Friday, June 27, 2008





It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!



You never know when I might play a wild card on you!









Today's Wild Card author is:





and his book:

The Molech Prophecy

Whitaker House (July 1, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Thomas Phillips grew up with a reading disability. He did everything possible not to read. It wasn't until he was in seventh grade that he finally read a book from cover to cover. Now a voracious reader and prolific writer, Phillips uses his accomplishments as a motivational backdrop for speaking at school assemblies.



Born and raised in Rochester, New York, Phillips has worked as a freelance journalist and currently works full time as an employment law paralegal. When he isn't writing, Phillips plays his guitar, is active in his church, coaches his children's Little League team, and plots his next story. The Molech Prophecy is his first published Christian novel.



Visit him at his MySpace, ShoutLife, and blog.



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:





Chapter One



The first things I noticed when I pulled into the church parking lot were the two police cars. Instinct wanted to kick in, but I stopped myself from turning my car around. The police weren’t there for me—couldn’t be there for me. I’d done nothing wrong. I wasn’t the same man. My days of running from the police had ended when I became a Christian. I reminded myself of this simple fact and felt a grin play across my lips. Thankfully, my days of running from the police ended four years ago.



On any given Sunday, I have come to expect many things from Faith Community Church. And why not? I have been attending weekly services for years. I expect smiles from Faith’s Greet Team—from those helping direct cars in the parking lot to those handing out programs and pencils at the sanctuary doors. I expect powerful worship music, a variety of jokes from Pastor Ross—some funny, some not so funny—and I expect, each week, a message that will impact the way I live the rest of my life.



But what I did not expect this morning was what I saw next: the complete defacing of the church building. Black spray paint covered the pecan-colored bricks in horrific graffiti.



After parking, I sat silently in the car, taking it all in. A large pentagram—an encircled, upside-down, five-pointed star—was displayed at the center of it all. Painted on every other available surface were words like “Death,” “Die,” “Faggots,” “Hypocrites,” and “God Is Dead.”



Seeing all of the graffiti felt like a punch to the gut. Faith Community was like my second home; the people who attended were like my second family. It was impossible not to take this attack personally.



Slowly, I climbed out of the car, ignoring the early November morning chill. The wind blew relentlessly all around me, howling and moaning as if it too was furious and saddened and confused by the desecration.



Other cars pulled into the lot. The people get-ting out of them emerged as slowly as I must have. I could see the stunned expressions on their faces—dropped jaws and wide eyes that surely matched my own.



Who would vandalize a church like this? I wondered as I walked toward the entrance. As I stopped in front of the pentagram and took in the mess that attempted to dirty my church, I realized that who-ever did this was hurting—hurting badly. That thought did not stifle the anger—the righteous anger—I felt boiling deep inside.



I nodded a grim good morning to the greeter who held the front door open as I walked into the church. The atrium is usually packed with people mingling before the start of the service. Free coffee, hot cocoa, and doughnuts set out on a table each and every week encourage people to arrive early for fellowship.



This morning, however, only a few people lin-gered in the atrium. Whispers were all I heard. As I entered the sanctuary I saw that this was where everyone had gathered. I usually sit toward the back, far right, as if there were assigned seating. The things I’d seen outside left me feeling hollow and alone. Today, I sat closer to the front, middle row.



I nodded hello to people here and there. Many sat with heads bowed, deep in prayer. I decided praying would be a good use of the extra time before the service.

I tried to cope with a flood of mixed emo-tions, such as anger, sadness, confusion, disbelief, and then, once again, anger. Instead of praying, questions ended up filling my mind: Who could do such a thing? Why would someone do such a thing? How are we going to get that filth off the bricks? If I ever get my…. I broke off the last thought before it got out of hand. I’m in a church, I reminded myself. There is no place for thoughts like that, but especially not in a church.



The service did not start the way services nor-mally did. The church band usually opened wor-ship with a fast-tempo song, one that got those present up on their feet, clapping and singing along, and one that brought those lingering in the atrium into the sanctuary.



Today, in dead silence, Senior Pastor Ross Lobene walked out and stood center stage, grip-ping the podium. He seemed at a loss for words. I think he knew what he wanted to say but was afraid that if he tried speaking too soon, he might lose his composure. I wouldn’t blame him.



As usual, roughly two thousand people filled most of the available seats. Two large projection screens hung on the wall at either side of the stage. Both showed a close-up of the pastor’s face. He could not hide his red eyes—or stop his quivering lips.



Pastor Ross opened a Bible, and when he finally started to speak, his voice was weak and shaky, as if he were on the verge of crying. “I want to read Matthew, chapter five, verses ten through twelve: ‘God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.’”



He bowed his head.



I felt sorrowful pain in my chest.



“Shock. Pure shock,” Pastor Ross said. “You don’t think stuff like this will happen here. It will happen elsewhere, like in run-down, gang-ridden areas, so we think. But from what I know of human nature, it happens everywhere, because people can be dark-hearted everywhere. God is always in con-trol, and He wants us to learn to deal with prob-lems in God-honoring ways. I have come to realize through this incident, and through other incidents that have occurred in our church family, that our enemy, Satan, attacks those churches that are a threat to him and his evil ways.”



I nodded in agreement, listening intently and watching as Pastor Ross released his white-knuck-led grip on the podium and began to come into his own. He paced back and forth on the stage, addressing the congregation, righteous fire heating this impromptu sermon.



“Jesus tells us in Revelation three, verses four-teen through seventeen, that He will spit out of His mouth the church whose people are lukewarm in their faith, because they are neither hot nor cold. It is my desire for Faith Community Church to be a church that is hot, making a difference for Christ and His kingdom in Rochester and the surround-ing area.”



As Pastor Ross paused, he stroked the sandy-colored goatee that covered his chin and used a handkerchief to wipe away the beads of sweat that formed on his bald head. “This, friends, this is a great opportunity for us to love our enemies as ourselves.” He pointed out at us and then pointed back at himself. “It is my desire to see everyone at Faith truly model this command from Christ and not become bitter by this incident. I pray that we have an opportunity to minister to the needs of the person or people responsible, so we can share the life-changing message of the gospel with them.



“I have known many people who have been enslaved in the bondage of satanism and witch-craft, and although the hold these things have on them is strong, it is no match for our all-powerful, all-loving God. It will take time, but if we can be models of Christ’s love to this person, I have full confidence that he will become a child of the light instead of a slave to the darkness.” A second, brief pause followed. Then Pastor Ross added, “Don’t get me wrong. I also hope that the person who did this crime is caught and processed fairly through our justice system.”



I tried to let my own anger subside. If Pastor Ross could move on, so could I. All I needed now was help unclenching my hands, which had been rolled into solid fists since the beginning of service.



Used by permission of the publisher, Whitaker House (www.whitakerhouse.com/ ). All rights reserved.


This week, the


Christian Fiction Blog Alliance


is introducing


Calico Canyon


Barbour Publishing, Inc (July 1, 2008)


by


Mary Connealy






ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



MARY CONNEALY is an award-winning author and playwright, married to Ivan a farmer, and the mother of four beautiful daughters, Joslyn, Wendy, Shelly and Katy. They live in Decatur, Nebraska. Mary is a GED Instructor by day and an author by night. And there is always a cape involved in her transformation.



Mary has also written Petticoat Ranch, Golden Days, and her latest, Alaska Brides that will debut in August.





ABOUT THE BOOK



Let yourself be swept away by this fast-paced romance, featuring Grace Calhoun, an instructor of reading, writing, and arithmetic, who, in an attempt to escape the clutchs of a relentless pursuer, runs smack dab into even more trouble with the 6R's - widower Daniel Reeves, along with his five rowdy sons. When a marriage is forced upon this hapless pair - two people who couldn't dislike each other more - an avalanche isn't the only potential danger lurking amid the shadows of Calico Canyon. Will they make it out alive? Or end up killing each other in the process?



Running from her Abusive foster-father, a man intent on revenge, the prim and perfectly proper Grace Calhoun takes on the job of schoolmarm in Mosqueros, Texas.



As if being a wanted woman isn't bad enough, Grace has her hands full with the five rowdy and rambunctious Reeves boys─tough Texan tormenters who seem intent on making her life miserable. When, in an attempt to escape from the clutches of her pursuer, Grace is forced to marry widower Daniel Reeves, father of the miniature monsters, she thinks things couldn't get any worse. Or could they?



Daniel Reeves, happy in his all-male world, is doing the best he can, raising his five boys─rascals, each and every one. Since his wife's death in childbirth, Daniel has been determined never to risk marriage again.



When God throws Grace and Danielt together─two people who couldn't detest each other more─the trouble is only beginning.



Will this hapless pair find the courage to face life together in the isolated Calico Canyon? Or are their differences too broad a chasm to bridge?



If you would like to read the first chapter go HERE

Wednesday, June 25, 2008



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card author is:


and his/her book:


Along Came a Cowboy

Barbour Publishing, Inc. (May 1, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Award-winning author and past president of American Christian Romance Writers, CHRISTINE LYNXWILER has numerous novels and novellas published with Barbour, including Arkansas, Promise Me Always, and Forever Christmas. She and her husband, Kevin, along with their two daughters, four horses, and two dogs live in the foothills of the beautiful Ozark Mountains in their home state of Arkansas.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.97
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc. (May 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1597898961
ISBN-13: 978-1597898966

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

Babies complicate life, but the human race can't survive without them. Maybe I should write that on the dry erase board out in the waiting room—Dr. Rachel Donovan's Profound Thought for the Day.

Ever notice how some months are all about weddings? When you turn on the TV or pick up a magazine, everything is white tulle and old lace. Then there are what I think of as baby months. Unlike June and December for weddings, baby months can pop up anytime.

And here in Shady Grove, Arkansas—just in time for summer, when the irises are pushing up from the ground, the new leaves are green on the trees, and the crepe myrtles are starting to bloom—we're smack dab in the middle of a baby month.

I finger the latest birth announcement on my desk. One of my patients just had her fifth child. You'd think, at this point, she'd be sending out SOS messages instead of announcements, but the pink card proudly proclaims the arrival of her newest bundle of joy.

The front door chime signals the arrival of our first patient, so I send up a silent prayer for the baby. Then my eyes fall on the family picture on my desk.

Lord, please be with Tammy, too, in her pregnancy.

My thirty-eight-year-old sister was so thrilled when she called a couple of months ago to tell me she was pregnant and so scared yesterday when the doctor put her on temporary bed rest.

While I'm on the baby thread, I mention my friend Lark who is desperate to adopt. I say amen, steadfastly ignoring my own out-of-whack biological clock.

My receptionist, Norma, sidles into my office like a spy in an old movie, softly shuts the door and turns to face me, her brown eyes wide. "Whoever warned mamas not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys," she whispers, "never saw the man in our waiting room."

"What?" I absently flip through the small pile of files on my desk. Not long ago I remodeled my entire clinic—repainted the walls with calming blues and browns, added new chiropractic tables and new waiting room chairs, and even got solid oak office furniture with nifty little cubbies. For about a week I could find things.

And did she just say the word babies? What did I tell you? It's one of those months. "Do you know where Mrs. Faulkner's file is? I thought it was here, but I can't find it."

Norma raises her eyebrows. "You saw her after hours Tuesday night, didn't you? I think it's on my desk waiting for charges."

Now I remember. "No charge," I say automatically.

She puts her hands on her hips. "C'mon, Doc, you can't fall for every sob story you hear."

I grin. "We make it, don't we? If I can't help out a sixty-two-year-old woman who lifts and bathes and cares for her grown son around the clock, then I'd just as soon not be in practice."

She shrugs. "You're the one who has to worry about paying your bills. I get my paycheck regardless." Her round face lights up and she motions to me. "Now come look."

Norma's always slightly out of sync with reality, but today is shaping up to be odd even for her.

"At the man in the waiting room," she clarifies, as if I'm a little slow. "You have to see him."

"I usually do see everyone who's in the waiting room, don't I? Eventually?"

She blows out her breath and folds her arms. "It'll only take a second."

"Who is it?"

She shakes her head, her short brunette curls springing with the movement. "I'm not telling. You'll have to see for yourself."

I sigh. I know I'm the boss, but once Norma has something in her head, it's easier just to go along with her. She turns to lead the way out to her desk where a large window overlooks the main waiting room. I promise she's tiptoeing.

"Hey, Nancy Drew," I say quietly.

She jumps and spins around. "What?" she hisses.

I grin. "Let's try not to be so obvious."

She presses her back against the wall and motions for me to go ahead of her. I saunter to her desk. Right on top is the file I was looking for. At least this wasn't a wasted trip. I retrieve it while I give the waiting room a cursory glance. The cowboy chooses that moment to look up, of course. A slow grin spreads across his face.

I fumble with the file and almost drop it.

Jack Westwood.

I don't believe it. Alma Westwood could give the-little-engine-that-could lessons in persistence. I return his grin with a quick professional smile and—holding the file high enough that he can see I had a valid reason for being there—walk back to my office.

Norma is right on my heels. She closes the door. "So? What did I tell you? That's Alma Westwood's son. The rodeo star."

"I know who he is." I toss the file on my desk and plop down in my chair to look at it.

"You know him?"

I shake my head. "We were friends when we were kids, but I don't know him really. I've just seen his picture in the paper like everyone else." And since he moved back a few months ago, I've seen him around town enough to know that women fall all over themselves when he walks by. Definitely not my type. Which is one reason I've avoided him.

"Oh yeah. His hat was shading his face in that picture." Her brows draw together. "Which is a cryin' shame."

I look up at her cherub face. "Hey, remember old What's His Name? The handsome guy you're happily married to?" I grin.

She shrugs. "Doesn't mean I'm blind. Besides, you aren't married."

Thanks for the reminder.

"So when Alma signed in, she said she brought her son to see her new X-rays."

"How nice." Not that I'm falling for her flimsy excuse. Alma is just one in a long line of Mama Matchmakers. My patients with unmarried sons seem to take my singlehood as a personal affront. Ever since Rodeo Jack moved back to run his family ranch next door to my parents, Alma has upped her efforts
to make me her daughter-in-law, or at least reintroduce me
to him.

Don't ask me why Jack needs his mama to fix him up with someone in the first place. Norma is not exaggerating. He was passably cute back when we were kids, and he's one of those men who gets better-looking with age. If he's lost any teeth or broken his nose riding in the rodeo, he's covered it well. Not only is he a real cowboy, but he could play one on TV. Last week at the diner, I was two tables away from him when he smiled at the waitress. For a moment I was jealous that the smile wasn't for me. But only for a moment.

Then common sense kicked in. Me and Jack Westwood? Not likely. Which is just as well, because on a less personal note. . .a chiropractor and a rodeo star? What a combination. I'd spend the rest of my life trying to fix the mess he makes of his body. Besides, I can't imagine myself with someone whose belt buckle is bigger than his IQ. And even though he seemed smart when we were in school, as far as I'm concerned, anyone who'll willingly climb on a bucking bull over and over is a few calves short of a herd.

Still, it's my job to educate patients and their families about their health. I turn back to Norma. "After you put them in a room, pull Alma's X-rays for me, okay?"

Norma starts to leave then smacks her forehead with the palm of her hand. "Oh, I almost forgot. Lark Murray is on line one."

I glance at the phone. Sure enough, line one is blinking. "Thanks."

Never mind that we let Lark sit and wait while we sneaked a peek at Alma's cowboy son. Norma marches to her own drummer, and I run along behind her trying to stay in step.

I reach toward the phone, and for a split second, I consider having Norma take a message. Lark is one of my three closest friends. I'm a few years younger than the rest and came late to the Pinky Promise Sisterhood group they formed in childhood. But ever since the night they found me crying in the bowling alley bathroom, the Pinkies have been family to me. We share our deepest secrets and craziest dreams and—now that we all live in Shady Grove, Arkansas, again—regular face-to-face gabfests.

And any other day of the year, I'm happy to hear from any of them. But this particular anniversary day is always filled with awkward conversations. They never know what to say, and neither do I.

I snatch the handset up before I give in to my cowardice. I'll just make it short and sweet. "Hey, girl."

"Rach, I'm so glad I caught you. I was afraid you'd already started with patients."

"No. Sorry you had to wait." Here it comes. The gentle "You okay today?" Or the "Just called to say hi and wish you a good day for no particular reason."

"I can't take this anymore." Her voice is trembling.

Okay, I wasn't expecting that. "What?"

"The waiting. Why do they make us go through an in-spection worthy of a Spanish Inquisition if they're not going to give us a baby?"

I release a breath I didn't know I was holding and sink back onto my chair. Lark is focused on one thing and one thing only these days, so thankfully this call isn't about me. "They're go-ing to give you a baby. They'd be crazy not to. These things just take time."

"You sound like the caseworker." She sighs. "I called her last night even though Craig didn't think I should."

"Lark, honey, I know it's hard to wait now that you've finally decided to adopt. But you're going to have to. God has—" My throat constricts, but I push the words out. "God has the perfect baby for you."

"It doesn't feel like it." She must be upset, because that's definitely a bit of a whine, something she never does.

"Has He ever let you down?"

"No. But maybe I was right before. Maybe it's just not His will for me to be a mom."

I thought we'd settled all that a few months ago when she showed up on my doorstep late one night with a suitcase because her husband wanted to adopt. Still, I can totally relate to old insecurities sneaking back in when you least expect them. "You're going to have to think about something else for a while, Lark. Are you helping Allie today?"

"I'm supposed to. I was thinking about seeing if she can make it without me though."

"How are y'all coming along?" Our Pinky friend Allie Richards recently won the Shady Grove Pre-Centennial Beautiful Town Landscaping Contest and consequently landed the town landscaping maintenance contract for the year. She has some real employees now, but during the contest her crew consisted of Allie's brother, Adam, Lark, me, and our other Pinky, Victoria Worthington. So we all have a vested emotional interest in TLC Landscaping.

Lark sighs. "We're swamped trying to get everything in perfect shape before the centennial celebration really gets going. I guess I really should work today. I know Allie needs me."

Good girl. "You know what your granny always said—a busy mind doesn't have time to worry."

"You're right. I'm going to have to trust God to handle this and go get ready for work. Thanks for talking me down off the ledge."

"Anytime."

"See you tonight, Rach."

"I'll be there." When the connection is broken, I close my eyes.

Lord, please give me strength to face today.

I open my eyes and push to my feet. Time to cowgirl up.

v


As soon as I walk into the adjusting room, Alma stands. "Dr. Donovan, I'm sure you remember my son, Jack."

Jack holds his cowboy hat in his left hand and offers me the right. I promise I expect him to say, "Ma'am," and duck his head. "Dr. Donovan," he drawls, and from the boy who used to pull my braids, the title sounds a little mocking. "Nice to see you again." As we shake hands, he flashes that heartbeat-accelerating smile again.

"You, too." His hands are nice. Slightly calloused. Working hands, but not so tough that they're like leather.

I look up into his puzzled brown eyes and then back down at his hand, which I'm still holding. Behind him, his mother beams as if she has personally discovered the cure for every terminal illness known to humankind. I jerk my hand away. Should I tell him that I always notice hands, since my own hands are what I use most in my profession? Or would he think that was a pickup line? I'm sure he's heard some doozies.

Better to ignore it. I slap the X-rays up on the view box then focus my attention on Alma as I point out the key spots we're working on.

When I finish, Jack crosses the room in two steps and points to the X-ray. "This increased whiteness is arthritis, right?"

My eyebrows draw together. "You've had experience with X-rays?"

He shrugs and gives me a rueful grin. "Occupational hazard."

Of course. "In any case, you're right. It is arthritis, but no more than normal for someone your mother's age."

"Thankfully, Dr. Donovan keeps me going. Otherwise I'd be like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz," Alma pipes up from her chair in the corner.

"To hear Mom tell it, you're the Wizard of Oz," Jack mutters, still standing beside me. He turns to Alma. "Your X-rays are normal?"

Her eyes open wide. "Yes."

"Totally normal?"

She blinks at him. "Isn't that wonderful?"

"Yes, but—"

"I thought you'd be pleased to know your old mom was going to be getting around without a walker for a few more years." Alma's voice is soft and sweet.

He frowns. "You know I am. But since Dr. Donovan has apparently already explained these X-rays to you, you could have told me that on the ph—" He stops, apparently realizing that I'm like a reluctant spectator at a tennis game, watching their verbal volleying.

"But this way you can see for yourself," Alma says with a satisfied smile.

He opens his mouth then closes it and nods.

Game, set, match to Alma.

I turn back to her. "Any questions?"

She smiles. "Not a one. Thank you so much for taking the time to go over this with us."

"I'm always glad to help you understand your health better."

"I'm going to go freshen up before we head home," Alma says. And just like that, she's gone, leaving me with her son. No doubt the whole point.

"Jack," I say in what I hope is a coolly professional voice, "thank you for coming by."

He nods. "I'm sorry we wasted your time. I don't know why I'm surprised this was a setup. Our mothers have been singing your praises ever since I got back in town."

"Our mothers?" My mother and I barely speak, and I'm certain she's never sung my praises a day in my life. At least not since I was a teenager.

"They make you sound like Mother Teresa and the Alberts all rolled into one."

I raise a brow. "The Alberts?"

"Einstein and Schweitzer."

I can't keep from laughing. "Now that's an appealing combination. And don't forget the Wizard of Oz."

"They're probably not far off, actually. It's just that—" He runs his hands around the brim of the hat he's still holding. "Thanks for being a good sport." He grins. "And at least now when we see each other at the diner, we can say hello."

A hot blush spreads across my face. The curse of being a redhead. I blush easily and at the oddest times. It's not like he knows I was admiring him the other day while I was waiting for my food. At least, I sure hope not. "True." I open the door and step back for him to go through.

"I guess I'd better go. I'll just wait for Mom out here," he says dryly and saunters down the hall.

"Not a moment too soon," I mutter under my breath and retreat to my office for a few minutes. The last thing I need is a blast from the past. Especially in the form of a rugged, sweet-smiling cowboy.

Saturday, June 21, 2008



It's June 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!




and her book:



Zondervan (May 1, 2008)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

In sixth grade, Melody Carlson helped start a school newspaper called The BuccaNews (her school’s mascot was a Buccaneer...arrr!). As editor of this paper, she wrote most of the material herself, creating goofy phony bylines to hide the fact that the school newspaper was mostly a "one man" show.

Visit the Melody's website to see all of her wonderful and various book titles.

Don't miss the second book in this series: Stealing Bradford (Carter House Girls, Book 2)

And one of her latest, A Mile in My Flip-Flops will be featured on FIRST Blog Alliance on July 1st!

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714885
ISBN-13: 978-0310714880



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“Desiree,” called Inez as she knocked on the other side of the closed bedroom door. “Mrs. Carter wants to see you downstairs.”

“The name is DJ.”

“I’m sorry, but your grandmother has instructed me to call you Desiree.”

DJ opened the door and looked down on the short and slightly overweight middle-aged housekeeper. “And I have instructed you to call me DJ.”

Inez’s dark eyes twinkled as she gave her a sly grin. “Yes, but it’s your grandmother who pays my salary, Desiree. I take orders from Mrs. Carter. And she wants to see you downstairs in her office, pronto.”

DJ grabbed her favorite Yankees ball cap and shoved it onto her head, pulling her scraggly looking blonde ponytail through the hole in the back of it.

“You’re wearing that?” asked Inez with a frown. “You know what your grandmother says about?—?-”

“Look,” said DJ. “My grandmother might pay you to take orders from her, but I’m a free agent. Got that?”

Inez chuckled. “I got that. But you’re the one who’ll be getting it before too long, Desiree.”

“DJ,” she growled as she tromped loudly down the curving staircase. Why had she let Dad talk her into living with her grandmother for her last two years of high school? She’d only been here since last spring, late into the school year, but long enough to know that it was nearly unbearable. Boarding school would be better than this. At least she’d have a little privacy there and no one constantly riding her?—?-telling her how to act, walk, look, and think. She wished there were some way, short of running away (which would be totally stupid), out of this uncomfortable arrangement.

“There you are,” said Grandmother when DJ walked into the office. Her grandmother frowned at her ball cap and then pasted what appeared to be a very forced smile onto her collagen-injected lips. “I want you to meet a new resident.” She made a graceful hand movement, motioning to where an attractive and somewhat familiar-looking Latina woman was sitting next to a fashionably dressed girl who seemed to be about DJ’s age, but could probably pass for older. The girl was beautiful. Even with the scowl creasing her forehead, it was obvious that this girl was stunning. Her skin was darker than her mother’s, latte-colored and creamy. Her long black hair curled softly around her face. She had high cheekbones and dramatic eyes.

DJ noticed her grandmother smiling her approval on this unhappy-looking girl. But the girl looked oblivious as she fiddled with the gold chain of what looked like an expensive designer bag. Not that DJ was an expert when it came to fashion. The woman stood politely, extending her hand to DJ.

“I’d like to present my granddaughter, Desiree Lane.” Grandmother turned back to DJ now, the approval evaporating from her expression. “Desiree, this is Ms. Perez and her daughter Taylor.”

DJ shook the woman’s hand and mumbled, “Nice to meet you.” But the unfriendly daughter just sat in the leather chair, one long leg elegantly crossed over the other, as she totally ignored everyone in the room.

Grandmother continued speaking to DJ, although DJ suspected this little speech was for Taylor’s mother. “Ms. Perez and I first met when my magazine featured her for her illustrious music career. Her face graced our cover numerous times over the years. Perhaps you’ve heard of Eva Perez.”

The woman smiled. “Or perhaps not,” she said in a voice that was as smooth as honey. “According to my daughter, kids in your age group don’t comprise even a minuscule part of my fan base.”

DJ smiled at the woman now. “Actually, I have heard of you, Ms. Perez. My mom used to play your CDs. She was a serious Latin jazz fan.”

“Was?” She frowned. “I hope her taste in music hasn’t changed. I need all the fans I can get these days.”

Grandmother cleared her throat. “Desiree’s mother?—?-my daughter?—?-was killed in a car accident about a year ago.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

DJ sort of nodded. She never knew how to react when -people said they were sorry about the loss of her mother. It wasn’t as if it were their fault.

“Desiree,” said Grandmother, “Would you mind giving Taylor a tour of the house while I go over some business details with her mother?”

“No problem.”

Grandmother’s recently Botoxed forehead creased ever so slightly, and DJ knew that, once again, she had either said the wrong thing, used bad grammar, or was slumping like a “bag of potatoes.” Nothing she did ever seemed right when it came to her grandmother. “And after the tour, perhaps you could show Taylor to her room.”

“Which room?” asked DJ, feeling concerned. Sure, Taylor might be a perfectly nice person, even if a little snobbish, but DJ was not ready for a roommate just yet.

“The blue room, please. Inez has already taken some of Taylor’s bags up for her. Thank you, Desiree.”

Feeling dismissed as well as disapproved of, DJ led their reluctant new resident out to the foyer. “Well, you’ve probably already seen this.” DJ waved her arm toward the elegant front entrance with its carved double doors and shining marble floor and Persian rug. She motioned toward the ornate oak staircase. “And that’s where the bedrooms are, but we can see that later.” She walked through to the dining room. “This is where we chow down.” She pointed to the swinging doors. “The kitchen’s back there, but the cook, Clara, can be a little witchy about trespassers.” DJ snickered. “Besides, my grandmother does not want her girls to spend much time in the kitchen anyway.”

“Like that’s going to be a problem,” said Taylor, the first words she’d spoken since meeting DJ.

“Huh?” said DJ.

“I don’t imagine anyone is going to be exactly pigging out around here. I mean aren’t we all supposed to become famous models or something?” asked Taylor as she examined a perfectly manicured thumbnail.

DJ frowned. “Well, my grandmother did edit one of the biggest fashion magazines in the world, but I don’t think that means we’re all going to become famous models. I know I’m not.”

Taylor peered curiously at her. “Why not? You’ve got the height, the build, and you’re not half bad looking .?.?. well, other than the fact that you obviously have absolutely no style.” She sort of laughed, but not with genuine humor. “But then you’ve got your grandmother to straighten that out for you.”

DJ just shook her head. “I think my grandmother will give up on me pretty soon. Especially when the others get here. She’ll have girls with more promise to set her sights on.” At least that was what DJ was hoping.

“Has anyone else arrived?”

“Not yet.” DJ continued the tour. “This is the library.” She paused to allow Taylor to look inside the room and then moved on. “And that’s the sunroom, or observatory, as Grandmother calls it.” She laughed. “Hearing her talk about this house sometimes reminds me of playing Clue.”

“What?”

“You know, the murder game, like where Colonel Mustard kills Mrs. Peacock with a wrench in the observatory.”

“Oh, I never played that.”

“Right .?.?.” Then DJ showed Taylor the large living room, the most modern space in the house. Grandmother had put this room together shortly after deciding to take on her crazy venture. Above the fireplace hung a large flat-screen TV, which was connected to a state-of-the-art DVD and sound system. This was encircled by some comfortable pieces of leather furniture, pillows, and throws.

“Not bad,” admitted Taylor.

“Welcome back to the twenty-first century.”

“Do you have wireless here?”

“Yeah. I told Grandmother it was a necessity for school.”

“Good.”

“This house has been in our family for a long time,” said DJ as she led Taylor up the stairs. “But no one has lived here for the past twenty years. My grandmother had it restored after she retired a -couple of years ago.” DJ didn’t add that her grandmother had been forced to retire due to her age (a carefully guarded and mysterious number) or that this new business venture, boarding teen “debutantes,” was to help supplement her retirement income. Those were strict family secrets and, despite DJ’s angst in living here, she did have a sense of family loyalty?—?-at least for the time being. She wasn’t sure if she could control herself indefinitely.

DJ stopped at the second-floor landing. “The bedrooms are on this floor, and the third floor has a ballroom that would be perfect for volleyball, although Grandmother has made it clear that it’s not that kind of ballroom.” She led Taylor down the hall. “My bedroom is here,” she pointed to the closed door. “And yours is right next door.” She opened the door. “The blue room.”

Taylor looked into the pale blue room and shook her head in a dismal way. “And is it true that I have to share this room with a perfect stranger?”

“Well, I don’t know how perfect she’ll be.”

“Funny.” Taylor rolled her eyes as she opened a door to one of the walk-in closets opposite the beds.

“I try.”

“It’s not as big as I expected.”

“It’s bigger than it looks,” said DJ as she walked into the room and then pointed to a small alcove that led to the bathroom.

“Do I get any say in who becomes my roommate?”

“I guess you can take that up with my grandmother.”

Taylor tossed her purse onto the bed closest to the bathroom and then kicked off her metallic-toned sandals. “These shoes might be Marc Jacobs, but they’re killing me.”

“So, you’re really into this?” asked DJ. “The whole fashion thing?”

Taylor sat down on the bed, rubbing a foot. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good.”

DJ felt the need to bite her tongue. Taylor was her grandmother’s first official paying customer to arrive and participate in this crazy scheme. Far be it from DJ to rock Grandmother’s boat. At least not just yet.

“Well, thanks for the tour,” said Taylor in a bored voice. Then she went over to where a set of expensive-looking luggage was stacked in a corner. “Don’t the servants around here know how to put things away properly?”

“Properly?” DJ shrugged.

Taylor picked up the top bag and laid it down on the bench at the foot of one of the beds and opened it.

“Don’t you want to go down and tell your mom good-bye?” asked DJ as she moved toward the door.

Taylor laughed in a mean way. “And make her think she’s doing me a favor by dumping me here? Not on your life.”

“Here are some more bags for Miss Mitchell,” said Inez as she lugged two large suitcases into the room, setting them by the door.

“Put them over there,” commanded Taylor, pointing to the bench at the foot of the other bed. “And don’t pile them on top of each other. This happens to be Louis Vuitton, you know.”

DJ saw Inez make a face behind Taylor’s back. But the truth was DJ didn’t blame her. Inez might be a housekeeper, but she didn’t deserve to be treated like a slave. Suddenly, DJ felt guilty for snapping at Inez earlier today. She smiled now, and Inez looked surprised and a little suspicious. Then DJ grabbed the largest bag, hoisted it onto the bench with a loud grunt, and Taylor turned around and gave her a dark scowl.

“Thank you,” she snapped.

“Later,” said DJ as she exited the room with Inez on her heels.

“Mrs. Carter wants to see you downstairs, Desiree,” announced Inez when they were out on the landing.

“Again?” complained DJ. “What for?”

“Another girl just arrived. Your grandmother wants you to give her a tour too.”

“What am I now?” asked DJ. “The official tour guide?”

“That sounds about right.” Inez gave her a smirk.

DJ wasn’t sure if she could stomach another fashion diva with an attitude problem, but on the other hand, she didn’t want to risk another etiquette lecture from her grandmother either. Once again, she clomped down the stairs and made her appearance in the office, suppressing the urge to bow and say, “At your ser-vice, Madam.”

“Eliza,” gushed Grandmother, “This is my granddaughter, Desiree Lane. And Desiree, I’d like you to meet Eliza Wilton.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Desiree.”

DJ nodded. She could tell by how formal her grandmother was acting that Eliza Wilton must be someone really important?—?-meaning extraordinarily wealthy?—?-even more so than the Mitchells. And that’s when she remembered her grandmother going on about “the Wilton fortune” this morning at breakfast. Of course, that must be Eliza’s family.

“Nice to meet ya, Eliza,” DJ said in a purposely casual tone. This girl was pretty too, but not like Taylor’s dark and dramatic beauty. Eliza was a tall, slender, impeccably dressed, blue-eyed blonde. She wasn’t exactly a Paris Hilton clone?—?-and she didn’t have a little dog as far as DJ could see?—?-but there was a similarity, except that Eliza’s face was a little softer looking, a little sweeter, but then looks could be deceiving.

DJ wondered if the Botox was starting to wear off, as her grandmother studied her with a furrowed brow, probably comparing her to Miss Perfect Eliza. Naturally, DJ would not measure up.

“Eliza is from Louisville,” said Grandmother. “Her parents are presently residing in France, where her father just purchased a vineyard. But Eliza’s grandmother and I are old friends. We went to college together. When she heard about what I was doing up here in Connecticut, she encouraged her daughter to send dear Eliza our way.”

“Lucky Eliza,” said DJ in a droll tone.

Eliza actually giggled. Then Grandmother cleared her throat. “Desiree will give you a tour of the house,” she said. “And she’ll show you to your room.”

“Which is .?.?.??” asked DJ.

“The rose room.”

Of course, thought DJ as she led Eliza from the office. Next to her grandmother’s suite, the rose room was probably the best room in the house. Naturally, someone as important as Eliza would be entitled to that. Not that DJ had wanted it. And perhaps her grandmother had actually offered it to her last month. DJ couldn’t remember. But she had never been a flowery sort of girl, and she knew the rose wallpaper in there would’ve been giving her a serious migraine by now. Besides she liked her sunny yellow bedroom and, in her opinion, it had the best view in the house. On a clear day, you could actually glimpse a sliver of the Atlantic Ocean from her small bathroom window.

DJ started to do a repeat of her earlier tour, even using the same lines, until she realized that Eliza was actually interested.

“How old is this house?”

“Just over a hundred years,” DJ told her. “It was built in 1891.”

“It has a nice feel to it.”

DJ considered this. “Yeah, I kinda thought that too, after I got used to it. To be honest, it seemed pretty big to me at first. But then you’re probably used to big houses.”

“I suppose. Not that I’m particularly fond of mansions.”

“Why aren’t you with your parents?” asked DJ. “In France?”

“They’re concerned about things like politics and security,” said Eliza as they exited the library. “In fact, they almost refused to let me come here.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I think they felt I was safer in boarding school. If our grandmothers hadn’t been such good friends, I’m sure they never would’ve agreed.”

“So, you’re happy to be here?” DJ studied Eliza’s expression.

“Sure, aren’t you?”

DJ frowned. “I don’t know .?.?. I guess.”

“I think it’ll be fun to go to a real high school, to just live like a normal girl, with other normal girls.”

DJ tried not to look too shocked. “You think this is normal?”

Eliza laughed. “I guess I don’t really know what normal is, but it’s more normal that what I’m used to.”

“But what about the whole fashion thing?” asked DJ. “I mean you must know about my grandmother’s plans to turn us all into little debutantes. Are you into all that?”

“That’s nothing new. Remember, I’m from the south. My family is obsessed with turning me into a lady. That was one of the other reasons my parents agreed to this. I think they see the Carter House as some sort of finishing school.”

Or some sort of reformatory school, thought DJ. Although she didn’t say it out loud. Not yet, anyway.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!






Today's Wild Card author is:


and her book:


She Always Wore Red

Tyndale House Publishers (April 23, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Christy-Award winner Angela Hunt writes for readers who have learned to expect the unexpected in novels from this versatile author. With over three million copies of her books sold worldwide, she is the best-selling author of more than 100 works ranging from picture books (The Tale of Three Trees) to novels.

Now that her two children have reached their twenties, Angie and her husband live in Florida with Very Big Dogs (a direct result of watching Turner and Hooch and Sandlot too many times). This affinity for mastiffs has not been without its rewards--one of their dogs was featured on Live with Regis and Kelly as the second-largest canine in America. Their dog received this dubious honor after an all-expenses-paid trip to Manhattan for the dog and the Hunts, complete with VIP air travel and a stretch limo in which they toured New York City.

Afterward, the dog gave out pawtographs at the airport.

Angela admits to being fascinated by animals, medicine, psychology, unexplained phenomena, and “just about everything” except sports. Books, she says, have always shaped her life— in the fifth grade she learned how to flirt from reading Gone with the Wind.

Her books have won the coveted Christy Award, several Angel Awards from Excellence in Media, and the Gold and Silver Medallions from Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award. In 2007, her novel The Note was featured as a Christmas movie on the Hallmark channel. Romantic Times Book Club presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

In 2006, Angela completed her Master of Biblical Studies in Theology degree and completed her doctorate in 2008. When she’s not home reading or writing, Angie often travels to teach writing workshops at schools and writers’ conferences. And to talk about her dogs, of course.


Visit her at her website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

The nameless cadaver on the cover of my anatomy textbook—a middle-aged man who is no longer black, white, or brown—would be counted among the orange in a census of the embalmed.

Someone should have adjusted the tint before they juiced him.

I flip the book open and study the color photographs of the cadaver’s aortic arch and brachiocephalic veins, then close my eyes and try to commit the multisyllable words to memory. Here I am, near the end of my first semester of mortuary school, and I’m still having trouble keeping my veins and arteries straight.

Behind me, an irate mother in the carpool line is honking, though we have a good three minutes before kindergarten dismissal. She probably has to pick up her child and get back to work before the end of her lunch hour. While I sympathize with her impatience, I wish she’d lay off the horn so I can concentrate.

I open one eye and examine the book propped on my steering wheel. The right internal jugular branches off the right and left brachiocephalic veins, which lie outside the brachiocephalic trunk. Brachiocephalic sounds like some kind of dinosaur. Bugs would like that word.

I turn the book sideways, but the photograph on the page looks nothing like a prehistoric animal. In fact, I find it hard to believe that anything like this jumble of tunnels and tubes exists in my body, but skin covers myriad mysteries.

I snap the book shut as the bell at Round lake elementary trills through the warm afternoon. The kindergarten classes troop out into the sunshine, their hands filled with lunch boxes and construction paper cutouts. The tired teachers stride to the curb and peer into various vehicles, then motion the appropriate children forward.

My spirits lift when my red-haired cherub catches my eye and waves. Bradley “Bugs” graham waits until his teacher calls his name and skips toward me.

“Hey, Mom.” He climbs into the backseat of the van as his teacher holds the door.

“Hey yourself, kiddo.” I check to make sure he’s snapped his seat belt before smiling my thanks at his teacher. “Did you have a good morning?”

“Yep.” He leans forward to peek into the front seat. “Do we hafta go home, or can we stop to get a snack?”

My thoughts veer toward the to-do list riding shotgun in the front passenger seat. I still have to run to the grocery store, swing by the dry cleaner’s to pick up gerald’s funeral suit, and stop to see if the bookstore has found a used copy of Introduction to Infectious Diseases, Second edition. Textbooks are usually pricey, but medical textbooks ought to come with fixed-rate mortgages. Still, I need to find that book if I’m going to complete my online course by the end of the semester.

“I’ll pull into a drive-through,” I tell Bugs, knowing he won’t mind. “You want McDonald’s?”

He nods, so I point the van toward Highway 441.

“Mr. gerald make any pickups today?” Bugs asks.

I ease onto the highway, amazed at how easily my children have accepted the ongoing work of the funeral home. “none today.”

“See this?”

I glance in the rearview mirror and see Bugs waving his construction paper creation. “Yes.”

“It’s a stegosaurus. Can I give it to gerald?”

“I think he’d like that.” I force a smile as an unexpected wave of grief rises within me. like a troublesome relative who doesn’t realize she’s worn out her welcome, sorrow often catches me by surprise. Gerald, the elderly embalmer at Fairlawn, has become a surrogate father for my sons. Thomas, my ex-husband and my children’s father, has been gone for months, but in some ways he’s never been closer. He lies in the Pine Forest Cemetery, less than two miles from our house, so we can’t help but think of him every time we drive by.

I get Bugs a vanilla ice cream cone at the McDonald’s drive-through, and then we run to the grocery store and the dry cleaner. I’ll call the bookstore later. no sense in going there when a simple phone call will suffice.

Finally we turn into the long driveway that leads to the Fairlawn Funeral Home.

Gerald has poured a new concrete pad next to the garage, and as I park on it, Bugs notices that the call car is gone. “uh-oh.” He looks at me. “Somebody bit the dust.”

I press my lips together. A couple of months ago I would have mumbled something about the old station wagon maybe needing a wash, but now I know there’s no reason to shield my children from the truth—we are in the death care industry. The squeamishness I felt when we first arrived vanished the day I walked into the prep room and gloved up to help gerald lay out my ex-husband.

“Come in the house,” I tell my son. “I’ll pour you a glass of milk.”

Sunday, June 15, 2008


It's June 15th, time for the Non~FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 15th, we will featuring an author and his/her latest non~fiction book's FIRST chapter!


The feature author is:


and his book:



Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

A career biology instructor, Kenneth Poppe holds a doctorate in education and taught in secondary schools for more than 25 years. He is now senior consultant with the International Foundation for Science Education by Design (www.ifsed.org). In addition to working in teacher education and assisting in DNA research of stream ecology, he has authored Reclaiming Science from Darwinism.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736921257
ISBN-13: 978-0736921251


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

The majority is not trying to establish a religion or to teach it—it is trying to protect itself from the effort of an insolent minority to force irreligion upon the children under the guise of teaching science.

—WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN


BRYAN WAS THE ATTORNEY FOR THE PROSECUTION AT THE 1925 “SCOPES MONKEY TRIAL” IN DAYTON, TENNESSEE THAT MADE EVOLUTION A HOUSEHOLD TERM. THE ABOVE WORDS ARE FROM HIS
WRITTEN CLOSING STATEMENT, WHICH WAS NEVER READ IN COURT.

1

EXAMINING YOUR FAMILY TREE

A Monkey for an Uncle?

Consider your biological father. He is responsible for half of the genetic codes that shaped your body, and probably some of your personality as well. Now consider his father, your grandfather. If typical, I would guess at least a couple of your body traits are more grandpa’s than dad’s—having somehow skipped a generation. And how about your great-grandfather? Were you lucky enough to know him, even if just like me, through those vague and shifting memories as a very
small boy? Dare I throw in a great-great-grandfather—in my case known only through legend and those grainy black-and-white photos of a roughly dressed man beside a horse and buggy?

Consider that when your great-great-grandfather was your age, for surely he once was, he could try to reconstruct his lineage just as you have done. What names and faces would he have recalled? And if you could piece great-great-granddad’s and your recollections together, that would create a timeline taking you back eight generations—perhaps 250 years or so! Where would you find your ancestors then? In my case, I’m told, the Hamburg, Germany, area. And would my ancestors then be traced to the nomadic Gaelic stock that inhabited Western Europe before formal countries were established there? And then to where? Ancient Phoenicians, Sumerians, Egyptians? And how about yours?

Now to get to the main point. If you kept traveling back in time in this manner, generation after generation, where would you end up? Where would your dad’s ancestors have been living 1000 years ago? 2500 to 5000 years ago? And so on? Those who believe in strict Darwinism would say an extended family schematic would show your ancestors going back several million years ago where they first evolved on the African continent. And on this reverse journey you would see slowly reappearing total body hair, steadily shrinking brains, increasingly sloping foreheads and jaw protrusions, and extending arms whose knuckles would eventually be dragging the ground, assisting a clumsy, bent-over gait. In other words, strict evolutionists say if you could backtrack your family tree for, say, 5 million years, your ancestors would now be closer in appearance to a chimp than a human. And if you continued farther back in time, the coccyx bone at the bottom of your pelvis would extend into a prehensile tail, and the reappearing grasping toes on your feet would send you back to swinging in the trees from whence you came some 10 to 15 million years ago.

Stop and ponder your supposed family tree in this way—a videotape in rewind. Is this really how it went down? Did humans come from monkeys? (Often a Darwinist will answer no to this question by saying it wasn’t a direct path of evolution. But monkeys have to be on the path before apes, right? And apes would have to be on the path before humanoids, right? So it most absolutely is, in theory, “monkey to man”—no matter how crooked the line.) Now if this isn’t the truth, what’s the alternative? Unless you consult primitive worship superstitions, I’ve stated before that the world’s five major religions give you one origin—Genesis—and it includes a tantalizing tale of an innocent man Adam and his companion woman, Eve, in a pristine garden. But for so many, that’s a fairy tale of bigger proportions than monkeys becoming humans. So what is the truth?

Here’s my response. Regardless of which religious view(s) might supply the answer(s), I will stand firmly on this:

There is absolutely no scientific support for the
monkey-to-man scenario—absolutely none.


On the contrary, science, and even philosophy, validate the title of this book and its overriding message as stated a few pages ago.

Either-Or

If there is an alternative answer to the totally unscientific view that monkeys slowly turned into people, ostensibly it is one of the religious variety. But before we tackle the idea, let me first share the concept I find continually bubbling up from the origins cauldron: Almost every major issue concludes with just two choices—either it could have happened this way, or it couldn’t. So grab a writing instrument and check your choice of one of two for each of the ten statements below.

It Could It Couldn’t
Happen Happen


_______ ______ 1. The most violent accidental explosion ever, the big bang, was sufficiently self-appointed to create the largest and most fine-tuned object ever known, the universe.

_______ ______ 2. The sheer number of planets in the universe, and the number of years these planets have existed, give us a mathematical chance that at least one would become a fully interactive biological world—ours—by accident.

_______ ______ 3. Blind luck had the ability to construct the approximately 80,000 different life-required protein chains of specifically sequenced amino acids (from an “alphabet” of 20 different amino-acid choices)—even those proteins 10,000 amino acids long.

_______ ______ 4. The RNA/DNA molecules, containing information equivalent to all the books in 20 standard libraries, suddenly appeared by chance in the “primordial soup” before the first cell was a reality.

_______ ______ 5. Almost as soon as Earth’s conditions permitted, a functional cell appeared, selfprepared with a wide array of metabolizing and reproductive mechanisms.

_______ ______ 6. A half billion years ago, in the blink of an evolutionary eye, the Cambrian explosion self-generated the completely interactive gene pool of all 32 animal phyla with complex organ systems. Once complex life didn’t exist, then it was all there.

_______ ______ 7. After the Cambrian explosion, random scramblings of genetic information kept producing improved genetic codes. This allowed life to surge forward as animals kept giving rise to improved offspring with which, suddenly
or eventually, they could not mate.

_______ ______ 8. These accidental genetic surges adequately explain a whole host of large-scale advances— for example, straight bones in fins turning into jointed bones in legs, reptile scales turning into bird feathers, photosensitive cells turning into eyes, births from amniotic eggs turning into births from a placenta, and chordates like cows or hippos going back into the ocean to become whales.

_______ ______ 9. While animals randomly surged forward within 32 phyla from sponges to mammals, plants accomplished a similar advance in complexity from moss to cacti, but did it in only 8 steps, often called divisions instead of phyla.

And central to this book:

_______ ______ 10. Primates like monkeys left the trees and kept getting bigger, stronger, and smarter. About 5 million years of natural selection was sufficient time for hominids to adapt to walking on their hind legs, learn to use tools,
fashion clothes to wear, master fire, develop first spoken and then written communication, and finally organize societies in cave homes among maple groves that eventually became cottage homes on Maple Street.

So how did you score on this checklist? The two most extreme scores would be to have all ten checks in the right column of “it couldn’t happen”—like me—or all ten checks on the left column of “it could happen.” Of course, you realize that one single check in the right column dooms Darwinism to immediate failure. All it takes is one legitimate “couldn’t” check in this either-or set-up and natural evolution has no chance to produce me the writer, or you the reader. If you can, actually imagine trying to agree with all ten statements as checked on the left, and I’ll wager you’ll feel the full weight of the folly of “self-made” life. Therefore, if you find evolution insufficient in even one instance, you need to consider a bigger-than-science connection— unless, of course, you want to remain apathetic. So, if evolution or apathy is not the answer, I suggest you begin a quest to come to grips with the “God” who engineered this miracle.

Rejecting statement #10 above reflects this chapter’s opening rejection of the idea that all our ancestral lines slowly become more stooped and stupider as we observe the reverse of totally natural processes. If the world generally rejected that notion and stood on the “God alternative” with confidence, it would dramatically change the debate on the other nine statements. And yet if monkeys are not our uncles then how do you explain human origin? How do you explain the master plan of God the Designer?

Friday, June 13, 2008



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!






Today's Wild Card author is:


and her book:


A Promise for Tomorrow

Randall House Publications (March 25, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sara DuBose is a motivational speaker and author of three other novels: Where Hearts Live, Where Love Grows, and Where Memories Linger. Sara is also author of Conquering Anxiety, published by the Presbyterian Church in America. Her other writing credits include numerous articles and stories for publications such as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Today’s Christian Woman, Virtue, Decision, The Christian Reader, and Family Life Today. She also appears in several anthologies published by Multnomah and Barbour. Sara received a first place fiction award from Putting Your Passion into Print and a first place fiction award from the Southeastern Writer’s Association. She currently travels as a speaker for seminars, festivals, civic clubs, schools and churches and may be contacted at www.saradubose.com. Sara and her husband live in Montgomery, Alabama. She is the mother of two daughters.

Visit her at her website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

It was 2:50 Friday afternoon. In ten more minutes, the bell would ring and we’d be free for summer vacation. I doodled on a piece of notebook paper trying not to squirm, but every little curly-cue I made represented another second toward freedom. Our teacher, Miss Puckett, was in the middle of her farewell address, so I pretended to listen. Actually, I’d become a pretty good pretender during those past nine months. Miss Puckett was so boring.

From the corner of my right eye, I detected a slight movement, and I heard someone in our class said, “What the h_______ . . . ?”

Since I rarely heard anything more than “gol-ly,” I turned to the window by my desk. A round face pressed against the windowpane near me. Nose first. Flat. The eyes set in a wide stare. As I watched, the freak’s hand flew up in a wave. Instinctively, I waved back.

“Flea,” Miss Puckett called. “Face the front. All of you.”

“Who is it?” I heard someone say.

“It’s just a curious child. That’s all.” Miss Puckett had a strange expression on her face. I decided she must be tired of seeing children.

About to obey Miss Puckett’s command, I then saw a second figure—a man. He grabbed the waving hand and pulled it down to his side. The man’s face appeared strained, like someone trying to open a pill bottle with his teeth. Maybe he was scolding the child. I couldn’t tell. Mesmerized, I watched him twist her arm. The child seemed to stumble and then regain her balance. I think I saw her shudder as she brushed against his overalls.

Miss Puckett’s voice again broke into my thoughts, and I belatedly turned to face her. “Gather your supplies, class. The bell is about to ring. Once again, have a good summer. It’s been a pleasure having you in fifth grade.”

Glancing back to the window, I watched the two figures disappear around the corner of the building.

“My pleasure is to get out of here,” Betty muttered. We occupied the two desks closest to the window on the back row. Betty also lived across the street from me. As we scrambled for our books and headed for the door, Betty said, “You wanna race home?”

“No,” I said. “It’s too hot. You go ahead.” I grabbed a wad of hair and held it up from my neck. “Do you have a rubber band so I can make a ponytail?”

“No. Fix it at your house. Say, you’re not gonna hang around here, are you?” Betty glanced back to the window.

“Not for long. But I do want to know who they are.”

“Oh, you’re so nosey. Aren’t you hungry?”

“Yeah, I guess but . . .”

“But what?” Betty countered.

“Nothing.”

“Well, I’m not gonna hang around school one minute longer than
I have to.”

As we left the room, my eyes drifted up to the calendar Miss Puckett kept posted by the door. Friday, May 27, 1955. I’d thought this day would never come. Betty scurried down the hall ahead of me but then called back over her shoulder.

“Can you come over later for a snack?”

“Sure.”

I watched Betty scoot down the steps and retrieve her bike parked next to mine in the metal frame stationed to the left of the front entrance.

Betty was my best friend, but we were about as different as corn bread and ice cream. She was always in a hurry to get home to her paper dolls or child’s embroidery kit. Not me. I liked to take my time, to look for adventure. But, frankly, it was hard to find adventure in Sugar Hill, especially when my dad was the pastor of the Presbyterian Church.

Standing at the top of the steps, my eyes gravitated to the familiar yellow bus parked in the bus lane. As usual, the bus driver’s shoulders were slumped toward the steering wheel. Somehow, I sensed he was glad this was his last round. What a boring job, driving 30 elementary and high-school kids back and forth through about 20 miles of Sugar Hill countryside.

Two or three other cars waited to pick up children. I recognized Mrs. Whittaker’s Buick. I knew it was Mrs. Whittaker’s because they were the only family in Sugar Hill with a Buick. Mr. Whittaker held the top spot with our Fairway Mill Company. No wonder he could drive a Buick. And, wouldn’t you know, his daughter, Gloria, had wound up in my fifth grade class right in the middle of the year. They were from Ohio, so Gloria knew more than the rest of us in the “hick town” of Sugar Hill, Alabama. At least, she thought so.

After the bus pulled away, I noticed an old black pickup truck parked across the street. It appeared empty and lonesome, like something you might see in a junkyard. I wondered if it might belong to the strange man who had jerked the girl away from the window.

Then I remembered how the odd couple had turned toward the side of our building. I decided to run down the steps and take the turn leading to the senior high school. Maybe I’d at least see my brother, Rand, and we could ride home together.

Like an old married couple, our two school buildings somehow managed to hold on to each other by a covered walkway at the lower level. A parking lot for teachers sat in front of the high-school building, but we kids used it for fancy bike riding and skating whenever we had the chance.

When I reached the high school, several of my brother’s friends nodded or waved. Rand’s best friend, Frank, liked to tease, so he called and said, “Hi, Squirt. Lookin’ for Rand? He’s already headed home.”

“No, I’m just lookin’. Did you see a weird man and a little girl come
by here?”

“You mean Ole Man Boyd and his daughter?”

“I guess.” I switched my books to the other hip.

“Yeah, I might have seen them earlier. Can’t imagine what they are
doing here though.” Frank rolled his eyes. “That girl can’t possibly go to school.”

“Why not?”

“She’s retarded. Haven’t you heard about Mavis?”

“No, not much. I do know a Mr. Boyd who lives out by the lumberyard.” I tossed my head in that general direction. “And everybody knows about his No Trespassing sign.”

“Yeah, right. Mavis is his daughter and she’s as crazy as a loon.”
Frank wheeled his eyes again, more dramatic this time. “I’ve heard she stays locked up most of the time. Reckon her dad can’t help it since he has to work.”

“No, I s’pose not,” I said.

“Watcha doing down this way?”

“I want to see the girl again. Guess I feel sorry for her.”

“Don’t waste your worry. Ain’t one thing you can do. Boyd probably dropped by here checking for some extra janitor work or something. Besides, isn’t your mama gonna wonder where you are?”

“Maybe. But. . . .”

“Look, go home. Okay?”

“I will in a minute. I hafta go inside to the bathroom.”

Frank gave me a funny grin. I suppose he wondered why I hadn’t thought to do that before leaving the elementary school. I just smiled and headed inside.

To tell the truth, I really wanted to stall, to decide what to do next. Somehow, I’d hoped this summer was going to be different from all the others. Maybe Gloria was right. Maybe we did live in a hick town.

When I stepped into the senior high girl’s bathroom, my stomach churned at the sight. The whole area looked like a crazy person had come through throwing paper towels and bits of toilet paper everywhere. Who had done it? Mavis crossed my mind, but one person couldn’t create this much damage in a quick trip to the bathroom. This mess seemed like a premeditated attack or maybe a misguided attempt to celebrate the end of school.

Suddenly, I wanted to wash my hands, but at the first sink, a pukey
feeling crawled inside my throat at the sight of a large chunk of gooey caramel nestled by the drain. On the mirror above the sink, a large blob of bright pink lipstick formed a grotesque kiss on the glass, blurring the strange dark eyes glaring back at me. In fact, as I studied my image in the mirror, my eyes seemed bloodshot. Maybe it was the lipstick. I frowned at my limp bangs and pale face and decided I’d better get out of there before my lunch came up.

As I stepped outside, the air felt warm and still. Several dark clouds swept across the sky. One cloud hovered over a small pecan grove nearby. Maybe we were in for a storm. The thought of cooling rain cheered me up as I headed back toward the hill.

When I reached the front of the elementary building to get my
bike, Mr. Boyd and Mavis were still nowhere in sight, even though the black pickup remained across the street.

Maybe the couple I’d seen wasn’t them after all. Maybe the creepy man had kidnapped that little girl and planned to take her who knew where. Right then, I decided to squelch the scary thoughts and go home.

As I rode past the high school and football field, my mind flashed back to Mr. Boyd’s No Trespassing sign. I remembered Rand and Iriding our bikes down by the lumberyard in the spring. Once we almost crossed his fence, but we chickened out.

When I got even with Corley’s cotton field, two things happened. It
started to sprinkle, and I was aware of something behind me. I hugged the left side of the road and peddled a little faster. A flash of lightening sliced the sky.

Just then, I saw our dog, Splendid, running toward me. She must have wondered why I wasn’t home yet, so she’d come searching for me. The minute she spotted the bike, she hesitated and started wagging her tail. I braked quickly, hoping to tell her to wait. But it didn’t happen. She bounded out into the road. I glanced behind me, recognized the pickup just as Splendid crossed, and yelled, “Stop!”

Then I heard the sound of brakes squealing, and I saw a splotch of blue denim overalls as the driver’s door flew open.

“Git that flea-bitten dog off the road!” the man yelled, stepping into the rain.

The pickup door blocked my view, and I couldn’t see Splendid. Was she okay? I threw my bike into the last thin row of cotton and ran. Half-sitting, half-lying in the middle of the road, Splendid looked limp. I didn’t see any blood, and she didn’t whimper. Then, as I bent over, her tail thumped the gravel. I prayed the rain would stop.

“Did you hit her?” I yelled over my shoulder, my teeth clenched.

“Naw, I didn’t hit the dumb dog, but you’d better git her out of
here before I do.”

Splendid gazed up at me with such sad eyes. I started to pick her up, but then I heard someone say, “She good dog. I touch her?”

The first thing I saw was scuffed white patent shoes, like the kind I wear on Sundays. But these shoes were dingy and definitely too tight for the thick feet they encased. I kept my hand on Splendid as my eyes traveled up the child’s body. I recognized the dress I’d seen in the window but now it hung on her like an old sheet thrown over a chair. And then her face. Flat nose. Blank eyes. Stringy blond hair.

The rain stopped.

Quickly, I turned back to Splendid because I felt her lick my hand.
She carefully staggered to her feet and wagged her tail.

“Are you all right, girl?” Splendid wagged some more. “Are you just
scared?”

“Hug her?” the child asked.

“No, Mavis, the dog might have mange.” The overalls moved forward toward the child.

“My dog does not have mange.” I gave the monster my best stare.

“We took her to the doctor for her shots two weeks ago. She is in perfect
health.”

“Perfect health until she gits killed. You’d better keep her off the
road.” He grabbed Mavis and pushed her toward the truck. “Get back
inside, Mavis.”

But Mavis balked, giving Splendid a longing look. “Touch?”

“Yes,” I whispered. “You may touch.” I met Boyd’s eyes as if to say, Don’t you dare try to stop her. A peculiar odor, or taste, seemed to hang in the air around Mr. Boyd, but I decided it must be my own sour stomach.

Mavis hesitated. Then, like a toddler reaching for an ornament on the Christmas tree, she ran her flat palm across Splendid’s head. Splendid must have sensed her need and licked her arm.

“He like me,” she said, nodding her head like a rag doll. “I had cat,
but he gone.”

“Of course he likes you. You are a sweet girl.”

“I sweet girl?”

“Yes,” I said, “I’m sure you are.”

“It’s time to go, Mavis.” Boyd adjusted the strap on his overalls and
pointed. “Get back in the truck.”

“I go now. Bye, dog.”

On a sudden impulse, Mavis reached down and patted Splendid again, but since Mr. Boyd was already holding the passenger side door open, I don’t think he noticed.

Splendid and I waited on the roadside by my bike as he cranked up. Without looking at me again, he pulled away, and I watched Mavis turn in her seat. I raised my hand at the last minute, and I saw her hand flutter just like it had done outside our fifth grade window.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!






Today's Wild Card author is:


and her book:


A Bride so Fair

Barbour Publishing, Inc. (April 1, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



CAROL COX is a native of Arizona, whose time is devoted to being a pastor's wife, mom to her grown son, and a home-school teacher to her daughter, church pianist, and youth worker. She loves anything that she can do with her family: reading, traveling, historical studies, and outdoor excursions. She is also open to new pursuits on her own, including genealogy research, crafts, and the local historical society. She plans to write more historical inspirational romance, in which her goals are to encourage Christian readers with entertaining and uplifting stories and to pique the interests of non-Christians who might read her novels.

Other Novels by Carol:

Fair Game, Ticket to Tomorrow, Land of Promise, Golden Gate Gazette-Love and Suspense Make Headlines in Historic San Francisco


Visit her at her website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

SEPTEMBER 1893


Stop, thief!”  The commanding bellow cut through the pleas-ant chatter of the crowds strolling the grounds of the World’s Columbian Exposition.

Emily Ralston shielded her eyes against the noonday sun and scanned the gaily dressed fairgoers on Government Plaza, trying to spot the source of the commotion.

A lanky youth burst through a cluster of women and children on the far side of the plaza, scattering them like tenpins. Shrill exclamations followed him as he bolted past the ladies to the middle of the open area, where he slowed and glanced quickly from one end of its broad expanse to the other.

A stocky man in shirtsleeves charged through the same group, evoking more outraged squawks. He stopped short, gasping like a winded horse while he scanned the crowd.

“Hey, you!” he bellowed and started off in hot pursuit of the boy. In his haste, he collided with a young matron holding a small girl in her arms, nearly toppling them to the ground. The man halted long enough to steady the pair, although the infuriated look he cast in the boy’s direction showed his longing to continue the chase.

At the man’s angry shout, the fleeing youth looked over his shoulder and picked up speed. Emily saw him snap his hand to one side and watched a paper container arc through the air and disappear behind a potted palm.

Emily recognized the signs of someone doing something he shouldn’t. She balanced on the balls of her feet, poised for action. She could never keep up with the long-legged adolescent if she tried to follow him across the fairgrounds, but there was more than one way to foil a troublemaker.

The boy changed course and pounded across the pavement in her direction. Emily smiled. She waited until the last instant before he reached the spot where she stood then stepped into his path.

“Stop right there!” she demanded.

The boy’s eyes flared wide when he saw her blocking his escape. His feet scrambled for purchase as he veered abruptly to the right. Just as he passed, Emily darted forward and nabbed him by the ear.

“Ow!” The lad looked down at Emily with an astonished expression. “Leggo my ear!” He made as if to wrench himself out of her grasp, but a quick twist of her wrist brought him to his knees.

Emily allowed herself a brief moment of smugness. It wasn’t the first time she had been victorious against an opponent larger than herself. Growing up at the Collier Children’s Home had given her plenty of time to learn how to equalize a difference in size.

The stocky man raced up to them, puffing like a steam engine. “Thank you, miss,” he gasped. “That was quite a catch.”

Taking command of Emily’s captive, he seized the boy by his upper arm and jerked him to his feet. “Where are the goods you stole, you young guttersnipe?”

The look of alarm slid off the boy’s face, to be replaced by a cocky grin. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Of course not,” the man mocked. “Why were you running, if you hadn’t just stolen a package of Cracker Jacks right off the counter of my stand?”

Emily felt her jaw go slack. Cracker Jacks? She had risked her own safety for nothing more than a container of the new popcorn, peanuts, and molasses confection?

Looking more confident by the second, the boy shook his head. “I was just walking along, and you started shouting and chasing me.” He shrugged. “I thought you must be crazy. No one could blame me for running when someone so much bigger than me was on my tail.”

His captor looked at Emily with a glint of humor shining in his eyes. “It doesn’t look to me like it takes all that much in the way of size to get you under control.” His grin faded, and he gave the boy a shake. “Now where are the Cracker Jacks you stole?”

The boy shrugged again. “I’m telling you, you’ve got the wrong person.”

Emily broke into the exchange. “Then what was that I saw you throw away?”

The youth paled, and the vendor turned his attention back to Emily. “You saw him throw something?”

“Behind that potted palm over there.” Emily walked briskly toward the plant and reached behind it, retrieving a paper package that rattled when she shook it. She returned to the waiting pair and held out the parcel. “Is this what you’re looking for?”

The man took it with a grateful smile. “Thank you, miss. I’ll be obliged if you’ll stay around until I summon one of the Columbian Guards so you can tell him what you saw.”

Emily shook her head. “I’m sorry. I work at the Children’s Building here on the fairgrounds, and my lunch break is nearly over.” From deep within the massive Manufactures Building, she heard the clock in its alabaster tower chime the three-quarter hour. If she wanted to keep her job, she’d better get back to work and look sharp about it.

The man’s face fell. “If you don’t, it will be my word against his. I left my nephew watching my stand so I could catch this young rascal, and who knows what kind of mess he’ll have made of things by the time I get back? The least you can do is help me out.”

Emily wavered. Her supervisor took a decidedly dim view of tardiness, but the smug expression on the boy’s face decided her. “All right, but only for a moment.”

It took far longer than that for the guard to finish taking
her statement. With the thanks of the vendor ringing in her ears, she set off once more toward the Children’s Building. In the distance, she heard a clock chiming the hour.

“Oh no.” She glanced from side to side, taking note of the throngs of people dotting the broad walkways. None of them seemed to be paying a bit of attention to her. Taking heart from this, Emily hiked up the hem of her skirt, planted her hand on top of her hat to keep it from blowing off, and sprinted headlong across the plaza, paying scant attention to the gleaming white buildings as she raced over the bridges spanning the lagoon to the Wooded Island and then to the far shore. From there, a quick dash put her at the front of the Children’s Building.

She slumped against the outer door with one palm pressed against her heaving chest. When she managed to catch her breath, she pushed the arched door open and stepped inside. If she could assume her seat behind the reception desk before—

“Your lunch hour ended precisely three minutes ago.”

Emily skidded to a halt and turned to face the gaunt woman standing against the opposite wall. “I’m sorry, Miss Strickland. I—”

“If you plan to continue working here, Miss Ralston, I would suggest you make it a point to be punctual.” Her supervisor’s cold stare left no doubt about her disapproval.

“Of course, ma’am.” Emily ordered her knees to quit shaking and tried her best to appear composed as she hung her straw boater on the hat rack and walked toward her desk. Lucy Welch, her blue eyes shining with sympathy, rose from the heavy wooden chair to let Emily take her seat.

Emily cast a grateful look at her friend; then she turned to bestow a wobbly smile upon the woman and boy who stood waiting in front of her desk. “How may I help you?”

“Could we finish here, please?” The young matron tapped her foot and looked daggers at Emily. “I would much rather be outside viewing the fair instead of waiting for you all to sort yourselves out. I’m not certain I want to leave Alexander here if this is any indication of the competency of your staff.”

At the edge of her vision, Emily saw Miss Strickland’s rigid posture grow even more erect. She fumbled with the heavy black book that lay open on her desk. “I apologize for the delay. I wouldn’t have been late, except—”

“Excuses are unacceptable.” Miss Strickland’s harsh voice broke in. “I don’t tolerate tardiness for any reason.”

Emily clamped her lips shut to hold back the explanation she longed to give. She ought to have known better than to tarry long enough to give the Columbian Guard her version of what had transpired, but she couldn’t find it within herself to let that boy get away with stealing the vendor’s merchandise.

She looked up at the boy’s mother and forced a smile. “If you’ll just give me some information, I’ll check Alexander in and you can be on your way.” She entered his name and his mother’s in the ledger then pinned a numbered tag to the boy’s back and handed his mother a claim check bearing the same number. “Please keep this in a safe place. You’ll need it when you come back to pick up your son. Miss Welch will take Alexander to the gymnasium. I’m sure he’ll enjoy that.”

She beckoned to Lucy, who had been hovering in the back-ground, then turned back to the boy’s mother. “Enjoy your time on the grounds. He will be well cared for.”

Looking somewhat mollified, the woman slipped the ticket into her reticule and turned to leave. Just before she reached the door, it swung open. A man in the uniform of the Columbian Guards smiled and held it open for her; then he stepped inside. His glance wavered between Miss Strickland and Emily before he approached the reception desk.

She stared up at him, panicking at the thought that her attempt to do the right thing was going to cause her even more difficulty. “I already told the other guard everything I know.”

Miss Strickland raised her eyebrows and moved toward the desk with a firm stride. “Bad enough to be tardy. What other trouble have you gotten yourself into?”

“It’s no trouble of this young lady’s making.” The guard stepped to one side, and Emily realized a small boy encased in a heavy woolen coat stood behind him. The tall guard lifted the toddler into his arms and smoothed the boy’s tousled blond hair. A smile lifted the corners of his dark mustache when the boy sniffled and snuggled against his shoulder.

Then he turned the smile on Emily, and she felt as if a giant vacuum had sucked all the air out of the room. She stared open-mouthed until Miss Strickland prodded her between her shoulder blades. Emily sat bolt upright and felt her face flame. “How may I help you?”

Before the guard could respond, Miss Strickland leaned toward Emily and looked her straight in the eye. “I expect a high degree of professionalism from you, Miss Ralston. Your attitude reflects on the entire staff of the Children’s Building. Please keep that in mind.” Her heels clacked against the floor as she crossed the open court that occupied the center of the building and disappeared down one of the side corridors.

Emily drew her first easy breath since the larcenous boy had crossed her path. She knew perfectly well what she had to do, and she could do it much better without her supervisor looking over her shoulder. She nodded a greeting at a couple who entered with two small children in tow then turned back to the waiting guard.

“I’m sorry for the interruption. What can I do for you?”

The dark-haired guard hiked the child higher on his shoulder. “This little fellow seems to have lost his family.”

Emily took a closer look at the little boy, noting the tear streaks on his cheeks. He couldn’t be more than three years old. She felt her heart go out to him. Standing to put herself on a level with the child, she adopted a cheerful tone. “We have lots of things for you to do until we find your parents. Would you like to stay here while this nice man tries to find them?”

The youngster buried his face in the guard’s neck and shook his head. “I want Mama.”

Emily swallowed hard. She reached up to rub his back with a gentle touch. “What’s your name?”

The boy sniffled again then raised his head and looked at her. “Adam.”

“All right, Adam.” At least he was old enough to tell her that much. Emily turned toward the desk and pulled the ledger over to her. “I’ll write your name down here in this book, and then a friend of mine will come to take you to a room with lots of toys. You can play with them until your mama comes for you. Doesn’t that sound nice?”

Adam rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. Emily could see his lower lip quiver.

She dipped the pen in the inkwell and wrote “Adam” on the next blank line. She hesitated a moment with the pen poised in the air. “Do you know your last name?”

Adam shook his head.

“Do you know your mama’s real name?”

He gave the same response.

The guard drew nearer and said in a low voice, “Some people found him over by the north bandstand. When the performance was over, everybody walked away but this little guy.”

The father who had just entered with his family stepped forward. “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but overhear. I thought I recognized the boy. My family stopped to hear the performance at the bandstand, too. We saw his mother leave. I thought at the time it was awfully peculiar for her to go away and let such a young child stay there on his own.”

The guard turned an intense gaze on the man. “You saw her leave?”

“That’s right. In a hurry, too. She was practically running.”

“Could you give me a description?” The guard set Adam down beside Emily, and the two men moved a few feet away.

Emily checked the couple’s children in, half her attention on the task at hand, the other half focused on the story the father told while the guard made notes in a little notebook he pulled from his pocket.

“She was a nice-looking woman,” the man said. “Blond hair, dark blue dress.”

“With a gored skirt and a lovely shirred bodice,” his wife put in. “Very up-to-date. Her hat was trimmed with matching silk ribbon and ostrich feathers.”

Her husband chuckled. “Trust a woman to notice all the details of fashion.”

Emily handed two claim checks to the children’s mother and rang the small brass bell on her desk to summon Lucy.

Lucy appeared a moment later and gave all three children a bright smile. “Are you ready to come with me?” She bent to take Adam’s hand, but Emily motioned her away.

“Just those two for now,” she said. “Come back in a few minutes, and I’ll explain.”

The couple took their leave of their children. “We’ll be back when your mother has worn me out seeing all the exhibits she’s interested in,” their father joked.

When the door closed behind them, the guard walked over and knelt beside Adam. “I’ll go out and look for your mother now. You can stay here with Miss. . .” He looked up at Emily.

“Ralston,” she supplied.

“Miss Ralston.” He gave her another one of those smiles that made her stomach do flip-flops. “She’ll make sure the people here take good care of you.”

The little boy’s chin wobbled, but he turned to Emily and placed his hand in hers. “Hello, Miss Rost—Ralt—”

Emily smiled down at him. “Why don’t you call me Miss Emily?”

Adam nodded, his expression solemn. “Miss Em’ly,” he re-peated. His quick acceptance sent a rush of maternal feelings through her.

“Why don’t we take off your coat?” she suggested. “It’s lovely weather today, and I think you’ll feel much better without it. I’ll make sure we keep it safe so you don’t lose it, all right?”

Adam hesitated then allowed her to pull the heavy coat off. Emily bit her lip at the sight of the sailor suit he wore, with its middy blouse and knee pants. This child was just too precious for words!

While she tried to make Adam more comfortable, the guard left to go search for the child’s parents. A moment later, Lucy hurried back into the reception area. “What was it you couldn’t tell me before?”

“You’ll have to wait a little longer,” Emily told her. “Adam, this is Miss Lucy. She’ll take you to those toys I told you about.”

The little boy studied Lucy then reached out to take the hand she extended and toddled off beside her.

Free of responsibility for the moment, Emily propped her elbow on the desk and rested her cheek on her palm. She stared at the front door, lost in thought.

“He is a handsome fellow, isn’t he?” Lucy’s voice came from right behind her.

Startled out of her reverie, Emily jerked upright and banged her elbow on the edge of the desk. She yelped and glared at Lucy.

“Sorry.” Lucy’s unrepentant grin belied the sincerity of her apology. “I didn’t mean to make you jump. . .that much, at least.” Her grin faded. “And I truly am sorry about what happened with Miss Strickland. I tried to cover for you when I saw you were late, but she came in and caught me at it.” She wrinkled her nose. “I should have known it wouldn’t work.”

Emily sighed. “It’s all right. It was my fault for not being back on time. I knew Miss Strickland wouldn’t be happy about it, but she positively glared at me!” She rubbed her sore elbow and winced. “I hope she doesn’t fire me. I don’t want to lose the first job I ever had.”

“First paying job, you mean. You’ve been a hard worker ever since I’ve known you. And don’t worry about Miss Strickland. Did you know she has already gone through six receptionists in the four months the fair has been going on? I got that from Ruthie Lawson in the Day Nursery.” She looked over her shoulder and lowered her voice. “And they weren’t all fired by Miss Strickland, either. Some of them got so fed up with her demanding ways that they up and left. People just don’t do that on a whim, as hard as jobs are to find these days.”

“But that’s my point. People are hungry for jobs right now. She knows she doesn’t have to keep me here.”

Lucy snorted. “Listen to me. While you’re sitting here checking children in and out of the building all day, I have a chance to talk to the other employees. You are the best receptionist they’ve had yet. Everyone says so.”

Emily hoped her friend was right. The thought of losing her job was always an underlying fear. With the silver crash, masses of people were unemployed, making it harder than ever to find work. But even if jobs were as plentiful as the sand on the shores of Lake Michigan, she would hate to leave the Children’s Building. Providing a safe, nurturing place for children to play and learn while their parents saw the fair was a task she could embrace with her whole being, and taking part in such a worthwhile endeavor filled her with immense satisfaction.

She had to admit that Lucy was usually right in her assessment of any gossip she managed to overhear. Maybe she could relax. . . just a little, anyway.

Something pulled on her sleeve, and she realized Lucy was shaking her arm.

Emily blinked. “Did you say something?”

“Back in dreamland again?” Her friend sighed then took on the air of a patient teacher. “I said you never answered my question about the guard. Don’t you think he’s handsome?”

Emily reached for a stack of papers. “I suppose so. I didn’t really notice.”

Lucy snorted again. “Of course you didn’t.” She moved toward the back of the building. “Call me when you need me.”

The front door swung open again, and Emily whirled around, wondering if the guard had accomplished his mission so quickly. Her heart sank when she saw the slender man who stood before her dressed in a double-breasted serge jacket and flannel trousers.

“And how is my favorite receptionist today?”

Emily pressed her lips together and didn’t answer. She watched as Raymond Willard Simmons III crossed the floor with a swagger that reminded her of a strutting peacock.

What would it take to make him quit stopping by? Emily dreaded his unannounced visits almost as much as she dreaded arousing Miss Strickland’s ire. If only she could tell him to leave her alone! But Raymond’s father was one of the fair administrators, and upsetting Mr. Simmons would upset Miss Strickland. That was something Emily did not intend to do by choice.

She tried to arrange her features in a pleasant expression while Raymond pulled a paper bag from behind his back like a magician producing a dove from his hat.

“Something to satisfy your sweet tooth.” He set the bag on Emily’s desk with a flourish. When she made no move toward the gift, he opened the bag and withdrew a caramel, holding it out for her inspection. “From one of the finest candy makers in Chicago. I hope that when you enjoy them, you’ll think of me.”

Emily kept her smile in place, though what she would really enjoy doing was telling him never to darken the door of the Children’s Building again. “Thank you, Mr. Simmons.”

His broad smile drooped. “I thought we agreed we knew each other well enough to use our Christian names. Aren’t you going to call me Ray? That’s what my family calls me. . . and my closest friends.” He said the last few words in an intimate whisper that was probably intended to make her heart melt. She ground her teeth instead.

“It really wouldn’t be proper.” Emily put all the primness she could muster into the statement.

Raymond moved closer and rested his elbows on the desk, putting his face on a level with hers. “Perhaps that’s true here at the fairgrounds, where my father and I are seen as leaders. But away from the workplace, I see no reason to maintain such formality.” He moved his hand toward hers. Emily immediately began straightening the papers on her desk.

Raymond didn’t appear to notice the slight. “What about going to dinner with me tonight? It’s time you got away from the fairgrounds and that dreary boardinghouse and saw something of Chicago. We could eat at the Palmer House—”

“Without a chaperone? That would hardly sit well with your family, would it? What would they think if word got back to them that you had been seen in public with a young lady they’ve never met?”

Raymond’s face fell, and Emily knew she had scored a hit. His position as a member of one of Chicago’s leading families meant everything to him, and he would do nothing to bring about his parents’ disapproval or to risk their social standing.

Three couples entered and formed a line behind Raymond. Emily lifted her chin and tried to look as businesslike as possible. “I really must get back to work, Mr. Simmons.”

Raymond straightened and gave her a sour look. He opened his mouth as if to say more but settled for a nod and exited, leaving Emily free to enter names and distribute claim checks.

Alone once again, Emily tapped a stack of papers against the desk to square their edges then set them neatly in the upper left-hand corner of her desk. Spotting the bag of caramels Raymond had left, she set it in her bottom desk drawer, out of sight. She didn’t want Miss Strickland to find things in less than perfect order.

While she continued to straighten her work area, her mind turned back to the little boy the guard had brought in. There was nothing unusual about one of the Columbian Guards bringing a lost child to the Children’s Building—it had happened several times already in the two weeks she’d worked there. But something about that little tyke tugged at her heartstrings.

If she could feel such a connection toward a child she had just met, his mother must be frantic. Emily paused in the act of scooping up an armload of file folders. A frown tightened her forehead. Why would anyone go off and leave a child that age alone? And to leave in such a hurry, practically running, the man who witnessed it had said.

She pulled open the file drawer and slid the folders into their places. A woman running through the crowded fairgrounds would be unusual enough to draw notice from any number of people.

Emily wrinkled her nose. She had probably drawn a fair amount of notice herself with her undignified dash across the plaza earlier.