Saturday, September 28, 2013

Love's Awakening by Laura Frantz, ©2013

Cover Art

Love's Awakening
The Ballantyne Legacy

Beloved daughter.
Wayward son.
Will a future with him cost
her all she holds dear?
Pittsburgh1817 favorite by Mrs. Gibson on honeymoon trip
 I swoop a young lady from the disaster of the storm. I am surprised to see it is my childhood friend, Ellie. Our families are in conflict with each other ~ the Turlocks and the Ballantynes. It has stemmed from long ago, and still continues today in my generation. I am the second son so I am not privy to the family estate, Broad Oak, my brother, Wade, has inherited. Instead, I have inherited my grandfather's estate, River Hill, at his passing as he stated in his Will, having no descendant to leave it to. But... I have the better of the two; one thousand acres fronting the Monongahela River. Ellie's family is known as abolitionists and our family has slaves, even though they have legal freedom. My name? Jack Turlock. Anyway, I rescue Ellie Ballantyne and take her home from the tavern where she has sought protection. The Widow Meyer's is the last stage stop before Pittsburgh. She tells me her retinue has been blown away and she has no money. I suspected as much and order bread with honey and tea for her before she retires. We leave in the morning.

Her sister, Andra, is an ornery sort, and meets us at the door at New Hope when I come galloping up the lane with Ellie behind me in the saddle. In one piece, except for a lost slipper and my own hat. She offers me no water though my horse, Cicero, is in need of a drink after our hard ride to get here. I am on my way, but now for days I am not wanting a reminder of Ellie. She likely would say the same for me.

I read in the Pittsburgh Gazette Miss Elinor is advertising for students offering a day school for young ladies in needlework, French, and dancing. She has been at a finishing school in Philadelphia for the past four years. Mother wants my younger sister, Chloe, to register for the school as a pupil. Chloe is outraged, as she is quite fine following after her brothers. Chloe is twelve and likes to fish and ride. Mother must have a plan to discredit a Ballantyne venture. A snare for Ellie, I perceive.

Father says he want to take me West with him to St. Louis. He is wanting to set up a distillery business there in the new state of Missouri, saying he needs "a cool head and a steady hand." I had hopes of going East to our established accounts but he is sending Wade, who is more regularly an imbiber. I have come to dinner to talk about taking Chloe to River Hill to live with me. In agreeing, I tell Mother she is welcome to visit anytime; that I have not forgotten it had once been her home. She tells me with the times we are all in need of change.

Ellie comes unannounced to River Hill to speak with me. We walk in the garden, away from the prying, inquisitive eyes of my housekeeper, yet in the open away from questionable speaking together in an enclosed room of the house. She tells me Chloe rode to New Hope yesterday to speak with her about joining her school. Chloe? I refuse, leaving Ellie standing in the garden. Joining the two families would dismiss all the other students she might have and disgrace both Ellie and Chloe. May they each one day understand I care to protect both of them.


The path to true love lies somewhere between two feuding families
In the spring of 1822, Ellie Ballantyne leaves finishing school and returns to the family home in Pittsburgh only to find that her parents are away on a long journey and her siblings don't seem to want her to stay. Determined to stand her ground and find her place in the world, Ellie fills her time by opening a day school for young ladies.
   But when one of her students turns out to be an incorrigible young member of the Turlock family, Ellie knows she must walk a fine line. Slaveholders and whiskey magnates, the Turlocks are envious of the powerful Ballantynes and suspicious of their abolitionist leanings. As Ellie becomes increasingly entangled with the rival clan―particularly the handsome Jack Turlock―she finds herself falling in love with an impossible future. Will she betray her family and side with the enemy?
The 14th annual Christy Awards for excellence in Christian fiction nominated the first book, Love's Reckoning, as one of three finalists in the Historical Romance category. Masterful storyteller Laura Frantz continues to unfold the stirring saga of the Ballantyne family in this majestic tale of love and loyalty. This is the Ballantyne Legacy.

2013 Christy Award Finalist ~ Laura Frantz is a lover of history, the author of stand-alone novels The Frontiersman's Daughter, Courting Morrow Little, and The Colonel's Lady, and currently lives in the misty woods of Washington with her husband and two sons.

***Thank you to Revell Blog Tour Network for sending me a copy of Love's Awakening, book 2 in the Ballantyne Legacy by Laura Frantz. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Watch for this historical fiction novel in May 2014 by Melanie Dobson ~ Château of Secrets

A courageous young noblewoman risks her life to hide French resistance fighters; seventy years later, her granddaughter visits the family’s abandoned chateau and uncovers shocking secrets from the past.

Gisèle Duchant guards a secret that could cost her life. Tunnels snake through the hill under her family’s medieval chateau in Normandy. Now, with Hitler’s army bearing down, her brother and several friends are hiding in the tunnels, resisting the German occupation of France.

But when German soldiers take over the family’s château, Gisèle is forced to host them as well—while harboring the resistance fighters right below their feet. Taking in a Jewish friend’s baby, she convinces the Nazis that it is her child, ultimately risking everything for the future of the child. When the German officers begin to suspect her deception, an unlikely hero rescues both her and the child.

A present day story weaves through the past one as Chloe Salvare, Gisèle’s granddaughter, arrives in Normandy. After calling off her engagement with a political candidate, Chloe pays a visit to the chateau to escape publicity and work with a documentary filmmaker, Riley, who has uncovered a fascinating story about Jews serving in Hitler’s army. Riley wants to research Chloe’s family history and the lives that were saved in the tunnels under their house in Normandy. Chloe is floored—her family isn’t Jewish, for one thing, and she doesn’t know anything about tunnels or the history of the house. But as she begins to explore the dark and winding passageways beneath the chateau, nothing can prepare her for the shock of what she and Riley discover…

With emotion and intrigue, Melanie Dobson brings World War II France to life in this beautiful novel about war, family, sacrifice, and the secrets of the past.

Fired Up by Mary Connealy, ©2013, Trouble in Texas series, Book 2

When a doctor who attracts danger falls for a cook determined to make it on her own, there's going to be trouble in Texas!
Cover Art
November, 1868. Dr. Darius Riker met recently widowed Glynna Greer when he was going out to the ranch in Swept Away, Book 1. Unfortunately, it wasn't how he would have liked the meeting to begin when her husband was killed leaving her and her two children alone now. On the way to town to take her belongings, a rockslide comes down around them. Could it be retribution for the confrontation with the aid of the Texas Ranger over regaining the Stones' S Bar S ranch from Flint Greer and his men? Glynna Greer and her two children moving to Broken Wheel, hopefully they will be out of danger. Friends of Luke and Ruthy Stone are helping with her move, the same ones who came to help him regain his Texas ranch stolen by Greer. The Regulators stick together.

It is now shortly after Greer's death. His widow is going to reopen a diner in an abandoned house in town to provide for her family. She has turned out to be a doctor's helper as well, as she stitches up Dare Riker's shoulder injured during the rockslide along the narrow trail.
Hearing Luke Stone had returned to his land, Red Wolf comes for help. His Kiowa people have contracted measles through contact trading with the whites. Their winter camp is near the buffalo grounds. Luke was friends with Red Wolf and others his age as boys. Many had left and others had died with pneumonia and encephalitis compounded with measles. While attending to the Indian children, Dr. Riker comes to relieve Glynna and her son Paul while they eat and get some sleep. They are applying poultices and giving willow bark tea, along with cooling fevered bodies. Glynna came as a mail-order bride with Paul and his younger sister, Janny. Paul makes it clear of his intent to protect his ma from male attention.

Before even opening the diner, firewood, meat, potatoes and other supplies show up at her back door. Cowpokes eager for a home cooked meal may need to overlook burned biscuits and scorched beans. Likely, Dr. Riker is going to need to stock up on bicarbonate of soda as he tends to her less than successful cooking skills with the patients she will unknowingly send him.
   His foot hit the bottom step on his way up to the board sidewalk that led to the diner just as black smoke billowed out its front door, followed by a herd of cowboys running out, coughing, and covering their mouths.
   The diner had only been open a few minutes.
   Well away from the building, Tug Andrews, who owned the general store, yelled, "Let us know when the smoke clears, Mrs. Greer. We'll wait."
   --Fired Up, 89
Come to Broken Wheel, Texas, and join the Regulators, Dare, Luke, Vince, and Jonah. A new cook comes to town, and the reverend's baby sister. Change is coming. Fun to be enjoyed.

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group for sending me a copy of Mary Connealy's Fired Up for this blog tour. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Fired Up! Enter to Win a Kindle Fire HD from Mary Connealy and RSVP for her Live Webcast Event!

Mary Connealy is back with the second book, Fired Up, in her Trouble in Texas series, and she's celebrating with a Kindle Fire giveaway and a LIVE author chat party on October 8th.


  One winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire HD
  • Swept Away  and Fired Up by Mary Connealy
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on October 8th. Winner will be announced at the "Fired Up" Live Webcast Event on October 8th. Connect with Mary for an evening of book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! Mary will also be taking questions from the audience and giving away books and fun gift certificates throughout the evening.

So grab your copy of Fired Up and join Mary and friends on the evening of October 8th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by signing up for a reminder. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 8th!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

~*Leota's Garden*~ a novel by Francine Rivers, reprint edition ©2013

Once Leota's garden was a place of beauty, where her flowers bloomed and hoped thrived. It was her refuge from the deep wounds inflicted by a devastating war, her sanctuary where she knelt before a loving God and prayed for the children who couldn't understand her silent sacrifices. Now, eighty-four year old Leota Reinhardt is alone, her beloved garden in ruins. All of her efforts to reconcile with her adult children have been fruitless and she voices her despair to a loving Father, her only friend. Then God brings a wind of change through unlikely means: one, a college student who thinks he has all the answers; the other, the granddaughter Leota never hoped to know. But can the devastation wrought by keeping painful family secrets be repaired before she runs out of time?

My Review:

Leota's Garden is a story of seeing people as they are. Leota, for instance, so giving and cherishing, honor-keeping, sacrificing, caring. But... outward appearances belie that. She is perceived as selfish, self-caring, deserting her responsibility, self-absorbed. When she does finally get home she resorts to her garden ~ pruning and clipping, and tending the soil. She invites her daughter to join her but is rejected, as her young daughter has felt she is.

Leota's children grow up to be self-centered and needy ~ filling their time with busyness. Her son, George, does not come home to visit nor seldom calls; her daughter, Eleanor (Nora), relives all of the peer level wishes she had onto her own daughter, Anne-Lynn (Annie), desired or not. The grandchildren? George has not invested time and his children do not know Leota. Nora's children seldom visited, or were shooed outdoors and soon whisked away with their mother's migraine or disagreements.

Leota is now in her eighties and in need of assistance. A young college student, seeking compensation in the way of information for his papers, researching a perfect solution for the elderly, volunteers to be Leota's Wednesday person to take her to get groceries and errands she may have. Leota refuses to get into his car, and walks up and down the hill from her home to the grocer. Corban carries the groceries for her and isn't in such good shape in the beginning, either in attitude or physique.

Leota's granddaughter ventures to meet her grandmother and form a relationship with her. Annie is a stabilizer and genuinely cares. Leota's story brings to light the unknown years that caused the breach in the family.

Very well-written and thorough, Leota's Garden reveals hidden character that strengthens and builds to those who will listen and receive.

Beginning and ending of days ~ common place, or unexpected?
One scene in the book continues to shock people.  I wrote it for that purpose.  I want people to understand life is precious.
   --author Francine Rivers
I was dismayed at the hospital episode that was followed up by the summoning of the Lord in the same section. My view as a reader, it felt thrown in and took away from the story rather than adding to it. However, addressing the parallel, both are the same while far extended. Joel chapter 2 ~ rend my heart ~ the whole chapter; Leota's Garden brings to the surface a measure within us ~ does only one cause a greater reaction?

I especially liked the growth of the granddaughter and her reliance on the Lord for her life. It would be interesting to hear "the rest of the story," with Annie's later years.

***Thank you to author Francine Rivers and to Tyndale House Publishers for sending me a copy of Leota's Garden. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Excerpt ~ Chapter 1
Leota's Garden by Francine Rivers


CORBAN SOLSEK’S HEART dropped and his stomach clenched tight when he saw the B on his sociology proposal. The shock of it made heat pour into his face and then recede in the wake of cold anger. He’d worked hard on this outline for his term project! He’d checked his information and sources, reviewed the methods by which he planned to present his ideas, and proposed a program. He should’ve received an A! What gives? Opening the folder, he glanced through the perfectly typed pages, looking for corrections, comments, anything that might give an indication of why he hadn’t received what he knew he deserved.
   Not one red check anywhere. No comment. Nothing.
   Stewing, Corban flipped open his notebook, wrote the date, and tried to concentrate on the lecture. Several times Professor Webster looked straight at him as he spoke, singling him out from the other hundred and twenty students inhabiting the tiers of desks. Each time Corban stared back for a few seconds before looking down and scribbling some more notes. He had great respect for Professor Webster, which made the grade even harder to take.
   I’ll challenge him. I don’t have to accept this without a fight. It wasn’t a good proposal. It was excellent. He wasn’t a mediocre student. He poured his heart and soul into his work, and he intended to make sure he was treated fairly. Hadn’t his father instilled that in him?
   “You have to fight for yourself, Cory. Don’t let anybody kick you around. They kick you, kick ’em back harder. Knock ’em down and make sure they don’t get up again. I didn’t bring up my son to take any guff from anybody.”
   His father had worked his way to the top of a trucking company through hard labor and fierce determination. He’d done it all, from truck driver to mechanic to sales to administration to CEO, and finally to part owner of the company. He was proud of his accomplishments while at the same time embarrassed by his lack of formal education. He’d never gotten further than the sophomore year of high school. He’d quit to help support his mother and younger siblings after his father died of a massive heart attack.
   The same kind of heart attack that killed him the year after he retired, leaving a wealthy widow and two sons and a daughter with healthy trust funds.
   “Focus on where you’re going,” his father had always said. “Get into a good college. The best, if possible. Stick it out. Don’t let anything or anyone get in your way. Get yourself a sheepskin from a big-name college and you’re halfway up the ladder before you have your first job.”
   No way was Corban going to accept this grade. He’d worked too hard. It wasn’t fair.
   “Did you have something to say, Mr. Solsek?” Professor Webster stood staring at him from his podium.
   Corban heard several students laugh softly. There was the rustle of papers and the creak of seats as others turned and looked back at him where he sat in the center middle row.
   “Your pencil, Mr. Solsek,” the professor said with an arched brow. “This isn’t a percussion instrument class.”
   Corban’s face flooded with heat as he realized he’d been tapping his pencil while his mind raced in agitation. “Sorry.” He flipped it into the proper position for writing and aimed a quelling glance at two twittering coeds. How did those airheads make it into Berkeley anyway?
   “Are we ready to proceed then, Mr. Solsek?” Professor Webster looked back at him with a faint smile. Embarrassment melted into anger. The jerk’s enjoying this. Now Corban had two reasons to feel indignant: the unfair grade and public humiliation. “Yes, sir, any time you are.” He forced a dry smile and a pretense of calm disdain.
   By the end of the lecture, the muscle in Corban’s jaw ached from tension. He felt as though he had a two-ton elephant sitting on his chest. He took his time stuffing his notebook into the backpack already crammed with books and two small binders. Thankfully, the other students cleared out of the lecture hall in quick fashion. Only two or three paused to make any remarks to Professor Webster, who was now erasing the board. Corban kept the report folder in his hand as he walked down the steps toward the podium.
   Professor Webster stacked his notes and tucked them into a file folder. “Did you have a question, Mr. Solsek?” he said, putting the folder into his briefcase and snapping it shut. He looked at Corban with those dark, shrewd eyes.
   “Yes, sir.” He held out his report. “I worked very hard on this.”
   “It showed.”
   “There wasn’t a single correction.”
   “No need. What you had there was very well presented.”
   “Then why a B and not an A?”
   Professor Webster rested his hand on the briefcase. “You have the makings of an excellent term paper from that proposal, Mr. Solsek, but you lacked one major ingredient.”
   How could that be? He and Ruth had both gone over the paper before he turned it in. He had covered everything. “Sir?”
   “The human element.”
   “I beg your pardon?”
   “The human element, Mr. Solsek.”
   “I heard you, sir. I just don’t understand what you mean. The entire paper is focused on the human element.”
   “Is that so?”
   Corban stifled his anger at Webster’s sardonic tone. He forced himself to speak more calmly. “How would you suggest I make it more apparent, sir?” He wanted an A in this course; he wasn’t going to accept less. Sociology was his major. He had maintained a 4.0 for three years. He wasn’t going to break that perfect record now.
   “A case study would help.”
   Corban flushed with anger. Obviously the professor hadn’t read his paper carefully enough. “I incorporated case studies. Here. On page 5. And more here. Page 8.” He had backed up everything he had proposed with case studies. What was Professor Webster talking about?
   “Collected from various volumes. Yes, I know. I read your documentation, Mr. Solsek. What you lack is any personal contact with those who might be most affected by your proposed programs.”
   “You mean you want me to poll people on the street?” He couldn’t keep the edge of disdain from creeping into his voice. How long would it take to develop a proper questionnaire? How many hundreds of people would he have to find to answer it? Wasn’t that thesis work? He wasn’t in graduate school. Not yet.
   “No, Mr. Solsek. I’d like to see you develop your own case study. One would do.”
   “Just one, sir? But that—”
   “One, Mr. Solsek. You won’t have time for more. Add the human element and you’ll earn the A you covet. I’m sure of it.”
   Corban wasn’t quite sure what the professor was driving at, but he could sense an undercurrent of disapproval. Was it a personality clash? Did his ideas offend? How could that be? If the programs he proposed were ever put into practice, they’d solve a lot of current problems in government systems.
   “Do you have anyone in your own family who might fit the lifestyle scenario you’ve presented, Mr. Solsek?”
   “No, sir.” His entire family lived in Connecticut and upstate New York, too far away to do the number of interviews he’d need for a paper. Besides that, his family had money. His father had broken the chain of middle-class mediocrity. Corban’s paper zeroed in on those who were economically challenged. Nobody in his family depended on social security to survive. He thought of his mother living in Switzerland part of the year with her new investment-broker husband.
   “Well, that presents a problem, doesn’t it, Mr. Solsek?” Professor Webster lifted his briefcase from the table. “However, I’m quite sure you’ll work it out.”
“Quit grousing, Cory,” Ruth said that afternoon in their shared apartment a few blocks off University Avenue. “It’s simple. If you want an A, do what Professor Webster wants you to do. It’s not like he’s asking you to do something terrible.” Raking her fingers through her straight, short black hair, she opened a cabinet in the kitchenette. “Are we out of coffee filters again?”
   “No, there are plenty. Look in the cabinet to the left of the sink.”
   “I didn’t put them there,” she said, closing the cabinet where she’d been searching.
   “I did. Made better sense. The coffeepot is right underneath where the outlet is. I moved the mugs too. They’re on the shelf above the coffee and filters.”
   Ruth sighed. “If I’d realized how difficult you are, I would’ve had second thoughts about moving in with you.” She took the can of coffee and pack of filters down from the cabinet.
   “One case study.” Cory tapped his pencil. “That’s all I need.”
   “A woman.”
   He frowned. “Why a woman?”
   “Because women are more ready to talk, that’s why.” She made a face. “And don’t ever tell my advocacy friends I said that.”
   “A woman, then. Fine. What woman?”
   “Someone with whom you can develop some rapport,” Ruth said, adding a fifth heaping scoop of French roast to the basket.
   “I don’t need to get that personal.”
   “Sure you do. How do you suppose you’ll get answers to the kind of questions you want if you don’t make friends with your subject?”
   “I haven’t got time to develop a friendship, Ruth.”
   “It doesn’t have to be lifelong, you know. Just long enough to finish your paper.”
   “I’ve got a few months. That’s it. All I need is someone who meets my criteria and who’ll be willing to cooperate.”
   “Oh, I’m sure that’ll impress Professor Webster.”
   “So, what do you suggest?”
   “Simple. Offer an incentive.”
   “Money, you mean?”
   “No, not money. Don’t be so dense, Cory.”
   It annoyed him when she spoke to him in that condescending way. He tapped his pencil again, saying nothing more. She glanced back at him and frowned slightly. “Don’t look so ticked, Cory. All you have to do is offer services in exchange for information.”
   He gave a hard laugh. “Sure. What kind of services could I offer?”
   She rolled her eyes. “I hate it when you’re in one of these moods. You can’t be such a perfectionist in this world. Good grief, Cory. Just use your imagination. You’ve got one, haven’t you?”
   Her tone grated. He leaned back in his chair, shoving his proposal away from him on the table, wishing he had taken a different avenue with his project. The prospect of having to talk with people made him nervous, although he wasn’t about to admit that to Ruth. She had a double major in marketing and telecommunications. She could talk to anybody, anytime, on any subject. Of course, it also helped to have a photographic memory.
   “Quit stewing about it.” Ruth shook her head as she poured herself a cup of black coffee. “Just go down to the supermarket and help some little old lady carry her groceries home.”
   “With my luck, she’ll think I’m some mugger after her purse.” He took up his pencil and started tapping it. “Better if I go through some community organization.”
   “There. You came up with a solution.” She leaned down to kiss him on the lips, then took his pencil away and tucked it behind her ear as she straightened. “I knew you’d figure it out.”
   “What about dinner?” he said as she moved away from him. “It’s your night to cook.”
   “Oh, Cory. I can’t. I’m sorry, but you know how long it takes me to put a meal together. If I’m going to do it, I have to do it right, and I’ve got two hundred pages of reading and some materials to review before a test tomorrow.”
   No less than what he had to do most nights.
   She paused in the doorway. Leaning against the jamb, she gave him a winsome smile, her dark hair framing her perfect, oval face. She had such beautiful dark eyes and the kind of smile toothpaste advertisers liked on billboards. Her skin was flawless, like an English lady’s. Not to mention the rest of her from the neck down. Ruth Coldwell came in a very nice package, and underneath it all, she was smart. Not to mention ambitious.
   One date was all it had taken for Cory to know she was a match for him. Even more so after the second date and a passionate night in his apartment. She made his head spin and sent his hormones into overdrive. A month after their first date, he was having trouble concentrating on his work and wondering what he was going to do about it. Then providence had smiled on him. Ruth had spilled out her money worries to him over coffee. In tears, she said she didn’t know where she was going to get enough money to finish the semester. He suggested she move in with him.
   “Really?” Her beautiful brown eyes had glistened with tears. "You’re serious?” She’d made him feel like a knight in shining armor saving a lady in distress. Money was no problem for him.
   “I don’t know . . .”
    “Why not?” Once Corban made up his mind, it was a matter of finding the best way to achieve his goal.
   “Because we haven’t known one another very long,” she had said, troubled.
   “What don’t you know about me that you need to know?”
   “Oh, Cory. I feel as though I’ve known you all my life, but it’s a big step.”
   “I don’t see that it would change much. We spend every spare minute together as it is. We’re sleeping together. Save time if we lived together.”
   “It’s sort of serious. Like getting married. And I’m not ready for that, Cory. I don’t even want to think about marriage at this stage in my life. I have too many things I need to do first.”
   The word marriage had sent a chill through him. He wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment either. “No strings,” he had said and meant it. “We’ll share expenses and chores right down the middle. How’s that?” He grimaced now as he remembered saying it. But then, he’d said a lot of things to convince her. “It’d cut expenses for both of us.” Although money was no problem for him, he had been worried about hurting her pride.
   She’d moved in the next afternoon.
   They’d been living together for six months, and sometimes he found himself wondering . . .
   Ruth came back into the kitchen and leaned down to kiss him again. “You have that look again. I know it’s my turn to cook. I can’t help the way things fall sometimes, Cory. School comes first. Didn’t we agree on that?” She raked her fingers lightly through the hair at the back of his neck. Her touch still made his blood warm. “Why don’t you order some Chinese food?”
   Last time she’d called in an order, it had cost him thirty bucks. It wasn’t the money that bothered him. It was the principle. “I think I’ll go out and have some pizza.”
   Straightening, she grimaced. “Whatever you want,” she said with a shrug.
   He knew she didn’t like pizza. Whenever he ordered it, she ate it grudgingly, pressing a paper towel over her slice to soak up the grease. “I need my pencil,” he said as she headed toward the doorway again.
   “What a grouch.” She took it from behind her ear and tossed it onto the table.
   Sitting alone at the kitchen table, he wondered how it was possible to be so crazy about someone and still feel things weren’t quite right.
   Something was askew.
   Raking a hand through his hair, he stood up. He didn’t have time to think about his relationship with Ruth right now. He needed to figure out what he was going to do about his report. Snatching the telephone book, he slammed it on the table and flipped it open to the yellow pages. There was a long list of charity organizations offering services to seniors. He spent the rest of the afternoon calling them and asking questions until he found the one that might suit his purposes.
   “It’s wonderful that you’re interested in volunteering, Mr. Solsek,” the lady on the other end of the line said. “We have very few college students among our ranks. Of course, you’ll need to come down for a personal interview, and we have forms for you to fill out. You’ll also need to take a weekend orientation class. Do you have a CPR certificate?”
   “No, ma’am,” he said, stifling his irritation. Personal interview? Forms? Orientation classes? Just to volunteer to take some old lady to the bank or grocery store?
   Jotting down the pertinent information, Cory gave a deep sigh. A pox on you, Professor Webster, for getting me into this!
“You will do no such thing, Anne-Lynn! What ever made you even consider anything so utterly ridiculous?” Nora was positively trembling. Just when she thought everything was perfect, her daughter threw a monkey wrench into the works. Well, she wouldn’t have it! Everything was going to move forward as planned.
   “I’ve tried to tell you how important—”
   “I’m not going to listen, Annie.” Nora rose from the table, picking up her cup and saucer. They rattled, revealing her lack of control. She forcefully steadied her hands and carried the dishes to the tile sink counter, setting them down carefully. “You can just call Susan and tell her you’ve come to your senses.”
   “Mom, please. I’ve thought it all through very carefully—”
   “I said no!” Nora refused to look at her daughter. She didn’t want to see how pale she was, how pleading her blue eyes could be. Emotional manipulation, that’s all it was. She wouldn’t fall for it. Striving for calm, she rinsed the cup and saucer, opened the dishwasher, and placed them carefully on the rack. “You’re going to Wellesley. That’s been decided.”
   “You decided, Mom, I didn’t.”
   Nora slammed the dishwasher door at the quiet comment and turned to glare at her daughter. “Someone has to have a little common sense. For once, even your father agreed. Didn’t he tell you a degree from a prestigious college like Wellesley will open doors for you?”
   “He said Cal would do the same.”
   “Oh, Cal. Just because he went there.”
   “Dad said he wants me to do what will make me happy.”
   Nora’s heart pounded in anger. How dare he undo all her work. Just once couldn’t he think of someone besides himself? The only reason he wanted Annie to go to Cal was to keep her on the West Coast. “He wants your best, and I don’t? Is that what he’s implying? Well, he’s wrong! Love means you want the best for someone.”
   “This is best, Mom. I have a job. I’ll be able to make it on my own.”
   “As a waitress. Earning minimum wage. You’re so naïve.”
   “I know I won’t be living as comfortably as I do here with you and Fred, but I’ll have a place of my own—”
   “Shared by a hippie—”
   “. . . and food and—”
   “Do you think I’ve sent you to the best private schools so you can wait tables? Do you have any idea how much it’s cost to educate you? Music lessons, dancing lessons, gymnastics lessons, deportment classes, modeling classes, cheerleading camps. I’ve spent thousands of dollars, not to mention thousands of hours of my time, bringing you up with the best of everything so that you would have the opportunities I never had. I’ve sacrificed for you and your brother.”
   “Mom, that’s not fair—”
   “You’re right. It’s not fair. To me. You will not go off and live in San Francisco like a hippie in that cheap little flat of Susan’s. You are not tossing your opportunity to go to Wellesley to the wind just so you can take some art classes. If you had any real talent, don’t you think I would have sent you to Paris to study?”
   She saw the wince of hurt flash across Annie’s face. Good. Better to cut clean and make reality come clear. Better to hurt her a little now than see her daughter throw away all her chances for a bright, affluent future. She could continue her silly art classes as elective courses.
   “Mom, please hear me out. I’ve prayed for a long time about this, and—”
   “Anne-Lynn, don’t you dare talk to me about God again! Do you hear me? The worst thing I ever did was send you to that church camp. You haven’t been the same since!”
   Tears welled in her daughter’s eyes, but Nora refused to weaken. She couldn’t if she were to see her daughter beyond these crossroads. Anne had to take the right path. Nora knew that if she gave in for one moment, every hope she had ever had for Anne would be lost.
   “I love you very much, Anne-Lynn,” she said, taking a soothing tone. “If I didn’t, I’d let you do whatever you want. Trust me. I know what’s right for you. Someday you’ll thank me. Now go up to your room and think things over again.” Seeing Anne open her mouth to speak, she raised one hand. “No more right now. You’ve hurt me enough as it is. Now please do as I’ve asked.”
   Anne rose slowly and stood at the table, her head down. Nora watched her, measuring whether she was going to have to fight more to make sure Anne didn’t throw her life away. She was such a beautiful girl, tall enough to be a model, hands perfect for playing the piano, grades high enough to go to any college in the country, but not a bit of common sense. Nora’s eyes burned with unshed tears she didn’t bother to hide. What cruel irony was this? Did Anne now mean to strip her of all her dreams?
   “Mom, I have to start making decisions for myself.”
   Nora clenched her teeth, sensing the gulf widening between them. “Since you’re so fond of the Bible these days, perhaps you should look up the part about honoring your father and mother. Since you have an absentee father, you’re to honor me. Now go to your room before I really lose my temper.”
   Anne left quietly.
   Trembling again, Nora leaned back against the kitchen counter. Her heart was drumming a battle beat. It had never occurred to her that Anne would resist the plans made for her. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so pleased about Anne’s graduating from high school early. That had given Anne too much time to think of other things to do.
   Relaxing slightly, Nora sighed. She’d been so proud of Anne, eagerly telling her friends how she had graduated in January with a 4.0 GPA, actually higher than that with the few college classes she had completed. But how can you have a better-than-perfect average?
   She should have gotten Anne into something to keep her mind occupied. Then Anne wouldn’t have had time to go visiting Susan in her flat and thinking how grand and exciting an independent, poverty-stricken life would be.
   “I’m going to move in with Susan. . . .”
   Susan Carter! That girl would never amount to more than a hill of beans. The Carters were nice enough, but they lacked class. Tom and his blue-collar job, and Maryann with her low-paying nursing job. How they managed to feed and clothe six children was beyond Nora’s understanding. It was a pity Tom Carter didn’t have more ambition so Maryann could have stayed home and minded her children. Their son Sam had landed in jail, and Susan was trouble waiting to happen.
   Nora went into the dining room and took a crystal-stemmed wineglass from the mahogany china cabinet. Returning to the kitchen, she opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of chilled white Chablis. She needed something to calm her nerves. She filled her glass, then recorked the bottle and replaced it before going out into the sunroom. She sat on the white wicker chaise lounge with the plump flowered cushions and stretched out her slender legs.
   The old resentments bubbled. What Nora would’ve given to have the opportunities she was giving Annie. And did her daughter appreciate them? No. Like a spoiled child, Anne-Lynn wanted her own way. She wanted to make her own choices. She hadn’t yet said, “It’s my life and I want to live it.” But it all came down to the same thing.
   “I won’t allow it. She’s not going to ruin her life.”
   Inhaling through her nose, she released her breath slowly to calm herself. Then she sipped her wine. She needed to think about Annie and what she would do if this pipe dream continued. There was the rest of spring and summer. Anne-Lynn had too much time on her hands. That was the problem. Well, that could be solved easily enough. Nora would make sure Anne was committed to something. Tutoring at the middle school through June and then helping during summer school would look good on her records.
   Her head ached. She could feel another migraine coming on. If Anne came downstairs again, she’d have her make up a cold compress. Maybe that would make it clear to her how this stress affected her mother.
   Oh, why did Anne-Lynn have to rebel now? Just because she had turned eighteen last week didn’t mean she was ready to run her own life! It was Susan planting ideas in her head. Or Anne’s father. Nora had a good mind to call him and tell him what she thought of his latest interference. Cal! Middle-class people go to Cal. Perhaps if he had suggested Stanford . . .
   The last four years had been so wonderful. Anne had buckled down after the turbulent, emotionally charged preteen years when Nora had often wondered if her daughter was going to run away and live on the streets. Anne had excelled at everything, pleading only once to quit ballet and music. But when she was told no, she went along with the program laid out for her. She had studied and worked hard at school, was popular with the other students, and received more than her share of calls from male admirers. But there were only a few Nora had allowed her to date. After all, she didn’t want Anne marrying some ordinary Joe from the Bay Area.
   Wellesley. That’s where Anne-Lynn would meet quality people, where she would mix with students from Ivy League colleges—and marry the right kind of person.
   Why did Anne-Lynn want to throw it all away now?
   “I’ve prayed . . .”
   Those words grated more every time Nora heard them. She downed the rest of her wine and rose to pour herself another glass.
   In the beginning, Nora hadn’t thought much about Anne’s “conversion.” True, the word had rankled. It was like a slap in the face, an insult. What did the girl suppose Nora was? A heathen? Hadn’t she made the family attend church services regularly? Anne’s biological father had been a deacon once, and though Fred didn’t have time, he gave generously to the church. Nora frowned in annoyance thinking about it again. She had served on women’s committees many times and filled bags with canned goods whenever there was a food drive.
   And then, all of a sudden, after one summer camp, Anne-Lynn comes home and says, “I’ve become a Christian, Mom. I accepted Christ Jesus as my Savior and Lord at camp. Pastor Rick baptized me. I’m so happy, and I want you to be happy, too.”
   She’d become a Christian? What did she think she’d always been? A pagan?
   Nora had let it go. Although she viewed it as a silly proclamation, she did begin to notice some welcome changes taking place in her daughter’s attitude and behavior. If Anne wanted to attribute it to Jesus, fine. As long as the rebelliousness and stubbornness ceased, that’s all that mattered to Nora. Anne listened and did as she was told. She even said thank you, kept her room neat and clean, and offered to help around the house. A blessed change, indeed, after several years of fits of preadolescent moodiness. If Anne came home from camp a young lady willing to do what she was told, well, then, thank God for it.
   Only occasionally did Nora see a look come into her daughter’s eyes that indicated she was caught in some sort of inner battle.
   Everything had been so wonderful over the past few years. Anne had become the daughter Nora had dreamed she could be. All of Nora’s friends envied her such an accomplished, lovely girl—especially when their own daughters were talking back, experimenting with drugs, sneaking out with boys, running away, or getting pregnant and having to have an abortion.
   Anne was perfect.
   Anne was her pride and joy.
   And she was not going to be allowed to make any foolish mistakes.
Upstairs in her sunny room, Annie sat cross-legged on her bed, beneath the lacy, crocheted canopy. Clutching a pink satin pillow against her chest, she fought the tears spilling down her cheeks. Why did her mother always have to make her feel so guilty? No matter how hard she tried, no matter how well she did, it was never enough. One mistake, one thought out of line with what her mother wanted, and Annie knew she’d be told again how ungrateful, rebellious, stubborn, and stupid she was. When words didn’t prove strong enough to maintain control, a migraine came on with a vengeance. Her mother was probably downstairs right now tending herself with a glass of white wine and cold compresses while lying on the chaise lounge in the sunroom.
   And it’s my fault, Annie thought, feeling hopeless. Every time I try to break away, this happens. When will it stop?
   Oh, Lord, You know how hard I try to take captive every thought and focus on You. Mom knows how to press every button. Why is she like this? Jesus, You know I’ve tried to understand my mother, tried to please her, but nothing is ever enough. Worse, nothing made sense anymore. Her mother complained about how much money and time she spent on Anne, but she wouldn’t allow her to get a job or live on her own. She’s the one who insists I go to Wellesley. You know how much that costs, Lord. I can’t go when I feel You nudging me toward studying art, but Mom won’t even listen. Lord, she says she likes Susan, but now she’s calling her a hippie and saying she’s not good enough to be my roommate. How could her mother say she was proud of Anne’s scholastic achievements one minute and in the next breath tell her she was stupid and incapable of making decisions about her own life?
   “Since you’re so fond of the Bible these days, why don’t you look up the part about honoring your father and mother?”
   Did honoring mean to do everything you were told without question? Did it mean swift capitulation? Did it mean giving up yourself for the sake of living out someone else’s dreams? No matter what that dream was?
   Annie knew if she went to Wellesley as her mother wanted, the plans for her future wouldn’t end there. Mom would be calling and asking whom she was dating, if the young man had “potential.” Of course, what that meant was high test scores, excellent grades, and a major that would guarantee a financially healthy career. Law. Medicine. Business. Her mother would want to know if the young man came from a “good backgound.” Someone descended from a passenger on the Mayflower. Someone with a family tree. Someone whose successful parents had lots of old money and high social standing.
   She shook her head. Mom could be open-minded. She wouldn’t mind it if her daughter dated a descendant of immigrants as long as the family was well respected and well known.
   A Kennedy, perhaps?
   Guilt gripped her. She was being irrational. Her mother wasn’t that bad.
   Am I becoming like her, Lord? When I tear loose, am I going to do to my children what she’s doing to me? Or am I going to lose all reason and find myself saying to them someday, “I didn’t have any freedom, so you can do whatever you want”? Oh, Father, forgive me, but I’m beginning to hate her.
   The last thing Anne wanted was for anger and bitterness to take hold of her, but it was so frustrating! Her mother wouldn’t even listen to her. And it was only getting worse. I thought I could grow up and move out, be on my own, but it’s as though she has her claws sunk into me. The harder I struggle, the deeper she wounds me.
   “God, help me . . . please.”
   Honor. What did it mean?
   Maybe if she went to Wellesley . . .
   No, that would just delay the inevitable. Even if she went to Wellesley, she would still hear how much her mother had sacrificed for her future. And if she didn’t go to Wellesley, she would never hear the end of how ungrateful she was for the opportunity she had wasted.
   Lord, I’m in a no-win situation. What do I do?
   Every which way she turned, Annie felt blocked. Like a calf making a run from the herd only to have the drover ride her down and nail her with a lasso. The fire was burning and the iron red-hot, but it wasn’t God’s name her mother wanted branded into her flesh. “Property of Nora Gaines,” that’s what she wanted. But would that be enough?
   Nothing she did was right unless it was done her mother’s way. “Get back in the corral, Annie. I know what you were meant to be, and I’m going to make sure I drive you to it.” But did she know? What was it her mother really wanted?
   I don’t know what to do, Lord. I feel You drawing me one way, and Mom’s dragging me back in the other. How do I break free to do Your will without hurting her? Why can’t she let go?
   Annie wanted to love her mother the way a daughter should, but it was getting harder. She could barely stand to be in the same room with her. If she hadn’t come upstairs, she would’ve exploded with words she’d only regret later. She had kept her head down to hide her feelings from her mother. She had held her tongue because she knew it would be like a grass fire if she let loose one word. She had to clench her hands to keep from rising up and shouting, “Get out of my life, Mother! Nothing ever pleases you! I’m sick of living like this. Why don’t you get a life, so I can have my own?”
   The molten words would have come pouring out of her, burning away the landscape of her relationship with her mother, blackening everything. Some things Annie knew about her mother, things she wished she didn’t. One of them was that Nora Gaines was good at holding grudges. She kept a list of the hurts she had suffered over her lifetime. And who had caused them. She never forgot anything, never forgave. The past was like ammunition, boxed and waiting. And she was quick to load and fire. Annie knew the name of every person who had ever hurt her mother and how they had accomplished it. Nora Gaines made sure of it.
   Sometimes the blame from past transgressions spilled over onto Annie’s head, and the litanies would begin.
   “You’re just like your father. He never had sense enough to think about the future either. . . .You’re just like your father, dreaming all the time. You’re just like him. . . .”
   Or worse.
   “You’re just like your Grandma Leota. Always thinking about yourself. Never caring about anyone else’s feelings. . . . My mother never had time for me. Look at all the time I’ve made for you. I was never loved the way you are. . . . My mother never gave me a thing. I had to go out on my own at eighteen and make my own way. . . . I’ve always wanted to make sure you had the best opportunities. I’ve made sure you had all the things I never had.”
   Not once could Annie remember ever hearing her mother say a nice thing about her own mother, Leota Reinhardt. And it made Annie wonder. Was Grandma Leota to blame for the way her mother was?
   There was no way to measure cause and effect because Annie only knew her mother’s side. She’d never heard Grandma Leota say much about anything. In fact, Annie had seldom seen Grandmother Leota. Though her grandmother lived right over the hills in Oakland, Annie could count on two hands the times she had been taken for a visit. And as soon as the family arrived, Annie and Michael were sent out to play in the backyard so the adults could talk.
   She frowned. It had never been her grandmother who sent them out.
   Her mother always developed a headache shortly after they arrived at Grandma Leota’s, so they never stayed longer than an hour or two. On the way home, Mom would fume and catalogue Grandma’s failings.
   Once, when her parents were still married, Annie had overheard her father say he liked Leota. Only once. The words had been thrown down like a gauntlet. A battle royal had ensued, long and loud, with doors slamming, glass breaking. The memory of that night was etched permanently in Annie’s brain. A memory of brutal accusations shouted back and forth. Six months later, Annie’s parents filed for divorce. By the tender age of eight, Annie had known better than to mention or ask questions about Grandma Leota.
   Lying back on her bed, Annie stared up through the crocheted canopy. It had been a present on her fourteenth birthday. Her mother had thrown a party for her, complete with friends from school, ballet, and gymnastics. The house had been full that day. Her mother had made sure her present was opened last, then proceeded to tell everyone how she’d seen the canopy covering in a home-design magazine and called the publisher who put her in contact with the company. “It came all the way from Belgium.”
   Everyone had oohed and aahed over it. One friend had even leaned over to whisper, “I wish my mother would buy something like that for me.”
   Annie remembered wishing she could throw it back into its big professionally wrapped box with the massive silk ribbons and flowers and hand it to the girl with her best wishes. She wanted to scream, “I didn’t ask for it! She’s going to use it against me. The next time I dare disagree with her, she’s going to say, ‘How can you be so ungrateful? I bought you that beautiful canopy cover. I had to call long distance to that magazine and then stay on hold forever just to find out where it came from. And then I had to write to the company in Belgium. Do you have any idea how much that canopy cover cost? I would have died to have something so beautiful in my drab little room when I was a child. And now you won’t do the simplest thing I ask of you.’”
   Something shifted within Annie, a subtle warmth, the barest flicker of light. Just a spark, but it was like a match lit in a dark room. She could see clearly, and a chill went through her.
   Oh, God . . . oh, God. I’m lying here on my bed the same way Mom is lying on her chaise lounge downstairs. I’m nursing my grievances the same way she nurses hers. I despise what she does, and I’m becoming just like her.
   Annie sat up, heart pounding. I can’t stay here. I can’t go on like this. If I do, I’m going to end up hating my mother the same way she hates hers. Lord, I can’t live like that.
   Slipping off her bed, Annie headed for her closet. Sliding the mirrored doors open, she reached to the high shelf and pulled down her suitcase. Opening her dresser drawers, she took out only what she needed, packing hastily. She had enough to get by until she was settled with Susan. She took her Bible from her nightstand and put it on top of her clothes. Closing the suitcase, she locked it.
   Should she speak with her mother? No, she didn’t dare risk it. She knew the scene that would come if she confronted her. Sitting down at her desk, she opened a side drawer and took out a box with pretty stationery. She sat for a long moment, thinking. No matter what she said, it wasn’t going to change her mother’s mind. Wiping her eyes and rubbing her nose, Annie pressed her lips together. Lord . . . Lord . . . She didn’t know what to pray. She didn’t know if she was doing right or wrong.
   What did it mean anyway?
   Mom, she wrote, I’m grateful for everything you’ve done for me. She sat for a long time, trying to think what else to say to make the blow easier on her mother. Nothing came to her. Nothing would help. All she could imagine was the anger. “I love you,” she wrote finally and signed it simply, Annie.
   She placed the note in the middle of her bed.
   Nora heard the stairs creak once and knew Annie was coming down. That’s good. She’s had time to think things over. Nora relaxed on the chaise lounge, pressed the warming compress over her eyes, and waited for her daughter to come and apologize.
   The front door opened and closed.
   Surprised and irritated, Nora sat up.
   Growing angry, she threw the compress down and rose. She went into the family room and called out to her again. Annie was probably just going out for a walk to sulk. She’d come back in a more pliable mood. She always did. But it was aggravating to be made to wait. Patience wasn’t one of Nora’s virtues. She liked to have things settled as quickly as possible—and she didn’t like to worry and wonder about what Annie was thinking and doing. She liked to know where she was and what was running through her mind.
   Why is she being so difficult? I’m only doing what’s best for her!
   As she entered the living room, she saw Annie through the satin sheers of the front plate-glass windows. Her daughter was tossing a suitcase into the trunk of the new Saturn her father had given her as a graduation gift. Shocked, Nora stood staring as Annie slammed the trunk, walked around to the driver’s side of the car, unlocked it, and slid in.
   Where does she think she’s going? She’s never to leave without asking permission.
   As Annie drove down the street, two emotions struck Nora at once. White hot rage and cold panic. She ran for the door, throwing it open and hurrying outside. “Annie!
   Nora Gaines stood on her manicured front lawn and watched the taillights of her daughter’s car flash once as she stopped briefly at the corner and then turned right and drove out of sight.

Beyond These Hills by Sandra Robbins, ©2013

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!

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Today's Wild Card author is:

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Harvest House Publishers (September 1, 2013)

***Special thanks to author Sandra Robbins and to Ginger Chen at Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***


Sandra Robbins and her husband live in the small college town in Tennessee where she grew up. They count their four children and five grandchildren as the greatest blessings in their lives. Her published books include stories in historical romance and romantic suspense. When not writing or spending time with her family, Sandra enjoys reading, collecting flow blue china, and playing the piano.

Visit the author's website.


In the romantic conclusion to the Smoky Mountain Dreams series, Sandra Robbins tells a story of love and loss. The government is purchasing property to establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Laurel Jackson fears she’ll have to say goodbye to the only home she’s ever known. Can she find the strength to leave?

Product Details:
List Price: $13.99
Series: Smoky Mountain Dreams (Book 3)
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (September 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736948880
ISBN-13: 978-0736948883


view from the Parkway at dusk, Craggy Gardens (by: BlueRidgeKitties, creative commons license)
Beyond These Hills is book 3 in the Smoky Mountain Dreams series and I was eager to find out what happens after reading the first two books in the series. Angel of the Cove is the story of how Laurel's grandparents met and Mountain Homecoming is Laurel's parents' story. Beyond These Hills is now Laurel's story. These three generation stories may be read as stand-alones but you will want to meet the families of Cades Cove, Tennessee.
   He glanced once more at the pickup truck that still sat in front of the store and pictured how Laurel had looked standing there. When he'd grasped her hand, he'd had the strange feeling that he'd known her all his life. How could a mountain girl he'd just met have such a strange effect on him?
   --Beyond These Hills, 17
Mountain Laurel... I have just arrived in Gatlinburg. How can one meeting change all I stand for ~ Andrew Brady, single, single-minded, here to gain the few properties not surrendered to the Park Service. Just meeting, she remembers my name as she talks to the proprietor. I have helped her taking her mother's pottery crates in from the back of the truck ~ Mountain Laurel Pottery ~ Laurel. We only said our first names...
When I check into the hotel there is a message for me from the new superintendent of the park that I am to meet him in the dining room for the evening meal. He has just returned from visiting the park sites. I will be going out to the CCC camp to stay while I am at Cades Cove. It is the Civilian Conservation Corps. Mr. Eakin suggests I go early to meet the preacher and his son-in-law who have part of the land I am coming to encourage the owners to resign to the park development. As I am walking into church I am queasy about attending. As I back up and turn, I come face to face with... Laurel! She invites me to sit with her family as I am visiting. Laurel introduces me to her grandfather and her father ~ by name, the very people I have come to meet. Laurel's family is part of the twenty-four remaining families I am to talk to about selling their land! They misunderstand about my going to the CCC camp. I am going to be staying there but not working with the men on work crews. (The sermon you ask? It is about Judas and the thirty pieces of silver.) Laurel's grandparents invite me home with them to dinner and I tell them they may not want me to come if they knew why I was at church today. I tell them and they invite me anyway, saying we can talk today after the meal, both he and Laurel's father together, instead of waiting until tomorrow. I am to follow Laurel's father to Reverend Martin's home. Mr. Jackson tells me we are getting acquainted today, not talking business until the work week. I am relieved, but uncertain how Laurel and I can become friends. She hasn't taken too kindly to the revelation of my appointment in the Cove. After dinner I explain to her I couldn't have come and misled her family. That there wasn't time to tell her while being introduced to everyone. She leaves me standing on the porch. 
I am invited for a trail walk at Gregory's Bald. Come along as I venture among these hills.


Cades Cove, Tennessee
June, 1935

  The needle on the pickup truck’s speedometer eased to thirty miles an hour. Laurel Jackson bit back a smile and glanced at her father. With his right hand on the steering wheel and his left elbow hanging out the open window, he reminded her of a little boy absorbed in the wonder of a new toy.
   The wind ruffled his dark, silver-streaked hair, and a smile pulled at the corner of his mouth as the truck bounced along. His eyes held a faraway look that told her he was enjoying every minute of the drive along the new road that twisted through Cades Cove.
   If truth be told, though, the truck with its dented fenders wasn’t all that new. He’d bought it a few months ago from Warren Hubbard, who’d cleaned out a few ditches in Cades Cove trying to bring the little Ford to a stop. Rumor had it he kept yelling Whoa! instead of pressing the brake. The good-natured ribbing of his neighbors had finally convinced Mr. Hubbard that he had no business behind the wheel of a truck.
   Laurel’s father didn’t have that problem. He took to driving like their old hound dog Buster took to trailing a raccoon. Neither gave up until they’d finished what they’d started. Mama often said she didn’t know which one’s stubborn ways vexed her more—Poppa’s or Buster’s. Of course her eyes always twinkled when she said it.
   The truck was another matter entirely. Mama saw no earthly reason why they needed that contraption on their farm when they had a perfectly good wagon and buggy. To her, it was another reminder of how life in Cades Cove was changing. Laurel could imagine what her mother would say if she could see Poppa now as the speedometer inched up to thirty-five. Land’s sakes, Matthew. If you don’t keep both hands on the wheel, you’re gonna end up killing us all.
   But Mama wasn’t with them today to tell Poppa they weren’t in a race, and he was taking advantage of her absence to test the limits of the truck. At this rate they’d make it to Gatlinburg earlier than expected. When she was a little girl, the ride in their wagon over to the mountain village that had become a favorite of tourists had seemed to take forever. Now, it took them less than half the time to get there.
   She glanced at her father again and arched an eyebrow. “You’d better be glad Mama stayed home.”
   Her father chuckled. “Do you think she’d say I was driving too fast?”
   Laurel tilted her head to one side and tried to narrow her eyes into a thoughtful pose. “I’m sure she wouldn’t hesitate to let you know exactly how she felt.”
   A big smile creased her father’s face, and he nodded. “You’re right about that. Your mother may run a successful business from a valley in the middle of the Smoky Mountains, but she’d just as soon pass up all the modern conveniences the money she makes could provide her. Sometimes I think she’d be happier if we were still living in that one-room cabin we had when we first married.”
   Laurel laughed and nodded. “I know. But I imagine she’ll be just as happy today to have us out of the way. She can unload her latest pottery from the kiln and get the lodge cleaned and ready for the tourists we have coming Monday.”
   Her father’s right hand loosened on the steering wheel, and his left one pulled the brim of his hat lower on his forehead. “It looks like business is going to be good this year. We already have reservations for most of the summer, and our guests sure do like to take home some of her pieces from Mountain Laurel Pottery.”
   Laurel frowned. There would be guests this summer, but what about next year and the year after that? A hot breeze blew through the open window, and she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket. She mopped at the perspiration on her forehead before she swiveled in her seat to face her father. “Having the lodge and the pottery business is kind of like a mixed blessing, isn’t it?”
   He frowned but didn’t take his eyes off the road. “How do you mean?”
   Laurel’s gaze swept over the mountains that ringed the valley where she’d lived all her life. Her love for the mist-covered hills in the distance swelled up in her, and she swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. “Well, I was just thinking that we get paid well by the folks who stay at our lodge while they fish and hike the mountain trails, and Mama makes a lot of money selling them her pottery. But is the money worth what we’ve lost?” She clasped her hands in her lap. “I miss the quiet life we had in the Cove when I was a little girl.”
   Her father’s forehead wrinkled. “So do I, darling, but you’re all grown up now, and those days are long gone. Change has been happening for a long time, but our way of life officially ended twelve years ago with the plan for the Smokies to become a national park. Now most of the mountain land’s been bought up by the government, and there’s a park superintendent in place over at Gatlinburg. I guess we have to accept the fact that the park is a reality.”
   A tremor ran through Laurel’s body. She clutched her fists tighter until her fingernails cut into her palms. “No matter what we’re doing or talking about, it always comes back to one question, doesn’t it?”
   Her father glanced at her. “What’s that?”
   “How long can we keep the government from taking our land?”
   “Well, they don’t have it yet.” The lines in her father’s face deepened, and the muscle in his jaw twitched. “At the moment, all the land that borders our farm has been bought and is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There aren’t many of us holding on in the Cove, but we’re not giving up without a fight. I have a meeting with our lawyer in Gatlinburg today to see how our court case is going. You can get your mama’s pottery delivered to Mr. Bryan’s store, can’t you?”
   “I didn’t know you had a meeting with the lawyer. Don’t worry about the pottery. Willie and I can take care of that.”
   A smile cracked her father’s moments-ago stony features at the mention of her younger brother, who was riding in the truck’s bed. “You make sure that boy helps you. He has a habit of disappearing every time I have a job for him. I sure wish he’d grow up and start taking on some responsibility around the farm.”
   Laurel laughed. “Willie’s only twelve, Poppa. When he’s as old as Charlie or me, he’ll settle down.”
   Her father shook his head. “I don’t know about that. He’s always gonna be your mother’s baby.”
   Before she could respond, the truck hit a bump in the road and a yell from behind pierced her ears. Laughing, she turned and looked through the back window. Willie’s face stared back at her. “Do it again, Pa,” he yelled. “That was fun.”
   Her father frowned, grabbed the steering wheel with both hands, and leaned over to call out the window. “Be still, Willie, before you fall out and land on your head.”
   Willie stood up, grabbed the side of the open window, and leaned around the truck door to peer into the cab. “Won’t this thing go any faster?”
   Her father’s foot eased up, and he frowned. “We’re going fast enough. Sit down, Willie.”
   The wind whipped Willie’s dark hair in his eyes. He was grinning. “Jacob’s pa has a truck that’ll go fifty on a smooth stretch,” he yelled. “See what ours will do.”
   The veins in her father’s neck stood out, and the speedometer needle dropped to twenty. “If you don’t sit down and stay put, I’m gonna stop and make you sit up here between your sister and me.”
   “I’m just saying you ought to open this thing up and see what she’ll do.”
   The muscle in her father’s jaw twitched again, and Laurel put her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. How many times had she seen her no-nonsense father and her fun-loving brother locked in a battle of wills? Her father took a deep breath and shook his head.
   “Willie, for the last time…”
   Willie leaned closer to the window, glanced at Laurel, and winked. “Okay. I’ll sit, but I still think we could go a little faster. Jacob’s gonna get to Gatlinburg way before we do.”
   The truck slowed to a crawl. “Willie…”
   A big grin covered Willie’s mouth. “Okay, okay. I’m just trying to help. I know Mr. Bryan is waitin’ for these crates of Mama’s pottery. I’d hate to get there after he’d closed the store.”
   “He’s not going to close the store. Now for the last time, do as I say.”
   “Okay, okay. I’m sittin’.”
   Willie pushed away from the window and slid down into the bed of the truck. Her father straightened in the seat and shook his head. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with that boy. He’s gonna put me in my grave before I’m ready.”
   Laurel laughed, leaned over, and kissed her father’s cheek. “How many times have I heard you say that? I think you love sparring with him. He reminds you of Mama.”
   For the first time today, a deep laugh rumbled in her father’s throat. “That it does. That woman has kept me on my toes for twenty years now.” He glanced over his shoulder through the back glass toward Willie, who now sat hunkered down in the bed of the truck. “But I doubt if I’ll make it with that boy. He tests my patience every day.”
   Laurel smiled as she reached up and retied the bow at the end of the long braid that hung over her shoulder and down the front of her dress. “I doubt that will happen. You have more patience than anybody I know. There aren’t many in our valley who’ve been able to stand up to the government and keep them from taking their land. Just you and Grandpa Martin and a few more. Everybody else has given up and sold out.”
   There it was again. The ever-present shadow that hung over their lives. Cove residents were selling out and leaving. How long could they hang on?
   “Seems like we’re losing all our friends, doesn’t it?” Her father shook his head and pointed straight ahead. “Like Pete and Laura Ferguson. We’re almost to their farm. I think I’ll stop for a minute. I promised Pete I’d keep an eye on the place after they moved, and I haven’t gotten over here in a few weeks.”
   Ever since Laurel could remember there had been a bond between her father and the older Pete Ferguson. Each had always been there to lend a hand to the other, but now the Fergusons were gone. Their land sold to the United States government and their farm officially a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
   She glanced at her father’s face, and she almost gasped aloud at the sorrow she saw. The court case he and Grandpa Martin had waged over the past year had taken its toll on him. He was only a few months away from turning fifty years old, and Grandpa would soon be sixty-five. They didn’t need the worry they’d lived under for the last twelve years. Why couldn’t the government just give up and allow them to remain on their farms in the mountain valley that had been their family’s home for generations? That was her prayer every night, but so far God hadn’t seen fit to answer.
   Her father steered the truck onto the dirt path that ran to the Ferguson cabin. The wildflowers Mrs. Ferguson had always loved waved in the breeze beside the road as they rounded the corner and pulled to a stop in the yard.
   Laurel’s eyes grew wide, and she stared, unbelieving, through the windshield to the spot where the Ferguson cabin had stood as long as she could remember. Her father groaned and climbed from the truck. For a moment he stood beside the vehicle’s open door, his hand resting on the handle. He shook his head as if he couldn’t believe what he saw. Then he closed the door and took a few steps forward.
   Laurel reached for the leather bag that sat on the floorboard near her feet, unsnapped the top flap, and pulled out her Brownie box camera before jumping from the truck. She hurried to stand beside her father, who stood transfixed as he stared straight ahead. Willie, his face pale, climbed from the back of the truck and stopped next to their father. No one spoke for a moment.
   Willie pulled his gaze away and stared up at their father. “Where’s the house, Pa?”
   Their father took a deep breath. “I guess the park service tore it down, son.”
   A sob caught in Laurel’s throat as they stared at the barren spot of land that had once been the site of a cabin, barn, and all the outbuildings needed to keep a farm productive. “But why would they do that, Poppa?”
   Her father took a deep breath. “Because this land is now a part of the park, and they want it to return to its wild state.”
   Willie inched closer to their father. “Are they gonna tear our house down too?”
   Her father’s eyes darkened. “Not if I can help it.” He let his gaze wander over the place he had known so well before he took a deep breath and turned back to the truck. “Let’s get out of here. I shouldn’t have stopped today.”
   Laurel raised the camera and stared down into the viewfinder. “Let me get a picture of this before we go.”
   Her father gritted his teeth. “Take as many as you want. Somebody’s got to record the death of a community.”
   None of them spoke as she snapped picture after picture of the empty spot that gave no hint a family had once been devoted to this piece of land. After she’d finished, the three of them returned to the truck and climbed in. When her father turned the truck and headed back to the road, Laurel glanced over her shoulder at the spot where the house had stood. She had always looked forward to visiting this home, but she didn’t know if she would be able to return. Too many of her friends were gone, scattered to the winds in different directions. The holdouts who still remained in the Cove lived each day with the threat that they too would soon be forced from the only homes they’d ever known. If her family had to leave, they would be like all the rest. They would go wherever they could find a home, and the ties forged by generations in the close society of their remote mountain valley would vanish forever.

Andrew Brady set his empty glass on the soda fountain counter and crossed his arms on its slick white surface. The young man who’d served him faced him behind the counter and smiled. “Can I get you somethin’ else, mister?”
   Andrew shook his head. “No thanks. That cold drink helped to cool me down some. I didn’t expect it to be so hot in Gatlinburg. I thought it would be cooler here in the mountains.”
   The young man grinned and reached up to scratch under the white hat he wore. “Most folks think that, but our days can be a bit warm in the summertime.” He glanced at several customers at the other end of the counter and, apparently satisfied they didn’t need any help at the moment, turned his attention back to Andrew. “Where you from?”
   Andrew smiled. “Virginia. Up near Washington.”
   The young man smiled and extended his hand. “Welcome to Gatlinburg. My name is Wayne Johnson. My uncle owns this drugstore, and I work for him.”
   Andrew grasped his hand and shook it. “Andrew Brady.”
   “How long you been here, Andrew?”
   “I arrived Thursday.”
   Wayne picked up a cloth and began to wipe the counter. He glanced up at Andrew. “You enjoying your vacation?”
   Andrew shook his head. “I’m not in Gatlinburg on vacation. I’m here on business.”
   Wayne shrugged. “I figured you for a tourist. Guess I was wrong. They come from all over now that the park’s opening up. I hear that we had about forty thousand people visit Gatlinburg last year. That’s a far cry from what it was like when I was a boy. We were just a wide spot in a dirt road back in those days. But I expect it’s only gonna get better.”
   Andrew glanced around the drugstore with its well-stocked shelves and the soda fountain against the side wall. “It looks like this business is doing okay.” He shook his head and chuckled. “I don’t know what I expected, but I wouldn’t have thought there’d be so many shops here. Mountain crafts are for sale everywhere, and the whole town is lit up with electric lights. It looks like the park has put this town on the map.”
   Wayne propped his hands on the counter and smiled. “I guess folks in the outside world thought we were just a bunch of ignorant hillbillies up here, but we been doing fine all these years. We’ve even had electricity since back in the twenties when Mr. Elijah Reagan harnessed the power on the Roaring Fork for his furniture factory. He supplied to everybody else too, but now they say we’re gonna have cheap electricity when TVA gets all their dams built.”
   Andrew nodded. “I guess it’s a new day for the people in the mountains.”
   “It sure is, and we’re enjoying every bit of it.” He picked up Andrew’s dirty glass and held it up. “You sure you don’t want a refill?”
   Andrew shook his head. “No, I’d better be going. I have some things to do before I head out to Cades Cove tomorrow.”
   Wayne cocked an eyebrow. “Only one reason I can think why you might be going out there. You must be joining up at the Civilian Conservation Corps.”
   Andrew pulled some coins from his pocket to pay for his soda and laid them on the counter. “No, I’m not with the CCC. Just intend to visit with them a while.”
   Wayne shrugged. “There’re a lot of CCC camps all over the mountains, and those boys are doing a good job. You can see part of it when you drive into the Cove. They built the new road there. It sure makes gettin’ in and out of there easier than it did in years past. I reckon Roosevelt did a good thing when he put that program in his New Deal.”
   “Yeah, it’s giving a lot of young men a chance for employment.” Andrew smiled, picked up the hat that rested on the stool beside him, and set it on his head. “Thanks for the soda.”
   Wayne studied Andrew for a moment. “You never did tell me exactly what your job is. What brought you to Gatlinburg from Washington?”
   “I work with the Park Service. I’m here on a special assignment.”
   Wayne’s eyes narrowed, and his gaze raked Andrew. “Special assignment, huh? Sounds important, and you look mighty young.”
   Andrew’s face grew warm, and his pulse quickened. Even a soda jerk could figure out that a guy who looked like he’d barely been out of college for a year couldn’t have gotten this job on his own. But with his father being a United States congressman and a supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, it hadn’t been hard for his father to arrange this appointment.
   The worst part for him, though, had been his father’s command that Andrew had better not embarrass him on the job. He swallowed the nausea rising in his throat and tried to smile.
   “I guess I’m just lucky they thought I was qualified.”
   “Well, congratulations. Come in for another soda the next time you’re in town.”
   “That I will.” Andrew turned and headed for the exit.
   When he stepped outside the drugstore, he stopped and stared at the newly paved road that wound through the town. Before long that stretch of highway would wind and climb its way up the mountainsides all the way to Newfound Gap that divided the states of   Tennessee and North Carolina. He’d heard that spot mentioned several times as the ideal location for the dedication of the park, but the event was still some years away. His assignment here would be one of the factors that determined when it would take place.
   Andrew took a deep breath of fresh mountain air and turned in the direction where he’d parked his car. Several tourists brushed past him, but it was the approach of a young man and woman who caught his attention. Obviously honeymooners, if the glow of happiness on their faces was any indication. Ignoring everybody they passed, they stared into each other’s eyes and smiled as if they had a secret no one else knew.
   Andrew shook his head in sympathy as they walked past him and wondered how long it would take them to face up to the reality of what being married really meant. He’d seen how his friends had changed after marriage when they had to start worrying about taking care of a family. He’d decided a long time ago it wasn’t for him. He had too many things he wanted to do in life, and getting married ranked way below the bottom of his list. Convincing his father of the decision, though, was another matter. The congressman had already picked out the woman for his son’s wife. “The perfect choice,” his father often said, “to be by your side as you rise in politics.”
   Andrew sighed and shook his head. Sometimes there was no reasoning with his father. He wished he could make him…
   His gaze drifted across the street, and the frown on his face dissolved at the sight of a young woman standing at the back of a pickup truck. Her fisted hands rested on her hips, and she glared at the back of a young boy running down the street.
   “Willie,” she yelled. “Come back here. We’re not through unloading yet.”
   The boy scampered away without looking over his shoulder. She shook her head and stamped her foot. Irritation radiated from her stiff body, and his skin warmed as if she’d touched him.
   As if some unknown force had suddenly inhabited his body, he eased off the sidewalk and moved across the street until he stood next to her. “Excuse me, ma’am. Is there anything I can do to help?”
   She whirled toward him, and the long braid of black hair hanging over her right shoulder thumped against her chest. Sultry dark eyes shaded by long lashes stared up at him, and a small gasp escaped her lips. “Oh, you startled me.”
   His chest constricted, and he inhaled to relieve the tightness. His gaze drifted to the long braid that reached nearly to her waist. He had a momentary desire to reach out and touch it. With a shake of his head, he curled his fingers into his palms and cleared his throat.
   “I’m sorry. I heard you calling out to that boy, and I thought maybe I could help.”
   Only then did her shoulders relax, and she smiled. Relief surged through his body, and his legs trembled. What was happening to him? A few minutes ago he was mentally reaffirming his commitment to bachelorhood, and now his mind wondered why he’d ever had such a ridiculous thought. All he could do was stare at the beautiful creature facing him.
   She glanced in the direction the boy had disappeared and sighed. “That was my brother. He was supposed to help me move these crates into the store, but he ran off to find his friend.” She smiled again and held out her hand. “My name is Laurel.”
   His hand engulfed hers, and a wobbly smile pulled at his lips. “I’m Andrew. I’d be glad to take these inside for you, Laurel.”
   “Oh, no. If you could just get one end, I’ll hold the other.”
   He studied the containers for a moment before he shook his head. “I think I can manage. If you’ll just open the door, I’ll have them inside in no time.”
   She hesitated as if trying to decide, then nodded. “Okay. But be careful. These crates are filled with pottery. My mother will have a fit if one piece gets broken.”
   He took a deep breath, leaned over the tailgate of the truck, and grabbed the largest crate with Mountain Laurel Pottery stamped on the top. Hoisting the container in his hands, he headed toward the store and the front door that she held open.
   As they entered the building, a tall man with a pencil stuck behind his ear hurried from the back of the room. “Afternoon, Laurel. I wondered when you were going to get here.”
   She smiled, and Andrew’s heart thumped harder. “We didn’t leave home as early as we’d planned.” Her smile changed to a scowl. “Willie was supposed to help me, but he ran off.” And just as quickly, her expression changed again to a dazzling smile. “Andrew was good enough to help me get the crates in.”
   Mr. Bryan helped Andrew ease the crate to the floor and glanced up at him. “Any more in the truck?”
   Andrew nodded. “One more, but it’s smaller. I don’t need any help getting it inside.”
   “Then I’ll leave you two. I’m unboxing some supplies in the back.” Mr. Bryan turned to Laurel. “If anybody comes in, holler at me, Laurel.”
   “I will.”
   A need to distance himself from this woman who had his heart turning somersaults swept over Andrew, and he hurried out the door. Within minutes he was back with the second container, but he almost dropped it at the sight of Laurel kneeling on the floor beside the first one. She opened the top, reached inside, and pulled out one of the most beautiful clay pots he’d ever laid eyes on. Swirls of orange and black streaked the smoky surface of the piece. She held it up to the light, and her eyes sparkled as she turned it slowly in her hands and inspected it.
   He set the second crate down and swallowed. “Did you make it?”
   She laughed and shook her head. The braid swayed again, and he stood transfixed. “No, my mother is the potter. I help her sometimes, but I didn’t inherit her gift. This is one of her pit-fired pieces.”
   She set the pot down and pulled another one out. She smiled and rubbed her hand over the surface. Her touch on the pottery sent a warm rush through his veins.
   “Exquisite.” The word escaped his mouth before he realized it.
   She cocked her head to one side and bit her lip. “Exquisite?” she murmured. She glanced up at him, and her long eyelashes fluttered. “I’ve searched for the right word for a long time to describe my mother’s work. I think you’ve just given it to me. They are exquisite.”
   He swallowed and backed away. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
   She shook her head. “No, thank you. You’ve been a great help.”
   “I’m glad I could be of service.” He searched his mind for something else to say, something to prolong his time with her, but his mind was blank. He took a deep breath. “I need to go. It was nice meeting you, Laurel.”
   She smiled. “You too, Andrew. Goodbye, and thanks again.”
   “Goodbye.” He slowly backed toward the door.
   Outside in the fresh air he took a deep breath and pulled his hat off. He raked his sleeve across his perspiring brow and shook his head. What had just happened? He’d felt like he was back in high school and trying to impress the most popular girl in his class.
   He closed his eyes for a moment, and the image of her holding the pottery in her hands returned. He clamped his teeth down on his bottom lip and shook his head. She’d misunderstood. It wasn’t the pottery he was describing when the word had slipped from his mouth.
   Exquisite? The word didn’t do her justice.
   And she had a beautiful name too. Laurel. He straightened, and his eyes widened. He hadn’t even asked her last name.
   He whirled to go back inside the store but stopped before he had taken two steps. His father’s face and the words he’d spoken when Andrew left home flashed in his mind. Remember who you are and why you’re there. Don’t do anything foolish. People in Washington are watching. He exhaled and rubbed his hand across his eyes.
   For a moment inside the store he’d been distracted. He was the son of Congressman Richard Brady, and his father had big plans for his only living son.
   He glanced once more at the pickup truck that still sat in front of the store and pictured how Laurel had looked standing there. When he’d grasped her hand, he’d had the strange feeling that he’d known her all his life. How could a mountain girl he’d just met have such a strange effect on him?
   He pulled his hat on, whirled, and strode in the opposite direction. Halfway down the block he stopped, turned slowly, and wrinkled his brow as he stared back at the truck. The words painted on the containers flashed in his mind, and he smiled.
   It shouldn’t be too hard to find out her last name. For now he would just call her Mountain Laurel. His skin warmed at the thought. A perfect name for a beautiful mountain girl.
   He jammed his hands in his pockets and whistled a jaunty tune as he sauntered down the street.