ABOUT AUTHOR: Irene Hannon is the author of more than 40 novels, including the bestselling Heroes of Quantico and Guardians of Justice series. Her books have been honored with two coveted RITA awards (the “Oscar” of romantic fiction), a National Readers’ Choice Award, a HOLT Medallion, a Retailers Choice Award, a Daphne du Maurier Award and two Reviewers’ Choice Awards from RT Book Reviews magazine. Booklist also named one of her novels a “Top 10 Inspirational Fiction” title for 2011.

What inspired you to write That Certain Summer?

I’m best known in the single-title world for my romantic suspense novels, but I was writing short contemporary romances long before I branched into suspense. I knew a longer contemporary romance/women’s fiction novel would give me an opportunity to add more dimensions to that kind of story, and that led to That Certain Summer.

Out of all the interviews you've every done is there a question you wished someone had asked you but didn't? If so, what is the question and what is your answer?

You know…I've been at this writing game a long time, and I think I've been asked every question in the book! But I’m rarely asked this simple question: Why do you write? And the truth is, I write because I have to write. I believe writers are born, not made, and if you’re born a writer, you’re also born with a profound love for words and language. For me, life without words would be like life without chocolate—missing something very delicious and satisfying!

Can you share your testimony with us?

I was raised in a faith-filled house, and God has been part of my life from my earliest memories. I didn't have a dramatic “come to Jesus” moment because he’s always been with me. My faith has always been a central, guiding force in my life.

What has surprised you most about being an author?

You know, when you’re struggling to get that first book sold, you see that as the pinnacle. But once you’re a published author, you discover that’s just the first step. Publishers don’t just buy a book—they buy a career. So the pressure is on to produce more and better books…and to keep producing. The bar keeps rising. Plus, I had no idea so much marketing and social media would be required—which eats into writing time. The non-writing demands of the job can be overwhelming at times.

Can you give us a sneak peek into what you are working on now? When will it be out?

My next book, Trapped, will be out in September. It’s Book 2 in my Private Justice series, which features three ex-law enforcement operatives who form a private investigation firm. Trapped focuses on a teen runaway and her half sister. The sister enlists the help of one of my handsome PIs to find her, and the book features one of my scariest villains yet!

When you sit down to relax and read, what genre do you turn to? Do you prefer hardback, paperback or digital when you read? Why?

For pure relaxation, I like romance or women’s fiction. For higher-energy entertainment, I like romantic suspense. My favorite format is trade paper. I have yet to embrace digital books. I like the tactile sensation of paper in my fingers and turning the pages.

In the back of the book, there’s a teaser that says, “Who could guess that a little girl’s simple, heartfelt letter would touch so many lives – or reap so many blessings? – watch for this New Contemporary Romance Summer 2014” Can you give us more of a peek about this novel? It sounds really good!

Thanks for asking about this, even though it’s a year away! Here’s the blurb: Eleven-year-old Haley Summers is determined to give her ailing neighbor the 60th birthday present she most wants—a reunion with the child she gave up for adoption twenty-three years ago. And she figures a local business executive with  philanthropic leanings is just the man to help her make that happen. But Haley's mother, Claire, isn't any too eager to cooperate with her daughter's scheme—nor with Keith Watson, the executive assistant who's been handed the project. Keith isn't thrilled with the assignment, either. But as he digs  into it, and as his life intertwines with Claire’s, it soon becomes apparent that a little girl's kindhearted quest may reap blessings and benefits far beyond her wildest expectations.

You talk about “rebuilding your life” in this book through your character Scott. What “hope” do you want to convey to readers about re-building?

That no matter the challenges we face, with faith---and love—anything can be overcome. There’s always a chance to start over, and sometimes a change of direction that seems disastrous can lead to unexpected blessings.

What do you want readers to glean in your book about relationships and family?

Irene and her husband Tom
I hope readers come away with a deeper understanding of the power of relationships in our lives—both for good and for bad. Home can—and should—be a place where we know we’re always welcome and belong. Family members should be our staunch allies and our biggest support system. But so much can go awry, as this book demonstrates, and the destructive effects are long-lasting. Yet healing is always possible if people make the effort. I hope this book also reminds readers of the tremendous power of love—both human and divine—to change lives for the better.

What do you hope readers learn from this novel about controlling people? What “hope” do you want to give them?

Controlling people exist—and the closer the relationship, the more power these people have over our life. It helps to understand why they are the way they were, but if they can’t…or won’t…change their behavior, there comes a point when we have to learn to take charge of our own lives and perhaps risk their displeasure. Because the truth is, trying too hard to please can sometimes make the problems worse.

You've mentioned some yummy meals in your book like ratatouille, lasagna made with turkey etc. What are some of your family favorites?

I grew up in an Irish family, where mealtime was a very important part of the day. We always gathered at night for a home-cooked dinner, sharing both food and conversation. I think we've lost a key family building block today in our eat-on-the-run society. As far as family favorites, there’s a rosemary-encrusted pork tenderloin we all love, a great creamy potato dish, and a to-die-for almond fudge torte that make regular appearances at family gatherings.

How was the process of writing this book different than writing the suspense thrillers you've written? How do you plan out your suspense novels? How do you plan out your contemporary novels like this one?

The process wasn't that much different. No matter the genre, I always start with a basic concept of the story, do an  in-depth character analysis, and develop the back-story for key players. Once I have a few major plot points in mind and an idea for the opening, I just start and let the story unfold as I write.

Out of all the books you've written what reaction to one or several surprised you, encouraged you in your writing journey?

I think I was most surprised by the reaction to my first suspense novel, Against All Odds. It was a new genre for me, and  while I loved how the book turned out, I had no idea how readers would respond. I was blown away when it made both the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists. That was a first for me, and it was so encouraging …and gratifying…because writing that first series had been a huge leap of faith.

What do you hope readers take away from That Certain Summer?

As I say in my author’s note at the end, while I strive to write entertaining books that keep people up late at night eager to see what happens next, my main goal is to pull readers into the lives of my characters. To make them turn the last page thinking, Those people were real. I felt for them. And I’m sorry to say goodbye. So I hope the characters in this book are memorable enough to linger in readers minds. I also hope the message of hope comes through loud and clear. Because truly, no matter how bad things might get or how many challenges come out way, there really is always the hope of a happy ending.


You are shipwrecked on an uninhabited tropical island with a group of Christians – all friends and relatives of yours. You all have to work as a team to survive. Many roles have to be filled. Which role do you think you’d play? 

Any role that needed filling, from collecting coconuts to leading the group if no one else stepped forward! But I’m sure I would be among the first to encourage everyone to sit down and discuss the issue so we could develop a game plan. Things go so much more smoothly when you’re organized!

What was your favorite suspense show on TV and/or movie you've seen?

I  used to enjoy Mission: Impossible. And in terms of suspenseful movies, North by Northwest is hard to beat.

What two jobs have you had that would surprise people?

I've only had two jobs in my whole life besides writing. I worked part-time at a library during my high school and college years (which might not surprise people at all since I love to read and ended up being a novelist!) and I was the senior director of corporate communications for a Fortune 500 company for many years before I left that world to write full time.


I’d just like to thank all the readers who have given my books a try, and to encourage anyone who likes contemporary romance/women’s fiction to take a chance on That Certain Summer. If you’d like to sample it first, stop by my website ( ), where you’ll find an excerpt. And please visit me on Facebook!


Thanks for stopping by Irene and helping us get to know you and your books. I’m thrilled about the 5 Giveaway Opportunity at TBCN NOW!! ALL ENTRIES MUST BE AT TBCN 

You can encourage Irene here or make comments about her books on this post. BUT TO ENTER DRAWING you must do that at The Book Club Network. It's Free and Easy to join. Must be a member to enter!


Nora St.Laurent
TBCN Where Book Fun Begins!


ABOUT AUTHOR:  Sandra Orchard is an award-winning author of inspirational romantic suspense with Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense imprint, and Revell Publishing. She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America and The Word Guild (Canada). A mother of three grown children, she lives in NiagaraCanada with her real-life-hero husband and now writes full time…when not doting on their first grandchild.  You can learn more about Sandra’s books and bonus features at or connect at

What research did you do for this story? Anything surprise you in your research? If so, what was it?

I did a lot of research into poisons, plants, and herbal remedies. Let me tell you, I learned enough to be dangerous! Several intriguing tidbits are included in the book. I also attended the first Writers’ Police Academy to help me better understand my ex-FBI-turned-detective hero. The most fascinating part was using the firearms training simulator. In one scenario I had to take down a hostage taker, and the experience was so realistic, I experienced all the visceral reactions an officer in the field would, reactions that gave me lots to draw upon when writing.

In your dedication that said, “For my husband, Michael, - who believes in me so much, he’s not the least bit worried to find me thumbing through a book of poison’s at the kitchen counter.” Do you ever wonder or worry that the people that monitor Google or other search engines might flag your account? Contact you about your searches? If so, what is your plan if they do contact you? If not, why aren't you worried? 

I don’t “worry” about it, but it often crosses my mind when I do certain searches. An author on one of the suspense loops I’m on said her computer was confiscated after 9-11 due to her web searches. And telling the authorities she was a writer didn't stop them from taking it. But I think being published in the genre makes it highly doubtful the authorities would suspect I was doing anything other than research. Ooh, so if I ever write a terrorist plot novel, I should make the terrorist a novelist!

An author friend told me of a situation she had in a fast-food restaurant. She and another author friend were talking about characters in the books they are writing as they ate. A gentleman sat down close to them and could overhear their conversation. Their conversation went like this, “John has to die, Connie. He can’t do what he did and get away with it. I’m wondering how I should do it. I want something that will kill him fast. What do you suggest?” They began to discuss at length the best way to kill John off. After a while they noticed that the gentleman sitting next to them was a man in a police uniform. He was leaning toward them so he could better hear what they were saying. They realized what they had been talking about and thought they should inform the policeman that they were authors and discussing topics in their books. The officer was relieved and so were the authors. Grin! Have you had anything similar happen? Do tell?
Sandra's Undercover Look

Oh, yes, I was going grocery shopping with a writing friend. As we approached the store, we were talking about my plot, and I said, “I really need her dad to die. But how?” Well, a woman walking by us, almost gave herself whiplash, taking a second look. My friend and I laughed about it, but blithely continued the conversation throughout our brief trip into the store. We weren't laughing when we came out and there was a police car in the lot…thankfully, it didn't appear to be there for us.

Nora: LOL!

In our fast-paced world we can say this about one-another - Do we really know each other? Just like what we've seen with the Boston Marathon suspects’ number one and two. When friend and family were interviewed they couldn't believe this behavior was possible with their friends? What kept Kate in pursuit of Daisy’s killer? Why didn't she look at the evidence and come up with the same conclusion the police did?

Kate knew how important Daisy’s faith was to her, so important that she’d never consider suicide as a way out no matter what hardship might have befallen her. Kate also knew Daisy was too knowledgeable an herbalist to drink tea made from the wrong type of marigolds by mistake. Whereas in their experience, the police had seen plenty of fatal mistakes, and seen people do things utterly out of character, so the evidence logically pointed to the conclusion they drew. Kate’s challenge is that she tends to believe the best about everyone, not just her friend, which at first makes it difficult for her to suspect anyone of her friend’s murder.  

Why write Christian Fiction? What’s the draw for you?
Sandra and Grandchild

I write Christian fiction because I want my stories to be not only entertaining, but thought-provoking, inspiring and uplifting.  Reading about characters facing difficult situations and seeing how they work through them and confront challenges to their faith has inspired me in countless ways. Writing stories that might do the same for others is the draw for me.

We live in the information age where so much information is thrown at us hourly. How do we decipher what is real and important? Bad guys don’t look like bad guys and no one is sure who to trust, what do you say to your kids in navigating their way in life?

I caution them to be wise and cautious, to use common sense and to trust their instincts. We need to trust the Lord for discernment. Finding the balance between being duly cautious and being friendly and trusting can be a challenge. My hero and heroine in Deadly Devotion represent the two ends of the spectrum so finding the balance is definitely something the story explores.

Your character Parker said, “People are rarely what they seem.” How do you feel about that statement?

It’s the motto by which I write Jby…especially my suspects. 

Nora: I liked that Sandra


What movie affected you most when you were young? If you didn't watch movies what books affected you most? 

Oh, my, I can scarcely remember a movie I walked last week, let alone as a child. I remember my sister letting me watch “The Blob” when she babysat me once. It gave me nightmares! I was really young. The first novel that made an impression on me was The Wind in the Willows. It inspired my imagination like no other book I’d read before then.

You are shipwrecked on an uninhabited tropical island with a group of Christians – all friends and relatives of yours. You all have to work as a team to survive. Many roles have to be filled. Which role do you think you’d play? 

I’d be the leader—plotting and planning, directing and designating. J

A friend of yours has a time machine and they will let you use it for a while. Where would you go and what would you do?

I’d go back in time and spend some time with family I've lost—parents, grandparents.

What is your favorite suspense show on T.V.? Why is it your favorite?

I really enjoyed Lie to Me….when it was on. I found it intriguing how the main character could read people’s tells and body language in an effort to get to the truth. That show inspired a lot of research for me.

What two jobs did you have that would surprise people?

I was a high school math teacher...not English. I worked on a sensory panel for a research facility similar to the one where the book’s heroine works. We’d identify the aromas in various food products and wines for their descriptions and for product testing. We went through extensive testing to qualify, and then trained our olfactory senses regularly.

Sandra at Niagara Falls

Readers can find fun extras such as deleted scenes, character interviews and location pics for all of my books at


THANKS for stopping by and letting us get to know you and your new book. I'm THRILLED that Revell is giving away 5 copies of your book Deadly Devotion. To ENTER the DRAWING GO TO The Book Club Network Click on the link on the front page. It will take you to Sandra's Author page where a fun discussion is under way. ANSWER ONE of Sandra's questions to be entered into the drawing. Last day to enter is JUNE 30th. You are more than welcome to Encourage Sandra here on this post. But ALL ENTRIES are MADE at THE BOOK CLUB NETWORK 


Nora :o)

Nora St.Laurent
TBCN Where Book Fun Begins!


ABOUT AUTHOR: Karen Witemeyer Green. Two-time RITA® Finalist and winner of the coveted HOLT Medallion and ACFW Carol Award, CBA bestselling author, Karen Witemeyer, writes historical romance fiction for Bethany House, believing that the world needs more happily-ever-afters. She is an avid cross-stitcher, shower singer, and bakes a mean apple cobbler. Karen makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: 

What inspired you to write Stealing the Preacher?

The inspiration for Stealing the Preacher actually sparked during the writing of Short-Straw Bride, the book which introduced the reclusive Archer brothers. Crockett Archer played a key role in the story, his smooth, teasing charm a balance to older brother Travis's gruff, over-protective nature. I knew in my heart that this man deserved a story of his own.

When the Archer brothers were children, growing up alone on their ranch and defending it from those who wanted to take advantage of their youth, Crockett's niche in the family evolved into that of spiritual mentor and healer. He was in charge of the family devotionals the Archers conducted in lieu of attending a church service, and whenever an injury occurred on the ranch, Crockett was the one to tend it. For years, the Archers never left their land, yet as he grew to manhood, Crockett felt God's call deepen within him—a call to not only minister to his brothers, but to a congregation of his own.

So what kind of heroine could I create for this noble preacher-to-be? Well, she had to be someone who shared his values and his calling to ministry. But if I left it at that, we'd have an awfully dull story. So to liven things up, I made Joanna Robbins the daughter of a retired outlaw, one who despises "sermonizers" and their hypocritical ways.

Since Crockett is no ordinary preacher, but a gun-toting rancher with a gift for doctoring . . . well, that meant a plot full of scrapes, trouble, and shenanigans. But amid the adventure and romance lies a heartrending tale of God's pursuit of a single lost soul.

What fascinates you about historicals? What do you look forward to when you pick up one to read?

I'm a historical romance addict. I rarely read any other genre. There is just something about escaping into a historical time period than enhances the fairy-tale feel for me. Maybe it's the long skirts or the rugged heroes, or the simpler lifestyle depictions that allow me to escape the crazy hustle and bustle of real life for a while. Whatever it is, whenever I pick up a book for pleasure, it's historical romance.

What do you hope readers take away from Stealing the Preacher?

In order to truly fulfill God's calling on our lives, we must be willing to surrender our assumptions and rationalizations about what we think that calling entails to follow him in the direction he actually leads, even if that guidance takes us in a different direction than we expect. A secondary theme emphasizes the need to never grow weary of scattering spiritual seed, for God will never give up pursuing any individual soul.

Women dressed very differently in the 1800’s, what do you think you’d enjoy wearing? What do you think you’d dislike wearing?

There is just something so romantic about a woman in long skirts. I like the feel of the fabric swishing around my legs, and it's so much easier to hide flaws in one's figure beneath those layers. Believe it or not, I don't think I would even mind the corset all that much. Well, except for when I wanted to bend over to pick something up off the floor. I actually attended a workshop once where the speaker provided each of us with corsets to wear. As long as you don't lace them too tightly, they are actually quite comfortable. They offer wonderful back support and enhance one's posture tremendously. I might change my mind if I had to wear one all day instead of just for an hour, but I was surprised by how little I minded wearing it.

My least favorite attire would probably be the shoes. All those tiny buttons, no cushioned support inside, pointy toes. Ugh. I'd probably rebel and wear a pair of men's cowboy boots under my skirts.

The hardest part would be living through the Texas summers with all those layers and pounds of fabric hanging over me with no air conditioning. As much as I love Texas, if I were transported back to the 1800s, I might have to move to Colorado to escape the heat.

Can you give us a sneak peek into what you are working on now? When will it be out?

My next project is actually a novella that features Neill Archer, the final brother in the Archer clan. I just couldn't let him go without giving him his own happily ever after. Away from the Archer ranch for two years to earn the money needed to start up his own spread with his childhood friend, Josiah, Neill takes a job repairing a little old widow's roof. Only the widow isn't old nor is she little. She's nine months pregnant with her deceased husband's child, and she meets Neill with a shotgun aimed at his chest.

Neill's story, A Cowboy Unmatched, will be part of a collection entitled A Match Made in Texas. It releases January 2014 and includes novellas by three other wonderful historical authors: Mary Connealy, Regina Jennings, and Carol Cox.


What movie affected most you when you were young? If you didn’t watch movies what books affected you most?

When I was a teen, I went through a period where I would rent every musical I could get my hands on. Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly – I loved them all. One of my favorites was, of course, a western Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is probably my favorite musical of all time. In fact, it was the inspiration for Short-Straw Bride, the book that introduced the Archer brothers.

You are shipwrecked on an uninhabited tropical island with a group of Christians – all friends and relatives of yours. You all have to work as a team to survive. Many roles have to be filled. Which role do you think you’d play?

I'm not much of an outdoorsy gal beyond the occasional hiking foray, so my skill set in this scenario is woefully inadequate. Really the only experience I have was gained from watching multiple seasons of Survivor. Since I tend to be cold-natured (even in a tropical clime), I would volunteer for fire duty. Collecting wood doesn't seem too hard, and I've seen Survivor contestants start fires with their glasses. I wear glasses, so it's a perfect fit, right? Not sure how to save the fire when those rainstorms come through, but maybe the MacGyver of the group would help me rig some kind of waterproof storage for the tinder.

 A friend of yours has a time machine and they will let you use if for a while. Where would you go and what would you do?

So many possibilities. I considered going back to meet Jesus, or perhaps traveling to 1800s Texas for an authentic research trip. But I think my answer would have to be much more contemporary than that. My dad died when I was 16. He never got to see my graduate, get married, or meet his grandchildren. So, if I could squish all of us into the time machine, I think I would like to take my husband and three children back to the early 1980s to meet my dad.

What was your favorite suspense show on T.V. when you were growing up? Why is it your favorite? If you didn’t watch TV what were your favorite books?

Well, since I mentioned MacGyver earlier, I guess I should choose that one for my favorite suspense show. I had a mad crush on Richard Dean Anderson and loved how his character could out-think any bad guy. He used science, mechanics, and common sense to win the day, steering clear of guns and other conventional weapons. A true hero for a bookworm nerd like me.


Thank you so much for hosting me here at TBCN. I love to hear from readers. You can contact me through my website at or through Facebook or Goodreads.


Thanks for stopping by and helping us get to know you and your books. I’m thrilled about the 10 Book Giveaway Opportunity at TBCN You can enter the contest today at THE BOOK CLUB NETWORK

You are WELCOME to Encourage and leave comments here on this post but ALL ENTRIES TO THE CONTEST NEED TO BE MADE @TBCN 


Nora :o)
TBCN Wher Book Fun Begins!
Nora St.Lauren


Swept Away 
By Mary Connealy
Published by Revell
318 Pages

Back Cover: Swept away when her wagon train attempts a difficult river crossing, Ruthy MacNeil isn't all that upset at being separated from the family who raised her. All they've ever done is work her to the bone. She prayed for a chance to get away, and then came the raging flood. Alive but disoriented, she's rescued by Luke unfortunately, there are more chances to die in her immediate future.

Luke is heading home to reclaim the ranch stolen from his family. But the men who killed his father are working hard to ensure Luke doesn't make it alive. He has no choice but to keep moving. Still, he can't just abandon Ruthy, so she'll have to come along.

His friends--a ragtag group of former Civil War soldiers--take a fast interest in the pretty gal. Luke thinks that's rather rude--he's the one who found her. And the more time he spends around the hard-working young woman who is a mighty good cook, the more he finds himself thinking beyond revenge and toward a different future. For the first time in a long time, Luke is tempted to turn from his destructive path and be swept away by love.

Review: I’m thankful for a review copy of a book that reminded me of the movie Silverado. It has a great cast of characters mixed together with an action packed western just like the movie. Inside Swept Away you’ll see the good, the bad, and the ugly up-close and personal!

I enjoyed the leading man and woman in this story. They made me smile! I truly cared for their situations and enjoyed how Luke and Ruthy found each other. It was a definite divine appointment.

Luke Stone is on a mission to bring justice to his father’s death and reclaim the family ranch. Luke was prepared to do whatever it took to over-throw the people that stole his family’s inheritance- legacy.

Ruthy MacNeil has a mission of her own. She’s tried to escape a family that took her in after her parents died. She had thought they did this out of the kindness of their heart but she soon learned they had another agenda she didn’t want any part of. She often looked for ways to escape.

Luke literally stumbles upon Ruthy MacNeil! She was hurt bad. He couldn’t just leave her behind. He wasn’t raised that way. Helping her put a cramp into his plans but he’d make it work out some how.

Mary Connealy pens a suspenseful, page turning western that gives readers a climatic conclusion and an ending that satisfies your soul. If you love a good western you’ll enjoy this first book in the trouble in Texas series! Be sure to add this western to your summer reading list!

Nora St.Laurent
TBCN Where Book Fun Begins!


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:
WordVessel Press (September 25, 2012)

Cathy Bryant is the author of the Miller’s Creek Novels—Texas Roads, A Path Less Traveled, and The Way of Grace. Her desire is to write heart-stirring stories about God’s life-changing grace. Though Texas-born, she currently resides in the beautiful Ozark mountains of northwest Arkansas with her husband of thirty years and near the world’s cutest grandson.

You can learn more about her and her books at and

In pursuit of justice, in need of grace . . .

A justice-seeking perfectionist pursues her dream of a perfect life in her hometown of Miller’s Creek, Texas. Sidetracked by the desire to be a prosecuting attorney, Grace Soldano launches into uncharted waters, making herself over to please her boss and mentor. Then a disheveled free spirit turns her perfectly ordered world upside down, challenging the concept of personal goodness. A fall from perfection leaves Grace teetering between vengeance and grace, caught in a deadly crossfire that leaves her dreams in a heap of ashes. Can she learn to joyfully accept the life God has given her–far from perfect–but one completely immersed in His grace?

Product Details:
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 318 pages
Publisher: WordVessel Press (September 25, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0984431144
ISBN-13: 978-0984431144

NOTE: I did not sign up for this tour but I'v'e read Cathy's books and enjoyed them.  I wanted to share her newest one with you!


Nora St.Laurent
TBCN Where Book Fun Begins!


A car horn blasted through the summer evening air, followed by tires screeching against pavement and the rancid smell of burning rubber. Grace yanked her head in Mama’s direction. The noisy blast continued as a car bore down on them. Everything went pitch black as Mama’s piercing scream joined her own, followed by a deadly thud.

Heart racing, Grace jerked awake, forcing herself to a sitting position. The same old nightmare. She brought both hands to her face and gulped in air to slow her pounding pulse. Why now? She’d endured the last year of law school and the bar exam without memories of that awful night plaguing her. But now that she was back in Miller’s Creek to work for Tyler, Dent, and Snodgrass as a full-fledged attorney, the dream shattered her sleep for the fourth time in a week.

Grace pulled her hands away from her face—almost afraid to find them dripping with blood—then glanced at the alarm clock on her makeshift nightstand. 5:15 in the morning. She flopped back on the bed and stared at the dark nothingness above her head. There was no way she’d get back to sleep now. Might as well get an early start.

A sudden rush of excitement coursed through her veins. All her hard work had finally paid off. Now it was time to enjoy herself for a change and initiate her life plan, which included a stellar career, new house, Mr. Right, and of course, children.

She removed the band that confined her hair and gave her head a shake. Better to just focus on her career at this point, her best chance at proving her worth—to Papa, to the people of Miller’s Creek, and to Mr. Right, whoever he was.

The cold floor beneath her bare feet sent shivers rippling through her body as she raced down the hallway to the tiny kitchen to make a pot of coffee for Papa. Within a few minutes the coffee machine gurgled and the fresh-brewed aroma permeated every square inch of the house. She was just about to head for a shower when Papa entered.

“You’re up early.” His eyes held questions.

There was no way she’d tell him about the nightmare. No need to cause him worry or pain. “Just excited about this being my first day as an attorney.”

He wandered past her to pull a coffee cup from the cabinet. “It’s all you’ve talked about for weeks.” He droned the words, his voice flat.

Grace rolled her lips between her teeth. It would be nice to have a word of congratulations--anything to recognize her hard work and achievement--but wishing for it wouldn’t make it happen. Instead she sent a sad smile. “I’d better get ready for work.”

She hurried down the hall to the only bathroom in the house and turned on the lights and the little space heater Papa had hung from a nail protruding from the paneled walls. The power cord snaked behind the sink faucet before finding the overloaded outlet—an electrical disaster waiting to happen, but Papa’s way of making do with what he had.

The pipes groaned in protest when she turned on the faucet and waited for the water to get warm. Living with Papa and his stony silence would definitely be the hardest part of her plan, but it would have to do for now. With her brothers and their families now in South Texas, it was her only option.

An hour later, she stepped once more into the kitchen, dressed and ready for work. Grace reached for the spiral notebook that served as her daily planner and checked off the tasks she’d already completed. Start laundry. Check. Make bed. Check. Bible study and prayer. Check.

Millie, the stray cat she’d taken in years ago, butted her head against Grace’s leg, begging for attention. She squatted to scratch the fluffy feline behind the ears. “How’s my kitty?” Grace scooped the cat into her arms and hugged her close. How would she have survived Mama’s death without the perky ears always willing to listen?

The back door swung open. Dressed in his heavy brown coveralls, Papa entered, and brought with him a gust of cold air and the smell of cows. He didn’t say a word, but ambled past her to the kitchen sink to wash his hands, his dirty work boots clomping against the old wooden floor, his face devoid of a smile.

She wrinkled her nose, dropped Millie to the floor, and brushed cat hair from her black skirt. Long gone were the hopes that her father would be proud of her for becoming an attorney. “Through with the chores?”

He continued to wash his hands without looking her way.

Grace forced her hurt feelings aside, her mouth suddenly dry. She should be used to his emotional distance by now. “Papa, I know you don’t approve of me being an attorney, but—”

He held up one hand for silence, his back still to her, water dripping down his sleeve. “Enough, Graciela. I don’t want to discuss this anymore. You made up your mind to disrespect my wishes long ago.”

His displeasure hanging like dead weight around her neck, Grace blinked back tears and picked up her old book bag. It was way too early, but she might as well go to work. She’d grab a pastry at Granny’s Kitchen on the way. No, on second thought, it wouldn’t hurt to skip breakfast. That way she’d save money and inch toward losing those last few pounds she’d gained while studying for the bar. Without another word to Papa, she slipped out of the house, climbed in the battered old farm truck, and headed to the office.

A late autumn fog engulfed downtown Miller’s Creek, and the two- and three-story hewn-stone buildings rose above the mist, silent sentinels observing the march of time. The buildings had seen over a century of use, and thanks to the grant bestowed on the town while she was in high school, had been lovingly restored to their former glory.

Though early November was a little early for Christmas decorations, Miller’s Creek had them up well ahead of time for the tourists who would pour into the historic town square for shopping. Already the old-timey street lamps were festooned with lighted wreaths, while greenery draped the Victorian gazebo and lights twinkled from Christmas trees placed throughout the square.

Gravel crunched beneath the pickup tires as she pulled into the parking lot of Tyler, Dent, and Snodgrass and turned off the headlights. She let herself in the back door and flipped the switch. As the fluorescent fixture flickered on and hummed, her earlier joy dissipated. This should be a celebration—the day for which she’d toiled to bring purpose from her pain—but somehow it felt common and ordinary. No balloons or flowers. No party. No pat on the back or word of congratulations.

She shook of the self-pity and moved to her cubicle to make sure everything was in its place, then instinctively pulled a Bible from her bag and ran her hand over the well-worn cover.

Lord, You know how my heart hurts this morning. I miss Mama and I don’t know what to say to Papa. Help me be all You want me to be. Lead me in Your Way. Give me an open heart and mind to receive Your truth.

As she thumbed through the whispering onion-skin pages, her Bible fell open to Romans. A verse she’d underlined some time before caught her attention. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

Enough grace to stand in. Was it even humanly possible to be a person of grace? She slanted her lips as she pondered the question, but finally gave her head a shake. True grace was motivated by the purest love, and maybe it was just her, but she doubted she could ever love someone that much.

The thought troubled her. God commanded her to love others as she loved herself, but some people made that seem impossible. Maybe something inside her was broken and malfunctioning. Perhaps her childhood left her incapable of loving like she was supposed to.


She jumped at the unexpected noise then sat motionless, her ears tuned to the tiniest noise. More thumps sounded from the basement.

Her pulse raced at the possibility of an intruder. In Miller’s Creek at this hour of the morning? Not likely. Maybe Andy had spent the night in the basement apartment because of working late. She stood and tiptoed to the narrow stairs leading to the basement. That wasn’t likely either, especially with a newborn at home.

The noise continued. “Andy?” Grace made her way down the darkened steps. If it wasn’t him, at least maybe her voice would scare away a potential burglar.

She glided noiselessly across the large carpeted room. “Andy? Is that you?” Grace jiggled the door knob of the small studio apartment. Locked. Now what?

Perhaps she should call the ranch to see what Andy wanted her to do. She started back across the open space toward the staircase to place the call. But before she’d made it even halfway, the overhead lights sputtered on.

“Well, well, if it isn’t Gracie Mae.”

She spun around, one hand to her pounding heart, a tinny taste in her mouth. Matt?

He leaned against a wall, one stout leg crossed casually over the other, his arms overlapped. An enigmatic expression rested in his sandy brown eyes, and though his hair was damp from a recent washing, his rumpled T-shirt and jeans looked as if he’d slept in them. In the time since she’d seen him last, he’d cut his hair so short there was no evidence of the curls she’d always admired, and he’d buffed up, more muscular and lean than before.

Grace squashed the motherly instincts that rose within her at the sight of his wrinkled clothes. That’s what landed her in trouble with him the first time, and she wouldn’t fall for it again. A man like Matt, one with wanderlust in his blood, wasn’t the one for her. “What are you doing here?”

He released a short laugh. “Shouldn’t I be the one asking you that question?”

“I passed the bar and—”

“Yeah, Andy told me. Congrats.” He made his way to where she stood and came to a stop a few uncomfortable feet away. “But that still doesn’t explain why you’re here so early.”

She shrugged and turned toward the stairs. “Couldn’t sleep. See you around.”

Before she reached the first step, Matt blocked her way, the soft scent of shampoo clinging to his damp hair.

“Still running away from me?” Though he spoke the words softly, his tawny eyes held a challenge.

Her hands balled into fists. A million retorts built up behind her clenched lips, but she held them at bay. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing that his words affected her in the least. With great effort, she uncurled her fingers. “Nope. Just going back to my desk to get started on some work.”

His posture went slack, and he sent an apologetic grin. “Sorry. Let me start over. Had breakfast yet?”

A rumble sounded from her stomach. “If that’s an invitation, I accept.” The reckless words were out before she had time to reconsider. What was she thinking? She’d shut this door over two years ago, a door that needed to stay shut. Nonetheless, she’d agreed to breakfast, and she’d follow through to prove she wasn’t running away.

They crossed the room together, and Grace threw out a question to fill the silence. “Have you been working out?”

“Yep. Even joined the wrestling team at school. It’s been good for me.”

Grace followed Matt into the apartment and glanced around. In characteristic messy-Matt style, a spread-out newspaper, microwave popcorn bag, and an almost-empty glass sat on the coffee table, while a pillow and blanket hung off the couch. A duffel bag on the floor spewed its contents, bringing an odd rush of disappointment. “Just in town for one night?” Typical.

“Don’t really know at this point.” He offered no further explanation, but moved to the kitchenette fridge and removed the makings for an omelet. “So what’s next for you?” With deft movements, he prepared the meal, the chopped onions burning her eyes. “Last I heard you were going to get your career going before looking for your soul mate. Still searching for Mr. Perfect?” His voice held a hint of bitterness.

She lowered her gaze. “Look, Matt, about our conversation two years ago. It wasn’t personal. I just needed to focus on one thing at a time. My law school had to come first.”

“Agreed. As I recall, I never tried to suggest otherwise.”

“No, but I sensed you wanted more from me than I was prepared to give at the time.”

He seemed to accept the answer. “But you have to admit, I don’t exactly fit the image in your head.”

Grace froze. How was she supposed to answer that? “And what image is that?”

“Smart, well-groomed, wealthy, professional, handsome.”

Her eyebrows rose. He’d pretty much nailed her must-have list on the head. In fact, he’d perfectly described one of Andy’s new partners, Jason Dent. The only problem was that guys like Jason didn’t give girls like her a second glance.

A knowing smile touched the corners of Matt’s mouth, but to his credit, he dropped the subject. “So you still haven’t told me why you’re here at such an early hour.”

“That’s because you didn’t ask nicely.”

His boyish chortle took her by surprise and set off unexplainable emotions. He glanced up from the cutting board. “True. How’s this? Nice to see you again, Gracie. What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this so early?”

To her chagrin, a traitorous laugh bubbled out. She cut it short and shrugged. “I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I decided to come to work.”

A frown wrinkled his brow. “How come you couldn’t sleep?”

She hesitated, considering how best to answer his question. Might as well tell him the truth. He’d always been good at dragging it out of her anyway. “Nightmare.”

The lines on his forehead grew deeper. “Same one?”

She averted her gaze and nodded.

“Have it often?”

“Not as often as I used to, but for some reason it’s woken me up several times this week.”

He whisked the eggs into a frothy mixture and poured it into the sizzling skillet, but didn’t speak for a moment, as if thinking through her comment. “Might be the stress of starting a new job.”

“But it’s not really a new job. I’ve worked for Andy off and on since I graduated from high school. You, of all people, should know that.”

A wry grin curled one corner of his mouth. “Yeah, but now you’re an attorney. That worrying you any?”

She deliberated on the question. Drat! He’d done it again. How could he always discern what was bothering her?

“That’s it, isn’t it?”

The self-satisfied smirk on his face gave Grace the urge to whop him upside the head. “So what? That’s what you’re learning how to do, isn’t it? Figure out what’s eating people?”

“Yep.” He added the omelet toppings, and folded it over effortlessly. “Now the next question. Why does it bother you so much that I figured it out?”

Grace seethed inwardly. Why indeed? Maybe because it made her feel like she needed him, and she didn’t want to need him.

He moved next to her, the hot skillet out in front, and stopped, his face inches from hers, his eyelids half-closed. “Don’t worry, Gracie Mae. It’s okay that someone has you figured out. Trust me, it’s a good thing.”

“I don’t think anyone has ever been able to make me as angry as you do, Matt Tyler. Ever!” Grace pelted the words through tight lips then moved toward the door.

Once more, he blocked her way, holding the simmering omelet, the tantalizing aroma teasing her nostrils. “There you go again, running away.”

Rage exploded within, but no way would she dare give him the privilege of being right. She sent a close-mouthed smile she didn’t feel and turned to take a seat at the small table.

Matt tossed a pot holder to the table and set the pan on it, then procured two plates and glasses from the cabinet. “Still like chocolate in your milk?”

Yes, but he didn’t have to know it. “No. I’ve outgrown that childish habit.”

He cocked one eyebrow and poured two glasses of milk, dousing his with a healthy dose of chocolate syrup.

Grace turned her head and looked the other way, fighting her chocolate craving by reminding herself how much she hated her thunder thighs.

Matt took a long slurp from his glass, then released a satisfied sigh and licked his lips. “Man, there’s nothing better than ice-cold chocolate milk.” He sat his glass on the table and divided the omelet before delivering a portion to each plate. “Mind if I bless the food?”

“Not at all.” She bowed her head. At least one part of his life seemed headed in the right direction.

After he finished the prayer, Grace pulled a napkin from the holder and laid it in her lap, then forked into the omelet, cheese squeezing out from between the fluffy layers. A few minutes later she wiped her mouth and glanced up to see Matt staring at her with the same indecipherable look in his eyes.

“So if you woke up early, why didn’t you eat breakfast at your house?” Matt took another swig of milk, his eyes never leaving her face.

“No reason, really.” She shifted in her seat. At least none she wanted him to know.

“Your dad still pressuring you?”

“What do you mean?” Grace scooted her chair away from the table and stood with her plate to carry it to the sink.

Matt took hold of her arm as she whisked by. “Running away again?”

She jerked her elbow away. “No. Just cleaning up my dishes.”

“I’ll take care of it later. Have a seat.”

Grace unwillingly acquiesced. “Papa means well. We just have different opinions of what I should do with my life.”

He studied her face for a long, uncomfortable minute, like he wanted to say something, but wasn’t sure he should say it. Finally, he widened his eyes and changed the subject. “So back to the attorney thing. Any thoughts on why it’s bothering you?”

“Matt, you’re not a therapist yet, and I’m certainly not your client. Don’t feel like you have to analyze me and figure out all my issues. Nor should you feel obliged to fix me.”

His eyes widened again, registering hurt. “Just trying to help.”

She took in the sincerity inscribed on his face. Why did he have to be so darn likeable? Grace raised her gaze momentarily, focused on a cobweb dangling from the ceiling. And how was she supposed to talk about this with the brother of her boss? “It’s not easy to explain.”

“Try me.”

“Okay, but you’d better not breathe a word of this to Andy.”

A teasing light flickered in his eyes. “If you’re not a client, then you have no client privileges.”

Grace wadded her napkin and tossed it at him.

He caught it effortlessly in mid-air and laughed.

She pointed a finger at him. “I mean it, Matt. Promise.”

“Okay, okay.” He waved his hands, chest high, in surrender.

She inhaled a deep breath, the lingering smell of breakfast still in the air, and rubbed her arms. “You know I’ve wanted to be an attorney ever since Mama died.”

“Yeah. Go on.”

“I just didn’t see it working out this way. I thought I’d be a prosecutor.”

“So you feel like you’re working for the wrong side of the law?”

Grace nodded. “I love Andy like a brother, and owe him so much. I wouldn’t be an attorney if it weren’t for him.”

“But you feel obligated to work for him when your passion is to put the bad guys behind bars.”

“Exactly.” She gave her head a shake at the conundrum. “And I don’t know what to do about it.”

Matt placed his elbows on the table and rested his chin on his laced fingers. “Maybe you’re looking at it all wrong, Gracie. You’re focused on the situation rather than why you feel the way you do. Have you stopped to think about why you want to be a prosecutor?”

The reason flew into her brain instantly, and she straightened. “I guess for Mama, to keep someone else from going through this, and to achieve justice for others.”

“To avenge her death?” The question was half-whispered, but even then sounded cold, almost un-Christian. “Don’t overthink it, Gracie.” Matt’s tone held warning. “I see your brain spinning from here. Don’t try to assign meaning and morality to your motivation. Just accept it and move on from there.”

“But it does explain my nightmare.” The agitation in her voice surprised her. “Don’t you see? It’s as if Mama’s trying to remind me of that night so I’ll make the right decision. Maybe I need to look for a different position, one that’ll put me on the prosecution. Maybe I’m not cut out to defend guys I don’t completely trust.”

“Whoa, girl, you’re gonna strip some gears bouncing around that fast.” He stood and moved to the sink with his plate, nabbing hers as he passed. “When it comes to life, A plus B doesn’t always equal C. It’s just a jumping off place. Give it some time.”

There it was again. Matt and his “lo que serĂ¡, sera”-approach to life. “You would say that. You want me to work for Andy. He’s your brother.”

The dishes Matt carried crashed into the sink, and he made a quick trip back to the table. “That’s not at all why I said what I did. Just think through things a little more carefully. I don’t believe your mother’s trying to communicate with you from the grave, and neither do if you think through it.” He softened his demeanor. “But the dilemma you’re facing is enough to make you dream about the accident.”

“Think through it? That’s the best advice you can give? A minute ago you were telling me not to overthink.”

An exasperated sigh fell from his lips. He squatted near her chair, enclosed her hands with his own, and gazed up into her eyes. “Gracie. It’s me, remember? I know you. Don’t stress and worry about making the right decision. Pray about it. You belong to God. He’ll put you where He wants you.” His smile grew tender. “And I have no doubt that you’ll be an awesome attorney, no matter which side of the courtroom you sit on.”

Tears stung her eyes, and she blinked furiously to keep them at bay. How good it felt to have someone offer encouragement—to remind her God was in control—even if it were Matt. She lowered her gaze to collect herself before glancing back up at him. “Thanks.”

He helped her to her feet and moved close to embrace her in a hug, the scent of his cologne toying with her frazzled emotions.

Grace sidestepped and reached for her glass. There was no way she’d let this move past a friendly level. He was more than likely here for a short time. Then he’d be off chasing his fantasies once more.

She deposited the glass in the stainless steel sink with a clunk. Besides, she had her life plan to think of—a plan that didn’t include a gypsy like Matt.


Courting Cate
By Leslie Gould
Published by Bethany Publishers
344 Pages

Back Cover: When Amish farmer Pete Treger moves to Paradise Township, Pennsylvania, seeking a better life, he meets sisters Cate and Betsy Miller. Both are beautiful, but older sister Cate is known more for her sharp tongue and fiery temper than her striking appearance. Betsy, on the other hand, is sweet and flirty--and seems to have attracted most of the bachelors in Lancaster County!

However, the sisters' wealthy father has made one hard and fast rule: elder sister must marry first, before the younger can even start courting. Unfortunately for poor Betsy, and for the men who want to court her, her older sister, Cate, doesn't have any suitors--until Pete comes to town, that is.

Though he finds both sisters attractive, something about Cate's feisty demeanor appeals to him. Soon the other bachelors in the district convince Pete to court Cate. She hardly seems receptive to his overtures, though. Instead, she's immediately suspicious of his interest

Review: I’m thankful for the review copy of this book that introduced me to Cate a business Amish woman. Cate is quite content with her life; she was employed by her father as his book keeper for the family business.  She also helped raise her baby sister Betsy after her mom died. Life was good until her father made this announcement, “I’m implementing a new policy, beginning tonight. Betsy doesn’t go to the sing along if Cate doesn’t go…Betsy doesn’t court unless Cate courts…and Betsy doesn’t marry unless Cate marries first! Understand?... that’s the final word. Dat said. “I’ll not budge an inch.”

With this decree life took on a new dimension. Cate had already checked out the boys in their ward district. None of them were interested in her they wanted Betsy. She was ok, with being single. Why did her dad have to make both of their lives miserable?

Cate escapes into what she loves, books! She checks out books from the book mobile. It was Cates favorite place on earth. This is what she thinks of books, “I loved the endless possibilities of the stories. I loved the places they took me. And I loved being with Nan (the bus driver). There was something so accepting so kind and hopeful about her, that for a few minutes I’d forget how disappointing I was to others in my life! Couldn’t her Dat be as encouraging as her friend Nan?”

Cate explains to Nan her situation, “there are two given roles for an Amish woman: being a wife and mother. But there were a few single women who supported themselves. I could too. There was no reason for me to marry a forty-five-year old widow with lots of kids to have a fulfilling life. Sure, I’ve been responsible for Betsy her entire life, but I was not going to marry for her sake. She’d have to figure out this one on her own.”

I enjoyed Cate’s spunk as she maneuvers life to go along with her fathers wishes at the same time staying true to herself. I liked this novel because it doesn’t take place all inside the one district. I also liked that it wasn’t your typical Amish story. Cate is a fighter and is very loyal to God and her family. It was fun to read.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Leslie Gould it won’t be the last! This novel is plain fun and will bring a smile to your face and make you say, Oh, My! As Leslie takes readers on a ride or two they didn’t expect to go on! I liked that too!! This is the first book in the Courting series! Jump aboard! You’ll like the ride!

Nora St.Laurent
TBCN Where Book Fun Begins!


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:
Thomas Nelson (March 12, 2013)


Tracy L. Higley started her first novel at the age of eight and has been hooked on writing ever since. She has authored nine novels, including Garden of Madness and Isle of Shadows. Tracy is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Ancient History and has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Italy, researching her novels and falling into adventures. See her travel journals and more at

On an island teetering at the brink of anarchy, Daria finds hope among people of The Way.

She escaped a past of danger and found respite in beautiful Ephesus, a trading center on the Aegean coast, serving as tutor to Lucas, the wealthy merchant who rescued her.

But the darkness she fled has caught up with her.

The high priests of Artemis once controlled the city, but a group of sorcerers are gaining power. And a strange group who call themselves followers of The Way further threaten the equilibrium. As Daria investigates Lucas’s exploits into the darker side of the city, her life is endangered, and she takes refuge in the strange group of believers. She’s drawn to Paul and his friends, even as she wrestles with their teachings.

When authorities imprison Lucas for a brutal crime, Daria wonders if even Paul’s God can save him. Then she uncovers a shocking secret that could change everything—Lucas’s fate, her position in his household, and the outcome of the tension between pagans and Christians. But only if she survives long enough to divulge what she knows.

“Meticulously-researched, spellbindingly written with luscious prose and compelling and complex characters.” —Tosca Lee, New York Times best-selling author of Havah: The Story of Eve

Product Details:
List Price: $15.99
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (March 12, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1401686826
ISBN-13: 978-1401686826

NOTE: I didn't sign up for this tour but I've enjoyed this authors books so much I wanted to share the first chapter with you!

Nora :o)
TBCN Where Book Fun Begins! 

I am an old man, and I have seen too much.

Too much of this world to endure any more. Too much of the next to want to linger.

And though I have nearly drowned in the glorious visions of those last days, yet I know not when it shall come, nor how many years I must tread this barren earth before all is made new.

There is a Story, you see. And we are still in the midst of it, ever striving to play our roles, battling on for the freedom of hearts and souls and minds yet enslaved by darkness.

But I have seen a great light. Oh yes, I have seen it. Even now it is breaking through, as it did on that grassy hillside so many cool spring mornings ago, when Moses and Elijah walked among us and my Brother shone with the glory He had been given from the beginning and will rise up to claim again at the end.

You will wonder, perhaps, at my calling Him brother. And yet that is what He was to me. Brother and friend, before Savior, before Lord. In those days when we wandered the land, going up and down from the Holy City, we shared our hearts, our lives, our laughter. Oh, how we laughed, He and I! He had the irrepressible joy of one who sees beyond the brokenness, to the restoration of all.

I loved him. And He loved me.

But I speak of beginnings and of endings, and these are words that have no meaning, for the day of His birth was both the beginning of the Kingdom and the end of tyranny, and that magnificent Day yet to come—it is the end-which-is-a-beginning, and my eyes have seen such glory in that New Jerusalem, my very heart breaks to tell of it.

And yet they come, young and old, to this tiny home in Ephesus that is to be my last dwelling outside that New City, and they beg me to tell the Story again and again.

And I do.

I tell of seals and scrolls, of a dragon and a beast and a Lamb. Of music that makes you weep to hear it and streets that blind the mortal eye. Of a Rider on a White Horse with eyes of blazing fire, whose name is Faithful and True. It is a great Story, and greater still to hear the final consummation of it, for how often we forget that we are living it still.

But I have another tale to tell. A smaller story within the One True Story that began before the creation of this world and is echoed at its end, as all our stories are. It happens here, in this port city of Ephesus but many years ago, when the darkness lay even heavier than it now does upon the people, and their souls cried out for relief from anyone who could give it.

This smaller story does not begin here in Ephesus, however. It begins a day’s sail away, on the sun-kissed shores of the Isle of Rhodes, where the light first began to break upon one woman and one man, even as they walked in darkness . . .

Chapter 1
Rhodes, AD 57
In the glare of the island morning sun, the sea blazed diamond-bright and hard as crystal, erratic flashes spattering light across Daria’s swift departure from the house of her angry employer.

She carried all she owned in one oversized leather pouch, slung over her shoulder. The pouch was not heavy. A few worn tunics and robes, her precious copy of Thucydides. She clutched it to her side and put her other hand to the gold comb pinning the dark waves of her hair, her one remaining luxury.

The bitter and familiar taste of regret chased her from the whitewashed hillside estate, down into the squalid harbor district. Why had she not kept silent?

Along the docks hungry gulls shrieked over fishy finds and work-worn sailors traded shrill insults. The restless slap of the sea against the hulls of boats kept time with the anxious rhythm of her steps against the cracked gray stones of the quay.

She had run once, haunted and guilty to a fresh start in Rhodes. Could she do it again? Find a way to take care of herself, to survive?

“Mistress Daria!”

The voice at her back was young and demanding, the tenor of a girl accustomed to a world arranged to her liking. And yet still precious, still malleable.

“Mistress! Where are you going?”

Daria slowed, eyes closed against the pain, and inhaled. She turned on the sun-warmed dock with a heaviness that pulled at her limbs like a retreating tide.

Corinna’s breath came quick with exertion and the white linen of her morning robe clung to her body. The sweet girl must have run all the way.

“To the School of Adelphos, Corinna. I will seek a position there.”

Corinna closed the distance between them and caught Daria’s hand in her own. Her wide eyes and full lips bespoke innocence. “But you cannot! Surely, Father did not mean what he said—”

Daria squeezed the girl’s eager fingers. “It is time. Besides”—she tipped Corinna’s chin back—“you have learned your lessons so well, perhaps you no longer need the services of a tutor.”

Corinna pulled away, dark eyes flashing and voice raised. “You do not believe that, mistress. It is you who says there is always more to learn.”

They drew the attention of several young dockworkers hauling cargo from ship to shore. Daria stared them down until they turned away, then circled the girl’s shoulders, pulled her close, and put her lips to Corinna’s ear. “Yes, you must never stop learning, dear girl. But it must be someone else who teaches you—”

“But why? What did you say to anger Father so greatly?”

Only what she thought was right. What must be said. A few strong phrases meant to rescue Corinna from a future under the thumb of a husband who would surely abuse her.

Daria smiled, fighting the sadness welling in her chest, and continued her trudge along the dock toward the school. “I am afraid discretion is one of the things I have not yet learned, Corinna. Your father is a proud man. He will not brook a mere servant giving him direction in the running of his household.”

Corinna stopped abruptly at the water’s edge, her pretty face turned to a scowl. “You are no mere servant! You are the most learned tutor I have ever had!”

Daria laughed and looked over the sea as she walked, at the skiffs and sails tied to iron cleats along the stone, easy transportation to the massive barges that floated in the blue harbor, awaiting trade. Papyrus and wool from Egypt, green jade and aromatic spices from far eastern shores, nuts and fruits and oils from Arabia. Her eyes strayed beyond the ships, followed northward along the rocky Anatolian coast to cities unknown, riddles to be unraveled, secrets and knowledge to be unlocked. More to learn, always. And somewhere perhaps, the key to redeeming the past.

They approached and skirted the strange symbol of the isle of Rhodes, the toppled Helios that once stood so proud and aloof along the harbor and now lay humbled, its bronze shell speckled to an aged green, reflecting the impenetrable turquoise sky. The massive statue had lain at the quay for gulls to peck and children to climb for nearly three hundred years since the quake brought it down. Daria found it disturbing.

“May I still visit you at the school, Mistress Daria?”

She smiled. “One challenge at a time. First I must convince Adelphos that he should hire me.”

Corinna’s tiny sandals scurried to keep pace. “Why would he not?”

“It is not easy to be an educated woman in a man’s world of philosophy and rhetoric. There are few men who appreciate such a woman.”

“How could anyone not appreciate someone as good, as brave, as you?”

The child gave her too much credit. She was neither good, nor brave. She would not be here in Rhodes if she were. Though she was trying. The gods knew, she had been trying.

Corinna lifted her chin with a frown in the direction of the school. “I shall simply explain to Adelphos how very valuable you are.”

And how outspoken? Interfering? But perhaps the girl could help in some way.

“Will you demonstrate some of what I have taught you, Corinna?”

The girl’s eyes lit up. “Just wait, mistress. I shall amaze and delight that crusty old Adelphos.”

Daria studied the impetuous girl and bit her lip. But it was a chance she must take.

The School of Adelphos lay at the end of the docks, its modest door deceptive. Daria paused outside, her hand skimming the rough wood, and inhaled determination in the sharp tang of salt and fish on the breeze. Who would believe that such distinguished men as the poet Apollonius and Attalus the astronomer had studied and written and debated behind this door? Sea trade had kept Rhodes prosperous for centuries, but in the two hundred years under Roman control, the Greek island had grown only more beautiful, a stronghold of learning, of arts and sciences and philosophy.

Inside its most famous school, she blinked twice and waited for her sun-blind eyes to adjust.

“Daria!” Adelphos emerged from the shadows of the antechamber with a cool smile and tilt of his head. Tall and broad-shouldered, he was several years her senior, with the confident ease of an athlete, a man aware of his own attractiveness.

She returned the smile and straightened her back. “Adelphos. Looking well, I am pleased to see.”

He ran a gaze down the length of her, taking in her thin white tunic and the pale blue mantle that was the best of her lot. “As are you.”

“I have come to make you an offer.”

At this, his eyebrows and the corner of his mouth lifted in amusement and he gave a glance to Corinna, still at the door. “Shouldn’t we send your young charge home first?”

She ignored the innuendo. “My employ as Corinna’s tutor will soon come to an end, and I desire to find a place here, in your school. As a teacher.” She swallowed against the nervous clutch of her throat.

Again the lifted eyebrows, but Adelphos said nothing, only strolled into the lofty main hall of the school, a cavernous marble room already scattered with scholars and philosophers, hushed with the echoes of great minds.

She gritted her teeth against the condescension and beckoned Corinna to follow, with a warning glance to keep the girl quiet, but the child’s sudden intake of breath at the fluted columns and curvilinear architraves snapped unwanted attention in their direction, the frowns of men annoyed by disruptive women.

Adelphos disappeared into the alcove that housed the school’s precious stock of scrolls—scrolls Daria had often perused at her leisure and his generosity.

Daria spoke to his back. “Do you doubt my abilities—”

“What I doubt, my lady, is a rich man’s willingness to pay a woman to teach his sons.”

Daria waved a hand. “Bah! What difference does it make? I can do a man’s work just as well. And if they learn, they learn!” But a cold fear knotted in her belly.

Adelphos traced his fingertips over the countless nooks of scrolls, as if he could find the one he sought simply by touching its ragged edge. “And you, Daria? Do you want to live a man’s life as well as do a man’s work? What woman does not long for love and family and hearth?”

Her throat tightened at his words, too close to the secrets of her heart. Yes, she longed for those comforts. For a love that would accept her abilities, complement rather than suppress. But for now, for now she had no one and she must assure her own welfare.

She coughed to clear the dryness of her throat and stepped beside him, examined the great works of philosophy and literature, their tan Egyptian papyri wrapped in brown twine, sealed in waxy red.

Adelphos reached past her to a nook above her head, and his muscled arm brushed her shoulder.

The touch was intentional, clearly. Manipulative. Even so, his nearness left her breathless and her usual sharp-tongued wit failed. When she spoke, it was a harsh whisper, too raw with emotion, though the words emerged falsely casual. “And why should I not have both?”

At this, Adelphos huffed, a derisive little laugh, and turned to lean his back against the shelves and unroll the scroll he had retrieved.

“A woman of ambition. Does such a breed truly exist?” His gaze darted to hers. “But what am I saying? You have already wedded a husband, have you not?”

Daria pulled a scroll from its recess and pretended to study it.

“You are interested in the work of Pythagoras? That one is newly arrived from Samos.”

Daria shrugged. “I find his work repetitive. What new has he added to Euclid’s previous efforts?”

“Indeed.” Adelphos pulled the scroll from her hands and replaced it in its nook. “But you have not answered my question.”

“I am a widow, yes.”

“A widow with no sons. No dowry.” He glanced at Corinna, clutching the doorway. “And no employment. Is there anything more desperate?”

Daria lifted her chin and met his gaze. “It seems you are in an enviable position, then, Adelphos. You have found a skilled teacher, available for a bargain.”

Adelphos circled to Corinna, an appreciative gaze lingering on her youth and beauty. “And this is your prize specimen? The pupil of whom I have heard such wonders?”

The girl straightened and faced Adelphos with a confidence borne of knowledge. “Shall I demonstrate the superior skill Mistress Daria has given me with languages?”

Daria silently cheered and blessed the girl. “Corinna has been working hard to master the tongues of Rome’s far-flung empire.”

Adelphos’s brow creased and he opened his lips as if to speak, then sealed them and nodded once. No doubt he wanted to ask what use there might be for a girl who could speak anything but common Greek. As Daria herself was such a girl, the implicit question struck a nerve. She turned a shoulder to Adelphos and nodded encouragement to Corinna. “Let us hear Herodotus in the Classical first, then.”

The girl grinned, then gushed a passage of Herodotus in the proud language of her Greek forebears, the language of literature and poetry, before Alexander had rampaged the world and equalized them all with his common koine.

“And now in Latin, Corinna.”

The girl repeated the passage, this time in the tongue of the Romans, the new conquerors.

Adelphos tilted his head to study the girl, then spoke to her in Latin. “Anyone can memorize a famous passage in a foreign tongue. Few can converse in it.”

Corinna’s eyelashes fluttered and she glanced at her hands, twisted at her waist. When she answered, it was not in Latin, but in Persian. “Fewer still can converse in multiple languages at once, my lord.”

Adelphos chuckled, then glanced at Daria. “She does you proud, lady.”

A glow of pride, almost motherly, warmed Daria’s chest. “Indeed.”

Corinna reached out and gripped Adelphos’s arm, bare beneath his gleaming white tunic. “Oh, it is all Mistress Daria’s fine teaching, I assure you, my lord. I wish to be an independent woman such as she someday. There is nothing she cannot do.”

“Corinna.” Daria smiled at the girl but gave a tiny shake of her head.

Corinna withdrew her hand and lowered her eyes once more. “I have told my father this, but he does not understand—”

“Her father has been most pleased with her progress.” Daria tried to draw Adelphos’s attention. “He saw a superior mind there from an early age and was eager to see it developed.”

He waved a hand in the air. “I have seen enough. You may go.”