Saturday, February 27, 2016

After the Rain by Rita Gerlach, © 2015

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This handsome gentleman of the early 1900s is the inspiration for Jackson O'Neil, the hero in 'After the Rain'.: This handsome gentleman of the early 1900s is the inspiration for Jackson O'Neil, the hero in 'After the Rain'.
    --author Rita Gerlach

After the Rain, is available in paperback as well as in Kindle. It's a sprawling 570 page Edwardian era novel set in the outskirts of Washington DC and a tight-knit village called Chestnut Creek in Virginia.…/…/ref=sr_1_1…:
available for purchase ~ paperback & eBook

I purchased this copy of After the Rain by Rita Gerlach and highly recommend this historical fiction.

Back cover: He becomes the love of her life. She becomes his biggest challenge.
It's 1908, a year in the Edwardian Age, the year J.M. Barrie’s play What Every Woman Knows, premiered in Atlantic City and the first Model T rolled off the assembly line in Detroit. It is a year when the world faced one of its worst disasters in history, when the New Year would heal the wounds of loss.
   Louisa Borden lives a privileged life in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a new and thriving community on the outskirts of Washington, DC for the well-to-do. Against the wishes of her domineering grandmother, she retreats from the prospects of a loveless marriage and instead searches for what she hopes is her calling in life.
   When her horse is spooked along Rock Creek, she is thrown from the saddle—an embarrassing situation for any affluent young lady. Soaking wet, bruised and humiliated, she is carried up the muddy bank to safety by Jackson O’Neil, a stranger to the city, who changes the course of everything, including the lives of all those around her.

My review:
I loved the flow of this story. Jackson O'Neil and Louisa Borden are separated from each other after they meet. I admire Louisa for continuing on nobly with her life when her interest lies with Jackson, along with an unknown future. Her widowed father travels for business and she is left at home with a cantankerous Gammi who has little use for Louisa. Louisa's best friend, Amy Lockhart, has been away from home for months. Instead of bemoaning her station in life, Louisa cares for others and their needs, and goes to serve a Thanksgiving meal at a mission with her dear, close maid, Millie.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the characters in After the Rain. Even some I wouldn't have expected! Wait until you find out what a mule and a new Buick have to do with each other!

1908 Buick Model G
Image result for mule

Amy returns home and Dr. and Mrs. Lockhart invite Louisa to join them during Christmastime while her father is abroad and Gammi has gone back to England with distant relatives. She had been certain a visiting childhood friend of Louisa would be just the right match. Louisa decides not, and desires to marry for love and not money. Mrs. Lockhart, Amy, Louisa and Millie, go to visit Amy's Aunt Annabelle Fairchild in Long Island in mid-winter.

Receiving troubling news and not hearing from her father, Louisa travels to stay with her elderly great aunts, Mildred and Maude, in a small country town in Virginia. Her life takes a different turn as she oversees a children's home, continuing from an endowment funding patronage begun by her mother years before.

This story is so thorough and you come to care for secondary characters who enliven and nourish so richly.
The scar may remain, but with forgiveness it will not fester.
Louisa ~ After the Rain, 293
Love this quote. A story well worth reading!! Built very well and you come to know the characters in a genuine way.

Rita Gerlach Author Rita Gerlach

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Worthy Heart by Susan Anne Mason, © 2016

Courage to Dream series, Book 2

Cover Art

              ~* Isn't this cover beautiful! *~

Now, on to Adam O'Leary's story. He kept to himself in Book 1, Irish Meadows, scowling when he did appear.

Book 2 - A Worthy Heart ~  Adam O'Leary, newly released from prison, searches to make a new life for himself  in New York. The feisty Maggie Montgomery, visiting from Ireland, makes him wish he was a better man - worthy of her heart!

Visiting for the summer, Gabe Montgomery and their sister, Maggie, join their brother, Rylan, and his family in New York City, traveling from Cork County, Ireland, their home.
(Undated) Skyline of New York Postcard (Front)
Gabe has come as a chaperone for his sister. Surprises await them as they take to the change. Gabe is a firefighter back home and volunteers at a nearby station to take back new skills to his station in Cork. Called upon to go with the fire crew to put out a fire, it is the home of a young woman he met at a gathering at O'Leary's Irish Meadows horse farm. (Rylan's wife is the former Colleen O'Leary.)

Maggie enjoys being at the orphanage her brother, Rylan, oversees. Working with the children is a delight. One drawback is missing her mother back home. But an adventure, for sure. Especially when she meets the stable hand at Irish Meadows, seeing him for the second time, after sending him flying from watching them at play at the orphanage yard.

Old Dutch Church taken by James Russiello.jpgA favorite character who stood out to me is John McNabb, pastor at the Shepherd of Good Hope Church. He was such an encourager to Adam O'Leary through many dismays and mishaps upon Adam's return to society. He had frequently visited Adam in prison and gave him an open invitation to come see him when he was released.

Adam O'Leary's character showed what faith in God and falling back on his own view of himself erupted change ~ for the better or to downfall. The strength that he portrayed upheld assurance invested by those who believed in him, so much stronger than defeat could prevail. This is a wonderful story of hope and dreams being realized, even with despair and starting over, again and again. Forgiveness and doing right, regardless of how he was received, opened the door to discovery and reconciliation.
   Adam bent to pick up a couple of flat rocks and skipped them out over the water, watching the ensuing ripples skitter toward the shore. Events in his life resembled these stones, cast out into new territory, each creating its own set of ripples and consequences. Adam might not understand the way God worked in his life, but he had to trust it was all for the greater good.
   --A Worthy Heart, 274
All of these characters were fittingly portrayed in a story of their own. Very strong building and thought out content. Conflict and support very vivid. I would like to see a further story containing the other two Montgomery brothers mentioned back in Ireland ~ and a continued series of Rylan and Colleen's children. A lot of writing forthcoming, I hope!

The third and final book in the Courage to Dream series releases under the title, Love's Faithful Promise, and is the story of the younger O'Leary children when they become adults. The book is ready for pre-order and releases in September 2016.

Enjoy this excerpt from A Worthy Heart by Susan Anne Mason, Chapter 1

“Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” Isaiah 43:1


June 1914
New York City

“THERE SHE IS! The Statue of Liberty.”
   The eager cry of a child caused a ripple of excitement among the crush of passengers as the steamship inched its way into the New York Harbor.
   Maggie Montgomery craned her neck to get her first glimpse of the famous landmark. When the crowds shifted enough for her to see the giant arm holding the torch aloft, a thrill of anticipation shot through her, as sharp and biting as the wind that tore at the kerchief covering her hair. America’s symbol for freedom. For new life.
   Maggie’s new life.
   She clutched her brother’s arm. “Can you believe it, Gabe? We’ve made it to America.”
   Gabe nodded, his gaze fixed on the wonder of the immense statue before them. “’Tis a grand sight, to be sure.” He spoke in a reverent whisper almost drowned out by the wind.
   She squeezed his coat sleeve, knowing her brother was as moved as she. Never in her wildest imaginings had she dared envision this moment—that her long-held wish to travel and see other parts of the world could actually come true. Now here they were on an extended trip to visit their older brother, Rylan, and his family in New York. What adventures would await her here?
   Gabe took her by the elbow. “Let’s move to the other side and get a look at the dock. Maybe Rylan will be there waiting for us.”
   Being a big lad, Gabe had no trouble maneuvering Maggie and himself to a spot at the far side of the rail. Maggie could feel the anticipation rushing through the passengers as they chatted and laughed—many, like Maggie, seeing the tall buildings of New York for the first time.
   Breathtaking was all Maggie could think. So different from their tiny village in Cork. The vastness of the scene before her made her feel as insignificant as an ant on the ground, and though grateful for Gabe’s arm around her waist, anchoring her to the rail, she couldn’t suppress the shiver of nerves that ran through her body.
   Gabe pulled her closer. “Are you cold, love?”
   “No. Just excited.” Nervous, more like. But Maggie wasn’t about to let her overprotective brother in on that tidbit of information. “It’s been so long since we’ve seen Rylan. I hope he’ll recognize us.” She paused to look into Gabe’s gray eyes, so similar to her own. “Do you think he’s changed?”
   The stiff wind whipped Gabe’s dark hair about his forehead. He’d stuffed his cap into his coat pocket, since it would never stay put, battered by the ocean breeze. “No fear of that. Now that he’s married to the love of his life and has adopted wee Delia, I think Rylan will be his same jolly self.”
   The fact that Rylan and Colleen had taken in one of the children from the orphanage Rylan directed made Maggie love her brother all the more. “Delia must be seven or eight by now.”
   “Just the right age to be impressed with her Aunt Maggie’s beauty and spunk.” Gabe tugged playfully at a loose curl that had escaped her head covering.
   She swatted him. “Away with you. I’m no beauty. Not by New York standards, anyway.” She smiled. “I’ve been reading some American magazines to prepare me for what the ladies wear over here.” She plucked at the sleeve of her serviceable brown overcoat. “I’m afraid I’ll be painfully out of style.”
   “Not to worry. You’ll have Colleen and the other O’Learys to help with your wardrobe. I’m sure they won’t mind lending you a dress or two.” Gabe grinned, revealing dimples in each cheek.
   Maggie’s heart swelled with love for her handsome brother who had long been her protector. She knew Gabe had not been keen to come on this voyage, that he was doing it at the request of their mother. The rest of her family had all agreed that she and Gabe would stay in America until the end of the summer. Long enough, her mother hoped, for Gabe to forget about the political uprisings in Ireland. And long enough for Maggie’s former beau to forget about her and get on with his life.
   In the emotional aftermath of her failed betrothal to Neill Fitzgerald, Mum had given Maggie the money for her passage without a moment’s hesitation. But when the time had come to go, leaving her mother had been the hardest thing Maggie had ever done.
   “Hey now, why the sour expression?” Gabe elbowed her. “You look like someone kicked your cat.”
   She gave a discreet sniff and lifted her chin. “Just missing home is all. ’Tis a far cry from this, isn’t it?” She gestured to the ever-nearing shoreline.
   “That it is.” Gabe gave her another squeeze and a knowing look. “Mum will be fine with Paddy and Claire and the grand-kids. You have nothing to feel guilty about.”
   Nothing except the secret she held close to her heart. But no use dwelling on that now.
   Loud shouts from the upper decks created a wave of movement among the crowd.
   “Looks like we’re docking. We’d best gather our bags.”
   As soon as the crew lowered the gangplank, the eager passengers scurried to disembark. Swept along with the rush, Maggie clutched her bag with one hand and Gabe’s arm with the other. How would they ever find Rylan in all this confusion?
   Her legs shook with her first steps on solid ground in nearly seven days. She concentrated on staying upright, scarcely able to take in the scope of the wharf and the crowds of people bustling about her. The rancid odor of raw fish and ripe bodies met her nose.
   Gabe guided her to an open spot by a wall, setting their bags on the ground beside her. “Wait here and rest a minute. I’ll try to find Rylan.” He took his cap out of his pocket and slipped it over his unruly hair. “Don’t move ’til I return. Promise?”
   “I promise.” She had no intention of going anywhere, content to watch the flurry of activity on the docks—the men unloading the ship and the rest of the passengers pouring off. Maggie untied the knot of the kerchief under her chin, pulled it off, and stuffed it into the pocket of her coat. How she yearned for a bath and a shampoo for her hair. She’d kept her long, dark curls braided and wrapped tight to her head for the whole voyage, fearful of contracting lice or some other hideous contagion.
   “Maggie! Is that you?”
   Maggie’s head swiveled in the direction of the elated voice. A wide smile broke over her face while unbidden tears of joy filled her eyes. “Rylan!”
   Her older brother bounded toward her, heedless of the bags and the crush of people, and scooped her into his arms. She squeezed him hard as he kissed her on both cheeks.
   “Ah, Maggie. You’re even lovelier than the last time I saw you.” Rylan wiped moisture from his eyes.
   Maggie loved that her exuberant brother never tried to hide his emotions, but experienced every one full out. “You’re a charming liar. I look a wreck after a week on that bobbing cork.” She laughed out loud at the sheer pleasure of seeing him again. “You, on the other hand, look wonderful. Marriage must agree with you.”
   He winked and grinned. “With a wife as beautiful as my Colleen, how could it not?”
   She gave him another hug. “I’m so happy to see you. I’ve missed you something terrible.” She pressed a kiss to his cheek. “I can’t wait to see my sister-in-law and my niece.” She’d met little Delia three years ago when Rylan had brought his new family to Ireland on his rather unconventional honeymoon. After finalizing Delia’s adoption, Rylan and Colleen took the little girl with them everywhere.
   “And Colleen is just as eager to see you.” He straightened and scanned the immediate area. “Where is Gabe? He shouldn’t leave you alone.”
   “Searching for you. Did you not see him?”
   “No.” He frowned. “I hope he’s not run into any trouble. There are some unsavory characters around here, looking to pick the pockets of unsuspecting travelers as they disembark.”
   “No need to fear, brother. My pockets are still intact.”
   Rylan grinned and turned to clasp Gabe in a huge hug.
   “It’s been far too long.” Gabe clapped Rylan on the back.
   Rylan nodded. “You have no idea how good it is to have family on this side of the ocean. Come on. Colleen will be worrying if we don’t get back soon.”
   The men picked up the suitcases, and the threesome set off toward the main street leading into the city. Feeling steadier, Maggie soaked in every detail of the colorful surroundings—the magnificent buildings, so tall she couldn’t find the tops, the vibrant clothing in many different styles, and the interesting speech patterns of the people passing by.
   They’d traveled about two blocks when Rylan stopped. “We’ll catch the streetcar here. It will take us within a block of my home.” He set the luggage on the ground beneath a sign. “Since we don’t own a motorcar, we walk or take the streetcar.”
   “No need to explain, Ry. You know we walk everywhere at home.”
   Maggie smiled. “A streetcar will be a luxury for me.”
   As is this whole trip.
   The only thing marring her excitement was the persistent niggle of guilt that continued to plague her. Everyone believed she was here for a summer sojourn, but in truth she had no intention of returning to Ireland. The opportunity to come to America, to escape the restrictions of her small village and to seek her fortune in the big city, was a dream Maggie was not willing to sacrifice. Even if it meant leaving her beloved mother behind forever.


   Twenty minutes later, after an unsettling ride on a tram car that jostled worse than their ship over the waves, Gabe helped his sister step down. He set his bag on the ground and paused a moment to catch his breath.
   The sights along the route had made Gabe’s pulse race in a way he hadn’t anticipated. With the political unrest increasing in Ireland, he hadn’t wanted to leave home. The only reason he’d agreed to this trip was to ease his mother’s anxiety about Maggie traveling alone. Perhaps unfairly, Gabe had been prepared to detest everything about New York, yet he’d almost fallen off his seat when they’d passed a local fire station and he’d caught a glimpse of a gleaming red fire truck inside the open door. Other than spending time with Rylan and his family, Gabe looked forward to learning how the New York Fire Department operated. He hoped to bring ideas back to his rather rustic station in Cork. Any methods of improvement would be welcome in their small town.
   After a few minutes of walking, Gabe slowed when Rylan stopped at the foot of a cement staircase.
   “This is it,” Rylan announced, starting up the steps to a tall, brick house.
   Compared to their mother’s cottage back in Ireland, Rylan’s home seemed as large as a castle. Yet Gabe wouldn’t trade the lush green meadows surrounding their thatched house for anything. He scanned the street lined with row upon row of similar structures and not a blade of grass in sight. Where did Delia run and play?
   “Quit gawking and get in here,” Rylan said with a laugh.
   He pushed open the front door, and they entered along, narrow hallway. Quick footsteps sounded in the distance, and almost immediately a girl ran toward them.
   “Mama, hurry up. They’re here!” The blond tyke raced over to Rylan and launched herself into his outstretched arms.
   Rylan beamed at the girl. “You remember Uncle Gabe and Aunt Maggie, don’t you?”
   Delia nodded, ducking her head. “I remember Aunt Maggie ’cause she’s so pretty.”
   Gabe held back a snort.
   Maggie ignored him and plucked the child out of Rylan’s arms. “Not as pretty as you, sweet girl. What I wouldn’t give for hair as fair as yours.” She rained kisses on the girl’s cheeks, causing an eruption of giggles.
   Rylan winked as Colleen came up beside him. “There’s my lovely wife. I was beginning to think you’d been captured by leprechauns.”
   Colleen swatted her husband’s arm. Three years of marriage had not dimmed her fiery hair and violet-blue eyes.
   “Hush,” she scolded her husband as she stepped forward to hug Gabe.
   He kissed her cheek. “Grand to see you again, Colleen.”
   “We’re so pleased you could come and visit. Rylan gets so lonely for his family.”
   The love shining on her face made Gabe’s breath catch. What would it be like to have the devotion of such a fine woman? So unlike the fickle Brigid, who’d thrown him over for another firefighter. Gabe turned his thoughts firmly away from his ill-fated romance and concentrated on his brother’s family.
   Colleen hugged Maggie. “You must be exhausted after your voyage. Make yourself at home in the parlor, and I’ll boil the water for tea.”
   Rylan took their overcoats and hung them on a hook, then led them through a door on the right into a cozy living area where a cheerful fire burned in the hearth. A sofa and two armchairs flanked the fireplace.
   Maggie plopped onto the settee, little Delia still clinging to her neck.
   “Can I get you a nip of Irish whisky?” Rylan asked.
   Gabe shook his head. “No, thank you. One too many hangovers cured me of that vice. Tea will be lovely.”
   Rylan took the seat opposite Gabe. “How was Mum when you left? Was she really all right with you two coming here?”
   “Aye. She wished she could come, too, but her health still isn’t the best. Paddy and Claire will look out for her while we’re gone. Tommy and Eileen will help, as well.”
   A trace of sadness crept over Rylan’s features. “I wish I could get away for a month or so to go home for a visit, but the orphanage is bursting at the seams lately, and I wouldn’t leave Colleen to manage on her own.”
   “Oh? Any news we should know about?” Maggie winked at Rylan over Delia’s blond curls.
   Gabe had half-expected to see Colleen ripe with child when they arrived, yet her slim figure belied the arrival of a niece or nephew anytime soon.
   A frown darkened Rylan’s brow. “No, and it’s a bit of a sore subject, so I’d appreciate it if neither of you mentioned it, unless she brings up the topic.”
   “So, Rylan,” Gabe said, taking the opportunity to change the subject, “any chance you can get me a tour of the nearest fire station tomorrow?”
   “Is that all you ever think of?” Maggie rolled her eyes. “Can you not forget about fires for once?”
   “Not when it’s in Gabe’s blood, sister dear.” Rylan stood to poke at the fire. The logs hissed as a flame shot upward. “As a matter of fact, I know Chief Witherspoon quite well. He inspects the orphanage on a regular basis. I could arrange a tour, if you’d like.”
   “That would be grand. The sooner the better.”
   Rylan laughed. “Being cooped up on that boat has made you itchy, I see. Not to worry. I’m sure I can spare a few minutes tomorrow to take you over.”
   A thrill of excitement quickened Gabe’s pulse. With inside knowledge of New York’s renowned stations, Gabe could return home a hero and hopefully earn a promotion at work.
   That thought brought a smile to his face and made this unwanted trip to America a great deal more bearable.
Susan Anne Mason, A Worthy Heart Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2016. Used by permission.

Susan Anne Mason Susan Anne Mason's debut historical novel, Irish Meadows, won the Fiction from the Heartland contest from the Mid-American Romance Authors Chapter of RWA. A member of ACFW, as well, she lives outside of Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and two children. She can be found online at her website and on Facebook. Visit this wonderful Questions and Answers discussion with the author regarding the writing of A Worthy Heart.

***Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for sending me a review copy of Susan Anne Mason's second book in her Courage to Dream series, A Worthy Heart. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Lane Hill House review of Irish Meadows

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Mountain Midwife by Laurie Alice Eakes, © 2015

Image result for laurie alice eakes book list

Brooks Ridge ~ Appalachia
Southwest Virginia
Another wonderful story by Laurie Alice Eakes. I so enjoy her stories so tightly knit together that you will not want to put it down until you have finished. The Mountain Midwife will have you holding on from the very beginning as midwife Ashley Tolliver has a late night visitor ~ a young pregnant woman she has not seen before ~ ready to deliver. Trying to stanch the bleeding following delivery of her baby, Ashley calls the local hospital on her cell phone to tell them to expect them soon. But as the youth are leaving, they take off, chased by a large black truck in pursuit.
Great Falls
Northern Virginia
Hunter McDermott's face is plastered all over the television news. Before returning from business in Portugal, he rescues a young child from running out in traffic as her family is close behind him. From this simple action, they are diverted from an explosion of a car bomb. From this media exposure, he receives a phone call from a woman, unknown to him, who claims to be his mother. Her last name is Brooks.

Thus begins an adventure that will change the focus of his life and that of nurse-midwife Ashley Tolliver as they unravel the daily happenings that bring them together. Ashley has plans to attend medical school to become a doctor as her two brothers, returning to Brooks Ridge to have expanded knowledge to further be of help to the people who trust her. Hunter finds his beginnings are different than what he thought.

Image result for laurie alice eakesI was so involved in Ashley's service to her patients and connection with her friends; loyal and putting them before herself, she brings comfort and stability to those near her. She is trustworthy and compassionate; steadfast in purpose. Over two hundred years, women in her family line had been trained as midwives. One such woman she is named after, as Ashley Esther Tolliver, is Esther, you may have read about in the third book in the Midwives series, Choices of the Heart.

Enjoy this excerpt from The Mountain Midwife ~ Chapter 1


THE DOORBELL RANG rang sometime after midnight. The electronic tinkling of the telephone in the middle of the night meant a patient had gone into labor. But this was the double-toned chime of the doorbell in the darkness, and that meant trouble.
   Heart pounding, Ashley Tolliver rolled out of her queen-size four-poster, dislodging several cats in the process, and snatched up the jeans and T-shirt ever ready on a chair beside her bed. By the time the bell chimed again, she was dressed and shoving her feet into a pair of ballet flats. The third ring found her halfway down the steps.
   A shadow loomed behind the sheer curtain covering the front door’s glass at the foot of the steps. It was a hulking man’s silhouette against the porch light. No sign of a woman beside him.
   Ashley paused on the bottom step. At the least she should have brought her cell phone with her despite the terrible reception inside the house there in the hills. The gun her brother insisted she own for protection on her lonely nighttime excursions to patients was, as usual, locked in the glove compartment of her Tahoe.
   She turned to retrieve her cell.
   Three rings of the bell in rapid succession conveyed a sense of urgency. She was being silly. No burglar was going to announce his arrival by ringing the doorbell so persistently. Emergencies brought men and their expectant wives, daughters, girlfriends, to her door.
   She grabbed a cordless phone from the foyer table and slid back the dead bolt. “May I help—”
   “Let us in.” The door slammed against her hand, stopping at the end of the too-flimsy chain lock.
   Wind off Brooks Ridge swept through the opening, carrying with it the sharpness of wood smoke and drying leaves, along with a far less pleasant odor. Ashley’s nose twitched. The stench was familiar, but she couldn’t place it at the moment, only knew she wanted to be away from it.
   She took a step back from the door. “Do you need a midwife?” The admission tasted like ashes to speak. “I deliver babies, and I can’t—”
   “Why do you think I’m here, you stupid—” A string of adjectives of profane origins accentuated this assault on Ashley’s intelligence. “She’s going to drop this baby any minute.”
   “Where is she?” Ashley shifted the cordless landline phone so her forefinger rested on the preprogrammed emergency button. “Let me see her.”
   The man’s hand, broad and liberally sprinkled with red hairs, left its pressure on the door. He stepped aside far enough for Ashley to catch a glimpse of a woman, bent forward as far as her belly would allow. Straight blond hair masked her face and nearly touched the porch floor. A low moan escaped her along with the faintly bleachy odor of amniotic fluid. Her water had broken. Not good for someone Ashley had never seen. Examining her after the water had broken risked infection.
   She’d have to take the chance.
   Ashley shut the door far enough to release the chain, then opened it again. “Bring her in.”
   The man scooped up the woman more like a sack of feed than a person he cared about. “Where to?”
   “This way.” Resisting the urge to suggest he carry his lady in a more loving manner, Ashley led the way down the hall, flipping on lights as she went. “What’s her name?”
   “Uh, Jane.”
   “Uh?” Ashley’s rubber sole squeaked against the floorboards as she halted and twisted around. “You’re not sure?”
   “Yeah, yeah, sure I’m sure.” The man didn’t meet Ashley’s eyes. “Jane Davis.”
   Not Jane Smith? Ashley kept the thought to herself.
   “How old are you, Jane?”
   In response, the young woman made a mewling sound like a kitten and writhed in the man’s hold. Not unusual for a woman in labor to remain wordless. Pain caused some females to draw into themselves, and yet that generally changed when the second stage of labor began.
   Ashley looked at the man, unshaven, clothes rumpled, and that unpleasant animal stink, and tried to meet his eyes without success. “How old is she, Mr. Davis?”
   He shrugged. “Nineteen? Twenty?”
   “Uh-huh.” If the girl was eighteen, Ashley would eat her nurse-midwifery license. And if the girl wasn’t at least eighteen or lawfully married to the man with her, Ashley had trouble on her hands.
   She resumed her course to the exam room. “How long have you been in labor?”
   A groaning whimper from the girl was the only response she gave.
   “Too long, the lying . . .” The man’s voice was a mere rumble.
   For the girl’s sake, Ashley hoped he wasn’t her husband or even her boyfriend. He was worse than indifferent to her situation—he was hostile to it.
   She pasted a smile on her lips and crossed the kitchen’s tile floor. “How long is too long then?”
   “Her water broke an hour ago.”
   The girl groaned.
   Ashley wanted to join her. She settled for a mild, “Oh, dear.”
   “Made a mess all over my truck.”
   “I’m sure it did.” Ashley reached for a doorknob.
   Accessible through the kitchen and an outside entrance with a small foyer, the addition to the ancient farmhouse had been built by her mother two decades earlier to accommodate the patients who found being examined or giving birth at the midwife’s home more convenient than their own. This was only the second time Ashley had delivered a baby there, though her mother had used the room often. That other time, she’d had a birthing assistant with her and hours to prepare.
   “Set her on the bed.” Ashley gestured to the daybed she used instead of a traditional examination table.
   Fortunately, she always kept it prepared with clean sheets and special sterile and absorbent paper. Her instruments were sterile as well, but not set out, not ordered, not to hand.
   Watching the man all but drop “Jane” on the bed, Ashley began to assemble equipment from her birthing kit—gloves, clamps, scissors. The patient remained supine, her face ashen and glazed with sweat. Her hands clutched the sheet in a white-knuckled grip, while that haunting keening issued from her lips.
   Ashley needed to examine her, at the least palpate her abdomen to see if the baby was head down yet. If Jane was dilated and the baby’s head wasn’t down, she needed to call the hospital and take the girl to the nearest emergency room for an obstetrician. She needed one of the birthing assistants she usually worked with, preferably Sofie Trevino, but doubted she could arrive from her house on time.
   “Will you get her undressed?” Ashley called over her shoulder to—Mr. Davis? “Just her slacks.”
   She caught hold of the cart containing the computerized baby monitor, Pinard stethoscope, and a stack of sterile towels and dragged it close to the bed.
   From the bed, Jane emitted a primal growl.
   Ashley spun toward the patient. She now lay on her side, her knees drawn up, her arms clasping her belly. She wore loose dark pants and an oversize T-shirt. The latter was good, the former a problem if Ashley’s suspicions that the baby was coming at any moment proved true.
   “I need your help taking her slacks off.” She kept her voice calm, though her heart kicked up a notch.
   To say something was wrong with this situation was an understatement. The girl was too still for a woman heading into the second stage of labor, and the man too indifferent to have any relationship with his female charge. He hadn’t so much as flickered a pale eyelash over his paler blue eyes, let alone made a move to help.
   Ashley tried another tack, the one she used on frantic fathers. “Mr. Davis—wait, what is your first name?”
   Of course it was. John and Jane. He couldn’t have thought up more generic names had he tried.
   “Help me undress her right now.”
   “Oh, no.” John paled. “I won’t—I can’t—”
   He backed to the doorway. “I-I’ll just wait here in the kitchen.” He vanished around the corner and yanked the door closed.
   Ashley could insist he help. She knew a dozen tricks for getting the pregnant woman’s uncooperative partner to assist her if no one else was available. But this man’s attitude was all wrong, his lack of interest in the woman stretching beyond fear of making a fool of himself like fainting at the sight of blood.
   Ashley turned her attention to her patient. “Jane?”
   The girl didn’t respond.
   “Is your name Jane?”
   Another one of those primal growls was the only response, sign of another contraction nearly atop the previous one.
   “I need to get your pants off, Jane.” Ashley rested one hand on the girl’s shoulder in a gesture of reassurance and reached beneath the shirt with the other.
   The girl flinched away from Ashley’s touch.
   “Jane, I’m not going to hurt you.” Ashley smoothed silky blond hair away from the girl’s sweating face. “I’m a certified nurse-midwife and have delivered almost five hundred babies.”
   And unless instinct and experience were failing her, she was about to deliver one more momentarily.
   “I need to get your slacks off of you first. Do you understand?”
   The girl nodded.
   “Let’s get you onto your feet just long enough to get those slacks off.”
   Easier said than done. Jane couldn’t weigh more than a hundred and twenty pounds even presumably full-term, but she seemed incapable of doing anything to help herself. Applying her own considerable strength, Ashley half pushed, half pulled the girl onto her side. Twice contractions gripped Jane’s belly, and she let loose with more of those animal moans deep and inhuman.
   Ashley held on to her. “Wrap your arms around me as hard as you can.”
   Jane went as stiff as the hard mattress beneath her and flattened her hands on the bed. Mere inches from Ashley’s, her blue eyes darted back, forth, up, down. The pulse at the base of her throat slammed against her pallid skin like hammer blows. Ashley needed to take her blood pressure, monitor for fetal distress . . . a dozen prebirth preparations.
   The third growling emission crescendoed into a shriek.
   Scissors in hand, Ashley dropped to her knees beside the bed and slit the inside seams of the pants from hem to mid-thigh. The cheap cotton fabric tore with a hard tug, parting at the crotch. Ashley yanked on sterile gloves just in time to cradle the baby’s head—a correct back-to-front position.
   “Good girl. It’s coming. Don’t push. We want this to come nice and slow.”
   The girl pushed.
   “Easy does it. I know you want to push, Jane, but try, really.” Ashley cradled the head in one hand. Forehead, nose, chin.
   “Nice and slow.” Ashley cleared mucus from the baby’s nose and mouth, waited for the next contraction, then began to ease the shoulders out.
   A small baby. Narrow shoulders. With the mother growling and keening in turns, the baby girl slid the rest of the way into Ashley’s hands, with her eyes and mouth open as though she were surprised to enter the world. Ashley’s heart constricted, the familiar pain of emptiness of her own womb. Twenty-nine and not the slightest prospect of marriage, let alone children. Neither had seemed possible so far. Now neither would fit into her plans for the future, and yet—
   Blood followed the entrance of the infant into the world, jerking Ashley’s attention back to the tasks at hand. Normal. Perhaps a little more than normal. Nothing to worry about—yet.
   “Good work, Jane.”
   The little girl’s first cries filled the room.
   John pounded on the door. “Is it here? Hey, lady.”
   Ashley wiped the baby as clean as she could without prepared water and wrapped the baby in the towels, wishing they were warmer.
   “Hey, what’s going on in there?” John shouted.
   “Either get in here and help or be quiet,” Ashley called back.
   She lifted the baby to its mother. “Take her while I cut the cord.”
   And deal with the third stage of labor.
   Most of Ashley’s patients welcomed this moment. The chance to hold their baby immediately was one reason why they chose a home birth. But Jane turned her face away and began to sob.
   The infant wailed louder. The harder she cried, the harder Jane wept.
   And John pounded on the door again. “What’s wrong?”
   “Too much for me to list,” Ashley muttered. Aloud, she shouted, “Get in here.”
   The door slammed back against the wall and John charged in. “What’s wrong? The baby sounds all right.”
   “The baby is all right.” Holding the infant, slippery in birthing fluid and towels, in the crook of one arm, Ashley clamped then cut the umbilical cord. “But Jane isn’t.”
   She was still bleeding. Some blood was normal. This much was not. Nor were the bruises on the girl’s thighs. They were old and fading stripes about the width of a man’s belt, with the occasional wide, round patch as though the buckle end had been applied.
   Ashley glanced at John poised in the doorway with one foot out as though he intended to bolt again. His buckle was of normal size, an average-size rectangle.
   More questions raged in Ashley’s head, but she still had work to do with the patient and the baby, half of them tasks the birthing assistant usually performed.
   “Take her.” Ashley rose and laid the mewling infant in John’s huge hands. The baby’s mouth worked. John’s mouth worked.
   A grim smile twisted Ashley’s lips. “Hang on tight. She needs her neck supported, and she may squirm a little.”
   “I can’t hold a baby.”
   “And I can’t attend to your—Jane and hold her.” Having no choice but to trust the man to keep the baby safe, Ashley grabbed a plastic pan from her supply cabinet and returned to her patient, to kneeling beside the girl—and the blood. “Jane, we have to get the placenta out. That means a little pushing this time.”
   Jane turned her face toward the wall, eyes squeezed shut. Tear tracks ravaged her face, but no fresh moisture dripped from beneath her golden lashes.
   “Jane,” Ashley spoke with all the authority six years of experience had given her. “Pay attention to me. I need you to push. We need to get that placenta.”
   Perhaps the bleeding would stop with that.
   Jane didn’t move. Her belly contracted on its own, but too weakly. Ashley could administer a dose of Pitocin, but she dared not with the bleeding.
   “Come on, sweetheart.” She stroked Jane’s belly, feeling the mass still inside. “Work with me or I’ll have to get you to a hospital.”
   “No.” The breathless, husky whisper was the first word the girl had spoken.
   Ashley startled, her hands kneading the girl’s abdomen a little too hard. Jane gasped, and the afterbirth expelled with far too much blood, too much for the pan. It splattered the plastic sheeting on the bed, the floor, Ashley’s pants.
   “John?” As she packed gauze to stanch the blood, Ashley kept her tone calm, but loud enough to be heard over the baby’s apparently healthy lung exercises. “What kind of car do you have?”
   “I gotta pickup, why?”
   “Two seats or one?”
   “Front only.” He stepped to the doorway. “What—” He broke off on a curse. “What’s wrong with her?”
   “I don’t know. I have no medical history to do anything but guess right now. But I do know that we need help and fast. We can use my Tahoe. It’s faster than waiting for an ambulance.” She stood. “I’ll get my keys and call the hospital to be ready for us.”
   She caught up the cordless phone and began to dial even as she charged through the kitchen and up the steps to her room and her purse.
   She’d been holding the phone to her ear for a full thirty seconds before she realized it was dead.
   It couldn’t be dead. She had taken it from its charging cradle. She slid to a halt outside her bedroom and stared at the receiver. Not the battery. The keypad glowed with life, but no dial tone sounded when she pushed the green On button.
   Her skin prickled all over. Short hairs beneath her heavy braid stood on end. She willed them down. The couple and the birth were all wrong, but they had nothing to do with no dial tone. This was the country. Phone lines went dead. No problem. Her cell phone rested on the nightstand beside her car keys and wallet and another phone. She tested that one, too, conscious of wasting time. No dial tone.
   She caught up cell, keys, and wallet and sped back to the door. “I’m going to go open my car.” She called out her intent as she took the steps down two at a time.
   Silence greeted her. The baby had stopped crying.
   Ashley slammed open the front door. “I’ll be back to help in a minute.”
   Once outside where she could get a signal, she told her phone to call the hospital. By the time she reached her SUV, the phone was ringing. By the time she clicked the electronic locks on the doors, someone answered, “Memorial Hospital. Jenny speaking.”
   “Ashley Tolliver.”
   Jenny knew her, and Ashley let out a breath knowing an excellent nurse was on duty tonight.
   “I’m bringing in a woman—”
   The roar of an engine speeding up the drive drowned her voice from her own hearing. Headlights, high and too bright, cut an arc across the trees lining the drive and her Tahoe before heading straight for her.
   She flung herself back against the house. The black hulk of a jacked-up truck barreled past her with a bare yard to spare and swept around the circular drive. Seconds before it reached the rear of the house, another smaller pickup blasted from near the tree line edging the backyard and shot down the drive. The black truck accelerated in pursuit. Both vehicles accelerated on their way downhill, tires sending gravel spraying behind. Ashley flung up her arms to protect her face. Her phone sailed from her hand and landed in a rosemary bush.
   The rumble of the trucks’ engines dwindled around a curve in the road. In the ensuing quiet, she caught a tinny voice calling, “Ashley, are you there?”
   “Keep talking. I dropped my phone in the bushes.”
   And her patient had just been abandoned.
   What about the newborn she had so far rejected?
   Ashley plucked her phone from the bush and raced toward the exam room. “Emergency delivery. Potential hemorrhage.” She reached the kitchen. “I know nothing about her. She—” She slid to a halt halfway across the kitchen.
   A trail of blood led through the exam room to the open back door.
   “Ashley, are you still there?” Jenny called through the phone. “Ashley?”
   “I’m here.” Ashley could barely push the words out of her throat. “But I think—” She swallowed and tried again. “I think you’d better call the sheriff. My patient and her baby have disappeared.”
Laurie Alice Eakes, The Mountain Midwife Zondervan, © 2015.

Image result for laurie alice eakes
***Thank you to author Laurie Alice Eakes for sending me a print copy of The Mountain Midwife for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Thursday, February 11, 2016

An Amish Market: Four Novellas by Amy Clipston, Kathleen Fuller, Kelly Irvin & Vannetta Chapman, © 2015

The Gift of Love

I love the cover on these novellas! Thank you to author Amy Clipston for sending me a review copy of An Amish Market. I will be reviewing her story, Love Birds. Enjoy the other three stories (and some recipes)!

Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania
Image result for hand carved wooden birds"Lloyd, in this community, we're all
someone's bruder or scweschder."
~ Rebecca, Love Birds, 55

Lloyd Blank and Ellie Lapp have been around each other since their growing up years. Lloyd and her brother, Seth, were good friends. A sister of Lloyd's, Rebecca, and Ellie are the same age. Seth died the previous month in a work accident. Lloyd has been going to help Ellie and her mother, Margaret, with their farm chores and repairs.

Love Birds ~ an exposed secret can exploit and weaken trust. Lloyd's dat said his hobby was prideful, being excelled from what he had been taught as a boy by his daadi. Ellie wanted to exuberantly share his talents with the shopkeeper at Bird-in-Hand Gifts and Treasures, across from the Farmers' Market. With communication and hearing, this story is one of overcoming and learning to lean and share their hearts as close bonds continue to develop between families and community.

Bakery Bunch? What is that?! By Karla Hanns:  
***This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Love Birds features Ellie and Margaret Lapp, who are secondary characters from The Forgotten Recipe, which is the first in my Amish Heirloom series. I enjoyed having the opportunity to share Ellie’s story with my readers. This book is dedicated to my sons, Zac and Matt. ~ Amy Clipston
              author Amy Clipston

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Room for Hope by Kim Vogel Sawyer, © 2016

Suppertime. Waiting for her husband to arrive from his month-long travels out of town selling their wares. Only he isn't returning, but sends his other children to her.

During the Depression Era, a man has two families forty miles apart. In both communities, he is well respected. This story tells of those left behind upon his demise.

My first thought was that Neva was not the true wife, which would turn this story around, with her twins being the ones left behind rather than the orphans that show up at her door. The love of a mother dispels any quandary, as Neva is true to her heart, full of love.

Bud took his time walking home. Only three blocks from the school to the mercantile. If he ran he could make it in two minutes. Most times he ran, eager to get home and put on his starched cobbler apron and give Ma––or Pop on the months he was home––a hand in the store. Bud had always loved the mercantile. Especially the way it smelled, like apples and leather and spice. The same way Pop always smelled.
   --Room for Hope, 91

My very favorite protagonist is Sheriff Jesse Caudel. He is indeed a peacemaker. Caring for the schoolchildren, he goes to the playground meeting them each day, building relationship. He hopes to have a good foundation with them as they grow.

I love Kim Vogel Sawyer's stories. I want to come back to Buffalo Creek, Kansas, and follow the characters in their new days. So wonderfully developed, the community and families come alive, gathering at Sunday services, drinking Royal Crown Cola, paying nineteen cents a pound for Thanksgiving turkey. A melding of a family that is suspect by others, as truth prevails. I am not ready to let them go.
Kim Vogel Sawyer Author of gentle stories of hope, inspirational speaker, wife, mom, gramma, lover of cats, and daughter of the King!

Enjoy this excerpt from Kim Vogel Sawyer's Room for Hope ~ Chapter 1

He giveth power to the faint; and to them
that have no might he increaseth strength.
Isaiah 40:29


Buffalo Creek, Kansas
September 30, 1936

Neva Gaines Shilling

Aromatic steam wisped around Neva's chin as she spooned up a bit of broth from the savory vegetable stew simmering on the Magic Chef range. She blew on the spoonful––three careful puffs of breath––then poured the broth into her mouth and held the warm liquid on her tongue for a moment before she swallowed. She gave a nod. Perfect. The beef bone had flavored the soup so well Warren might not even notice the absence of meat.
   A light clack-clack carried from the adjoining dining room. Silver­ware meeting the walnut tabletop. She settled the lid on the kettle, turned down the flame under the pot to a wavering rim of blue, and called through the kitchen doorway to the dining room, "Belle, remember to set four places. Your father's due home tonight."
   Neva's heart gave a joyful skip even as melancholy threatened. The days stretched so long and lonely during Warren's away weeks and seemed to race by when he was home. But weren't they blessed to own a successful business given the country's economic troubles? She shouldn't complain.
   "Oh, goodie!" Belle's exclamation, accompanied by a girlish giggle, made her sound much younger than her fourteen years. "Will he bring presents, do you think?"
   Neva released a short chuckle. "Doesn't he always bring presents?" Elaborate gifts––gifts that made the women in town look at her with longing and envy. But she always told them she'd be satisfied just to have her husband home every night, under her roof, instead of traipsing across Mitchell County in his gaily painted sales wagon. She meant it, too.
   Belle peeked around the corner. “Should I set out the good plates then?”
   They only used the good plates—a matching set of French Haviland china with delicate clovers of freshest green painted around the edges of the pure white dishware—for special occasions. But Warren’s return after a month on the road was reason enough for celebration.
   “Yes,” Neva said, then frowned. “Mind you don’t chip the plates.”
   “Of course not, Momma.” The girl slipped away.
   Neva crossed to the Frigidaire in the corner, the soles of her brown oxfords squeaking on the sparkling clean linoleum, and peeked into the glazed ceramic pitcher shaped like a little Dutch girl. Still half-full of milk, more than enough for their supper. Thank goodness Bud hadn’t drained the pitcher dry the way he’d been doing lately.
   She shook her head in indulgence as she thought about her son’s voracious appetite. He must be entering a growth spurt. Would he be as tall as his father someday? Everyone said the twins resembled their mother, with slender builds, wavy nutmeg hair, hazel eyes, and narrow faces. Having Belle resemble her was fine, but she wouldn’t mind if Bud grew to be as tall and broad-shouldered as Warren. Such a handsome man, her Warren.
   Hurry home, dear. I miss you . . .
   She plucked out a bowl of butter and a fat jar of raspberry preserves from the icebox and glanced at the green-and-cream enamel clock ticking on the kitchen’s floral-papered wall. Almost seven. Bud would finish sweeping and straightening the store soon, and then—her pulse gave a flutter—Warren’s wagon would rattle up the alley. She hoped he wouldn’t be late.
   The biscuits were done and waiting in the stove’s warming oven. As much as she loved the luxury of her six-burner, double-oven range—a Christmas gift from Warren last year—she’d learned the warming oven sometimes browned bread beyond recognition. Warren liked his biscuits feather light, not as firm as charcoal briquettes. And Neva always strove to please her husband in the little things. It was the least she could do, considering how she’d failed him in the biggest thing of all.
   Belle breezed into the kitchen. “Momma—”
   Bud, with a match caught in the corner of his mouth and wearing one of Warren’s castoff straw hats shadowing his eyes, thumped in on his sister’s heels. “Ma––”
   Neva burst out laughing. “You two . . .” They’d come into the world nearly on top of each other and fourteen years later still operated in synchronization. As she always did, Neva turned to Belle. “Ladies first.”
   Bud scowled and folded his arms over his chest but kept his lips pressed together.
   “The table’s all set with the good dishes and linen napkins. Should I use the candlesticks, too?” Her green-gray eyes sparkled. “It would be . . .” Belle hunched her shoulders and giggled. “Romantic.”   Bud rolled his eyes. “ ‘Romantic,’ she says. Been spending too many nickels at the picture show.”
   Neva frowned at her son, but inwardly she agreed. Belle did tend to squander her weekly allowance at the movie theater. The picture shows, while entertaining, rarely depicted life as it was in reality. Belle was so naive, so trusting. The bigger-than-life images on the screen might be detrimental to her. Neva intended to discuss the issue with Warren. She answered Belle. “The candles will let us save on the gaslights. So go ahead and set them out.”
   Belle scurried off, her patent slippers pattering against the gleaming floorboards and her thick braid flopping against her spine.
   “My turn now?”
   Bud’s wry question pulled Neva’s attention to her son. “Yes.” She moved to the stove and picked up the wooden spoon, ready to give the thick stew another stir. If the bottom scorched, it would ruin the whole pot.
   He pushed the hat to the back of his head, stuffed his hands into the pockets of his trousers, and scuffed across the floor toward her, his sauntering gait similar to Hopalong Cassidy’s. Neva swallowed a smile. Bud enjoyed the picture shows, too. “Just wanted you to know I found the place where that mouse’s been gettin’ in. Plugged it with a wad of steel wool. He won’t be chewing through any more cornmeal sacks.”
   Neva clapped the lid into place and beamed at Bud. “What a relief!” Thanks to the little pest’s intrusion, they’d had to discard three twenty-pound sacks of finely ground meal—a sizable loss. “Your father will be so pleased.”
   Pink splashed Bud’s face. “Think so?”
   Smiling at him, Neva wiped her hands on her apron and then gripped his upper arms. “Of course! He’s always proud when you take care of things in the store.”
   He shrugged. “Figuring out where a mouse came in isn’t so much.”
   She removed the match from his mouth and gave his chin a bump with her knuckles. “Such a thing to say. It’s a big thing, Bud—something a shopkeeper does to protect his goods. Just wait. Your father will tell you how important it was when he gets home.”
   A rare, slow grin climbed Bud’s cheek. “Now go get washed up. We’ll eat as soon as—” The clatter of a wagon’s wheels carried from the alley through the open kitchen window. A smile captured Neva’s face, bringing a light laugh of pure joy with it. She dropped the match into the little metal holder on the windowsill and waved her hands at Bud. “That must be your father now. Get Belle, and we’ll go welcome him home.”
   Neva followed Belle, Bud close behind, down the enclosed staircase to the store level and then up the hallway leading to the back door. Belle came to a sudden halt, and Neva had to grab the wall to keep from plowing into her daughter’s back.
   “Belle!” Belle whirled, disappointment tingeing her features. “It’s not Poppa.”
   Frowning, Neva peered through the square glass window. An unfamiliar wagon piled high with various furniture pieces and crates sat in the yard.
   Bud stared out and released a soft snort. “Looks like another drifter wanting to trade for supplies.” He straightened his shoulders and puffed out his chest. “Want me to handle it, Ma?”
   “No, no.” The ruddy, big-boned man sitting on the wagon seat prob- ably wouldn’t respond well to a smooth-faced youth telling him they weren’t interested in a trade. She gave Belle a little nudge toward Bud. “You two go up. Wash your hands, Bud—and Belle, keep the stew from scorching. I’ll take care of the customer.”
   The pair trooped toward the staircase, and Neva stepped into the yard. The early-evening sun hovered above the horizon, casting long shadows over the wagon and its driver, but two lanterns hung from hooks at the front corners of the high-sided bed and sent a soft glow over the contents. Neva had been a shopkeeper long enough to recognize quality when she saw it. This man must have had a flourishing business at some time to afford such nice things. But no matter. Warren insisted on cash only for strangers to Buffalo Creek—no credit and no trades. Even when Warren was away, she honored her husband’s preference.
   She steeled herself to deny the man’s request as she crossed to the edge of the wagon. “Good evening. May I help you?”
   The man whipped off his cowboy-style hat and ran his hand through his thick, dark hair. “I hope so, ma’am. My name’s Jesse Caudel. I’m looking for Neva Gaines.”
   She hadn’t been called Neva Gaines since she said “I do” to Warren more than fifteen years ago. But she wove her fingers together and nodded. “You’ve found her then.”
   Mr. Caudel blew out a breath that held both relief and resignation. He left his hat on the wagon seat and slowly climbed down. Then he stood before her, feet widespread and hands resting at his waist. A silver star glinted on his left patch pocket. Not a drifter, but a law official. Worry began a wild dance in her stomach.
   “Ma’am, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I have to tell you your brother and his missus passed away last week.”
   Neva drew back. Brother? She didn’t have a brother. Or did she? She’d been told by the orphanage directors—a warm, wonderful couple she called Pa and Ma Jonnson—that she was an only child. But maybe they hadn’t known she had a brother. Or maybe she was the wrong Neva Gaines.
   She sought a way to ask for more information without sounding as befuddled as she felt. “I . . . um . . .” Heat rose in her face.
   Apparently the officer took pity on her, because his lips curved into a sad smile. “I know you’re probably plenty shocked.”
   Bewilderment rather than shock plagued her, but she nodded anyway.
   “They succumbed to botulism. It went pretty quick, so they didn’t suffer overmuch.”
   Neva shuddered. Even though she didn’t know the people, she wouldn’t wish such an unpleasant passing on anyone. If they couldn’t be cured, she thanked God they hadn’t lingered.
   Mr. Caudel went on, his tone low and compassionate. “His missus went first. When your brother knew he’d be joining her soon, he gave instruction for word to be sent to you, along with all his worldly possessions. Well . . .” He lowered his head, scuffing the toe of his boot in the dirt. “At least the possessions that weren’t sold to cover his debt. Sheriff ’s officials auctioned his store building in Beloit, his stock, and some of the furniture from his house. Even so, there was quite a bit left.” He gestured to the wagon.
   Neva glanced across the wagon’s contents again. So the man wasn’t trading, he was delivering. From a deceased brother she didn’t even know she had. She turned a puzzled look on him. “Are you sure this is meant to come to me?”
   He pulled a folded sheet of paper from his shirt pocket and held it out. “This says ‘Deliver to Neva Gaines at Main Street Mercantile, Buffalo Creek, Kansas.’ Is there another Main Street Mercantile in Buffalo Creek run by Neva Gaines?”
   “N-no. Then . . . it’s true.” She needed to learn more about her brother who knew about her but had never made himself known to her. That could come later, when Warren was home. In the meantime where would she put everything? Their apartment above the store was already well furnished thanks to Warren’s extravagance, their barn barely accommodated Warren’s merchant wagon and horse, and they didn’t have room in the store for big items like bureaus and bedsteads. She stood speechless.
   The man jammed the paper back into his pocket. “I’m sorry you didn’t know about your brother and sister-in-law’s service. For some reason he didn’t want you notified about the burial. But I can tell you most of the town showed up. The headstone carver even donated the stones for their graves. That’s how much everybody liked the Shillings.”
   She shot him a startled look. “His name wasn’t Gaines?”
   “No, ma’am. Shilling—Warren Shilling and his wife, Violet.”
   “Warren and his . . . ” Neva’s knees buckled.
   “Whoa there!” Mr. Caudel caught her before she crumpled to the ground. He slipped his arm around her waist and guided her toward the back stoop. His hold on her could be considered brazen, but his firm, strong arm was too needed for her to protest the familiarity.
   He eased her onto the little bench sitting next to the water pump and then hunkered in front of her. “Guess the meaning of it all finally caught up to you, huh? Do you need a drink?”
   Their sweet well water couldn’t wash away the terrible pictures forming in her mind. “You said . . . Warren. Warren and . . .” She closed her eyes. Dear Lord, this is a nightmare. Warren—her Warren!—had another wife? And now he was dead? Bile rose in her throat. How would she tell Bud and Belle? What would she tell them? She couldn’t divulge the awful truth!
   She gulped. “My b-brother—Warren—he had a store in Beloit?”
   The man remained crouched in front of her knees, his hands braced on either side of her hips as if ready to grab her if she toppled. “A nice one, right on the main street. And he also did some traveling in a merchant wagon.” He grimaced. “I kinda forgot. The merchant wagon and horse got sold, too. That wagon over yonder belongs to a liveryman from Beloit.”
   She shifted her gaze to the wagon. Dusk had fallen, and from this angle the large wooden conveyance resembled a slumbering beast with yellow glowing eyes. She shivered.
   Very slowly the man pushed to his feet but stayed close. He flicked a look left and right. “I’m not meaning to be unkind, but could you fetch your husband? I need to get this wagon unloaded and back to Beloit tonight if possible. I won’t be able to empty it by myself.”
   Fetch her husband? Neva swallowed a hysterical laugh. She formed a sentence that pained her worse than anything ever had, even childbirth or having her womb removed from her body. “I’m a widow.”
   “Oh.” Great consternation filled the simple utterance. He scratched his chin, eyeing the wagon. “Then you probably can’t . . .”
   She tipped her head to look at him. Her head might have been filled with sand. Such effort it took to force her gaze upward. “No, I can’t unload the wagon.” Wild sobs pressed for release, but she pushed them down. She didn’t want any of the things Warren and his wife had left behind.   Mr. Caudel turned a frown on her. “Ma’am, how well did you know this brother of yours?”
   Anguish twined through her. “Not well.” She clutched her stomach, nausea attacking. “Not well at all.”
   He nodded, the movement slow, as if his head were weighted, too. For several seconds he stared at her, unblinking, his full lips set in a solemn line. Then he crooked a finger at her. “Can you c’mere? There’s some- thing . . . important . . . in the wagon you need to see.”
   The hesitant way Mr. Caudel said “important” stirred Neva’s numb brain to life. She rose on quivering legs and scuffed across the yard beside him. He plucked one of the lanterns free of its hook and carried it to the rear of the wagon. Then he paused with one hand braced on the high gate, his expression grim.
   “Ma’am, your brother gave instructions to send you his belongings, but also his — ” He clamped his lips tight and grimaced. “Well, let’s just let you see, huh?”
   Neva stood unmoving while he set the lantern on the ground, unhooked the iron pins holding the gate in place, and eased the thick, unpainted wood gate downward. Heavy shadows turned everything in the wagon’s bed to gray lumps. He lifted the lantern. Its golden light illuminated the lumps, and Neva clapped her hands over her mouth to muffle her gasp. There, nestled together on a folded feather mattress like puppies in a litter, three children—a boy and two little pigtailed girls—sat staring with wide, uncertain eyes.
   Mr. Caudel spoke softly, almost singsong, the way someone might try to calm a frightened animal. “This is Charley, Cassie, and Adeline Shilling—Warren and Violet’s youngsters. Warren said to take them to Aunt Neva. I guess that’s you.”

***Thank you to author Kim Vogel Sawyer for inviting me to be a part of her review team for Room for Hope and for sending me a review copy. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***