Saturday, August 29, 2015

Driftwood Tides by Gina Holmes, © 2014

Driftwood Tides is set at the Outer Banks in North Carolina, bringing another time and place to life.

While writing Driftwood Tides, I sat on the beach, closed my eyes and heard what I would have guessed to be a sprinkler system rapidly firing. I knew it couldn't be, but that's what it sounded like. It was actually the sound of chirping cicadas and the sprinkler system description was something I was able to use to describe that sound in the book.
   --author Gina Holmes

Holton Creary ~ An ordinary day ... jolting news. What do you do with that? In an instant, life changes. This morning started out so easy. Would we have lingered longer, not knowing this would be our last smile, our last touch?

Libby Slater is going beachside for two summer months ~ only, her life is about to change ... Her fiancé is sure it is too. Living above an art studio as an intern without monetary pay, she may find there is more benefit than "experience on her resumé." At least, that is what she told him she was applying for ~ so much more....

I like the strength of the characters building upon weaknesses we all have in one form or another ~ unable to get out from under them without the Lord's help. Determination to become more than turmoil and what-ifs could produce, this story is very well-written with the foibles of man and the truth that no man is an island. We need each other. I like the steadfastness of Tess as she continues to give of herself regardless of return. Her artistic features blossom amid pain and rejection, not letting it mar what she sees or hamper her creativity. I would say she is the strong heroic person in this story. Accepting Libby, treating Holt with respect and honor, not giving in to be coerced beyond who she is. These people live ~ they're alive with daily life as it really is. How long can we remain influenced by the past, not recognizing the merits of today, and relishing a hope for tomorrow?

***Thank you to author Gina Holmes and Tyndale House Publishers for sending me a copy of Driftwood Tides for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

  Gina Holmes is the founder of Novel Rocket, regularly named as one of Writers Digest’s best websites for writers. She works too hard, laughs too loud, and longs to see others heal from their past and discover their God-given purpose. To learn more about her, visit her website.

He made himself an ocean until something unexpected washed ashore.
When Holton lost his wife, Adele, in a freak accident, he shut himself off from the world, living a life of seclusion, making driftwood sculptures and drowning his pain in gin. Until twenty-three-year-old Libby knocks on his door, asking for a job and claiming to be a friend of his late wife. When he discovers Libby is actually his late wife’s illegitimate daughter, given up for adoption without his knowledge, his life is turned upside down as he struggles to accept that the wife he’d given saint status to was not the woman he thought he knew.
   Together Holton and Libby form an unlikely bond as the two struggle to learn the identity of Libby’s father and the truth about Adele, themselves, and each other.

Enjoy this excerpt from Gina Holmes' Driftwood Tides ~ Prologue & Chapter 1

"See how very much our Father loves us,
for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!"
1 JOHN 3:1a

The pillow pushed against Holton Creary’s nose, forcing him to turn for air. His eyes fluttered, opening just enough to take in the first blush of morning light. Realizing he had at least another solid hour to sleep, he smiled in contentment. Flipping toward his wife's side of the bed, he reached out to pull her close. Molding her warm, familiar body against his was a ritual as old as their marriage. But instead of coming to rest on her hip, his hand thudded against the mattress, jolting him fully awake. Lifting his head, he listened for her pattering about, but he heard only Rufus snoring from his spot on the floor.
   The small house was full of the smell of freshly brewed coffee . . . but no sign of her. He peered out the front window, not surprised to see her standing with her back to him, watching the sunrise from the beach they called a front yard. She was wearing her nightgown, his old cardigan serving as her bathrobe. The breeze made the nightgown cling to her legs, which filled him with a momentary possessiveness. If any man should happen to walk by at the moment, the sight of her would stop him in his tracks. That was the downside of marrying a beautiful woman—Holton wasn’t the only man with appreciative eyes.
   He climbed down the stairs leading to the beach and quietly sidled behind her. He wrapped his arms around her waist, causing her to jump and turn her head in surprise. A warm smile replaced her startled expression. “You’re up early,” she said.
   “I missed you.” He rested his chin on her shoulder, catching a whiff of the perfume left over from the day before.
   “Did the cicadas wake you?” she asked.
      It was only then that he registered the sound of their screeching. It reminded him of a sprinkler system on overdrive. “Actually, I didn’t even hear them until you mentioned it.”
   She twisted her mouth back at him. “In your own world, as usual.” The lightness of her tone told him she wasn’t picking a fight.
    “Right now, I’m all about yours.” He hugged her waist tighter.
   “I’ll never get used to this,” she said with a contented sigh.
   Looking out at the sunrise with its layered gauzy pinks and purples, he knew just what she meant. “I forgot how beautiful the beach could be this time of morning.”
   She spun around to face him. Her light-brown eyes glinted, tiny lines forming around the corners, followed by a smile. “Not just the view, I mean this whole place. You. The gallery. My life is like a dream.”
   He cleared his throat before his voice could crack from emotion. “I thought you’d be mad at me for coming home so late last night.”
   She turned to face the water again, reaching back for his hands. She wrapped them around her waist and leaned her back against him. “What good does it do? I’d have better luck punishing Rufus for drooling. I married an artist. It’s not fair getting mad at you for being the person I fell in love with.”
   He ran her golden hair between his fingers. She was more than he deserved. So much more.
   “Is it almost finished?” she asked. “Tell me it’s about done.”
   He had spent nearly every waking moment, when they weren’t at the gallery, working on the stallion. Until now, she'd always spoken with a twinge of contempt whenever mentioning the piece, like a jealous lover. He knew he was leaving her alone far too much, but tomorrow or the next day it would be finished, and he’d make it up to her.
   He kissed the top of her head. “It would have been done yesterday if I hadn’t been working on a certain brake issue.”
   Looking over her shoulder at him, her eyes brightened. “You finally fixed them? No more screeching?”
   “Not a peep.”
   She turned back around in his arms and kissed his lips in gratitude.
   “If I'd known that was waiting for me, I’d have taken care of it last week.”
   “If you would have taken care of it last week, you’d be getting more than a kiss.”
   He wriggled his eyebrows. “What can I get for adding an oil change?”
   She slapped him playfully. “I better get ready.”
   He glanced at his watch. “We’ve got plenty of time. What’s the hurry?”
   “I was tired last night. I didn’t sweep or count the drawer.”
   Guilt niggled at him. She had slowly taken over all the chores at the gallery that they’d agreed would be his. “I’ll run over and do it. You take your time and enjoy the morning.”
   She laid her soft hand on his cheek, shielding it from the ocean breeze. “Not a chance. I want my husband back. I’ve got the gallery. You finish the stallion before I decide to set it on fire.”
   “Deal,” he said.

It wasn’t an hour after Holton had handed her a travel mug of coffee and kissed her through the open car window when a squad car pulled out front of the house. The moment the policeman took off his hat and slid it under his arm, Holton knew.
   After the man informed him Adele had been killed on impact when her car hit another at nearly sixty miles an hour, he said nothing. He was so stunned that his heart froze, unable to respond. Before that could change, he drove to the nearest liquor store and bought the biggest bottle of gin he could find.

Chapter 1

The lab had either made a big mistake and none of the results could be trusted, or else her world was about to be turned upside down. It was this Libby Slater thought of as she rushed from the stationery store, bag in hand.
   The day had started out pleasant enough. The weather was beautiful, she’d met Rob for lunch, and not one of her clients had dropped a shoe box of receipts on her desk, assuming she’d sort it all out. But then, in the middle of her ordinary day, she’d logged on to her online health account to check the results from Rob’s and her premarital genetic counseling workup and gotten the shock of a lifetime.
   The results should put her mind at ease, the doctor’s note read, but they did just the opposite. Although her fiancé was a carrier for cystic fibrosis, the disease that had taken the life of his younger sister, Libby was not. This was good news, because apparently it took two to tango. Other than that, all the results were a very positive negative. She would have been relieved if it weren’t for her blood type, listed innocently along with the rest of the results: A positive, which wasn’t positive at all. Both of her parents had O blood types, and two Os couldn’t produce an A child. It had to be an error. Had to.
   The screech of sirens ripped Libby from her thoughts. Hunching, she slapped her free hand over her ear and waited for the pulsating red lights to pass. Two city blocks later, her ears were still ringing.
   A bus with a giant cell phone carrier ad scrolled across it, dotted by finger-smudged windows, screeched to a halt in front of an empty bench. Pneumatic doors hissed open and passengers hurried off so fast they were almost a blur. After the last passenger filed past, she stepped off the curb to cross the street.
   She assumed the approaching cab would stop, or at least not accelerate, but she assumed wrong. Jumping back onto the concrete, she felt a whoosh of exhaust part her long hair. In lieu of an apology, the driver screamed as he flew by. Although she couldn’t decipher what he said, the vulgar hand gesture he thrust out the window gave her enough of a clue.
   Soon her heartbeat returned to normal and traffic broke just long enough to make a run for it. Having crossed the one-lane freeway of death, life and limb intact, she stepped again onto the relative safety of the sidewalk.
   As she trudged forward, she could practically taste the tiny particles of soot and smog falling on her like mist, and couldn’t help but wonder if breathing them in was making the inside of her lungs look like a coal miner’s.
   At last she reached her mother’s brownstone. It was unfathomable that Caroline had paid almost a million dollars for what basically amounted to an old row home, even if it was located on the so-called Park Avenue of Casings.
   Although the city was located in North Carolina, Casings was about as un-Southern as a city below the Mason-Dixon Line could be. This muggier, less-sophisticated parody of New York was a place she’d vowed to escape the second she graduated from college. Of course, that was before she fell in love with a man who just happened to be as dedicated to his job here as he was to her. She tightened her grip on the bag of wedding invitations she carried and couldn’t help but smile at the thought of spending forever with the love of her life. But first they needed to survive this fiasco her mother called a wedding.
   She climbed the brick stairs and peered over her shoulder, checking to be sure a mugger hadn’t sneaked up behind her before unlocking the door. Inside, the foyer stood dark except for a rectangle of sunlight streaming down from the stained-glass transit window above. The flip of a switch flooded the hall in artificial light.
   “Elizabeth?” Caroline’s shrill voice echoed from the dining room. “You’re late.”
   Libby rolled her eyes. “I had to pick up the extra invitations,” she said, not quite loud enough for her mother to hear. Though, really, it wouldn’t matter if she yelled it; the only person her mother listened to was herself.
   Her Danskos thumped against the marble floor as she made her way through the corridor and into the dining room. Caroline sat at the long table with a stack of invitations tall enough to invite the entire state. The fact that she’d called Libby at work to tell her to pick up yet more invitations didn’t bode well for her vision of a quaint ceremony.
   “It’s positively barbaric to be doing this ourselves,” Caroline said. “They have companies that take care of these things.”
   It was all Libby could do not to delve right into an interrogation about her questionable blood type. It was probably a mistake, but just in case, she didn’t want to put Caroline on the defensive and get stonewalled before she got to the bottom of it.
   She sighed as she hung her purse on the back of the chair. “So you’ve said. And as I’ve said, I want to know who’s coming to my wedding, and I want to be the one who invites them.” She eyed the invitations dubiously.
   “You don’t trust me?” Caroline asked in a sarcastic tone, but her expression was without humor. They both already knew the answer. “We could at least have hired a calligrapher to make them look pretty. Handwriting was never your best subject.”
   Libby gave her a dull look as she took a seat across from her. She hadn’t realized how sore her feet were until she was finally off them. She kicked off her clogs and stretched her socked feet. “If I left it up to you and the Internet, my only guests would be the who’s who of Casings.” None of whom would be in the who’s who of her small circle of friends.
   A bottle of opened champagne sat in the middle of the table along with two crystal flutes. Caroline slid her tennis bracelet back on her wrist, then reached for the bottle and poured herself a glass. When she picked up the second, Libby shook her head. “Nice try.”
   Caroline huffed and flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder, revealing a dangling diamond earring—most likely another bauble from one of her long list of admirers. “I just thought it would be nice to celebrate a little while we work.”
   “No,” Libby said. “You thought it would be nice to get me a little tipsy so you could sneak more of your debutante friends onto the guest list.”
   Caroline brought the champagne to her lips and sipped. “You certainly do think the world of me.” She set her glass down and picked up a fountain pen. “Please tell me you didn’t park that piece of junk out front.”
   Libby felt her cheeks flush in anger, but certainly not in surprise, at her mother’s superficiality. “No, Caroline. I took a cab to the stationery store, then walked three blocks and almost got run over, all so the snobs you call neighbors wouldn’t know your daughter drives a Jeep.”
   It was Caroline’s turn to roll her eyes. “A Jeep from this century would be fine. Honestly, Elizabeth, you make enough money to afford something less dilapidated.; I saw an Audi that you would look so—”
   “Stop. Just stop,” she said, swallowing the indignation. She’d already fought with her mother three times this week, and what had it accomplished? Nothing but two sleepless nights and a headache. Caroline was always going to be Caroline, and she was paying for the wedding, after all. Something Libby had told Rob they never should have agreed to for this very reason. Besides, there were bigger fish to fry tonight.
   She reached into her purse, bypassing the test results, and pulled out her guest list. Holding her breath, she set the list of names down on the table and slid it across to her mother like a lawyer offering up a settlement. “I went through this last night and—”
   “I have my own list,” Caroline said coolly as she glanced over at her. “Don’t look so glum. I took your requests into consideration.”
   Requests? Libby thought. What a joke. It was going to be the biggest day of her life, and she had no more say in who was going to be there than the caterer did. “Is Rob at least on your roll?”
   Unfazed, Caroline ran a manicured nail slowly down Libby’s list, pausing every so often to consider a name. “Don’t be smart with me, young lady. It’s my hard-earned money paying for every plate.”
   Libby looked away, disgusted. If she had the ceremony she wanted, she wouldn’t need Caroline’s money to pay for it. Caroline wanted the wedding she never had, and through her only child, she was finally going to get it. It wasn’t fair; but then as Rob always said, life wasn’t.
   “I don’t recognize half these people,” Caroline said as her finger slid to the bottom of the page.
   An all-too-familiar pain began to throb behind Libby’s left eye. The sooner this wedding was over, the better. “Of course you don’t, because they’re my friends, not yours.”
   Shaking her head, Caroline sighed. “Fine, we’ll add them to the master list, but just so you know, this brings the guest count to three hundred.”
   “Three hundred?” Libby heard herself shriek. “I said I wanted a small wedding.”
   “It was going to be smallish.” Caroline said, “but here you’ve gone and brought me another fifty names. Whose fault is that?”
   Covering her face, she took a deep breath, willing herself not to cry. Two more months of this. That was it. She could do this, she told herself. For Rob, she could do most anything.
   “Fine,” Caroline said after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence. “I’ll just cut out the DA’s office, but if you get into any legal trouble, you’re on your own.”
   Libby looked over her fingertips. “Why would I—? Never mind.” She reached into the stationery bag and pulled out a sheet of the fancy return labels they’d chosen for the invitations. At least she could get started sticking those on. Any progress was better than none. Her phone rang, and she grabbed her purse off the chair, riffling her hand blindly through it. By the time her fingers touched the phone, the ringing stopped. As expected, her call log showed Rob’s number.
   “What’s he want now?” Caroline asked, sounding more perturbed than usual.
   Finally, the perfect segue. Keeping her tone as neutral as she could, Libby decided this was as good a time as any. “We had our genetic counseling, and the results were posted today. I was supposed to tell him what they—”
   “Genetic counseling?” Caroline raised a barely visible eyebrow.
   “You know Rob’s sister, Heather, died from cystic fibrosis.”
   Caroline downed the rest of her champagne and reached for the bottle. “Rob had a sister?”
   She couldn’t tell by her mother’s blank expression if she was just trying to get her goat or if she really was that oblivious. “That disease is hereditary. He wanted to make sure we weren’t both carriers for it or or anything else we could pass on to our future children.”
   Caroline finished filling her glass and set the bottle down with a clank. “And?”
   “Rob’s a carrier; I’m not.”
   “Of course you’re not.”
   “But I did find out my blood type—A positive.” She held her breath as she waited for her mother’s reaction to the bombshell she’d just dropped, but Caroline had already lost interest and started writing names on the front of the invitation envelopes.
   “That’s good to know,” she mumbled.
   Directing her nervous energy into something productive, Libby began working like an assembly line, carefully affixing address labels to the top left corner of the envelopes. “Yes, it is.” She finished her stack, slid it to her right, and grabbed another. “Did you and George get genetic testing before you had me?”
   Caroline shook her head as she worked. “They didn’t really do that when I was . . . ” Her voice trailed off. She never could bring herself to say the word pregnant, as if the thought of Libby inside her was too repulsive. Unless, of course, Libby hadn’t been inside her after all.
   “Your blood type is O positive like Rob’s, isn’t it?” Libby asked as nonchalantly as she could.
   Caroline finally finished scrolling out the first invite. At the speed she was working, it was shaping up to be an excruciatingly long night. “That’s all we have in common.” Caroline could barely stand Libby’s fiancé, but Libby tried not to take it personally. After George had abandoned them, Caroline pretty much hated all men equally. “How do you know my blood type, anyway?”
   “I pay attention.”
   Caroline squinted at her.
   “Wallet,” Libby said, sliding another small stack of envelopes over to the finished pile. “You gave blood that one time, and you still carry the donor card.” So everyone can see how fabulously altruistic you are, she wanted to add. She carefully peeled another label off the plastic sheet and pressed it onto an envelope. “George’s dog tags say he’s O positive too.” For reasons she didn’t know, she still kept her father’s dog tags tucked away in her jewelry box. The military must have made a mistake. Lucky for him, he never got injured enough to need blood.
   “I don’t know what his dog tags say. I thought I threw those out with the rest of his junk.” Caroline checked the first name off her list with a satisfied smile. “I just know his blood type is the same as mine because he donated for my hysterectomy.”
   That was it, then; the geneticist had gotten her results wrong. They’d just spent nearly a thousand dollars for results they couldn’t trust. Rob was going to be ticked.
   Caroline set her pen down and furrowed her brow in Libby's direction. “Why are you interested in everyone’s blood type?”
   Libby curled her toes. “Two O parents can’t have an A child. It’s impossible.”
   Caroline’s face turned as white as the tips of her French manicure.
   It was in that moment that Libby’s life flashed before her eyes . . . and she knew.
   The baby books with no pictures of Caroline pregnant. Her mother’s claim that she not only lost her baby bracelet, but also the umbilical clamp and crib card. Was this why she hadn’t minded when, as a preteen, Libby had defiantly taken to calling her by her first name? “Why didn’t you tell me?” was all she could manage around the boulder in her throat.
   Caroline put on a plastic smile. “Tell you what?” she asked, her voice cracking under the facade. “Don’t be silly. The lab made an error. That’s all.” She was usually such a good liar.
   “Fine,” Libby said coldly. “I’ll get another test tomorrow.”
   Caroline’s expression hardened. “Why can’t you ever leave well enough alone?”
   Before Libby could answer, Caroline left the dining room in stony silence.
   So that was it? She didn’t even have the decency to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Typical. Libby walked to the kitchen, poured herself a glass of water, and downed it like a shot, trying to decide what would give her the fastest escape—calling Rob to pick her up or a cab.
   Before she could make up her mind, Caroline returned, her spiked heels clicking sharply against the wood floor. She closed her eyes and handed Libby a stack of papers.
   Glancing down at the raised seal on the top document, Libby tried to process the unfamiliar names typed neatly on the lines.
   With her arms crossed, Caroline tapped her nails against her tanned arms. “Say something . . . please.”
   When Libby’s gaze fell on the birth date—her birth date—her mouth went dry again.
   After parting her thin, red lips, Caroline closed them without saying a word. It might have been the first time Libby had ever seen her mother speechless.
   Caroline strode to the kitchen window and pulled open the roman shade. Sunlight flooded the room, casting her face in harsh light, which gave up every fine line. “With you getting married soon, I guess it was about time anyway. I thought about telling you when you turned eighteen, but . . .” Her voice began to crack. “But I chickened out. I was just so afraid you’d find your real parents and you’d . . . ” She said more, but all Libby could focus on was the adoption papers she held.
   The smell of Caroline’s perfume wafted by, and suddenly Libby felt as though she might vomit. The hand that held the papers dropped to her side, while her other hand covered her mouth. This was real. This was really happening.
   “I actually thought you should grow up knowing, but your father . . .”  Caroline looked out the window, suddenly interested in the Pathfinder pulling into the neighbor’s driveway.
   Libby’s father had left them when she was four. It seemed like only yesterday he had sat her on his lap and, with tears in his eyes, told her to be a good girl and look after Caroline. She thought he was just going to the store and couldn’t figure out why he was being so melodramatic about it. She’d tried to fill the void with friends, sports, and of course Rob. But not a day went by that she didn't feel the absence of a daddy in her life. No wonder he had no qualms about abandoning his daughter . . . because she hadn’t really been his daughter.
   “I’m adopted,” she said, more as a statement than a question. The brownstone had always been stuffy, but at that moment the air felt as heavy as the news being dropped.
   So it was true after all. She shouldn’t be surprised. She and Caroline couldn’t have been more different. She and all of her family, really. In a gene pool full of girly girls and country-club men, she had always been the black sheep, preferring cutoff shorts and catching frogs to debutante parties and Gucci bags. They had never gotten along. And now it made sense why. They weren’t cut from the same cloth.
   What would have brought relief in childhood felt heavy and cold now. Caroline was far from a storybook mother, but she was all Libby had ever known. Feeling unsteady, she leaned against the counter. She thought she was on the verge of tears until she heard herself laugh.
   Caroline whipped around. “There’s nothing amusing about this, Elizabeth.”
   She knew the laughter was inappropriate, especially since she wasn’t feeling happy in the least—confused maybe, scared, angry . . . and sad. Very, very sad.
   Her laughter slowly died as she searched Caroline’s eyes for any sign this all might be some sort of terrible joke. But Caroline didn’t joke.
   Her gaze darted back to the adoption papers—her adoption papers—and her biological mother’s name: Adele Davison. The place where her father’s name should have been had been was conspicuously blank.
   “Who’s my father?”
   Caroline licked her lips nervously and slowly shook her head.
   The child’s name—her name—had been Grace. And she had been born in Wilmington, North Carolina, not Casings as she had always believed. Her head swam as she tried to process the fact that nothing was what she thought it was. Not even herself.
Gina Holmes, Driftwood Tides Tyndale Publishers, Inc., © 2014.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Through Waters Deep by Sarah Sundin, © 2015

Book 1 in the Waves of Freedom Series

Espionage and unrest within, Mary Stirling begins her search for the perpetrator. As an invisible stenographer, Mary is free to roam the Boston Navy Yard unsuspected as she collects the morning reports for her boss, Barton Pennington. Mary is doing a little collecting here and there, herself. Using shorthand, she makes notes of conversations within her notebook, compiling information that would not otherwise be overheard.
   Mary Stirling:
It all began to be for certain as suspicions came clear at the christening of the new destroyer, the USS Ettinger. I called to my boss that the bottle of champagne had been tampered with ~ before he took it to launch the ship and he smiled and waved me off. I went to the edge of the crowd of viewers, hoping to be swallowed up in the proceedings so as not to be noticed. Sure enough, Mr. Pennington is calling my name to come to the platform. Thankfully, hidden among those gathering, I go undetected. I do not like to be called attention to before crowds of people. Being silent in my duties is more comfortable for me!
   Ensign Jim Avery:
Mary Stirling. What a surprise, the best friend of Quintessa Beaumont, the girl I have had on my mind for a long time ~ one of those memories hard to put at rest. My friend, Archer Vandenberg, and I are new to Boston, assigned to the new destroyer, USS Atwood. Mary and I were school friends back in Ohio ~ well, I was a tagalong hoping to catch Quintessa's eye. There is more to Mary than I remember of the quiet girl who stayed in the background. A deepness that resonates solidness and care.
   FBI Agent Sheffield:
At first I dismissed Mary Stirling as a Nancy Drew wannabe, but as reports became obvious, I thought better about negating her. Mainly, her persistence in contacting me, and the urgency of having our office within the shipyard. She wasn't far off in her speculations, in fact, she was a valuable asset to the contacts needed to apprehend the person or persons responsible for the detriment against the USS destroyers. Agent Hayes and I began following up on her right-on clues.
Historical fiction is interesting to me because the research the authors do, placing their characters within the events/happenings of the time, is so much greater than what we may have learned in school. Through Waters Deep covers March 18, 1941 to December 7, 1941, a time in history of unrest preceding the attack at Pearl Harbor. I liked the depth of the characters as they unveil who they are and who they perceive themselves to be. So much more strength than they realize until tested. Mary was my favorite as she is selfless along with being unsure, she puts others before herself. Untried, she is uncertain of where her interest lies. She is sure that she wants country honor and right to prevail.

***Thank you to author Sarah Sundin for inviting me to review the first book in her Waves of Freedom series and to Revell for sending me a review copy. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy this excerpt from Sarah Sundin's Through Waters Deep ~ Chapter 1


Boston Navy Yard; Boston, Massachusetts
Tuesday, March 18, 1941

On a platform by the bow of the USS Ettinger, Mary Stirling prepared supplies no one would notice unless they were missing.
   While nautical pennants snapped in the sea breeze and the band played “Anchors Aweigh” for the ship-launching ceremony, Mary set down a box containing rags, a towel, a whisk broom, and a first aid kit. Then she nestled a bottle of champagne in a silver bucket.
   Something crinkled. Odd.
   Mary picked up the bottle in its decorative tin shield that prevented shattering. Yesterday, she’d tied red, white, and blue ribbon around the neck. Now the ribbon didn’t lie flat, the bow was lopsided, and the foil around the cork seemed loose and wrinkled, as if someone had taken it off and replaced it.
   Why? Scenarios zipped through her head, each more ludicrous than the one before. “Too much Nancy Drew in junior high,” she muttered. And too many spy and saboteur stories in the press lately. With the United States clinging to neutrality in the war in Europe, tensions between isolationists and interventionists had become sharper than the prow of the Ettinger.
   Mary stroked the sleek red hull of the new destroyer towering above her. “Into the wild Atlantic you go.”
   “That is a bad year.”
   Mary smiled at the French accent and faced her roommate and co-worker at the Boston Navy Yard, Yvette Lafontaine. “I doubt the Ettinger cares about the champagne’s vintage.”
   “She should.” Yvette narrowed her golden-brown eyes at the ship, then lit up and grasped Mary’s shoulders. “But you look très magnifique.”
   Mary knew better than to argue. “Thank you for helping me choose the hat. I love it.” The shape flattered her face, and the fawn color blended with her brown hair and the heavy tweed coat she wore. It would also go well with her spring coat—if winter ever ended.
   Yvette fingered the puff of netting on the brim. “I still prefer the red one.”
   “Not red.”
   “Sometimes a woman needs to . . . to accent, not match.” The glamorous brunette tapped Mary’s nose. “You listen to me. We French know fashion, wine, food, and love. Obviously we do not know war.” Her voice lowered to a growl.
   Mary puckered one corner of her mouth in sympathy. Poor Yvette had been studying at Harvard when the Nazis trampled her country in May and June of 1940. Almost a year ago. Stranded in the States after graduation, Yvette took a job at the Navy Yard.
   “I’ll see you at the apartment. I must find Henri and Solange.” Yvette trotted down the steps.
   “See you later.” Mary spotted her boss, Barton Pennington, next to the platform. She leaned over the railing draped with red, white, and blue bunting. “Mr. Pennington!”
   He smiled up at her and folded his gloved hands over his broad belly. “Ah, Miss Stirling. All ready?”
   “Yes, but . . .” She held up the champagne bottle. “The foil is loose and the ribbon is disturbed. It looks like someone tampered with it.”
   Mr. Pennington gave her the amused fatherly look he wore whenever she fussed over something trivial. “I’m sure it’s nothing but rough handling.”
   “Very rough.” She smoothed out the wrinkles and her worries and settled the bottle in its bucket.
   “You’ve done a great job again. And look at all the people.” Mr. Pennington gestured to the crowd. At least a hundred naval personnel and shipyard workers milled about.
   Nausea seized Mary’s belly. But why? None of the people looked at her. None of them had come to see her. She hadn’t put herself on display. Yet logic and panic never listened to each other.
   “I—I’m all done, Mr. Pennington.” Mary gripped the banister and scurried down the stairs, each step quelling the nausea.
   “I’ll see you after the launching.”
   Mary waved over her shoulder and headed toward the back of the crowd to watch the ceremony. To one side, a cluster of shipyard workers praised President Roosevelt’s newly signed Lend-Lease bill to send billions of dollars of aid to Britain. To the other side, another cluster of workers denounced the legislation as nothing but warmongering.
   Although Mary certainly didn’t want American boys to die in another European war, the images of bombed-out London wrenched her heart. The United States had to do something or Britain would fall.
   A laugh filtered through the noise, a familiar male laugh, tickling at her memory.
   Across a parting in the crowd, she saw two naval officers in navy blue overcoats and caps—“covers” in the naval jargon. One man had fair hair and one had dark.
   The dark-haired officer had a friendly, open face, very much like Jim Avery from back home in Vermilion, Ohio. Except Jim was tall and scrawny, and this man was tall and . . . not scrawny.
   Jim had attended the Naval Academy, and Mary hadn’t seen him since high school. A lot could happen to a person in five years.
   Mary inched closer, and with each step the officer looked more like Jim Avery, except he held himself straighter, with more assurance.
   He laughed at something his friend said, and in a flash, Mary was sitting around a table at the soda fountain with her best friend Quintessa Beaumont, Quintessa’s boyfriend Hugh Mackey, and Hugh’s best friend, Jim. All of them enraptured by Quintessa’s effervescence.
   Jim’s gaze drifted to her, and he gave her the mild smile men gave silver girls like Mary, without the spark reserved for golden girls like Quintessa.
   Oh, why had she come over? How silly of her. She returned the mild smile and angled her path away.
   But Jim peered at her and took a step in her direction. “Mary? Mary Stirling?”
   He actually remembered her? “Jim Avery?”
   With a grin, he strode forward and gripped her hand. “Well, I’ll be. What are you doing in Boston?”
   “I work here. Almost four years now.” She gestured to the grand expanses of scaffolding. “I’m a secretary.” No need to go into prideful detail.
   “Isn’t that swell?” In the icy sunshine, his eyes were clearly hazel.
   Had Mary ever noticed that before? “I assume the Navy brought you to town?”
   Jim beckoned to his companion. “Mary, this is my friend, Archer Vandenberg. Arch, this is Mary Stirling from Ohio. Arch and I went to the Academy together, and we’ve just been assigned to the Atwood.”
   “Oh yes.” The Gleaves-class destroyer had been launched at the shipyard in December and had almost completed the fitting-out process before commissioning.
   “A pleasure to meet you, Mary.” Arch spoke with the measured tones of upper-crust New England, but the shine in his blue eyes said he didn’t deem a Midwestern secretary beneath his acquaintance. “Four years in Boston, did you say?”
   “Say . . .” Jim nudged his friend.
   Arch crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at Mary. “Yes, she’ll do quite nicely.”
   She drew back. “Pardon?”
   Jim laughed. “Never mind him. We were just talking about how we’re new to town and wish we knew someone to show us around.”
   The thought of an excursion lifted her smile. “I could do that. I love exploring this city. So much history.”
   “Swell. I had visions of Jim and Gloria and I walking into the harbor while trying to navigate.” Arch held up the launching program as if it were a map and squinted at it.
   Jim dipped a partial bow. “And you’ll save me from being the third wheel. Again.”
   What fun. Although Yvette was a dear friend, she socialized with French refugees, and Mary didn’t speak French. “How about this Sunday? You could join me for church or meet me afterward.”
   “A real church with pews? That doesn’t rock with the waves? Count us in.” Jim pulled a pen from the breast pocket of his shirt. “Arch, you have something—”
   “I have a notepad.” Mary always did. She wrote down the church’s address and sketched a map.
   The band stopped playing. Mary passed Jim the slip of paper and turned to watch the ceremony under a bright blue sky. If only the temperature hadn’t dipped to sixteen degrees, one detail Mary couldn’t control.
   The Ettinger filled her sight, sleek as an arrow, 348 feet in length and 36 feet across at the beam. Above her red hull, everything was painted gray. A string of colorful pennants swooped from her prow up to her mast and down to her stern.
   Mary pressed up on her toes. What a joy to watch ceremonies as keels were laid down and ships were launched. Thank goodness her grandfather and Mr. Pennington had become fast friends in school.
   The dignitaries climbed onto the platform. Then the band played the national anthem, while Mary pressed her hand over her heart and Jim and Arch stood at attention and saluted.
   After the anthem, Mr. Pennington approached the microphone and thanked a list of people. He adjusted his glasses. “Today I realized I’ve been remiss. Never once at a launching have I thanked the person who works behind the scenes, making sure every little detail is in place, from the programs in your hands to the supplies at my feet.”
   Mary’s breath rushed in and turned to bile. He wouldn’t. No, he wouldn’t. She eased behind Jim, behind the shield of his navy blue back.
   “That person is my lovely secretary, Miss Mary Stirling. Miss Stirling, would you please join me on stage?”
   No, no, no. She pressed her hand over her stomach, willing it to settle. Why hadn’t she made some mistake, forgotten some detail, missed some deadline?
   “Mary? What’s the matter?” Jim looked over his shoulder at her, the visor of his cap hiding his expression.
   “I can’t. I just can’t.”
   Silence. Then he nodded and faced the stage. His shoulders stretched even broader. “I haven’t seen Mary, have you, Arch? Not a sign of her.”
   “Who? Never heard of the girl.”
   Mary took slow, even breaths, grateful for her inconspicuous hair and hat and coat, for Jim’s height and protection and whatever miraculous physical fitness they taught at Annapolis.
   “Miss Stirling?” Mr. Pennington called over the buzz of the crowd. “Well, she must be hard at work. Let’s get on with the launching.”
   Mary peeked around Jim’s shoulder as Mr. Pennington introduced Massachusetts state senator Ralston Fuller and his wife, Dorothy, the Ettinger’s sponsor. The mahogany fur on Mrs. Fuller’s coat danced in the breeze.
   Senator Fuller gave a speech, the chaplain intoned the “Prayer for Our Navy,” and the commandant, Rear Adm. William Tarrant, presented the bottle of champagne to Mrs. Fuller.
   She held the bottle aloft. “In the name of the United States, I christen thee Ettinger. May God bless her and all that sail in her.” She smashed the bottle over the hull, and the crowd erupted in applause.
   The destroyer slipped down the ways and into Boston Harbor, sending giant roaring wings of water arcing on each side.
   Mary’s delight flowed out in her sigh, forming white curlicues in the frosty air.
   Up on the stage, Mrs. Fuller yelped, jumped back, and swatted at her coat.
   Chuckles swept the crowd.
   “Must have gotten champagne on that fancy fur coat,” Jim said.
   But everyone on stage stepped back, staring at the champagne spill. “Put out your cigarettes!” someone shouted.
   The men flung down their cigarettes, stomped on them.
   What was going on? Mary stepped out from behind Jim.
   Senator Fuller dropped his cigar, and tiny orange flames flickered around it. Mrs. Fuller screamed. Mr. Pennington tossed down Mary’s rags and smothered the flames.
   A murmur started at the stage and rolled out through the audience. “Gasoline.”
   The word slammed into Mary’s chest. “The bottle.”
   “The bottle?” Jim frowned at her.
   “The champagne bottle. I knew something was wrong. The foil was loose. Thank goodness no one was hurt.”
   “You think someone . . .”
   “Poured out the champagne and put in gasoline. Then replaced the cork and the foil.”
   “But who? Why?”
   “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” She almost smiled at the intrigued look on Jim’s face. “Excuse me, but I think the police will want to talk to me.”
   “I’ll see you Sunday.” Jim winked at her. “Unless you’re in jail.”
   “I won’t be.” Her fingerprints on the bottle would be expected, and since she’d called Mr. Pennington’s attention to the tampering, she wouldn’t be considered a suspect.
   As she worked her way through the crowd to the stage, her Nancy Drew theories seemed more and more plausible.
   She’d discounted her instincts, but she was right. If only she’d pressed Mr. Pennington further and investigated more.
   Who would do such a thing? And why?
   Did a political rival want to harm Senator Fuller or his wife? Did someone hope to keep the Ettinger off the seas? Did someone want to discredit the Boston Navy Yard? Was it a saboteur?
   A thrill tingled up her spine. Not only did she have an excursion to anticipate, but she had her very own mystery.
Sarah Sundin, Through Waters Deep Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2015.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Bride at Last by Melissa Jagears, © 2015

Cover Art

Silas Jonesy has become used to riding the train with his round trips between his Kansas farm and those he has left behind in Missouri ~ only... he didn't know the whereabouts until recently. Receiving the name of the town from his runaway wife, he arrives a day too late. She has passed on. Unknown to him, she has a child; a nine-year-old son named Anthony. Anthony has someone who cares for him and thought she would be his overseer until Silas shows up and Richard, who Anthony had known as "Pa." Only it is more complicated than that. Richard's wife is barren and he comes looking for his son. Which of the three will be awarded Anthony by the court?

A Bride at Last is a story of trust and letting the past go to be able to live in the now and future. It reveals the hearts and longings of those in the story, even those who are out for their own gain without regard for another. Miss Kate Dawson is the school teacher who had cared for Anthony and his mother, thinking she would continue to be his caregiver because of the closeness of her heart to him. Entanglement with Silas, although innocent, to the teachers' rules, becomes imminent that her future is unsecure. How can the welfare of a student become a search for more than she expected?

I liked how the protagonists find out who they truly are by their willingness to risk sharing their weaknesses; foibles hidden even from themselves until they are awakened to the liability of them? How much of what we try to hid, or avoid, becomes the very thing that will free us, once it is revealed and dealt with? Finding they could rely on God when their own decisions waiver, becomes the very stepping stone needed to move forward.

The Unexpected Brides series by Melissa Jagears:
Intimacy with God and man cannot be had without trusting them with your weakness, Love by the Letter, to accept you despite your past, A Bride for Keeps, to help you succeed in your present, A Bride in Store and stick with you in the future, A Bride at Last.
LoveByTheLetterNEW_3MelissaCover11685 BrideInStore_CVR_mck.indd12545 ABrideAtLast_mck.inddblindedbylovecover
The novella, Blinded by Love, in The Convenient Bride Collection is an unofficial part of the series, taking one of the characters from Love by the Letter and giving him a happily ever after.
Melissa Jagears
Melissa Jagears is a homeschooling mom who writes Christian Historical Romance after everyone is asleep. She’s the author of the Unexpected Brides Series with Bethany House. The prequel ebook novella, Love by the Letter is free to try. You can learn more about her, her books, and where she hangs out online at her website.

***Thank you to author Melissa Jagears and to Bethany House Publishers for sending me a review copy of A Bride at Last. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Abandoned by his mail-order bride, Silas Jonesey has fought an uphill battle to recover from a pattern of poor choices. Now his prayers for reconciliation have finally come true and his estranged wife has contacted him with her whereabouts.
Kate Dawson was supposed to be a mail-order bride, but upon realizing she'd been deceived about her intended groom, she's now settled into life as a schoolteacher. When the mother of a student passes away, Kate assumes she'll take on care of nine-year-old Anthony––until two men suddenly show up in town, claiming to be the boy's father.
   Silas can see Anthony loves Kate, so he enlists her help in reaching out to the boy and attempting to prove his paternity to the court. When a common interest in Anthony leads to an interest in each other and Silas and Kate begin to think they can overcome their rocky start, neither is prepared for the secrets and past hurts that have yet to come to light. Can Silas, Kate, and Anthony's wounded souls bind them together or will all that stands between them leave them lonely forever?

Enjoy this excerpt from Melissa Jagears' A Bride at Last ~ Chapter 1

Chapter 1


At the sound of running footsteps, Kate Dawson glanced up from dumping mop water in the alleyway outside the school building.
   Anthony Riverton skidded to a halt in front of her, his little chest heaving as he drew in gulps of air.
   “Why weren’t you in school today?” She frowned at his tattered clothing. She needed to find him a decent coat before winter.
   “Mother’s dying.” Dread strangled his words. “Tonight. I just know it.”
   A lump pushed against Kate’s high collar. “She seemed better yesterday.” Lucinda didn’t have many days left, but Kate wasn’t ready for her to leave yet—wasn’t ready to assume responsibility for this boy all on her own. She hadn’t saved enough money, hadn’t figured out where they would live . . .
   “She coughed so much last night I couldn’t sleep, and this morning she begged me not to leave.” The nine-year-old swallowed hard, but his eyes were dry. “Said she’d be the one going. I thought she meant back to the laundry.” His ragged voice barely registered. “And she’s mumbling things about Pa.”
   Kate’s breath stopped. “Your pa?”
   The boy’s arms hung limp at his sides. “Said he’s coming.”
   She shook her head vehemently. “No.”
   “Said she wrote him.”
   “Wrote him? Whatever for?” She’d helped the two of them escape Anthony’s father years ago—or at least the man Anthony had known as Pa. Had Lucy contacted him?
   “Let’s go.” Kate leaned the mop against the schoolhouse door. She’d yet to clean Miss Jennings’s classroom or the Widow Larson’s, but a boy needed somebody with him when his mother took her last draught of air.
   She sprinted after Anthony, her long-legged stride easily keeping pace with his. They darted down the convoluted streets of Breton, one of the many towns surrounding Independence, Missouri—a sprawling city they could get lost in, and where Richard Fitzgerald could never find them.
   Surely Anthony had heard wrong. Lucinda had to have written someone else. She’d told Kate that Richard wasn’t Anthony’s real father months ago, but she hadn’t thought to pry any further. The only other man she knew of in Lucinda’s past was the husband who’d kicked Lucinda out penniless—who’d driven her to Richard. Was he Anthony’s father or was there a third man?
   Winding their way between factories and dilapidated apartments only impoverished factory workers would bother to live in, they ran for the boardinghouse where Kate paid for the Rivertons to lodge. The giant structure leaned, and its walls contained more bugs than the building had bricks, but Mrs. Grindall’s was the only affordable place available. Lucinda’s sickness had stolen her ability to work, and the landlord of the miserable shack they’d once lived in had not been gifted with compassion.
   If only Kate could find them someplace better. But as long as she taught in the rundown section of Breton, that would never happen. Not only was the schoolhouse and surrounding neighborhood lacking, but so was the pay.
   Lately, Lucinda had bemoaned the baubles and luxurious life she’d left behind so much that Kate had to keep reminding her of how her lover had treated her to snap her out of whining.
   As a teacher, Kate wouldn’t be able to provide Anthony with much, but he’d have enough. And most importantly, he’d be loved—which was better than anything Richard could give him.
   But what if Richard was on his way to Breton right now? What if he was already here?
   The wintery air, like a cold, sharp knife, sliced in and out of her lungs as she breathed deeply with each stride. She sped up to tighten the distance between her and Anthony. Dodging a pile of litter, she darted around the sharp corner into—
   Her shoulder slammed hard into a man in the boardinghouse’s alleyway. She stumbled, arms flailing to save her balance.
   “Are you all right, miss?” He reached for her, but she righted herself without his help and shook her head. Good thing she wore sensible boots. Heels would have sent her sprawling.
   “I’m fine.” She waved dismissively at him, then ran the last few strides to the steps by the back door. She grabbed the balustrade’s rounded newel, increasing her pivoting speed to gain the steps faster.
   Anthony turned the knob and barged through the boardinghouse’s sticky side door, which released a puff of hot air. At least Mrs. Grindall kept the place warm—overly warm, but better than the alternative.
   A spooked mouse skittered across the stair landing, and Kate shuddered in the dim light despite the heat. The tiny rodent disappeared into a crevice in the wall.
   Even though Anthony’s quick thumping on the staircase probably woke anyone who might have been napping, she didn’t want to annoy any residents, so she slowed. Although, considering the thin, grayish walls, the boarders likely dealt with all kinds of unwanted noises.
   Once Anthony’s pounding steps ceased, the boardinghouse seemed eerily quiet. A dog barked outside, a baby cried somewhere down the corridor, pots and pans banged downstairs, and a lady sneezed across the hall, but what she didn’t hear was coughing. . . . Lucinda’s ceaseless lung-emptying hacking.
   Anthony stood in front of his room’s closed door, his eyes open with alarm and his lips pressed tight, his nostrils flaring with each frantic inhale.
   Kate took a gulp of the hot, stale air and put a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s go in quietly. We don’t want to disturb her sleep.” At least she prayed the lack of coughing meant sleep.
   She opened the door. “Lucinda?”
   No answer.
   The stillness was palpable.
   Kate approached the bed. “Are you awake?” Please, Lord . . .
   The woman’s matted blond curls lay limp against her pillow, the purple beneath her eyes darker than Kate remembered.
   Lucinda’s eyelids were relaxed despite being half open. Her mouth slack, her body restful. An unusual peacefulness pervaded her face.
   With a trembling hand against her mouth, Kate focused on the threadbare, disintegrating quilt covering Lucinda’s chest.
   Not even a flutter.
   Anthony crept up alongside Kate and pressed against her heavy wool skirt and thick petticoats.
   She put her arm around him, and they both watched Lucinda. The clock ticked unmercifully slow.
   “She never said it.” His scratchy voice warbled with tears.
   “Said what, honey?” His tense muscles tightened as she slowly rubbed his arm from elbow to shoulder.
   “That she loved me.” He swallowed audibly. “Do you think she wanted to tell me that while I was gone?”
   Warmth flooded Kate’s eyes and throat so quickly she barely kept from crying. She tightened her grip on Anthony’s shoulder. To lie or not? “I don’t know.”
   She kissed the top of his head and walked him to the hard chair beside the single drafty window. She sat and tugged him into an embrace, but his body refused to soften. He stared out the window, and she held her tears.
   Her heart fractured into painful shards as the quiet seconds ticked by. If only he’d allow himself to cry. . . .

   Silas Jonesey rubbed his eyes as he stared up at the front door of the boardinghouse on Morning Glory Street for the seventh time. It wasn’t as if the two-story structure had the stability of the walls of Jericho. He could probably push the building over without circling it once, but his feet had refused to cooperate when he first arrived. So he’d marched around . . . and around. However, his heavy traveling bag wearied his left arm and his boots had started rubbing his heels after several circuitous trips.
   It was time to go inside.
   Would she forgive him? He set his bag on the sidewalk and rotated his shoulder as he stared at the cracked windows. She’d only written him to ask for money, and no wonder—this boardinghouse was likely the worst building he’d ever seen that hadn’t already collapsed in upon itself. The towns surrounding Independence had grown a lot since he’d last been in the area. Surely there were a hundred better places for his wife to lodge.
   Had she known he grew up near here, only a day’s ride away? Surely not. Independence was one of the largest cities in Missouri, so she’d likely come to this area looking for a job—just a coincidence.
   He rubbed his chest pocket, the letter inside his shirt crinkling. She’d asked him to send her money, but he had to apologize in person and plead for a second chance. But if she declined to return to Kansas with him, was he obligated to keep her housed in Missouri? He wasn’t wealthy. This autumn’s rain deficit and summer’s myriad insect infestations had bit into his savings—and that was before he’d bought the train ticket to Independence.
   He rolled his shoulders. No sense getting ahead of himself. He’d come to confess his sins and ask for forgiveness—that’s all he really wanted. If she forgave him, then he’d worry about what to do next.
   He swallowed, grabbed his bags, and forced his feet up one stair at a time.
   The grimy window beside the front door obscured his view inside, so after two knocks and no answer, he tried the doorknob. Open. Stepping inside, a shiver stole over him, despite the relief the cloying heat gave his body. He crossed to the desk in the back of the room but couldn’t find a bell, and nobody lurked in the dimly lit interior.
   Overhead, a baby cried and footsteps squeaked on warped boards, both sounds mu"ed by kitchen clanging noises coming from somewhere down the hallway.
   “Hello?” Should he pound on something or search for the proprietor? He set down his bag and pulled off his scarf. He raised his voice. “Is anyone available to help me?”
   A ruddy-faced woman with a stained apron and gray hair falling from an untidy bun stepped out of a door near the back of the hallway. “Whaddya want?”
   “I’m here to visit Lucinda Jonesey. Do I—”
   “There’s no dallying with any of my guests. I don’t run a—”
   “No, ma’am.” He cleared his throat. His face flamed hotter than the stifling room. “She’s my wife.”
   “Lucinda who?” She lowered one brow, turning her head a bit to give him an unconvinced glare.
   “Then you got the wrong place.”
   He glanced at the letter in his hand. “Is this 402 Morning Glory? She was here a month ago.”
   “All I’ve got is a Lucinda Riverton.”
   Riverton? She was using her maiden name? “That’s her.”
   “She ain’t got no husband.” The lady took a menacing step forward, brandishing her wooden spoon.
   “Not for the last ten years, no—at least we haven’t lived together.” Not as if he’d been the reason for that. “I promise if she’s not the right Lucinda, I won’t stay. Even if she is the right one, I’m not sure I’ll be here long.”
   “Second floor, last door on the right.” She waved her dough-covered spoon at a dark stairwell. “If I hear screaming, I’ll thrash you.”
   He worked hard not to smile at the image of the round, flour-covered lady charging at him with a spoon. “That won’t happen. She asked me to come.”
   Now, as for yelling? That might be a different matter. . . .
   “Fine.” She turned and charged toward the door she’d left earlier. “Myrtle! If those potatoes aren’t done peeled, I’ll whip you within an inch of your life!”
   Did this woman threaten everyone with a beating, or did she actually do it?
   No voice responded from the back. Perhaps this Myrtle person knew the proprietress’s threat was idle or she kept quiet to avoid confrontation.
   Nothing but the sound of sliding pots and clanging bowls sounded from the back, so he grabbed his bag and headed to the stairs.
   Carefully testing his weight on the splintered boards, Silas pushed himself upward, his heart pounding harder with each step closer to his wife.
   Nearing the last door, he pulled o! his hat and stu!ed it deep into the pocket of his heavy coat. He cleared his throat and knocked on the door, which gave way under his fist. Something fluttered inside, but no one bid him enter nor asked his name.
   “Hello?” Would he even recognize his wife? Ten years could certainly change anybody’s looks, disposition . . . wants. “Lucy?”
   He looked behind him to make sure this indeed was the last door. If she wasn’t inside, where should he wait? Would his estranged wife view his entering her empty room as an invasion?
   He pushed the door, and his eyes lighted upon the bed where his wife lay, her blond curls as long and sensuous as they’d been during the seven months he’d known her.
   But the rest of her? Tightness captured his chest, and he took a shuffling step over to lean against the metal pipe footboard. He dropped his carpetbag and reached out to jiggle her foot. “Lucy?”
   Her eyes remained closed. Could he have come all this way to miss her? He’d only wanted to ask for forgiveness. She didn’t have to actually give it.
   He slipped around the corner of the bed and reached for her hand. Limp and pale but not exactly cold. Perhaps her slack jaw was from deep sleep.
   He felt her forehead, then placed his hand against her breastbone. No heartbeat, no rise and fall of her chest. He blew out a breath, and his shoulders slumped as he carefully sat down on the dirty mattress.
   Why hadn’t he written his apology last month when her letter first arrived? Why hadn’t God allowed him to ask for forgiveness? He barely knew the woman he’d spent a few hours with each night for seven months after a long day of homesteading. Six years he’d wasted hating her for leaving him irrevocably alone, and the last four years he’d lived in agony waiting for a chance to—
   “She’s not there.”
   He startled and shot o! the bed. The woman who’d smacked into him in the alley sat in a rickety chair with her arm around the urchin he’d sidestepped in an effort to avoid being run into.
   Had they been racing to Lucy’s side at the announcement of her death? He glanced around but saw no one else in the room. He swallowed against the stone lodged in his throat and blinked against the warmth hazing his eyes. “How long has she been dead?”
   The woman’s escaped dark auburn locks were wild about her face, her cheeks pink from either crying or her brisk run. “My guess would be no more than fifteen minutes.”
   “Your guess?” He turned to face his wife’s motionless, emaciated form. “Was no one with her?”
   “No, we found her this way, though death wasn’t completely unexpected.” She stood and shoved the boy behind her. “And you are?”
   “Her husband.” He cocked his head at her sudden defensive posturing. “And you?”
   The woman’s eyes narrowed. “Miss Dawson.”
   Which meant nothing to him. “A friend of Lucy’s?”
   That’s all she was going to say?
   She stepped forward. “Why are you here?”
   He pulled on his collar. Yes, why am I here, Lord? Why now? He’d spent over ten years alone when his mother had abandoned him at the orphanage, seven months a semicontent but delusional groom, and ten more years as an estranged husband.
   And now he was alone again.
   “I suppose the Lord wanted me to know of her passing.” Not the greatest comfort, being that he was completely abandoned once again, but it was something. “She’d written for help.” And she’d definitely needed it. How long had she suffered? Her haggard face indicated a lengthy illness.
   “Why didn’t you come for her earlier?”
   He returned the woman’s glare. If her eyes weren’t scrunched with accusation and her lips curled with scorn, she’d be heaps prettier. “I suppose you fault me for the month I took to get here? I live in Salt Flatts, Kansas. I couldn’t leave my homestead unattended without ruining everything I’ve worked for. I got somebody to take care of my property as soon as I could, and yet I still . . . missed her.”
   He’d been walking outside for half an hour.
   Was Miss Dawson right? Had he missed apologizing to his wife by fifteen minutes because he’d dragged his feet attempting to settle his nerves?
   And why must this strange lady look at him so? What right had she to be mad at him? “Besides being named Miss Dawson, who are you?”
   She took one step back, but her chin tilted higher. “So you’re not here for any other reason?”
   “Do you find evading questions amusing?”
   Her eyes narrowed. “I need to know.”
   “Why must I inform you?” He set his jaw. He’d told her Lucy was his wife, yet Miss Dawson hadn’t bothered to offer condolences, just a biting glare.
   Her son leaned over to peer at him from behind her, and Silas sighed. He couldn’t chide the boy’s mother in front of him. Nor should they be arguing beside a dead woman’s bed. He swallowed his pride, something he’d become good at these last ten years, and shrugged. “I came here for no other reason than my wife asked me to.” He held out his open hand indicating the door. “Why don’t we talk outside?”
   He led the way out, holding the door open for the mother and son to follow.
   Turning around in the middle of the hallway, Miss Dawson returned to glaring. “Did she say why she wanted you to come?”
   “I’m assuming now it’s because she was sick.” He glanced back into the room, noting the blood-speckled handkerchiefs, the tonics on the washstand, the disheveled cot below the window. Who slept there? “Was she not alone?”
   “Someone had to care for her. She was dying of consumption. Penniless. Unloved. Beaten down by the life you tossed her into.”
   He straightened. “I tossed her into?”
   “Do you deny sending her away?”
   “I do.” Why did this woman he’d just met think so poorly of him? “I don’t know what she told you, but I never asked her to leave. I wouldn’t have. She’s all I have in the world.” He swallowed hard. “Or had, anyway.”
   Miss Dawson relaxed, and he frowned. Why would his becoming a widower calm her? Her countenance hadn’t struck him as unkind. In fact, she was rather attractive. Maybe not like Lucy—her looks had enamored him from the moment she’d sent him her photograph—but this Miss Dawson’s face was pleasing enough.
   Well, more than pleasing if he were honest, with her pert nose and softly colored lips. Less than an hour ago, she’d flown past him in a sea of petticoats, hardly slowed by a jarring hit to the shoulder and a near tumble. She didn’t look strong, considering her soft feminine form, but her straight back, tilted chin, and peppery words would make any man cautious.
   “Well, Mr. . . . I’m sorry, I didn’t ask your name.”
   “Jonesey. Silas Jonesey.”
   “Ah. Jonesey.” She smiled even more. “Mr. Jonesey, I’m sorry if I caused any offense. I wasn’t certain you were—”
   “Then you’re not my real father?”
   Miss Dawson stiffened, and the boy came out from behind her.
   Silas licked his lips, watching the color drain from Miss Dawson. “I thought he was yours?”
   “He is.” She glared at the boy and gave him a quick shake of her head. The silencing gesture only made the boy cross his arms.
   Silas glanced at Miss Dawson’s fingers. No ring. Not that a lack thereof meant anything if they were as poor as they looked. He took a glance at the two of them again. Besides dark-colored hair, there wasn’t much resemblance—and the boy’s hair had no hint of red. Miss Dawson couldn’t be much more than twenty-five maybe, and the boy had to be . . . around nine.
   If the boy had blond curls, he’d have looked exactly like Lucy must have at that age.
   Silas put a hand to his neck and tightened his abdominal muscles against the slurry in his stomach. “I have a son?”
Melissa Jagears, A Bride at Last Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2015.