seeks an opportunity to expose her for the sham he believes she is.

Meanwhile, Farah’s seventeen-year-old cousin, Nura, has begun to frequent an online chat room where former Muslims gather to discuss their new faith, based on their belief that Isa is much more than a Muslim prophet—He is actually the Son of God. While there, Nura becomes acquainted with an American girl of Muslim ancestry—now a devout Christian named Sara—and a friendship quickly develops. However, Sara has problems of her own due to her fifteen-year-old brother Emir’s involvement with a gang.

The lives of Farah, Nura, and Sara ultimately dovetail until each finds herself at a place where her faith is put to the test. Will they remain faithful to the end? Will God protect and keep them safe in the midst of persecution and treachery? Or will they be required to pay the ultimate price for their faith?

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Farah is the primary character. She is an 18-year-old Muslim girl who is devout in her faith and dearly loves her family (parents and older brother). Her older brother, however, does not return the affection and watches her closely for a chance to discredit her. During the month of Ramadan Farah is determined to seek a deeper level of faith and connection to Allah, but when her seeking results in an unexpected encounter with Isa (Jesus), she is both thrilled and terrified, as she considers the possible results. Her entire future will hinge on her personal choices, and her faith is put to the test in a way even she does not expect.

Nura is Farah’s cousin, who is facing her own crisis of faith. Though her family reacts in a slightly different way from Farah’s, her life will also change radically—and permanently.

Sara is a high school student in America, whose former Muslim family has converted to Christianity. Her own crisis comes when she discovers her 15-year-old brother is involved in criminal activity. Her confession of faith, which she has been sharing over the Internet with her Saudi friend, Nura, is suddenly challenged to the point that she questions everything she has ever been taught.

Each of these characters must wrestle with their own fears and doubts until they find a resolution they can live—or die—with. 

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

A: Both. Each of the four books in the Extreme Devotion series is based on actual events and real people, though I fictionalize the characters enough so they’re never recognizable. I use the motivational gifts in Romans 12 as my primary character development guidelines. It’s amazing how real and three-dimensional they become as a result.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

Again, I have to say both. I always have a starting and an ending point, but much of what happens in between is as surprising to me as it is to the readers. There may be certain scenes I want to be sure to incorporate, so I’ll jot them down as I think of them and work them in where they fit, but the rest is an unfolding of events along the journey.

Q: Your book is set in primarily in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?

I could have set the story in nearly any Mid-East Muslim nation/city, but I felt Riyadh is so fascinating—modern and mysterious, yet the epitome of a closed society for most women. Of course, that made the storyline more challenging to develop, as I needed my main Saudi character to be influenced by someone outside that setting. When I discovered how common it is for even girls and women to have Internet access there, I knew I’d found my connection.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

Absolutely! In fact, I chose the setting to enhance the story. I had to do a lot of research to put myself into this particular setting/culture, but I learned so much in the process. 

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

Two cousins, Farah and Nura, are on the verge of disclosing to one another the secrets of what is going on in their lives—secrets that could put them in grave danger if anyone else ever found out.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

The suqs were more crowded than the last time Farah and her mother and sister had browsed them after hours. Farah imagined it had a lot to do with the fact that the day had been a few degrees cooler than normal, and people were determined to get outside and make the best of it now that the sun had been down for a while. Instead of heading straight for the air-conditioned comfort of inside restaurants and cafes, shoppers seemed content to spend at least a little more time outside.

All three of the women had donned the coolest abayas they owned, as they always did when going out during the hottest times of the year. When Nadia complained to her mother that she was still uncomfortable, she was quieted and reminded of the need for good Muslim women to be modest when in public. For the first time in her life, as Farah listened to her mother’s admonitions, she found herself questioning the requirement, though she quickly scolded herself and dismissed the thought.

Why would my dreams about Isa or my discussion with Nura make me think differently about my religious practices? Of course I should remain modest in public; all women should! My body must be completely reserved for my future husband—whoever he might be.

She knew enough from her studies and her Internet browsing, as well as from reading books and talking with others, that not all women lived as they did in theSaudiKingdom, not even all Muslim women. Farah had always thought that a great tragedy, as she was certain the restrictions imposed upon them in the kingdom were for their own protection. It unnerved her to realize that now she was questioning those long-held certainties.

After nearly an hour of walking and shopping, the women arrived at the restaurant where they had planned to meet Sakeena and Nura. Farah’s heart rate escalated when she realized the two weren’t there, but by the time Farah and her mother and sister had been inside for a couple of minutes, their companions arrived.

The five were soon seated in a booth with curtains drawn and were able to remove their head coverings so they could sip their coffee and enjoy their pastries while they talked. Once again the conversation centered around shopping and clothes, with the two older women carrying the majority of the discussion and Nadia jumping in when she got the chance. Farah and Nura sat nearly silent, pretending to be absorbed in munching on their sweets while desperately trying to telegraph messages to one another with their eyes. At last Farah excused herself to go to the restroom, hoping that Nura would join her but that Nadia and the others would stay behind. Much to her relief, it happened exactly that way.

Farah and Nura, their head coverings back in place, quickly and silently made their way to the facilities. Once inside, they remained silent while the room’s only other occupant washed her hands before exiting. And then they were alone.

“I thought she’d never leave,” Nura whispered, removing her head covering as Farah did the same. “Thank you for thinking of this. I was so anxious to talk with you!”

“So was I,” Farah agreed. “But this is not a good time or place, do you think? Others will be coming and going, and we just can’t take the chance. Maybe you can talk your parents into coming over again tomorrow night, or to invite my family to your house, which might be even better. Kareem is a lot less likely to be snooping around at your place.”

Nura nodded. “You’re right. I’m worried about what he might have heard. He’s always frightened me a little, even though my friends are jealous that I’m his cousin. They all think he’s so handsome…which I suppose he is. But…” She paused before continuing, her expression troubled. “Has he said anything?”

“Nothing,” Farah assured her. “Not yet anyway. But I catch him glaring at me all the time. We’ll have to be really careful not to let him hear us.”

“Not to let who hear you?”

The question seemed to come out of nowhere, and both Farah and Nura spun toward the sound at the exact same moment they realized they were no longer alone. Though the intruder was dressed in a full abaya and head covering, her familiarity made it apparent that the one who had walked in on them was Nadia. The wording of Nadia’s question led Farah to believe her sister hadn’t heard any of the previous conversation, but that small consolation didn’t help her heart rate slow down any.

“Nadia,” she said, “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“That’s because I just got here—and because you were too busy worrying about someone else hearing you. Who were you talking about? Kareem?”

Farah swallowed. How much could she trust Nadia? Very little, she was sure. Taking her into their confidence was not an option. But what choice did she have? And then one very faint hope surfaced in the flurry of her mind.

“Nura and I were just talking about…Kareem,” Farah ventured, sensing her cousin grow tense beside her. “We were saying how we’d like to surprise him some time by making his favorite food when he least expects it. What do you think? Would that be a good idea?”

Nadia took off her head covering, revealing a puzzled expression. “I didn’t think you even liked Kareem,” she said, directing her words at Farah. “Why would you want to do something special for him?”

Farah wished she had left her own head covering in place to hide her flaming cheeks. “Of course I like him,” she said. “He’s my brother.”

“He’s mine too,” Nadia answered. “That doesn’t mean I think he’s very nice.” She paused, and a smile lit up her eyes. “Because he’s not, you know.”

Nadia laughed then, and the others joined in, though Farah noticed Nura’s laughter sounded as nervous as her own. But if Nadia had believed their story, then they would be all right—at least for now. It was obvious, though, that they would have to be more discreet in the future.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Kathi.  We wish you much success!

Thank you for allowing me to join you and to share my thoughts with your readers.

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