Posted by: rcwriter | May 20, 2009

Chat with Shelley Adina

Event: Chat live with Shelley Adina, author of the All About Us series and Anne Dayton & May Vanderbilt authors of the Miracle Girls series.

When: Friday, May 22, 11:00am

Where: blog talk radio

This looks to be a very fun event. I’m going to try and make it there myself. Hope to see you then.

Remember: Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of the All About Us Series, books 1-4

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Posted by: rcwriter | May 19, 2009

“Fruit of My Lipstick”–My Review

Today I’m focusing on book 2 of the All About Us Series, The Fruit of My Lipstick. This book is nominated for a 2009 Christy Award. It’s a fantastic story with a great message. Remember, if you leave a comment, you’ll have a chance to win a set of the All About Us Series, Books 1-4. This would be a great middle school graduation gift.

The Fruit of My Lipstick

Shelley Adina

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (August 11, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446177970
ISBN-13: 978-0446177979

With the past behind them, Gillian, Lissa and Carly return to Spenser Academy for another term. Gillian wants nothing more than to focus on her studies so her parents will be pleased. There’s only one problem with that, and his name is Lucas. He’s smart, adorable, and shares her faith. Focusing on her studies becomes more difficult as Lucas demands more of her time. He even becomes a source of contention between her and her friends.

When the school’s staff becomes aware that exams are being sold, Gillian becomes a prime suspect. Now she must rely on her faith, as well as mend friendships, while she exposes the real cheater before she’s expelled.

This is as wonderful as the first book in the series. Again, Shelley Adina makes the grade while she shows the youth of today how to persevere through trials. How standing strong with only your faith isn’t the easiest task in the world, and how the right friends make all the difference. This is a book that all high school girls should read.

Favs (without spoilers):
Character—Definitely Shani. To some degree, I could see myself.
Part—When her friends stand up in her defense.
Dislikes:
Character—Source 10, I hate cheaters
Part—Angel Island. Completely disrespectful (the jerk)
Posted by: rcwriter | May 19, 2009

Featured Author–Shelley Adina

**Don’t forget to leave a comment on this post. You’ll be entered for a chance to win a set of the All About Us Series, Books 1-4. **

Hi all,

This month for The Sandbox Festival, I have the wonderful Shelley Adina. She has a fascinating series out right now, All About Us.  I recently had the chance to ask her some questions, and found out some fun things about her.

RC: Shelley, thanks for allowing me to interview you. I’ve really enjoyed the All About Us series. The message is timely and entertaining.

SA: Thanks, Rhonda! It’s always fun to talk with someone who “gets” what I’m trying to say with the books. So let’s kick back and get comfortable—I’m looking forward to this!

RC: Teens can be a tough audience. What made you decide to write teen books?

SA: I remember vividly what it was like to be a teenager, with all its highs and lows, drama and secrets, uncertainty and passion. And while a lot of people say they hated high school, reading about it can be cathartic. I think this is why YA is so popular among adult readers, both in books and in movies. They want to go back and have it turn out “right” this time, even if it’s for someone else. Personally, I began to get a clue when I realized that YA was my favorite genre of movies: Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, 10 Things I Hate About You, Saved!, Twilight, High School Musical. So once I figured that out, I realized I could take all that emotion—which, let’s face it, is still there inside us, deep underneath—and channel it into the reader’s experience. It could be a universal point of connection.

When I was a teenager, I belonged to a toxic church that required us to wear our hair up in FLDS-like buns and our hems halfway to our ankles. We weren’t allowed to watch TV or go to the movies. Makeup, dancing, jewelry, and dating outside the church were forbidden. You can imagine the misery of going to a suburban high school under those circumstances. With the All About Us books, I get to relive my teen years vicariously through my characters—with a Platinum Visa and designer clothes.

RC: Yeah, and living vicariously means you don’t have to pay the Platinum Visa bill. Too bad you can’t have the clothes. What inspired you to write the All About Us series?

SA: I was eavesdrop—er, I mean, shopping one day, and overheard some women talking about their daughters’ reading material, which happened to be in the boarding-school genre. I could tell by their voices how distressed they were about it—yet their girls were reading. We all want kids to be reading, right? A light went on in my head and I thought, “What if there was a series of books where, given similar choices and circumstances, the characters made different decisions based on their faith?” I went straight home and began to outline the first book.

RC: Can you tell us what you have planned after the series?

SA: I’m bouncing between a craft-based series (costuming and sewing) and a steampunk trilogy. Both have me really jazzed because they’re based on things I love. Can you imagine doing a steampunk booksigning? I’ve already made the historical costumes for it. And got the goggles. All I need now is a contract!

RC: Both of those sound fun. Steampunk? That really is an original idea, but I’d expect nothing less from you. I know you wrote your first novel at 13. At what age did you know you were a writer?

SA: I was eight. I’d written a composition about a ghost in a graveyard and my teacher (bless you, Miss Gilstein, wherever you are) wrote on it about how I’d scared her. At that moment I realized you could affect someone’s emotions with the words you wrote, and I was hooked.

RC: Congratulations on your Christy nomination. What was it like to find out you were a finalist?

SA: I think I screamed. They told me two weeks before it was to be publicly announced, but I was sworn to secrecy. Oh boy, was it hard to keep my mouth shut and not trumpet it all over the place! Then, I went down to Dallas for the Christian Book Expo and was there for the official announcement, sitting with a group of my friends who had no idea. I think they screamed when The Fruit of My Lipstick went up on the screen. Such fun!

RC: That would have been a hard secret for me to keep, too. What other writing awards have you won?

SA: I won the Romance Writers of America RITA Award for one of my inspirational women’s fiction novels in 2005, written under my married name. That was another thrilling moment! No screaming, however—I had to give an acceptance speech in front of a thousand people and four TV networks and I was too scared!

RC: If you didn’t write, what else would you do?

SA: :: pauses to think ::

Wow. Um. Well, my day job is as a marketing communications editor, so I would probably do that. But life would certainly have a great big hole in it. I can’t imagine not writing. It’s something that just . . . comes out, whether a person is published or not. Writers must write. That’s the bottom line.

RC: I understand about the need to write. It’s something that I have to do also. If I don’t let it out, it starts clogging up my soul. I know you like to travel. What place do you want to visit, but haven’t?

SA: New Zealand. I want to find out for myself if there are really elves and hobbits there.

RC: :chuckles: I don’t think you’ll find any elves or hobbits, but it would be fun searching for them. I have a couple of friends in New Zealand, maybe we could get a trip together and have them serve as tour guides?

We actually have something in common. I love handbags, and am known for them. Which brand do you prefer? Which of your collection is your favorite?

SA: Oooooh, have you seen the Valentino “Petale” satchel? Siigghhhh. I can’t afford it, but I like to look at it. And touch it. And maybe try it on. And then carefully put it back before the saleslady picks up the phone to call Security.

Okay, back to reality. I love my Kate Spade computer tote, and this summer I’ll be traveling with a Coach “business bag.” It looks like a purse, but it holds everything I normally carry, plus my computer, a pair of shoes, and my booksigning kit! I swear the thing was made just for me. 🙂

RC: I haven’t seen that bag, but I’m going to check it out. My favorites are Beijo, and Fossil.  Now tell me about some of your other favorites. Author?

SA: only one? Can I have just a couple more? Like Connie Willis, Jane Austen, Troon Harrison, and M.L. Tyndall?

RC: Book?

SA: same problem. How about Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher, and anything by L.M. Montgomery. Oh, and Kristin Hannah’s True Colors. That was a knockout.

RC: Actor?

SA: Jensen Ackles, Colin Firth, and Nathan Fillion.

RC: Movie?

SA: the Colin version of Pride and Prejudice, hands down. Oh, and Serenity. And Star Wars: A New Hope. And both The X-Files movies. Oh, okay. Stopping now.

Thanks, Rhonda, for inviting me over to chat. Care for another latte while I’m up?

RC: This has been fun. Thanks for answering my questions. Thanks for the latte.

Posted by: rcwriter | May 14, 2009

FIRST Wildcard–“On The Run”

Rhonda’s Review: Elijah has a very special gift that’s made he and his family a kidnap target by a sinister man. Once his special gift is discovered by the media, his family is quickly found by the bad guys. The kids are separated from their parents and must set out on their own to find them.

On The Run is a fast paced, intriguing story. The bumbling bad guys reminded me of the Home Alone movies. Any tween will be comfortable reading this book. It’s enough action to get them interested and keep them reading. Boys will especially enjoy the Elijah Project Series. This is a great investment in Summer reading, and the price won’t break your wallet.

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

On the Run-book 1 in new series: The Elijah Project

Zonderkidz (May 1, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Bill Myers is a bestselling author and award-winning writer/director whose work has won forty national and international awards. His books and videos have sold eight million copies and include such titles as The Seeing, Eli, The Voice, My Life as…series, and McGee and Me.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $4.99
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Zonderkidz (May 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310711932
ISBN-13: 978-0310711933
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“Beginnings …”

Zach Dawkins headed for the schools.

“Schools” as in the high school, junior high, and elementary school that were all lined up side by side on the same street. “Death Row,” he called it.

Zach was pretty good looking—sixteen with dark hair that stuck out in so many directions it looked like it got cut by a lawnmower gone berserk. It’s not that Zack was sloppy … he just had better things to do than worry about his looks—especially when he was late for school, which was like every day.

Zach wasn’t exactly the responsible type.

Unfortunately, Piper, his thirteen-year-old sister, was.

It seemed her job was to remember everything Zach and the rest of her family forgot. Like her brother, she was good-looking (though you couldn’t convince her of that). She had these chocolate brown eyes that were incredible … but you had to work hard to find them beneath all that hair she hid under.

Piper was a bit on the self-conscious side.

At the moment, she was trying to keep up with Zach while also shouting back to her little brother. “Elijah, come on, hurry up!”

As usual, six-year-old Elijah dragged behind them. Nothing new there. The guy was always lost in his own world and he hardly, if ever, talked. Piper loved him fiercely and she always looked out for him.

But there was no getting around it—the kid was weird.

“Come on,” she called. “We’re going to be late!”

Elijah nodded and then immediately slowed to watch a butterfly.

Piper blew the hair out of her eyes and stopped with her hands on her hips. “Elijah … ” She was about to traipse back and get him when she heard Zach use that voice he reserved only for making her life miserable.

“Well, well, lookie here …”

With a certain dread she turned to her older brother … and cringed.

Cody Martin, the all-school heartthrob, walked just across the street. He was tall with deep blue eyes and a smile that literally made it hard for Piper to breathe. Of course he didn’t know her from Adam, or Eve, but that didn’t stop her from pulling up her sweatshirt hood or ducking further under her hair whenever he was around.

Unfortunately, she had stupidly asked her brother about him when the two had played baseball together. And that was all the ammunition Zach needed.

“Look who’s across the street,” he teased.

“Who?” Piper asked, trying to sound bored. “Oh, you mean Cody. What do I care?”

“Yeah, right,” Zach snorted. “So you don’t mind if I call him over?”

Suddenly her heart was in her throat. “Zach!”

With a sly grin, he shouted, “Yo, Cody. What’s up?”

Cody turned and spotted them. “Hey … Zach?” Then, nodding to Piper, he added, “How’s it going, Patty?”

“Piper,” Zach corrected.

She turned away, whispering between her teeth. “Zach!”

“What?” Cody asked him.

“My sister’s name, it’s Piper. Actually, it’s Naomi Sue, but if you don’t want her to beat the tar out of you, I’d stick with Piper.”

“Gottcha,” Cody grinned.

Zach turned to her and whispered, “So do you want me to call him over?”

“Please, no!” She begged.

“Then you admit you’ve got a crush on him?”

“No, I just—”

He turned back to Cody and yelled. “So, Cody—”

“Yeah?”

“Alright,” Piper whispered, “Alright, I admit it!”

Zach grinned. “Nothing. Just wondering if you were going to play ball this spring.”

“Probably. You?”

“Yeah, probably.”

“Cool.” Then, spotting a geeky, overweight friend, Cody speeded up to join him. “Take care.”

“Right,” Zach called.

“You, too … Piper.”

Piper’s head snapped up to him. The only thing more startling than hearing him speak her name was the grin he flashed her before moving on.

He had grinned …. at … her.

Suddenly Piper’s hood was up, her hair was down … and her knees were just a little wobbly.

It wasn’t until she heard Zach snicker that she came to earth and turned on him. “Is it your goal to be the jerkiest brother on the face of the planet?” She demanded.

Zach laughed. “It’s not a goal. It’s a duty.”

She blew the hair out of her eyes. Looking back to their little brother she called, “Elijah, please hurry!”

Elijah came to attention and ran toward them. That’s when Piper noticed the KWIT-TV news van heading up the street.

So did Zach—which explained him immediately waving and shouting. “Hey, TV news guys! Over here. Check me out. You’re next TV star is right here!”

Piper gave another sigh. What was God thinking when he made older brothers?

Suddenly, she noticed a small Cocker Spaniel puppy running into the street in front of them. It was followed by a little girl, probably in kindergarten.

Neither of them saw the car coming from the opposite direction.

“Watch it!” Piper shouted.

The little girl looked up but was too late.

The car hit the brakes, tires screeching. Its right front wheel ran over the dog with a sickening K-Thump while the front bumper hit the little girl. It knocked her hard to the ground causing the back of her head to slam onto the concrete.

Neither the girl nor the dog moved.

The shaken driver opened his car door and slowly stepped out. The crossing guard, who had seen the whole thing, began running toward them. And the news van had jerked to a stop with the woman reporter now leaping out.

“Get the camera rolling!” She called over her shoulder.

“I’m on it!” the cameraman shouted just behind her.

Students quickly gathered, pressing in around the car and little girl. By the time Zach and Piper arrived, the crossing guard was already shouting, “Stand back! Give her air! Everybody, stand back!”

Piper glance around for her little brother, but he was no where to be found.

“Elijah?” She called. “Elijah?”

She turned to Zach but he was too busy trying to get a look at the girl to pay attention.

“Elijah!”

The news crew pushed past them for a closer shot.

“Hey, check it out,” the reporter pointed. But she wasn’t pointing at the little girl. She had noticed something across the crowd and on the other side of the street.

Piper followed her gaze to see … Elijah.

He sat on the curb holding the dead puppy. But instead of crying, his lips quietly moved—almost like he was whispering to it. And then, to Piper’s astonishment, the puppy began to move. A little at first, but it soon began wiggling, squirming, and even lifting up its head to lick Elijah’s face.

“Did you see that?” The reporter cried.

“I’ve got it!” The cameraman shouted.

“It’s like he healed it or something!” She exclaimed.

With a grin, Elijah set the dog down. It began jumping and running around like it had never been hurt.

“Get in closer,” the reporter ordered. “I’m going to talk to him.”

Only then did Piper realize what she had to do. “Elijah!” She brushed past the reporter and raced for her little brother. “Elijah, come on!”

The little boy looked up, grinning even bigger.

“Excuse me?” The reporter called from behind her. “May I ask you a few questions?”

Piper ignored her. “Come on little guy,” she said as she arrived. She put her hand on his shoulder, looking for a way to get out of there. “Mom and Dad won’t like this. Not one bit.”

“Excuse me!” the reporter shouted.

Spotting the school, Piper figured it was better than nothing, and started toward it. “Let’s go.”

“Excuse me?”

They walked faster.

“Excuse me!”

They started to run, neither turning back.

* * * * *

Judy Dawkins was struggling with the vacuum cleaner when her husband burst through the front door.

She looked up startled. Seeing the expression on his face, she asked, “Mike, what’s wrong?”

He tried to smile, but something was up.

“Mike, what is it?”

He walked over to the TV remote. Without a word, he snapped it on and found the news. Finally, he spoke. “They’ve been playing this all morning.”

An anchorman with gray hair was addressing the camera: “Carly Tailor, our Newsbeat reporter is still on the scene. Carly?”

A young woman appeared on the screen. She stood perfectly poised in front of the news van. “Thank you, Jonathan. As we’ve been saying, something very strange happened over on Walnut Boulevard this morning. Let’s roll the footage, please.”

The scene cut to an accident sight where a little girl was being loaded into an ambulance.

The reporter continued. “At approximately 8:00 this morning, LeAnne Howard ran into the street after her dog and was struck by an oncoming car. From there she was taken to St. Jerome’s Hospital where her condition is reported as critical. There is speculation that she will shortly be transported to the Children’s Surgical Unit at Eastside Memorial. But there is another issue to this story that we found most interesting . . .”

The scene cut to a Cocker Spaniel lying if front of a car.

“This footage was taken immediately after the accident. As you can see, the dog looks … well, he looks dead … or, at least severely injured.”

Again the picture changed. This time a little boy sat on the curb holding the dog and whispering to it.

“Oh no.” Mom brought her hand to her mouth. “It’s Elijah!”

The reporter continued, “But moments later, as people were trying to help the girl, this small boy picked up her dog and … you’ll have to see for yourself. This is simply unbelievable.”

Tears filled Mom’s eyes as she watched the dog suddenly sitting up in Elijah’s lap and then lick his face.

“That’s amazing,” the anchorman said. “Let’s see it again.”

While the scene replayed, the reporter continued. “We tried to interview the boy, but a girl, the girl you see here, led him off.”

Mom stared at the screen as Piper appeared and hurried Elijah away from the camera and toward the school.

The report continued but Mom no longer heard. Tears blurred her eyes as her husband wrapped his arm around her.

“Don’t cry, sweetheart,” he said. “We knew this day would happen, didn’t we?”

She tried to answer, but her throat was too tight with emotion.

Dad repeated the words more softy. “Sooner or later we knew it would happen.”

* * * * *

Monica Specter and her two male assistants sat in the dingy, cockroach-infested hotel staring at the same newscast.

With a sinister grin, she switched off the television. “Alright team, the objective’s been sighted.” She rose and started for the adjacent room. “Pack up. We’re leaving in fifteen minutes.”

Bruno answered. He was a hulk of a man, whose neck was as thick as most people’s thighs and whose upturned nose looked like he’d run into a brick wall as a child (several times). “Uh … okay. Where are we goin’?”

Monica stopped, flipped aside her bright red hair, and stared at him in unbelief. “Santa Monica, you dolt. You saw the news. The boy we’re tracking is in Santa Monica.”

Bruno nodded. “Uh … right.”

She looked at him another moment. Then, shaking her head, she disappeared into the other room.

Silas, their skinny partner with a long, pointed nose, shut down his laptop. “You shouldn’t ask stupid questions like that,” he said to Bruno.

Bruno nodded then stopped. “But how do I know they’re stupid if I don’t ask ‘em?”

Silas sighed. “Because you’re going to try something brand new.”

“What’s that?”

“You’ll try thinking before you speak.”

Bruno frowned, not completely sure he understood the concept. Then summoning up all his brain cells, he answered, “Huh?”

Silas answered. “We’ve been looking for this kid eight months now—checking newspaper articles, surfing the net … and, then out of the blue, he suddenly winds up on TV?”

Bruno grinned. “Yeah, some coincidence, huh?”

“Yeah, right. That was no coincidence.”

“You think Shadow Man had something to do with it?”

Silas shrugged. He never liked talking about the head of their organization. To be honest, the man gave him the willies.

“Come on,” he said, changing the subject. “Let’s get packed and grab the kid.”

Posted by: rcwriter | May 12, 2009

“It’s All About Us”–My Review

Today I’m reposting my review of It’s All About Us. This is Shelley Adina’s first book, and the first of the All About Us Series.

I’ll be reposting my reviews of the entire series throughout the month. Be sure to leave a comment so you’ll have a chance to win a set of the All About Us Series, Books 1-4.

and her book:

It’s All About Us: A Novel

FaithWords (May 12, 2008)

It’s All About Us
Shelley Adina
Product Details:
List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (May 12, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446177989
ISBN-13: 978-0446177986

You’re new to boarding school and trying to make new friends. Only the ones you want for friends, don’t want you. On top of that, you aren’t too crazy about your roommate. Those are the challenges that Lissa Mansfield faced when she moved into Spencer Academy.

Lissa’s time at Spencer isn’t all bad. She may not have found her place with the ‘in crowd,’ but she finds herself on the arm of the school’s number one catch, Callum. Her roommate, Gillian, turns out to be a true friend and great accountability partner. Things are really looking up for Lissa, until Callum wants more of her than she’s willing to give. Trying to find a compromise between pleasing him and her Christian beliefs puts a strain on her relationship with Gillian.

This book is best for teen girls.

Favs (without spoilers):
  • Character–Gillian, I could really relate to her
  • Part–When saves Lissa
Dislikes:
  • Character–Vanessa, that will be obvious
  • Part–None, it’s all good.
Posted by: rcwriter | May 11, 2009

FIRST Wildcard “The Moment Between”

Rhonda’s Review: The Moment Between is a book filled with emotions, and stories. Actually, it’s three stories in one. The life of Abigail Bennett as a child, the grief stricken time when she found her sister dead, and as she searches to make peace after her sister’s suicide.

This story is well written, but not for everyone. The visuals are very vivid, and somewhat haunting. If you can’t handle graphic crime scenes, you won’t like the suicide scene. With three stories being told in each chapter, I had a bit of trouble keeping the everything straight. Once I past chapter four, things came together and made more sense. Even with the weaknesses, I found myself drawn to this book to find out how things turned out.

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Moment Between

Tyndale House Publishers (April 8, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Nicole Baart was born and raised in a small town in Iowa, where she and her family now live.

She is the mother of two young sons and the wife of a pastor. After the adoption of their infant son, Nicole discovered a deep passion for global issues and is a founding member of a nonprofit organization that works with a church and orphanage in Liberia.

Nicole is the author of three novels. After the Leaves Fall was published in 2007 and was followed by a sequel, Summer Snow. The Moment Between is Nicole’s first stand-alone novel.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (April 8, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414323220
ISBN-13: 978-1414323220

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

~ I ~

Abigail Bennett was the definition of unexpected. She was one year on the wrong side of the knife blade that was thirty, but if she turned up at your restaurant and ordered a glass of wine, even high-heeled and clad in a black sheath, you’d card her every time. Petite and narrow-waisted, with a pixie flip of hair the exact color of coffee beans, Abigail could easily pass for sixteen in a pair of ripped jeans and an Abercrombie T-shirt.

Not that she liked looking younger than her age. In fact, most of the time Abigail hated the constant reminders that no matter what she did or where she went, she would not be taken seriously. This explained the harsh line of bobby pins that held her wayward hair out of her face as if the severity of it could add years. It also explained the almost-dowdy clothes, the earth-toned makeup, and the hard, thin line of a mouth that could have been very beautiful.

Once people got past the fact that she wasn’t a teenager, Abigail looked very much like the ideal kindergarten teacher. Her stature and dress were the opposite of intimidating, yet there was a spark in her dark eyes as if from time to time a match was struck behind the velvety chocolate of her corneas. These eyes could freeze hell over with a well-timed look, a piercing arrow of unmistakable meaning. But there was also the hint of tenderness in Abigail that translated into quiet strength when paired with the sharp edges that were inevitably unveiled before anyone had a chance to form a false opinion of her. But then again, maybe it was all a facade. She didn’t let people get close enough to find out.

In reality, Abigail was not a kindergarten teacher, nor could she remember a phase in her life when she ever wanted to be one. She was an accountant. Numbers were stable, unchanging, and best of all, incapable of being mysterious or of forcing people to act and think and feel in ways that they would not normally act and think and feel. Numbers were predictable; people were not. And because Abigail trusted the reliability of her chosen field, she was good at her job, meticulous and capable of holding the smallest detail in her mind for as long as it was useful.

During tax season Abigail worked more hours than anyone else at her firm, and that was saying a lot. It was why she was made a partner after only five years with the company and why she occupied one of two corner offices, the one with a view of the swampy man-made pond that graced the complex of professional stucco buildings on Key Point Drive. Johnson, McNally & Bennett was a Rosa Beach institution, and though Blake Johnson and Colton McNally could claim most of the honor behind their prestigious position in the community, Abigail knew she filled an important and indispensable role. Southern Florida had its share of widows and divorcées, and for some not-so-surprising reasons they preferred to have a woman handle their money. Abigail was happy to oblige. It kept her busy and the firm in business.

Keeping busy was what Abigail did best. When she wasn’t working, which averaged sixty hours a week, she was either running or reheating days-old Chinese takeout in a dented wok. Both activities were little more than a personal experiment; they were representative of the only two things in Abigail’s life that she really, deep down hoped to accomplish someday: run a marathon and learn to cook.

The marathon was a goal that she had already partly achieved. On the day of her twenty-ninth birthday, she ran a half marathon in Miami. Abigail could have easily completed it, and in fact, the finish line was in sight only two blocks ahead when she realized it was enough to know that she could do it. Crossing the finish line would have meant that she ran for someone else, that she ran for the glory, the recognition.

So Abigail had slowed down a little and then a bit more until someone thrust a cup of water in her hand and yelled, “You’re almost there!” She smiled her thanks, sipped the water, and folded herself into the crowd while all eyes were watching the other runners throw their arms into the air for the last few triumphant yards.

The cooking, on the other hand, was little more than a pipe dream. Abigail’s greatest accomplishment was adding a diced chicken breast and some soy sauce to leftover chicken chow mein. It was too salty. But propped on her counter in an antique, wrought-iron bookstand was a Williams-Sonoma cookbook with full-color photographs and extensive instructions on how to cook homemade delicacies like potato gnocchi with wild mushroom sauce and baked clams with pine nuts and basil. Every morning, while she waited for the last few drops of coffee to drip into her Gevalia carafe, Abigail would thumb through the glossy pages of the cookbook and imagine what it would be like to make a wine reduction sauce as the sound of laughter filled her apartment. Someday, she told herself.

And though there were many somedays in Abigail’s life, she tried not to let the particulars of her existence get her down too much. It didn’t matter that she didn’t have a boyfriend. It didn’t matter that every day plodded on with the same pitfalls and small successes. It didn’t matter that her apartment was quiet but for the hum of her empty stainless steel refrigerator. It was the life that Abigail had chosen, and she was a grim optimist, resigned to the path she was on—she was getting exactly what she had always wanted. So what if it was tilted heavily toward work, personal discipline, solitude? So what if it left little room for the things other people craved? So what if her cupboards were as bare of exotic ingredients as her apartment was bare of cheerful company?

But sometimes, alone in her apartment with the shades drawn tight, Abigail would stand in front of the full-length mirror on the back of her bathroom door and relax enough to admire what she saw. Tousling her wet hair and practicing a self-conscious smile that showed her teeth—her impossibly white, perfectly straight teeth that were a genetic legacy instead of the result of extensive dental work—Abigail could almost pretend that she was ten years younger and that the world was unfurling itself before her.

For those moments in the steam and warmth, dark ringlets of hair curling around her temples as if she were some Grecian empress, Abigail wished much more for herself than what she had. She wished that she could rewind the clock and find Abby, the girl she used to be, perched on the cusp of her life instead of entrenched in the middle of it with no apparent way out.

Every once in a while, she could gather the courage to admit that it would be a very different life if she had it to do all over again.

***

When Abigail first came to Johnson & McNally, she had a chance at a different life.

It was no secret around the office that Colton McNally had a thing for the new accountant. He was twelve years older than Abigail and divorced, and that seemed somehow estimable according to Abigail’s less-than-high expectations. It wasn’t that she would settle for just anyone, but she also didn’t enter into much of anything with a long list of prerequisites.

In truth, Abigail found Colton very attractive. She thought his salt-and-pepper hair was distinguished—even though she suspected it came from the hands of a very talented colorist as he wasn’t quite forty—and she liked the way his tailored suits fell across the straight line of his shoulders. Best of all, he was nothing like the immature, self-absorbed boys Abigail had dated in college. They had nearly turned her off of men altogether. So when Colton turned his attention toward her, Abigail let him flirt. For a while, she even stopped wearing the stern bobby pins so that her dark curls framed her rather nicely arched forehead.

And yet Abigail wasn’t naive. She knew that her employer loved her because of the photo. It would have been too much to ask for Colton to love her, or at least think he did, because of herself. But while she probably should have been reticent of attention resulting from such a faint and improbable notion, Abigail accepted—almost expected—the source of Colton’s desire.

The photograph in question hung neatly squared and centered on a fabric-covered board adorning the west wall in the reception room. It was a concession to the more traditional bulletin board, replete with employee photographs that were intended to look candid but often looked overposed.

Abigail knew of the board, she even shot glances at it whenever she could to detect updates and changes, but she was not aware upon settling into her position that tradition dictated a spot for her photo front and center ASAP.

It was her third day of work, and Abigail was immersed in balancing infinitesimal details and worlds away from the air-conditioned office she inhabited when Colton startled her with a quiet “Ahem.”

Her head was bowed, and her forearms rested on endless pages that sprouted like an unruly crop of paper weeds across her generous desk. Abigail blinked and raised her eyes, just her eyes, in time to be blinded by the flash of Colton’s expensive Canon. He laughed and snapped a few more pictures for which she cleared off her desk, sat up straight, and smiled, thin-lipped and toothy and even coy, trying them all in the hopes that one would be right.

But the next day, Abigail was surprised to see that the photo gracing the quasi bulletin board was the first of the batch. She knew she was looking at herself because seeing the small, hunched form over the crowded desk was a sort of déjà vu—she had been there before. If not for that, Abigail would have never believed that the woman staring back at her was her own reflection. The woman in the photograph had luminous—there was simply no other word for them—luminous black eyes of the starry-sky variety: endless and opalescent and dark like a time before the genesis. Like the event horizon of identical black holes—no way out, but no matter, for who would ever want to leave? Beneath the twin universes of those eyes, her lips were slightly parted, pink and full and evocative of bruised raspberries. Her skin glowed faintly (fluorescent light reflecting off all that white paper?), and her shadowy curls were framing and soft. The woman was lovely.

But what unnerved Abigail the most was that Colton had caught her at a moment between. A rare, uncovered moment between expressions: a moment of evaporation before the advent of her surprise became the dutiful smile that spread across her face in the split second after the shutter snapped. This woman was a living mystery.

Abigail wished she knew her.

***

One day, a few months after she started at the firm, Abigail went into Colton’s office to ask him a question about the tax return of a dual citizen living out of country. It was a legitimate question, but Blake’s office was closer than Colton’s, and her admirer acknowledged that fact the second Abigail rapped her knuckles on the doorframe. She realized almost too late that her presence would be read as an invitation, and sure enough, a smile unfolded across Colton’s face like a flag pulled taut in a billowing wind.

“Come in, Abigail! Why don’t you close the door behind you? There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”

Abigail did as she was told and crossed the plush, carpeted floor of Colton’s office with her heart stuck fast in her throat.

“But first—” Colton set aside what he had been working on—“what can I do for you?”

Passing him the papers, Abigail lowered herself to balance on the arm of one of the leather chairs facing the wide, black walnut desk. But Colton raised an eyebrow at her, motioned that she should cross behind the desk to stand beside him.

They had flirted before, secret half smiles conveyed across crowded rooms and careful conversations littered with possibilities. And it seemed that the unmistakable chemistry between Colton and Abigail was a favorite topic around the watercooler, boasting far more people in favor of a match than against it. It was impossible for Abigail not to get caught up in it a little. But she also couldn’t help being cautious, and suddenly, with the door closed and Colton looking far more handsome than she remembered from only the day before, she knew that he was a man who wouldn’t play games for long.

Colton waved her over again and Abigail moved slowly, explaining about the nonresident and his recent payout from a life insurance death benefit. She had just gotten to the part where he intended to give enough of it away to slip below the line of taxable income when Colton grabbed her wrist and, in one smooth movement, pulled her forward until her face was inches from his. He studied her, still smiling, then kissed her full on the mouth as if he had been intending to do so for a long time.

It wasn’t that Abigail didn’t want to kiss him back. Actually quite the opposite. It wasn’t even that she was stunned by the inappropriateness of such a gesture. Instead, it was a Tic Tac that ruined everything, a burning little grain of peppermint that she inhaled when Colton’s lips touched hers.

She drew back, pulling out of Colton’s embrace and coughing violently until tears collected at the corners of her eyes. Abigail struggled for a moment, choking mutely as she watched Colton bolt out of his chair and grab her upper arms. When the breath mint was dislodged from her throat and she could feel it hot and peppery on her tongue, she knew it was a very small thing that would be significant in ways that might cause her years of lament.

“I’m sorry,” Abigail murmured, utterly mortified for one of the first times she could remember. “I . . .” She couldn’t continue.

Colton stared at her, concern and disbelief gathering foglike across his forehead. At first, Abigail thought he might fold her into his arms, that the almost-pitiable comedy of what had just happened would become the sort of story they laughed about months down the road when they told people the tale of how they came together. But then Colton laughed, rubbing his hands up and down her arms. The moment shattered and fell away, disappearing in a shimmer of doubt that made Abigail wonder if she had merely dreamed it.

“As long as you’re okay,” he boomed. And then he sat back down and pretended nothing had happened. He never mentioned it again and neither did she.

Eighteen months later, Colton married Marguerite, the receptionist who was hired at the same time as Abigail. Marguerite was a few years younger than Abigail, but she looked much older due to a succession of bad dye jobs and what appeared to be a lifetime of sun damage spotting her skin. Colton seemed happy; from what little Abigail could discern of her boss’s marriage, he genuinely longed for companionship and Marguerite’s horselike laugh didn’t turn him off so much that he considered her a poor match.

Although it was against her nature, shortly after the happy couple’s beach wedding, Abigail went through a brief stage where she fixated on what might have been. The entire office had once been invited to Colton’s sprawling house only a block off the ocean, and Abigail could almost picture herself the mistress of his columned colonial. What sort of a woman would she be if she were Mrs. McNally? What would she look like offering guests a second martini and lounging in some bright sari that she had bought on their honeymoon in Belize?

It was a nice scenario, but Abigail wasn’t one to waste too much energy on regret, and she abandoned such nonsense the same way she set aside every other impossible dream: she placed it firmly out of her mind. A few years later when Blake and Colton approached her about being a partner, she was even able to congratulate herself that her business card would read Johnson, McNally & Bennett instead of Johnson, McNally & McNally. She convinced herself that it was much more satisfying this way.

For his part, after their less than romantic encounter in his office, Colton was nothing but a gentleman to Abigail. He treated her with the same respect, the same quiet yet somehow condescending pride of a father figure. Abigail was reduced from a possible lover to the discarded role of a dependable daughter. It was a character she was rather good at playing.

***

Lou Bennett was a father when he could have been a grandfather.

He met Melody Van Bemmel at Chevy’s Café a week after he turned forty-five. It was nearly a blizzard outside, and she blew into the warm restaurant off-balance and trembling as if she were a leaf driven by the vicious wind. When the door slammed behind her, Melody gasped, stomped her booted feet, and flung the hood of her parka back. She smiled shyly, looking around as if her entrance had been staged, as if she were taking her place beneath the spotlight and now that she was front and center she had forgotten her lines.

Everyone in the café glanced up at her for the blink of an eye and then turned back to their coffees and specials of the day without a second thought. Everyone except Lou. He had fallen in love the moment Melody raised her hands to turn back her hood. They were little hands swimming in a pair of men’s work gloves that were so big on her fingers they nearly slid off. Lou imagined they were his gloves. He wished they were.

And just as quickly as he longed for her, Lou hated himself for it. She was a child. Her eyes were too clear, her skin too bright for her to even look twice at a man whose own skin was as deeply lined as those etchings he had seen on display in the American National Bank. But when she caught his eye, when her lips pulled up slightly just for him, Lou knew there was nothing that could be done about it. He was hers, even if she never acknowledged his existence. Even if he loved her in secret until the day he died.

As it turned out, he didn’t have to. Melody came to Lou in the most natural, ordinary way: she brushed against the edge of his life and found herself inexorably pulled in. He didn’t even know he was drowning until he felt himself reach for her and cling for dear life.

They were married less than a year later, and though Melody was not as young as Lou had imagined, when she walked down the aisle in a confection of white, a little shiver crept up Lou’s spine because she did not look twenty-five. Twenty years, he thought in the second before the preacher asked him if he would have her and hold her until “death do you part.”

Lou said, “I do” without hesitation, but somewhere in the back of his mind he faltered. There was a nagging suspicion, an accusatory guilt that made him wonder if he had made her the happiest woman alive like she claimed or if he had involuntarily ruined her life.

It took Melody almost six years to get pregnant, though they tried to make a baby on their wedding night. She saw doctors and gynecologists and fertility specialists, but no one could tell her why her womb would not swell with a child. For a while, Lou entertained the possibility of joining her at one of her appointments, but those sorts of things made him unbearably uncomfortable. He avoided the conversation he knew Melody wanted to have the same way that he avoided the drawer where she kept her neat pile of lace-trimmed underwear.

When Lou was fifty-one, Melody’s cheeks took on a greenish hue in the early morning, and the waist that he so loved to encompass in his enormous hands began to expand. She wouldn’t admit it at first—maybe she was scared to hope—but Lou knew almost immediately. Something about Melody had changed, the scent of her skin or the complexity of the air around her when she entered a room. Maybe both. Either way, Lou was relieved. It wasn’t him, it had never been him, and now she would be happy. They would be a family.

Lou didn’t think much about the baby until the doctor handed him a tiny, tightly wrapped bundle with a pink cap sliding down over her lashless eyes. They were two little commas, those eyes, a break amidst all the words that comprised his many years of life, though certainly not a beginning or even an end. Lou stared at her and realized that he had planned on having a son.

“Abigail Rose,” Melody called weakly from the bed. She smiled at him with all the energy she could muster, and her eyes were dancing with tears. “Rose for my mother and Abigail because it’s the most beautiful name I’ve ever heard. I think we’ll call her Abby.”

What was there to say? It was a fine name, and Lou hadn’t wasted a single thought on another. “Pretty,” he said finally and brushed his lips tentatively across the soft forehead because it seemed like the right thing to do.

Taken from The Moment Between by Nicole Baart. Copyright ©2009 by Nicole Baart. Used with permission from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Posted by: rcwriter | May 10, 2009

FIRST Wildcard–“Memory’s Gate”

This is the last chance to enter to win the Time Thriller Trilogy. To increase your chances, make sure you leave a comment on all three post (Saturday, Sunday and today). The winner will be announced Tuesday, May 12 in the May Contest post.

Rhonda’s Review: This is the last in the Time Thriller Trilogy. Paul McCusker takes us on one last ride with Elizabeth and Jeff. She’s volunteered at the Fawlt Line Retirement Center. On her first day, she encounters a creepy resident who calls her “Sarah,” and a very handsome man who is overly friendly. If that’s not enough, her favorite resident passes away under questionable circumstances. The Sheriff refuses to give credence to her uneasiness. He’s too busy trying to discover the truth behind his father’s disappearance.

This book is another whirlwind from Mr. McCusker. The action is fast paced, and there’s never a dull moment. I recommend this book for older tweens and teens. The time travel could be confusing for some kids, but the way it’s all wrapped up in the end will give you an “ah-ha” moment.


It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Memory’s Gate by Paul McCusker (Time Thriller series)

Zondervan (May 1, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Paul McCusker is the author of The Mill House, Epiphany, The Faded Flower and several Adventures in Odyssey programs. Winner of the Peabody Award for his radio drama on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for Focus on the Family, he lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and two children.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714389
ISBN-13: 978-0310714385

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Chapter One

What in the world am I doing here? Elizabeth Forde asked herself as she followed a silver-haired woman down the main hallway of the Fawlt Line Retirement Center.

Of all the things I could have spent the rest of my summer doing, why this? Yes, she had agreed to volunteer at the retirement center. She had even felt enthusiastic about the idea at the time. But walking down the cold, clinical, pale green hallway with the smell of pine disinfectant in the air, Elizabeth wondered if she had made a mistake.

She’d been swept along by Reverend Armstrong’s passionate call to the young people of the church. He had exuberantly insisted that they get involved in the community. They must be a generation of givers rather than takers, he’d said. His words were powerful and persuasive, and before she knew what she was doing she had joined a line of other young people to sign up for volunteer service. Just a few hours a day, three or four days a week, for a couple of weeks. It hadn’t sounded like much.

An old man, bent like a question-mark, stepped out of his room and smiled toothlessly at her.

It’s too much, she thought. Let me out of here.

“I know what you’re thinking,” said her guide, Mrs. Kottler, with a smile. “You’re thinking that a few hours a day simply won’t be enough. You’ll want more time. Everyone feels that way. But if you do the best you can with the hours you have, you’ll be just fine. I promise. Maybe later, once you’ve proven yourself, we’ll let you come in longer.”

Elizabeth smiled noncommittally.

Mrs. Kottler wore masterfully applied makeup, discreet gold jewelry, and a fashionable dark blue dress. She smelled of expensive perfume. Elizabeth thought she looked more like a real estate agent than the administrator of an old folks’ home.

“We don’t call it an ‘old folks’ home,’ by the way,” Mrs. Kottler said, as if she’d read Elizabeth’s mind, “or a ‘sanitarium’ or any of those other outdated names. It’s just what the sign says: it’s a retirement center. People have productive and active lives here. Being a senior citizen doesn’t mean you have one foot in the grave. People who retire at sixty-five often have another twenty or thirty years to enjoy their lives. We’re here to help them do it as well as it can be done.”

Elizabeth noted a couple of productive and active people staring blankly at the television sets in their rooms.

“Of course, we do have older residents who have gone beyond their mental or physical capacity to jog around the center six times a day, if you know what I mean,” Mrs. Kottler added as they rounded a corner and walked briskly down a short corridor toward two large doors. “For the rest of them, there’s a full schedule of activities throughout the day. Most take place here in the recreation room.”

She pushed on the two doors. They swung open grandly to reveal a large room filled with game tables, easels, bookcases filled with hundreds of books and magazines, and a large-screen television. Unlike the main halls and cafeteria Elizabeth had just seen, this room was decorated warmly with wooden end-tables, lace doilies, and the kinds of chairs and sofas found in showcase living rooms. Tastefully painted scenes of sunlit hills, lush green valleys, and golden rivers adorned the walls.

“Pretty, huh? I decorated this one myself,” Mrs. Kottler said. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that they should have let me decorate the entire center. Well, that wasn’t my decision to make. The residents are responsible for decorating their own rooms any way they like. Most of the other assembly areas were done before I joined the staff.”

“How long have you been working here?” Elizabeth asked politely.

“Five years,” Mrs. Kottler answered, then added wistfully, “Time. It goes by so quickly, don’t you find?”

For Elizabeth, who had been only eleven years old when Mrs. Kottler started her job, the last five years hadn’t gone by quickly at all. She had traveled from the carefree days of Barbie dolls to the insecurities of middle school to the early stages of womanhood and wide-eyed wonder over her future. And she had also traveled to a parallel time, not that she’d be inclined to mention such a thing to Mrs. Kottler. No, it hasn’t gone by very quickly, she thought. And as she considered the residents of the center and realized that one day she might have to live in a place like this, she hoped life would never go by that quickly. She shuddered at the thought.

A tall, handsome young man entered through a door at the opposite end of the recreation room. “Mrs. K., I was wondering—”

“Doug Hall, come meet Elizabeth Forde,” Mrs. Kottler said, waving her arms as if she might create enough of a breeze to sail Doug over to them.

Doug strode across the room with a smile that showed off the deep dimples in his cheeks. He’s a movie star, Elizabeth thought. His curly brown hair, perfectly formed face, large brown eyes, and painstakingly sculpted physique that was enhanced, not hidden, by the white clinical coat made her certain. He’s a movie star playing a doctor, she amended.

Doug outstretched a hand and said, “Well, my enjoyment of this place just increased by a hundred percent.”

She shook his hand and blushed. “Hi.”

“Doug is our maintenance engineer,” Mrs. Kottler explained.

Doug smiled again. “She means I’m the main janitor. But I’m more like a bouncer, in case these old madcap merrymakers get out of control with their wild partying and carousing.”

“Stop it, Doug,” Mrs. Kottler giggled. Then she turned to Elizabeth. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, what’s a good-looking and charming young man like him doing in a place like this?”

For once, Mrs. Kottler had it right. He’s a movie star playing a janitor? It didn’t seem appropriate somehow. She waited for the answer.

“Well, if you can find out, please let me know,” Mrs. Kottler said with another giggle. “He won’t tell anyone. I assume he has a deep, dark secret. Perhaps he was involved in some sort of intrigue in France and barely escaped from the police on his yacht. Why else would he be hiding in a retirement center in a small town?”

“If you have to know the truth, I ran off with the church funds,” Doug said. He and Mrs. Kottler chuckled as if this little exchange had been their own private joke for a long time.

Doug rested his gaze on Elizabeth, making her feel self-conscious about how she appeared to him. How did she look in her freshly-issued white-and-pink clinic jacket—frumpy or professional? Had she taken pains with her makeup? Were her large brown eyes properly accented? Did her smile look natural? Her skin was freshly tanned, no unsightly pimples, which made her glad. She had tied back her long brown hair, but now she wished she had let it fall loose. It looked better that way, Jeff always said.

Jeff.

Thinking of her boyfriend at that moment gave her pause—as if her self-conscious vanity was, in and of itself, an act of infidelity to him. She glanced away from Doug self-consciously.

“Well, back to business,” Doug said pleasantly, as if he’d picked up on her feelings and wanted to spare her any embarrassment. “I was wondering if now would be a good time to adjust the settings on the Jacuzzi. You don’t have any plans to let the kids in this afternoon, right?”

“No, Doug, the ‘kids’ won’t be going in today,” Mrs. Kottler replied. “Do whatever you need to do.”

He nodded. “Maybe Elizabeth will want to test it later when I’m finished.” He gave her a coy grin.

“I think Elizabeth will be too busy getting acclimated to her new duties,” Mrs. Kottler replied.

Doug tipped a finger against his brow as a farewell. “If there’s anything I can do to help …”

Mrs. Kottler watched him go. “He’s such a flirt. A charming, good-looking flirt, but a flirt nonetheless.” Elizabeth detected a hint of jealousy in her voice.

The tour of the center eventually led Elizabeth and Mrs. Kottler outside to the five acres of manicured grounds, landscaped into gentle green slopes that ultimately rolled down to a small manmade lake called Richards Pond. It was enclosed on one side by a natural forest that extended off to the horizon. Elizabeth walked alongside Mrs. Kottler, feeling oppressed by the humidity of the August afternoon. She swatted at the occasional mosquito that wanted to make a meal of her arms.

“The heat and mosquitoes tend to keep everyone inside on days like this,” Mrs. Kottler said.

“Except those two,” Elizabeth said, gesturing to two people in a white Victorian-style gazebo near the lake.

“That’s Sheriff Hounslow and his father,” Mrs. Kottler said, with just enough annoyance to betray her usual professional detachment. “I suppose we should say a quick hello.”

As they got closer, Elizabeth saw that the sheriff, a large man in a light gray uniform, was pacing in an agitated way. His father, a shadow from this distance, was sitting on one of the benches that lined the gazebo. Sheriff Hounslow saw them coming and waved.

Mrs. Kottler spoke to Elizabeth in a low voice, “Adam Hounslow joined us just a couple of days ago. Like many new residents, he’s having a hard time adjusting. Hello, Sheriff!”

Mrs. Kottler and Elizabeth mounted the steps to the shade of the round white roof covering the gazebo. The heat and humidity were not relieved there.

“Look who’s here,” Sheriff Hounslow announced. “Mrs. Kottler and—well, well—Elizabeth Forde.”

“Oh, you know my new volunteer. Elizabeth will be with us a few hours a day for the next couple of weeks.”

“How nice. You be sure to take special care of my father,” the sheriff said. “His name is Adam.”

Elizabeth could see the old man clearly now. He was bent over from some sort of arthritis and had a pale wrinkled face with hazel eyes encased in deep, worried frowns—in them, she could see the resemblance between the father and the son. Wisps of thin white hair sprayed out from a spotted crown.

“Wouldn’t you like a pretty girl like Elizabeth to help take care of you, Dad?” the sheriff asked.

“I don’t need to be taken care of,” the old man growled. He tucked his head down against his chest.

Sheriff Hounslow ignored the remark and continued, “I’m surprised to see you here, Elizabeth. Shouldn’t you be getting ready for the grand opening of that historical amusement park, or whatever Malcolm calls it?”

“It’s not an amusement park,” Elizabeth corrected him. “It’s called the Historical Village.”

“I didn’t know you were connected to Malcolm Dubbs!” Mrs. Kottler said, impressed. Malcolm Dubbs was the closest thing Fawlt Line had to royalty, a member of the English branch of the Dubbs family who’d been in the area for nearly 300 years. Malcolm came to manage the estate after the last American adult member of the Dubbs family was killed in a car accident.

“She’s also dating Jeff Dubbs,” the sheriff informed her.

“Are you? Doug will be very disappointed,” Mrs. Kottler teased, then said earnestly, “Jeff’s parents died in that terrible accident awhile back, didn’t they? That was so sad.”

Elizabeth nodded without responding. Jeff’s parents—Malcolm’s cousin and his wife—had died in a plane crash a couple of years before. That’s why Jeff lived with Malcolm.

Mrs. Kottler fluttered her eyes as if she might cry. “I think Malcolm Dubbs is a remarkable man. Imagine taking in that boy.”

“That boy is the true heir to the estate,” Sheriff interjected sarcastically. “If I were him, I’d have a lot of trouble with Malcolm using the family money to build that park.”

“It’s not Jeff’s money unless Malcolm dies,” Elizabeth corrected him. “He’s entitled to do whatever he wants with it. And Jeff is very proud of Malcolm.”

Mrs. Kottler nodded. “After all, Malcolm is using it to create something everyone will learn from. It’s not as if he’s wasting it.” She turned to Elizabeth. “Is it true that he’s brought in authentic buildings, displays, and artifacts from all over the world?”

“Whatever he can find. From picture frames and hairbrushes to school houses and church ruins, as much as he could find from the past few hundred years is represented.” She covered a smile, realizing she was reciting one of Malcolm’s brochures. “Phase One opens on Saturday.”

“Phase One?”

“Malcolm says the village is a work in progress. He’ll open various sections of it as they’re ready.”

“As I said, it’s a Disneyland of history,” the sheriff said derisively.

Elizabeth frowned at Sheriff Hounslow, knowing better than most the adversarial relationship the two men had. Elizabeth suspected that the sheriff was jealous of Malcolm’s wealth and the respect he commanded from the townspeople. But whatever the reason, Hounslow never missed an opportunity to poke fun at Malcolm’s projects or eccentricities.

“I can’t wait to go on the rides!” he added.

“Are there rides?” Mrs. Kottler asked, amazed.

Elizabeth shook her head. “No. Just buildings and displays.”

Sheriff Hounslow grinned. “There’s going to be a big celebration. The mayor will be there and a special assistant to the governor, and there’ll be a telegram from the president and maybe even world peace—all thanks to Malcolm Dubbs.”

“Don’t be such a pompous fool, Richard,” Adam Hounslow barked at his son. “I’m looking forward to seeing the village.”

“I’m glad you’re looking forward to something,” the sheriff remarked.

“Living in a place like this, I’m lucky to look forward to anything,” Adam snapped.

“Oh, I’m sure you don’t mean that,” Mrs. Kottler said. “The Fawlt Line Retirement Center will be like home to you in no time at all, I promise.”

Adam scowled at her. “This will never be my home. My home has been sold right out from under me by my thoughtful and compassionate son.”

“I’m not getting into this argument with you again, Dad,” Hounslow said irritably.

“Yes you will,” Adam replied. “As long as you force me to live in places where I don’t want to live, we’ll have this argument.”

The sheriff turned on his father. “Where else are you going to live? You couldn’t stay in that big old place alone. You can barely take care of yourself, let alone keep up with a big house.”

The old man snorted and turned away.

Sheriff Hounslow wouldn’t let it go. “Do I have to remind you of what led up to this? Do I have to announce to the whole world how you nearly burnt the house down—twice—by forgetting to turn the stove burners off? Or the time you flooded the house by wandering off to the store while the bath water was running?”

Mrs. Kottler caught Elizabeth’s eyes and jerked her head towards the center, signaling that they should leave. Heading across the grounds, Elizabeth could still hear the voices of the two men arguing behind her.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Mrs. Kottler said. “You’re thinking that Adam must be crazy not to like our center. Well, I agree. But he’ll get used to it. They always do.”

They approached the building from the back, where a stone patio had been added to the recreation room. It was congested with plants and flowers of all kinds. A man in a wheelchair was pruning the plants, meticulously spraying the leaves and wiping them with a water bottle. He had long gray hair that poured out from under a large baseball cap. Beneath the brim of the cap he wore sunglasses so dark that she couldn’t see his eyes at all. A bushy mustache and beard flowed downward. It struck Elizabeth that, apart from his cheeks, his face couldn’t be seen at all. He wore a baggy jogging suit that, to Elizabeth’s thinking, must have been unbearably hot in the heat and humidity.

“That’s Mr. Betterman, another new resident,” Mrs. Kottler said. “Come meet him.”

They crossed the patio where Mrs. Kottler introduced them.

Mr. Betterman didn’t speak, but grunted and held a carnation out to her.

“Very nice,” Elizabeth said.

“Take it,” Mrs. Kottler whispered.

Elizabeth reached out to take the flower. For a second he didn’t let go, but used the moment to lean closer to her and whisper, “I know who you are.” He gave her a slight smile then turned away to fiddle with the planter.

Disconcerted, Elizabeth looked to Mrs. Kottler again, who gently shrugged. They walked inside.

“What did he mean by that?” Mrs. Kottler asked once they were inside and clear of Betterman’s hearing.

“I don’t know,” Elizabeth replied. She didn’t say so, but something about the man’s half-smile and voice seemed familiar to her.

“Still, That’s quite an honor,” Mrs. Kottler said. “He doesn’t usually talk to anyone. He’s a little eccentric.”

No kidding, Elizabeth thought.

As they drifted through the recreation room, Elizabeth found herself looking for Doug. She wasn’t a flirtatious person—nor was she interested in anyone but Jeff—and yet she was drawn to him. Maybe because he was someone else in the building who was young and sympathetic, like her.

Mrs. Kottler smiled contentedly. “Well, that’s most of it. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this is more like a beautiful hotel than a retirement center. We do our best. Now, let me show you where the storage closets are and introduce you to your new responsibilities.”

Chapter Two

Malcolm Dubbs lived in a cottage on the edge of the Dubbs family’s vast estate bordering the north edge of Fawlt Line. It had a manor house, built in the 17th century, which was now part of the Historical Village. The cottage, which he said suited him perfectly and reminded him of England, seemed to fit him perfectly. It seemed to suit Jeff, who lived there with him. Elizabeth thought that the two were remarkably happy, considering the tragedy that had brought them together.

Tall and slender, Malcolm sat at the large desk in his den when Elizabeth and Jeff arrived. The sun was soon to set, and a dim yellow light washed the cluttered room. Thanks to the oak tree just beyond the French doors leading out to the patio, drops of cooler, green light filtered into the room. They highlighted the old-fashioned furniture and skimmed along the dark wood paneling, the classic paintings, the shelves sagging under too many books. Jeff smiled and turned on the banker’s lamp at the head of the desk.

Malcolm looked up and blinked at Jeff. “Oh, hi,” then, “And good evening, Elizabeth,” he said wearily, his British accent making him sound intelligent and genteel.

“Good evening,” Elizabeth said, remembering why so many young girls in Fawlt Line had a crush on the man.

“Are you all right?” Jeff asked.

Malcolm sighed. “All the preparations for the grand opening have left me with too much to do and too little time.”

Jeff gestured to the papers on the desk. “What are you working on now?”

He pushed the papers away disdainfully. “These are daily reports of completed projects within the village, and this is another report discussing the security system and inherent weaknesses that might leave some areas vulnerable to theft.”

“Vulnerable?” Elizabeth asked.

“The security cameras still aren’t working.” Malcolm leaned back in his chair and shoved his hands into the pockets of his tweed sports coat. He stretched his long legs as far as they would go.

“It’s not all doom and gloom, I hope,” Elizabeth said.

“No. The eighteenth-century windmill from Holland is working perfectly. And we wrapped up the construction on the miners’ row houses from southwest Pennsylvania. I’m particularly proud of that exhibit.”

“Why that one?”

Malcolm smiled. “Because it shows the chronology of change better than most of the displays. You start at one end of the row houses, and as you walk through each one you’ll see exactly how the miners lived during the last 180 years. Go in the first door, and you’ll see how it was in 1820. Move on to the next door and you’re looking at 1840, then 1860 and 1880 and so on until you come to the present day. We spent a lot of time getting every detail just right.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I don’t know how you pulled it all together.”

“Sometimes I wonder myself,” Malcolm admitted. “It’s been a long time in the making.”

“Hundreds of years, I figure,” Jeff said.

Malcolm waved his hand as if brushing away the subject. “Forget about the village for now. How was your first day as a volunteer, Elizabeth?”

Elizabeth was pleased that he even remembered, considering all the other demands on his mind. She said, “It was mostly just a chance to look around. I only met a couple of people. The center is nice, I guess, if you have to live in a place like that.”

Malcolm chuckled. “Your faint praise is overwhelming.”

Jeff dropped himself onto the sofa opposite the desk and ran his hands through his wavy dark hair. “She’s sorry she ever volunteered.”

Elizabeth rebuked him with a sharp look. “Jeff.”

“What?” Jeff asked innocently. “Did I say something wrong?”

Malcolm stood up and smiled sympathetically. “If it’s any consolation, Elizabeth, I think volunteering to help out at a retirement center is a noble and difficult thing to do. Many retirement homes are downright depressing, and elderly people can be very unpredictable, depending on their states of minds. But if you remember that they’re people, and not just old people, you have the opportunity to do them a world of good.”

Elizabeth thought of how Doug Hall called them ‘kids’ and probably charmed the socks off them, if only because he didn’t treat them differently from anyone else.

“As quirky as your parents are, you should feel right at home,” Jeff said with a laugh. Elizabeth kicked at his ankle before sitting next to him on the sofa.

Malcolm tugged at his ear thoughtfully. “I haven’t been out to the center since they renovated it. When I was a kid, it wasn’t a retirement home. It was just a house on a farm owned by someone the two of you know.”

Elizabeth and Jeff looked at each other blankly.

“That’s where the Richards property is,” Malcolm said. “It’s where Charles Richards disappeared.”

Elizabeth’s and Jeff’s faces lit up with the realization.

“You mean the Charles Richards?” Jeff asked.

“My Charles Richards?” Elizabeth added in disbelief.

Malcolm nodded. The three of them looked at each other silently as the story and the memories came back.

**********

For years the remarkable case of Charles Richards was whispered about around Fawlt Line, but treated as an unsolved mystery by those who investigate such things. Most people considered it one of those small-town myths that make their way into the consciousness of the locals—like haunted houses and boogy-men—particularly by parents who want to scare their kids into behaving. But Malcolm, Elizabeth, and Jeff knew this particular story was more than a myth. They believed every word of it, and for very good reason.

The story went that over thirty years ago; Charles Richards, the son of a wealthy merchant, settled with his wife and two children on a modest farm outside of Fawlt Line. One morning, the two children were playing next to the sidewalk leading from the house to the front gate. Charles and his wife, Julia, stepped out of the front door, where Charles kissed his wife good-bye. He was leaving to run a few errands in Fawlt Line. Charles walked down the steps toward his children and patted them on their heads as he passed. As he reached the front gate, a car came up the road toward the house. In it was Dr. Hezekiah Beckett, the local veterinarian, and a young boy who was helping the doctor that summer. Charles waved at the doctor, paused to check the time on his wristwatch, then turned as if he might head along the fence to greet the approaching car. He took three steps and, in full view of his wife, his children, Dr. Beckett, and the boy, he disappeared.

Horrified, the five of them raced to the spot and looked around. They saw only the fence and the grass. There were no bushes or trees for him to hide behind, no holes to fall into, nothing to explain how he could simply vanish into thin air.

Dr. Beckett and Julia Richards searched everywhere. Then the townspeople helped. They even dug up the ground where Charles had disappeared, in the belief that he’d fallen into a sinkhole or underground cavern and was trapped below. The ground was solid. Charles was gone. An investigation over the next few weeks failed to establish any clues. There was no explanation for it. Julia was bedridden for months, lost in the hope that her husband would return. No funeral or memorial service was ever held. Later, the family sold the farm and moved away.

The story would have been easy for Elizabeth to dismiss, had it not been told to her by Malcolm, who was the young boy in the car, working with Dr. Beckett during one of his summer vacations to America. And that was only the beginning. Malcolm spent years studying theories of time travel, parallel universes, and alternative dimensions in the belief that he’d find an explanation. All he wound up with were theories and a deep suspicion about the town of Fawlt Line itself. There had been enough weird occurrences in the area—Malcolm had chronicled and investigated them all—for him to determine that Fawlt Line wasn’t so named because it was on a geographical fault, but a time fault.

Then, a few months ago, Elizabeth herself became a victim of the time fault.

While taking a bath one night, she had slipped through a fracture in time and wound up in a parallel Fawlt Line where everyone knew her as a girl named Sarah. As she insisted that she was really Elizabeth and didn’t know anyone there, she was taken to the hospital and treated as an amnesiac. The understandable pressure on her to become Sarah—and to accept this new and different Fawlt Line—was intense. There was no point in arguing against the reality directly in front of her, even though her memories told her otherwise. Alienated and confused, she very nearly gave in to the pressure to be Sarah.

But the circumstances of her disappearance caused Malcolm to think that they weren’t dealing with a normal disappearance. Too much didn’t add up. And the arrival of someone in this Fawlt Line who looked exactly like Elizabeth but wasn’t Elizabeth led Malcolm to work out a theory that she was some sort of “time twin” who had switched places with Elizabeth.

In that other time Elizabeth met a man who gave her hope that she wasn’t an amnesiac after all: Charles Richards. He claimed he knew how she felt because he had made the same switch from one time to the other. He helped her and, ultimately, saved her life from a couple of people who wanted her dead. It was a nightmarish experience.

Elizabeth eventually made it back thanks to Jeff and Malcolm. But Charles remained trapped in the parallel time.

**********

Elizabeth still got upset when she thought of Charles stuck in a time that wasn’t his own. She hardly talked about her time-travel experience because of the sadness it brought to her. Even now, as she sat in the security of Malcolm’s study, it made her uneasy to discuss it again. In the deepest part of her heart, she feared that the nightmare might return just by invoking its name.

“They tore down Charles’s house and built a gaudy mansion on the site,” Malcolm went on to say. “It was the kind of place kids liked to throw rocks at. Then they tore that down and put up the new building a couple of years ago. How does it look inside?”

Elizabeth didn’t answer, her mind still on Charles Richards and her own nightmarish adventure.

“Bits?” Jeff asked, concerned.

Elizabeth lifted her head, catching up with Malcolm’s question. “Huh? It’s … modern. Just one story with a lot of hallways. More like a hospital than a home.”

Jeff and Malcolm glanced warily at each other.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Maybe you should take her home,” Malcolm suggested. “She’s probably tired from her first day there.”

“No, really—I’m all right,” she said.

Jeff stood up and held out his hand. “Come on.”

She took his hand and he helped pull her to her feet.

***

Jeff brought his Volkswagen to a squeaky stop in front of Elizabeth’s house and turned off the headlights. They both looked up and saw through the front window Alan Forde pacing in the living room. He was waving his hands and talking animatedly.

“Is he lecturing someone?” Jeff asked.

Elizabeth shook her head. “Sort of. He’s been recording a series of talks about the legends of King Arthur.”

“Recording them for whom?”

“Whoever wants them,” she answered. “He’s been obsessed with Arthur ever since … well, you know.”

The ‘you know’ was a reference to yet another adventure—this one shared by Jeff, Malcolm, and Alan Forde—with a man who showed up in Fawlt Line one night claiming to be King Arthur himself. The adventure resolved itself in England where, according to Malcolm and Jeff who witnessed it all, the man really was King Arthur.

“I’d like to hear what he has to say,” Jeff said.

Elizabeth glanced at Jeff gratefully. “He’d be happy if you asked.”

“I’ll wait for some other time. Meanwhile, I want you to tell me what’s going on with you.”

Elizabeth hadn’t expected such a direct question, though she should have. Jeff could always tell when something was wrong. Sometimes it was a comfort to her. At other times it made her feel uneasy, particularly when she didn’t have an answer—like tonight. “I don’t know,” she said after a long pause.

“You must have a clue,” he probed.

She turned in the seat to face him. “I really don’t know, Jeff. Maybe it’s just volunteering at the center. It was so … strange. At first I thought it was because I don’t know anything about helping old people. But …”

“But what?”

She struggled over what to say next. “Sheriff Hounslow’s father is a resident there, and the two of them were arguing and it was embarrassing … and then I met a guy in a wheelchair who gave me a carnation, and he said he knew me.”

Jeff grimaced. “He knows you? How?”

“He didn’t say, and I was too surprised to ask. It was really weird. I had this feeling that I’d seen him before, but I don’t know where.”

Jeff took her hand in his and spoke softly. “Look, Malcolm’s probably right. Old folks can be unpredictable, and that makes you nervous. Do you remember how Grandpa Dubbs was before he died?”

Elizabeth nodded. “He kept accusing the servants of stealing things.”

“Because he kept forgetting where he put them,” Jeff finished. “It used to scare the wits out of me when he launched into one of his tirades. Maybe the guy in the wheelchair really thought he knew you, but he was thinking of someone else. Probably someone from his past.”

Elizabeth agreed silently.

“And I’m just guessing, but it gave you the creeps to find out that the retirement center was built on Charles Richards’ place, right?”

“It brought back a lot more than I wanted to remember.”

“That’s what I figured.” Jeff was quiet for a moment. His expression told Elizabeth that he was forming his words carefully before speaking. “Maybe … you should get some counseling about what happened to you. Maybe we all should.”

“Oh, right,” Elizabeth said with an unamused laugh. “I can see me now in the first session with the counselor: ‘I’m here because I traveled to a parallel time …’ Yeah, that’ll work. He’ll have me committed just like the doctor in that time wanted to do.”

“I’m just saying that getting bounced around in time and going through what you went through can’t be healthy.”

“You’re right about that.”

“I mean, especially since you don’t like to talk about it.”

“I’m okay,” Elizabeth insisted. “I think it’s just today, volunteering at the center, bumping into some weird people, and then thinking about Charles Richards. I’ll be all right. Really.”

***

Elizabeth had a hard time falling to sleep that night. Images of Charles Richards spun through her mind and mixed with scenes from the Fawlt Line Retirement Center. Mrs. Kottler kept saying, “I know what you’re thinking,” and then Doug Hall offered her flowers carefully pruned by George Betterman in a wheelchair. The floor opened up to expose a dark cavernous time fault that threatened to pull her in. She fell—and never stopped falling.

Elizabeth suddenly sat up in her bed and knew that one way or another she had to take back her offer to volunteer at the center.

Chapter Three
Elizabeth spent most of the next day trying to figure out how to gracefully get out of helping at the retirement center. She knew her parents expected her to be more responsible than to quit without a good reason. The challenge was to find a good and plausible reason. School hadn’t started yet, so she couldn’t blame homework. She had no other jobs or commitments, so she couldn’t say her schedule was too busy. One by one she raised up excuses. One by one her better judgment knocked them down.

Even up to the point when her mother dropped her off at the center, she was thinking of stories she could tell Mrs. Kottler to justify handing in her immediate notice. Despondently, she kissed her mother on the cheek and climbed out of the car. Her only hope was that something might happen during her shift that would provide a solid way out.

Mrs. Kottler gave her a simple assignment to start with: take the cart around and fill the water jugs in all the rooms.

Elizabeth guessed that this was a standard job for new volunteers and a shrewd way to help them get to know the residents. Many were up and about when Elizabeth walked into the various rooms and assembly areas. It was her first full view of the people she would be mingling with. While some were kind and welcoming, others regarded her with wariness or skepticism. Just like kids on the first day of school, she thought. You can’t tell about people until you get to know them better. That was a good way to think about them, she decided. They were just older kids watching a new student.

But these “students” sure looked different from the ones at school. Elizabeth was instantly struck by the crowns of white hair and varying styles of hairpieces worn by both the men and women. Her next impression was that many were quite agile, moving quickly and freely up and down the hallway, in and out of chairs, without the stiff or stooped gait she expected from older people. Some used canes and walkers, others simply steadied themselves against whatever sturdy objects happened to be nearby. They’re people, Elizabeth was reminded as they chatted amiably among themselves or played games in the recreation room or strolled thoughtfully alone. There were others, of course, who were less capable and needed more attention and care. Sharp minds were encased in fragile bodies. Sharp bodies sometimes encased fragile minds. It varied from room to room, person to person.

The most uncomfortable moment came when she reached Adam Hounslow’s room. The door was slightly ajar, and she could see through the crack that the room was dark. The blinds had been drawn, and Adam was talking to someone in a wheelchair. Though his back was to her, Elizabeth recognized the telltale baseball cap and knew it was George Betterman. The men spoke in low voices. Elizabeth was unsure whether to knock, clear her throat, or simply walk in. She paused in her indecision.

Adam handed something to George, who quickly shoved it under his loose-fitting jogging jacket. The hushed voices and quick action told Elizabeth that she wasn’t supposed to be seeing what she was seeing. She turned to sneak away, but banged the four-wheel cart against the wall. The jugs and glasses rattled, and the two men to spun around to face her.

“Sorry to interrupt,” she stammered nervously, “but Mrs. Kottler asked me to bring some fresh water.”

Adam looked particularly guilty. “I don’t need fresh water,” he said with a sneer.

“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth said again and retreated back into the hallway. With shaking hands, she grabbed the handle on the cart. Why was she so nervous? What was it about the men that scared her so?

She heard a soft whirring sound behind her. Seconds later, George Betterman navigated his electric wheelchair past her, pausing to look up at her through the black circles of his sunglasses. I know who you are, she expected him to say again. But he didn’t say a word. He rode away, down the hallway.

Elizabeth closed her eyes, trying to calm the irrational fear that gripped her. A heavy hand fell on her shoulder, and she cried out, nearly jumping out of her skin.

“Whoa, now, calm down,” Sheriff Hounslow said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“I’m a little jumpy,” Elizabeth admitted quickly.

“I guess you are. Is everything all right?”

“Yeah,” she said. “First-day jitters.”

“I thought yesterday was your first day.”

“It was. But that was a tour. Today is my first day of work. Excuse me,” she said and raced away with the cart. Before she rounded the next corner, she heard the sheriff greet his father. Adam Hounslow launched the first assault by complaining about his room.

Safe down the next hallway, she stopped again to take a deep breath. This is stupid, she told herself. There’s nothing to be afraid of. It was just two old men talking. She rebuked herself for being so weird and, after a moment, continued her rounds.

The rooms—or apartments, as Mrs. Kottler called them—varied in their looks. A few looked sterile and hospital-like. Others reflected attempts by the residents or their families to liven them up with a few sticks of furniture, knickknacks, mementos, souvenirs, and treasures. If awards were given for the homiest room, Frieda Schultz would have won hands down.

From the moment Elizabeth stepped into Frieda’s room, she felt transported out of the retirement center into a cozy bungalow. The room was colorful, with bright floral-patterned curtains, and lampshades, and the smell of a light perfume that made her think of purple flowers. A chaise-lounge had been placed in the corner, smothered with pillows that Frieda had probably made herself, Elizabeth guessed, and a quilt that looked older than anything or anybody in the center. The windowsill was covered with cards, fashion magazines, catalogues, and books by authors with names like Baroness Orczy and Georgette Heyer and Elswyth Thane—people Elizabeth had never heard of. Victorian tapestries did their best to hide the institutional-white walls. An oak wardrobe with elaborately-carved edging along the top and bottom replaced the plain pressed-wood box the center issued. The matching bureau and vanity table, squeezed in along the opposite wall, were overrun with costume jewelry, evening purses, scarves, gloves, perfume bottles, jars, cold cream, tubes, magnifying mirror, boxes, silver combs, and brushes. It gave Elizabeth the impression that Frieda might suddenly decide to call her chauffeur and go out to the theater for the evening.

“I know, I know, it’s a cluttered mess,” Frieda said from the bathroom door in the corner.

Elizabeth realized she’d been standing in the middle of the room, staring. “I think it’s wonderful,” she said.

“Well, aren’t you the kind one to say so.” Frieda, a heavyset woman in a silk housecoat, sashayed into the room as if she were making an entrance at a formal ball dressed in chiffon and lace. Her beauty had faded, but she exuded a poise and charm that hadn’t. “Tell me your name, child.”

“I’m Elizabeth. I’m here to give you some fresh water.”

“A new volunteer?”

Elizabeth nodded as she flipped open the top on the copper-colored jug. Empty. She retrieved the large jar from the cart and poured water from one to the other.

“You must be traumatized,” Frieda said. “A pretty young girl like you thrown in with all these fossils. What in the world are you doing here?”

“I volunteered through my church.”

“And regretted it every minute since, I’ll bet,” Frieda laughed.

Elizabeth answered with a guilty smile.

“If it’s any consolation, I’m very happy to meet you,” said Frieda. “I get so tired of old people. And you’re a churchgoer too. All the better. I’d go to church if it weren’t such a major production to do so.”

Elizabeth was surprised. “Production? Why is it a production?”

“I’m not about to bore you with my health problems. We have a chapel here that I can pray in. That’ll do for now.” Frieda pushed aside some of the pillows on the chaise-lounge. “Put down those water jugs and come sit.”

“But Mrs. Kottler wants me to—”

“Forget Mrs. Kottler,” Frieda said. “I want you to sit down right here and tell me all about yourself. I don’t get to meet new people very often and, when I do, I want to know their stories.”

Elizabeth shyly sat down on the lounge.

Frieda placed herself on the opposite end, leaned back and tucked one leg under her large frame. “Comfy? Now … what’s your story?”

Elizabeth began slowly, with a few basic facts about growing up in Fawlt Like, her parents, her school. Soon, she was chatting away as if she couldn’t help it. Any lull, any missing pieces, any evasion, and Frieda asked just the right question to set it straight and keep the conversation going. Elizabeth surprised herself by talking about more personal experiences: how her friendship with Jeff had eventually led to their dating.

“Do you love him?” Frieda asked.

“Yes, I do,” Elizabeth admitted, blushing.

“Childhood sweethearts,” Frieda mused. “My Alexander and I were childhood sweethearts. We were married for forty-seven years. It wasn’t always bliss, but I wouldn’t have wanted to spend that time with anyone else.”

They continued to talk for another half-hour. At various points, Frieda would drop in her own memory of a similar experience she’d had when she was Elizabeth’s age. Elizabeth didn’t mind. She found comfort in knowing that her experiences weren’t unique only to her, but that a woman four times her age felt the same.

Elizabeth glanced at her watch and stood up quickly. “Oh! I’ve been here too long. Mrs. Kottler’ll be looking for me.”

“Wait,” Frieda said and placed a soft hand on Elizabeth’s arm. “There’s something you haven’t told me.” Her gaze was penetrating.

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked feebly.

“I have a sense about these things—a gift, in a way. There’s something you haven’t told me. You’re holding something back.”

Elizabeth glanced away nervously. Frieda was right: Elizabeth hadn’t mentioned her time-travel nightmare. Having made a friend in the center, she wasn’t eager to lose her by talking like a lunatic. “Yeah, but it’s too crazy. I can’t talk about it now. Maybe some other time.”

Frieda watched her for a moment, then decided to let the subject drop. “All right. We have time. Other days, other talks, and maybe you’ll tell me about it. I feel that somehow you should tell me. Maybe there are secrets I can tell you too.”

Elizabeth felt such an instant rapport with the older woman that she was tempted to take her invitation and pour out the whole tale on the spot. But just then Mrs. Kottler appeared in the doorway.

“There you are!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been wondering what became of you. I need your help in the recreation room. There aren’t enough judges for the Twister contest!”

***

Frieda insisted that Elizabeth could go only if she escorted her into the recreation room. “My ankles are hurting today,” she complained and sat down in a wheelchair that was folded up behind the door.

Elizabeth happily grabbed the wheelchair, clicked it into place, and whisked Frieda away, the smell of pretty perfume trailing back to her.

“What’s wrong with your ankles?” she asked as she pushed Frieda down the hall.

“I have occasional bouts with arthritis. Not today, actually, but I didn’t want to let you go yet,” Frieda replied.

The recreation room was filled with residents, many of whom Elizabeth had seen on her rounds. They sat at the card tables, on the sofas and chairs, engaged in different games and hobbies. At the opposite end of the room, Elizabeth saw Doug Hall in earnest conversation with George Betterman.

“Oh,” she said, without meaning to.

Frieda turned around to look at Elizabeth’s expression, then followed her gaze over to the two men. “I see,” she said with a smile. “Handsome, isn’t he? But watch out for him.”

“Don’t worry. I’m with Jeff, remember?” she reminded her newfound friend.

“Of course you are. But one can’t help but notice Doug,” Frieda said. “I’m sure he’s already flirted with you. No pretty girl goes through here without him pouring on the charm.”

“I talked to him for a minute yesterday.”

Frieda smiled. “Uh huh. It’s nice, isn’t it—having a handsome young man pay attention to you? Even if you know nothing will come of it.”

“I guess.”

“Just be certain that nothing does come of it, my dear,” Frieda warned.

“What do you mean?”

“I know his type. He’s a charmer, and the charmers are the ones who can hurt you the worst.”

Doug and George Betterman parted, and George wheeled himself out to the patio.

Elizabeth knelt closer to Frieda. The purple perfume lightly tickled her nose. “Do you know Mr. Betterman?” she asked.

Frieda folded her arms across her chest as if she were trying to contain a shiver. “As much as I care to,” she said.

“You don’t like him?”

“I don’t know him well enough to like or dislike him.”

“You’re evading my question,” Elizabeth teased her.

“I don’t know him,” she said carefully, “but I know my impressions.”

“What’re your impressions?”

She thought for a moment. “How can I put it in terms you’ll understand? He gives me the creeps. There’s something about him that seems …” Her voice trailed off.

Elizabeth waited. When Frieda didn’t continue, Elizabeth pressed her. “Seems what?”

“Evil.”

Posted by: rcwriter | May 10, 2009

Time Thriller Trilogy–“Out of Time”

It’s time for Book 2 in the Time Trilogy Series, Out of Time. This series could be a stand alone, but it’s more fun to start at the beginning.

My review of the lastest release, Memory’s Gate, on Monday.

Don’t forget, I’m giving away this wonderful set as part of my Sandbox Reading Festival. Leave a comment for your chance to win. Contact information will not be visible by the public.


Out of Time (Time Thriller Series #2)

Zondervan (February 1, 2009)

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714370
ISBN-13: 978-0310714378

Rhonda’s Review: Jeff and Elizabeth are back in another time-warped adventure In Fawlt Line. Out of Time is a fanciful adventure of legendary King Arthur in modern day. Why he landed in Fawlt Line instead of his homeland puzzles everyone, but the bigger mystery remains. Can they get him back home before history is forever changed?

Paul McCusker has created another wonderful story. The grieving of King Arthur over his country turning away from God and the civil ills that have taken over, gives you great sense of our place in God’s world. He very well could have been tracking through modern day America instead of the English countryside. The common theme of God versus evil is evident throughout this book. Mr. McCusker does an excellent job at reflecting this theme to young readers in a fresh way.

Favs:

Character—Myrddin

Part—Arthur flying for the first time, what fun

Dislikes:

Character—Hunslow

Part—Psych ward, depressing

Posted by: rcwriter | May 9, 2009

Time Trilogy Series & New Contest

I’ve been a little behind this week. Migraines and the weather don’t mix.

I want to introduce you to new contest, but this one only runs for 3 days. Today through Tuesday you have a chance to win the Time Trilogy Series by Paul McCusker.

I’m reposting my reviews of Ripple Effect, and Out of Time, today and tomorrow, with a review of the lastest release, Memory’s Gate, on Monday.

Leave a comment for your chance to win the set. Contact information will not be visible by the public.

Side note: Paul McCusker will be signing this series, as well as his other works at the Focus on the Family bookstore in Colorado Springs, CO at noon.

Paul McCusker

and his book:

Zondervan (October 1, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Paul McCusker is the author of The Mill House, Epiphany, The Faded Flower and several Adventures in Odyssey programs. Winner of the Peabody Award for his radio drama on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for Focus on the Family, he lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and two children.

Product Details

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714362
ISBN-13: 978-0310714361

Rhonda’s Review: Elizabeth is the typical grumpy teen. She doesn’t like her life, or her parents, and thinks she knows best. All that changes when she finds herself living another girl’s life in a place that’s both familiar and strange. Trying to get back home will be a tremendous challenge, if she ever does.

Paul McCusker does a fantastic job keeping the multiple and duplicate characters, and duplicate setting straight. The reader never has to backtrack to keep up. Everything flows smoothly as you jump from place to place and scene to scene. This is a quick read and you’ll find the ending satisfying.

I would rate this a book for teens and for older tweens. The storyline and time travel theories may be difficult for some tweens to grasp, but young teens should have no problem.

Favs (without spoilers):

· Character—Jeff

· Part—The end (and that’s all I can say)

Dislikes:

· Character—The creepy people, sometimes you just don’t know who to trust

· Part—Didn’t have one

Posted by: rcwriter | May 7, 2009

FIRST Wildcard–Always Watching

***Leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Max Anderson’s tween novel Legend of the White Wolf. Drawing Saturday, May 9***

Rhonda’s Review: Wow! I’m officially hooked. I would expect nothing less from the minds of Brandilyn & Amberly Collin. This is a fantastic read for teens and adults of all ages. Can’t wait for the next one.

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Always Watching, book 1 in the new Rayne Tour series

Zondervan (May 1, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHORs:

Brandilyn and Amberly Collins are a mother/daughter team from northern California. Brandilyn is a bestselling novelist, known for her trademarked “Seatbelt Suspense”. Amberly is a college student in southern California. She and her mom love attending concerts together.

Visit the author’s website.

Online Promotions-Sweepstakes, Book Trailer, Facebook and More

The Rayne Tourseries is being promoted heavily to teen readers online. The LIVE LIKE A ROCKSTAR SWEEPSTAKES is a chance for teens ages 13-18 to win an $850 night out on the town, including dinner for six at a restaurant of their choice and limo service. To enter, teens must promote the series online. They can post information about the new series and the sweepstakes on their Blog, favorite social media sites, or other Web site. The first 200 entrants will receive a free copy of Always Watching. Official rules and entry details are available here.

Other promotions include “The Rayne Tour Series” Fan Club page on Facebook and “The Rayne Tour Series” Shoutlife page.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310715393
ISBN-13: 978-0310715399

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

FRIDAY

PROLOGUE

It’s not my fault I have to kill.

He’d been watching since the tour began. Eyes straight ahead, keeping cool, like he wasn’t even paying attention. But he noticed everything. Even got a sense for what was happening behind his back. His past life had taught him how to do that—out of necessity. When it was something bad, he felt a vibration in the air, pulling up the hair on his arms. And he’d know. He’d just know.

Sometimes he acted behind the scenes. Nothing that would be noticed. Just ended up in a certain place at a certain time—a presence that kept the wrong thing from happening. Other times he’d say what needed to be heard. Real casual, not sounding like a threat at all. No, he was just talking, shooting the breeze about some previous experience. But beneath the words there’d be a point: don’t cross me or mine.

Sometimes people were too dumb to get it. He’d give them every chance, trying to be the nice guy. Trying to do it the easy way. But no. Those kind of people had stubborn minds and black hearts. Couldn’t be trusted. They were headed for a fall and about to take some good people with them. His people.

That’s what it had come to now.

“Hey, can I see you a sec before you go?” He motioned, and the one who must die came, humming.

Humming.

Like a lamb to slaughter.

CHAPTER 1

The screams of twenty thousand people sizzled in my ears.

“Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign! …”

At the sold-out HP Pavilion in San Jose, California the crowd chanted and clapped and stomped for my mom’s group, Rayne—named after her—to do one more song as they left the stage. As usual I stood backstage with Tom Hutchens, my mom’s twenty-five-year-old hair dresser and makeup artist, and my closest friend on tour. Tom was short and slim, with thick black hair and an intense-looking face that didn’t match his crazy personality at all.

Tom feigned the pucker of a hip-hop artist and splayed his fingers in front of his red T-shirt. “Yo, she reign, they go insane!” He had to shout at me, his Vans-clad feet dancing. Tom always wore these wild-looking sneakers with blue, white, and red checks and a red racing stripe on the sides. “Ain’t nothin’ plain about rockin’ Rayne!”

I punched him in the arm, laughing. His silly rap rhymes were getting worse by the day.

Blonde hair bouncing, Mom came flying down the steps on the way to her private dressing room for the two-minute break. Sweat shone on her forehead as she passed by. She flashed her red-lipped grin at me and raised a palm. We high-fived as she sped past.

“They love us, Shaley!”

“’Course, Mom, they always do!”

The rest of the rock group—Kim, Morrey, Rich and Stan—descended more slowly, their faces showing fatigue. None of them had the energy of my mother after a concert. Tom and I gave them a quick thumbs-up before scurrying after Mom.

As we hit the dressing room with Rayne O’Connor’s name on the door, I checked my watch. 10:45. Yay! Almost time to head to the airport and pick up my best friend, Brittany. I hadn’t seen her since Rayne started touring three months ago, and I couldn’t wait to be with her again. This was Rayne’s third tour, and I always found it hard to leave all my school friends behind.

Without Tom to keep me laughing, touring would be terribly lonely.

I closed the dressing room door, shutting out some of the noise.

“Whoo.” Mom crossed to the left side of the room and plopped into the makeup chair facing a long, brightly lit mirror. To her right sat a wooden armoire full of her clothing. She always changed outfits during intermission. Along the back wall were the blue sofa and matching armchairs specified by contract for her dressing area in every arena. Opposite the makeup counter was the table loaded with catered food, also specified by contract—bowls of fruit, sandwiches, pasta salad, cheese cubes, chips, and M&Ms for me.

Mom studied herself in the mirror with her large crystal blue eyes. “Okay, Tom, do your magic.” She guzzled a drink from a water bottle on the counter.

Like she needed any magic. With her high cheekbones, oval face, and full lips, Mom was drop-dead gorgeous.

Tom winked at me as he snatched up a tissue. Sticking his scrawny neck out, he scrutinized Mom with animation, eyes narrowed and his mouth a rounded O. “Hm. Hmm.”

He sighed, stood back and spread his hands as if to say nothing to be done here, you’re perfect.

Mom rolled her eyes at me. I shrugged. As if I could control Tom’s antics.

“All right, lover boy.” Mom took another swig of water. “Get to it, I’ve got one minute left.”

“Yo, big Mama.”

Mom swatted his hand. “Would you stop calling me that? I don’t know why I put up with you.” Her mouth curved.

Tom leaned in to blot her face with the tissue. “’Cause I make you look bodacious, that’s why.” Expertly he retouched her blusher and lipstick, fluffed her hair.

Out in the arena the crowd’s yells and applause was growing louder. I smiled and squeezed Mom’s shoulder. Every concert the fans went wild, but it never got old for me. Night after night their adoration set pride for my mom welling in my chest.

Five years ago when I was eleven and Mom was twenty-eight, Rayne was barely hanging on. Mom and the band played little concerts here and there, working night and day to get noticed. I remember how hard she tried back then. A great lyric writer with a distinct, throaty-edged voice, she deserved to make it big. Then the song Far and Near hit the radio and after that—a rocket launch.

Tom stood back and surveyed Mom, his head cocked to one side. “Not bad. Not bad a-tall.”

“Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign!” The crowd was going crazy out there.

Mom tossed her hair back, looked at herself from side to side. “Great.” She sprang from the chair. “Gotta go.” She hurried toward the door.

I moved out of her way. “Mom, don’t forget we’re going to pick up Brittany in ten minutes. We’re leaving a little early because Tom wants to stop by a drugstore.”

“Oh, that’s right.” Mom pulled up short, one hand on the door knob. She looked to Tom. “Somebody else doing your clean-up?”

He glanced at me. “Got it taken care of.”

Disappointment pulled at my mouth. Mom knew how I’d counted the days until Brittany’s and my junior year of high school ended—just yesterday. My tutor had flown home this morning, and now Brittany was coming for two weeks. Mom was paying all her expenses—for that I was so grateful. But Mom could get so wrapped up in her work. Sometimes I just needed her to remember me.

Mom looked my way—and caught my expression. She smiled too wide, as if to make up for her distraction. “I’m so glad Brittany’s coming, Shaley. We’ll show her a great time.”

I nodded.

“Mick’s going with you, right?”

“Yeah.”

Mick Rader had been my mom’s main personal bodyguard for the past three years. The other two, Bruce Stolz and Wendell Bennington, would guard her on her way to the hotel tonight while Mick was with me.

“Okay, good. You’ll be safe.” Mom smiled as she opened the door. The crowd’s screams rushed in. “See you at the hotel.”

She blew me a kiss and disappeared.

The yelling suddenly frayed my nerves. I pushed the door shut and leaned against it.

Tom shot me his sad clown look, his lips turned down and eyebrows pulled into a V. He always read my mind so well.

I couldn’t help but smile. “It’s okay.”

His expression whisked away. Tom struck his hip-hop pose. “Got a new one for ya.”

“Oh, yeah?” I knew he’d create the lyrics as he went along, just to get me laughing again.

Tom’s feet started their shuffle-dance. “Let’s go for a ride down the avenue. Top down, wind-blown, my VW. The talk of the town in all we do. Shaley O’Connor puttin’ on the view—”

He froze, mouth open, frowning hard. Then jerked back into dancing. “Can’t think of another line, can you?”

I giggled. “Great, Tom, as fabulous as all your others.”

He bowed. “Thank ya, thank yaaa.”

Pulling up straight, he glanced at the wall clock. “Yikes, I gotta take care of some things before the limo comes. Meet you at the back exit?”

“Okay.”

As the door closed behind him, I crossed the room to check myself in the mirror. Excitement pulsed through my veins. Almost time to see Brittany! I chose a neutral lipstick and leaned toward the glass to apply it. Thanks to Tom I’d learned a lot of makeup tricks, and my face needed little retouching. Finished with the lipstick, I ran a brush through my long brown hair. Tom had recently layered it and feathered the bangs. I liked the look.

Despite the difference in hair color, many people said I looked like my mother. I considered that a high compliment.

I stood back and turned side to side. Not bad. My new designer jeans fit well and the blue top matched my eyes. Brittany would love the outfit. I grinned at myself, then glanced at the clock. Almost time for the limo to arrive.

In the arena the crowd roared. Rayne was taking the stage. The first of two encore songs started—the band’s new hit Do it Up Right.

For a few minutes I paced the room impatiently, munching M&Ms. Rayne launched into their final song of the night.

Two hard knocks sounded on the door—Mick’s signal. He stuck his square-shaped head inside. Mick is in his forties, ex-military. A thick neck and muscles out to here. Nobody messes with Mick. “Shaley, you ready?”

“Yes! Is the limo waiting?”

“Yeah.” His deep-set brown eyes swept the room. “Where’s Tom?”

“He said he had to take care of a few things. He’ll meet us at the door.” I crossed to the couch to pick up my purse.

“Okay. I’m going to stop in the bathroom, then I’ll see you there.” He gave me his squinty-eyed stare. “Don’t step outside of the building without me.”

I flicked a look at the ceiling. “Yeah, yeah.” Mick was so protective. It’s not like I’d be in any danger walking out that door. As with all arenas where Rayne sang, the HP Pavilion had a special entrance for performers, guarded by their own local security. And that whole section of the parking lot was roped off and guarded. No chance for any fans or paparazzi to sneak in.

Mick jabbed a finger at me for emphasis, then left.

Tingling with anticipation, I scurried out the door, intent on checking the other dressing rooms for Tom. No time to wait, let’s go, let’s go! Having been at the arena since four o’clock when sound checks began, I’d already learned the layout of the backstage area. There were eight dressing rooms—Mom’s the biggest.

I hurried down the wide hall, mouthing “hi” to people I passed. The sound and light crew were still working, but the backline crew—the guys who maintain all the instruments and switch them out during performances—were done now. Set carpenters, the managers, and all the people who tore down the stage also milled around until the concert ended.

First I went to the back exit and peeked outside. Tom wasn’t there.

I returned all the way up the hall, figuring I’d work my way back down.

For the first time I noticed all the dressing room doors were closed. Strange. If Tom had gone into one to pack up something, he’d have left the door open as a courtesy. Those assigned rooms were personal space to members of the band and Rayne’s production manager, Ross Blanke.

I peeked in the one next to Mom’s.

Empty.

Shoving my purse handles higher up my shoulder, I went to the third.

Empty again.

The fourth.

No Tom.

This wasn’t right. Tom was never late. Where was he?

Mick approached, signaling me with a roll of his finger—let’s get moving.

I nodded. “He wasn’t in the bathroom?”

Mick shook his head.

Together we walked to the fifth dressing room. Mick poked his head inside.

Empty.

I ran down to look in the sixth. No Tom.

I banged the door shut and looked around. What was going on? If he didn’t show up soon we wouldn’t have time to go out of our way to a drugstore. The airport was minutes away from the arena. We didn’t want Brittany waiting around by herself after dark.

“You take the next one.” Mick strode past me. “I’ll look in the one on the end.”

The seventh dressing room had been allocated as Ross’s office. At every venue he needed a private area for calling people, dealing with last-minute problems and basically seeing that everything in the contract was honored. I couldn’t remember seeing Ross in the hall. He might be inside, and I didn’t dare just barge in. The production manager’s office was off-limits to everyone unless invited.

I knocked, waited. Knocked harder.

No answer.

I opened the door.

Like Mom, Ross ordered the same room set-up each time. For him that included an oversized desk with black leather chair. On the desk he would stack his papers and folders, carefully position his laptop. A fax machine had to be on his left, a telephone with multiple lines on his right. Looking at Ross—a short, fat man with scraggly hair to his shoulders—you’d never guess what a neat freak he is.

And always on the wall—a large round clock.

As I stepped into the room, my eyes grazed that clock. 10:55. Brittany’s plane would be landing soon.

On the floor beside the desk I glimpsed a splash of color.

Something twisted inside my stomach, almost as if my subconscious mind had already registered the sight. Time seemed to slow.

Clutching the door handle, I turned my head toward the color.

A foot. On the floor sticking out from behind the desk. Wearing a Vans with blue, white and red checks, and a red racing strip. The foot lay on its side, toes pointed away from me, heel dug awkwardly into the carpet.

Deathly still.

CHAPTER 2

I stared across the room at the foot. The back of my neck prickled.

Run, my mind shouted. Run and check on Tom! But my feet rooted to the carpet, my fingers digging into the doorpost.

Onstage, the music stopped. Wild clapping and cheering rose from the arena.

The noise jerked me out of my zombie state. I lowered my purse from my shoulder. Set it on the floor. Holding my breath, I crept forward.

As I edged around the side of the desk, Tom’s jeaned leg came into view.

It wasn’t moving.

My legs stopped.

“T-Tom?” My voice cracked into a whisper.

No answer.

So what? He couldn’t have heard me above the crowd.

I took another step. Now I could see his second leg, drawn up and bent at the knee. Tom was lying on his side. I moved again and saw an arm flung out, fingers half-curled toward the palm.

I leapt forward until his head came into sight. Tom’s second arm lay crumpled against the carpet, his face partially turned into the short sleeve of his red T-shirt. His one visible eye was open, staring at the wall.

Air gushed out of my mouth. He was tricking me.

“You rotten thing!” I pushed at his leg with my toe. “How—”

No change. Just that wide-eyed stare.

All the relief that had spilled out of me reversed back down my throat. My windpipe closed until I could hardly breathe. I sank to my knees beside his chest.

“Tom?” I leaned down to look into both his eyes.

The other one was gone.

I mean gone. Just a black, bloody, gaping hole.

For the longest second of my life, all I could do was stare. It pulled at me, that hole. Like it wanted me to tumble inside it, a horror-film version of Alice in Wonderland.

Faintness gripped me. I swooned toward Tom’s ravaged face, my nose almost touching where his eye used to be …

At the last possible moment, my muscles jerked me back.

I shoved to my feet and screamed.

CHAPTER 3

My shrieks bounced off the walls during the crowd’s final shouts. In the same second all noise died away.

Silence rang in my ears.

I turned and ran.

Mick materialized in the doorway as I hurtled into it. I rammed into his rock-solid chest. With another scream I bounced off and collapsed on the carpet.

“What–?” Mick bent over me. I looked up, mouth flopping open. No sound came. I pointed a shaking finger toward Tom. Mick’s head jerked up.

Horror crossed his face.

He jumped over me and ran to Tom, his hand reaching for the gun clipped to his belt.

Mick bent down and disappeared behind the desk. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t do anything.

Voices of band members mingled in the hall, commenting on the performance. How strange the words sounded. So naïve. So unknowing.

Heavy footsteps approached. Ross rounded the corner and almost stepped on me.

“Ahhh!” I rolled away from him.

Mick raised up from behind the desk. Ross froze at the look on his face. “What’s going on?”

“Tom’s dead.” Mick’s voice was tight.

“What?”

“Somebody shot him.”

Ross blinked rapidly, then leapt around me to see for himself.

Mick reached for the phone on the desk. “I’m calling 911.”

I stared at the ceiling, mind going numb. My limbs felt like water. Tom was dead. Dead. My heart couldn’t grasp it. I’d just been with him. How could he be gone?

“Oh.” The word choked from Ross’s throat. He backed away from Tom.

“Yes,” Mick said into the phone. “I need to report a homicide. Hang on a minute.” He shoved the phone into Ross’s hand. “You talk to them. I need to get Bruce and Wendell. We’ll round up the band members, make sure they’re safe.”

Mom. Could whoever did this to Tom want to hurt her?

Mick ran past me, gun in hand. “Shaley, stay here.”

I barely heard him. Panic pushed me onto weak knees. I had to find my mother!

Somehow I crawled out the door. “Mom. Mommmm!”

Every person in the hallway jerked around.

Mick spun back to me. “Shaley, stay there!” He swung toward the others. “Everyone, against the wall and don’t move. Wendell, Bruce, where are you?”

People melted back, calling questions, their voices buzzing like a thousand bees in my head.

“Where’s my mom!”

Bruce ran out of the men’s bathroom, hand automatically going for his weapon. “What?” At six-foot-six, he has powerful, long legs and arms. I could see his head about everyone else’s.

Wendell burst from the stage area. “Here!”

“Shaley?” Mom’s sharpened voice filtered from up the hallway. “What’s happening?” She came toward me, eyes wide.

“Rayne, stay where you are!” Mick shouted.

Mom picked up speed. Her head whipped back and forth, gawking at everyone pressed against the walls. She started to run. “Shaley, are you all right?

I teetered to my feet. “Tom’s dead, Mom, he’s dead!”

Gasps rose from dozens of throats. Mom didn’t even slow. Mick grabbed her arm, but she yanked away. As if in a dream—a nightmare—I watched her tear-blurred form hurtle toward me. Mick, Bruce and Wendell spread their feet, guns raised, eyes darting back and forth, searching the hall for danger.

I flung myself forward, sobbing.

After an eternity Mom reached me. I collapsed into her arms, screaming Tom’s name.

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