Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Surprised by Grace: A True Story of Relentless Love by Elizabeth Sherrill, © 2014

This book was originally published as All the Way to Heaven. A longtime writer for Guideposts®, 'Tib' Sherrill says in her introduction:
THIS BOOK IS ABOUT DISCOVERY––the discovery of a secret. It's the story of how heaven, which I used to think of as an imaginary realm-in-the-sky, has become more real to me than the ground beneath my feet. Real in the past, real for the future, and best of all, real right now. And this book is also an invitation. An invitation to us all to look back, to look ahead, and to look around, and keep being surprised at what we see.

Lord, we pray that
your grace may always
precede and follow us.
Book of Common Prayer

It's in sharing our thoughts and lives with one another that we discover most clearly who we are.
   --Surprised by Grace, 205
Tib Sherrill begins her story about how she met her husband, John, aboard ship on their way to Europe. They were married in Switzerland in 1947. Memories abound as she tells of adventures in interviewing for articles, helping her along in her spiritual journey and resting places.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places....
      You press upon me behind and before....
                         Psalm 139:2, 4 (BCP)
One story I dearly loved was about talking with a wife in a Communist country for almost an hour, while bringing a message from her husband to her. When Tib and her husband were returning to their car, he asked her how they had found so much to talk about ~ especially since it sounded like German, which Tib did not understand nor speak? Tib said they talked about her children and the near family to relate back to her husband. Mothers' hearts knit together especially by God.

God knows our hearts and what we need. While searching for a church just right for them, they had voiced that they wanted to seek Him and not have others talk to them. That is exactly what happened. A new minister began that Sunday too, and asked the people to greet each other. They all stood there, with no response. The very thing Tib had voiced to her husband. In a previous church, the first Sunday, she had been asked to sew an item, which she could not do, and was frightened off.

One thing I haven't mentioned? The Sherrills were not believers when they began their writing stopgap (temporary filler, "only for a while") with Guideposts Magazine many years ago. John was told by the editor, that it didn't worry him ~ "If there's anything to the faith this magazine proclaims, belief will come in its own time." (page 62)

Tib shares their lives and experiences, and their love of Europe. A travelogue along life and love, guided by the One who loves us best.
John and Elizabeth Sherrill
John and Elizabeth Sherrill, longtime contributors to Guideposts®
Picture Elizabeth ("Tib") Sherrill has published some 1500 articles and authored more than 30 books, with sales in excess of 50 million. Book titles, many co-written with her husband John, include The Hiding Place, The Cross and the SwitchbladeGod's SmugglerThey Speak with Other Tongues, and Return from Tomorrow.  For over sixty years, Elizabeth has been a writer and editor for Guideposts Magazine. The Sherrills have three children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchild, and are occasionally at home in Hingham, Massachusetts.

Elizabeth’s own story with a new title and a brand new format! Guideposts Books released Surprised by Grace (original title, All the Way to Heaven) in March 2014 with additional material including “Conversation Starters” for use in small groups. When you order the book from you’ll also receive a bonus book of 101 devotionals by Elizabeth.

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for inviting me to review Surprised by Grace by Elizabeth Sherrill. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Through the Deep Waters: a novel by Kim Vogel Sawyer, © 2014

Enjoy the newest release coming from Kim Vogel Sawyer ~ Through the Deep Waters ~ WaterBrook Press (May 6, 2014) ~ available for pre-order.

A past filled with shame can be washed away with a love that conquers all.
For those who feel broken inside, with prayers for you to discover healing through the precious touch of Jesus.
   --author Kim Vogel Sawyer

And he said unto her, "Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole."
  —Luke 8:48

Chicago, Illinois, 1883
Rueben, the cook for the brothel Dinah Hubley has been raised in, has given her a way of escape and protection. Handing Dinah a newspaper advertisement, hope rises.

“Wanted: Young women 18 to 30 years of age, of good moral character, attractive, and intelligent, to waitress in Harvey Eating Houses on the Santa Fe in the West. Wages: $17.50 per month with room and board. Liberal tips customary. Experience not necessary. Write Fred Harvey, Union Depot, Kansas City, Missouri.”
   --Through the Deep Waters, 6-7 

Saddened by the approaching death of her mother, she gives what she has, herself, for money for her mother's remaining care, a few dresses and transportation to go to Kansas City for an interview with the Harvey Girls.

It will be another year before she is 18, the beginning age to be a Harvey Girl. Instead, Dinah is offered a position as a chambermaid at the Clifton Hotel in Florence, Kansas, the only hotel owned by Mr. Harvey. Her mother passed away days earlier, and she has no one to return to in Chicago. Dinah accepts the position, looking forward to being a Harvey Girl, after the hard work she plans to do on her job at the hotel.

Clifton Hotel, Florence, Kansas; a new life for Dinah.
Dinah's roommate, Ruthie Mead, befriends her, something new for Dinah in her self-viewed unworthiness. Attempting to keep her past hidden, she shrinks from socializing with the staff. When Dinah says her mother did not prepare food, they had a cook, Ruthie misunderstands and thinks Dinah is rich. Being invited by Ruthie, Dinah goes to church for the first time. Her hesitancy is taken as it being beneath her. Following the service, Ruthie introduces Dinah to her family, with six brothers and sisters.

A story rich with understanding and acceptance, Dinah's world opens up to more than she could have ever imagined. She will find she is right where she is meant to be.
The Harvey House in Florence was originally known as the Clifton Hotel and was located in a beautiful wooded area south of the railroad tracks.

***I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Excerpt from Kim Vogel Sawyer's Through the Deep Waters ~ Chapters 1 and 2

Chapter 1

Chicago, Illinois, 1883


Dinah Hubley curled her arms around the coal bucket, hunched her shoulders to make herself as small as possible, and then made a dash for the kitchen. The odors of stale tobacco, unwashed bodies, and stout whiskey assaulted her nose. Each time she made this trek through the waiting room, she tried to hold her breath—the smell made her want to give back her meager lunch. But weaving between the haphazard arrangement of mismatched sofas and chairs all draped with lounging men took longer than her lungs could last. So she sucked air through her clenched teeth and did her best to make it all the way through the room without being stopped.
   No such luck. A man reached out from one of the overstuffed chairs and snaked his arm around her waist.
   Dinah released a yelp as the man tugged her backward across the chair’s armrest and into his lap. Lumps of coal spilled over the bucket’s rim and left black marks on the bodice of her faded calico dress. But she was worried about something more than her only dress being soiled.
   Keeping her grip on the bucket, she pushed against the man’s chest with her elbow. He held tight and laughed against her cheek. “Hey, what’s your hurry, darlin’? Stay here an’ let ol’ Max enjoy you for a bit.” He nuzzled his nose into the nape of her neck, chortling. “I always did like gals with brown hair. Brings me to mind of a coon dog I had when I was a young start.”
   His foul breath made bile rise in her throat. She rasped, “Let me go, mister, please? I have to get the coal to the cook.”
   Max plucked the bucket from her arms and held it toward a lanky man who’d sauntered near. “Take the coal to the kitchen for this little gal, Jamie. Free her up for some time with me.”
   Jamie took the bucket and set it aside. Then he caught Dinah’s arm and gave such a yank, she feared her arm would be wrenched from its socket. She didn’t lose her arm, but the drunken man in the chair lost his grip. Her feet met the floor. She would have stumbled had Jamie not kept hold, and a thread of gratitude wove its way through her breast.
   She regained her footing and offered the man a timid smile. “Th-thank you, mister.”
   Jamie’s eyes glittered. Dinah knew that look. She tried to wriggle loose, but his fingers bit hard while his thumb rubbed up and down the tender flesh on the back of her arm. Shivers attacked her frame. He leaned down, his whiskered face leering. “How about ya show me instead of tellin’ me? Gimme a kiss.” He puckered up.
   Dinah crunched her eyes closed. Her stomach rolled and gorge filled her throat.
   A voice intruded. “Jamie Fenway, if you want to keep coming around here and making use of my girls, you’d better let loose of that one.”
   Relief sagged Dinah’s legs when she realized the proprietress of the Yellow Parrot had entered the room.
   The man released Dinah with an insolent shove, sending her straight against Miss Flo’s ample front. Barrel-shaped and as strong as most men, the woman didn’t even flinch. She took hold of Dinah’s upper arms, set her upright, then turned her kohl-enhanced glare on Jamie and Max. “How many times do I have to tell you no free sampling, fellas? Everything you want is waiting upstairs, but until you’ve paid, you keep your hands, your lips, and whatever else you think you might be tempted to use to yourself.”
   The men waiting their turns with Miss Flo’s girls laughed uproariously. One of them wisecracked, “Besides, Jamie, that one you grabbed on to ain’t hardly worth stealin’ a pinch. If she was a striped bass, I’d throw her back!” More guffaws and sniggers rang.
   Jamie’s slit-eyed gaze traveled up and down Dinah’s frame. “Even the smallest fish tastes plenty good when it’s fresh.”
   Dinah hugged herself, wishing she could shrink away to nothing.
   Miss Flo grabbed a handful of Dinah’s hair and gave a harsh yank. “What are you doing carting coal through the waiting room, anyway? I don’t want that mess in my parlor.”
   A few smudges of coal dust would hardly be noticed among the years’ accumulation of tobacco stains and muddy prints on the worn carpet. But Dinah ducked her head and mumbled meekly, “I’m sorry, Miss Flo.”
   “I know you’re sorry, but that doesn’t answer my question.” Miss Flo’s voice was as sharp as the teacher’s—the one who berated Dinah for wearing the same dress to school every day and checked her head for lice in front of the whole class. “We’ve got a back door to the kitchen. Why didn’t you use it?”
   Dinah winced and stood as still as she could to keep her hair from being pulled from her scalp. “I couldn’t get in through the back. The door’s blocked.”
   “By what?”
   Miss Flo’s newest girl, Trudy, liked to meet one of the deputies on the back stoop. He was so tall Trudy had to stand on the stoop for their lips to meet. The image of them pressed so tight together not even a piece of paper could come between them was seared into Dinah’s memory. But she wouldn’t tattle. It was bad enough she had to listen to the taunts in school and on the streets of town. She wouldn’t set herself up for belittling under the only roof she’d ever called home.
   When Dinah didn’t answer, Miss Flo growled and released her hair with another vicious yank. “Get that coal out of here.”
   Dinah bent over to grab the handle of the discarded bucket.
   Miss Flo kicked her in the rear end, knocking her on her face. “And don’t let me see you traipsing through this room again. Next time I might not be around to stop the men from taking their pleasure from you.” She stepped over Dinah, the full layers of her bold-yellow skirt rustling. “All right, fellas, how about some music while you wait?” Men cheered and whistled. Miss Flo, her smile wide, plopped onto the upright piano’s round stool and began thumping out a raucous tune. Drunken voices raised in song.
   Dinah scrambled to her feet, grabbed the coal bucket, and raced from the room. She darted straight to the coal box in the corner and leaned against the wall, panting. So close… Jamie’d come so close to claiming her lips. She covered her mouth with trembling fingers as Miss Flo’s warning screamed through her mind. The proprietress often screeched idle threats in Dinah’s direction, but this one was real. The older she got, the more likely it became the men who flocked to the Yellow Parrot after sundown seven days a week would see her as more than Untamable Tori’s unfortunate accident.
   The cook, a hulk of a man with a bald head and forearms the size of hams, glanced in Dinah’s direction. “You gonna dump that coal in the hopper or just stand there hugging the bucket?”
   Dinah gave a start. “S-sorry, Rueben.” She tipped the bucket and dumped the coal into its holding tank. Black dust sifted upward. Some of the black bits were sucked up inside her nose. She dropped the dented bucket with a clatter and turned to cough into her cupped hands.
   Rueben stirred a wooden spoon through a pot on the massive cast-iron Marvel range. The rich smell of rum rose. Another cabinet pudding in the making—Tori’s favorite. For years Dinah had suspected Rueben was sweet on her mother, and when Dinah had been much younger, she harbored the whimsical idea that he might be her father. But when she asked him, hoping she’d finally get to call somebody Pa, he laughed so hard she scuttled away in embarrassment. Now, at the wise age of sixteen, she realized the question of her paternity would never be answered. Not with Tori’s occupation being what it was.
   Dinah inched toward the stove where the scent of the pudding’s sauce would be stronger. The smell of rum on someone’s breath turned her stomach, but somehow when rum was blended with cream and sugar, it became delightful. She leaned in, and Rueben grinned knowingly.
   “Wantin’ a sniff, are you?”
   Everyone who called the Yellow Parrot home and everyone who visited knew better than to disturb Rueben when he was cooking. He considered preparing tasty dishes an art, and he tolerated no intrusion on his concentration. But he’d never sent Dinah away. She nodded.
   “Well, tip on in here, then.”
   She put her face over the pot’s opening. Steam wisped around her chin, filling her nostrils with the sweet, rich aroma. The foul smells from the parlor drifted away, and Dinah released a sigh of satisfaction.
   “All right, move back now. I need to dump this over the sponge cake an’ get it in the oven if it’s gonna be done by suppertime.”
   Suppertime at the Yellow Parrot was served well after midnight. More often than not, Dinah was asleep by then and didn’t have any supper. But Rueben always put a filled plate in the stove’s hob for her breakfast. Rueben poured the thick sauce over chunks of sponge cake dotted with chopped figs and currants. She licked her lips. “What else are you fixing besides the pudding?”
   “Got a leg of lamb with cherry sauce slow bakin’ in the oven out back. I tucked in some whole sweet potatoes studded with cloves, too—I’ll mash ’em with pecans and cinnamon.”
   Dinah’s mouth watered.
   “Plannin’ to steam a batch of brussels sprouts and fix up a cream sauce to pour over ’em to kill the smell. You know how your ma pinches her nose when I fix those things. But she always gobbles them up anyway.” He shrugged. “Nothin’ much.” Rueben moved to the washbasin and began trimming the thick stems from the brussels sprouts with a flick of a paring knife.
   She should go upstairs. Her duties for the day were done, and unlike Miss Flo’s girls, she didn’t have the luxury of sleeping until noon. But instead, Dinah perched on a stool in the corner and watched Rueben work. She preferred the kitchen to any other room in the stately old house outside of town that Miss Flo had turned into a place of business. The good smells, the warm stove, the clean-scrubbed floor and work counters—Rueben wouldn’t allow even a speck of dirt to mar his domain—provided her truest sense of “home.” Until Rueben told her to get on up to her room, she’d stay.
   Rueben sent a brief frown in her direction. “I heard the commotion in the parlor.”
   He had? “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
   “You were in there durin’ working hours. That’s wrong.”
   Dinah’s face flamed.
   Rueben tucked the pudding into the oven, closed the door as gently as a mother placing a blanket on her sleeping newborn, then faced her. He put his beefy hands on his hips. Although he didn’t scowl, his huge presence was intimidating enough. “I know why you used the front door instead of the back. I’m gonna tell Flo she needs to keep a tighter rein on Trudy. But that don’t excuse you. You’ve gotta defend yourself, Dinah. You ain’t a little girl anymore.”
   Dinah cringed, recalling the way Max’s hand had roved across her rib cage. Although not as buxom as her mother’s, her chest strained against the tight bodice of her one calico dress. She was womanly now. And in a place like this, being womanly was an invitation.
   He went on in the same blunt tone—not kind, not harsh, but matter-of-fact— as if Dinah should already know these things. “If you want to carry coal through the back door, then you need to tell whoever’s in the way to step aside. If you don’t want somebody pestering you, then you need to come right out and tell ’em to leave you alone. If you don’t want to stay in a brothel, then you need to pack a bag an’ move on.”
   Dinah’s jaw fell slack. She’d never had the courage to stand up to the sniggering schoolboys or snooty girls who taunted her. How could Rueben expect her to be brave enough to set out on her own? He’d lost his senses. “Where would I go? What would I do?”
  He sauntered to the oak secretary where he planned his meals and made shopping lists. He pulled down the drop door that formed a desktop and reached into one of the cubbies. When he turned, he held a scrap of newsprint that he laid flat against the desk’s scarred surface. “C’mere.”
   On quivering legs, Dinah obeyed.
   He tapped one sausage-sized finger on the paper. “Read this.”
   She leaned over the desk. The dim light made it difficult for her make out the print, but she read slowly, painstakingly, reciting it word for word inside her head. “Wanted: Young women 18 to 30 years of age, of good moral character, attractive, and intelligent, to waitress in Harvey Eating Houses on the Santa Fe in the West. Wages: $17.50 per month with room and board. Liberal tips customary. Experience not necessary. Write Fred Harvey, Union Depot, Kansas City, Missouri.”
   The reading complete, she hunkered into herself, deeply stung. Didn’t Miss Flo call her an ugly duckling? Didn’t the teacher at school remind her on the days she managed to attend classes she should just stay away because she’d never amount to anything? She was neither attractive nor intelligent and everyone knew it. Why would Rueben—the one person who’d been kind to her— tease her this way?
   He bumped her shoulder. “What’d you think?”
   She set her jaw and refused to answer.
   He caught her chin between his thumb and finger and raised her face. “There’s your chance. Write to this Fred Harvey. Get yourself outta here.”
   Rueben had chided her to speak up and say what she thought. She jerked her chin free of his grasp and spouted, “He won’t take me! I’m— I’m—” She couldn’t bring herself to repeat the hurtful words people had thrown at her all her life. So she said, “I’m only sixteen.”
   He snorted. “You won’t be sixteen forever. An’ with hotels an’ restaurants poppin’ up along the railroad line all the way to California, he’ll be needing waitresses for a good long while.” He folded the advertisement and pressed it into Dinah’s palm. “Keep that. Write to him when your eighteenth birthday’s past. Because, girlie, sure as my pudding’ll come out of that oven browned just right and tastin’ like heaven, if you stay here, you’re gonna end up bein’ one of Flo’s girls.” He curled his hand around hers, his big fingers strong yet tender. “Wouldn’t you rather be one of Harvey’s girls?”

Chapter 2


Wouldn’t you rather be one of Harvey’s girls?” Over the next weeks as Dinah browsed the markets and filled shopping lists for Rueben, she thought about becoming one of Harvey’s girls. When she washed the soiled linens and ironed the working girls’ fancy robes and underthings, she imagined being one of Harvey’s girls. As she sat at the desk in the back corner of the schoolroom completing lessons, she daydreamed about becoming one of Harvey’s girls. Late at night in her attic bedroom, listening to the noises coming from the rooms below, she longed to become one of Harvey’s girls.
   Toward the end of May, school ended for the season. Although she’d passed the exams, she didn’t attend the graduation ceremony to receive her eighth-grade certificate. If only she could be like the other students who walked across the teacher’s platform and received the rolled document tied with a crisp black ribbon! But she’d look the fool, being so much older than the others who were privileged to attend daily rather than hit or miss. And she had no one who would attend, smile with pride from the audience, and offer congratulations afterward. Thus, participating in the ceremony for which she’d worked so long and hard held little joy.
   Her seventeenth birthday arrived the first day of June. Rueben prepared her favorites for lunch—glazed ham with scalloped potatoes and steamed green beans seasoned well with bacon and onion—and baked her a spice cake with a half inch of fluffy vanilla cream between each of the three moist layers. All of Flo’s girls trooped downstairs and partook of her birthday treat, but they fussed about eating such a heavy midday meal in place of their customary noon breakfast. They didn’t sing to her, and no one gave her a present. Everyone else’s lack of attention made Dinah appreciate Rueben’s gesture all the more. She thanked him over and over for his kindness until he told her, “Hush now. You’re embarrassing me.”
   When the girls shuffled back upstairs for a few hours of rest and quiet before the men began storming the doors, she offered to help clean up the mess. But Miss Flo looped elbows with her and tugged her away from the table.
   “No dish washin’ on your birthday. Come into the parlor with me instead.”
   Dinah caught a glimpse of Rueben’s brows descending in a scowl, but Miss Flo ushered her out of the dining room so quickly she didn’t have a chance to explore the reason for it. Miss Flo aimed Dinah for the bay window where two brocade chairs were crunched close together beneath heavy draperies. It would be a cheerful spot if the curtains were ever separated to let the sun pour in.
   Miss Flo pointed to one chair, and Dinah sat while the proprietress flopped into the other with a loud whish from her silk skirts. Miss Flo folded her hands in her lap, crossed her legs with another wild rustling of skirts, and smiled— the warmest smile she’d ever aimed at Dinah. “Well now, seventeen, are you?”
   “Yes, ma’am.”
   “And as unsullied as new-fallen snow…”
   An uneasy feeling wriggled through Dinah’s belly. “Ma’am?”
   Miss Flo barked a short laugh. “Oh, I was just thinkin’ how different you are from the girls upstairs. Them all bein’ so…experienced. You’re something of an oddity in a place like this, Dinah.” Her well-rouged cheeks and kohl-darkened eyes gave her a hard appearance, yet Dinah believed she caught a hint of envy in the woman’s expression. “By the time I was your age, I’d been workin’ for over two years. Young but old already. This work will make you old fast. All you gotta do is look at your ma to see how this work ages a person.”
   Yes, Tori appeared much older than her thirty-nine years. She applied kohl to her eyes and bold rouge to her lips and cheeks, powdered her pale face, and dyed her hair with India ink—all attempts to look youthful. But nothing hid the truth. The woman who’d been known as Untamable Tori to the men of Chicago for the past twenty years was worn out.
   Dinah’s chest constricted. “I know.”
   “And she’s sick, too.”
   Miss Flo spoke so flippantly Dinah wasn’t sure she’d heard correctly. She crunched her brow. “What?”
   “Sick. She’s sick.” Miss Flo examined her long fingernails, then picked at a loose cuticle. “It happens in this business if you ain’t careful.”
   She raised one brow and aimed a knowing look at Dinah. “An’ considerin’ that you came to be, we both know Tori ain’t careful.” She’d noticed Tori’s drop in weight and the dark circles under her eyes, but she’d just thought her ma was tired. “She’s with child?”
   Miss Flo rolled her eyes. “She’s sick, I said.”
   Then Dinah understood. Twice she’d watched others of Flo’s girls succumb to a sickness that turned their skin yellow and made them waste away to nothing. And now the sickness had its hold on Tori. Dinah folded her arms across her ribs and held tight as fear and worry attacked.
   Miss Flo lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “She didn’t want me to tell you, but I figured you have a right to know. She is your ma, after all.”
   Dinah had never been allowed to call Tori by anything other than her name—she always claimed the men wouldn’t be interested in her anymore if they knew she had a child. The few times she’d slipped and said “Ma” or “Mama,” Tori had slapped her hard, so Dinah learned not to say the terms out loud. But inwardly she’d called her mother by the affectionate titles and longed for the day they’d leave this place and become a real mother and daughter. Another dream that would never come true.
   Tears stung. She forced her voice past her tight throat. “Is there anything you can do?”
   Miss Flo shook her head. The feathers she wore in her streaky black-and-gray hair gently waved, as if offering a sweet farewell. But there would be nothing sweet about Tori’s passing—not if she had the same sickness as those other girls. “Not a thing. In fact, I ought to make her leave. Another week or two and she won’t be able to work anymore. And you know everyone has to earn their keep around here.”
   In all of Dinah’s lifetime, Tori had never set foot outside the confines of Through the Deep Waters 11 the Yellow Parrot. She rarely even ventured into the yard. Tori would die of fright if told to leave. Dinah clutched the carved armrests to keep herself in the chair. “But you can’t send her away!”
   “Well, I can’t have her fillin’ a room meant for moneymakin’.” Miss Flo glared at Dinah. “This is a business, not a charity or a poor farm. If she can’t earn, she can’t stay.”
   No poor farm would take in a soiled dove. No charity house would extend a kind hand to someone who’d sold herself to men. Dinah’s heart beat fast and hard. Panic made her dizzy. The girls of the Yellow Parrot were trapped here like birds in a cage. She hung her head, helplessness sweeping over her with the force of floodwaters breaking through a dam.
   “But maybe…”
   Dinah jerked her gaze at Miss Flo. The woman was smiling again. Sweetly. Invitingly. Whatever idea she had to keep Tori from being tossed onto the street, Dinah would listen.
   “I could let your mama stay here through her last days. It would be hard on her, wouldn’t it, to be sent off somewhere to die all alone? So I could put a bed for her in the attic, let her live out her final days under the roof where she’s been sheltered an’ fed all these years.”
   Hope ignited in Dinah’s chest.
   “I could do that if you’ll give me, say, twenty-five dollars.”
   The hope fizzled and died.
   “See, I figure with her bein’ sick, she won’t eat much. Accordin’ to the doctor, she ain’t gonna last even another three months, so I figure twenty-five dollars’ll cover the rest of her life.”
   Dinah sagged in resignation. “I don’t have twenty-five dollars.”
   The woman’s gaze narrowed, her smile changing to a knowing smirk. “You could earn it.”
   Oh no…
   Miss Flo leaned forward, bringing her rouge-brightened face close to Dinah’s. “I know a man—a rich businessman who doesn’t visit the brothels. He has very specific…wants. And he pays well.”
   No, no, no…
   “For settin’ it up with him an’ providing a room, I’d need to take my standard half. But your share would be fifty dollars, Dinah.” Miss Flo’s tone became wheedling. “Twenty-five to give for your ma’s keep, an’ twenty-five to use for yourself any way you please. A new dress—two or three, even. Some new shoes an’ stockings an’ hair ribbons. All kinds of things. Fifty dollars is more than most people earn in a whole month, an’ you could make it just like that.” She snapped her fingers and Dinah jumped. Miss Flo reached across the short distance between the chairs and took Dinah’s hand. Her cold fingers squeezed, squeezed, squeezed. “I’ll get it arranged. Yes?”
   Dinah’s ears rang. One line from the advertisement she’d memorized screamed through her mind: “…of good moral character.” She’d given up on so many dreams—having a father, a mother, a home. Could she let her dream of becoming one of Harvey’s girls die, too?
   She yanked her hand from the woman’s grip and leaped to her feet. “I’ll find another way to take care of Tori!” She turned and raced for the stairs.
   Miss Flo’s mocking voice trailed after her. “No pay, no stay—for either of you. Remember that.”


Every day during the month of June, Dinah set out in search of a job. She spoke to shop owners, cafĂ© owners, clinic directors, and business office receptionists. She offered to mop floors, to scour pots, to wash linens or scrub aprons, to deliver messages—no job was too menial. And in every case when she answered the simple question, “Where do you live?” she was sent away with a firmly stated, “We don’t need your kind around here.”
   After weeks of fruitless searching, she came to a grim realization. Her eighth-grade certificate, so slowly and painfully won, didn’t matter. Her willingness to work hard at whatever task she was given didn’t matter. By association, Dinah was tainted—trapped in the same cage that held her mother captive. She’d never find a decent job. Not in this city. And to get out of the city would take money.
   With the summer sun waiting until late to creep over the horizon, the working hours at the Yellow Parrot moved forward. The customers preferred to visit under the cover of darkness. Dinah had always found it ironic that men who so eagerly and unashamedly forked over their dollars to Miss Flo didn’t want to be seen coming or going. As summer descended, the most booming business took place between ten and midnight, with a few stragglers sticking around until two or three in the morning until Miss Flo finally gave them the boot.
   On the last day of June, Dinah managed to stay awake until the very last man clomped off the porch, straddled his horse, and moseyed for home. She waited until the girls had eaten their supper and returned to their rooms. She waited a little longer, until all murmuring and bedspring squeaking had hushed. Then she crept down the narrow enclosed stairway from the attic to the second floor and entered her mother’s room.
   Scant moonlight filtered through a slit in the heavy curtains and fell like a pale thread across Tori’s sleeping face. For a moment Dinah hesitated. Despite her illness, Tori had worked tonight. She had to or Miss Flo would send her away. Her sagging skin and slack mouth proved her exhaustion. Maybe Dinah shouldn’t disturb her. But by morning the others would be awake and would possibly overhear. And Dinah needed this conversation to remain private.
   Drawing in a breath of fortification, she leaned forward and shook Tori’s shoulder. “Tori? Tori, wake up.”
   Tori snuffled and slapped at Dinah’s hand.
   Dinah shook her again, more forcefully this time.
   Slowly Tori’s eyelids rose. Her bleary gaze settled on Dinah’s face, and she scowled. “What’re you doin’, pesterin’ me? Get outta here. Lemme sleep.” She started to roll over.
   Dinah caught her mother’s arm, holding her in place. “You can sleep in a minute. I need to talk to you. It’s important.”
   With a grunt, Tori wrenched her arm free. “What’s so blamed important it can’t wait until morning?”
   After easing onto the edge of the bed, Dinah clutched her hands together and whispered, “You.” She swallowed. “I know you’re sick, Ma.”
   Tori’s face pinched into a horrible grimace. “I told her not to say nothin’ to you. An’ don’t call me Ma.”
   “I can call you Ma now. Nobody’s around to hear. I needed to know about you being sick. You should’ve told me.” Even as she chided her mother, Dinah realized the pointlessness. She and Tori had never talked—not the way she imagined mothers and daughters were supposed to talk, sharing secrets and laughs and concerns. Mothers and daughters were supposed to look out for each other. They might have failed in every other sense, but maybe they could do at least one thing right. “Miss Flo says if you can’t work, you can’t stay here anymore.”
   “Stingy old biddy.” Bitterness tinged Tori’s weak voice. “All these years I stayed, lettin’ her get rich off me, an’ now she’s ready to put me out like some dried-up milk cow. She don’t know the meaning of loyalty.”
   “I want to help you.”
   A soft snort left Tori’s throat. “You got a cure up your sleeve?”
   Dinah hung her head. “I can’t make you well. But I…I want to take care of you. I can’t let Miss Flo send you away. Not when there’s a way to let you stay here.”
   A glimmer of hope appeared in Tori’s purple-smudged eyes. “How?”
   Why couldn’t life be like the stories in the fairy-tales book Rueben had given her one year for Christmas, where a knight rode to the castle and rescued the distressed maiden from the dungeon? No knight would help her or her ma. Dinah had to depend on herself. “If I give Miss Flo some money, she’ll let you stay. Until you…” She couldn’t make herself say the word die.
   “Where are you gettin’ money?”
   Dinah forced a glib shrug. “I found a way.”
   For long seconds, Tori stared at her through mere slits. “I wanted to get rid of you when I found out you were comin’. There’re ways, you know.”
   Chills rolled through Dinah, as if her blood had turned to ice water.
   “But I’d already done so much wrong, an’ doin’ away with you wouldn’t fix none of it. So I went ahead an’ brung you into the world. Brung you into this…this den of iniquity. An’ over an’ over I’ve wished I’d done different way back then. Wished I’d not brought you here at all.”
   Realization bloomed. Tori didn’t regret Dinah’s birth because she hated her, but because she hated the life into which she’d been born. Which meant her ma cared. Cared about her. The ice in her veins turned liquid and warm. Tears filled her eyes, and they pooled in Tori’s eyes as well.
   Tori continued brokenly. “Now here you are, a woman grown, offerin’ to take care of me when I never in all your life did nothin’ to take care of you.” One tear rolled down her sunken cheek. “I don’t deserve any kindness, Dinah. I don’t deserve bein’ cared for.”
   The rejections she’d faced over the past days, the past months, the past years swirled up like a giant whirlpool and threatened to topple Dinah from the edge of the bed. Even if she was just the illegitimate child of a prostitute, she’d deserved to be treated better. And even if Tori had sold her body to men to make a living, she didn’t deserve to die alone on the streets. Why couldn’t those high-and-mighty people in town turn up their noses at the men who paid the dollars instead of saving all their disgust for the women who pocketed the coins? Things sure were backward in the world.
   She smoothed the tousled, dry strands of hair on her mother’s head. “You deserve to be cared for, Ma, an’ I’ll see to it you are. You’ll die warm in a bed instead of cold on a street.”
   Dinah returned to her room so her mother could sleep. She dropped into her tiny bed, resigned but also resolute. Tori would enjoy one small good in a whole host of bads. And Miss Flo said Dinah could use the money to buy anything she wanted. She’d use her twenty-five dollars to buy a train ticket and take herself to Mr. Harvey. So far away from Chicago nobody’d know where she’d been or what she’d done to earn her freedom. She’d be one of Harvey’s girls, and nobody would look down his or her nose at Dinah ever again.
Advance Reading Copy of Kim Vogel Sawyer's Through the Deep Waters, © 2014

Quilts of Love series ~ A Promise in Pieces by Emily T. Wierenga, © 2014

Red Cross

Quilts tell stories of love and loss, hope and faith, tradition and new beginnings. The Quilts of Love series focuses on the women who quilted all of these things into their family history. Featuring contemporary and historical romances as well as women's fiction and the occasional light mystery, you will be drawn into the endearing characters of this series and be touched by their stories.

A baby quilt touches many hearts as it travels from family-to-family and through generations.
After the end of World War II, Clara Kirkpatrick returns from the Women’s Army Corp to deliver a dying soldier’s last wishes: convey his love to his young widow, Mattie, with apologies for the missed life they had planned to share.
    Struggling with her own post-war trauma, Clara thinks she’s not prepared to handle the grief of this broken family. Yet upon meeting Mattie, and receiving a baby quilt that will never cuddle the soldier’s baby, Clara vows to honor the sacrifices that family made.
    Now a labor and delivery nurse in her rural hometown, Clara wraps each new babe in the gifted quilt and later stitches the child’s name into the cloth. As each new child is welcomed by the quilt, Clara begins to wonder whatever happened to Mattie—and if her own life would ever experience the love of a newborn. Little does she know that she will have the opportunity to re-gift the special quilt—years later and carrying even greater significance than when it was first bestowed.

A Promise in Pieces is a beautiful story of hope and love.

2000. Spring*summer*autumn*winter ~*~ the four seasons of our lives. Will I ever look at them the same? Looking back, I wonder sometimes, as I watch the young life of my family around me. My memory takes me away at times. To those days long ago, hearing the gunshots ring out, and the groans around me. Especially one young man, Gareth. I told him I would take a message back to his wife, Mattie. Mattie. I think of her now. Mattie, dear Mattie. I think of all the children, newborns, I have wrapped in the quilt she gave me ~ the baby quilt of hope.

It was 1943. My  friend, Eva, and I signed up for the Army Nurse Corps. The night before we had listened to a father talk about his son and not getting letters from him anymore. My father said I was named after Clara Barton, the nurse who began the American Red Cross.  I am Clara Anne ~ so, of course, I would want to serve others with my nursing degree. But... I left home without my parents' approval or blessings. We were shipped overseas. Shipped is the right word! I experienced being seasick, and what homesickness was too.
Red Cross
... we were protected by the Geneva Cross on our uniforms––the red Greek cross on a white background declaring all nurses neutral.
    --A Promise in Pieces, 33

1945 France. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound... Gareth was singing while semiconscious on the tent floor mattress. As he lay dying, he dictated a letter to his Mattie. As I wrote it down for him, he had me promise I would hand deliver it to her in New Orleans. That night I began believing in God again.

Excerpt from page 46:
   On our days off, Martha and I biked the curved roads of France.
   We became friends shortly after Gareth died, and with Eva gone, too, I was sore alone. So we biked, come spring, as the war raged on. We biked on our days off to villages around Normandy, and we played with the children we found, spent time with women whose houses had been bombed, and bought crusty loaves of French bread to hand out and cheese and meat, and it felt good to be giving in this way. To be outside, in the country side of rolling green, and to remember life beyond war.
The French countryside (by Chris (archi3d))
Such an exceptional story told in first person. Clara shares memories she had lived vividly to her grandson, Noah. Do you know the stories of those who are very important to you? Clara's journey brings her home to make amends with her parents, move on to her own beginnings at Mrs. Bailey's room and board, and patient Oliver.

I thoroughly enjoyed the writings of Emily Wierenga, in a gentle telling of Clara's life and those around her. Clara touched many other lives beyond what she might have intended, just by being herself, doing what she knew to do.

Emily Wierenga is a former editor, ghostwriter, freelance writer and staff journalist, a monthly columnist for The Christian Courier, and the author of Save My Children (Castle Quay Books, 2008), Chasing Silhouettes (Ampelon Publishing, 2012) and Mom in the Mirror (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013). Emily resides in Alberta, Canada. This is her first novel.

click here to enjoy chapters 1-3 of debut novel by Emily Wierenga ~ A Promise in Pieces

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group for inviting me to be part of the book tour for A Promise in Pieces by Emily T. Wierenga and to Abingdon Press for sending me a copy to review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Win a “Women Helping Women” $200 Shopping Spree from @TheQuiltsofLove & @Emily_Wierenga | “A Promise in Pieces” Giveaway!

The latest Quilts of Love release, A Promise in Pieces by Emily Wierenga is receiving glowing reviews.

Emily is celebrating the release of her debut novel with a "Women Helping Women" shopping spree giveaway.

  One winner will receive:
  • $200 to spend at Emily's favorite shops, Noonday Collection & Vibella (Click through to learn more about how these companies exist to make a difference in the lives of women!)
  • A Promise in Pieces by Emily Wierenga
  • A Stitch and a Prayer by Eva Gibson
  • Rival Hearts by Tara Randel
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 10th. Winner will be announced on the Quilts of Love blog on May 12th. Then be sure to stop by the Quilts of Love Facebook page on May 29th for the "Quilting Bee" Facebook party with Emily and other Quilts of Love authors. RSVP for an evening of book chat, quilting tips & tricks, prizes, and more!

Spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning.

A Sensible Arrangement by Tracie Peterson, © 2014

Lone Star Brides series, Book One

Cover Art
"In the first of the LONE STAR BRIDES series, featuring 1890s Denver, Colorado, and Texas, Marty and Jake agree to a marriage of convenience only. But when love starts to soften their hearts, will they come to a different arrangement?" --Provided by publisher.
Martha Dandridge Olson ~ Texas, the day before Christmas, 1892
Unbeknownst to her family, Marty Olson has made plans to go to Colorado ... to wed. She has answered an advertisement in the newspaper for a Lone Star bride. Writing back and forth, the time has come for her to leave her Texas ranch.
Jacob Wythe is a Denver banker with his heart in Texas. He is working and striving to put enough by to fulfill his dream of having his own ranch in Texas. His employer is wanting Jake to advance within his bank holdings.

Will their dreams collide ~ Marty's desire to leave Texas far behind, and Jake wanting to return? A marriage of convenience is what they offer each other. He has been lied to twice before and is skittish; she has lost all she ever wanted in the Texas soil. Death to dreams.

Jake's employer said he needed a wife as a successful banker, someone to complement him in society circles to draw other families to the bank. In choosing a personal maid, as Marty was told she would be changing her clothes several times a day for her different activities, a young woman comes for an interview who turns out to be the daughter of Jake's predecessor at the bank. She is indeed an asset to have. Alice and Marty become friends, unheard of in mixing staff and employer. Marty thanks Alice for her honesty in sharing, but... she, herself, has reluctantly not shared her true reason in Colorado with her sister back home, nor told her husband about her land. With the silver value diminishing to half, Jake is uncertain of his position and the shifting bank ledgers that fluctuate.

I read this book in o-n-e sitting ~ well, I moved from the kitchen table to a comfy attic room to block the TV sound. Completely read through ~ could not stop reading before THE END. I wanted to find out what would happen to their sensible arrangement. Because they were comfortable without expectations, they were drawn to each other over daily meals to share their day.

Tracie PetersonTracie Peterson is the award-winning author of over ninety novels, both historical and contemporary. Her avid research resonates in her stories, as seen in her bestselling Heirs of Montana and Alaskan Quest series. Tracie and her family make their home in Montana. Visit Tracie's website at

Dear Reader,
   Please join me in celebrating this, my one hundredth book. Over the course of twenty some years, I have enjoyed being published in Christian fiction. My writing has always been a ministry for me, and my heart has been blessed by the letters I've received from you that have shown how God has used the books to change lives. I'm very blessed to do what I love and to see God use it for His glory.
   God bless all of you
   in His love,
   Tracie Peterson

***Thank you to author Tracie Peterson and Bethany House Publishers for this copy of A Sensible Arrangement and to Litfuse Publicity Group for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy this excerpt of Chapter 1 of Tracie Peterson's A Sensible Arrangement 
~* Chapter 1 *~

DECEMBER 24, 1892

Marty Dandridge Olson looked over the letters once again. There were three, and each contained a variety of information meant to assist her in making a decision. A life-changing decision.
   “Hannah would call me mad,” Marty mused aloud. She picked up one of the letters—the latest—and noted the first line: I have enclosed funds enough to cover your travels to Denver.
   Marty shook her head. Am I mad? Crazy to seriously consider this matter?
   Putting the letter down, Marty got to her feet and paced the small kitchen. She put a few pieces of wood into the cookstove and stoked the fire. The chill of the day wasn’t that great, but she was restless and it gave her something to do—something other than contemplate those letters . . . and what had happened four years earlier.
   Now nearly thirty-five, Marty was a childless widow who was known for her spunk and ingenuity. She was the kind of woman who seemed destined to a life in Texas. Surrounded by family and friends, Marty had known a life of love and relatively little want. Why, then, was she so desperate to leave it all behind?
   She had lived her entire life in Texas, or very nearly. Her birth in Mississippi had taken the life of her mother, leaving her to be raised by a deeply saddened father and loving older sister. Hannah had been more mother than sister to Marty, and at nearly twenty years Marty’s senior, Hannah’s guidance and wisdom had seen Marty through many difficulties.
   If only her wisdom could have saved the life of Marty’s husband.
   “Thomas.” She whispered the name and smiled. “You were always so very stubborn. I doubt anything could have saved your life once you determined to die.”
   Her beloved husband had died four years ago to the day. Gored by a longhorn bull, Thomas had suffered massive internal injuries but had remained conscious until the very end. Even now, Marty could recall his final words to her.
   “I reckon I’ve made a mess of Christmas, Marty, but never you mind. It ain’t worth troublin’ yourself over, so don’t you go mournin’ me for long.” The pain had been clearly written on his face, but he’d held fast to her hand, although his voice had grown weaker. “I’ve loved you . . . a long time . . . Martha Dandridge . . . Olson. Don’t reckon . . . there’s a . . . better wife to any man.”
   “So don’t leave me,” she had begged, kissing his fingers. He had given her a weak smile and then closed his eyes one last time. “I gotta go, gal.” And with that, his hand went limp in hers and he exhaled his last breath.
   Marty remembered it as if it had been yesterday. How she had mourned him—the loss unlike anything she’d ever known. Folks told her time would ease the pain, and in truth it had . . . a little. But time had done nothing to fill the emptiness. There were days when she feared the loneliness would swallow her whole.
   She looked back to the table where the letters lay. Could this be the answer she sought? Could her decision fill the emptiness once and for all? The clock chimed the hour, and Marty knew it wouldn’t be long before the Barnett carriage showed up to take her to her sister’s for the Christmas celebration.
   Marty took up the letters and tucked them in the pocket of her apron. There had been a time when she might have prayed about her decision, but not now. After God had refused her prayers to save Thomas’s life, Marty had hardened her heart. God was now only a bitter reminder of a trust that had been broken.
   “I’m going to do it,” Marty announced to the empty room. “I’m going to marry a man I’ve never met and do not love. I’m going to marry him and leave this place forever.”
   That evening as she settled in to exchange gifts with her sister’s family, Marty looked for the right moment to break the news. She had already determined she wouldn’t tell them about the classified advertisement that had started her plans. The Dallas Daily Times-Herald had run the request for a full week.
Texas-born man now living in Colorado, working as a banker, wishes to correspond with a Lone Star lady. Seeking potential wife who would display the virtues, sensibilities, and wisdom of a strong Texas woman. Must be willing to leave Texas for Colorado.
   Marty was more than willing. She didn’t desire to remarry and still wasn’t sure why she’d responded to that ad, but after the man’s first reply, she had known it was fate that had brought them together. Jacob Wythe wasn’t looking for romance or love—just a woman who would bear his name and act as his companion.
   “You aren’t payin’ attention, Aunt Marty.”
   She looked up to find the entire family staring at her, her nephew Robert standing to her left with a gift extended. Marty flushed. “I am sorry. I was just thinking on . . . well . . .” She smiled and let the words trail oz. “Let’s see what we have here.” She took the gift box.
   Hannah seated herself beside her husband, William. “I hope you like it.”
   Marty pulled a bright red ribbon from the box. “I’m sure I will. You always have a way of figuring out just what I need most.”
   She opened the box to reveal a set of four small leather-bound books. Lifting one, she spied the author. “Jane Austen. Thank you.”
   “We knew you’d taken to reading more,” William Barnett offered. “Hannah said these were some of your favorites years ago.”
   Marty nodded as she perused the titles. “Hannah used to read them to me. Andy thought himself above it all, but he always managed to sit close enough to listen in.”
   Hannah laughed. “Our brother was not half so sly as he thought himself.”
   “Speaking of Andy,” Marty said, looking up from the box, “have you had word?”
   William nodded. Marty had to admit she held her brother-in-law in great affection; his marriage to Hannah had been the best thing that had ever happened to the Dandridge family. After the death of their father, William had stepped in as protector and provider.
   “We had a letter just a day ago. Hannah wanted me to save it for tonight—kind of like havin’ Andy and his bunch with us.”
   “Now’s just as good a time as any,” Hannah declared. She pushed back a graying blond curl. At fifty-three and despite years of hard work, she was still a beautiful woman.
   I envy her. I envy her peace of mind and happiness. Marty shook her head and looked away. Envy was a sin . . . but so too was lying.
   William pulled the letter from his pocket and opened it while Robert took a seat. “Andy and the family send Christmas greetings from snowy Wyoming.”
   Marty shook her head. “I think he was ten kinds of fool to move his family up there. He never liked the colder weather.”
   “Yes, but since Ellen’s family is from that part of the country, it seems only right,” Hannah reminded. “And they did live here for the first five years of their marriage. Long enough that we got to know little John. I’d love to visit them and get to know Benny, as well. He must be six years old by now.”
   “Do you want me to read the letter, or would you rather talk about the family?” William asked with a grin.
   Hannah elbowed him. “Read the letter.”
   William nodded.
      “We are doing well. The longhorn seem to take the weather in stride. The herd increased again this year, and Ellen’s pa is pleased with the way things are going. John and Benjamin send their love. They both ride like they were born to a saddle. John can rope and help with branding as well as any of the hands. Benjamin isn’t far behind in abilities, as he is in constant competition with John.”
   Marty chuckled. “Imagine that.”
   Hannah laughed, as well. “Given the way you two always tried to outdo the other, it’s no surprise.”
   “Yes, but I was a girl, and it shamed him if I could do something better than he could,” Marty said. “I wonder if he’ll teach them steer-sliding.”
   “I still remember when they taught me,” Robert said, joining in. “Seems like a mighty dirty trick to play on a fella.”
   Marty smiled fondly at the memory of her brother teaching his nephew to steer-slide. It was a joke they played on all the new greenhorns, telling them that they had to learn to slide under a steer just in case they found themselves in a perilous situation. To everyone’s amazement, it had actually saved the life of one young fellow long ago, but Marty couldn’t remember his name.
   “It was just a matter of initiating you to ranch work,” Hannah said, excusing the matter. “I’ve noticed it’s not a prank you’ve given up. Weren’t you showing young Micky how to slide under the fence just the other day?”
   “I didn’t attempt it myself,” Robert replied. “I just told him it was something he needed to learn if he was gonna be one of our ranch hands.” He gave them a mischievous grin. “I figure if it was good enough for me . . .”
   “Do you want me to continue reading?” William asked. “Sure, Pa. Go ahead.” Robert settled back in his chair and folded his arms with a sly smile. “Didn’t mean to stop you.”
   William looked down to the letter.
   “Ellen sends her love, as well as good news. You’ll remember our sadness three years ago when we lost our little girl just after birth. Then last year Ellen miscarried, and we feared we might not have another child. Well, the doctor just confirmed that she’s expecting and due to deliver sometime in the spring. We are of course quite hopeful that all will go well.”
   “That is good news,” Hannah said. “I know Andy wanted a big family, and Ellen was so sick after that miscarriage. It’s an answer to prayer.”
   Marty bristled at the mention of prayer, but said nothing. William finished the letter with Andy sharing plans they had for celebrating Christmas, as well as his intentions for the ranch. Marty tried to appear interested.
   “I’d say Uncle Andy has a good life in Wyoming,” Robert declared. “He sounds happy with his little family.”
   “You should be thinking of getting a wife and family of your own,” Hannah told him. “You are twenty-six after all, and you have proven able to take on a great deal of responsibility. Your father and I are quite pleased with your work here.” She paused and gave him a knowing smile. “I believe Jessica Atherton would be even more pleased if you gave her a formal proposal.”
   “Jessica’s still a child. Although I will say folks have been trying to pair us oz since we were young’uns.”
   “That’s hardly true, Robert. I have never wanted any of my children to feel that we were choosing their spouses. I never did abide arranged, loveless marriages. And I know Carrisa and Tyler don’t feel that way.”
   “Then why are you trying to marry me oz?” Robert asked with a smile. “I figured with my sisters gone from home, you would want to keep me around.”
   Hannah shrugged and scooted in closer to William. “It’s not your company I mind, but I would like to see you happily settled.”
   “She wants more grandbabies,” William declared.
   “Well, we do only have the one. Of course, I was like a grandmother to Andy’s boys, but now they’re in Wyoming and so far away. Not to mention they have her parents there to spoil them.”
   Marty felt an aching in her heart at the banter between them. The thought of having children always made her sad. She and Thomas had been married for ten years but she had been unable to carry a child to delivery. Marty blamed herself, even though Thomas never did. The sorrow was one she had hoped to bury with her husband, but that hadn’t been the case. Her niece Sarah, Hannah and Will’s oldest girl, had just given birth in September to her first son. Hannah and Will had returned from Sarah’s home in Georgia some three weeks earlier, and the baby was all that Hannah could talk about.
   I would have made a good mother, but God apparently thought otherwise. I was a good wife, too. Thomas always said I was the best woman he’d ever known. I never gave him cause to doubt my love or my faithfulness.
   “You seem so distant this evening.” Hannah’s comment brought Marty back to the present.
   “I’m just tired.” Marty motioned to the gifts she’d brought. “Why don’t you open my presents now?”
   Hannah nodded, and Robert jumped up to hand out the gifts. Marty had spent a fair amount of time on each of them. For William and Robert she had crafted warm robes, which quickly met with their approval.
   “I’ve needed a new one for ages,” William admitted.
   “I know. I asked Hannah what I could make for you.” Marty smiled.
   Robert leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. “Thanks, Aunt Marty.”
   William nodded. “Yes, thank you very much.”
   Hannah opened Marty’s gift and gasped. The bundle revealed a lacy cream-colored shirtwaist. “Oh, it’s beautiful. Oh, Marty, your work is so delicate.” She ran her hands over the intricately embroidered neckline. “This must have taken hours.”
   “I remembered you admiring something similar when we were shopping in Dallas last summer. I’ve been working on it, as time permitted, ever since.”
   “Well, this is by far and away grander. I shall cherish it always. Thank you.”
   The room grew silent, and Marty figured it was as good a time as any to share her news. She’d mulled it over at length and had concluded that the best thing she could do for herself, as well as her sister . . . was lie. Something she had always been quite good at.
   “I have a bit of my own news to share,” Marty began. All gazes were fixed upon her. “I’m going to be traveling soon.”
   “Truly?” Hannah looked stunned. “Where are you going?”
   Marty drew a deep breath. “Colorado. Perhaps Wyoming to see Andy after that.”
   “Why Colorado?” William asked.
   “I have friends there,” Marty said. She had already planned for this part of the lie. “Remember the Stellington sisters? We were in finishing school together, and they were my best friends.”
   “I remember,” Hannah said.
   “Well, they’ve invited me to stay with them for a time in Colorado Springs. I thought it would be nice to get away from the ranch and . . . all the memories.” She added the latter to appeal to Hannah’s sensitive nature.
   For several minutes no one said anything. Marty hoped it might remain that way. Though she didn’t want to lie to Hannah, she knew her sister would never approve of Marty running oz and marrying a man she hardly knew. In time, Marty would have to let her know the truth, but for now, this was much easier.
   “I must say,” Hannah finally said, “this is something of a surprise.”
   “Well, I’d been considering it while you were away, but I didn’t want to leave before you’d returned. Now you’re back, so it seems a good time.”
   “But winter will be a difficult time to travel,” William said thoughtfully.
   “I’ll take the train, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
   Hannah frowned. “How long do you plan to be away?”
   “Well, that depends.” Marty shrugged. “I hoped that maybe you could run my few head with yours and keep an eye on the place.” She didn’t want to tell Hannah that she had every intention of selling the ranch. Hannah would know something was up if she made that kind of announcement.
   “What’s Bert got to say about it?” William asked.
   “Well, he’s all for returning to work for you.” Bert Harris had come to help Marty with the ranch after Thomas’s death. He’d worked a great many years prior to that on the Barnett Ranch, and Hannah had insisted Marty allow him to assist. “Bert said with expenses on the increase, it’s probably for the best.”
   William nodded and rubbed his chin. “He’s been worried about the low water levels. It isn’t near as bad as the drought was in the ’80s, but we’re still suffering for water. I don’t have a problem with this plan, Marty. You tell Bert he’s welcome to bunk here again.”
   “And you’ll put him on your payroll?” Marty dared to ask. She hoped the question wouldn’t arouse suspicions. “I mean, since I won’t be around to oversee him and you can use him to work for you, I just wondered . . .”
   “Of course we’ll pay his wages,” William replied. “He’ll do far more for me than he will for you anyhow. You haven’t but about fifty head. We’ll just run them with ours, and if you aren’t back by spring, we’ll separate them out and brand the new calves with your mark.”
   “Or you could just take them in pay,” Marty said. “I don’t mean for you to be out money on account of my . . . desire to travel.”
   “Surely you aren’t planning to be gone so long as that,” Hannah said, leaning forward. She gave Marty an intense look. “Are you?”
   Marty shrugged and tried to appear unconcerned. “I might. Especially if I travel to see Andy, as well. I want to make provisions for every possibility. I figure I can close up the house and send the livestock to you. You can keep the animals as pay for checking in on the place from time to time.”
   “Nonsense. That’s what family’s for, Aunt Marty.” Robert set aside the robe he’d been admiring. “I don’t mind going over there to check things out. I’ll see to it.”
   “Thank you, Robert. Thanks to all of you. I know it might seem sudden, but as I said, I’ve been considering this for some time now.”
   “I suppose if your mind is made up . . .” Hannah didn’t finish her thought, and again the room fell silent.
   Finally, William reached out and took up the Bible. “Why don’t I read the Christmas story?”
   “I’d like that very much,” Hannah said.
   Marty thought she looked worried. I hope she won’t try to change my mind on this. She always thinks she knows best, and this time . . . well . . . this time she doesn’t. Marty bit her lip and lowered her gaze to avoid giving Hannah any opportunity to question her further. She gave a silent sigh. Just don’t challenge me on this, Hannah.
   Just let me go without a fuss, and we’ll all be a whole lot happier.

Tracie Peterson celebrates 100 books with an iPad Mini Giveaway & A SENSIBLE ARRANGEMENT Live Webcast Event!

Welcome to the campaign launch for Tracie Peterson's 100th book! A Sensible Arrangement launches Tracie's new Texas-based series, Lone Star Brides, that’s sure to please. As a special treat, devoted fans will be able to catch a glimpse of several popular characters from previous series.

Tracie is celebrating by giving away an iPad Mini and hosting a LIVE webcast event on 4/29.
  One winner will receive:
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  • A Sensible Arrangement by Tracie Peterson
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 29th. Winner will be announced at the A Sensible Arrangement Live Webcast Event on April 29th. Connect with Tracie for an evening of book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! Tracie will also be taking questions from the audience and giving away books, fun prizes, and gift certificates throughout the evening.

So grab your copy of A Sensible Arrangement and join Tracie and friends on the evening of April 29th 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 29th!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Miracle Thief by Iris Anthony, © 2014

The thief approaches with malicious intent, looking to steal, slaughter, and destroy; I came to give life with joy and abundance.
   --John 10:10 The Voice Bible, Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc.

911 The Darkest Hour of the Dark Ages
What would you give up for a kingdom? Princess Gisele gives up true love ... as her mother before her. Destined to sacrifice, but for what expense? History portrays much of the striving of today ~ nothing new under the sun. Greed, deference, power, conquering; believing they are following the right cause and leadership.

Dark Ages ArmorMy favorite characters in The Miracle Thief are Anna and Godric. Anna is on a pilgrimage to the abbey for healing. Godric is a knight assigned to Princess Gisele for her safety. Both are completely surrounded by treachery and surrendered to their mission. Anna's deformity expels others from her. Being left behind, she must determine for herself which direction to go. Both are thwarted by wild animals in the woods, diverting their course. Godric is so valiant and a true hero as he guards Gisele, even as she feels he is hindering her disciplines. To arrive at their destinations, both must conquer fear and have their goals supremely in the forefront to accomplish them. Bravery precedes them; faith propels them.

All of those compelled out of necessity, believe in what they are striving for ~ accurate or not, they go forward toward their demise or their triumph. Iris Anthony has portrayed this time in history, with men striving for leadership and conquering kingdoms. Valid or not, they believed in their purposes. Was that enough to bring them out successfully on the other side of want? Or, were they determined by the direction they took? Set into motion, our Conquering King still reigned over all. The powerless became powerful. The quest of the mighty became an unraveled journey in the end. A divide between those in power and those in peril; their roles became reversed. I found it interesting that caves were shelters that aided more than once in the story. A resting place for recovery and safety.

The story is told by the view of each protagonist, interweaving unknowingly into each other. It fills in the quandary of where each one fits, for they do interlope, intruding into the region of the other. I liked how the author gave the back-story as each expressed their past in the history being relayed and carried forward.

Do you believe in miracles?
Sister Juliana does. She’s seen miracles happen as she tends Saint Catherine’s altar and guards her relic. Yet she doesn’t quite dare to believe that even Saint Catherine could help her atone for her wicked past.
Anna does. And she so desperately needs one. In a time when a deformity is interpreted as evidence of a grievous sin, in a place where community is vital to existence, Anna has no family, no home, and no master.
Princess Gisele wants to. A miracle is the only thing that can save her from being given to a brutal, pagan chieftain in marriage.
For those who come in faith, saints offer the answer to almost any prayer. But other forces are plotting to steal Saint Catherine’s relic, to bend the saint’s power to their own use. Penitent, pilgrim, princess—all will be drawn into an epic struggle where only faith can survive. But in a quest for divine blessing, only the most ruthless of souls may win the prize.

Here is an excerpt of The Miracle Thief by Iris Anthony ~ Chapter 1



   I watched from my knees beside the abbess’s bed, hands clasped before me, as she took a shuddering breath. Squeezing my eyes shut, I raised my hands to my brow, pretending to pray. But I could not do it; I had forgotten the words.
   She could not die. I would not let her.
   The abbess had been more of a mother than the woman who had raised me. Her heart had been more constant than the man who had once loved me. Was there nothing I could do to ease her pain?
   Adjusting her counterpane, I shivered as an especially vicious draft stole in through the chamber’s high windows and swirled its icy tendrils about my knees.
   I felt the heavy weight of a hand upon my veiled head. “Daughter.”
   Looking up, I saw the abbess watching me. Grasping her hand, I kissed it. “Do not leave us.”
   A ghost of a smile curled her thin, cracked lips. “I do not think I have any say in the matter.”
   “What shall we do without you?” How would we go on? Who would lead us?
   “Do not fear. God will provide.”
   “How?” The word escaped my lips before I could catch it. I had not meant to give voice to my unbelief. Surely now she would regret asking me to attend her. “Without you, I do not know how we will…”
   “Take heart.” She clasped my hand. “Without me, there will still be you.”
   “Who am I but the least of all the others?” I had come to this mountain-ringed abbey seeking sanctuary, and even after all the years I had spent here, I felt myself a stranger still.
   “Trust God. Seize the chance to serve.”
   The chance to serve? Was I not already doing that very thing? She released me from her grip, but left her fever-withered hand resting in mine. “Remember—” Her words left off as a spasm gripped her body.
   I leaned closer.
   After the seizure had passed, she lay back on her cushions, panting. “Speak truth. Stand for what is right.” Her hand twisted in mine as her face contorted with pain.
   Looking straight into my eyes, she spoke again. “Lead them.”
   “Lead them. There is no one else.” She clutched my hand with a strength that stole my breath. “You must do it.”
   If she did not relinquish my hand, I feared she might wrench it from my wrist. “I will.”
   “I promise.” If only she would lie down and spare her strength.
   “You promised.”
   “I did.”
   She searched my face for a moment, and then she smiled. After I had smoothed the counterpane around her shoulders, she closed her eyes, and she did not open them again. As she lay there, her breaths becoming more shallow and labored, I let her expire without doing the very thing she had made me promise. I did not tell her the truth: I did not intend to do as she had asked.
   The abbess died along with the sun as the bell was tolling vespers. She went quietly, exhaling her last breath with a lingering sigh.
   We mourned her for the required number of days. And then, secretly, I mourned her still. A message was sent to the bishop, informing him of her death. Though we would elect the new abbess, it was he who would induct her. And so we gathered in the chapterhouse one forenoon, after the day’s meal, to do that very thing.
   As I looked up and down the benches that lined the walls, I did so with a growing unease. I could not see a clear candidate to lead us.
   Of the several dozen sisters in the abbey, Sister Rotrude was the oldest and had been at the abbey the longest, but she seemed troubled in her spirit of late. I used to think her full of the joy of the Lord, since she had always been prone to laughter, but she had taken up the habit of laughing during meals at nothing any of us could see or hear. Her warbling, tuneless voice could often be heard singing during prayers, and increasingly, she asked after sisters who had already departed to receive their eternal reward.
   Sister Berta should, perhaps, have been the obvious choice. She was sound of mind and body, and none could doubt neither her capacity nor her willingness for hard work. But she lacked a measure of joy. The tips of her mouth pointed toward her chin, and one could not be long in her proximity before being informed of everything that had been done wrong in the past and all that would most certainly be found wanting in the future. Even a dove of peace would soon find himself shooed away for want of a proper place to perch. Were Sister Berta appointed abbess, I feared the abbey would soon become a dull and dreary place.
   Sister Amicia? Perhaps not. If Sister Berta dwelt too often on what was wrong, Sister Amicia trusted overmuch in Providence. To hear her speak, God would provide whether the workers tilled our fields or not. If she were to be believed, Providence might be depended upon to cook our food and feed us our meal as well. Although she never lacked a cheerful word, and a smile was constant upon her face, I could not see the abbey long surviving under her leadership, knowing from regrettable experience that great hopes came to nothing if they were not first founded upon practicalities.
   Though in generations past, the nuns of Rochemont had been well and truly cloistered, hidden away from the world, we could afford the luxury of quiet contemplation no longer. Even at these perilous heights where we clung to our meager existence, pestilence and famine, cruel winters and wars, had long since thinned the ranks of our tenants. If there was work to be done, we too had to take part in the doing of it. The tasks, which in the abbey’s earliest years might have fallen to lay workers, we had taken upon ourselves. And so, I nearly overlooked Sister Sybilla entirely. It was not difficult to do, since she spent her waking hours at the hospice. Rarely speaking, rarely even moving among us, she had never done anything wrong that I had noticed, but I did not know that she could be counted on to encourage any of us toward righteousness either.
   Sister Clothild, the abbess’s prioress, was kind of heart and beloved by all. A gentler soul I had never met, but for all her generosity of spirit, and despite the winsome way she had with the chaplain, the bailiff, and the household staff, she had never learned to read or write.
   Sister Isolda was our librarian. Within her realm and with her long face and sharp features, she had always been quite fearsome. But books did not an abbey make. I had never seen her out among the pilgrims who made their way to Saint Catherine’s chapel. I did not think she had ever labored in the hospice or in the kitchens. She knew Latin, both written and spoken, but I could not say she knew anything else.
   The other nuns being too young for the position, that left me.
   I considered myself as the others might have. There was not very much to note. I had made such a habit of attaching myself to Saint Catherine’s relic, to spending my time interceding for the iniquities of my past, that any of the sisters might have taken me for a misanthropist. That I tended to my duties with great care was undeniable. That I greeted each pilgrim with God’s peace was, perhaps, commendable. For eighteen years I had been resident at the abbey, and in all that time, to my great shame, I had served no one’s interests but my own. Even the tending of the chapel was a selfish pursuit, so I did not think any of the sisters would hold me in greater esteem than Sister Clothild or Sister Isolda. Although I could write and I could read, none sitting here knew that, and it was too late to make it known now.
   It was true I had made a promise to the abbess, but had she meant her words?
   And if she had, would I not be remiss if I did not let the others know? Should I propose myself as a candidate?
   My gaze swept our number again.
   Though my sisters’ failings be great, was not God greater still? And why could His strength not be evidenced through their weaknesses?
   As I had told the abbess, I was least among them. I knew some of my sisters were not virgins, but at least they had the sanction of wedding vows. When they had joined their flesh to another’s, they had been given the blessing of the Church. Widowed now, some still had the comfort of their children’s love.
   Not I.
   Not I, who had abandoned a daughter. Not I, who had indulged in the sins of the flesh.
   Lead them.
   No. How could I do it when my heart still yearned for another, different, more temporal groom? I had pledged myself to Christ, but I had done so as a last resort, with a faithless heart and suspect intentions.
   Surely if I were to be the new abbess, then the sisters would come to that decision on their own, prompted by the spirit of God, without my interference. Was that not the way it should be?
   If we were to pray to discern the will of God, then I was content to let His will be discerned.
   Sister Clothild stood. “Are there any who would recommend a sister to be abbess?”
   There was no sound save the cheerless laughter of Sister Rotrude.
   Sister Clothild’s smile faltered as she looked at each of us in turn. “No one?” As she waited for some response, even Sister Rotrude fell silent.
   “Surely someone would like to propose a sister. We must not look to the bishop to do it on our behalf…”
   Sister Isolda stirred. “I would propose myself then.”
   “And I would propose myself.” Sister Berta did not look pleased at the prospect, and in truth, neither did anyone else.
   “Sister Berta and Sister Isolda. Is there no one else?” Did I detect a plea in her voice?
   I put a hand to my mouth, feigning a cough to keep myself from speaking.
   “Is there no one?” Her eyes seemed fixed upon me. “We ought all of us, then, to meditate upon these candidates and pray that God would make His will be known.” Was it disappointment that had drawn those lines at the sides of her mouth? “We will choose the abbess here, after our meal, on the morrow.”


I tried not to think about the selection of the new abbess as I greeted pilgrims that forenoon and assisted them at the chapel, but the more I tried to concentrate, the more my vow weighed upon my soul. Surely there is a place in hell reserved for those who made promises they did not intend to keep.
   In the ancient cavern that was Saint Catherine’s chapel, all was light around me. A radiant, flickering, golden light. The glow reflected off the rocks and from the rise of my cheeks, warming the air about me and causing a halo to encircle everything I saw. After our chaplain took pilgrims’ confessions and gave them Holy Communion, they stepped forward, one by one, from the newly built wooden church. As their steps left the smooth, earthen floor for the timeworn stone that sloped toward Saint Catherine’s chapel, the light embraced them.
   Rich and poor; the young and the aged; both the whole and the sick.
   Saint Catherine welcomed them all.
   “After receiving the mysteries of eternal salvation, we humbly pray thee, that as the liquor that continually flowed from the limbs of Saint Catherine, virgin and martyr, did heal languishing bodies, so her prayer may expel out of us all iniquities.” I murmured the prayer in welcome as a weeping woman dropped an enameled cross that had been edged with gilt-work into a chest piled with pilgrims’ gifts. She turned with a wail to cast herself before the altar. As she lifted her face toward the rock-hewn roof, the candles’ light shone in starry points from her tears. Extending her hands, she whispered a prayer, and then she placed her hands on the golden casket containing Saint Catherine’s relic and leaned forward to kiss it.
   After caressing the carnelian cabochons that had been polished by the touch of a thousand hands, she rose and stumbled back toward the church as the next pilgrim came to take her place.
   “After receiving the mysteries of eternal salvation, we humbly pray thee, that as the liquor that continually flowed from the limbs of Saint Catherine, virgin and martyr, did heal languishing bodies, so her prayer may expel out of us all iniquities.” I spoke those words over and over again. A hundred times a day I might say them in the warmer months. Now, as winter threatened to blow its hoary breath down our backs, only a score of pilgrims still braved the mountains to access the valley in which the abbey had been secreted. The time of silence would soon descend. Once the snow began, we could expect no visitors until the melt came in spring.
   I helped an aged man to his knees and waited for his toneless prayers to cease.
   The sword that from her neck the head did chop, Milk from the wound, instead of blood, did bring; By angels buried on Mt. Sinai’s top; From Virgin Limbs a Sovereign oil did spring.
   The rustle of pilgrims’ tunics, the chaplain’s murmurs in the church, the clap of shoes against the stone floor had almost ceased. The candles’ glow had gone hazy from the censers’ incense, and the air was heavy with expectation and hopes near extinguished. The hour of vespers was near, and the sun would soon be lost to us. Any pilgrim who had meant to reach our walls this day had already come.
   The last of them, a round-eyed matron, approached with trepidation as she clutched a gilded leather girdle to her chest.
   I gestured toward the pile of gifts.
   She started, and then a flush lit her face as she placed it atop all the others. She watched me, waiting I suppose for some sign. But it was not me to whom she needed to make her appeal. I was not the one who could grant her soul’s request.
   I nodded toward the altar, while keeping my gaze fixed to the floor.
   The pilgrim bowed and then, casting a worried glance at me, she knelt. When she did not pray, I said the prayer for her, and when it was over, I touched her hand and then pointed toward the relic.
   It surprised me no longer how many pilgrims, after having journeyed all this way, feared to do what it was they had come for. In hope of persuading Saint Catherine to take up their cause, to heal them, to intercede on their behalf, some of the pilgrims came into the church and kept here a night-long vigil. Others prostrated themselves on the floor as they prayed one prayer for every year of their sin-filled lives.
   In all of my thirty-three years, there were only two that I cared to remember. The first was stolen, its pleasure tainted by the fact that I had tasted, devoured, and then savored forbidden fruit. The second was bought and paid for with all of the years, all of the days, all of the hours that had followed after it. I was paying for it yet.
   Two years, two people.
   The first, beloved and complicit in my great sin. The second, wholly innocent and precious beyond measure. The loss of both, I constantly mourned.
   But if Providence decreed I must live my life again from the start, I would make those same choices and love those two people in the very same way without once pausing for regret. I would do everything just as I had done it at first. No matter how many times I examined my actions, no matter the perspective from which I viewed my sins, I could discover no other path than that which I had taken. If I had been wicked, if I had taken pleasure in my iniquity, at least I had done so honestly.
   Virtuous in my vice; noble in my depravity.
   What further evidence did I need of my wickedness? What more proof did I need to doubt the salvation of my eternal soul? Perhaps this is the mercy in God’s great plan: that we have life but once for the living.
   After the woman left, a clerk stepped forward to make a record of the pilgrims’ gifts. The pile had been built earlier in the day upon a foundation of linens with a length of shining silk wound through the folds. It was buttressed by a few pouches filled with coin and a small jeweled coffer, and it was weighted by a gold chain or two. The clerk clucked with satisfaction as he pushed aside the textiles and pulled several candles from the fabric.
   Turning my back on such luxuries, I wrapped a fold of my sleeve about my hand and then went around to each censer, lifting the perforated lid and adding incense to fortify them against the coming night. Then I went to each of the lamps and used a pair of snips to trim the wicks. Next came the candles. There were a hundred of them. And just when I despaired one would melt into oblivion, a pilgrim always seemed to present a new one. The wax, which puddled on the prickets and cressets, I peeled up and kept for the abbey. They would be remelted and reformed and put to use once more. The smallest of the splatters and drips I collected in a leaf of my Book of Hours, and then emptied into a handkerchief when I retired to my cell after compline.
   Over the course of a year, I could collect enough to make one small candle. I heated the drippings in a small bowl over the top of one of the censers, and once they had melted, I added one precious drop of perfume.
   It was a scent come from the Orient, my lover’s gift. The one thing I had managed to keep when I came into the abbey. I might have felt it deceitful, except that I did not use it for misbegotten purpose. Each night before I left the chapel, I lit the candle and burned it for an instant as I prayed one last prayer to Saint Catherine. If I closed my eyes at that moment and concentrated, I could discern its smell before the thin trail of smoke commingled with the incense and disappeared into the hazy, golden light.
   There were too many memories. Too many things I wished to forget.
   But beyond those, there were an eternity of things I wished to remember.
   The clerk closed his book with a satisfied grunt and placed all of the pilgrims’ gifts into a basket. A second clerk grasped it at the handles and hoisted it to his hip. It would be taken to the treasury to be stored with all of the others. All those lengths of fabric, all the collected jewels, all of the crosses and chains and coins that had been brought to invoke Saint Catherine’s favor.
   The clerk paused in his leaving, and then he too knelt before the altar.
   I tried to find a shadow in which to hide myself. One place where that golden light would not reach me, but I could not. The glow of grace was everywhere and illuminated everything. I feigned indifference and did not move until he left my sacred stone-walled fortress and walked out through the church.
   The chill night air snuck in before he closed the door. It raced down the nave and into the chapel, poking at the candles’ flickering flames. The light faltered for a moment, plunging the altar into relative darkness, but then the flames rallied with a triumphant flare.
   With the wind came a memory, and the sound of a dying breath.
   You promised.
   I did.
   I had.
   The abbess’s words haunted me. Would that I had promised to gouge my own eyes out or stab myself with a hot poker. The abbess could not have known that on my journey to the abbey, I had promised I would never raise myself beyond what God had intended. That I had sworn not to take for myself any position that belonged to another.
   A girl like you has nothing to offer at all. A girl like you can never come to anything. It’s simply not ordained.
   I gnashed my teeth at the memory of the woman who had spoken those words. But had she not been right about me? I pulled my candle from my sleeve and lit it. With my eyes closed, I saw the abbess’s face; I felt the grip of her hand on mine. What if—what if I did propose myself? Surely the others would not elect me. And if I did it, if I put my name forward and the nuns did not choose me, then perhaps I would be released of this great burden.
   “Please, Saint Catherine, show me what to do.”


As I crossed the courtyard toward the church the next morning, the door of the hospice opened, spilling the sounds of its children. So many of them there were. The healthy and the ill. Both the sound of mind and the dull of wits. Those no parent wanted, or those they could ill afford to keep. Eventually all of those who were scorned by the world passed through our gates.
   It was the greatest of mercies the abbess had never directed me to care for them. I could not have done it. Not when I still mourned the loss of my own precious child. As it was, I had not asked to tend Saint Catherine’s chapel either. When I had come to the abbey, once I had taken my vows, I had been the youngest of the nuns. Although tending the chapel was a more public task than the other nuns had been given, it was not at all important in this place where the sacred was far more valued than the secular. The other women sought positions that kept them within the walls of the cloister—librarian, scribe, lecturer, teacher, prioress, or sacrist. Although pilgrims may have been the lifeblood of our community, they were a poorly tolerated distraction from prayer, fasting, and contemplation. But it did not matter to me. I reveled in the hours I spent in the chapel-cavern.
   How easily we lie to ourselves. How quick we are to believe our own falsehoods. Those first few years in the abbey, after having spent my grief in a frenzy of novenas, I told myself my wounds were salved. I declared myself beset by grace. I renounced the world and everything in it, and I made myself into the image of the perfect nun. One who never complained, never questioned, never doubted the goodness of God’s great love. What were wars, what were famines, what was pestilence compared to the Almighty’s infinite wisdom and power?
   I think I had managed to convince even the abbess of my great faith when a message arrived that scuttled it all. The king was coming to the abbey that summer. And he was bringing his daughter, our daughter, the princess, with him.

***I received a copy of The Miracle Thief from the author for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***