Monday, October 23, 2017

Week 43: Undercover Justice by Wendy Davy


Convicted criminal Skylar Hart is determined to salvage her reputation. When evidence of a crime points in her direction, she fears she will be the prime suspect. As Skylar sets out to prove her innocence, she becomes an unwilling participant in a deadly game of chance, and finds herself tossed into the arms of the one man who has the power to bury her or to save her. Security specialist Slade Marshal is determined to gather evidence against the thief who wreaked havoc on his family. When a case of mistaken identity jeopardizes Slade's covert operation, he fears his chance of putting the monster behind bars may be short-lived. As he sets out to complete his mission, he finds himself at the mercy of the one woman who has the power to impede his plans, or bring him to victory.


Breathless, Skylar Hart stared at the computer screen.

Was this a cruel joke?

She refreshed the online banking web page. Same results. This wasn’t a hoax. The transaction was real. The money set aside for the women’s shelter was gone—all of it. To make matters worse, the account fraud had originated from her office computer’s IP address.

The authorities would investigate, and when they did…

She would be the prime suspect.

How could God allow this to happen? She had given her life to Christ. She was His now. Weren’t things supposed to be easy for Christians?

Lord, why now? I was so close to earning a solid reputation.

Skylar’s heart thudded fast and loud as she scanned the office building’s fifth floor. At half past nine on a Friday night the other employees at her uncle’s real estate firm were long gone. She’d stayed late to tie up loose ends before the weekend. The last item on her list, processing Uncle Winston’s monthly charity donation, should’ve taken only a few minutes, and it would have if not for finding the savings account compromised.

What would the shelter do without the funds? What would her uncle think? He’d trusted her when others had shunned. But, would he believe her to be trustworthy after this? If not, the authorities would follow the path of least resistance. Why would they bother to search for the true thief when they had a perfectly good suspect thrown into their path?

Her head began to throb. The backs of her eyes burned. Skylar straightened her spine and blinked away tears. She had to contact Uncle Winston, convince him she had nothing to do with the missing money. Then, he could direct the authorities toward finding the real culprit.

Skylar shut off her computer and pulled on her jacket. Thanks to casual Fridays, she sprinted across the floor in sneakers, the commercial gray-and-burgundy carpet silencing her footsteps. The phone rang at her desk. The unexpected sound jarred her frazzled nerves.

Should she answer?

No. She had to go. She approached the elevator, finger shaking as she punched the down button. The light glowed within, but she pressed the control a second time.

How had things gone so wrong? Moving to Forest Lake was supposed to be a respite from her past; and it had been. Until now.

The elevator chimed, and the doors opened. She rode to the lobby and exited into the foyer. Florescent lights reflected off the polished tile floor, and a colorful flower arrangement adorned a pedestal in the room’s center. The security desk flanking the entrance stood empty, the security televisions turned off. Was she alone in the entire building?

She hastened her steps, glancing toward the darkness which loomed beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows. Shivers wracked her body and hairs stood on end as if someone was lurking beyond the main doors, watching. Had the thief come to silence her? No one could possibly know she’d discovered the missing money. Could they?

Shaking off her unease, Skylar hurried across the wide open space and shoved through the double doors. As she stepped onto the sidewalk, Virginia’s crisp autumn air surrounded her, and she zipped her jacket. The doors closed behind her, the automatic locks engaging.

She scanned the dark, wet streets. When had it rained? Puddles formed on the black asphalt and overhead streetlamps reflected off the placid surfaces. Headlights speared the night as a full-sized cargo van cruised along the street. Tempted to rush across to the parking garage before the vehicle approached, Skylar stepped off the curb, but then thought better. She retreated and paced the sidewalk.

The driver applied the brakes, and the van slowed.

Her patience thinned. Couldn’t they see she was in a hurry? Skylar waved them on but instead of continuing past, the van pulled to the curb and stopped. The throaty exhaust rumbled as the engine idled. Tinted windows concealed its occupants and instincts urged her to take precautionary measures.

She took a few steps back, clutching her purse.

The side door swung open. A tall, dark clad figure sprang out, his combat boots splashing into a deep puddle as he lunged forward.

Oh, God. Help me.

Skylar turned and dove toward the building.

The man gained ground, fast, his heavy footsteps approaching without mercy. He was close. Too close. She drew in a breath to cry for help. His gangly arm encircled her neck, pressing tight and cutting off her emerging scream. His scent—a pungent combination of sweat and grease—assaulted her.

Skylar threw an elbow into his gut and reared back her head. He grunted as her skull connected with his face. He was stronger than he looked; he held tight, dragging her toward the van as he spewed foul words.

Adrenaline surged. She fought. Twisting. Striking. Kicking. She tried to dig into her purse for pepper spray, but the bag slipped and smashed onto the sidewalk. She wrenched toward it, but the man held tight. Inch by inch, he hauled her closer to the vehicle.

Wet concrete hampered her efforts to dig in her heels. Panic, raw and intense consumed her as her abductor climbed inside, pulled her in behind him, and then shoved her deep into the interior.

Darkness swallowed her as she fell backward onto the van’s cold, corrugated steel floor. Pain erupted, shooting up her backside and into her spine. Skylar gasped for breath as she took quick inventory: One driver. One assailant. One open door.

Freedom lay only a few feet away. She fisted her hands, preparing to fight her way out.

As if anticipating her thoughts, the man’s eyes narrowed into slits and then his gaze travelled over her shoulder. “Hold onto her. I’ll get her purse.” He disappeared outside.

The air shifted behind her. Masculine, rugged aftershave filled the chasm surrounding her—she wasn’t alone in the back after all. Outnumbered by at least three to one, she’d miscalculated her odds. In a final, fleeting attempt she lunged for the door but rock-solid arms wrapped around her shoulders preventing escape.
Thanks so much for joining me this week!
I hope you've enjoyed this peek into Undercover Justice by Wendy Davy. Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for a copy.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Week 42: A Second Chance by Alexis A. Goring

Newly single food critic and newspaper reporter Traci Hightower is done with dating. After the man of her dreams left her at the altar on their wedding day and ran off with the woman she thought was her best friend, Traci resolves to focus on work and resigns herself to being a bachelorette for life. 

Marc Roberts is a political reporter who is known as Mr. Nice Guy, the one who always finishes last. However, Marc’s compassion and kindness are of invaluable help to his newly widowed sister Gina Braxton who is trying to raise her two kids in the wake of her firefighter husband’s death.

Traci and Marc may be the perfect match, but they don’t know it yet. With God’s guidance and the help of Gina’s matchmaking skills honed by her career as a bestselling romance novelist, there is hope for a happily ever after for these two broken hearts.

Chapter 1:

Knee-deep in debt from wedding expenses, Traci Hightower sighed as she filed through the credit card statements. She should be married now, back from her honeymoon in Bali, and settled into her new home with her husband.
Not single and broke.
She slapped an envelope against the desk. Five months of struggling to survive and pay off the debt. Her meager, entry-level journalist salary didn’t stretch far enough. She’d been paying her dues for seven years. She rubbed her temples. The numbers on the credit card statement blurred in front of her eyes.
The doorbell rang. A little thrill rushed through her. She stood from her cross-legged position on the floor and hopped over the mess of papers and laundry that decorated her living room. “Who is it?”
“The woman who gave you birth.”
For the first time today, Traci smiled. She opened the door and reached for a hug from the one person who never left her hanging. “Hi, Mom.”
Her mom returned her daughter’s embrace, then dragged her suitcase inside. She glanced around. “Oh, my.”
Traci locked her door, then turned and shrugged. “I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve been looking forward to this. Can’t you stay for more than two days though?”
Mom stopped picking up the bills from the floor and faced her daughter. “No, honey. I’m sorry, but I need to return to home by Wednesday morning. Dad and I have an important meeting later that day.”
Traci’s heart dipped. Mom paused and placed the bills and the stack of paper she’d picked off the floor on Traci’s kitchen counter. “Oh, sweetie.” She cocooned her daughter in another embrace.
Traci snuggled close. She inhaled the familiar scent of her mother’s favorite perfume. It smelt like coconut and lime.
“You always were a cuddler.” Mom stroked her hair. “Still up to your eyeballs in debt?”
Traci nodded.
“Why don’t you let me and your father help?”
Traci took a step back and made eye contact with her mom. “We’ve been through this. I got myself into this mess. I’ll get myself out.”
Mom smiled. “Your father and I were talking. We hate to see you struggling.”
“You don’t exactly live in a palace either. I know you want to retire soon, and I won’t have you dipping into that money.”
Mom reached into her purse. “Living in the nation’s capital area is expensive.” She rummaged through her handbag’s contents. “Have you considered moving home?”
“I can’t do that. I don’t ever want to live anywhere else. My life and career are here.”
“How’s that going for you?”
Traci picked at her fingernails. “It could be better.” Better boss, better pay, better office space. The works.
Mom nodded as she retrieved one sealed envelope from her purse. She looked toward Traci’s kitchen. “Can we make some tea? I’d like to talk with you.”
“Sure. Come with me.” Traci reached for the box of peppermint tea bags and got a bottle of honey from her refrigerator. As she put the kettle on to boil, her mom settled into a wobbly kitchen chair. She smoothed the creased edges of the envelope.
Traci poured the hot water over the tea bags in each mug and the scent of peppermint filled the air. “Everything okay?”
“Just thinking, honey.”
“About what?”
“Have a seat.”
“Sure, just let me allow the tea to steep.” After she placed a plate over each mug and set it aside, settled into the chair across from her mom. “What’s up?”
“I never did like Greg.”
Traci traced a ring stain on the table. “Do we have to talk about my ex-fiancĂ©?”
“Yes, because your grandfather always trusted my judgment.”
“So, Grandpa didn’t like Greg either?”
“I inherited my instincts of discernment from him. Speaking of discernment, here.” She pushed the envelope within Traci’s reach.
She frowned as she picked it up and tried to flatten its wrinkles. “What’s this?”
“Open it. Read it, and I’ll bring our tea to the table.”
Traci turned over the letter-sized, manila-hued paper that was addressed to her. She drew out the paper.
Dear Traci,
If you’re reading this, it means I’ve passed away, and your mother kept her promise to give this to you at the right time. As you know, I like to cut to the chase first and explain later. So here it is, plain and simple: I left an inheritance for you. It’s enough for you to make a solid and secure living, for it will cover more than what you need for the rest of your life.
Traci dropped the letter, her hands shaking. This could be the answer to her financial struggles and give her what she always dreamed of. Her own bookstore. The thought stole her breath for a moment. She envisioned the words on the sign out front. Hallee’s House. Just like she promised her cousin Hallee before she passed away from cancer. Tears welled in Traci’s eyes.
Forcing herself to take a deep breath and will the emotional waterworks away, she picked the paper off the floor and continued reading.
But you cannot receive the money until after you are married, and before you are, your mother must approve of the man you want to wed. Why? Because your mother inherited my sense of judgment and discernment between right and wrong when it comes to people. She can spot someone who’s going to break your heart from a mile away. I trust that you will listen to your mother now that I’m gone and can no longer advise you. So there you have it, dear. You have an inheritance. Sounds like a movie, right? Only it’s not. It’s better, because it’s now part of the story of your life.
After you’re married, you and your husband need to visit my lawyer, Chadwick Morrison. Provide him with the original copy of your marriage certificate, and he will give you your inheritance.
Your grandmother and I loved you. We wanted nothing more than for you to find the type of love that we had during our lifetime. Now, I trust that you will allow yourself to be guided by God, your mother’s love, and your father’s protection.
With love, your grandfather,
Henry Allen Fort
P.S. Take this seriously. Don’t marry the wrong man just to get the money. Let love happen. There’s no deadline. My will said you had to be married first. It didn’t say when.
“Let love happen.” Traci snorted as she folded the letter and placed it into the envelope. “The last time I let love happen, I was left at the altar with nothing more than a pile of bills.”
Mom placed her mug on the table. “It’s time for you to move on and trust God.”
“I trusted God to bring me a husband. He brought me Greg. Remember? The man who left me on my wedding day and ran off with my best friend?”
“Honey, I know it hurts, but that was months ago. You shouldn’t allow Greg’s actions and wayward heart to tarnish your future. Be glad he showed you his true colors before tying the knot. Honestly, look at this as a blessing. God protected you from a lifetime of heartache.”
Traci focused on her I Love Maryland mug.
Mom touched her hand. “Your grandfather just wanted to see you happy in a committed romantic relationship like he and your grandma had. Like your father and I have.”
Traci sipped her tea.
“Keep the letter.” Mrs. Hightower pushed her chair back. “Do you want me to stay here or at a hotel?”
“Here, Mom, of course. You can stay in my room. I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“Alright then. I’m going to put my luggage in your room. After that, we’ll clean your apartment.”
Traci picked up the mugs while her mind ran a marathon. Forgive her ex-fiancé and move on? Trust God?
Thanks so much for joining me this week!
 I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse into A Second Chance by Alexis A. Goring. Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for a copy.

Week 41: Building Benjamin: Naomi's Journey by Barbara M. Britton


Love Grows Where God Grafts the Tender Shoot.

Naomi desires to dance well enough to catch the eye of a wealthy landowner. Her father needs a substantial bride price due to the deaths of her brothers at the hands of the tribe of Benjamin. But when Benjamites raid the Ephraimite feast and capture young girls, Naomi is bound and carried from her home by Eliab, a troubled shepherd who needs a wife.

As Naomi awaits rescue, she finds Eliab has a strong faith in God and a just reason for abducting her. A reason that affects all the tribes of Israel. The future of the tribe of Benjamin hangs in the balance, but if Naomi follows her heart and stays with Eliab to rebuild his lineage, she must forfeit her family and become a traitor to her tribe.

Chapter 1:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. Judges 21:25.

Shiloh, in the land of the tribe of Ephraim

Naomi peeked from behind the tent flap. Girls emerged from scattered booths, illuminated by the flames of the bonfire. The beat of a timbrel echoed over the vineyards while tambourines tinked in thanksgiving to God for an abundant crop. Naomi’s stomach hollowed at the thought of joining in the revelry at the harvest celebration. She had never danced before at the feast in a manner to seduce a husband.

Her palms dampened. It was almost time. Time to twirl and catch the eye of a landowner. With two of her brothers slain by the Benjamites, her father needed a bride price.

Movement in the moon-shadowed vineyard caught Naomi’s attention. Had a goat gotten loose among the vines? She squinted into the darkened rows of naked stalks. No leaves shook. No trellis gave way. No bleating rang out. The smoke is deceiving me. She blinked and retreated from the open flap.

Cuzbi, the merchant’s daughter, came close as if to share a secret. Naomi’s reflection widened in the gold of Cuzbi’s headband. “Do not worry,” Cuzbi whispered. “Follow me and the men will line up to give our fathers gifts.”

Naomi prayed this was not a lie. Cuzbi had danced the previous harvest, and the one before, but Cuzbi’s father had not received a single shekel.

Naomi smoothed a crease in Cuzbi’s striped robe. “I will dance in thankfulness to God for a bountiful harvest and let my brother and father deal with any suitor. You will be the bride tonight. I hope your father is prepared for an onslaught.”

Cuzbi squared her shoulders, growing even taller. She patted her hip. Jeweled rings glimmered on every finger. “Come, Naomi. Stand as if a jar rests on each shoulder. The drape will show your curves.”

Naomi’s nerves fluttered like a wounded dove. She brushed a hand over her ringlets. A lone braid kept her curls from obscuring her face. Losing her brothers’ wages meant more time at the loom and less time adorning her hair. Her dyed sash would have to entice the spectators, for unlike Cuzbi’s adorned robe, Naomi’s was pale as a wheat kernel.

Before she could check her appearance in her polished bronze mirror, Cuzbi grabbed Naomi’s arm and jerked her out of the tent.

“The men will arrive soon from their feasting.” Cuzbi’s gaze darted about the clearing as she surveyed the ring of virgins who pranced around the fire. Young women in colorful linen swayed to the music. “Ah, there is an opening near the front of the procession.” Cuzbi sprinted into the circle.

Naomi raced after her friend and ducked nearer the fire, next to Cuzbi. Dancers bumped Naomi’s side, jostling to be seen by their mothers and ultimately the eligible men making their way from the banquet. Hurry, Father. How much roasted lamb and wine did the men of Ephraim need?

Waving to her mother, Naomi signaled her arrival into the mass of whirling bodies. A bead of sweat trickled from her temple and slithered down her cheek. She swiped it away and raised her hand in praise to God. She lifted the other and pretended to card wool in the wind.

Cuzbi leapt in the air and swung her arms as if they were waves rolling off the Jordan River.

Not ready to leave the hard ground, Naomi kicked up her heels one at a time, careful not to injure any followers. Her stomach balked at any elaborate jumps.

A scream rose above the music. Then another.

Had someone fallen? Been burned by the fire?

From the fields, half-naked men wrapped in loincloths rushed into the circle of dancers. Naomi froze, even though the tempo of the timbrel remained festive. These were not the bathed and robed men of Ephraim coming to celebrate. These were armed warriors. She breathed a prayer of praise that her surviving brother imbibed at the banquet.

A charging intruder whipped a sling her direction. Covering her head, she crouched under the whoop, whoop, whoop of his weapon.

“God protect me,” she prayed.

Music stopped. Wailing started. Naomi looked up. A raider scooped Cuzbi off her feet. He slung her over his shoulder as if she were a small child.

“Regah. Stop!” Naomi screamed.

The strong-armed man vanished into the surrounding vineyard with her friend.

Another assailant plucked a virgin from the scramble of dancers. Naomi reached to grab hold of the girl’s outstretched hand, but a bear of a man blocked her rescue. His weapon whirred in flight above his head. Naomi dove to the side and crashed to the ground, careful to avoid the flames.

Crawling like an asp over a flat-topped boulder, she headed for the fields. A raider grasped at her sleeve. His nails scraped her skin. Pain sizzled down her arm as if embers from the fire had embedded in her flesh.

“Kelev. Kelev katan.” The high-pitched insult grew closer. Naomi glanced backward. A scowl-faced boy ran toward her attacker.

Her young savior slashed a pointed stick at the assailant, snaring the leather sling. She had seconds to escape. Praise be to God!

She fled into the harvested rows of vines—in the opposite direction from where Cuzbi had been taken.

Racing along the rows of plants she’d played among as a child, Naomi’s heart lodged in her throat, strangling each breath.

Curses trailed after her. Curses about her speed. Curses in…Hebrew? Her own tongue?

Banking right, she panted as if these bandits had also stolen the night air. She sprinted toward the broken trellis, needing a shortcut through the barricade of vines. If she made it to the olive grove, hiding would be easy among the trunks and branches. Had her sole remaining brother been lazy? Or had he replaced the worn trellis before his revelry? She prayed he’d forgotten his duties this once.

Her hand hit the cracked wooden rod. Splintering, it gave way. “Selah,” she exclaimed under her breath, for this one time, her brother’s laziness was praiseworthy.

Ducking under the greenery of the grape plants, she darted toward the station of olive trees. Her sandals thapped against her heels. Certainly the raider would hear her flight, but slowing her pace would put her in peril. Oh, where were the men of Shiloh? Her father? Her brother? And why were these warriors invading a religious celebration?

She passed one olive tree. A second. A third. A fourth. With trembling hands, she beat at the shoots from a tree and buried herself amidst the leaves. She listened for her follower. No footfalls. Good. Her chest burned, greedy for air.

Leaves rustled.

She stilled, but couldn’t silence her breaths. In and out they rushed, sounding like a saw on cedar. Old-growth trees were not far away. She scrambled down another aisle for better cover. Grabbing an olive branch, she propelled herself behind a trunk. She hit something hard. The bark? Her forehead ached as though a rock had pelted her skull. Flickers of flame dotted her vision.

When she went to massage her temple, someone seized her arm.

Her stomach cramped. “Leav—”

A palm smothered her lips. The taste of salt and soil seeped into her mouth. Her back struck the prickly growths from the tree. Protests lodged in her throat. Darkness surrounded her, but she kicked at where her captor’s legs should be. Banishing the dainty kicks of the dance, she thrashed to do damage. Her attacker did not turn aside. He pinned her to the trunk and held fast.

Lewd taunts grew closer. Her pursuer from the vineyard was in the grove.

Oh, God, do not let me be defiled by one man, let alone two.

“Answer me quietly. Are you one of the virgins?” Her captor’s command came forth in Hebrew. He lifted his hand from her mouth, leaving barely enough space to answer.

“Let me go.” Her breath rushed out as if it too were fleeing these raiders. “I will slip away. I promise not to alert my people.”

“Shhh.” Her captor pressed his warm palm over her lips.

“Virgin. Step forth.”

Instantly, she was pulled to the ground. Her captor pinned her hips to the dirt with his weight. He lifted her robe. Cool air bathed her knees, sending a chill throughout her body.

She fisted his hair. “Spare me.” Even with all her strength, she could not remove him from her body. Her heart pounded louder than a ceremonial drum.

He caged her in the dirt and sent his lips crashing into hers.

She squirmed. Her stomach lurched. Her lungs ached. She needed a breath. She needed a savior.

His weight pressed against her belly. Though he did not take her hem above her thigh. And he did not take her virginity.

“Argh.” A roar split the night sky. “Eliab, what are you doing?” The bear-man stood over them, huffing from his pursuit.

Her captor finished his kiss. “Lie still.” His words rumbled against her ear. The side of her face prickled from his stubble.

“You mean what have I done?” Her captor’s body continued to cover hers. “I have taken a wife.”

He had not! This man, Eliab, had rested upon her, but he had not joined with her. Although if her father or brother caught him atop her, they would beat him until he claimed her as a wife, or offered a hefty sum. She was not about to call Eliab a liar with her pursuer from the fire crouched over them, staring wickedly. Why had Eliab lied? Was he a friend to the tribe of Ephraim? A friend to a tribe of Israel?

“Go on, Gera.” Eliab rose, bearing his weight on his forearms. “Find another. We must leave at once. Hurry. Or do you care to look upon another man?” Eliab’s question shot out like a well-aimed arrow.

Gera hesitated. He spat at Eliab’s feet and retreated toward the bonfire.

Her spine sank into the ground. Thanks be to God. She reached to right her robe.

Eliab gripped her wrist tighter than a gold band. Realization of his intent sent her heartbeat on another gallop. He had not been a brute, yet he held her prisoner, and he did not seem set on releasing her.

“I am in debt to you. And you will be in debt to my father if he finds you touching me.” She tugged against his rigid arm. Her cheeks warmed like stones near a fire pit. “Let go.”

“I cannot deny a fellow Benjamite a wife and then fail to claim her for myself.” With a jerk, he coiled her into his chest.

Naomi stiffened. The thud, thud, thud in her ears grew louder. “You are a murdering Benjamite?”

“One of the few that remain after the slaughter.” His words were sharp as a blade.

Naomi picked up her feet in hopes Eliab would be pulled off balance. He remained rooted to the soil.

“Have you come for revenge?” She grunted her question while struggling to free herself. She squinted into the vineyards. No legion of rescuers ascended the raised beds. Did the men of Shiloh believe this raid a hoax? “There cannot be enough Benjamites left alive to stand against one tribe of Israel, let alone all the tribes.”

“I risked a raid for my survival. Benjamin will not be cut off from God. Our women and children have been slain. Our men ambushed in battle. Are we to have no heirs?” The anger simmering in his reply caused a shiver to rattle her bones.

She thrashed like an unruly child. Eliab held firm. “You were kind to spare me from your Gera. Now double that kindness and let me be on my way.”

“Gera’s kinsmen brought destruction on our tribe. If a name is to suffer extinction, it should be his, not mine.” Eliab yanked her off her feet and heaved her over his shoulder. Her temples pulsed as blood rushed to her brain. Fainting would only make his escape easier. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the darkness.

He cinched his hands around her calves and ran. Fast. His shoulder bludgeoned her belly with every jump and jolt. Her stomach spewed up manna and grapes, burning her throat, and muffling her screams.

When his collarbone was about to impale her side, he righted her next to a mule hidden from sight among the brush. She slumped to the ground.

“If you steal me away from my father, God will punish your sin.” Vomit welled in her throat. She swallowed hard. “I did not finish the harvest dance.”

Eliab crouched in front of her. His eyes were dark as a clouded night sky and held no mercy. “If I do not take you, one of Israel’s tribes will cease to exist. God has more to be angry about than a missed seduction.”

Tears blurred her vision. She swung a fist at him, but he dodged her attack. She clawed at his tunic. At least she did not have to fear loosening a loincloth like those scantily clad attackers near the bonfire. “How dare you rip me from my home? Benjamites killed two of my brothers. Do not take the daughter of a grieving man.”

He pried her fingers from his garment and pulled her close. “And what will your father do if he believes you are no longer a virgin?”

“There was no union.” She beat his chest for emphasis. Her knuckles bruised, yet he barely moved.

He pressed his thumbs into her palms and stilled her assault. “No one will bless a union with a Benjamite. No one will give us their daughters. We are left to kidnap Hebrew women. Since I stole you, your father will be held blameless before the elders of the tribes.” He stood and yanked her to her feet.

“My father needs a bride price to buy land.” Her words rushed forth. She grabbed his arm. “You have lost family and so have I. Have we not both suffered? Leave me here and be on your way.”

“Others may not have been rewarded with a mate tonight. Shall I send you into their bed and disappoint my father?” No joy rang from his words. He did not seem giddy like a bridegroom in a marriage tent.

She stepped backward. Could she outrun him in the darkness? She had to. This was her home. Her land. Her tribe.

He caught her wrist and wrapped it with rope. Stray strands scratched her skin.

“Please.” She tensed her muscles and pulled against his weight to no avail. Tears wet her cheeks as he bound her other wrist. “My family—”

“Most of my family is buried in a mountain.” He unhitched the mule and snapped the reins.

Her body stilled as if encased in clay. Eliab wasn’t listening to her hardship.

Distant shouts echoed from the vineyard.

“Father.” Her voice squawked like a strangled pigeon.

Eliab stifled her shouts with a rag. “You can ride the mule or I will drag you behind it. Decide. Now.” He turned toward the road. “Hoist the nets.”

Was he going to trap her kin like wild beasts?

In a blur, he mounted his ride, still holding the rope as if she were a wayward goat.

How could she leave Shiloh? Leave her mother? Leave her father? Her legs trembled as if the ground shook. She did not take a step.

The mule trotted forward.

With no arms for balance, she fell on her side. Her jaw ached from the gag. Coughing, she tugged on the rope and struggled to rise. If he kicked the animal, she would be dragged through rock and dirt.

Eliab dismounted, swept her into his arms, and sat her sideways on the mule. He had caught her and now he caged her with reins at her back and reins at her chest. His body imprisoned her. He leaned into her arm and slapped the mule’s rump. “Hah.”

She grabbed the animal’s mane, weaving her fingers into the coarse hair for balance.

How could the tribe of Benjamin thieve wives from the tribe of Ephraim? Where was their honor? Where was their shame? And where was God? The feast this night was in His honor.

While Eliab was intent on the terrain, she worked a silver band from her finger and let it slip down her leg, down the mule’s withers, to the ground. She would leave a trail for the men of Shiloh.

For what was lost could be found.

Thanks so much for joining me this week!

I hope you've enjoyed this peek into Building Benjamin: Naomi's Journey. Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for a copy.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Week #40: Gift of the Magpie by Zoe M. McCarthy


Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.


Who in her right mind agreed to a January 2 book deadline, knowing she’d spend Christmas alone, holed up in her house hammering laptop keys?
From her desk, Amanda Larrowe stared out her living room picture window at two feet of pristine snow—thanks to a snowfall so rare in Virginia that none of Richmond’s small snowplow squadron had made it to her neighborhood.
A loud rumble came from beyond her window view. Amanda half stood and leaned forward to look down the street.
A snowplow. “Hurray!”
A green moving van traveled in the plow’s wake and parked in front of the empty Craftsman house across the street.
Well, huh. The owners had never staked a For Sale sign in the yard. Maybe they’d decided to rent the place. Strange that people would move in two days before Christmas.
Yeah. As bizarre as a middle school teacher desperately needing a break—that would be her— slaving over her manuscript during the holiday.
The rental truck, a small-sized option, stopped far enough down the street that she couldn’t see into the driver’s window.
“Come on, new neighbor. Get out of the truck and show yourself.”
The door opened, and a guy in jeans, a blue-and-green plaid flannel shirt, and work boots unfolded himself from the truck. Long and lean. Late twenties. Would a Mrs. Long-and-Lean emerge from the other side?
The guy walked to the back of the truck and raised the door. No one joined him there or high-stepped through snow up to the front porch. A single guy? Not bad. Not bad at—
Wait one southern minute. Amanda stood taller and leaned toward the window. It couldn’t be. Not Cam Lancaster. But, boy, even with whiskers shadowing his jaw, he resembled her high school foe.
Amanda scrambled around her chair and across the rug, hit the hardwood floor in her wool socks, and slid to the hall coat closet. She groped behind her stack of scarves for her field glasses, then returned to the desk.
The guy had lowered the loading ramp. Binoculars to her eyes, she adjusted the lenses. Now, if he’d turn toward her again ... There. She had the guy’s face framed.
       She lowered the field glasses and sank into her chair. Wha ...? Where ...? Why ...?
Thanks so much for joining me this week!
I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse into Gift of the Magpie by Zoe M. McCarthy. Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Release: Autumn Falls (Paradise Pines, Book 3)

A special message from my friend Delia Latham.......

I had a book release on the 1st...and I've been so busy I didn't even think to raise a noise about it. My very bad! lol 

Anyway, AUTUMN FALLS is now available on Amazon. Yay! So excited. This is Book 3 in the 4-book Paradise Pines series.

Autumn Warren and her friend Cecily determine to have one last hurrah before the crazy whirl of planning Ceci’s wedding. Autumn reluctantly agrees to lay off the barbed comments about her friend’s imminent move to Italy—for no better reason than that she fell in love!—and the girls rent an apartment at Cambria’s Paradise Pines Lodge for the entire fall season.

Autumn’s agreement to silence her outraged protests in no way indicates a change of heart about letting a man into her own life. She’s watched enough friends get married and divorced to sour her forever on the subject of love and the sanctity of marriage. If she ever does fall in love, it’ll be forever…and she's seen absolutely zero evidence of that kind of devotion even existing. Autumn doesn’t believe in divorce, and given the current statistics, why even risk it?

Then she meets Russ Amundsen and his adorable daughter, DeLyn, and finds herself in danger of losing her carefully guarded heart. And what is it about the mysterious Miss Angelina Love—who may or may not own Paradise Pines—that makes Autumn believe her heart never stood a chance once she set foot inside the lodge?

Purchase links:

Pelican Book Group

And a special message from me, Mary Manners:

I will be giving away a copy of Autumn Falls on Monday, September 11. Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing. Good luck, stay safe, and check back on Monday to see if you are the winner!

Week 36: Crystal Wishes by Mary Manners


As a clothing-buyer-turned-seamstress with an eye for fashion, Skylar Lannigan’s hands whisper tender ballads over fabric. She fills a sketchbook with flowing and whimsical designs—including versions of a to-die-for wedding dress for her own wedding day—if she’d only find Mr. Right. She’d once imagined a bright future with Adam Caldwell, until he took off with no explanation.
Adam Caldwell’s life has been a series of hairpin curves since the night a tragic accident claimed both his parents and nearly the life of his sister, Faith, as well. When Faith, who's still recovering from her injuries, asks for help selecting a wedding dress, Adam accompanies her to Diamond Knot Dreams. He's soon reunited with beautiful and lively Skylar Lannigan.
Adam would love to rekindle a romance with Skylar, but will events from their past rise up to destroy any hope for a future?

1st Chapter:

“Skylar, do you have a minute? I could use some help.”

            Skylar Lannigan lifted her gaze from the sketchbook on her desk to find Claire Kendrick—it had taken some practice to drop the surname, McLaughlin, since Claire had married architect Ryan Kendrick last April—standing in the doorway.

“Sure. What’s up?”

            “Faith Caldwell is here for her fitting, and we’re having a bit of trouble with the dress she ordered.” Claire strolled into the room. Her deep blue eyes radiated happiness. She splayed one hand to her growing belly as the life blossoming inside kicked and squirmed. “The bridal gown that she ordered months ago—that’s what she’s come to try on again today—is too tapered and snug to conceal her bulky leg brace. And, she’s a bit self-conscious of the sleeveless bodice, due to scars that are continuing to heal.”

            “She was in that terrible car accident a few months ago, wasn’t she?”

“Yes…along with her parents.” Claire paused as she reached Skylar’s desk. “Unfortunately, her parents didn’t survive.”

“Oh, how awful. I remember the news report.” Skylar’s heart tugged as the segment flashed through her mind.

            “Two people are dead, another seriously injured as the driver of an SUV traveling north along I-75 lost control and breached the median, barreling head-on into the oncoming lane. All traffic is being rerouted and an investigation is underway…”

            “The wedding was postponed to give Faith time to recover. She’s still got a way to go, but the nuptials are back on track again.” Claire reached for the sketchbook, glanced at Skylar’s detailed drawing, and gasped. “Oh, what a gorgeous dress!”

“Thanks.” It was an elegant ball gown style that sported a scoop neck adorned with a delicate mesh overlay, tastefully embroidered with tulle at the bodice and then tapering along the whimsical sweep train. Skylar melted at the thought of it. Now, if only the brides she catered to might feel the same. She mentally crossed her fingers.

“Are you going to spotlight it on the Diamond Knot Dreams website?”

            “Avery already took care of it.” Avery Lakin—now Ingram, since she’d married Jason Ingram the previous year, Diamond Knot Dreams’ marketing genius and best friend to Claire and Skylar. “She’ll have all of the dresses posted to the site within the next few weeks.”

“That’s fabulous.”

“I know. June seems like a long way off, but it’s never too early to prepare for the summer rush.”

            A trill of excitement danced along Skylar’s spine. Her dream of designing bridal gowns for a living was quickly coming to fruition.

            “The skirt on that dress is just what Faith Caldwell has been looking for.” Claire rounded the desk and eased in at her side. “And I think the flowing train—”

“Yes, it’s a sweep train,” Skylar explained.

“Right. I believe that particular style, coupled with a sheer overlay at her shoulders, would heighten Faith’s comfort level and make her feel like a princess.”

            “Every bride should feel like a princess.” Skylar believed that with all her heart. She prayed to one day know first-hand what it felt like to walk down the aisle to a man who would become her life partner…her husband.

            Only in your dreams, Skylar.

            She brushed aside the thought as Claire continued. “Yes, this design would most definitely afford a princess-like feel for Faith despite the bulky leg brace she’s required to use.” She tapped the sketch, nodding emphatically. “The therapist said Faith will have to continue wearing it for at least another month, past the date of her wedding, which is merely three weeks away.”

“Three weeks?” Skylar’s voice squeaked. “Did you say Faith’s wedding is only three weeks away?”

“I did. December seventeenth. She’s here today to make a last-minute attempt to avert wedding day disaster. She held out so long because she hoped…she really, really hoped she’d be out of the leg brace by now. But she’s not, so that mermaid-style, strapless number she chose last spring just isn’t going to work.”

“Yikes. This is an emergency. We need a miracle.”

“You can do it, Faith. I have complete confidence in your abilities.”

“I hope I don’t let you—or Faith—down.” Skylar closed her sketchbook and stood to stretch a nagging ache that had set up along the base of her spine. “Did you say she’s waiting by the dressing rooms?”

            “Yes.” Claire slung her purse strap over one shoulder. “I have a doctor’s appointment in half-an-hour, so would you mind if I bowed out and let you take things from here?”

            “Of course not.” Skylar’s gaze drifted to Claire’s ballooning abdomen, covered in a maternity shirt that was stretched to the hilt. “How’s little Abby doing today?”

            “She’s kicking up a storm.” Claire patted her mounded belly. “I believe she’s trying to somersault her way out.”

            “It won’t be long now until you’re a mommy in addition to Ryan’s wife and sister-in-law to Caleb.”

Caleb was Ryan’s step-brother, about to turn fourteen. He lived with Claire and Ryan since his mother had taken off to points unknown and his grandmother, who had been his primary caregiver, had passed away. Both Ryan and Claire had become Caleb’s legal guardians.

            “That’s a lot to take on, but this little one still has a while to go. Her due date is December twenty-fourth—Christmas Eve.”

“I know. Do you think you’ll make it that long?”

            “Today, I don’t think so. It’s a race to see which will happen first—Faith Caldwell’s wedding or Abby’s birth. I’m hoping Faith wins, because the doctor says every day that passes gives Abby a chance to grow stronger.”

            Claire had endured a few complications during the course of her pregnancy, so Skylar sent up a quick prayer that Abby would stay put for the time being.

“Go on to the doctor and then head home to prop up your feet. I’ll make sure all your upcoming cake orders are organized and order any supplies you need.” Claire had jotted a list during lunch. “Lila, Avery and I will make the kitchen sparkle.”

            “Thanks. I left my list for everything I’ll be needing to finish the holiday orders on the kitchen countertop, and Mrs. Burchett is supposed to call with last minute details for her granddaughter’s reception.”

“I’ll field the call and take notes. No worries.”

“I owe you, Sky.”

            “No, you don’t.” Skylar gently squeezed Claire’s shoulder. “This is what friends do—we take care of each other.”

            “Thank you.” Claire smiled through a sudden flurry of tears. “Goodness…oh my…here I go again, spouting waterworks. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Lately I get weepy at the drop of a hat. I’m just so…”

            “Happy?” Skylar finished for her. “Yes, those are happy tears. The joy radiates from your core, Claire.”

            As they neared the dressing area, Claire turned to Skylar. “I’m so glad you decided to come to Diamond Knot Dreams.” She hugged her hard. “Now we’re all here—you, me, Lila and Avery. It’s a blessing to work with such good friends.”

            “Yes, it is a blessing.” Skylar returned the hug, warmed by the thought that, despite the detours she’d taken to get here, God had seen her through. She sniffled and handed Claire a tissue. “Now, go take care of that baby of yours and then head home for a breather.”

            “Ryan’s been a gem. He and Caleb cooked dinner last night and they even washed all the dishes and tidied the kitchen. It was sweet to watch them roll up their sleeves and fumble through the kitchen cabinets, searching for pots and pans and mixing spoons. And, the spaghetti was delicious.” Claire dabbed at her pretty blue eyes. “Abby is all Caleb talks about. He’s excited to be an uncle. I’ll have plenty of help when my sweet little baby finally makes her grand entrance into the world.”

            “You’re a lucky woman, Claire, to have found a man who loves you so unconditionally. I hope I’ll be as fortunate one of these days.”

            “Oh…never fear, my friend.” Claire patted Skylar’s cheek. “God has a plan for you.”

            “Hopefully, He’ll reveal that plan before I turn eighty.” Skylar rolled her eyes. “These days, I’m not so sure.”

            “Never fear. Great things are in store for you.” Claire balled the tissue and stuffed it into her purse. “Now, enough of this babbling. I’m off to the doctor. I’ll call you later with a full report.”

“You’d better.”

“In the meantime, good luck helping Faith. I know you’ll find a way to please both her and her brother.”

            “Her brother?”

“Yes, Adam.”

Skylar’s throat went dry as a vision of Adam Caldwell’s light brown hair and denim-blue eyes leapt to mind. Though it had been more than eight months since they’d last seen one another, the vision was crystal clear. “I didn’t know he was in town.”

“Sure he’s in town. I thought you knew…he’s rented a place on Bradford Street and has been commuting from Clover Cove to Knoxville for work since Faith came home from the rehab center. I heard through the grapevine that he’s considering relocating to Clover Cove permanently.”


“Yes, really. It all hinges on a surgical position at the hospital. He’s been consulting there.” Claire’s lips curved in a knowing smile. “You mentioned the two of you met a while back?”

“We…sort of met.” Skylar turned away, because she knew Claire had the ability to read her emotions better than a forensic scientist reads fingerprints. “But you’re right…it’s been a while ago.”


“It was a disaster, so I never expected to see him again…and especially not like this.” Skylar fisted her hands as her throat tightened. “Never mind. It’s all water under the bridge…a lesson learned the hard way. But I suppose I can understand why Adam might want to join Faith here today, given the fact that…their parents…oh, my.”

            Skylar pressed the fingers of one clenched hand to her lips, unable to finish. Her heart swelled with sympathy for the orphaned bride-to-be. With her father gone, who would walk Faith down the aisle to meet her groom?

            Suddenly, the scent of roses flooded the room. Skylar pivoted, looking for the source. Faith’s voice murmured down the hall as she spoke with Adam. Perhaps she’d splashed on perfume.

            “You’re being very cryptic, Skylar, but I’ll get to the bottom of things.” Claire nodded to affirm. “I always do.”

“You’d better get going.” Skylar nudged her toward the door. “The baby…your appointment…”

“Nice little two-step, my friend.”

The floral scent grew even stronger. Skylar lifted her gaze to the second floor staircase, which seemed to lead to the source. Perhaps Lila had ordered a few floral arrangements to freshen the upstairs offices, and the scent had found its way to the first floor.

Claire continued, “Maybe you and Adam were meant to see each other again…to pick up wherever the two of you left off.”

“We left off in disaster, so there’s no point in that.”

“There is a point in everything—and a future—where God is involved.” Claire patted her belly as if to emphasize the thought. “But, I suppose there’s nothing more to Adam’s visit today than the fact that Faith covets his support, seeing as their mom is…gone.” Claire sniffed the air and suddenly shifted topics. “She’s at it again…Ellie and her mischievous antics.”


“Yes, our spirited visitor from the past. And if I know anything about her, I know she’s come for love.” Claire winked conspiratorially. “And, if she has her way, I’m sure that soon we’ll both have news to share.”




“Don’t worry, Faith, we’ll find—” Adam paused as a shadow crossed the doorway, casting a reflection along a three-way mirror that lined one wall of the dressing area. His gaze swept toward the source, and his breath caught as his pulse cartwheeled.

            “Good morning, Faith.” Skylar Lannigan strolled toward them, her movements every bit as fluid as Adam remembered. Her hair was quite a bit longer than the last time he’d seen her, now a fountain of rich chocolate that tumbled to the middle of her back. A sweep of bangs framed smoky gray eyes while her lips were washed in a soft pink color. His heart to stammer through several painful beats as his mind replayed one thought…

            I’d like to kiss her.

            “Skylar.” Adam rose from his chair and took a step toward her. “I didn’t expect to see you here. But I had hoped—”

            “Hello, Adam.” Her voice clipped like a honed pair of sewing shears. She nodded curtly as she made a beeline for Faith, who stood on the circular dress-fitting pedestal, frowning at her reflection from the three-way mirror.

            “This just isn’t going to work at all,” Faith groaned as she tugged at the skirt of the mermaid-style dress, trying her best to coax the fitted, narrow skirt over her bulky leg brace. The fabric refused to cooperate, and Adam grimaced because there was nothing at all that he could do to fix the problem.

But Skylar could, he thought with a ray of hope as he settled back into his chair and ordered his heart to find a respectable cadence. He shifted his attention to Faith. “It’s going to be OK, sis.”

“No, it isn’t. I can’t get married looking like this!” Tears filled Faith’s eyes and Adam’s heart splintered. Hadn’t she been through enough with the accident and losing their parents, then months of recovery? “Oh, what am I going to do?”

            “You’re going to step down and take a breath.” Skylar rounded the pedestal. She drank in the metal brace that ran thigh to ankle along Faith’s right leg. Scars, finally beginning to fade to a pinkish-white sheen, crisscrossed along Faith’s collarbone, now fully revealed by a sleeveless neckline. “Listen to your brother. What he says is true. Everything’s going to be OK.”

            “Really?” Faith swiped at her eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry to act like such an ungrateful bridezilla. It’s really not my nature to stress like this. It’s just—” She smiled weakly as she took the tissue Skylar offered and mopped her eyes. “Are you a miracle worker?”

            “No. I’m Skylar Lannigan…Diamond Knot Dreams’ dress designer and seamstress. I’m here to customize a new dress of your dreams. The sky’s the limit.” Skylar placed a notebook in the empty chair beside Adam and offered Faith a hand. “I won’t quit until you feel every ounce the beautiful bride.”

            “Thank you.” Faith’s sigh of relief seemed to release every ounce of tension she’d been harboring. She straightened her shoulders. “You’re very kind. When I heard you’d come to Diamond Knot Dreams I knew I had to see you. Channel Ten said you’re the best of the best, and the Clover Cove Times did that feature on you last week. Finding you here is fortuitous. By all accounts you’re…amazing.”

            And you’re also positively gorgeous, Adam thought as guilt stabbed him straight in the heart. He’d hurt Skylar. The evidence resonated in her wideset eyes and the tiny clench of her jaw that he sensed she was trying very hard to control.

            She avoided eye contact. Was her heart racing as much as his? Did she entertain any warm—he’d even, at this point, settle for lukewarm—feelings toward him, cloaked by the resentment clearly evident in her eyes? He could only pray…

            “Well, I’ll do my best to live up to all the pomp and circumstance that’s been built through the media.” Skylar rounded the pedestal, scrutinizing Faith from all angles. “Let’s see here…I’m imagining several ideas, but don’t have much time to bring them to fruition. So we’re going to have to work at lightning speed.”

            “I’m ready. Things have been moving slowly for too long now. This wedding was supposed to happen last August, but…” Faith sniffled as fresh tears sprouted. “By the way, Adam came with to…help me.”

            “I see.” Skylar refused to look his way, though she smiled readily at Faith. “I suppose he’s the one who told you about my designs.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“I’ll have to thank him for that.” She said the words as if they had a sour flavor. “In the meantime, I’m so sorry about your parents.”

            “Thank you.” Faith squeezed Skylar’s hand. “I wouldn’t have bothered you with my problem. After all, I did buy this dress last spring before the accident and before I knew I could find you here. I only came here today in an attempt to have it re-altered, because when I saw you on the news Adam mentioned that he’d met you in Chicago and that it’s true you are amazing when it comes to bridal gowns. He positively gushed when he told me about you, and…and I thought maybe you could help. He insisted you could—and you would—even though the wedding is only weeks away and it’s hardly your fault that this dress no longer works for me.”

Faith rambled on, and Adam figured the verbal flood was better than a waterfall of tears, so he let it go. Skylar seemed to sense the same as she stepped back, folded her hands—bare of an engagement ring, he noted with an odd mixture of relief and anticipation—and waited oh-so-patiently for Faith to talk herself out.

“I put off making any changes to the dress because I was hoping…” Faith slapped at the brace. “I was hoping I’d shed this contraption like a snake shedding old skin. But it’s not going to happen soon enough, so here I am.” Faith blew out a breath and her blonde bangs danced above pretty green eyes. “I don’t expect you to make an exchange, but Adam cajoled me into coming for the fitting anyway, insisting that perhaps there’s something you can do to the skirt so it will fit over this.” She patted the bulky brace once more. “And add a shrug of some sort to conceal these scars.” Again, she motioned to her shoulders with a flourish. “He said—”

            “Adam was right—about you returning here today, at least. We are going to make this right, Faith, if it takes every moment right up until the Wedding March begins.”

“But, as I told you before, my wedding is in less than a month. So how on earth—?”

“Prayer—especially coupled with faith and hard work—can move mountains. You just leave the worrying to me.” Skylar nodded curtly as she took Faith’s hand and helped her from the platform. “So, let’s get started, shall we?”

“Of course.” Faith’s eyes lit up like a child’s, and Adam could hardly fathom that in less than a month his younger sister—the only immediate family he had left in the world—would become a wife. It seemed incomprehensible. He still thought of her as his baby sister, since at barely twenty-four she stood a full six years younger than he.

“Come with me.” Skylar turned toward the doorway. Her hair caught the overhead light, and for a moment she seemed to be crowned by a shimmering halo. The slight scent of roses drifted, filling the room with a breath of warm, sweet anticipation.

As he had on so many occasions the past eight months, Adam wished he could take back the hurt he’d caused Skylar. But it was too late to turn back time. He could only move forward.

As Skylar and Faith exited the room, Adam knew he had to make things right again, no matter how long it took. He had never been a quitter. Now, if only he could prove that to Skylar, they’d have a chance.

A chance for what, Adam wasn’t quite sure. He simply knew he had to press forward, starting today…starting now.


Thanks so much for joining me this week. Hope you have enjoyed this peek into my Diamond Knot Dreams series. Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing. Winner will be announced Monday, September 11.  Good luck!