Saturday, October 31, 2015

Week 13: (Tanya Stowe) Haunted Hearts (Heart's Haven Holidays Collection)

Congratulations to Laurie Bergh, Week 12 winner of MIRACLES AND DREAMS!


It's my pleasure to welcome my guest author, Tanya Stowe, with the first chapter of her Heart's Haven Halloween novella, HAUNTED HEARTS. I know you'll enjoy this special treat. As always, leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of the featured book!

1st Chapter:
One thousand one. One thousand two. One thousand three.
Suzy Bennett stopped counting her steps for a moment and glanced up at the Angelina Forest on each side of the trail. Signs of fall exploded from the dark green of the forest in bursts of yellow, burnt orange, and gold. The crisp air, scented with the musk of falling leaves, was perfect for a brisk walk. Suzy needed a fast pace to work off the tension of the day.
The quarterly financials were due and landing on her desk for approval with depressing speed. No time for a break today, she’d barely had time to breathe. Accounts and numbers still danced through her head...along with the changing count of her steps.
One thousand ten. One thousand eleven.
This trail, skirting the forest near Suzy’s Heart’s Haven bungalow, was a lifesaver. She walked this path almost every day, to enjoy Angel Falls’ wonderful, temperate weather, to watch the forest change, and to burn off steam...even on days like today when she’d left work late. The sunny blue sky was already sliding into lavender and shadows hung at the edges of the trees. What would she do when winter came and she couldn’t get out and clear some of the numbers from her head? These walks kept her going. Well, the walks and the hope that she might see her Rochester.
He was Suzy’s deep, dark secret.
If her sisters ever found out that she walked miles every day just for a glimpse of a handsome, dark stranger, she’d never hear the end of it. They’d laugh themselves silly over the notion that Little Miss Suzy had romantic ideas about anyone.
All three of her sisters had inherited their mother’s dark-haired beauty while Suzy ended up with their dad’s mousy brown hair, fussy ways, and head for numbers. Growing up, they’d had a storybook about a little brown mouse that constantly cleaned her house and fretted. Little Miss Suzy.
In spite of her best efforts, Suzy could not rid herself of the nickname her sisters still used to irritate her. Never mind that she had starry-eyed yearnings and read every classic romance ever written over and over again. No one believed she had wild romance in her heart...not Little Miss Suzy. The fussy, brown mouse image actually began to fit when she was promoted to head accountant at her firm, and her life settled into a never-ending pattern of work, home, and more work.
Then one day she saw him, walking across the clearing. Rounding a bend where this portion of the trail was elevated over a ravine, Suzy could see all around her. In the distance, he had left the edge of the forest to cross the small open meadow, moving toward the trees on the other side. His jean-clad legs cut the distance with such purpose as his brown, wavy hair blew away from his face. He swayed slightly as he walked, confident, sure. With his short-sleeved, white T-shirt tucked in and clinging to his muscular shape, his arms swung naturally. He worked out. Definitely.
From a distance, Suzy noted balanced, appealing features. So many attractive qualities, but the thing that most captured her attention was his purposeful stride. He was so determined, so certain, as he cut across the open meadow, like a hero from a romance. She could easily envision a long dark coat, flapping at his legs as he moved toward his lady love.
From there, Suzy’s long-suppressed imagination had taken flight.
He became Heathcliff, hurrying across the moor. She was Cathy, who gingerly picked her way down the incline of the trail...it seemed her clumsiness wouldn’t leave her even in her daydreams...and then ran across to leap into his arms. But frankly, she couldn’t quite see herself making the leap either without some sort of mishap.
Better yet, he was Rochester to her mousy Jane Eyre.
Rochester. She wondered where he came from, how he made his living. How did he get that taut waist and those muscular arms? In a gym or training for a joust? Did he move with such purpose because he was meeting someone, a woman forbidden to him because of a family feud? Did he walk every day to escape the oppressive responsibilities of a multi-national corporation? Could he leap tall buildings in a single bound?
After seeing him that first time, Suzy kept her routine the same, and every day she caught a glimpse of her Rochester coming or going, crossing the clearing, fueling new stories in her head. Stories that drove the numbers away.
One thousand fifty-one. One thousand fifty-two. One thousand fifty-three.
Suzy sighed. Well, the stories drove most of the numbers away. She couldn’t stop counting her steps, even when she tried.The breeze lifted her running jacket with a cold touch, piercing all the way through her light T-shirt. Autumn had well and truly arrived at Angel Falls. They’d had a late summer but now, daylight grew short, and fall was just around the corner. Suzy could feel it in the air and see it in the dark of the forest. Shadows that had clung to corners now ate up great spaces, like dark ooze creeping over the land.
Suzy shivered and zipped up her short jacket. Her imagination was getting the best of her. She should head back...but no, not before she reached the clearing. Would her Rochester be there? She’d missed seeing him the last two days and wondered if it would be the same today. Picking up her speed, Suzy turned the corner.
One thousand sixty-three...
The next number died on her lips. Suzy came to a grinding halt. In the center of the clearing, her Rochester stood stock-still, hands fisted at his sides, his gaze uplifted.
Suzy took two steps forward, closer to the edge of the trail. She squinted into the twilight, not believing what she saw. A dark cloud floated over him. As she watched, it shifted, crystallizing into the shape of a woman with flowing hair, stretched out...right above Suzy’s Rochester.
She gasped, stepped back, and tripped over her own feet. Then she tumbled down the side of the trail and screamed all the way to the bottom.
****
Scott Lunsford watched the image shift and shimmer into the shape of Julie’s face. The dark mist wavered in a perfect imitation of her long hair.
The misty image mocked him. He wanted to punch it away, but it would do no good. He had tried before. The mist would scatter and soon reshape itself into Julie’s image. It disturbed him, frightened him, and made him feel powerless.
Almost as if it read his mind, the ghostly lips smiled in response, pleased at his frustration. Now Scott couldn’t resist. He swung at the image, dissipating its unholy pleasure.
Suddenly, a scream carried across the clearing. Scott spun just in time to see a young woman in a blue running suit rolling down the side of the Angelina Forest Trail. When the scream stopped, Scott was already running to help her.
He reached her side just as the young woman raised off her stomach. A long twig protruded from the brown strands of her short, slightly upturned hair. She sat on her bottom, batted away the twig, and then winced, and turned up her palms to examine multiple cuts.
“Are you all right?”
She jumped. Scraped palms forgotten, she quickly looked up and all around. “Where is it?”
“Where is what?” Scott sunk to his haunches beside her, his EMT training kicking into gear as he examined her for more injuries.
“That thing, floating over your head. Where did it go?”
Scott froze. “You saw it?”
“Her,” she said with a nod of her head. “Most definitely a her.”
As the words penetrated, Scott felt the fear and tension drain out of him, right through the soles of his feet into the ground. He sagged, his relief was so great.
“Do you have some kind of light machine? Is that how you made it?”
Scott gave a shake to his head and looped one arm over his upraised knee. “I don’t even know what ‘it’ is, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t make it.”
He looked up into the prettiest bright green eyes he’d ever seen, fringed with dark lashes and widened in shock.
“I was afraid you were going to say something like that.” Her tone dropped to a near whisper.
“But...but you did see it, right?”
“Yes, I saw it.”
Now it was the woman’s turn to sag in relief, giving Scott the chance to study her. For the first time he noticed a red overtone burnishing those upswept strands of brown hair and a sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose. A bright pink abrasion on her right cheek needed to be cleaned. She also had a nasty cut on one knee where her running suit had snagged and torn open.
Apparently noticing the direction of his gaze, she reached for the tear in her pants but immediately winced in pain.
“Ouch!”
Scott took both her palms in his hands and turned them up, revealing a number of angry, rock-and-dirt- embedded gashes. “That was a pretty nasty tumble you took. We need to get you checked out.”
Rising to his feet, he gripped her elbows and lifted her.
“Wait—we can’t go. We have to look for that...that—"
“Ghost?”
She stiffened and looked up, once again rendering him a little stunned by the full power of those wide, green eyes.
“It’s not a ghost.” She gave her head a firm shake. “I don’t believe in ghosts.‛”
Scott gave a short laugh. “I hope you’re right. Ghost or not, we need to get you home. Where do you live?"
“At Heart’s Haven.”
“That’s a good two miles back down the trail. It’s a little late to be out that far.”
She shifted and looked away. Her uninjured cheek took on a pink tone bright enough to rival the other one. Why was she embarrassed?
“Well, my place is closer,” Scott said when she didn’t offer an explanation. “Let’s go there, and then I’ll drive you home.” He gestured in the right direction.
She tried to take a step, but her knee buckled.
“I was afraid of that,” Scott said. “You came down hard on that side. Probably bruised it pretty badly.”
In one sweeping movement, he scooped her up.
“You can’t carry me all the way back.”
Getting a close look at the perky hairstyle, those wide eyes and freckles, Scott said the first thing that came to his mind. “You don’t weigh more than a pixie. We’ll make it OK.”
He walked toward the forest, and she peered back over his shoulder at the clearing. “Are you sure we shouldn’t investigate this a little bit more? Maybe just look around.”
“No need,” he said with a shake of his head. “We’ll investigate next time.”
“How do you know there’ll be a next time?”

Scott sighed. “Because your ‘not a ghost’ has been haunting me every night for the last month.”


Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Haunted Hearts.



Tanya Stowe is an author of Christian Fiction with an unexpected edge. She fills her stories with the unusual…gifts of the spirit and miracles, mysteries and exotic travel, even an angel or two. No matter where Tanya takes you…on a journey to the Old West or to contemporary adventures in foreign lands…be prepared for the extraordinary.

Website, Facebook, Blog



Purchase HAUNTED HEARTS:
Pelican Book Group (ePub, Adobe)
Amazon (Kindle)
Barnes & Noble  (Nook)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Week 12: MIRACLES AND DREAMS

Congratulations to Pam Zarate, winner of last week's featured book, STOLEN MIRACLES!


Miracles at Mills Landing Series, Book 3

1st Chapter:

The grinding whirr of landscaping trucks filled with rich, black mulch was a heartbeat to Jack Seaton’s soul. Loose soil, rich and musky with the scent of recent rain, made his blood rush with adrenaline. Nothing compared with the awakening that coursed through his veins as he watched the expanse of earth transform from bare to beautiful. Under his attentive eye and careful planning, where rocks once scattered there now breathed a community of upscale townhomes with a majestic mountain backdrop.
As trucks dumped mulch at the elaborate river-rock entrance sign, complete with working waterfall and a parade of crimson knock-out roses, Jack knew that nothing in life had ever—or would ever—trump the soaring feeling that overtook him.
Except for what he’d once experienced with Misty Larson. That had been an adrenaline rush/two-step swathed beneath the glow of a few months’ worth of full moons. But that dance, and the emotions that accompanied it, had ended more than half-a-decade ago—a lifetime ago—and were better left in the past. Jack had tucked away the memories along with the scent of Misty’s peaches and vanilla perfume and the melody of her laughter. She’d hurt him to the core…betrayed him in the worst possible way, and he couldn’t possibly forgive her—not ever.
“Hey, boss.” Mike, the stout senior foreman, loped over carrying an armload of letters. “I got mail call here, and today it’s a doozie.”
“That’s a load.” Jack grimaced at the mountain of bundled paper. So much for indulging in an early knock-off that afternoon. “It will probably take me hours to sort through.” He sighed and scratched the stubble that smattered his chin. No point in shaving to come to the job site. He’d spend the day on the phone or buried beneath a landslide of paperwork. “Toss it all on my desk. I’ll get to it later, when the landscapers are finished at the entrance.”
“This letter arrived special delivery. I had to sign for it.” Mike handed Jack a crisp manila envelope, the address personally hand lettered. It was a bit bulky, with the outline of a second envelope—or perhaps a square of cardboard—tucked inside. “It’s different from the rest—smells a bit odd, like a hint of sweet perfume. You got something going on, boss?”
“Nope.” The question, coming from anyone but Mike, would have offended Jack. But, after five-plus years working together, the two had forged a friendship that went beyond the jobsite. Mike was a stand-up guy whom Jack knew he could count on in any situation. “Nothing but a date with my pillow.”
“If you say so.” Mike shrugged and slapped the letter against his thigh before offering it up. “But, you might want to take a look.”
“Thanks.” Jack took the letter, distracted as one of the trucks inched dangerously close to a drop-off across the road. The driver was new and flirting with disaster. The road department had yet to come out and place guard rails. Jack had that at the top of the day’s To-Do list: hound the road department. The rails would have to come in before any of the new owners arrived.
Jack tucked the envelope into the pocket of his flannel shirt and started across the work field, motioning Mike to follow. “Do you see that drop-off at the entrance?”
“Sure do, boss.” Mike nodded as he fell into step. “Hard to miss that one.”
“Grab the specs and let’s take a look-see.” Jack lifted a hand to shield his eyes from the glaring sun. “It’s shaping up to be a problem.”
****
Misty glanced at the clock on the wall above the kitchen doorway and grimaced. She was due to fetch Allie from school in half-an-hour. Where had the day gone?
The laptop’s screen mocked her with a flash of graphics. She pushed away from the table and leaned back in the chair, rubbing
exhaustion from her weary eyes. This project was proving to be a bear, and doubt crept in that she’d manage to finish by the deadline she’d promised the client.
But, she had to finish. Her future—and Allie’s—depended on it. Spence Tucker, the new director of the expanding Mill’s Landing Parks and Rec department, could open doors Misty had only dreamed of crossing through.
If she nailed this job—on time.
Misty sighed and rolled kinks from her neck before slipping from the chair and padding over to the sink. One of the fringe benefits of managing her own Web-design agency was the ability to work from home…in her stocking feet and with her uncombed hair swept into a messy ponytail. Jeans and a T-shirt were optional—some work days slipped away before she even changed out of her pajamas or donned a hint of make-up.
Today was the exception. She’d dropped Allie at school, and then taken an early jog along the Landing to get the creative juices flowing. Inspiration had flared by the time she indulged in a quick shower. A trip down the electronic highway followed.
Until she hit a roadblock at the first turn. The photos Spence Tucker had sent were all wrong, and the layout left gaps. She needed more—better—soon.
Ugh. She refilled her coffee cup, added a splash of French-vanilla creamer, and took a moment to gaze through the bay window that swaddled the modest breakfast nook. Sunlight spilled across the yard beyond, spotlighting toys peeking through blades of grass that cried out to be mowed. The lawn would have to wait until tomorrow—she’d promised Allie a trip to the park after school. It would give her a chance to snap more photos of the walking trail and landscaping just coming into bloom. The trail snaked around the park and through the Landing. With a little luck, she’d capture the beauty she yearned to express through the Parks and Rec Website.
She fingered the buttons on the oversized flannel shirt she wore over a scoop-necked navy T-shirt. Patches of baby blue and soft yellow had faded from hundreds of washings, and one of the cuffs was missing its buttons. She wondered now why she hadn’t thrown it out—or burned it—years ago. The fabric, if she imagined hard enough, still carried the faint, wood-spice scent of Jack’s aftershave. Cotton caressed her pale skin like a gentle hug, just as Jack once had—before the breakup.
Maybe she kept the shirt—and still occasionally wore it—because of Allie. Despite the heartaches that Jack Seaton had caused, he’d given her Allie. Misty would be forever thankful to him for the gift of her daughter.
Misty glanced at a photo of Allie she’d tacked to the fridge. The child had Jack’s eyes…a swirl of wolf-gray with flecks of stonewashed blue that danced with a hint of mischief. Her rich black hair held Jack’s thick and wavy texture, as well. Misty was helpless when it came to restraining the mass with bows or elastic bands. She’d considered cutting it, but Allie loved the long locks. So, a headband worked best, Misty had learned through trial and error, and Allie had an arsenal to choose from.
Misty tore her gaze from the photo and her mind from the memories. She took a final sip of tepid coffee and then dumped what was left down the sink drain. The screensaver popped on, and a cluster of willows danced in a breeze, their shadows reflected along the water’s edge. Misty longed to be in the cool shade of the trees down at the Landing.
She forced the thought away and tried not to remember how she’d once waited there—foolishly—for Jack to come for her.
He never did.
Now there was way too much on her plate to waste time reminiscing—or wishing for something that was not meant to be. She’d moved on a long time ago.
Hadn’t she?

Disgusted with the thought, Misty gave the computer screen one last glance before closing the laptop. After jotting a few quick notes on a legal pad beside the computer, she tossed the pencil onto the table. The project could wait for later tonight—after Allie was in bed. Maybe then, her mind would be clear of Jack Seaton…and the nagging feeling that, despite all her blessings, something important in her life was missing.

Be sure to LEAVE YOUR COMMENT below to be entered in the drawing for this week's giveaway.

Purchase MIRACLES AND DREAMS:
Pelican Book Group (ePub or Adobe PDF)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Week 11: STOLEN MIRACLES

Congratulations to Deanna Dick, winner of last week's featured 1st -chapter book, MIRACLES AND MISCHIEF!
Miracles at Mills Landing, Book 2


1st Chapter:

Rebecca Gillespie gnawed the eraser end of a pencil as her attention wandered to the office window and a row of maples that lined the boulevard beyond. The street, which merely half an hour earlier had bustled with the traffic of people scurrying home from work, was now still. Trees swayed along a smattering of park benches, offering shade from late-afternoon sun. A gentle breeze drifted through the window, carrying the mild scent of changing leaves that signaled the end of lazy summer days. The cozy park beyond was quiet; parents had taken their children home for dinner.

The park and landing, which overlooked the sun-dappled Tennessee River, was one of the main reasons Rebecca had chosen this spot for her preschool—the scenery was stunning and tranquil, perfect for the safety of the children.

Other people’s children.

Stark realization stole Rebecca’s breath. She glanced at a calendar hanging on the wall above her desk. August thirty-first. Hard as she tried, she couldn’t blot out the coming month—September. Had it really been nearly five years since the accident that took her husband, Steve, as well as the child she’d carried? Rebecca’s fingers delved beneath her neat ponytail and ran the length of her hairline. A jagged scar hidden by layers of tamed curls was proof of the injuries she’d suffered and the fact that the daughter she’d longed for—that she’d been told had died that night—was really living somewhere in Mill’s Landing. Another family had claimed her for their own.

Rebecca leaned forward; reaching for a cup of coffee perched on the desk blotter. A delicate silver locket—two hearts intertwined—slipped from the collar of her blouse. As it dangled and swayed, she dismissed the coffee and slid the chain from her neck. Unclasping the locket, she gazed at its emptiness. A pang of frustration punctuated a wave of sadness, and Rebecca chastised herself before she was swept into the riptide. Why should she expect the locket to hold anything more than empty air? Her daughter was still missing—and in only a week or so, she’d celebrate her fifth birthday.

Rebecca opened her desk drawer and thumbed through countless folders until she found a familiar maroon-colored file. The riptide tugged mercilessly as she searched through documents for the letter she knew she’d find sandwiched between sheaves of legalese. Why she read it again now, she wasn’t sure. Maybe she was driven by the fact that someone else, somewhere here in Mill’s Landing, was preparing for a birthday celebration with her daughter—a birthday that should be hers to share. The very thought made Rebecca crazy with longing.

The note was written in a flourish of deliberate swirls on opaque taupe parchment folded into thirds. Rebecca’s belly tangled and her blood rushed at her temples as she scanned the words.

Dear Rebecca,

The oncologist has informed me that my time left here on earth is short, so I long to put my affairs in order before the fateful day claims my final breath.

That said, a weight presses heavily on my heart. I have wronged you grievously, my dear, and for my actions I deeply, regretfully apologize. The night that unspeakable automobile accident claimed Steven’s life and nearly yours, as well, holds veiled secrets that must, however painful, now be spoken.

You see, Rebecca, the night remains crystal clear in my memory—from the initial news of the accident to learning that my precious Steven, my only child, was gone to me forever. It was easy to blame you for his demise. I warned him not to get mixed up with you—and then to compound that error by marrying someone fathoms below his social class and bringing a child into the world!

I was consumed by grief and contempt those five months you lay in a coma. It’s true the doctors were forced to take your premature child by emergency Cesarean section. But the child was not stillborn, Rebecca. The opposite is quite true—you gave birth to a healthy, though somewhat premature, baby girl.

As you know, since you had no family to take charge of the situation, except for me, I held the power of attorney for both you and your child. In poor health myself, battling this awful disease, there was no way I could maintain the care of an infant. I had no choice but to place your daughter into a private adoption with a couple living in Mill’s Landing. Whether they still reside there, I have no idea.

I never imagined you would survive your injuries, fully restored to health. My dying wish is for you to have all the happiness you deserve. I hope the inheritance I’ve earmarked for you will help. Please accept the money and do something good with it…something that would make Steven proud. He would have liked that.

Finally, forgive me, Rebecca. I beseech you to pray for my soul.

Marilyn Gillespie

The letter slipped from Rebecca’s fingers, fluttering across the desk blotter. She brushed tears from her eyes and drew a tremulous breath. Despite countless readings of the note, she continued to struggle with making sense of such shattering words. So much hurt…all unnecessary. From the very start of her relationship with Steve, Rebecca had gone to great lengths to be pleasing to his overbearing mother. Yet, Marilyn had taken an immediate dislike to her, doing her best to destroy the love that Rebecca and Steve shared. Rebecca hadn’t spoken to her since the day Marilyn, still incensed over the marriage and subsequent pregnancy, had insinuated Rebecca was nothing more than a gold-digger, merely after the Gillespie family money. That day had come merely a week before the accident.

Marilyn’s gold-digging assumption was the furthest thing from the truth. Rebecca was still in graduate school when she’d fallen in love with Steve, and admittedly more than a bit na├»ve about the way the world worked, but she loved Steve, and he’d adored her. A handful of months into the marriage the pregnancy came unexpectedly, yet they both were thrilled with the prospect of becoming parents.

Now he was gone forever and their daughter was missing. How was it possible?

Rebecca crossed her arms over the desktop and settled her head as tears joined the painful memories. Once the initial shock and rage of the letter had worn off, Rebecca prayed for Marilyn’s soul as well as for healing in her own heart. She also used the inheritance Marilyn left to open Precious Miracles. She’d believed if she was patient, her daughter would eventually come home to her. But three long years had passed since she’d first read Marilyn’s confession. No matter which route Rebecca took, she always reached a dead end. Though it was beyond frustrating, she struggled to remain positive. What good would it do to allow anger and despair to devour her?

In her heart, Rebecca also believed that even in this most unbelievable mess, God had a plan. She held fast to that belief. Yet, on days such as this when the memories crept in and stole the light, each breath still sliced like a knife.

Maybe she was trying too hard. She’d spent nearly every waking hour either managing the preschool or searching for clues. Maybe it was time to ease up a bit and let God handle it. Her grandma used
to say, “When the going gets rough, Becca, remember God’s always there to listen.”

Rebecca eased back in the padded desk chair and lifted her gaze. She clasped her hands and drew a deep, cleansing breath as she offered a silent prayer.

Tell me, Lord…how much pain might I endure? Will I ever find my daughter? And, if I do find her, what happens next, Lord?

****
“Have you been to the doctor yet?” Cole Siebert loosened his tie with one hand while gripping the steering wheel of the SUV with his other. The handsfree phone device made it easy to navigate traffic while talking to his sister—so much better for multi-tasking. “What did he say, Patty?”

“The babies are doing fine right now, but he wants me to rest more the next several weeks.” Patty’s voice drifted over the line. “I’m glad you’re meeting the preschool director today. I’m pretty sure the doctor is going to put me on bed rest with the next visit.”

“Do you want me to head home now? I could put off the preschool appointment until next week.”

“Next week might be too late, Cole. My appointment is in a few days.”

“Oh, well…” She must have sensed the apprehension in his voice, his hesitation.  “You’ll be fine and so will Kimmy.”

“I’m not worried about me. I’m worried about you—“

“Don’t.” He could picture her waggling a finger at him, the way she’d become accustomed to as his older sister. “You know, I think this may be a blessing in disguise.”

“How so?”

“It’s time, Cole, for you and Kimmy to make your own way. Leaning on me is stifling your social life. You haven’t been out in months.”

“I’m not ready to date.”

“I didn’t say anything about dating. I’m talking about getting your life back. You have to plunge back in. Leah would want you to move on…to be happy again.”

“How can I be happy?” The very idea tugged at him. Leah had been his biggest fan. But now she was gone, and he felt like a sundae without the hot fudge. “It’s just not fair.”

“Maybe not, but it is what it is.”

“Oh, sis, I’m so sorry.” Guilt stabbed Cole. “I’ve been selfish.”

“You’ve been hurting…and human. But you need to be strong now. You can’t miss your appointment with the preschool director. You’re already late. Kimmy is depending on you.”

“Can’t she enroll in kindergarten?” He applied the left turn signal and blew around a corner. “She’ll be five next week.”

“No. She missed the age cut-off by two weeks.”

“And they don’t make exceptions, right?”

“No. Not even for big-shot attorneys like you. We’ve both tried.” Cole tapped the brake as the traffic light turned yellow. “What’s Kimmy doing now?”

“Dressing Buttercup to star in her latest play.”

“That poor cat.” Cole shook his head and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. A warm breeze rustled his hair as it whispered through the open driver’s window, carrying the musky scent of fallen leaves. “Give her a kiss for me, and tell her I’ll be home as soon as I can.”

“I will.”

“And sit down a bit. Put your feet up.”

“I’ll do that too if you promise to stop by the bakery to order Kimmy’s birthday cake after you leave the preschool.”

“Got it.” The light changed to green again. Cole hit the gas and crested a hill. He coasted through a second light before turning the corner. “Thanks, sis, for everything.”

“Make a good impression on that director, OK?” Patty urged. “And the sooner Kimmy can enroll and get started, the better. She needs someone to play with besides you, me, and the cat.”

“Soon she’ll have twin cousins, as well.”

“Yes, she will.”

Cole heard the happiness in his sister’s voice, which spurred him on. “But, in the meantime. I’ll do my best. I’m almost to the school. Traffic is thinning, thank goodness.” The clock on the dash flashed five forty-three. “Talk to you later, sis.”

Cole disconnected and tapped the gas pedal, pushing the speed limit slightly as he shifted lanes. The sun sank low on the horizon, casting a shimmer of magenta through maple trees that lined the boulevard. He was late for the appointment. Cole offered a silent prayer for the director’s understanding. The school had to work out for Kimmy…and for him. Patty had been more than gracious to help care for Kimmy the past several months while Cole returned to work following Leah’s passing. But Patty was right. The arrangement was never meant to be permanent, and she had sacrificed quite a bit to be there for him. It was time for her to take care of herself and her babies now, and for Cole to find his own way. So, Cole had phoned the preschool director—Rebecca somebody-or-other—that morning, and she’d agreed to meet with him at five this afternoon.  There was no more putting off the inevitable. Besides, Precious Miracles was the best of the best preschools in Mill’s Landing. Everyone said so, and even the Mill’s Landing Daily Journal had run a glowing feature story last month. Cole turned the corner, and the school came into view. The brick building, with its generous expanse of windows, beckoned. A powder blue sedan was parked near the rear of the lot.

Cole heaved a sigh. It was minutes before six, and maybe he’d blown the whole opportunity. How was he going to meet with the director and get Kimmy’s birthday cake ordered before the bakery closed at seven?

At the thought of Kimmy’s birthday, a wave of grief swept through Cole. The holiday was bittersweet, marking another first without his wife. She was only twenty-eight. Heart attacks weren’t supposed to happen to women who were young—to mothers with daughters who depended on them and husbands who adored them. Yet, it had. Leah was proof. Eleven months and Cole still struggled to find his footing through the loss. The world had become bland and colorless…whispers of gray punctuated by flurries of black. Yet the creeping phlox in an explosion of fuchsia blooming along the preschool entrance walkway told him there was color to enjoy—and plenty of it. He simply had to figure out how to move past the loss.


Like it or not, there was no turning back now.


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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Week 10: MIRACLES AND MISCHIEF

Congratulations to Tanya Hanson, winner of last week's featured 1st -chapter book, STARFIRE!

(Miracles at Mills Landing, Book 1)

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. ~Galatians 6:2~

1st Chapter:

Nate Saylor slouched in the padded leather desk chair and scowled as a crimson banner emblazoned with the latest sport-news updates flashed across the bottom of the flat screen mounted to the wall above a row of shelves. Footage of yesterday’s playoff game—and his game-losing fumble—replayed over and over. An announcer’s muffled voice issued humiliating blow-by-blow commentary.
“Where did those reporters get their information?” The words scalded Nate’s throat as his gaze followed the dropped football and then the scathing words on the banner. He crossed his arms tight over his chest and flexed his fingers. “What they’re reporting is a bunch of hogwash—the farthest thing from the truth.”
His agent, Stan Moore, tossed a pen onto the cluttered oak desk and massaged his temples, exhaling loudly. “Once it’s in print, Nate, it’s true.” He reached for the remote and muted the offensive sound. “And this, my friend, is definitely in full-blown print.”
“So I see.” Nate crossed one leg over his knee and grimaced. His body was bruised and battered from yesterday’s assault. Not that it mattered to any of the fans. All anyone seemed to care about was what they deemed to be his flagrant errors, both on and off the field. “Can’t you contact someone at the news station and get those statements retracted?”
“Retracted?” Stan snorted. “Maybe, after I’ve cleaned up this mess.” He pulled a newspaper from the top shelf and shoved a stack of files aside before slapping it down on the desk. He jabbed the print with his index finger. “Nice headline, huh? And get a load of that photo.”
“Let me see that.” Nate gasped as he scanned the print beneath a snapshot of him sporting a pair of handcuffs while he was loaded into the backseat of a police cruiser. The bold-print, oversized font screamed at him.
Playoff disgrace, Nate Saylor, arrested for assault following devastating loss.
“That jerk at the restaurant deserved to get his clock cleaned.” Nate tossed the paper aside. “Besides, one dropped pass and I’m a disgrace?”
“You were in the end zone, and the pass did land right in your sweet spot.” Stan pinched the bridge of his nose as he slowly shook his head. “And the touchdown would have launched the team straight to the Super Bowl.”
“Don’t rub it in. I’ve relived that moment I don’t know how many times during the past twenty-four hours.”
“I’ll bet. You look like you haven’t slept a wink.”
“How could I…with this hanging over my head?” He crumpled the paper. “It’s ludicrous.”
“Well, whatever we think now, the damage is done. There’s no point in rehashing it.” Stan took a roll of antacid tablets from his shirt pocket and popped one into his mouth. “Besides, you know how the media suffers from a love-hate relationship with the NFL, especially during playoff season.”
“As for the rest of it—what happened after the game—they’ve got it all wrong.” Could it get any worse? A flush of heat curled up Nate’s spine as his temper flashed. “They’re missing half the facts.”
“Thank goodness for that.” Stan chewed, swallowed, and slipped a second tablet into his mouth. “Should have bought stock in these.” He tucked the roll back into his pocket.
“You know it didn’t go down that way, Stan.” Nate leaned forward in the chair. “Off the field I don’t go around provoking people.”
“Of course, I know that.” Stan picked up the pen he’d tossed and jotted a note on the desk blotter. “But it doesn’t matter. Like I said, the damage is done.”
“Well, it matters to me.”
“Regardless…we have a mess to clean up. I got a call from Worldwide Sporting Goods. They’ve dropped your contract.”
“What?”
“That’s not all. By lunch, Pro Fitness did the same.”
Blood rushed through Nate’s ears as his pressure rose. “Can they do that?”
“You broke their image clause, Nate. They can do whatever they want.”
“I should call them and explain.” Nate reached into his pocket for his cell phone. “Once I tell them how it really went down—”
“No!” Stan lunged across the desk, toppling his foam coffee cup. Muddy brew splattered file folders. “Give me your phone.”
“But I can make them understand.”
“Understand what, Nate?” Stan grabbed Nate’s cell phone. “That the star running back for the Tennessee Titans had a meltdown after an embarrassing playoff loss and managed to get himself arrested?”
“I didn’t have a meltdown. I told you, I was—”
“Tell it to the judge, Nate.” Stan removed the battery from the phone and slipped it into one pants pocket. The case went into his other. Then he reached for a tissue and began to mop up the spill. “Take a breath before you dig a deeper hole.”
“It can’t get any deeper.”
“Oh, I assure you it can.” Stan lobbed the soiled tissue into the trash can.
“So, what am I supposed to do?”
“We did get a third phone call…one you might want to consider.”
“Tell me more.”
“Have you ever heard of a foundation called Moments for Miracles?”
“Nope.”
“Well, they’re interested in you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“They grant wishes to critically ill children.”
Nate sat back in the chair, resting his hands across his knotted belly. “You mean, kids who are going to die?”
“Some of them—most of them—will.” Stan nodded. “But the rest…”
“I don’t think I can handle that.”
“You don’t have a choice, Nate. You need damage control, and this is just what the doctor ordered—no pun intended.” Stan shook his head. “Besides, doing this might lead to a breakthrough of some sort for you, which can only be a good thing. If you don’t let go of the past, it’s eventually going to consume you.”
“You know what I’ve been through, Stan, as far as that goes. This whole mess…well, you know where it started.”
“That’s my whole point, Nate.” He picked up the pen and twirled it in his fingers. “Yes, I know. I was there, remember?”
“Then, you should know better than anyone that I just can’t do what you’re asking.”
“Yes, you can do it.” Stan tossed the newspaper into Nate’s lap. “Go home, Nate, and keep your nose clean. I’ll contact the director of Moments for Miracles, pull some strings, and orchestrate a measure of damage control.”
“I can fight this battle without your meddling.”
“No, you can’t. You’re in too deep, Nate. Trust me on this.”
Nate tossed the newspaper back onto the desk and raked a hand through his hair. Could he trust Stan? The two had been friends for years before entering into an agent-athlete partnership. Nate’s gut roiled as the ESPN ticker tape continued to flash news of the previous night’s escapades. From the look of things, he didn’t have much of a choice. Right now, Stan was his lifeline. “OK, I’ll let you deal with it.”
“Good. That’s why you pay me the big bucks.” Stan slipped the newspaper back into the file drawer. “Pack a bag, Nate, and head back to Mill’s Landing. Relax and enjoy some down time, now that the season is over. Just promise me you’ll stay out of trouble.”
“I can manage that—if you keep the press away.”
“I’ll do my best.” Stan nodded. “In the meantime, why don’t you
catch up on a bit of reading?”
“What type of reading?”
“The type that will help screw your head back on straight.” Stan handed him a soft-cover book. “It’s a devotional. I have a copy of my own, and I’ve read it cover to cover. You should do the same.”
The words stabbed Nate. He had been caught up in the season, but this run of bad luck with the press was the wake-up call he needed. Maybe. He slipped the book into his jeans pocket. “Thanks.”
“I’ve got you covered.” Stan nodded. “Now, go home. I’ll call you in a couple of days.”
****
Shayna Grady’s eyes filled with tears as she stepped into the Mill’s Landing Children’s Hospital hallway to listen to Dr. Garrison’s soft-spoken voice.
“Zac’s blood work is discouraging this go-round.” Dr. Garrison shook his grizzled head. “We’ll need to run some more tests, but it’s not very promising. I think Zac’s best bet is going to be a bone marrow transplant.”
“But Zac doesn’t have any siblings, and his father—“
“I understand. But there are other options. We’ll add him to the BMT registry immediately—as a priority candidate.” Shayna dabbed her eyes with a tissue. “I really hoped it wouldn’t come to this.” Dr. Garrison scribbled a note on Zac’s chart, and then leveled his gaze to meet Shayna’s. “But at least it provides a measure of hope.”
“And what are the chances of finding a suitable match in time?”
“One in ten-to-twenty-thousand that a viable match for an allogeneic BMT will be found in time. Unfortunately, the transplantation of stem cells from someone other than Zac himself is a long shot, but if we want to bring Zac’s leukemia into remission, it’s our best option at this point.”
“No.” Shayna gasped, and the tears flooded over. Her voice was thick, and the words came with great difficulty. She glanced into the hospital room where Zac lay curled in the bed, clutching a teddy bear dressed in a signature blue Tennessee Titans jersey. His smooth head peeked above the starched, white sheet, and a Titan’s ball cap tumbled to the side of the pillow, exposing a dusting of spiky-red curls that were just beginning to grow back to cover his pale scalp. “Is there anything we can do to improve the odds?”
“Pray, Shayna…just pray.”
“I have been praying. I just…”
“There’s someone here to see you.” Dr. Garrison took her by the elbow and led her toward a row of vending machines at the end of the hall. Off to the side was a small, sunlit room where families could gather to share a quick meal or a respite from the stark hospital rooms. “She’s a volunteer from the Moments for Miracles Foundation.”
“Oh, yes. I took your advice and contacted her a few weeks ago.” Shayna’s stomach growled, and she realized it had been a full day since her last meal. She felt a bit lightheaded as she continued. She’d need to get something into her belly soon. “She’s probably here to follow up.”
“They don’t just grant children’s wishes, Shayna. Perhaps there’s something you’d like to have, as well.” It was more of a question than a statement.
“My wish—and prayer—is to see Zac get better and be fully healed.” She crossed her arms over her rumbling belly to calm the hunger-storm that surged. “Can this foundation find a donor for him?”
“Unfortunately, no. That’s not their purpose.” Dr. Garrison shook his head. “But what they can do is give Zac a little dose of happiness—grant a wish for something he’d truly like…something tangible. Laura Evans, the volunteer, will explain.”
Shayna glanced into the room to see a dark-haired woman seated at a small, round table. She sipped from a foam cup as she sorted through a file of papers. “I’m so glad she came, but this will have to be quick. I need to get back to Zac. He’s sure to wake soon, and he’ll be frightened if I’m not there.” Shayna fished in her jeans pocket for a handful of coins. She counted out seventy-five cents and slipped it into a vending machine, jabbing the buttons until a bag of pretzels dropped into the dispenser.
“I’ll be back to check on Zac this evening.” Dr. Garrison squeezed her shoulder gently. “Promise you’ll eat more than those pretzels, Shayna. You need to keep up your strength.”
“I’ll try.” Shayna grabbed the pretzel bag from the dispenser, thankful to know a pediatric oncologist who cared about so much more than vital signs and prescriptions. She nodded slightly and offered a halfhearted grin before turning away to enter the sunlit room.
As she approached the table, Laura Evans glanced up and smiled. “Mrs. Grady?”
“Shayna.”
“It’s so nice to meet you.” She extended a hand, her bright blue eyes full of compassion. “I’m Laura. May we talk for a bit?”
“That would be fine…but not for too long.” Shayna slipped into a chair and stretched the kinks from her back. Outside, sunlight danced across the river beyond the hospital parking lot. Shayna was thankful she lived so close to one of the best children’s hospitals in the nation—one that specialized in cancer treatments. Mill’s Landing was as good as it got, and with her house only a few miles away, at least she and Zac were afforded some sense of comfort and familiarity, despite his illness. “I have to get back to my son soon.”

 “Of course.” Laura nodded and flipped open a file folder, then took a pen from her purse. “Go ahead and eat your pretzels while we talk. I’m just here to fill you in on the steps we’re taking to grant Zac’s request to meet Nate Saylor.”

Be sure to LEAVE YOUR COMMENT below to be entered into the drawing for this week's giveaway.

Purchase MIRACLES AND MISCHIEF:
Pelican Book Group (ePub or Adobe PDF)