Sunday, 26 February 2012

Frantic By Mike Dellosso

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:

Realms (February 7, 2012)

***Special thanks to Jon Wooten of Charisma House for sending me a review copy.***


Mike Dellosso is the author of numerous novels of suspense, including Darkness Follows, Darlington Woods, and Scream. He is an adjunct professor of writing at Lancaster Bible College and frequent contributor to Christian websites and newsletters. Mike is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers association, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, the Relief Writer’s Network, and FaithWriters, and he plans to join International Thriller Writers. He earned his BA degree from Messiah College and his MBS from Master’s International School of Divinity. He lives in Hanover, PA, with his wife and daughters. Hometown: Hanover, PA

Visit the author's website.


Gas station attendant Marny Toogood thinks it’s just another ordinary day on the job until an urgent message from a young girl in the backseat of a car draws him into a daring rescue attempt. Now he is on the run with Esther and William Rose from their insane “uncle” who thinks it is his mission from God to protect William, a boy with incredible faith that gives him supernatural powers.

As they face kidnapping, underground cults, and other evils, can Marny trust the simple faith of a child and stand his ground against a power so twisted?

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Realms (February 7, 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1616384808

ISBN-13: 978-1616384807


    The night Marny Toogood was born it rained axheads and hammer handles.
  His grandfather made a prediction, said it was an omen of some sort, that it meant Marny’s life would be stormy, full of rain clouds and lightning strikes. Wanting to prove her father wrong, Janie Toogood named her son Marnin, which means “one who brings joy,” instead of the Mitchell she and her husband had agreed on.
 But in spite of Janie’s good intentions, and regardless of what his birth certificate said, Marny’s grandfather was right.
 At the exact time Marny was delivered into this world and his grandfather was portending a dark future, Marny’s father was en route to the hospital from his job at Winden’s Furniture Factory where he was stuck working the graveyard shift. He’d gotten the phone call that Janie was in labor, dropped his hammer, and run out of the plant. Fifteen minutes from the hospital his pickup hit standing water, hydroplaned, and tumbled down a steep embank- ment, landing in a stand of eastern white pines. The coroner said he experienced a quick death; he did not suffer.
 One week after Marny’s birth his grandfather died of a heart attack. He didn’t suffer either.
 Twenty-six years and a couple of lifetimes of hurt later, Marny found himself working at Condon’s Gas ’n Go and living above the garage in a small studio apartment George Condon rented to

    Mike Dellosso 
him for two hundred bucks a month. It was nothing special, but it was a place to lay his head at night and dream about the dark cloud that stalked him.
 But his mother had told him every day until the moment she died that behind every rain cloud is the sun, just waiting to shine its light and dry the earth’s tears.
 Marny  held  on  to  that  promise  and  thought  about  it  every night before he succumbed to sleep and entered a world that was as unfriendly and frightening as any fairy tale forest, the place of his dreams, the only place more dark and foreboding than his life.
  On the day reality collided with the world of Marny’s night- mares, it was hotter than blazes, strange for a June day in Maine. The sun sat high in the sky, and waves of heat rolled over the asphalt lot at the Gas ’n Go. The weather kept everyone indoors, which meant business was slow for a Saturday. Marny sat in the garage bay waiting for Mr. Condon to take his turn in checkers and wiped the sweat from his brow.
    Man, it’s hot.”
    Mr. Condon didn’t look up from the checkerboard. “Ayuh.
Wicked hot. Newsman said it could hit ninety.”
    “So it’ll probably get up to ninety-five.”
    Mr. Condon rubbed at his white stubble. “Ayuh.”
He was sixty-two and looked it. His leather-tough skin was

creased with deep wrinkles. Lots of smile lines. Marny had worked
for him for two years but had known the old mechanic his whole
    Mr. Condon made his move then squinted at Marny. Behind
him Ed Ricker’s Dodge truck rested on the lift. The transmis-
sion had blown, and Mr. Condon should have been working
on it instead of playing checkers. But old Condon kept his own
schedule. His customers never complained. George Condon was
the best, and cheapest, mechanic around. He’d been getting cars
and trucks through one more Maine winter for forty years.
    Marny studied the checkerboard, feeling the weight of Mr.
Condon’s dark eyes on him, and was about to make his move

Fr antic 
when the bell chimed, signaling someone had pulled up to the pump island. Condon’s was the only full-service station left in the Down East, maybe in the whole state of Maine.
 Despite the heat, Mr. Condon didn’t have one droplet of sweat on his face. “Cah’s waitin’, son.”
 Marny glanced outside at the tendrils of heat wriggling above the lot, then at the checkerboard. “No cheating.”
    His opponent winked. “No promises.”
    Pushing back his chair, Marny stood and wiped more sweat
from his brow, then headed outside.
    The car at the pump was a 1990s model Ford Taurus, faded blue
with a few rust spots around the wheel wells. The windows were
rolled down, which probably meant the air-conditioning had quit
working. This was normally not a big deal in Maine, but on a rare
day like this, the driver had to be longing for cool air.
    Marny had never seen the vehicle before. The driver was a large
man, thick and broad. He had close-cropped hair and a smooth,
round face. Marny had never seen him before either.
    He approached the car and did his best to be friendly. “Mornin’.
Hot one, isn’t it?”
    The driver neither smiled nor looked at him. “Fill it up. Regular.”
    Marny headed to the rear of the car and noticed a girl in the
backseat. A woman, really, looked to be in her early twenties. She
sat with her hands in her lap, head slightly bowed. As he passed
the rear window she glanced at him, and there was something in
her eyes that spoke of sorrow and doom. Marny recognized the
look because he saw it in his own eyes every night in the mirror.
He smiled, but she quickly diverted her gaze.
    As he pumped the gas, Marny watched the girl, studied the
back of her head. She was attractive in a plain way, a natural pret-
tiness that didn’t need any help from cosmetics. Her hair was rich
brown and hung loosely around her shoulders. But it was her eyes
that had captivated him. They were as blue as the summer sky, but
so sad and empty. Marny wondered what the story was between
the man and girl. He was certainly old enough to be her father. He

    Mike Dellosso 
looked stern and callous, maybe even cruel. Marny felt for her, for her unhappiness, her life.
  He caught the man watching him in the side mirror and looked at the pump’s gauge. A second later the nozzle clicked off, and he returned it to the pump. He walked back to the driver’s window. “That’ll be forty-two.”
 While the man fished around in his back pocket for his wallet, Marny glanced at the girl again, but she kept her eyes down on her hands.
 You folks local?” Marny said, trying to get the man to open up a little.
    The driver handed Marny three twenties but said nothing. Marny counted off eighteen dollars in change. “You new in the
area? I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before. Lately, seems more people have been moving out than in.”
  Still nothing. The man took the money and started the car. Before pulling out he nodded at Marny. There was something in the way he moved his head, the way his eyes sat in their sockets, the way his forehead wrinkled ever so slightly, that made Marny shiver despite the heat.
 The car rolled away from the pump, asphalt sticking to the tires, and exited the lot. Marny watched until it was nearly out of sight, then turned to head back to the garage and Mr. Condon and the game of checkers. But a crumpled piece of paper on the ground where the Taurus had been parked caught his attention. He picked it up and unfurled it. Written in all capital letters was a message:


Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Not in the Heart ~ Review

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:

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (January 20, 2012)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings – The B&B Media Group – for sending me a review copy.***


As a child, Chris Fabry wrote stories, songs and poems. The creative process invigorated him. He may not have been a fast reader, but the words on the page had a deep effect. So he vowed that if he ever had the chance to write, he would take it.

After high school, Fabry attended and graduated from the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism at Marshall University in Huntington, WV. After graduation, Fabry and his wife felt a desire for biblical education, so his pastor suggested they check out Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. At Moody, Fabry met Jerry Jenkins who learned of his desire to write and encouraged him to pursue his dream. In 1998, Jenkins and Dr. Tim LaHaye hired him to write Left Behind: The Kids series. He wrote 35 books in that series over the next six years. He later collaborated with Jenkins on the Red Rock Mysteries series and The Wormling series, and in 2008 he worked solo on the NASCAR-based RPM series.

Since then he has published four novels for adults: Dogwood, June Bug, Almost Heaven and his newest novel, Not in the Heart. Each of his first three books was nominated for a Christy Award in the Contemporary Standalone Category, winning in 2009 for Dogwood and in 2011 for Almost Heaven. In addition to his fiction work, Fabry also collaborated on two best-selling football biographies with Ohio State’s Jim Tressel and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints. Altogether, Fabry has published more than 70 books for children and adults.

Fabry’s other passion is broadcasting. As part of the DECCA program in high school, he worked at WNST Radio in Milton, WV. During his senior year at Marshall University, he worked for WSAZ-TV as a weekend reporter. In 1985, he began hosting Open Line, a national call-in show which he hosted until 1997. In 1993, he began a six-year stint as co-host of Mornings with Greg and Chris on WMBI in Chicago. Then in May of 2008 he began Chris Fabry Live! which received the 2008 Talk Personality of the Year Award from the National Religious Broadcasters. He can also be heard daily on Love Worth Finding, featuring the teaching of the late Dr. Adrian Rogers.

Chris and his wife of almost 30 years, Andrea, are the parents of nine children.

Visit the author's website.


Truman Wiley used to report news stories from around the world, but now the most troubling headlines are his own. He’s out of work, out of touch with his family, out of his home. But nothing dogs him more than his son’s failing heart.

With mounting hospital bills and Truman’s penchant for gambling his savings, the situation seems hopeless . . . until his estranged wife throws him a lifeline—the chance to write the story of a death row inmate, a man convicted of murder who wants to donate his heart to Truman’s son.

As the execution clock ticks down, Truman uncovers disturbing evidence that points to a different killer. For his son to live, must an innocent man die? Truman’s investigation draws him down a path that will change his life, his family, and the destinies of two men forever.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 432 pages

Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (January 20, 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1414348614

ISBN-13: 978-1414348612


30 days before execution

The trouble with my wife began when she needed Jesus and I
needed a cat. Life can be that way. That’s part of the reason I was on Sanibel
Island in the cottage I had always dreamed of owning and she was in Tallahassee
tending to the sick son of our youth. But it’s more complicated. There was more
troubling me than religion or people who think problems can be solved with a
leap of faith.
Said cottage was a tiny house that seems to be the rage
among those who believe we are warming the planet with each exhale. I didn’t
buy it because of that, but I recycle my Coors Light cans. My little
contribution to the cause. Lately it’s been a hefty contribution. There was one
bedroom in the back and a little bathroom, a walk-through kitchen, and a living
area that I used as an office. Murrow usually sat in the window looking out at
the beach with as much interest as I have in paying both of my mortgages. It’s
not that I don’t want to pay. I can’t.
I was on the bed, surfing news sites, fueling the ache about
my lack of direction and lack of a job. The satellite TV company disconnected
me a few months ago, so I got my news online from the unprotected network of a
neighbor who can’t encrypt his wireless router.
I could see the downsizing coming in every area of the
conglomerate media company. I knew it would hit the newsroom, but I always
thought when the music stopped, I would have a chair. What I got was severance,
a pat on the back, and a shelf full of awards I stuffed into a suitcase that
sat in the attic of a cottage I couldn’t afford.
I closed my laptop and told Murrow I’d be back, as if she
cared, and walked barefoot out the front door and down the long, wooden
stairway to the beach. I bought this cottage for these long, head-clearing
walks. The sound of the waves crashing against doubts and fears. The smell of
the ocean and its salty cycle of life and death.
A mom and a dad dressed in white strolled along the beach
with two kids who squealed every time the water came close.
I walked the other way.
The phone rang as I passed a dead seagull. Not a good omen.
“Tru, it’s me.”
The woman of my dreams. The woman of my nightmares.
Everything good and bad about my life. The “I do” that “I didn’t.”
“Ellen. What’s up?”
“How are you?” She said it with a measure of compassion, as
if she weren’t holding back years of boiling anger. As if she didn’t have
something else she wanted to ask me and wasn’t just setting the stage for the
coup de grâce.
“I’m good. Just taking a walk on the beach.”
Wish you weren’t here. Wish you
weren’t still in my head. Wish you hadn’t called. Wish the last twenty years
were something I could bury in the sand. What were you thinking marrying a guy
like me? My life is a sand castle and my days are wind and water.
“Hear anything back yet? Any offers?”
“There’s nothing plural about my job prospects. Not even
singular. I did hear from the Fox station in Des Moines yesterday. They went
with somebody with longer hair and bigger lungs.”
She spoke with a wry smile. “It’s only a matter of time; you
know that.”
“Right. It’s always been a matter of time, hasn’t it?”
She let the irony hang there between us, and I could picture
her in her wedding dress and without it. Then the first time we met in the
university newsroom, big glasses and frilly blouse. Hair that smelled like the
ocean and felt like silk. A sharp wit, infectious laugh, and the tenacity of a
bloodhound on every story she covered. I thought we were always going to be on
the same page, but somehow I kept chasing headlines and she moved to the Life
“I have something that might interest you,” she said.
“How old is she?” I’m not always a smart aleck with the
people I love. When I’m asleep, they tell me I don’t say much of anything.
“It’s not a she. It’s a he with a pretty good story. A great
story. A life changer.”
“Not into guys.”
She sighed and plowed ahead. “Have you heard of Terrelle
That was like asking a history major if she’d ever heard of
Alexis de Tocqueville. “I know he’s facing the needle.”
“Right. Next month.”
“Wonder what his last meal will be. How do they choose that
anyway? Shrimp and steak or lobster bisque? Macaroni and cheese? How can you
enjoy a meal knowing you only have hours left? Or what movie to watch? What
would you choose?”
“I know his wife, Oleta. She wants somebody to write the
story from his perspective. The whole family does.”
I laughed. “In thirty days or less.”
“They’ve scraped up some money. Not much, but it could
probably help.”
“How much is ‘probably’?”
“I don’t know exactly, but I was thinking you could call
Gina and find out if—”
“I’m not with Gina or the agency anymore. She dropped me.
Said it was a hard decision on their part. I guess they took a vote.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Just another bump in the literary highway. I don’t think writing
is my thing, anyway.” I said it halfheartedly, coaxing some kind of compliment.
“You’re a great writer,” she obliged. “You haven’t had as
many opportunities lately, but . . .”
“I haven’t had any politicians who want to be president or
sports stars who’ve been accused of steroids approach me in a few years. That’s
what you mean,” I said. “Where did you meet Olatha?”
“Oleta. I met her at church.”
Groan. How did I know that was coming?
I paused at a sand castle that had been constructed with
several five-gallon buckets. Towels and chairs had been abandoned for the
moment. Water filled the moat, and I heard laughter from a bungalow perched
like a lighthouse above. A couple in love.
“You must have some idea of how much.”
“A few thousand. We didn’t talk about that. The important
thing . . . it’s not just an opportunity for you. It’s for
“Now you’re really getting cryptic. You want to back up?”
“Terrelle’s wife is in a study group with me. She’s known
about Aiden’s condition for years. Always asks for updates. Terrelle came up
with the idea—he wants to be a donor. A second chance for Aiden.”
I should have been doing cartwheels. Our eighteen-year-old
son could get a new lease on life? Instead, I was skeptical, like any good
journalist. “Ellen, there’s no chance. Do you know how long something like that
would take?”
“It’s been in process for a while.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You haven’t exactly been available.”
“The prison system, the authorities, they’ll never let
“The governor is taking it seriously. I’ve heard he’s
working with the legislature. It’s not a done deal, but there’s a chance.”
The governor. The hair rose on the back of my neck.
“Ellen, there’s some law firm in Tallahassee salivating at
all the appeals and counterappeals that are going to happen. This is less than
a long shot.”
“Yeah, but right now it’s looking like a pretty good long
shot.” There was emotion in her voice and for the first time I noticed noise in
the background.
“Where are you?”
She swallowed hard and I imagined her wiping away a tear. My
wife has had plenty of practice.
“At the hospital again,” she said. “ICU.”
I cursed under my breath and away from the phone. Not just
because of all the hospital bills I knew were coming my way, but also because
this was my son. I’ll be honest—the bills were the first thing I thought of,
but picturing him hooked up to tubes and needles again crushed me.
“How is he?”
“Not good. They’re monitoring him. Same story.”
“How long have you been there?”
“Since late last night. He was having trouble breathing.
Lots of pain. He asks about you.”
Guilt. She had to get that in there, didn’t she?
“Tell him to hang in there, okay?”
“Come see him. It would mean so much.”
“Yeah. I will.” I said it fast, though I knew I’d have to
launder all the cat hair from my clothes because Aiden’s deathly allergic to
cats just like I’m allergic to the inside of the death chamber.
Someone spoke over the intercom near her and the sound took
me back to those first days when I wasn’t as scared of hospitals. Back then I
could watch a movie or a TV show with a medical setting. Now I can’t even watch
the TV promos. My chest gets tight and the smell of alcohol and Betadine and
the shape of needles invades, mingling with the cries of a young child in pain
and another memory of a man on a gurney.
We discovered Aiden’s heart malady by accident. Ellen was
into natural food, natural medicine, whole-grain seaweed sandwiches and eggs
that came from free-range chickens who had bedtime stories read to them each
night before they settled into their nests. Natural childbirth with a midwife.
All that stuff. She was convinced antibiotics were the forbidden fruit, so she
didn’t run to the HMO every time our kids were sick. But something told her to
take Abby in for some chest congestion she couldn’t get rid of. Aiden was with
her, and on a lark the doctor placed the stethoscope on his chest.
Ellen cried when she tried to explain the look on the
woman’s face. They’d missed it when he was born.
That sent us on a crash course of congenital heart defects
and a series of surgeries and treatments that would change our lives. Ellen
hates hospitals as much as I do, but you do what you must for your kids.
“Terrelle has the same blood type,” Ellen said. “He’s about
the same size as Aiden, maybe a little smaller, which is good.”
“Ellen, you know this is not going to happen, right? There
are so many hoops and holes. They don’t let doctors execute people.”
“There are guidelines, but they don’t have a problem
harvesting organs from an already-deceased donor.”
“Anybody who’s pro-life will howl. I thought you were
“I am, but this is something Terrelle wants.”
“Doesn’t matter. They harvest organs from prisoners in
China, but we’re not in China.” Though you wouldn’t know it by shopping at
“I know all that. But I also know my son is going to die.
And Terrelle and his wife want something good to come out of their tragedy.
They asked if you would write his story. I got to thinking that maybe . . .”
She broke a little and hearing her cry felt like some lonely
prayer drifting away and hitting the empty shores of heaven. Not that I believe
there is one, but you know, metaphorically speaking.
“You were thinking what?” I said.
“Maybe all of this is not really for Aiden. Maybe all we’ve
been through in the last eighteen years is for somebody else. If they deny
Terrelle’s request and Aiden doesn’t make it, maybe writing this story will
make a difference for someone down the road.”
Her altruism was more than I could handle. “Look, I don’t
care about all the people with sick kids. I don’t care about prisoners who want
to make up for their crimes. I don’t care about protesters or the politicians
who’ve found a wedge issue. I just want my son to live. Is that asking too
The emotion surprised me and I noticed the family in white
had changed direction but now quickly herded their children away from me.
It was Ellen’s turn to sound collected. “Do you have time to
work on something like that in the next thirty days? It would at least pay a
few bills.”
“If they’re trying to get a stay of execution, they need to
go straight to the press. Forget a book deal, forget a magazine exposé—it’s
already too late. Get somebody at one of the local stations to pick it up and
run with it—”
“Tru, they don’t want a stay. He wants to give his heart to
Aiden. And somebody has to get the story down before it’s over. No matter how
it goes, this will make a great story.”
I was already mulling titles in my head. A Heart from Death Row. Change of Heart. Pitter-Pat. Life in
Vein. Aorta Made a Better Choice.
She continued, “They know your history. What you’ve seen.
How you’re against the death penalty and why. For all your faults, Tru, you’re
the best reporter I’ve ever known. You get to the heart of the story like
nobody else. I think you should consider it.”
The Heart of the Story. Another
good title. I could tell she was buttering me up. I love being buttered up by
lovely women. But I hate the complications of life with beautiful women.
“I don’t write evangelical tracts.”
“Why are you so stubborn?” she whisper-screamed at me. Her
voice had an echo like she had moved into the bathroom or stairwell. “Why do
you have to look at this as some kind of spiritual conspiracy against you
instead of a gift? This is being handed to you on a platter. Don’t push it
away. I don’t care if you agree with them about God. You didn’t agree with
every sports figure or politician.”
“The only way I know how to do this job is to ferret out the
truth and tell it. Flat out. The way I see it. And if you’re expecting me to
throw in the third verse of a hymn every other chapter and quote the Gospel of
Terrelle, I can’t do that. Call somebody from the Christian right.”
“Tru, it’s because of who you are and how you tell the story
that they want you. Just talk with her. Let her explain. If you don’t like the
situation, they’ll go somewhere else. But they have to act quickly.”
The sun was coming down behind me and the wind picked up off
the water. I could smell the first hint of an impending storm. Or maybe I
forgot my deodorant.
“I’ll think about it.”
I hadn’t been gone that long, but as I walked up the
stairs, I heard a vehicle pulling away from the house. The taillights had
disappeared into the distance by the time I made it to my front door.
Murrow was still in the window, looking down on me with that
superior look. Humans are such a waste of oxygen,
she seemed to say. Maybe she was right. Maybe we are a waste of oxygen and the
best thing would be for us to be wiped from the planet. But something inside
said that wasn’t true. Something inside pushed me to keep moving, like an ant
dragging a piece of grass along the sidewalk until a strong wind blows it away.
The ant picks up another and starts over. I get exhausted just watching them.
On the front door was a legal document stating that whereby
and forthwith said mortgage company had begun said process with an intent to
foreclose and otherwise vacate said occupant’s tail onto the street to wit and
wheretofore so help them God, amen. I had received several such letters in the
mail, filing them carefully, hoping the rising tide of foreclosures would save
my little cottage until I got a new job.
I ripped the notice down and used it to wipe the sand from
my feet. And then a thought struck. A horrible, no-good, bad thought. The
newspaper. They published my name with each intent to foreclose. That meant
others would know where I was. Others, as in people I owed. Bad people.
Another car passed, slowly. Tinted windows. A low rumble of
expensive metal and fuel.
I hurried to the back of the little house and pulled out
every suitcase I could find and stowed everything of value. Books. Pictures of
me with newsmakers. Cloudy memories of trips abroad, war zones, interviews with
generals and dignitaries who went on to fame or perished in motorcades that
didn’t make it through IEDs.
It was hard not to sit and absorb the memories, but the
passing car gave urgency. I jammed every journal and notebook in with the
pictures, then put one suitcase with clothes in the trunk of my car and took
the rest on my shoulder down the sandy path to the Grahams’ house. Sweet
people. He retired from the Air Force and they moved for the sun and salty air.
Both should have died long ago from arthritis and other maladies, but they were
out walking the beach every day like two faithful dogs, paw in paw.
Jack and Millie were on the front porch, and I asked if I
could borrow some space in their garage for a suitcase or two. “I need to take
a trip. Someone new will be living in my house.”
“Relatives coming?”
“No, someone from the Bank of America wants it.”
Millie struggled to get out of her rocker and stood by a
white column near the front door. “If you need help, Truman, we’d be glad to.”
Jack nodded and the gesture almost brought tears to my eyes.
“How much are you short?” he said.
“Just a spot in the garage is all I need.”
“What about your cat?” Millie said.
“Murrow’s going with me.”
“If we can do anything at all . . . ,”
Jack’s voice trailed.
“I appreciate it. I appreciate both of you. Thanks for your
“We pray for Aiden every day,” Millie said.
The garage was spotless. Everything hanging up or neatly
placed on shelves. I should have joined the Air Force. In the back I found an
empty space near some gardening tools. I shook Jack’s hand gently and gave
Millie a hug. I only turned and looked at them once as I walked back to the
house. They stood like sentinels, the fading light of the sun casting a golden
glow around them and their house.
When Murrow saw the cat carrier, she bolted under the sofa
and I threatened to sell her to the local Chinese restaurant. An open can of
StarKist and my tender, compassionate voice helped coax her into the carrier,
and we were off.
I texted my wife: Will call your
friend tomorrow. Can I use Abby’s room?
The phone buzzed in my shirt pocket as I drove along the
causeway into darkening clouds. Key under frog. No
The next text gave Oleta’s number and a short message. You were made for this story.
Maybe she was right. Maybe I was the one for this job. One
loser telling the story of his kindred spirit. I sure didn’t have anything
better to do. But with the window down and my hand out, being pushed back by
the cool air, it felt less like the start of a new chapter and more like the
end of one.

My Thoughts:

Not in the Heart captured me on Page 1 and never let go. Seeing Truman live day after day avoiding his Son who is slowly dying due to issues with his heart, made "Not in the Heart" VERY HARD to read and at times, I just wanted to get my hands on Him and shake some sense into him. His Wife, Ellen, holds on to their marriage despite Truman's choices, and has been Aiden's only constant source of strength. Aiden is 18, and knows his Dads absence is far more than what his mom lets on. All he wants is to spend time with his dad and for Aidan, time is short. The only thing that will save Aidan is a heart transplant.

Truman has a gambling addiction and has not had any work in quite awhile. He receives a request from a family to write a story. There are many factors about "this story" that either intrigue Truman or just flat out bring out his pessimistic side. He meets Oleeta Conley. She is a little spitfire! I loved her from the beginning! She shares with Truman that God has instructed her that the story is only for Truman to write! Her husband, Terrelle, is in jail awaiting execution, for a murder he swears he did not do. Upon his execution Terrelle wants his heart to be given to Aidan.

Truman uncovers information that may lead to showing that Terrelle is innocent. But if he shares the information his son won't receive a heart....

What does he do? And will he ever quit avoiding his own family?

Not in the Heart is an excellent read. At times it is also a difficult read because of the addiction that Truman deals
with. This story shares an amazing Faith and the Power of Gods Grace!

A definite 5 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥'s

Sunday, 19 February 2012

When the Smoke Clears ~ Review!

About the Book:

As a member of the North Cascades Smokejumpers, Alexia Allen always takes care of the equipment that keeps her safe. So when she nearly dies in a fire due to equipment failure, she knows something is up. Ordered to take time off while the investigation continues, Alexia makes a last-minute decision to recuperate at her mother’s home and attend her high school reunion. Yet trouble seems to be following her, and within hours of arriving home she’s involved with murder, arson—and a handsome detective. But the conflicts ahead are nothing compared to the ghosts of her past. As she strives to remember and forgive her family history, she must also decide if the secret she’s been guarding for the last ten years must finally come to light.
Chock-full of the suspense and romantic tension readers have come to expect from Lynette Eason, When the Smoke Clears is the explosive first book in the DeaDly reunions series.

An Excerpt from the book:
“Get out, Alexia. Now!”
“Got to check the closet first, sir.”
“Get your tail outta there. Immediately!”
She needed air. How had her oxygen run out? She should have had at least another five minutes. Reaching up, she disconnected the hose from her tank and shoved it up under her heavy turnout. The coat would protect her as much as possible from smoke inhalation. And she wanted to minimize the blast of hot air that would fill her lungs. She caught a breath.
The dizziness receded.
The countdown was on. The decision: leave or check the closet?
She scanned the imaging device over the door. Bingo. “I’ve got something. Definitely a child.”
“Alexia! Get out!”
“She’s here, sir. Can’t leave without her.”
Alexia went to the door and turned the knob. A little girl. The child looked up at her, eyes wide, stark terror stamped on her tear-streaked features. Then she coughed and her eyes rolled back. Alexia slung the imager over her shoulder and leaned in to pick up the little girl.
Alexia took another breath and coughed.
Dizziness returned full force and she went to one knee. Vaguely, she felt the sweat roll down her back. “I’m in trouble,” she said into her radio, keeping her cool, refusing to panic. Help was just a second away. “Where’s RIT? No air.”
She pulled in a lungful of smoke this time. Coughing, sputtering, she turned with the child, frantic to get her out before the flames caught up with the smoke.
And then the spots before her eyes merged into one big black dot. Then nothing.

About the Author:

Lynette Eason is the author of several romantic suspense novels, including Too Close to Home, Don’t Look Back, and A Killer Among
Us. She is a member of American Fiction Christian Writers and Romance Writers of America. A homeschooling mother of two, she has a master’s degree in education from Converse College. She lives in South Carolina.

I am a HUGE fan of Lynette Eason's books! She's definitely is one of my favorite authors and I KNOW that I will definitely be in for a suspense filled ride! "When the Smoke Clears" was, without a doubt, her best book to date! From the very first page to the very last written word, I was on pins and needles wondering what the outcome would be and who in the world was after Alexia and why!! I've learned with Lynette's books that even if I think I've solved the mystery, she will point the clues elsewhere causing me to doubt my choice!

Alexia had a very difficult childhood. As soon as graduation was over Alexia moved away, making a life for herself as a female fire fighter, and a relationship with her family becomes pretty much extinct. Why would she want to talk to her mother when after all, she is the one who told Alexia to get out! Ten years later, Alexia finds herself on probation and told to take leave while an investigation takes place. Alexia ignored the Chiefs instructions to exit the fire immediately, but Alexia was determined to find the child that was still missing. While fighting this fire, she suspects foul play and almost dies when not just 1, but 2 hoses, are found with countless pinholes, causing the oxygen to be released far too quickly. Who would do this to her? While on "leave" she decides to return home for her high school reunion and is faced with her past. She literally walks through the front door of her childhood home and quickly finds herself a target, yet again. Why? Who wants her dead?

The mystery and suspense will have you turning pages as quickly as you can, and the romance will warm your heart! Watching Alexia face the truth of her past and finding her way as an adult is done in such a beautiful way. Many people grow up in dysfunctional families and don't know the Lord, let alone, HIS ways. Those who have been victim to abusive Fathers especially, have a difficult time with the "idea" of a Loving Heavenly Father and can't fathom the Love HE has for them. Forgiveness doesn't always come easy either, but when we see Christ in others and begin to have that desire to know HIM or to believe that HE just might care for us, we will surrender our lives to HIM and that forgiveness can be given because of HIM, even if the process takes time!

I will definitely recommend this book to EVERYONE! It is a 5 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥'s FOR SURE!

"When the Smoke Clears"
is the first book in the Deadly Reunions Series.

Is there anything I didn't like??? YES ~ Book 2 is NOT OUT YET!!!

Other books by Lynette Eason:

Women of Justice Series

1 Too Close to Home

2 Don’t Look Back

3 A Killer Among Us

Thank you Donna for this complimentary copy in exchange for my honest opinion!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

warring spirits ~ review

If you like Historical Fiction, you will NOT want to miss reading Warring Spirits! I also feel it important to share this is book 2 in this series. Book 1 is titled Wounded Spirits. I chose to read both before my review and hoped I would be done in time when the review date arrived. Well, when you can't put a book down, there are no worries about a date that is weeks away :) These books are just AWESOME!! I was drawn in to each one of these characters. There is action and romance too. Walking the road of Faith can be a difficult journey at times, but when we learn the Grace & Mercy of God, we are strengthened and can continue on, no matter the obstacle. Living in the 1800's proved to be filled with obstacles, from slavery to racial prejudices, and many more. Warring Spirits has it all and this series stayed with me long after I turned the last page!

These books are a definite 5 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥'s! Here is more info., as well as the first chapter :)

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:

Vinspire Publishing, LLC (November 30, 2011)

***Special thanks to April Gardner for sending me a review copy.***


April W Gardner has been a military brat, missionary's kid, and military spouse. After 21 years in various countries overseas, she happily resides in Georgia with her USAF husband and two sweet kiddos. In her free time, April enjoys reading, music, and DIY. In no particular order, she dreams of owning a horse, visiting all the national parks, and speaking Italian.

Librarian, reviewer, and avid reader, April adores anything books. She writes a regular column for the joint blog, Reflections in Hindsight, and is the founder and senior editor of the literary website, Clash of the Titles. She is the author of the historical romance series, Creek Country Saga and the children's adventure series, the Channel Islands Resistance.

Visit the author's website.


In 1816 Georgia, escaped slaves control the land just beyond the American border in Las Floridas. Lost somewhere between white and black worlds, Milly follows hope to the only place that can offer her refuge—the place Georgians are calling Negro Fort. The first, sweet taste of freedom convinces Milly that surrender is not an option. Death would be more welcome.

Major Phillip Bailey has orders to subdue the uprising and return the runaways to their masters. Forced to fight alongside Creek warriors—the same who etched the scars into his mind and flesh—Phillip primes himself for battle.  But inside, a war already rages—return for the woman he thought lost to him or concede her to the enemy she loves; follow orders or follow his heart.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.99

Paperback: 286 pages

Publisher: Vinspire Publishing, LLC (November 30, 2011)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 098341985X

ISBN-13: 978-0983419853


Warring Spirits
April Gardner
Vinspire Inspirations
A Division of Vinspire Publishing
Ladson, South Carolina

Warring Spirits
Copyright ©2011 April Gardner 
Cover illustration copyright © 2011 Elaina Lee/For the Muse Designs
Printed and bound in the United States of America. All rights
reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in
any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval
system-except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a
review to be printed in a magazine, newspaper, or on the Web without
permission in writing from the publisher. For information,
please contact Vinspire Publishing, LLC, P.O. Box 1165, Ladson, SC 29456-1165.
All characters in this work are purely fictional and have no existence
outside the imagination of the author and have no relation
whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not
even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the
author, and all incidents are pure invention. 
ISBN: 978-0-9834198-5-3

      Chapter 1 

      Phillip knew it was a dream. He told himself again, though it did little good. The children’s shrieks grew louder. The flaming pickets roared with new life, as though fueled by his denial of their existence.
      His legs churned, but he couldn’t free his mind of the constant nightmare. At least this time, he reasoned, he wasn’t awake. Small blessings.
      And then, he saw her.
      Arms dangling at her sides and skirt undulating in the waves of heat, she stood across the compound. Her lips were motionless, but her voice echoed through his mind. “Phillip.”
      He rushed toward the vision, and she reached for him. “Phillip, love, you must wake up.”
      With a cry, he bolted upright.
      The silhouette of a woman hovered over him. He stared at her, unblinking, afraid to move and frighten her away.
      Sweat poured down his chest—sweat as real as the shadow seemed.
      “That’s better,” she whispered. “You’ll be alright.”
      He disagreed, but if he spoke, he might shatter her. He’d done it before.
      Her loose hair swayed as she moved so near, he should feel her heat.
      Taking in the comfort of her presence, he held his breath until his lungs burned with need. Refusing to be contained any longer, air exploded from his mouth. The sound ripped through the cabin, and in one blink, Adela vanished.
      A moan built in Phillip’s throat, and he buried his head in his trembling palms. When his fingers collided with the jagged flesh on his face, he recalled again why Adela was no more to him than a mocking shadow, a figment of his deluded, half-crazed mind.
      She had turned him down.
      Familiar nausea haunted his gut. With a growl, he threw his damp pillow across the room. The sound of splintering glass sent him scrambling for the musket by his bed. He had the unsteady barrel aimed toward the source before he realized he’d been the cause of the commotion.
      He dropped the weapon and backed away from it as though it were a copperhead. Blood pounded in his throat. He swallowed hard, terrified of his own mind.
      It had been nearly two years. One more night of this and he would prove the gossip correct. He would go mad.
      There had to be a better way.
      “Help me.” His voice shivered, and for once, he was thankful to be alone. “Sweet Jesus, show me a better way.” 
      Sitting as poised as possible in the bouncing buckboard, Milly rearranged her skirt then tugged her bonnet over her ears. Another rut in the road sent her stomach flying.
      “You look fine, Miss Milly.” Isum transferred the reins to one hand then wiped a palm against his dingy, knee-length trousers. A sideways glance topped his crooked smile. “As fine as any white lady in stole clothes.”
      Milly squirmed inside her stuffy petticoats. “Borrowed clothes, and don’t call me that. Milly will do.”
      “No, miss. It won’t. Best make a habit of it now, before we’re needin’ it.”
      “I hate admitting when you’re right.”
      Isum chuckled, but Milly pressed her lips and snatched a peek over her shoulder.
      “We’ll hear somebody comin’ before we see ‘em.” Isum’s voice remained steady, his demeanor casual, and his shoulders relaxed. His death-grip on the reigns told another story.
      Three years ago, he had been as short and wiry as a plucked cotton bush. Now, his muscular, mahogany frame left little room to spare on the wagon seat. According to plantation gossip, the field girls took to nervous giggles whenever he came around. The master had perked up as well and taken to accepting bids.
      There was only one thing Master Landcastle needed more than strong field workers. Cash.
      The moment whispers in the big house revealed that Isum had been sold and would leave by dawn, Milly took action. There was no way she would let them take the only true friend she had, so ignoring the consequences, she loaded the buggy with vegetables. And one lady’s day gown.
      As was their weekly custom, she and Isum set off toward town. Only this time, instead of stopping at the market, they went straight through.
      Six miles of red, Georgia clay stretched behind them. Seventeen more before they ran into Spanish Florida. Sixty beyond that, Negro Fort, and safety.
      It had been done many times before. It could be done again. But in broad daylight?
      Escape stories ran through Milly’s twenty-four years of memory. Had there been a single one where a slave had taken to the road while the sun was at its highest? She shook her head.
      But I have an advantageso long as I’m not recognized.
      The July sun beat down on her with mocking strength. She pressed a palm across the back of her stinging neck.
      Isum reached to the floorboard then passed her the borrowed parasol. “You’ll be burnin’ if you don’t.”
      Since he first came to the plantation as a skinny tyke five years her younger, Isum had been her responsibility. She had cared for him as meticulously as she did her own flesh. About the time his gaze tilted downward in order to look her in the eye, they swapped roles, and his protectiveness had grown in proportion to his towering height.
      She frowned, opened the frilly contraption, and settled it against her shoulder. Immediately, her neck cooled. It did nothing for the bile rising in her throat.
      Gripping the side of the bench, she failed to tamp down the regret that swelled within her.
      The timing was wrong. They would be caught, and he would be sold. She dare not consider her own fate.
      They should turn back. It wasn’t too late.
      She swiveled and squinted at the road behind them. What options did she have? Mr. Grayson’s features, twisting with his customary, terrifying rage, flashed before her mind’s eye. It’s too late. We can’t turn around.
      They should be moving faster.
      Isum pulled on the reins.
      “Why are you slowing?” Milly sat forward, resisting the urge to yank the whip from its holder and spur the mare to a gallop.
      He swiped the floppy hat from his head and mopped his brow with his sleeve. “We ain’t alone. Best we not seem in too much of a hurry.” He indicated with his hat then settled it back in place before taking up a deliberate, relaxed posture.
      A horseman topped the next slope.
      “Oh God, help us.”
      “What you worried about, Miss Milly? You’s armed with the most beautiful smile this side of the Chattahoochee. Ain’t no gentleman gonna see past it to doubt your word.”
      But what if he wasn’t a gentleman? Milly forced a wobbly smile then swept her hand under her bonnet, securing any strays.
      Within minutes, Isum pulled the buggy to a halt as the gentleman came alongside them. The creaking brake nearly sent Milly scrambling for the trees lining the road. Instead, she angled the parasol to shield her face, presumably, from the sun.
      “Good afternoon.” The man’s unfamiliar voice released her pent-up breath.
      Easing back the shade, she peered through the lace edging. Long seconds passed before Isum shifted beside her and nudged her back.
      Milly lowered the parasol and forced her gaze to the stranger’s eyes. She found them friendly and unsuspecting. “Good afternoon to you, sir.” Tucking her trembling hands into the folds of the closed parasol, she tried for that beautiful smile but feared she fell short of Isum’s expectations.
      The man studied her, never once glancing at Isum.
      A cold sweat broke out on her upper lip. Like venom, fear coursed through her, poisoning her confidence. Her gaze slipped to the dirt where it belonged.
      “You’re a might far from civilization. It’s not exactly safe out here, even with a strapping young buck such as yours.”
      Milly’s line of sight skittered to the man’s chest, then, weighted by years of training, fell back to the ground. “I plan to trade with Creek in the next village. I hear they’ll give anything for a little food.”
      “So they will, poor devils.” The man laughed, making Milly’s skin crawl. He sidled his horse close to the buggy, and the smell of his cologne wafted down. “I appreciate a woman with a tender heart.”
      “If you don’t mind, we best be moving along. I wouldn’t want to be caught out after dark.”
      The man’s silence lured Milly’s hesitant gaze. A smile crept up his face. “There they are, those pretty brown eyes.” He tipped his hat, bowing slightly at the waist. “It would be my pleasure to escort you, miss.”
      “No.” The discourteous refusal popped out of its own volition. “Thank you, but that’s not necessary. We’re accustomed to the road.”
      Eyes darkening, the gentleman reined his horse around, pointing its nose toward the road behind them. “As you wish. Good day.”
      Milly nodded but doubted he noticed. “Let’s move, Isum,” she whispered, anxious to leave the man’s dust behind.
      A brisk mile later, Milly’s gloved hand still clutched the parasol in her lap. Tears burned her eyes at the thought of what might have happened. She blinked them away to find Isum grinning from ear to ear.
      “We done it. We fooled that dandy.”
      A strangled chuckle escaped her. “Yes. I supposed we did. He never suspected a thing.” Milly laughed, full and long. It unwound the knotted cord in her gut, and suddenly, the road opened before them and filled with possibilities.
      Possibilities of a future. With Isum? He had offered as much, and she hadn’t exactly rejected him. Neither had she accepted. She found it difficult to move past the years of near-mothering to feel something more toward him. And yet, she couldn’t imagine another man on earth who would willingly wed her. And from all indications, he was more than willing.
      Taking in a deep, cleansing breath, she turned and found his steady brown eyes on her. All joviality had fled. “Isum? What is it?”
      “For half a minute, I thought I was gonna have to kill me a white man, the way he was lookin’ at you. Like you’s a Sunday pastry.”
      It was always the same with men. Many women longed for beauty, but for Milly, it was the key to her shackles. Perhaps today would commence the end of her nightmares. Even if it did, it certainly wouldn’t erase what had already been done to her. She tucked her chin against the nagging shame.
      Isum grunted and slapped the reins across the mare’s rump. “Ain’t nothin’ you can help.”
      At the sound of thundering hooves, she felt the blood drain from her face. A glance behind them revealed four riders closing in fast.
      She gripped Isum’s arm, words lodging in her throat.
      Jaw clenched, he focused on the horse as he pulled them to a stop. Running was futile. With quivering resignation, she removed her gloves and folded them neatly, just as the mistress had taught her. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Isum, to see hope shattered across his face.
      “It ain’t ova,” he mumbled, as Master Landcastle’s men surrounded them.
      Milly coughed in the horses’ dust, and probed her mind for a reasonable excuse.
      “I thought you were smarter than this, Milly.” Grayson, the overseer, laid one hand across his legs, loosely aiming a pistol in their direction. “A shame what’ll become of you now.” His false sympathy grated on her ears.
      Two of the others dismounted and dragged Isum from his seat. He struggled against their attempt to shackle him and was rewarded with a swift kick to the gut.
      Milly jumped from the buggy and scrambled to the side of Grayson’s horse. Her nails dug into the leather of his riding boot. “Please, it was my fault. I didn’t tell him I planned to run.”
      He guffawed and kicked her hand away. “He doesn’t answer to you, girl. And he’ll pay for his own foolishness. Just as you will.” He jerked the pistol. “You’re riding with me.”
      The thought of being pressed against the man for seven miles of rough roads sent Milly back a step. He lunged forward, grappling for the fabric at the front of her gown, but he missed and scratched her neck instead.
      She barely registered the burn.
      His nostrils flared. “Get over here.”
      Milly shied away from his curses then risked a glance over her shoulder.
      The other three struggled against a willful Isum. “Hold him down,” one bellowed.
      “I’m tryin’!” Metal clinked and rattled as Isum kicked, sending the shackles skidding across the road.
      One of the men swore and went after them.
      Too late, Milly noticed Grayson’s hand as he swiped for her again. She swayed back and away, but he compensated, stretching farther away from his horse. Fisting her blouse, he yanked her toward himself.
      With a cry, Milly locked her knees, sending her lower half sliding under the horse’s belly. She clung to Grayson’s arm, her weight tugging him down with her.
      “Let me loose.” His breath puffed hot in her ear.
      The horse skittered, its hooves striking the ground so close she felt the vibration through the dirt. It bolted away from them, sending Grayson tumbling from his perch.
      Just in time, Milly flipped to the side, avoiding his descending bulk.
      He landed beside her with a grunt, his pistol coming to rest inches from her hand.
      “Merciful, Lord,” she whispered through dusty lips.
      “Grab it!” Isum screamed. Two held him belly-down, while the third locked one cuff on his ankle. His eyes bore into her, begging her to take action.
       Grayson’s gaze darted to the pistol the instant her fingers wrapped around the handle. Before he could pull himself to a sitting position, she had the barrel pointed at his head. “Make them stop.” Her voice trembled in time with her hands.
      He snorted. “You wouldn’t kill me.”
      No, she wouldn’t, but she could cripple him. In a way he’d never hurt another woman again. Without a word, she redirected her aim.
      Steady. Keep it steady. She scooted back, further of his reach. “You heard me.”
      Grayson glared at her, his jaw working circles.
      From the corner of her eye, she noted the stillness that had settled on the opposite side of the road. Isum flailed once more and managed to dislodge himself from under his captors.
      “Unshackle him,” Milly called, her eyes never leaving Grayson’s.
      “I’ll find you, and you know it.” His voice was gritty with hate.
      “Maybe. But not today.”
      “Grayson, what do you want us to do?”
      “Let him go.”
      The manacles clinked to the ground.
      Isum pushed up and trotted to her side, lip bleeding and jaw swollen, but looking better than such a struggle should afford. “I got this here.” He took the weapon from her. “Think you can get the buggy into them trees?”
      She nodded. If required to get them out of there, she could sprout wings and fly.
      The sun had barely moved by the time Isum had all four men bound, gagged, and lashed to the wagon, which Milly had taken as far into the undergrowth as she could.
      While he secured the men’s bonds, Milly changed back into her comfortable, plain brown frock then scattered all the horses but two. Leading one to Isum, she smiled. On horseback, they could cut through the forest and make better time. At least until the ground grew too swampy.
      He gave her a boost then adjusted the stirrups with a swiftness that spoke of a lifetime in the master’s stables. Giving her foot a pat, he winked. “Now who’s the mastah of himself?”
      She fingered the bonnet’s ribbon tied beneath her chin and shook her head. “It’s a bit soon to be so confident. We have a long trail ahead of us.”
      Mounted, Isum directed his horse alongside hers. With a quick yank, he loosened her bonnet’s ribbons. “You don’t need that no more. From here on, we’ll be exactly like the Almighty created us to be.”
      One hand pressed to the top of her bonnet, Milly leaned out of his reach.
      He clucked his tongue. “Your feet can run, but your heart, it gotta stop chasin’ after lies. It’s time you be who you’s meant to be.”
      Who I’m meant to be? “And what exactly am I?”
      “A child of the King. And my girl. Nothin’ else mattuh.”
      Milly snorted, as he took her mare by the bridle. “We ain’t leavin’ ‘til you know it.”
      “I know it.”
      “Then take it off.”
      She fingered the edge of her bonnet, while Grayson’s gaze gouged her back. She was more terrified to remove it than to turn the mare toward Florida. Heart running wild, she lifted the bonnet until a breeze tickled the hair on her forehead.
      With a smile born of unending patience, Isum released her horse.
      She set the cap in her lap and ran a hand over the braid worked in a circle around her head, its coarse, frizzy texture accusing her of her tainted heritage.
      Her line of sight traveled to Grayson. From where he sat tied to the wagon wheel, the hatred emanating from his eyes scorched Milly’s weak resolve.
      “I can’t.” With a jerk to the reins, she twisted the horse’s bit out of Isum’s reach. Gripping the saddle with her thighs, she settled the bonnet back in place. A swift kick of her heel set the mare on the backwoods trail to Spanish Florida.
      Isum might be doomed every day to face their reality, but Milly had been blessed with the option to hide.
      What slave in her right mind would choose otherwise?
      For the third time in an hour, Major Phillip Bailey checked that his musket was properly primed and loaded. The Apalachicola River wound along on his right, and Creek warriors fanned out on the left. He was trapped. It had only been two years since many of these same warriors had surrendered to General Jackson at the conclusion of the Red Stick War.
      The sight of them now, wild in their feathers, piercings, and tattoos, set the hairs on the back of his neck on end. For every one of the hundred and sixteen, blue-coated regulars on the march to Prospect Bluff, there were two—supposedly ally—Creek warriors who slogged across the boggy ground next to him.
      The odds were far from comforting. Sweat pasted his silk neck-stock to his throat.
      He scanned the surrounding pines for any sign of danger, whether from runaway slaves or friendly Creeks turned hostile. Downriver a ways and set back into the forest, the outline of a dwelling took shape. Like the many other slave-owned shacks they’d come across, the place appeared abandoned, but that didn’t mean the owners weren’t lurking in the shadows, waiting to ambush them.
      Silent as ghosts, a group of warriors split off and swarmed the farmstead. Within minutes, they rejoined Phillip’s column empty-handed.
      If what was said about the runaway’s leader proved true, Chief Garcon wouldn’t allow Phillip and his men to waltz into the area without a dandy of a fight. It was no secret the Americans intended to neutralize the fort on Prospect Bluff, the stronghold they called Negro Fort. Its name alone struck fear in the hearts of southern Georgians.
      General Jackson had jumped at Spain’s approval of his crossing the Spanish-American border to defuse the tension and reclaim American property—the slaves. With its swamps, alligators, and prowling Seminoles, Las Floridas was wild country. Toss in three hundred armed and desperate runaways, and the place became hell on earth.
      Phillip had been the first to volunteer to invade that hell. Alligators and runaways, he could handle. Creek warriors were a different matter altogether. Running into them on the southerly trail had been a surprise to both parties. It just so happened that, this time, Creek and American objectives ran parallel. Or so the Indians said…
      Without warning, a regular stepped out from behind a tree blocking Phillip’s path. His rifle arm jerked. “In the name of all that’s holy, Corporal Higgins, get back in line.” Phillip spoke from between clenched teeth.
      “Yes, sir. Just taking care of business, sir.”
      Phillip noted a smirk on the nearest warrior. He scowled back.
      The natives might see him and his men as a bunch of untrained idiots, but Phillip knew better. When not attacked on the sly and when properly prepared, there was no equal to Phillip’s army anywhere in the Americas. Hadn’t they proved it two years earlier by crippling the Creek Confederacy? 
      He passed Higgins’ scrawny frame as he busily fastened his broadfalls. “Didn’t mean to scare you, sir.” A poorly contained leer plucked at the man’s freckled cheeks.
      Phillip opened his mouth to refute the charge and put the private in his place, but the gravelly voice of Sergeant Garrigus beat him to it. “Idiot. You can’t rattle the major. He’s got nerves of iron.”
      “Is that right?”
      “After what he’s seen? You bet.”
      Garrigus’s praise sounded sincere enough, but Phillip knew the truth and prayed every day no one else would discover it. “Enough chatter back there. Keep your mouths shut and your eyes peeled.” He cast a sideways glance at longtime friend and surgeon, Captain Marcus Buck.
      Marcus returned it with a faint smile that raised his flawless cheeks. Eyes, nose, mouth—each feature lined up perfectly. He might be a favorite with the ladies, if he took his nose out of medical books long enough to notice.
      Involuntarily, Phillip’s jaw twitched, tugging the taut skin around his scar.
      “Where’s Enoch?” Marcus’s gaze skimmed the area.
      “Are you enjoying the quiet too?” Phillip subdued a grin and jerked his head toward the end of the loosely formed column. “I put him to work keeping Cook company.”
      “Indians making him nervous?”
      “Him and me both.” It wasn’t the only thing Phillip and his young slave had in common.
      Moisture sucked into his boot as he stepped into another pocket of muck. Swamp water soaked his half-gaiters and spattered his dirty white breeches. He shook his foot, longing for a pair of clean, dry stockings. An arduous, two-day trek behind them, Camp Crawford might have been nothing more than tents and pickets, but right now, it seemed pretty near to heaven.
      An Indian, head shaved on the sides, loped from the front of the line toward Phillip. His black hair, collected into a long tail, flipped through the air behind him. His face was a solemn, purposeful mask, and he clutched a tomahawk, as if ready for battle.
      A drumbeat sounded from nearby. Or was that the blood pounding Phillip’s eardrum?
      He strengthened his stance and gripped the musket barrel, ready at any instant to swing it into position. Sweat dripped into his eye, but he refused to blink and miss even one of this warrior’s breaths.
      The Indians had caught him unawares before. Never again.
      As the man neared, the path cleared before him. Ahead, a commotion scattered the column.
      This was it. The moment Phillip had been anticipating. One swing of this warrior’s blade would be the signal for the rest to attack. By sundown, every last American scalp would dangle from a pole.
      Unless Phillip did something to stop it.
      The drum increased its tempo. In his mind, he was back at Fort Mims, the fires licking at his heels. The world narrowed to the warrior streaking toward him. Phillip had known better than to trust these savages, but Colonel Clinch hadn’t listened.
      Phillip should give some sort of call to battle, but his brain went numb. Breath ragged, he raised his weapon to his shoulder and pointed the muzzle at the warrior’s chest. His stiff collar dug into the base of his head and his sweaty finger trembled against the cool trigger as he waited for the red man to raise his tomahawk.
      Instead, ten paces away, he came to a halt, his brown eyes boring into Phillip. The warrior lowered his weapon and slipped it into a loop on his waistband. Arms limp, his lean body visibly relaxed as he stood before Phillip.
      Except for the drum in his ear, silence surrounded them,
      Why didn’t he attack? Indians never surrendered. Surely, it was a trick.
      Phillip blinked, then allowed his gaze to flick to the side.
      Marcus laid a hand on Phillip’s arm, and he flinched.
      “Easy, now,” Marcus sounded as though he were calming a terrified child instead of addressing a superior officer. His voice rose barely above a whisper. “The men are watching. There’s no call for this. Not this time.”
      A massive vulture soared above them, pulling Phillip’s focus back to the man before him. As much as Phillip searched, he found not a hint of malice in the warrior’s steady gaze.
      He dropped the tip of his musket and sensed two dozen warriors lowering their bows in response.
      As realization of his error took hold, heat crawled up Phillip’s neck, burning his scar. He focused on the black ostrich plume trembling in the air above Marcus’ bicorned hat as he turned to the warrior.
        “It’s nothing personal, you see. Major Bailey fought at Mim’s place. Next time you’re careless enough to run up on him that way, I’ll let him have at you,” Marcus stated with a half-grin.
      The Indian stared at Phillip, long and probing, until his eyes softened and mystified Phillip with their sudden depth.
      “No, best stop me, Captain Buck. No sense creating more work for yourself.” Phillip’s attempt at humor fell flat. He cleared his throat and turned to the Indian. “You have a message for me?”
      The warrior nodded. “A white man. We found there.” He gestured toward a sandbar in the middle of the river.
      Phillip’s pulse slowed. He swallowed and willed his voice not to tremble. “One of ours?”
      “A seaman. Wounded here.” He tapped his shoulder.
      “One of Sailing Master Loomis’ men?” Marcus asked, his voice rising with disbelief.
      Phillip resumed walking at a quick pace. “My thoughts exactly, although it was my understanding that no vessel from the naval convoy was to enter the river until we’d arrived.”
      “They weren’t,” Marcus confirmed.
      The warrior took up a limping step beside them. “There is more,” he said, halting Phillip in his tracks. “Two dead. This side of river.”
      “Sailors, as well?” Phillip asked, hoping the dead were runaways.
      “Perhaps. Their white bodies lie naked.”
      Marcus hissed a curse, while Corporal Higgins’ face lit with anticipation. “We gonna see action?”
      “Never mind that,” Phillip said. “Did you hear the Indian’s report?”
      “Yes, sir. I heard.”
      Phillip pointed two fingers downriver. “Take it to Colonel Clinch, on the double.” At the sound of Higgins’ scurrying footfalls, Phillip turned to Marcus. “Surgeon, you’re with me.”
      A silent crowd gathered ahead—around the wounded sailor, Phillip surmised. “Clear out,” he called as he shouldered his way through the throng. “Give the man space to breathe.”
      Marcus followed, bumping into Phillip’s back when he stopped short. His breath caught in his lungs. Scalped and brutally stabbed, two stripped men lay in a puddle of blood, their features frozen in twists of agony.
      Soldiers shifted, allowing the doctor room to press his fingers to each neck. He stood, retrieved a kerchief from his pocket, and wiped his hands, staining the cloth red. “Give me someone I can help, for heaven’s sake.”
      As Marcus stepped over the bodies, a tremble began deep inside Phillip. The quiver grew, moving into his stomach with a painful shudder. “We camp here. Private Davidson, inform Major Collins. Garrigus, set up a perimeter.” He tore his eyes from the grisly scene, stepped back, and then turned to Marcus. “Captain Buck, see to the wounded sailor, wherever he is. I’ll find you shortly. I’m going to look for tracks before we lose daylight.”
      Night was falling fast and with it, his composure. The skirts of his coatee slapped the backs of his legs as he quick-stepped toward the shelter of the woods.
      He pressed his lips tight and willed his stomach to cease its rebellion. Eyes riveted to a massive cypress twenty yards in, he forced certain images from his mind. Images of Fort Mims, of the dead and dying, of the corpses he had trampled in his fight for life.
      Satisfied the cypress hid him, he rested his hands on his knees. His head swam, and the world tipped. Closing his eyes, he focused on keeping his breath even and his army rations where they belonged.
      At last, he regained a measure of control—enough to be presentable to his men.
      These memories should not hold such power over him. And yet, they did. With more ferocity each passing month.
      Furious at himself, he ripped the bicorn from his head and hurled it into the shadows.
      A soft cry followed, emanating from the darkness beyond.
      Every muscle in Phillip’s body froze, as he strained to pierce the obscurity of dusk. He saw nothing, heard nothing—besides voices carrying from the riverbed. Had he imagined the sound? If he had, the fact wouldn’t astound him. Not anymore.
      The cry had possessed a human quality. Would he go so far as to say feminine? His mind replayed the sound. Yes, he would. Had there been a female with the sailors? Phillip knew of no situation where that might be permitted.
      Unwilling to believe he was hearing voices in his head, he set out in the direction his chapeau bra had landed. Musket going before him, he proceeded with carefully placed steps and peered into the ever-darkening forest beyond. This could be a trap, but it was worth the risk if it squelched the notion he was indeed mentally disordered.
      Ears finely tuned, he crept toward his cap which lay before a scanty shrub.
      The bush shook violently. Phillip jerked his musket up then back down as a woman sprang from concealment.
      Her skirt snagged, abruptly halting her flight. As her hands battled to extricate the fabric, she lifted her bonneted head, exposing large, fearful eyes and a face which glowed pale in the waning daylight.
      Unless the encroaching night was playing tricks on him, this woman was white. Not the midnight skin of a runaway or the smooth olive of a Spaniard, but white. Nearly as white as Phillip.
      He settled the butt of his musket at his feet. “Ma’am? What are you doing out here?”
      Her struggle grew more desperate until the sound of ripping preceded her tumble. Mostly hidden by palmettos, she scooted backward on the ground.
      Still many yards distant, Phillip reached a hand to her, unable to imagine why she might be afraid of him. “I won’t hurt—”
      A black man, large as a bear, darted from behind a thick pine to Phillip’s right. His sprint carried him across Phillip’s path and directly toward the woman.
        “No! Get away.” Her words came out a garbled croak.
      “Halt!” Phillip flipped the weapon back into position and aimed it at the slave’s chest.
      Unfazed, he kept moving and would have intercepted the woman except for the stone she hurled. It thudded off his shoulder and stopped him dead in his tracks.
      He swiveled to face Phillip, who had shortened the distance between them, his eye never leaving the musket’s sites. “One more step, and before the night's out, I’ll bury you where you stand.”
      The man’s shoulders rose and fell with each rapid breath, but his stony face showed no fear. “Then you bettah do it. Otherwise, it’ll be you what's buried. See, I plan to make it to that fort, and losin’ my life to do it is no mattuh to me.”
      Phillip’s brother, Dixon, had often said that a man who didn’t value his own life made the most dangerous of enemies. This one wouldn’t live long enough to become that. Phillip leveled his musket’s barrel at the big man’s heart.
      In response, he took a single step forward.
      “Don’t shoot!” The woman stumbled forward, placing herself between the runaway and the iron-tipped muzzle.
      Reflexively, he skipped to the side to maintain his aim on the man. “Step away, ma’am. Don’t want you hurt.” What was she thinking?
      She mirrored his movements, keeping herself between them. “No one needs to get hurt.”
      “Move away from him, and let me handle this.”
      She faced Phillip, her large brown eyes pleading. “Let him go. Please.”
      “Woman, are you crazy?” The black man voiced Phillip’s own thoughts.
      She was either insane or suffering from over-exposure.
      Weapon still trained on the runaway, Phillip took a quick step forward and flailed at her, trying to grab her by the arm.
      She skittered to the side, and he swiped nothing but air.
      “Get out of the way,” he snapped. Not one of his men would have dared defy his command, yet this woman stood her ground.
      She backed further away from him and dangerously close to the black man. “He didn’t run a hundred miles just to be shot down defenseless in the woods a day away from the only chance at freedom he’ll ever have.” Her voice shook, but her rigid back told Phillip she wouldn’t give in any time soon.
      With his mind concocting a way to move the woman and save both their necks, Phillip was only half-listening. “What are you talking about?”
      Although shadows fell across her face, Phillip didn’t miss the softening of her eyes or the quiver of her lips. Her passion for this slave’s freedom furrowed Phillip’s brow.
      “If you were fighting for your life, wouldn’t you want a fair shot at it?” she asked.
      Like a Red Stick’s arrow, her soft-spoken question pierced him, immobilizing his thoughts to anything beyond one image—his brother’s doom-stricken features and the blood-thirsty warriors that swarmed him.
      “Yes,” he rasped.
      Surprise widened her eyes and parted her lips—a lovely image to return to after his disturbing trip to the past.
      For one instant, Phillip would have done anything she asked. He lowered his musket and stretched a hand toward her, but before he could even shift his stance, the slave lurched forward.
      He encased the woman in his arms, lifting her and covering the lower half of her face with a massive hand. “Hush, now, or you’ll call ‘em all down on us.” Her startled cry preceded the man’s swift backward steps. He hurled a steely glare at Phillip. “You ain’t seen nothin’. Ain’t talked to nobody. You hear, soldier?” The ferocity in his voice chilled Phillip’s blood.
      One quick twist of the man’s hand was all it would take to snap the woman’s neck. Berating himself, Phillip released the barrel of his weapon and let it drop to the ground with a soft thud then splayed his hands in front of him. “No need to hurt her. Let her go, and I’ll never breathe a word I saw you. You can go right—”
      The slave flipped the woman’s legs into the air and caught them under his arm in the same instant that he took flight.
      Three seconds into Phillip's pursuit, common sense won out, and he came to a quick stop. If he were going into the wilds after an unpredictable giant, he had better have a squad backing him.
      Within moments, the only evidence left of the woman’s presence was the dread constricting Phillip’s chest that no one would believe she’d even been there.