Why I Love Chick-Fila

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

UP ON CFBA is The Real Enemy

Monday, March 30, 2009


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

The Real Enemy

David C. Cook (March 2009)

by

Kathy Herman



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Suspense novelist Kathy Herman is very much at home in the Christian book industry, having worked five years on staff at the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and eleven years at Better Books Christian Center in Tyler, Texas, as product buyer/manager for the children’s department, and eventually as director of human resources.

She has conducted numerous educational seminars on children’s books at CBA Conventions in the U.S. and Canada, served a preliminary judge for the Gold Medallion Book Awards of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association , and worked as an independent product/marketing consultant to the CBA market.

Since her first novel, Tested by Fire, debuted in 2001 as a CBA national bestseller, she's added thirteen more titles to her credit, including another bestseller, All Things Hidden.

Kathy's husband Paul is her best friend and most ardent supporter and manages the LifeWay Christian Store in Tyler, Texas. They have three grown children, five adorable grandkids, a cat named Samantha—and an ongoing fascination with hummingbirds. They also enjoy world travel, deep sea fishing, stargazing, and bird watching and sometimes incorporate all these hobbies into one big adventure.


ABOUT THE BOOK

Brill Jessup just became the first female police chief in Sophie Trace, Tennessee, and is riding on the credentials of a stellar eighteen-year career on the Memphis police force. She may be a pro at finding clues, but she tends to ignore the obvious in her personal life. And she would rather work than deal with the bitterness she feels about her husband Kurt's infidelity. Kurt, is weighed down by her unrelenting anger as he struggles to let God redeem the stupidest mistake he ever made. He is genuinely contrite and making every effort to show his commitment to Brill. But she hides behind her badge and her bitterness, deciding that moving her family away from Memphis is the only change she needs to make. So why can't Brill get over this anger?

Before she ever has time to unpack her boxes, people start disappearing. Lots of them. Seven people in seven days To complicate matters, a local legend has many residents believing that the cause is unearthly─tied to the “red shadows,” or spirits of the departed Cherokee who once inhabited the land.

While Brill draws on all of her experience and instinct to solve the case, she must confront an enemy that threatens everything she holds dear─one that cannot be stopped with a badge and a gun. She is forced to confront the real enemy.

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Real Enemy, go HERE
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Salty Like Blood

Howard Books (March 24, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Harry Kraus, M.D., is a board-certified surgeon whose contemporary fiction, including Stainless Steel Hearts, is flavored with medical realism. A bestselling author, he has also written two works of nonfiction. He currently lives with his family in Kenya, where he is serving as a full-time medical missionary.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (March 24, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416577890
ISBN-13: 978-1416577898

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Rachel and I tumbled into the tall grass at the bottom of the hill, having survived yet another Daddy-just-one-more sled ride from the edge of our front porch. I collapsed on my back, trying to find oxygen between gasps of laughter and looked up at the summer sky. My daughter, with limbs sprawled in a wide “X” and her head against my foot, shouted her delight toward the house. “We did it! We made it!”

Seconds before, airborne and soaring toward record distance, Rachel reached for an octave above the normal human voice range, squealing a note that rang on in my head and I suspected invited half the neighborhood’s canine population to play. I laughed and put my fingers in my ears, rolling them in an exaggerated twist as if she’d deafened me.

She moved to lay her head upon my chest and quieted herself there, listening to my racing heart.

I stroked her hair, inhaled the scent of mown grass, and nestled my head back into the tickle of green.

“Is it okay?” she asked.

“It’s okay.”

“It’s too fast,” she said, raising up and pushing a bony elbow into my gut.

“Oh so now you’re the doctor.”

She smiled. “Someday,” she said. “For now, you’re the doctor.”

“Don’t worry. I’m okay.” I scowled at my first-grader. “Really.”

We rested together, staring at the sky full of clouds of hippopotamus, horses, rockets—whatever Rachel imagined. Mostly I gasped and oohed. In a moment, I found myself blinking away tears, overwhelmed with the enormity of it all.

It was so ordinary. A summer Saturday morning without an agenda. It’s hard for me to describe beyond the sense I had of emerging, as if I’d been submerged for so long, and now, just to play and laugh and roll in the grass seemed a joy that would burst my heart. I smiled, taking it in, gulping in ordinary life as if I’d never have a chance again.

As Rachel chatted on with her running commentary of sky castles, fiery dragons and fairies, other images drifted through my mind, pictures of painful chapters that set my current joy into sharp contrast. Traveling with Joanne through the dark tunnel of post-partum depression. My mother’s battle with cancer. Memories of an intensive care unit visit while I was the too-young patient, watching my own heart monitor and wondering if life would be cut short.

Joanne’s voice swept me into the here and now. “What’s going on?”

I looked up to see her standing on the covered porch, eyeing a bottle of vegetable oil sitting on the white railing.

Rachel lifted her head. Her blond hair dotted with grass seed. “We’re sledding, Mommy.”

Joanne’s hands rested firmly on her hips. “It’s July, David.” She picked up the bottle. “And I’ve been looking for this.” She was serious, but her eyes betrayed her attempt at scolding me. Her happiness at my delight in our little Rachel couldn't be spoiled by my summer antics.

I exchanged a mischievous glance with Rachel. She betrayed me in a heartbeat. “It was Daddy’s idea.”

“Women!” I said, grabbing my daughter by the waist and swinging her around in a circle. “You always stick together!”

As I trudged up the hill with Rachel folded around my back, I grunted exaggerated puffs. “You’re getting so big.”

I set her on the top step and kissed her forehead. She started pulling away. “Wait.” I picked at the seeds in her hair.“You’ll need to brush this out.”

She opted for the shake-it-out method. “I’m a rock star.”

I smiled. My star. For Joanne and I, Rachel had been the glue that helped us stick together through a valley of misery.

Joanne reappeared carrying lemonade in tall, sweaty glasses. She handed me one and kissed me. She had thin lips to go with sharp, elegant features, dark eyes alight with mystery, and hair the color of caramel. She could have been a model before big lips became the rage.

I’d been to hell and back with Joanne, but the last six months, I’d sensed a real change in her. She seemed settled somehow. Content. More romantic toward me—like she had been back in my medical school days. Our relationship, once teetering on the precipice of divorce, was now solidly a safe distance from the edge. I’d seen significant pieces of my life’s puzzle fall together in the last few years. When the marriage one finally clicked into place, everything else brightened with it. It was as if I’d been living my life in black-and-white and someone just invented color.

I kissed her back, trying to discern her mood. There seemed a surface calm, but I sensed a deeper stirring. I’d become a champion at reading her. I knew the quiet of her bitterness, the bubbly way she prattled on when she felt guilty, and the aloofness that dared me to pursue her into bed. For a moment, our eyes met. It was only a flash, but in that instant, I felt the a foreboding that threatened my wonderful ordinary-life euphoria.

I took her hand. “What’s up?” She lowered her voice, but even at that volume, sharp irritation cut at the edges of her words, clipping them into little fragments.

“Your father.”

I raised my eyebrows in question.

“His neighbor called.”

I waited for more, but it seemed the silence only uncapped her annoyance. In a moment, she was on the verge of tears.

“He always does this. Every time we have plans, he has a crisis.”

Plans. The practice was dining at the country club tonight.

I started to protest, but she interrupted, pushing her finger against my lips. “You know they’re going to announce that you’ve made partner.”

I smiled. Partner. A year early. Just reward for the practice’s highest revenue-producer nine months in a row. Another puzzle piece in my wonderful life about to connect.

“Which neighbor?”

“That Somali family,” she said, flipping her hand in the air. “A woman. She has an accent. She said his place is a wreck. He’s ill.” She seemed to hesitate before adding. “He’s asking for you.”

It was my father’s way. The crab-fisherman wouldn’t pick up the phone and let me know he needed me. He sent word around the block and expected me to show. “Define ‘ill.’ ”

Joanne imitated the neighbor’s accent. “Mister Gus isn’t eating. He toilets in the bedroom.”

I groaned. Whatever the neighbor meant, I knew it couldn’t be good. I walked into the house to my study and picked up the phone. I was listening to the endless ringing on the other end when Joanne entered. “Not a good sign,” I said. “He doesn’t pick up.”

“What are we going to do?”

I looked at my wife. Petite. Strong. And so able to read my thoughts.

She threw up her hands. “We’re going to the shore,” she said. “Just like that.”

I nodded. I was predictable. Family first. We had to go.

She glared at me. I read the silence, loud and clear. That’s why I love you . . . and hate you.

“I’ll call Jim. The practice will understand.”

Joanne shook her head. “This is your night, David. The moment you’ve been waiting for. And you throw it away because of family.”

I couldn’t say anything. She had me pegged.

“I’ll see if Kristine will take Rachel for the weekend.”

“Let’s take her with us.”

Joanne’s face hardened. “With us? That place is so . . . “ She paused, apparently mulling over adjective options. “ . . . crusty.”

It was the gentlest description of several other options that came to mind.

“We’ll take care of the crisis and stay at that seaside bed and breakfast. It will be fun. A chance for her to see her grandfather.” I let a hopeful smile tease at the corners of my lips. “Even if he is crusty he does adore her.”

Joanne sighed in resignation. “Yes he does.” She tipped her glass against mine. “As long as we don’t have to sleep there,” she said, shivering as if that thought was horrifying. She gave me a don’t-even-try-to-cross-me look. “You’re driving.”

I walked out onto the porch and into the humidity we Virginians call “summer.” As I called for Rachel, I followed the border of the house, my prize lawn soft beneath my bare feet. From her perch on the back deck, my daughter ambushed me with open arms.

“Can we sled some more?”

I looked at the blue sky and my Southern Living home, and I pushed aside a fleeting presence. A ripple beneath the calm.

I’d been through too many hard times to trust the peace. Nothing this great can last forever.

“We’re going to Grandpa Conners’,” I said, trying my best to sound excited.

Rachel wrinkled her nose. To her, the shore meant stinky crabs and everything smelling fishy.

I poked her nose with a finger. “You’re too much like your mother.”

She poked me back. “You’re too much like your father.”

A sudden breeze lifted Rachel’s hair against my face. I stopped, looking east. In the distance, a small thundercloud hung over the horizon. Not today. I don’t want to travel the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in the rain.

My daughter squeezed my neck, bringing a smile to my face and pushing my anxieties aside. I nestled my face into her hair, trying to find an earlobe. She giggled and everything seemed right again.

Friday, March 27, 2009

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Yesterday’s Embers

Howard Books (March 24, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Deborah Raney is the author of several novels, including Nest of Sparrows and the RITA Award-winning Beneath a Southern Sky. Her novel A Vow to Cherish was made into the highly acclaimed Worldwide Pictures film of the same name. She lives with her husband and four children in Kansas.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (March 24, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416593098
ISBN-13: 978-1416593096

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



The parade of taillights smoldered crimson through the patchy fog hovering over Old Highway 40. Mickey Valdez tapped the brakes with the toe of her black dress pumps, trying to stay a respectable distance from the car in front of her.

The procession had left the church almost twenty minutes ago, but they were still barely two miles outside Clayburn’s city limits. The line of cars snaked up the hill––if you could call the road’s rolling incline that––and ahead of her, the red glow of brake lights dotted the highway, flickering off and on like so many fireflies. Cresting the rise, Mickey could barely make out the rows of pewter-colored gravestones poking through the mist beyond the wrought-iron gates of the Clayburn Cemetery.

She smoothed the skirt of her black crepe dress and tried to focus her thoughts on maneuvering the car, working not to let them stray to the funeral service she’d come from. But when the first hearse turned onto the cemetery’s gravel drive in front of her, she lost it. Her sobs came like dry heaves, producing no tears, and for once, she was glad to be in the car alone.

The line of cars came almost to a standstill as the second hearse crept through the gates.

The twin black Lincolns pulled to the side of the gravel lane, parking one behind the other near the plots where two fresh graves scarred the prairie. The drivers emerged from the hearses, walked in unison to the rear of their cars, and opened the curtained back doors. Mickey looked away. She couldn’t view those two caskets again.

When it came her turn to drive over the culvert under the high arch of the iron gates, she wanted desperately to keep on driving. To head west and never turn back. But Pete Truesdell stood in her way, directing traffic into the fenced-in graveyard. Mickey almost didn’t recognize Pete. He sported a rumpled navy double-breasted suit instead of his usual coveralls. How he could see through the tears welling in his eyes, Mickey didn’t know.

Her heart broke for the old man. She wondered if he was related to the family somehow. Seemed like everybody in Clayburn was related to at least one other family in town. Everybody but the Valdezes.

Pete waved the car in front of her through the gates and halted her with his other hand.

Maybe if she stayed in the car until the procession left the cemetery. She didn’t want to walk across the uneven sod. Didn’t want to risk the DeVore kids seeing her…risk breaking down in front of them. What would she say? What could anybody say to make what had happened be all right?

She didn’t know much about carbon monoxide poisoning, but she’d heard that Kaye and Rachel had simply drifted off to sleep, never knowing they would wake up in heaven. She wondered if Doug DeVore found any solace in that knowledge. Maybe it was a small comfort that his wife and daughter had left this earth together.

But on Thanksgiving Day? What was God thinking?

She’d never really gotten to know Kaye DeVore that well. They’d exchanged pleasantries whenever Kaye dropped the kids off at the daycare on her way to her job at the high school, but usually Doug was the one who delivered the children and picked them up at night when he got off work at Trevor Ashlock’s print shop in town.

The DeVore kids were usually the last to get picked up, especially during harvest when Doug worked overtime to keep his farm going. But Mickey had never minded staying late. It wasn’t like she had a family of her own waiting for her at home. And she loved those kids.

Especially Rachel. Sweet, angel-faced Rachel, whose eyes always seemed to hold a wisdom beyond her years. Mickey had practically mourned when Rachel started kindergarten and was only at the daycare for an hour or two after school. Now she forced herself to look at the tiny white coffin the pallbearers lifted from the second hearse. She could not make it real that the sunny six-year-old was gone.

Through the gates, she watched Doug climb from a black towncar. One at a time, he helped his children out behind him. Carrying the baby in one arm, he tried to stretch his free arm around the other four kids, as if he could shelter them from what had happened. How he could even stand up under the weight of such tragedy was more than Mickey could imagine. And yet, for one shameful, irrational moment, she envied his grief, and would have traded places with him if it meant she’d known a love worth grieving over, or been entrusted with a child of her own flesh and blood. She shook away the thoughts, disturbed by how long she’d let herself entertain them.

She dreaded facing Doug the next time he brought the kids to the daycare center. Maybe they wouldn’t come back. She’d heard that Kaye’s mother had cancelled her plans to winter in Florida like she usually did. Harriet Thomas would remain in Kansas and help Doug out, at least for a while. Wren Johanssen had been helping with the kids and house, too, when she could take time away from running Wren’s Nest, the little bed-and-breakfast on Main Street. Wren was like a second grandma to the kids. Thank goodness for that. Six kids had to be—

Mickey shuddered and corrected herself. Only five now. That had to be a handful for anyone. The DeVores had gone on vacation in the middle of April last year, and with their kids out for a week, the workload was lighter, but the daycare center had been deathly quiet.

Deathly. Even though she was alone in the car, Mickey cringed at her choice of words.

She started at the tap on the hood of her car and looked up to see Pete motioning her through the gates. She put the car in gear and inched over the bumpy culvert. There was no turning back now. She followed the car in front of her and parked behind it next to the fence bordering the east side of the cemetery.

A tall white tombstone in the distance caught her eye and a startling thought nudged her. The last time she’d been here for a funeral had also been the funeral of a mother and child. Trevor Ashlock’s wife, Amy, and their little boy. It would be five years come summer.

As if conjured by her thoughts, Trevor’s green pickup pulled in beside her. Mickey watched in her side mirror as he parked, then helped his young wife climb out of the passenger side. Meg walked with the gait of an obviously pregnant woman, and Trevor put a hand at the small of her back, guiding her over the uneven sod toward the funeral tent.

Mickey looked away. Seeing Trevor still brought a wave of sadness. Because of his profound loss, yes. But more selfishly, for her own loss. She’d fallen hard for him after Amy’s death—and had entertained hopes that he might feel the same about her. That she might be able to ease his grief. But he was too deep in grief to even notice her.

Then Meg Anders had moved to town and almost before Mickey knew what happened, Trevor was married. He and Meg seemed very much in love, and Mickey didn’t begrudge either of them an ounce of that happiness. But it didn’t mean she was immune to a pang of envy whenever she saw them together.

This day had to be doubly difficult for Trevor. It must be a comfort to Doug having Trevor here––someone who’d walked in his shoes and still somehow managed to get up the next morning––and the next and the next.

Again, she had to wonder what God was thinking. Where was He when these tragedies struck? How could He stand by and let these terrible things happen to good men…the best men she knew, next to her brothers? None of it made sense. And the only One she knew to turn to for answers had stood by and let it all happen.

Up on CFBA is Turning The Paige by Laura Jensen Walker

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Turning The Paige

Zondervan (March 1, 2009)

by

Laura Jensen Walker



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Laura Jensen Walker is an award-winning writer, popular speaker, and breast-cancer survivor who loves to touch readers and audiences with the healing power of laughter.

Born in Racine, Wisconsin (home of Western Printing and Johnson’s Wax—maker of your favorite floor care products) Laura moved to Phoenix, Arizona when she was in high school. But not being a fan of blazing heat and knowing that Uncle Sam was looking for a few good women, she enlisted in the United States Air Force shortly after graduation and spent the next five years flying a typewriter through Europe.

By the time she was 23, Laura had climbed the Eiffel Tower, trod the steps of the Parthenon, skied (okay, snowplowed) in the Alps, rode in a gondola in Venice, and wept at the ovens of Dachau. She’d also learned how to fold her underwear into equal thirds, make a proper cup of English tea, and repel the amorous advances of a blind date by donning combat gear and a gas mask.

Laura is a former newspaper reporter and columnist with a degree in journalism who has written hundreds of articles on many subjects ranging from emu ranching and pigeon racing to goat-roping and cemetery board meetings. However, realizing that livestock and local government weren’t her passion, she switched to writing humor, which she calls a “total God-thing.”

Her lifelong dream of writing fiction came true in Spring 2005 with the release of her first chick lit novel, Dreaming in Black & White which won the Contemporary Fiction Book of the Year from American Christian Fiction Writers. Her sophomore novel, Dreaming in Technicolor was published in Fall 2005.

Laura’s third novel, Reconstructing Natalie, chosen as the Women of Faith Novel of the Year for 2006, is the funny and poignant story of a young, single woman who gets breast cancer and how her life is reconstructed as a result. This book was born out of Laura’s cancer speaking engagements where she started meeting younger and younger women stricken with this disease—some whose husbands had left them, and others who wondered what breast cancer would do to their dating life. She wanted to write a novel that would give voice to those women. Something real. And honest. And funny.

Because although cancer isn’t funny, humor is healing.

A popular speaker and teacher at writing conferences, Laura has also been a guest on hundreds of radio and TV shows around the country including the ABC Weekend News, The 700 Club, and The Jay Thomas Morning Show.

Another book in this series is Daring Chloe

She lives in Northern California with her Renaissance-man husband Michael, and Gracie, their piano playing dog


ABOUT THE BOOK

At 35, Paige Kelley is feeling very "in between." She's still working her temp job after two years, still not dating three years after her divorce, and still melting at every chubby-cheeked toddler she sees while her biological clock ticks ever louder. Paige even moves back home to help her ailing, high-maintenance mother.It's not exactly the life she'd dreamed of!

When her Getaway Girls book club members urge Paige to break free and get on with her life, she's afraid. How will her mother react? How can Paige honor her widowed mother and still pursue her own life? The answers come from a surprising source.
A trip to Scotland and a potential new love interest help launch an exciting new chapter in her life, and lead Paige to discover that God's plan for her promises to be more than she ever imagined.

This latest release in the Getaway Girls collection delivers a smart, funny, and warm account of one woman's challenge to reconcile who she is - a dutiful Christian daughter - with the woman she longs to be.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Turning The Paige, go HERE

Please visit these other bloggers also participating in the tour:

Amy at Simple Folk Schoolhouse
Amy at My Life
April at Projecting A
Becky at Savvy Mom
Bonnie at Bonnie Writes
Brandy at Brandy Bruce
Brittanie at A Book Lover
Camy at Camy Tang
Cara at the law, books, and life
Carla at Carla's Writing Café
Carolyn at Serenity
CeeCee at Book Splurge
Christa at Fairfield Corner Academy
Christy at Christy's Book Blog
Christy at My Life in Words…Books…
Dave at The Plot Thickens
Dawn at Book Junkie Confessions
Deborah at Country At Heart
Debra at Soul Reflections
Delia at Gatorskunkz And Mudcats
Elizabeth at Count it All Joy
Georgiana at Georgiana D
Gina at Upon Reflection
Janis at The Nearsighted Bookworm
Janna at Cornhusker Academy
Jendi at Jendi's Journal
Jenn at One House Schoolroom Reviews
Jennifer at So Many Books…So Little Time
Jennifer at My Buckling Bookshelf
Jenny at Jenny B. Jones
Jenny at Come Meet AusJenny
Jessica at Praise, Prayers and Observations
Jill at Christian Work At Home Moms
Kate at A Simple Walk
Kim at Window To My World
Kristinia at Loving Heart Mommy
Kristy at I Need To Read
Laura at Laura William's Musings
Leslie at A Little Bit Of Sunlight
Linda at Mocha With Linda
Lori at Noggin Bits
Marjorie at The Writer's Tool
Melissa at LifeWithTwo
Michelle at Edgy Inspirational Author
Nora at Finding Hope Through Christian Fiction
Pam at Daysong Reflections
Patricia at Readin N Writin With Patricia
Pattie at FreshBrewedWriter
Pepper at Great Christian Fiction
Rel at Relz Reviewz
Rulan at Fiction Showcase
Ruth at Booktalk & more...
Ryan at loves to read
Sally at Book Critiques
Shera at Froggy Reviews
Takiela at Beauty 4 Ashes
Tami at Tree Swing Reading
Tara at Tara's View Of The World
Valerie at In My Little World
Vanessa at Ramblings of A Texas Housewife
Vicki at Vicki Tiede
Kelly at Scrambled Dregs

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

I so challenge all of my readers if you didn't watch last night's airing of Prime-time's news report's show What Would You Do by John Quinones that you go to Abc.com and watch it. It was so incredibly sad! They showed two experiments that just blew me away! One they just happened upon a black woman shopping in a store and the sale's clerk was treating her horribly! Saying that she couldn't afford anything in the store, following her around, saying that it wouldn't fit. It was as John Quinones said "shopping black". After seeing that Primetime decided to do an experiment and they had actors portray shoppers, a security guard, and a clerk, and still not very many people came to the aide of the black woman shopping! I was thoroughly disgusted!

The other one that angered me was a gay couple in a sports bar and a heckler just making a big deal out of the affection the two were showing each other. It first started at lunch time and then progressed into the dinner time. A young woman who like me, have friends who deal with this on a daily basis stood up and said something. It was just ridiculous! It was like if you don't like it, don't look, you don't need to say anything about it!

When will we finally just love like Jesus said we're suppose to? I get so tired of this hatred!

Here is the link to watch the show from last night What Would You Do

THE 2009 CHRISTY AWARDS NOMINEES ARE:

Monday, March 23, 2009

The 2009 Christy Awards nominees are:

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Beyond the Night by Marlo Schalesky • WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group
Finding Stefanie by Susan May Warren • Tyndale House Publishers
Zora and Nicky: A Novel in Black and White by Claudia Mair Burney • David C. Cook

CONTEMPORARY SERIES, SEQUELS, AND NOVELLAS
Sisterchicks Go Brit! by Robin Jones Gunn • WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group
Summer Snow by Nicole Baart • Tyndale House Publishers
You Had Me at Good-bye by Tracey Bateman • FaithWords

CONTEMPORARY STANDALONE
Dogwood by Chris Fabry • Tyndale House Publishers
Embrace Me by Lisa Samson • Thomas Nelson
Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon by Debbie Fuller Thomas • Moody Publishers

FIRST NOVEL
Blue Hole Back Home by Joy Jordan-Lake • David C. Cook
Rain Song by Alice J. Wisler • Bethany House Publishers
Safe at Home by Richard Doster • David C. Cook

HISTORICAL
Shadow of Colossus by T.L. Higley • B&H Publishing Group
Until We Reach Home by Lynn Austin • Bethany House Publishers
Washington’s Lady by Nancy Moser • Bethany House Publishers

HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Calico Canyon by Mary Connealy • Barbour Publishers
From a Distance by Tamera Alexander • Bethany House Publishers
The Moon in the Mango Tree by Pamela Binnings Ewen • B&H Publishing Group

SUSPENSE
By Reason of Insanity by Randy Singer • Tyndale House Publishers
The Rook by Steven James • Revell
Winter Haven by Athol Dickson • Bethany House Publishers

VISIONARY
The Battle for Vast Dominion by George Bryan Polivka • Harvest House Publishers
Shade by John B. Olson • B&H Publishing Group
Vanish by Tom Pawlik • Tyndale House Publishers

YOUNG ADULT
The Fruit of My Lipstick by Shelley Adina • FaithWords
I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires by Cathy Gohlke • Moody Publishers
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson • WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group

Up on CFBA is A Cousin's Promise

Sunday, March 22, 2009


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

A Cousin's Promise

Barbour Books (March 1, 2009)

by

Wanda Brunstetter



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Wanda enjoys writing about the Amish because they live a peaceful, simple life─something she says we all need in this day and age.

Using the knowledge her Amish friends have shared with her, Wanda has also produced several children’s titles in the Rachel Yoder─Always Trouble Somewhere series, an Amish cookbook, and a devotional collection entitled The Simpler Life, which was released in July 2008 and celebrates the virtues of the Amish lifestyle. Wanda and her husband are members of the fellowship of Christian Magicians.

Wanda is also a member of the North American Association of ventriloquists, American Christian Fiction Writers, and the Northwest Christian Writers Association. She lives in Washington State, where her husband pastors, but takes every opportunity to visit Amish settlements across the country.

Other books by Wanda are A Sister's Test, A Sister's Hope, and A Sister's Secret


ABOUT THE BOOK

Wayne Lambright who, crippled after a tragic accident, feels himself unworthy of her love; and Jake Beechy who, after having abandoned her to explore the English world, returns to renew their courtship.

Willkumm to the lush and lavish Amish country where Wanda Brunstetter's new romantic series, Indiana Cousins, begins with A Cousin's Promise. Loraine Miller finds herself torn between the love of two good men.

When a horrific accident cripples Wayne Lambright, he finds it difficult enough to take care of himself, much less Loraine Miller, his future bride. Will he sacrifice his happiness to give her a better life?

Having already been jilted once, Loraine is terrified of yet another rejection. But does she love Wayne enough to marry him, for better or worse? When her old boyfriend Jake Beechy returns from exploring the English world, he hopes Loraine will give him another chance.

How will God work to give Loraine the desires of her heart? To which man will she pledge her love and loyalty - for better or worse, until death they do part?

If you would like to read the first chapter of A Cousin's Promise, go HERE

What My Initials ARN mean

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What Do Your Initials Say About You?

You Are Brave and Cheeky


When You Are Comfortable:

You are a strong person. You're driven and assertive. Success is yours, as much as you want it.
People find you to be clever and spirited. You're a bit saucy too... delightfully so!

When You Are At Your Best:

You are a sensitive, gentle soul. You want to save the world... or as much of it as possible.
People see you as unselfish and well mannered. You truly enjoy being around others, and it shows.

When You Are in a Social Setting:

You are philosophical and opinionated. You have quite a few pet causes, and you're always adopting a new one.
People see you as clever and smart. You now a lot, and you love to talk about a variety of subjects.

SURVEY AND CONTEST

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Do you read Christian novels? Do you buy Christian novels? GRPR is conducting a research study and wants to know more about you! If you would like to participate, go to HERE to take an anonymous survey about buying Christian fiction. At the end, you can enter to win a library of TEN Christian novels!

SOON TO BE RELEASED . . . It's Not About Him by Michelle Sutton

http://joyfulhutch.googlepages.com/INAHcover.jpg/INAHcover-large.jpg

About the book:

Susie wakes up after a party knowing something isn't right. When she discovers she is pregnant but has no idea who the father is, she decides to place her baby for adoption with an infertile couple from church. Following through ends up being more challenging than she'd imagined. But she wants to do the right thing. If only Jeff would quit trying to marry her so she'll keep her baby! Why doesn't he understand? It's not about him; it's about what's best for her child. Meanwhile, a man shows up in her life that looks irritatingly familiar. Could he be the father?

Jeff feels guilty. Someone took advantage of Susie and impregnated her when she passed out at his house--at his party. He offers to marry her so she won't have to give up her baby. She refuses, saying he should he marry someone he loves. Susie refuses to believe Jeff loves her. Because as an adopted child, she believes he has unresolved issues that are influencing his decisions. His constant pursuit leads to rejection, which leads to further pursuit. Somehow he has to convince her that his love is genuine before it's too late, but she's not listening.

Can these friends find true love despite the horrible circumstances surrounding the unplanned pregnancy, or are they destined to remain "just friends"?

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Endorsements - It's Not About Him

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"Sutton has hit her stride with book two in the Second Glances series! Written in the same gritty, authentic style as her debut novel, fans will delight in the continuation of Susie's story. There's no sophomore slump here! Filled with finely drawn characters colliding with timeless truths, the prose is taut and rife with tension. Sutton proposes her signature honest answers to heart-wrenching questions. Not to be attempted without a box of tissues. Well worth the read! You won’t put this one down until you finish the last page."

Siri Mitchell, author of A Constant Heart (Bethany House 2008) Moon Over Tokyo, The Cubicle Next Door, Something Beyond the Sky, Chateau of Echoes, and Kissing Adrien (Harvest House and NavPress)

http://sirimitchell.com

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"It's Not about Him is edgy Christian fiction at its best! Michelle Sutton is not afraid to journey into the rich and deep emotional landscapes of the heart as Jeff and Susie learn how to love each other, themselves, and God. A true testament to the power of sacrificial love and the redemptive love of our Father, it is impossible to read It's Not About Him and come away the same. Thick with romantic tension and spiritual honesty, It's Not about Him is a realistic look at the strength and limitations of love, and the struggles and the joys in finding your identity in Christ. Immensely satisfying, It's Not About Him is a welcome addition to the new brave new frontier of Christian fiction."

Amy from My Friend Amy
http://www.myfriendamysblog.com


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"There's an authenticity that brilliantly shines through in Michelle Sutton's storytelling, first with her fantastic debut It's Not About Me, and now with her equally engaging sophomore effort, It's Not About Him. Instead of settling for pat answers and generic spiritual takeaway, Sutton's writing explores the very real (and often neglected) subject matter that can't help but resonate with her young adult readers. Yet in the midst of all these heart-wrenching struggles (and trust me, this book is filled with them!), there are glorious shades of God's grace that ultimately point to the true Hope. The journey may not always be a picnic, but Sutton definitely knows how to spin a yarn and captivate your attention for the long haul."

Christa A. Banister, author of Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers (NavPress)

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"Michelle Sutton writes with realism and honesty about issues facing young adults in today's world. The struggles aren't easy, because life today is rarely easy. But a thread of spiritual hope runs throughout It's Not About Him, as real as the hope that keeps us going in the midst of life's hard circumstances."

Virginia Smith, author of Stuck in the Middle (2008) and Age before Beauty from the Sister-to-Sister Series (Revell 2009)
www.virginiasmith.org

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"In It's Not About Him, Michelle Sutton addresses the harsh realities and sometimes graphic temptations with which today’s young Christians often struggle. As in her debut novel, It's Not About Me, Sutton loves her lead characters enough to let them make mistakes and bad decisions. But the lessons learned are numerous and edifying. One would expect teen readers to see the book as both a cautionary tale and a message of hope when circumstances seem too dark to overcome."

Trish Perry
www.trishperry.com
Beach Dreams '08 Sunset Beach, July 2009 (Harvest House)

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"Sutton has again written a novel addressing the real life challenges young people face, without sugar coating the issues or the answers. The scenarios she describes are exactly what teenagers and young adults are going through. The questions she raises? They're the ones kids wrestle with daily. Pop culture gives answers to these questions that offer little true hope. Sutton is a voice against the tide of cynicism and dead end solutions. Real issues. Real scenarios. Real hope. That is the heart of It's Not About Him."

Jim Rubart, author of Rooms (B&H, coming Jan. 2010)

www.jimrubart.com

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"Ms. Sutton's done it again with another poignant story for today's youth in It's Not About Him. With great finesse and sensitivity, Ms. Sutton addresses timely issues such as abortion, date rape, abuse, alcoholism, and sexual temptation all wrapped up in a colorful and heart-rending story of two young lovers who must not only battle their own abusive pasts and insecurities as they struggle to maintain a strong faith in God, but learn to open their hearts to love again, despite many obstacles and temptations. With a slight surprise at the end, Ms. Sutton brings the story full circle, leaving the reader more than satisfied."

MaryLu Tyndall
www.mltyndall.com
The Falcon and the Sparrow '08 The Red Siren '09 (Barbour)

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"It's Not About Him once again shows that Michelle Sutton is not afraid to make us fall in love with characters that are as flawed and real as we want to pretend we're not. A relevant and gritty must-read for older teens and adults alike!"

Barb Huff, ON TOUR series
www.girlfriendcodes.com

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"The thing that's so great about Michelle Sutton is that she isn't afraid to be real. It's Not About Him is a gripping story about two people struggling to make right choices despite their past mistakes. The plot is filled with tough topics of rape, drinking, premarital sex, and death, but Michelle deals with each scenario in a realistic way that proclaims Christ as the answer to all sin and reminds readers that He can work through any tragedy. Michelle weaves a series of plots that both break and warm the heart. It's Not About Him is the perfect sequel. Michelle has written another honest look into the world young Christians struggle to live in every day. I praise God for the way she shows her readers that they can stay pure if they lean on Christ and make good choices. I pray these books will change lives. I'm looking forward to book three."

Jill Williamson, author of By Darkness Hid; reviewer, Novel Teen Book Reviews

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"From the first sentence in It's Not About Him, Michelle Sutton captures the emotions of her characters and makes you care about them. With her unique and honest voice, Michelle delivers another compelling story that confronts some of the toughest issues facing teens today."

Melanie Dobson, author of Together for Good and The Black Cloister (Kregel)

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"Michelle Sutton has done it again! She tackles hard subjects--the aftermath of rape, the emotional turmoil of adoption, the challenge of sexual temptation--with sensitivity and realism. The two main characters, Jeff and Susie, will stick with you long after you've finished the book. I loved their relationship and how these new Christians fight to stay true to their faith as they face life-altering decisions. A must read, not only for young adults, but
for all adults."

Kathleen Fuller

www.kathleenfuller.com

A Brilliant Deception (Avalon): February, 2008

A Clever Disguise (Avalon): December, 2008

A Daring Return (Avalon): 2009

Amish Fiction

Second Chances (Thomas Nelson): 2009

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"Authentic and confronting, emotive and compelling, Michelle Sutton's It's Not About Him takes the reader on a journey of heartache and hope as Susie and Jeff battle fear, temptation and despair. Michelle vividly exposes the frailties of the human heart with a frankness rarely seen as her characters struggle with rape, alcoholism, promiscuity and failing God's call on their lives. Susie, Jeff and Tony experience the painful consequences of their choices, grappling with the true meaning of living by faith and the sacrifices love demands. Despite the difficult subject matter, hope and forgiveness lie at the heart of this novel, offering today's young adults the promise of a restored heart and mind through a relationship with Jesus. It's Not About Him is a brave and riveting story."

Rel Mollet of relzreviewz
www.relzreviewz.blogspot.com

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"Michelle Sutton Does It Again!

In this #2 book in her Second Glances Series, Michelle Sutton delivers a sizzling story, pushing the envelope in the Christian fiction market, but doing so with finesse and finely crafted scenes, which always ultimately point the reader back to Christ. Characters in It's Not About Him are flawed Christians, just like any other. The difference in this story, is that Sutton clearly points out their flaws, and in a way that, while sometimes a bit too edgy for this reader, definitely reveals the realistic, frail side we humans possess.

Temptation, premarital sexual relations, alcohol, an unplanned pregnancy, and several other "edgy" topics will find a place in It's Not About Him, but in scenes tastefully handled and again, true-to-life. Readers will flip through the pages of this novel and hardly realize the ticking of the clock, so fast-paced is its plot and intriguing and multi-leveled its characters.

This is a riveting story that points the reader to a God of forgiveness and cleansing through Christ’s blood. Yes, many of the scenes and topics will take you to the very brink of Christian fiction, but Christ Himself lived on "that edge"—not afraid to mingle with the dregs of society, His hand and heart always reaching out to their lost and seemingly unredeemable souls. These are the kinds of people Sutton writes about, the 'throwaways' who've known rejection, emotional heartache, and loss—and yet have managed to find their way back to a loving Savior. It is a story of restoration and healing.

Don't miss It's Not About Him. It's an education onto itself!"

Sharlene MacLaren

Reviewers Choice Award in '07 and '08 "Road to Romance"; ACFW finalist for Book of the Year '07; finalist Inspirational Reader’s Choice '08:

Author: Little Hickman Creek series, Daughters of Jacob Kane series, and several stand-alone novels. All published by Whitaker House.

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Up on CFBA is Michal


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Michal

Revell (March 1, 2009)

by

Jill Eileen Smith



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jill Eileen Smith is the author of several articles, poems, and stories, and her unpublished novels have placed in five writing contests in the past five years. A children’s story, which she wrote for her church led her youngest son to faith in Christ several years ago; much like a gospel tract led her to the Lord at a similar age.

That story, “Seeking Treasureland,” is now available. Jill is a member of several online writing groups and helps promote fellow authors’ works through monthly interviews on the "Spotlight" page of her website. She, along with her husband and children, are active members in their local church. A stay-at-home mom, she homeschooled the couple’s three sons for twelve years through high school, seeing them go on to higher education.

In her spare time, Jill teaches piano, reads, does picture scrap-booking, and enjoys trying out new recipes, especially those that include dark chocolate. Jill and her family make their home in Southeastern Lower Michigan.


ABOUT THE BOOK

Can their epic search for true love survive a father's fury?
The daughter of King Saul, Michal lives a life of privilege--but one that is haunted by her father's unpredictable moods and competition from her beautiful older sister.

As a girl, Michal quickly falls for the handsome young harpist David. But soon after their romance begins, David must flee for his life, leaving Michal at her father's mercy in the prison that is King Saul's palace.

Will Michal ever be reunited with David? Or is she doomed to remain separated from him forever?

Against the backdrop of opulent palace life, raging war, and daring desert escapes, Jill Eileen Smith takes you on an emotional journey as Michal deals with love, loss, and personal transformation as the first wife of King David. Jill Eileen Smith has more than twenty years of writing experience, and her writing has gathered acclaim in several contests. Her research into the lives of David's wives has taken her from the Bible to Israel, and she particularly enjoys learning how women lived in Old Testament times.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Michal, go HERE

My take on this book: I really do love Biblical fiction, and as I read this book I am finding myself walking the streets with Michal! I was swept away with this book and I am so looking forward to the next installment of this series! I can't recommend this book enough!

Blog Tour Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly & Book Give Away

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/_images/ISBNCovers/Covers_Enlarged/9780446579001_388X586.jpg

Book Description : Here at last is one Irish family's epic journey, capturing the tragedy and triumph of the Irish-American experience. In a rousing tale that echoes the myths and legends of Ireland herself, young Honora Keeley and Michael Kelly wed and start a family, inhabiting a hidden Ireland where fishermen and tenant farmers find solace in their ancient faith, songs, stories, and communal celebrations. Selling both their catch--and their crops--to survive, these people subsist on the potato crop--their only staple food. But when blight destroys the potatoes three times in four years, a callous government and uncaring landlords turn a natural disaster into The Great Starvation that will kill one million. Honora and Michael vow their children will live. The family joins two million other Irish refugees in one of the greatest rescues in human history: the Irish Emigration to America. Danger and hardship await them there. Honora and her unconventional sister Maire watch their seven sons as they transform Chicago from a frontier town to the "City of the Century", fight the Civil War, and enlist in the cause of Ireland's freedom. The Kelly clan is victorious. This heroic story sheds brilliant light on the ancestors of today's 44 million Irish Americans.

Author's web site: http://www.marypatkelly.com/content/index.asp

My Review: This book is an epic. It reminded me so much of Gone With The Wind. If you enjoy those types of books that sweep you away to another time and place, then this is the book for you.

I have an extra copy of this book. I was sent two by mistake. If you like to be entered into the drawing just comment on this post. This is only for U.S. residents only. The contest will start today and run until April 1st, Wednesday when I will use a random number selector to pick the winner. If you are from FR leave your Id and @ FR and I will know how to contact you. The winner will have 48 hours to contact me with their mailing address or I will chose another winner.

Good Luck!

Up on CFBA is Breach of Trust

Monday, March 16, 2009


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Breach Of Trust

Tyndale House Publishers (February 5, 2009)

by

DiAnn Mills



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Award-winning author, DiAnn Mills, launched her career in 1998 with the publication of her first book. Currently she has over forty books in print and has sold more than a million copies.

DiAnn believes her readers should “Expect an Adventure.” DiAnn Mills is a fiction writer who combines an adventuresome spirit with unforgettable characters to create action-packed novels.

Six of her anthologies have appeared on the CBA Best Seller List. Three of her books have won the distinction of Best Historical of the Year by Heartsong Presents. Five of her books have won placements through American Christian Fiction Writer’s Book of the Year Awards 2003 – 2007, and she is the recipient of the Inspirational Reader’s Choice award for 2005 and 2007. She was a Christy Awards finalist in 2008.

DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America’s Faith, Hope and Love, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also a mentor for Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writer’s Guild.

She lives in sunny Houston, Texas. DiAnn and her husband have four adult sons and are active members of Metropolitan Baptist Church.



ABOUT THE BOOK

Paige Rogers survived every CIA operative’s worst nightmare.

A covert mission gone terribly wrong.

A betrayal by the one man she thought she could trust.

Forced to disappear to protect the lives of her loved ones, Paige has spent the last several years building a quiet life as a small-town librarian. But the day a stranger comes to town and starts asking questions, Paige knows her careful existence has been shattered.

He is coming after her again. And this time, he intends to silence her for good...

Paige Rogers is a former CIA agent who lost all she treasured seven years ago when her entire team was killed in a covert mission. She blames their leader—Daniel Keary—whom Paige believes betrayed them. Disillusioned and afraid for her life, she disappeared and started a new life as a librarian in small town Split Creek, Oklahoma.

But her growing relationship with high school football coach Miles Laird and the political ambitions of her former boss threaten to unmask her. When Keary announces his candidacy for governor of her state, he comes after Paige to ensure that she won't ruin his bid for office by revealing his past misdeeds. He threatens everything she holds dear, and Paige must choose between the life of hiding that has become her refuge . . . or risking everything in one last, desperate attempt to right old wrongs.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Breach Of Trust, go HERE

Watch the Book Trailer:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Scream

Realms (March 3, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Mike now lives in Hanover, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Jen, and their three daughters. He is a regular columnist for AVirtuousWoman.org, was a newspaper correspondent/columnist for over three years, has published several articles for The Candle of Prayer inspirational booklets, and has edited and contributed to numerous Christian-themed Web sites and e-newsletters. Mike is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers association, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, the Relief Writer’s Network, and FaithWriters, and plans to join International Thriller Writers once published. He received his BA degree in sports exercise and medicine from Messiah College and his MBS degree in theology from Master’s Graduate School of Divinity.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Realms (March 3, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1599794691
ISBN-13: 978-1599794693

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter 1




Mark Stone could still smell the grease on
his hands.

No matter how hard he scrubbed or what fancy soap he used, the residue remained, stained into the creases of his fingers and caked under his fingernails. In a way, though, it was comforting. At least something in his life was still predictable. He gripped the steering wheel of his classic Mustang with both hands and willed his eyes to stay open. The hum of rubber on asphalt was almost hypnotic. It had been a long day at the shop, and he was ready to go home, soak in a hot shower until he puckered like a raisin, and get cozy with his pillow.

Outside, the headlights cut a swath of pale yellow light through the dense autumn darkness. Stars dotted the night like glitter on black felt. A pocked moon dangled low in the sky in front of him, a cratered carrot on the end of an unseen string, leading him home, home to the comfort of his bed.

His cell phone chimed the theme from The Dukes of Hazzard. Mark turned down the radio and flipped open the phone. It was Jeff Beaverson. “Jeffrey.”

“Hey, buddy. How goes it?”

Mark glanced at the dashboard clock—10:10. “Kinda late for you, isn’t it?”

Jeff laughed. “You know me too well. I was at my parents’ house installing a new hot water heater, and it took longer than I thought it would. I’m heading home now. Gonna walk in the door and drop myself right into bed. You in the car?”

“On my way home.”

“Boy, you’re putting in some late hours.”

“Yeah, business is good right now. Keeps my mind off...stuff. You know.”

“I know, buddy. I’ve been thinking about you. Thought I’d check in and make sure we’re still on for tomorrow.”

Tomorrow. Saturday. He and Jeff were scheduled to meet for breakfast at The Victory.

On the radio, John Mellencamp was belting out “Small Town.”

“Yeah. Seven o’clock. You still...kay with...at?”

“Sure. Where are you? You’re breakin’ up.”

“Mill Road. Down...oopers Hollow...lasts a...ittle.”

Mark paused and tapped his hand to the beat of the music. Jeff’s voice boomed into his ear. “Am I back? Can you hear me now?”

“Yeah, I can hear you fine now,” Mark said with a laugh.

Jeff snorted into the phone. “I always lose my bars along that stretch. Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you...”

Jeff’s voice was suddenly drowned by a hideous screaming. Not just one voice, but a multitude of voices mingling and colliding, merging and blending in a cacophony of wails and groans, grunts and cries. A million mouths weeping and howling in bone-crunching pain. Agony. As if their skin was being peeled off inch by inch and their burning anguish was somehow captured on audio. It rose in volume, lasted maybe five, six seconds, then stopped just as abruptly as it had started.

Mark clicked off the radio and pressed the phone tighter against his ear. Goose bumps crawled over his arms. “Jeff? You OK, man?”

There was a pause, then, “Yeah. Yes. I’m fine. What the blazes was that? Did you hear it?”

Mark massaged the steering wheel with his left hand. “Yeah, I heard it. Sounded like something out of some horror movie.” Or hell. Weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Weird.”

“Maybe our signals got tangled with something else. Weird is right. Anyway, I’ve been wanting to ask you—and we can talk more about it tomorrow if you want—how are you and Cheryl doing?”

Mark clenched his jaw, pressing his molars together. Cheryl. Don’t make me go there, Jeff. It’s too soon. “I don’t know. I think it’s over.”

“Over?”

Over. Finished. Kaput. I blew it, and now I have to live with it. “Nothing official yet. But she pretty much made it clear she doesn’t want anything to do with me.”

Jeff paused and sighed into the phone. “Man, I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do?”

Mark slowed the Mustang around a hairpin turn. He didn’t want to talk about this now. He wasn’t ready. And besides, it was late, and he was tired. “No. I don’t even think there’s anything more I can do. Can we talk about it in the morning?”

“Absolutely. I just...wait. Hang on a sec. What’s this guy—”

The sound of screeching tires filled the receiver. Rubber howling against asphalt. Then a low earthy rumble...Jeff grunting...crunching metal and shattering glass.

Mark leaned heavy on the brake, and the Mustang fishtailed to a stop. The engine growled impatiently. “Jeff? You there?”

Nothing. Not even static. His pulse throbbed in his ears.

Mark dialed Jeff’s number. Four rings. “Hello, this is Jeff.” Voice mail. Great. “You know what to do.” A woman’s voice came on. “To leave a voice message, press one or wait for the tone. To—”

Mark’s thumb skidded over the keypad, dialing 911.



Sheriff Wiley Hickock sidestepped down the steep embankment, sweeping the light from his flashlight to and fro in a short arc. Up above, a couple of firefighters were winding a hose; two others were stripping out of their gear. Lights flashed in an even rhythm, illuminating the area in a slow strobe of red and white. Red, red, white; red, red, white. The pungent smell of melted rubber and burnt flesh permeated the air. Three towers holding four floodlights each lit up the area like a baseball stadium during a night game.

When he reached the bottom, Hickock surveyed the ball of twisted, smoldering metal that had once been a Honda Civic before it bulldozed ten feet of oak saplings and wrapped around the scarred trunk of a mature walnut tree. Tongues of smoke curled from the misshapen steel and licked at the leaves of the walnut. A large swath of ground had been dug up, exposing the dark, rich soil.

Deputy Jessica Foreman headed toward him. Her dark russet hair looked like it had been hastily pulled back in a loose ponytail. Her uniform was wrinkled, a road map of creases. Her hands were sheathed in blackened latex gloves.

Wiley frowned as she approached. “Sorry to get you out here on your day off, Jess. Thanks for helping out, though.”

Jess tugged off the latex gloves and swept a rebellious lock of hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear. “Do what’s gotta be done, right?”

Wiley squinted and ran a finger over his mustache. “That’s what they say. When did fire and EMS get here?” There were still some firefighters milling around the wreckage, poking at it with their axes. Two paramedics were standing off to the right, talking and laughing.

“’Bout twenty minutes ago. Didn’t take long to douse the fire.” She glanced at the paramedics. “No need for those guys. Did you notice the skid marks on the road?”

Wiley nodded, keeping his eyes on what barely resembled a car. The driver was still in there. He could see his rigid, charred body still smoldering. Mouth open in a frozen scream. Lips peeled back. Back arched. Fingers curled around the steering wheel. He’d seen it only once before—a burned body. It was revolting, and yet there was something about it that held his gaze, as if the burnt stiff had reached out with those bony, black fingers and grabbed his eyeballs—Look at me!

He shut his eyes tight, trying to push the memory of the other burnt corpse from his mind. He knew it would never leave, though. It was seared there by some psycho-something branding iron.

Wiley opened his eyes and blinked twice. Concentrate. “Yup. Two sets of ’em. But only one car. I don’t like it. Loose ends. What’s your take?”

Jess shrugged and nodded toward the wreck. “Got run off the road by a drunk or sleeper, lost control, and met Mr. Tree.”

“You sound fairly certain. Got a witness?”

Jess turned and pointed over her shoulder. “Almost. See that guy over there?”

Wiley looked up the embankment and saw a thirty-something average joe in a faded gray T-shirt and grease-stained jeans leaning against a classic Mustang, hair disheveled, arms crossed, shoulders slumped, eyes blank. “Yeah. Who’s he?”

“He was on the phone with—” She jerked her thumb toward the wreck and the stiff. “Said he heard the accident happen and called it in. Got here before anyone else, but the car was already a torch. Name’s Stone. Mark. Said our friend here said something like ‘What’s this guy doin’?’ then he heard the wheels lock up and busting up stuff, then nothing.”

Wiley eyed Stone again. In the light of the cruiser’s strobes, his eyes looked like two lifeless chunks of coal. His mouth was a thin line, jaw firm.

Wiley turned his attention back to the Civic. “Anything else?”

“No. Not yet anyway.”

They both stood quietly, studying the remains of the car, until a man’s high-pitched voice from their right broke the silence. “Sheriff.”

Wiley turned to see Harold Carpenter, volunteer fire chief, high-stepping through the tall grass, his chubby jowls jiggling like Jell-O with each movement. With his sagging cheeks, underbite, and heavy bloodshot eyes, the man looked like a bulldog.

Carpenter stopped in front of Wiley, flushed and out of breath. “Sheriff. What’d ya think?”

Wiley didn’t even look at him. He kept his eyes on the corpse sitting behind the wheel. “Just got here, Harry. Don’t think much yet.”

Carpenter shoved a singed, brown leather wallet at Wiley. “Here’s the driver’s wallet. One of my guys retrieved it from the...uh...back pocket.”

Wiley took the wallet and handed it to Jess. Opening it, she slipped out the driver’s license. It was singed around the top edge. “Jeffrey David Beaverson.”

“Did you run the plates yet?” Wiley asked.

Jess nodded. “Sure did. Same Beaverson.”




It was a perfect day for a funeral. If such a thing existed.

The sky was a thick slab of slate suspended over the small town of Quarry, Maryland, coloring everything in drab hues of gray. A dense mist hung in the air, a blanket of moisture, covering the region in a damp clamminess. The air was cool but not cold, and there was no wind whatsoever.

Mark Stone walked from his car to the grave site, his black loafers sinking into the soft ground. With the exception of their little cluster of about twenty people, the cemetery was empty. Still and quiet. Eerie, Mark thought. For acres, granite headstones protruded from the ground like stained teeth, each memorializing somebody’s loved one, lost forever. In the distance, maybe a hundred yards away, stood a mausoleum, a concrete angel perched on the roof above the doorway. Mark shuddered at the thought of a body lying inside. Dead and cold.

Mark looked to his right then to his left. The other mourners—friends and family of the Beaversons—were climbing out of their cars and making their way across the wet grass, shoulders slumped, heads bowed low. Men held black umbrellas against their shoulders; women held white tissues to their noses. A few trees dotted the landscape, their twisted, half-barren branches reaching into the gray sky as if begging for even a glimmer of life. But there was no life in a place like this. Only death.

Mark swallowed the lump that had become a permanent fixture in his throat and ran a sleeve across his eyes.

The reverend (Mahoney, was it?) stood beside the black, polished casket, faced Wendy Beaverson, and opened a little black book. He cleared his throat and began reading, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes...”

Mark looked across the casket at Wendy. Her red, swollen eyes leaked tears that coursed down her cheeks in long rivulets. Her honey-colored hair was pulled back in a tight bun, accentuating the sharp angles of her face. She wore a black knee-length overcoat buttoned to the collar. In her left arm sat little Gracie, clinging to her mommy’s neck.

Poor kid. She’ll never remember her daddy. He was a great guy, sweetheart.

Wendy’s right arm was draped over Sara’s shoulder. The eldest daughter, just five, leaned against Wendy’s hip, her head fitting perfectly in the dip of her mother’s waist.

A sob rose in Mark’s throat, and he struggled to keep it under control. Death was a beastly thing. Showed no mercy at all. A daddy torn from his family; children left confused and empty; wife suddenly bearing the burden of raising two daughters by herself, no one to share joys and heartbreaks with. What a crock.

Reverend Mahoney continued talking, his monotone voice a fitting backdrop to the dismal atmosphere. “And so, as we bury Jeffrey today, it is true to say we bury one of us. We bury him in a cemetery...”

Cheryl had an arm around Wendy’s shoulders, holding her tight. She always was the caring type. A real Mother Teresa. Mark wiped at his eyes again and watched his wife comfort his best friend’s wife. Widow.

“...I have never yet heard anyone say there is a different heaven for each faith...”

A splinter of guilt stabbed at Mark’s heart, and he was suddenly glad he and Cheryl had not yet had kids. He’d hurt her enough. Ripped her heart out and tossed it in the garbage like last week’s leftovers.

—It’s over, Mark. Done.

—Cher—Cheryl, wait...I—

—No! Wait? Wait for what? Wait for what, Mark? Your apology?

—Cheryl, please don’t go—

—Shut up! You think saying you’re sorry can make up for what you...what you did to me? To us?

He would have never been able to bear knowing he’d not only betrayed Cheryl but betrayed a son or daughter, or both, as well. Hurting Cheryl was enough. More than enough. Seeing her now, he could barely stand to be in his own skin. If only. That’s what he’d told himself a million times since she’d found out. If only this. If only that.

“...we are all the same before God...”

Life was full of if onlys, wasn’t it? But the kick in the gut is that those if onlys become a phantom, a haunting, relentless ghost that clings to the soul like a parasite, slowly sucking the life from its host. But there’s not a thing to be done about it. No one can change the past. What’s done is done. Live with it.

Mahoney was still droning, “...we take nothing with us when we die...”

Cheryl looked up, and her gaze met Mark’s. A knot twisted his stomach at the sight of her hollow eyes. They were once so brilliant, so alive, so...blue. The color of a Caribbean surf on a cloudless day. From somewhere deep in his noodle (that’s what Cheryl would say) a memory surfaced. Mark didn’t want it to surface, not now. Save it for some lonely time when he was parked on the sofa in front of the TV with a microwave dinner on a little folding tray.

The memory: sitting on a blanket in the park, Cheryl by his side, her head on his shoulder, a cool breeze playing with her hair, bringing the scent of her shampoo so close he could almost smell it now. Cheryl tilts her face toward his.

—What d’ya know, babycakes?

—I know I love you.

—Really? Forever and ever, cross your heart and hope to die?

—Forever and ever. Cross my heart and hope to die.

But now those eyes were dull, muted by the pain of betrayal and the ache of death. Her face was drawn and pale, thinner than the last time he saw her.

I’m sorry, Cheryl. So sorry.

He wanted to scream the words, run to her and drop to his knees, but she would never forgive him. She held his stare for mere seconds, her eyes piercing his with a loneliness that he’d brought on.

Cheryl. Baby. Babycakes. I’m sorry.

“...So as we bury Jeffrey, we bury one of us...”

Mark shifted his weight, clasped his hands behind his back, and lowered his head, letting the mist cool the back of his neck.

When Mahoney finally finished, the mourners slowly cleared, whispering to each other. “Isn’t it a shame.” “What a horrible tragedy.” “The poor woman. Two little girls with no daddy, but didn’t they look precious.”

Back to life as they know it. Life goes on. For some.

Wendy approached the casket and rested her hand on the glossy surface. She whispered something Mark couldn’t quite make out. Little Gracie turned her head to look at the box that held her daddy, and Sara choked out a sob, her tender mouth twisting into a broken frown.

As Wendy passed Mark, she rested her hand on his forearm and squeezed. She didn’t say anything, but her eyes said it all: Thanks for coming.

Mark forced a smile and nodded.

Cheryl followed Wendy. As she passed in front of Mark, he took her arm in his hand. “Cheryl, I—”

“Don’t, Mark,” she said, her voice strained with grief. She looked at the ground and her chin quivered. “Don’t.”

Mark let his hand fall to his side and let his wife walk out of his life. Again.

Ten minutes later he was sitting behind the wheel of his Mustang, tiny raindrops pattering on the windshield. The mourners were mostly gone now, heading to the Beaversons’ home for the wake. He didn’t want to go but knew he had to at least make an appearance . . . for Wendy. His mind wasn’t on the wake, wasn’t even on the funeral. It was on the screams. They were as fresh in his mind today as when he’d first heard them a week ago.

He’d raced to Cooper’s Hollow after dialing 911. The first thing he saw was the gyrating orange glow of the fire on the horizon, retching a pillar of smoke as black as new charcoal into the night sky. The next thing he saw was Jeff’s Civic engulfed in angry flames and Jeff pinned behind the steering wheel, bloated and stiff. The sound of the fire was like a locomotive. The smell of burning fuel and flesh was hot in his lungs.

The rest of the night was a black blur, a nightmare that would surface piece by piece until the whole ghastly affair played itself out like some cut-’em-up horror movie in his head. And he would be forced to watch, eyelids taped open and head held in place. The last thing he remembered was arriving home, falling into bed, and dreaming of Jeff’s blackened corpse writhing in anguish as flames licked at his flesh and wrapped his body in hell’s chains.

Mark ran his hands over his face, feeling the bristles of his morning stubble, a reminder that he hadn’t shaved. He could still hear the screams, awful sounds, like thousands, no, millions, of voices lifted in agony, a chorus of misery and anguish. Every time the sounds of the outside world died and silence crept in like a demon, the screams were there, echoing through his head, filling his ears with the sound of the tortured. If it was nothing more than tangled signals like Jeff had suggested, where was the signal coming from? Hell, that’s where.

He shut his eyes and pressed both palms to his forehead. Maybe the wake would take his mind off things.



Judge sat in an old brown metal desk chair in the center of a basement room, elbows resting on the armrests, fingertips lightly pressed together, forming a tent in front of his face. A gray metal desk sat against one wall, its surface covered with photo clippings and notebook paper scrawled with notes. To the left of the desk stood a metal bookshelf, empty except for one stack of spiral notebooks and manila file folders. To the right of the bookshelf stood a gray, metal, four-drawer locking file cabinet.

Everything was metal. Firm. Dependable. Solid.

Fire resistant.

In the center of the room, a single 60-watt bulb dangled from the ceiling, casting sharp shadows on the walls.

All four walls were covered with a collage of photos. A closer look would reveal that all the pictures were of four women in particular. One for each wall.

His four victims.

No, not victims. No way. They weren’t victims. She was a victim. Katie was. They were perpetrators. Guilty and getting exactly what they deserved. Justice.

He stood, walked over to the wall behind the desk, and stared at a photo of a brown-haired woman in a miniskirt and halter top. Amber. He knew everything about her. Probably more than she knew about herself.

She got off work every night at ten. Took exactly thirty-seven seconds to walk the forty-five yards to her car. Drove a late model Chevy Cavalier that she bought from Prairie View Pre-Owned Cars eight months ago. License plate: LUV ME. Drove the five miles to her second-floor apartment in just under ten minutes, depending on traffic flow and traffic light patterns. She was thirty-one, five-six, hazel eyes, and drop-dead gorgeous.

Drop dead, gorgeous.

She was lovely, though, wasn’t she?

But it wasn’t about love. No way. Not even about desire or lust or hunger. He wasn’t a pervert like some. Sure, he liked to look as much as the next guy, but when it came down to business, it wasn’t about the needs of the flesh. It was about justice. And he was the judge and the jury.

That’s why he called himself Judge.

She was guilty. They were all guilty.

He smiled and stroked the tuft of hair below his lower lip. He’d heard somewhere that it was called a soul patch. A fitting name. His soul needed to be patched.

He then smoothed his mustache with his left hand and gently stroked the photo with his right.

Justice would be served tonight. His heart beat a little faster at the thought, and his stomach fluttered. This is what he was born to do. Be an agent of justice. An enforcer of right.

An image flashed through his mind. A young girl, thirteen. Katie. She was innocent, and they killed her.

And he did nothing. Cowering like a frightened kitten, fighting the urge to vomit, struggling to find oxygen, he did nothing but watch in paralyzed horror.

Well, no more.

He glanced at his watch—8:27—and tapped a picture of Amber. “Soon.”

The plan was ready, everything down to the last detail. Details were good. He would carefully execute the plan, documenting everything.

Tonight. Justice.

It’s gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight.



Amber Mann slipped off her apron and hung it on a brass hook on the wall. She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, stood on her toes, and looked at herself in the small mirror that someone had hung a little too high for the averaged-height waitress.

“You outta here, hon?” Marge, her co-waitress for the evening, emerged from one of the bathroom stalls and went to wash her hands.

Amber smoothed her eyeliner, puckered her lips, and applied a thin layer of lip gloss. “Yup.” She glanced at the clock on the wall—the one with Bertha’s Diner in fancy script painted across the face. Someone had given it to Bertha for the diner’s twentieth anniversary. She didn’t particularly care for the style, so she’d banished it to the lady’s room. 9:57. “Three minutes and I’m punching out. I need every minute I can get.”

Marge chuckled and tilted her head to the side. “You goin’ out tonight?”

Amber shot her a sideways look and a devilish grin. “What’s it to ya, mommy dearest?” She quickly unbuttoned her uniform shirt, slipped it off, and replaced it with a black tank top with thin shoulder straps. Yanking her pants off, she pulled on a black miniskirt that barely covered her fanny. She then slid her feet into a pair of black pumps.

“Well, if you ain’t, you sure look good for just sittin’ ’round your ’partment.”

Amber laughed. “Yeah, I’m going out. Over to Bruno’s, see what kind of action is happening tonight.”

Marge put her hands on her hips and gave her a motherly look. “Well, be careful. Bruno’s ain’t the safest place for a girl lookin’ like you to be goin’. Lotsa tough guys tryin’ to impress the girls there.”

Amber stuffed her uniform in a pink duffle bag. She grinned wide. “Don’t worry about me, mommy. I can handle myself around the boys.”

“You doin’ anything special this weekend?” Marge said, drying her hands with a paper towel.

“Tomorrow I’m going over to my sister’s to spend some time with my nephew. You should see him; he’s so adorable. I just can’t get enough of him. How ’bout you? Got any big plans?”

Marge humphed. “Yeah, right. All Jim wants to do is sit around and watch football. The old goat. I’ll keep myself busy ’round the house, though.”

Amber looked at the clock again. “Hey, it’s time. Gotta run, Marge. Love ya, girl.” She pulled on a red coat and gave Marge a loose hug.

“Love ya, hon.”

They left the bathroom, and Amber headed for the back door. As she pushed through the door she heard Marge call out one more time, “You be careful now.”

She let the door close and breathed in a chestful of cool autumn air. Bruno’s should be hoppin’ tonight. And Mitch would be there. She could almost feel his thick arms around her waist as they danced, her head on his chest, breathing in his masculine scent. They would stay like that for hours, bodies intertwined, moving in unison to the steady rhythm of the music, then go back to his place. It was perfect, heaven on earth if there ever was one.

She strode across the parking lot toward her car, heels clicking on the asphalt, echoing in the stillness of the evening. She hadn’t told Marge about Mitch. He was a tattoo artist, had his own shop downtown. Mommy Marge would never approve. She watched over Amber like a mother hen, closer than her own mom did. Amber could just imagine what old Marge would say if she ever found—

She started and took a quick step to her left. A man was suddenly there, walking beside her, step for step. “Oh, hey. You scared me.”

The man stopped and faced her. “Amber Mann?”

She stopped too. One hand rested on her duffle bag, the other hung loosely at her side. Somewhere in the distance, a few blocks away, a car horn honked. “Yes. Is something wrong?”

“Can I ask you a few questions?”

Amber brushed some hair off her face and tucked it behind her ear. She noticed her hand was suddenly shaking. “Uh, sure. Is something wrong?”

“No, ma’am. Nothing’s wrong. Just need to ask you a few questions. It’s about Mitch Young.”

Mitch. Amber felt her stomach twist into a knot, like someone had gut-punched her. She knew what she had with Mitch wouldn’t last. It couldn’t. Her life didn’t work that way. “Um.” She bit on a fingernail, not sure if she wanted to answer questions, not sure she wanted to know Mitch’s secrets. “I guess.”

“Let’s walk to your car,” he said.

“Oh, OK.” She turned and headed toward her Cavalier. She was within feet of the car when something exploded in the back of her head.



It was nearly half an hour later by the time Judge dragged Amber to the barn. He’d had to knock her several times to subdue her enough to get the ether over her mouth and nose. She was quite the feisty one. It was too messy, though, too sloppy. During the time it took, someone could have driven by or come out of the diner. But she was the first. Now he knew; he’d have to be more careful with the others.

He gripped her by the wrists and pulled her into a corner where a bed of straw had been prepared. Outside the barn, the dogs were barking like maniacs, over and over, nonstop. Judge kicked hard against the barn wall. “Quit your bawling! Or I’ll roast you!” The racket ceased for maybe five, six seconds—long enough to notice the sound of crickets in the distance—then resumed in a flurry of yelps and coughs.

Removing a pocketknife, he flipped it open and cut the duct tape from Amber’s wrists and ankles. Just a precaution during the long ride over. He didn’t need her coming to and throwing a hissy fit in the backseat while he was driving. Safety first.

She moaned and tried to roll over, but a grimace twisted her face and she relaxed again, letting out a strained sigh. He could see two goose eggs on her head but knew there were more. He’d walloped her at least three times.

“Sleep tight, beautiful,” he said, squatting beside her. “You’re gonna have one killer headache when you wake up.”

The dogs continued their onslaught, like an old smoker trying to clear fluid from his lungs. Judge stood and kicked the boards again. “Shut up!”

Placing his hands on his hips, he looked around the barn. Enough light from the full moon was seeping through the cracks between the wall planks to dust the spacious interior with soft blue light. Straw, strewn across the floor like a loosely woven carpet, glistened under each moon ray. It was actually a very pleasant evening. What a shame to have to ruin it for little miss LUV ME here.

He stared at her for a moment, taking in her graceful, feminine form. She lay on her side, hand resting on her head, long legs slightly crossed. She was a fine specimen, indeed. But it wasn’t about that, he reminded himself. It was about justice and justice only. Nothing more, nothing less. Don’t personalize it.

But still, he couldn’t deny the fact that she was beautiful. Maybe just a peek under that skirt. She would never know—

No! It’s not like that. I’m not a monster.

He went outside, walked around to the back of the barn, and stopped in front of two metal dog kennels. Stooping to unlock them, he said, “Now boys, you keep good watch over our guest. And don’t stray too far. She’s gonna get lonely, you hear?”



Amber rolled onto her back and lifted both hands to her forehead. Her whole skull throbbed, felt like it would explode any second. She peeled her eyes open and noticed the first rays of light filtering through rough-planked walls, dust swirling in the air. Something crunched beneath her. Where was she? What happened last night? Her mind spun. She winced and ran a hand gently over her head. Where did she get these lumps? So tender. She moaned and tried to push herself to a sitting position, but her body felt like it was filled with lead, and her muscles refused to cooperate. Finally, she settled on scooting herself back and propping up on the mound of straw.

Straw? Wait a minute. She was on a bed of straw. She looked around again. Wooden planks rose vertically on either side of her about fifteen feet into the air, held together by wooden beams. A few slanted bars of sunlight slipped past the gaps in the planks and dotted the floor with golden light. Straw was scattered over the worn flooring.

Amber’s mind was slowly beginning to piece things together. Straw. Wood. Beams. She was in a barn. For the first time since regaining consciousness, she drew in a long breath. Yes, definitely a barn. The musty, earthy odor of straw and rotting hay and who-knows-how-old animal dung was unmistakable.

She looked around. The barn was obviously abandoned. There were no stacks of bales, no tools, no tractors, and as she listened, no rustle of animals. As far as she could tell, she was the only occupant. She leaned to her left and pressed her face against a gap between two wall planks. Outside the barn, the ground sloped away toward what looked like an overgrown pasture. On the other side of the field, maybe a quarter mile away, stood a line of trees that stretched as far as she could see to the left and right. North and south. The sun peeked out just over the treetops, and beyond that, fingers of pink light reached into the pale blue sky.

A jolt of panic, like a thousand-volt shock, buzzed through her nerves.

Where was she? How did she get here? And how did her head get so banged up? The questions stood like giant bullies, refusing to leave until answered. Like her dad. An image of him towering over her, thick arms crossed, forehead wrinkled, asking over and over again “How many bales today?” flashed through her mind. How many bales? She was only nine. She just wanted to do a nine-year-old’s worth of chores and go play. But he made her work and work and work. And if she didn’t make her quota? Well, well, “You’re not goin’ anywhere, missy, until you finish your chores.” He’d corner her and fire questions at her, quizzing her on mundane farm facts—how many square feet in an acre, how many acres in a square mile, how many quarts in a peck and pecks in a bushel—and wouldn’t let her eat or sleep until she answered every one correctly. The bully.

But this time she had an answer, one that made her shiver. She’d been kidnapped. Taken against her will. Abducted. Apparently beaten and . . . she didn’t even want to think about what else. Instinctively, she tugged at her skirt, wishing she’d worn pants.

Slowly, like a TV station slowly picking up the signal from a rotary antenna, her memory faded in. She left work last night and a man approached her in the parking lot. She remembered his face, lean and angular, mustache and patch of hair under his bottom lip. But that was all. Just his face. He’d asked her a question, she knew that. But what the question was, was yet another question. Unanswered.

And what about Liz? She was supposed to visit Liz and Christopher today. Surely they’d miss her and report it, right? They’d have cops looking for her before the day was over. Or maybe not. Maybe Liz would just assume something came up, something more important. But if Liz didn’t report it, surely Mitch would. She was supposed to meet him last night. Mitch. He must have been worried sick when she didn’t show. That settled it in her mind. By the end of the day, there would be a massive search effort underway. There had to be. Somebody would miss her.

She pulled her knees up and looked out between the planks again. Suddenly, a furry, toothy face appeared only inches away, mouth curled into a snarl. A dog! Then another face appeared. Two dogs! Dobermans. Outside the barn. The dogs began clawing at the planks, snarling and growling. Amber tried to push herself away from the wall, but her hand slipped on the straw, and she tumbled to her side. A jolt of pain shot up her neck and pounded in her head, and she let out a scream.

“I see you’re awake,” a voice said from one of the far corners. A man’s voice.

Amber started and sat up straight, her head scolding her for the sudden movement. She searched the far corners of the barn and noticed a man standing in one. He was wearing jeans and tanned leather work boots. The rest of his body was hidden in the shadows.

“Good morning,” he said. His voice was in no way cheerful but not altogether sinister either. The voice from last night. This was the man she’d met in the parking lot. And no doubt the man who gave her the killer headache and brought her here.

Amber tried to push farther back against the wall, but she was already pressed against it. She tugged again at her skirt. “Who are you?”

The man shifted his weight and crossed one leg over the other. “No need to bother with names here. Let’s not make this personal. You can just call me Judge. There’s a gallon of water and bag of apples to your right. That should hold you over for now.”

The dogs to Amber’s left began chewing at the wooden planks, snarling, their tongues flitting in and out of their mouths. Amber shot them a wary look.

“Don’t worry about them,” the man said. “They can’t get in. They’re to keep you from getting out. Don’t even think about making a run for it. We’re miles from nowhere, and the dogs are very hungry. Do you know what it’s like to be eaten alive? Meat pulled from your bones while you’re still kicking and screaming? No, of course you don’t. And trust me, you don’t want to find out.”

Amber covered her mouth with her hand and choked back a sob. Her eyes burned with tears, and a lump the size of one of those apples had lodged in her throat. Fear had wrapped its bony fingers around her neck and tightened its grip. “What—what are you gonna do with me? Why am I here? What do you want?”

The man chuckled and uncrossed his legs. “Soon enough, my dear. You’ll get answers to all your questions soon enough. You’ll be getting some company too. I don’t want you getting lonely all the way out here. The dogs are good for some things, but they’re lousy conversationalists.”

There was a long moment of silence, and though she couldn’t see them, masked by the shadow as they were, she could feel his eyes on her. And it made her skin crawl.

Finally, he walked to a cutout door in the middle of the larger, rolling barn door, opened it, and paused, still obscured by a slanting shadow. “Until later, Amber.” And then he was gone. She heard a lock slide into place and something large and heavy thud against the door at the bottom.

To her left, the Dobermans continued their gnawing and chewing.



It was almost three o’clock in the afternoon when Mark finally took a break to eat lunch. After the funeral yesterday he’d gone to the wake and numbly stood in a corner of the den in Jeff’s home (the same den where he’d spent countless hours playing poker, shooting pool, and rooting for the Washington Redskins) nursing his iced tea and watching Cheryl mingle with their friends. Correction, her friends. After she left him and the news became public, their friends suddenly wanted nothing to do with him. Jeff and Wendy were the only ones who had remained loyal. The rest had proven to be fair-weather friends—the worst kind.

He’d spent less than an hour at the wake, returned home, fell onto the sofa, clicked on the flat screen, and zoned out. How long he sat there or what he watched he had no idea. But it was late, wee-hours-of-the-morning late, by the time exhaustion finally overtook him. When he’d had enough, he trudged into the bedroom, the one he used to share with his wife, and collapsed on the bed, falling quickly asleep still wearing his dress clothes.

This morning he’d debated whether to go into work or not. It was, after all, Saturday. He could stay home and play zombie all day, regretting how his life had turned out, regretting every poor decision he’d ever made, regretting there was nothing he could have done to save Jeff. Or he could go to the garage, lose himself in some engine or transmission, and hopefully keep his mind off the hopelessness of life and retain his sanity for another day.

The prospect of sanity finally won.

Mark sat in a gray swivel chair in his cubicle-sized office and opened his cooler. Ham sandwich, barbecue chips, and an apple. He wasn’t hungry, but he unwrapped the sandwich and took a large bite anyway.

Jeff’s death was a shock, of course, and Mark’s heart ached for Wendy and the girls. Every time he pictured the girls in their pretty dresses standing beside that casket, a lump rose in his throat, and his eyes burned with tears. But one thing that kept hammering in his mind like a hyperactive woodpecker was the phone call he had with Jeff just before the accident. There was that awful scream that had interrupted the conversation. What was it? Where did it come from?

Mark took a long swig of Diet Pepsi, wiped the condensation from his hand, and took another bite of his sandwich. In the main shop area, his boom box belted out some guy singing.

“...you had a bad day...”

Mark grunted. That pretty much summed it up. How ’bout bad life?

His mind went back to the scream. At the time he’d thought nothing of it. Just some interference in the cell phone signal or something. But now, for some reason he couldn’t explain, he wasn’t so sure. But what was it? It was the first time he’d ever heard such a thing, and it just so happened to occur on the same night—only minutes before—Jeff got in a bizarre car accident and died? Not just died, burned to death. Weird. Very weird.

He reached for a chip and flipped it into his mouth just as the phone on his desk rang.

Mark quickly chewed the chip, took a gulp of Diet Pepsi, and answered the phone on the third ring. “Stone Service Center.”

“Mark, it’s Jerry down at Detweiler’s. How’s it going?”

Crappy, Jerry, but thanks for asking. That’s what he wanted to say, but he had no desire to talk about Jeff’s death yet. Play it safe. “’Bout half. What, you working Saturdays now too?”

Jerry chuckled. “When business is good you do what it takes to keep it that way.”

“You got a point there.”

“Hey, I have that fuel injector you ordered. For the ’99 Cavalier. You—”

Screams cut off Jerry’s voice like a guillotine. The screams. The same ones Mark had heard before—before Jeff died. Hideous, tortuous wails and groans. An image of thousands, maybe millions, of twisted faces, distorted with pain, flashed through his mind and his blood ran cold, as if someone had jammed an IV of ice water into his vein. Goose bumps freckled his skin, and his neck and jaw tingled. His throat suddenly tightened, and he found it hard to breathe.

Like last time, it lasted maybe five seconds then ceased abruptly.

“Mark? Mark, you still there?” Jerry was talking to him, but Mark’s mind was not registering it as actual words spoken to him. They were off in the distance somewhere. “Hello?”

“Uh, yeah, Jerry, I’m still here.” He had to force the words out past his restricting trachea.

“Did you hear that?”

Mark closed his eyes, willing his muscles to relax. He took a deep breath. “Yeah, I heard it.”

“What was it? Sounded like screaming.”

Like hell itself. “I know. I don’t know what it was.”

Jerry snorted into the phone. “Crazy. Anyway, I’ll run the injector over to you right now.”

Mark still wasn’t thinking clearly. He was still hearing the screams ringing in his ears. “O-OK. No, wait! Jerry. Wait.”

“I’m waiting. What is it?”

“Are you calling from a landline?”

“You mean a regular phone? Yeah. Why?”

A thought had suddenly occurred to Mark, and it made his heart thump. He was on a landline too. There was no way the screams were some kind of interference, signals crossing with something else. “Um, nothing. Just wondering. You don’t have to bring the injector out here. I’ll come get it.”

There was a pause, and Mark could hear paper rustling in the background. “No, I’ll drop it off. I have a couple other parts to deliver, and you’re on the way.”

Panic seized Mark. He gripped the phone tighter with a sweaty palm, tried to sound calm. This was crazy! “Jerry, really, I insist. I need to get out of the shop for a little. Cabin fever thing, you know? I’ve been putting in some long hours, and I’m getting stir-crazy. I’m leaving right now. I’ll be over in ten minutes. Don’t go anywhere, OK?”

“But—”

“Jerry, please.” He knew his voice was rising, and he knew Jerry probably thought he’d completely lost his grip on reality, but he didn’t care anymore. He pressed his molars together then relaxed them. “Don’t go anywhere. I’m coming right over. OK?”

“OK, OK. I’ll wait for you. Don’t be too long. I got things to do, you know.”

Mark blew out a breath and loosened his grip on the receiver. “Thanks. See ya in a few.”

“OK. A few.”



Mark raced down Broadway in his 1973 Ford Mustang, slowing only for the dips in the road at each intersection. Pineville was a small town, hokey even, and anywhere one wanted to go in any direction was no more than a ten-minute drive—going the posted speed limits. But Mark wasn’t anywhere near the posted limit.

His mind raced too. He’d heard it again, hadn’t he? Were the screams real? Of course they were. He’d heard them with his own ears. Weeping and gnashing of teeth. And Jerry heard them too. So did Jeff. They were real, all right. Too real. Made his skin itch just thinking about it.

Crazy. That’s all Mark could make of it. And his bizarre reaction. Just because Jeff died shortly after the screams didn’t mean Jerry was in immediate danger. Or any danger at all, for that matter.

Crazy. Jerry had to think he was half out of his mind. Maybe he was.

But what if he wasn’t? What if there really was something to the screams? What if Jerry’s life really was in jeopardy? He couldn’t afford to be wrong. Jerry couldn’t afford it. No, he’d done the right thing. Jerry was safer just staying put and waiting for Mark to pick up the injector.

At the intersection of Broadway and Clayton, Mark slowed the ’Stang just enough to keep rubber on asphalt and took the ninety-degree turn at a tire-screaming speed. An elderly man working in his garden jerked his head up and around and yelled an obscenity, flailing his arms wildly.

Up ahead, Detweiler’s sat on the corner of Clayton and Monroe. Mark pressed the accelerator; the engine rumbled, tachometer climbed steadily. Just before the entrance to Detweiler’s parking lot, he stomped on the brake and jerked the steering wheel hard to the right. The car bounced into the parking lot and came to a stop.

Mark jumped out of the car and ran for the front door. His pulse was pounding out a steady rhythm in his ears, and the adrenaline rush had left him nearly out of breath. He was lucky to make it here without getting pulled over.

Swinging open the glass door, he stepped inside and called for Jerry. When no answer came, he looked around and noticed the store was empty. No customers in the aisles. No Jerry behind the counter.

C’mon, Jerry. Don’t tell me you left anyway.

Mark peered out the storefront window and saw Jerry’s tan Chevy S-10 sitting in the parking lot, Detweiler’s Auto Parts emblazoned across the door panel.

“Jerry!” He listened and approached the counter. “Hey, Jerry. It’s Mark. You here?”

No answer.

“Hello? Jerry?”

Still no answer.

Mark leaned over the counter and nearly choked on his own saliva. There, behind the counter, lying prone on the cement floor, was Jerry Detweiler.

Mark rushed around the counter and rolled the large man over. Jerry’s empty eyes, like two blank TV screens, bulged toward the ceiling, mouth open, a trickle of blood curling around his nostril. Mark pressed his fingers against Jerry’s carotid but felt nothing. No life-giving blood pumping through the artery. No steady pulse throbbing under his fingertips. A groan escaped from somewhere deep in Mark’s chest, and he clenched his jaw tight, cursing under his breath.

Jerry was dead. But it couldn’t have happened more than five minutes ago. Mark had just talked to him, and the drive here only took seven minutes tops. He reached for the phone on the counter and punched in 911. Then, with phone jammed between his ear and shoulder, he placed both hands on Jerry’s barrel chest, one on top of the other, and started compressing.