Dropdown menu

Friday, May 29, 2009

Are you drawing blood?

On Tuesday, members of Words for the Journey Christian Writers Guild were treated to one of my favorite writing teachers, Craig Bubeck. He's a great writing teacher, and when he links our writing to the Bible, well, it's nothing short of amazing. If you get a chance to hear him teach, drop everything and go!

One of the things Craig talked about was goads. A goad is a sharp, pointy stick used by herders to redirect the animals. It's meant to hurt them enough to get them to move, but not draw blood or kill them. As writers, our words are goads. We need to use them to redirect, but not cause serious harm.

I've been thinking a lot about words as goads lately. Our society seems to thrive on negativity. Criticizing and cutting others down has become a "fun" part of our culture. It's almost sick... the blogs and websites dedicated to it. Walk past any checkout lane and you see blood oozing on the pages of magazines. You don't have to be famous to be a victim. Every day, words slip out of our mouths or on our keyboards that we think clever, witty, or even perhaps meant to make others think. Instead, we draw blood.

Yes, I've been guilty of stabbing people to death with my words. Over the years, I've worked hard to limit the bloodshed. But Craig's warning made me take another look. Am I doing all I can to use my goad properly? I think we can all do better.

Here are a few thoughts to consider before wielding your weapon of words:
1. What do you intend with your words?
2. How would you feel if someone used those words on you?
3. Will those words accomplish anything? Anything Godly?
4. Pray.

Let's work on using our words as goads rather than weapons. If you have tips, please share!

Who Made you a Princess by Shelley Adina

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:

Who Made You A Princess? (All About Us Series, Book 4)

FaithWords (May 13, 2009)

Plus a Tiffany's Bracelet Giveaway! Go to Camy Tang's Blog and leave a comment on her FIRST Wild Card Tour for Be Strong and Curvaceous, and you will be placed into a drawing for a bracelet that looks similar to the picture below.


Award-winning author Shelley Adina wrote her first teen novel when she was 13. It was rejected by the literary publisher to whom she sent it, but he did say she knew how to tell a story. That was enough to keep her going through the rest of her adolescence, a career, a move to another country, a B.A. in Literature, an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction, and countless manuscript pages. Shelley is a world traveler and pop culture junkie with an incurable addiction to designer handbags. She writes books about fun and faith—with a side of glamour. Between books, Shelley loves traveling, playing the piano and Celtic harp, watching movies, and making period costumes.

Visit her book site and her website..

My Review:
If you have a teenage girl, then this is a must-read book and series. A couple of my girlfriends have been passing these books on to their teens and they just love them.

It's All About Us is Book One in the All About Us Series. Book Two, The Fruit of my Lipstick came out in August 2008. Book Three, Be Strong & Curvaceous, came out January 2, 2009. And Book Four, Who Made You a Princess?, came out May 13, 2009.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (May 13, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446179620
ISBN-13: 978-0446179621


NOTHING SAYS “ALONE” like a wide, sandy beach on the western edge of the continent, with the sun going down in a smear of red and orange. Girlfriends, I am the go-to girl for alone. Or at least, that’s what I used to think. Not anymore, though, because nothing says “alive” like a fire snapping and hissing at your feet, and half a dozen of your BFFs laughing and talking around you.

Like the T-shirt says, life is good.

My name’s Shani Amira Marjorie Hanna, and up until I started going to Spencer Academy in my freshman year, all I wanted to do was get in, scoop as many A’s as I could, and get out. College, yeah. Adulthood. Being the boss of me. Social life? Who cared? I’d treat it the way I’d done in middle school, making my own way and watching people brush by me, all disappearing into good-bye like they were flowing down a river.

Then when I was a junior, I met the girls, and things started to change whether I wanted them to or not. Or maybe it was just me. Doing the changing, I mean.

Now we were all seniors and I was beginning to see that all this “I am an island” stuff was just a bunch of smoke. ’Cuz I was not like the Channel Islands, sitting out there on the hazy horizon. I was so done with all that.

Lissa Mansfield sat on the other side of the fire from me while this adorable Jared Padalecki look-alike named Kaz Griffin sat next to her trying to act like the best friend she thought he was. Lissa needs a smack upside the head, you want my opinion. Either that or someone needs to make a serious play for Kaz to wake her up. But it’s not going to be me. I’ve got cuter fish to fry. Heh. More about that later.

“I can’t believe this is the last weekend of summer vacation,” Carly Aragon moaned for about the fifth time since Kaz lit the fire and we all got comfortable in the sand around it. “It’s gone so fast.”

“That’s because you’ve only been here a week.” I handed her the bag of tortilla chips. “What about me? I’ve been here for a month and I still can’t believe we have to go up to San Francisco on Tuesday.”

“I’m so jealous.” Carly bumped me with her shoulder. “A whole month at Casa Mansfield with your own private beach and everything.” She dipped a handful of chips in a big plastic container of salsa she’d made that morning with fresh tomatoes and cilantro and little bits of—get this—cantaloupe. She made one the other day with carrots in it. I don't know how she comes up with this stuff, but it’s all good. We had a cooler full of food to munch on. No burnt weenies for this crowd. Uh-uh. What we can’t order delivered, Carly can make.

“And to think I could have gone back to Chicago and spent the whole summer throwing parties and trashing the McMansion.” I sighed with regret. “Instead, I had to put up with a month in the Hamptons with the Changs, and then a month out here fighting Lissa for her bathroom.”

“Hey, you could have used one of the other ones,” Lissa protested, trying to keep Kaz from snagging the rest of her turkey-avocado-and-alfalfa-sprouts sandwich.

I grinned at her. Who wanted to walk down the hot sandstone patio to one of the other bathrooms when she, Carly, and I had this beautiful Spanish terrazzo-looking wing of the house to ourselves? Carly and I were in Lissa’s sister’s old room, which looked out on this garden with a fountain and big ferns and grasses and flowering trees. And beyond that was the ocean. It was the kind of place you didn’t want to leave, even to go to the bathroom.

I contrasted it with the freezing wind off Lake Michigan in the winter and the long empty hallways of the seven-million-dollar McMansion on Lake Road, where I always felt like a guest. You know—like you’re welcome but the hosts don’t really know what to do with you. I mean, my mom has told me point-blank, with a kind of embarrassed little laugh, that she can’t imagine what happened. The Pill and her careful preventive measures couldn’t all have failed on the same night.

Organic waste happens. Whatever. The point is, I arrived seventeen years ago and they had to adjust.

I think they love me. My dad always reads my report cards, and he used to take me to blues clubs to listen to the musicians doing sound checks before the doors opened. That was before my mom found out. Then I had to wait until I was twelve, and we went to the early shows, which were never as good as the late ones I snuck into whenever my parents went on one of their trips.

They travel a lot. Dad owns this massive petroleum exploration company, and when she’s not chairing charity boards and organizing fund-raisers, Mom goes with him everywhere, from Alaska to New Zealand. I saw a lot of great shows with whichever member of the staff I could bribe to take me and swear I was sixteen. Keb’ Mo, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Roomful of Blues—I saw them all.

A G-minor chord rippled out over the crackle of the fire, and I smiled a slow smile. My second favorite sound in the world (right after the sound of M&Ms pouring into a dish). On my left, Danyel had pulled out his guitar and tuned it while I was lost in la-la land, listening to the waves come in.

Lissa says there are some things you just know. And somehow, I just knew that I was going to be more to Danyel Johnstone than merely a friend of his friend Kaz’s friend Lissa, if you hear what I’m saying. I was done with being alone, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t stand out from the crowd.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like this crowd. Carly especially—she’s like the sister I would have designed my own self. And Lissa, too, though sometimes I wonder if she can be real. I mean, how can you be blond and tall and rich and wear clothes the way she does, and still be so nice? There has to be a flaw in there somewhere, but if she’s got any, she keeps them under wraps.

Gillian, who we’d see in a couple of days, has really grown on me. I couldn’t stand her at first—she’s one of those people you can’t help but notice. I only hung around her because Carly liked her. But somewhere between her going out with this loser brain trust and then her hooking up with Jeremy Clay, who’s a friend of mine, I got to know her. And staying with her family last Christmas, which could have been massively awkward, was actually fun. The last month in the Hamptons with them was a total blast. The only good thing about leaving was knowing I was going to see the rest of the crew here in Santa Barbara.

The one person I still wasn’t sure about was Mac, aka Lady Lindsay MacPhail, who did an exchange term at school in the spring. Getting to know her is like besieging a castle—which is totally appropriate considering she lives in one. She and Carly are tight, and we all e-mailed and IM-ed like fiends all summer, but I’m still not sure. I mean, she has a lot to deal with right now, with her family and everything. And the likelihood of us seeing each other again is kind of low, so maybe I don’t have to make up my mind about her. Maybe I’ll just let her go the way I let the kids in middle school go.

Danyel began to get serious about bending his notes instead of fingerpicking, and I knew he was about to sing. Oh, man, could the night get any more perfect? Even though we’d probably burn the handmade marshmallows from Williams-Sonoma, tonight capped a summer that had been the best time I’d ever had.

The only thing that would make it perfect would be finding some way to be alone with that man. I hadn’t been here more than a day when Danyel and Kaz had come loping down the beach. I’d taken one look at those eyes and those cheekbones and, okay, a very cut set of abs, and decided here was someone I wanted to know a whole lot better. And I did, now, after a couple of weeks. But soon we’d go off to S. F., and he and Kaz would go back to Pacific High. When we pulled out in Gabe Mansfield’s SUV, I wanted there to be something more between us than an air kiss and a handshake, you know what I mean?

I wanted something to be settled. Neither of us had talked about it, but both of us knew it was there. Unspoken longing is all very well in poetry, but I’m the outspoken type. I like things out there where I can touch them.

In a manner of speaking.

Danyel sat between Kaz and me, cross-legged and bare-chested, looking as comfortable in his surf jams as if he lived in them. Come to think of it, he did live in them. His, Kaz’s, and Lissa’s boards were stuck in the sand behind us. They’d spent most of the afternoon out there on the waves. I tried to keep my eyes on the fire. Not that I didn’t appreciate the view next to me, because trust me, it was fine, but I know a man wants to be appreciated for his talents and his mind.

Danyel’s melody sounded familiar—something Gillian played while we waited for our prayer circles at school to start. Which reminded me . . . I nudged Carly. “You guys going to church tomorrow?”

She nodded and lifted her chin at Lissa to get her attention. “Girl wants to know if we’re going to church.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Lissa said. “Kaz and his family, too. Last chance of the summer to all go together.”

And where Kaz went, Danyel went. Happy thought.

“You’re not going to bail, are you?” Carly’s brows rose a little.

It’s not like I’m anti-religion or anything. I’m just in the beginning stages of learning about it. Without my friends to tell me stuff, I’d be bumbling around on my own, trying to figure it out. My parents don’t go to church, so I didn’t catch the habit from them. But when she was alive and I was a little girl, my grandma used to take me to the one in her neighborhood across town. I thought it was an adventure, riding the bus instead of being driven in the BMW. And the gospel choir was like nothing I’d ever seen, all waving their arms in the air and singing to raise the roof. I always thought they were trying to deafen God, if they could just get up enough volume.

So I like the music part. Always have. And I’m beginning to see the light on the God part, after what happened last spring. But seeing a glimmer and knowing what to do about it are two different things.

“Of course not.” I gave Carly a look. “We all go together. And we walk, in case no one told you, so plan your shoes carefully.”

“Oh, I will.” She sat back on her hands, an “I so see right through you” smile turning up the corners of her mouth. “And it’s all about the worship, I know.” That smile told me she knew exactly what my motivation was. Part of it, at least. Hey, can you blame me?

The music changed and Danyel’s voice lifted into a lonely blues melody, pouring over Carly’s words like cream. I just melted right there on the spot. Man, could that boy sing.

Blue water, blue sky

Blue day, girl, do you think that I

Don’t see you, yeah I do.

Long sunset, long road,

Long life, girl, but I think you know

What I need, yeah, you do.

I do a little singing my own self, so I know talent when I hear it. And I’d have bet you that month’s allowance that Danyel had composed that one. He segued into the chorus and then the bridge, its rhythms straight out of Mississippi but the tune something new, something that fit the sadness and the hope of the words.

Wait a minute.

Blue day? Long sunset? Long road? As in, a long road to San Francisco?

Whoa. Could Danyel be trying to tell someone something? “You think that I don’t see you”? Well, if that didn’t describe me, I didn’t know what would. Ohmigosh.

Could he be trying to tell me his feelings with a song? Musicians were like that. They couldn’t tell a person something to her face, or they were too shy, or it was just too hard to get out, so they poured it into their music. For them, maybe it was easier to perform something than to get personal with it.

Be cool, girl. Let him finish. Then find a way to tell him you understand—and you want it, too.

The last of the notes blew away on the breeze, and a big comber smashed itself on the sand, making a sound like a kettledrum to finish off the song. I clapped, and the others joined in.

“Did you write that yourself?” Lissa removed a marshmallow from her stick and passed it to him. “It was great.”

Danyel shrugged one shoulder. “Tune’s been bugging me for a while and the words just came to me. You know, like an IM or something.”

Carly laughed, and Kaz’s forehead wrinkled for a second in a frown before he did, too.

I love modesty in a man. With that kind of talent, you couldn’t blame Danyel for thinking he was all that.

Should I say something? The breath backed up in my chest. Say it. You’ll lose the moment. “So who’s it about?” I blurted, then felt myself blush.

“Can’t tell.” His head was bent as he picked a handful of notes and turned them into a little melody. “Some girl, probably.”

“Some girl who’s leaving?” I said, trying for a teasing tone. “Is that a good-bye?”

“Could be.”

I wished I had the guts to come out and ask if he’d written the song for me—for us—but I just couldn’t. Not with everyone sitting there. With one look at Carly, whose eyes held a distinct “What’s up with you?” expression, I lost my nerve and shut up. Which, as any of the girls could tell you, doesn’t happen very often.

Danyel launched into another song—some praise thing that everyone knew but me. And then another, and then a cheesy old John Denver number that at least I knew the words to, and then a bunch of goofy songs half of us had learned at camp when we were kids. And then it was nearly midnight, and Kaz got up and stretched.

He’s a tall guy. He stretches a long way. “I’m running the mixer for the early service tomorrow, so I’ve got to go.”

Danyel got up, and I just stopped my silly self from saying, “No, not yet.” Instead, I watched him sling the guitar over one shoulder and yank his board out of the sand. “Are you going to early service, too?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said, sounding a little surprised. “I’m in the band, remember?”

Argh! As if I didn’t know. As if I hadn’t sat there three Sundays in a row, watching his hands move on the frets and the light make shadows under his cheekbones.

“I just meant—I see you at the late one when we go. I didn’t know you went to both.” Stutter, bumble. Oh, just stop talking, girl. You’ve been perfectly comfortable talking to him so far. What’s the matter?

“I don’t, usually. But tomorrow they’re doing full band at early service, too. Last one before all the turistas go home. Next week we’ll be back to normal.” He smiled at me. “See you then.”

Was he looking forward to seeing me, or was he just being nice? “I hope so,” I managed.

“Kaz, you coming?”

Kaz bent to the fire and ran a stick through the coals, separating them. “Just let me put this out. Lissa, where’s the bucket?”

“Here.” While I’d been obsessing over Danyel, Lissa had run down to the waterline and filled a gallon pail. You could tell they’d done this about a million times. She poured the water on the fire and it blew a cloud of steam into the air. The orange coals gave it up with a hiss.

I looked up to say something to Danyel about it and saw that he was already fifty feet away, board under his arm like it weighed nothing, heading down the beach to the public lot where he usually parked his Jeep.

I stared down into the coals, wet and dying.

I couldn’t let the night go out like this.

“Danyel, wait!” The sand polished the soles of my bare feet better than the pumice bar at the salon as I ran to catch up with him. A fast glance behind me told me Lissa had stepped up and begun talking to Kaz, giving me a few seconds alone.

I owed her, big time.

“What’s up, ma?” He planted the board and set the guitar case down. “Forget something?”

“Yes,” I blurted. “I forgot to tell you that I think you’re amazing.”

He blinked. “Whoa.” The barest hint of a smile tickled the corners of his lips.

I might not get another chance as good as this one. I rushed on, the words crowding my mouth in their hurry to get out. “I know there’s something going on here and we’re all leaving on Tuesday and I need to know if you—if you feel the same way.”

“About . . . ?”

“About me. As I feel about you.”

He put both hands on his hips and gazed down at the sand. “Oh.”

Cold engulfed me, as if I’d just plunged face-first into the dark waves twenty feet away. “Oh,” I echoed. “Never mind. I guess I got it wrong.” I stepped back. “Forget about it. No harm done.”

“No, Shani, wait—”

But I didn’t want to hear the “we can still be friends” speech. I didn’t want to hear anything except the wind in my ears as I ran back to the safety of my friends.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The behinder I get...

I don't care if it's not a word. That's how I feel. So I'm sticking to it!

Last week, I went to the Colorado Christian Writers Conference. Great times. Got to hang with some great folks, including my agent. Also found out my manuscript is a finalist in the Genesis contest.

I had no time to relax until we were launched into graduation week. We had a high-schooler and a pre-schooler graduate, plus a bday party for the little one since I was gone the weekend of her "real" birthday, plus bday parties for friends, PLUS my parents were in town. Can we say crazy-busy?

Oh, and I forgot... hubby got me a new laptop for Mother's Day, which is fabulous, but it's been insane trying to move files over and figure out what goes where. I think I've misplaced more than a few things.

The downside of all this activity is that I'm waaaay behind on life. And work. And everything else. The truth is, I have so many items on my to-do list that I don't even remember what's on the list. Or where it is. Okay, let's face it, I never bothered to write it down because I was so sure I'd remember.

One thing I realized as I stared into space, hoping that the list would magically come to me, is that I need a better system. I'm trying to keep my tasks for eHarlequin, the Steeple Hill social media properties, my writing, Examiner articles, blogging, book tours, curriculum writing, and gee, somewhere in there, I'm supposed to keep up on my house, my kids, and find time to have a life.

Are you dizzy? I am. And yet, I know I'm not nearly as busy as a lot of folks I know. So today, the point of my blog, which really isn't to whine about my life, is to find some good ideas to get myself sorted out and organized. Anyone have some good tips?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My new grand master plan

I've decided to start a Christian nudist colony.

Now, I realize the whole, a bunch of people going around naked together thing might be problematic in the lust department, so I have a plan for that. We'll all wear veils. No clothes. Just veils.

Yes, my friends, I am catching up on laundry. I never really got caught up at the end of tax season, and then I went out of town last week, so now this week, I'm paying for it. I finally buckled down and made the kids clean their rooms. Good idea, except tell me, dear friends, what is the most common item messing up kids rooms?

Yep. Laundry.

And then, because with graduation this week, we have folks coming in to town, thus needing our spare bedroom, aka hubby's closet, I made him clean that room, too. Now, I don't know how long it's been since he cleaned his clothes, but I do know that out of everything I've folded tonight, hubby's pile is the biggest.

So I've decided. Life would be easier if none of us wore clothes. Of course, if we did that in the course of our normal lives, it might get a little awkward. I can't exactly walk to Safeway in my birthday suit. But if I lived in a nudist colony, everyone would be naked. So no one would care that we didn't have any clothes.

Think of what we'd save in these tough financial times: laundry detergent, fabric softener, water, electricity, the cost of the clothes themselves...

I'm telling you. This idea's a winner.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mohammed's Moon by Keith Clemons

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:

Mohamed's Moon

Realms (May 5, 2009)


Keith Clemens is a native of Southern California and graduate of English Literature at California State University, Fullerton. His passion for communication has resulted in the publication of more than a hundred articles. Today, in addition to writing, he appears on radio and television where he uses his communications skills to explain coming trends that will affect both the church and society at large. Clemens lives with his wife and daughter in Caledon, Ontario, Canada and has written five novels including Angel in the Alley and the award winning If I Should Die, These Little Ones, and Above The Stars.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Publisher: Realms (May 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1599795256
ISBN-13: 978-1599795256


Sun sparkles on the Nile in flecks of gold, shimmering like the mask of Tutankhamen. The decaying wood boat—a felucca—is as ancient as the flow that passes beneath its hull, its sail a quilt-work of patches struggling to catch the wind. The craft creaks with the prodding of the rudder, bringing it about to tack across the current, cutting toward land with wind and water breaking against its bow. All along the shore a pattern emerges: villages sandwiched between checkerboard squares of cornfields, sugarcane, and cotton bolls. In the distance a barefoot girl herds sheep, goading them with a stick. At the sound of their bleating, a water buffalo foraging in the marsh lifts its head, causing the birds on its back to take flight. A dark-robed woman stoops to wash her dishes in the canal. Purple lilies clog the water in which a small boy also swims.

The cluster of yellow mud-brick homes erupts out of the ground like an accident of nature, a blemish marring the earth's smooth surface. There are fewer than a hundred, each composed of mud and straw—the same kind of brick the children of Israel made for their Egyptian taskmasters. Four thousand years later, little has changed.

Those living here are the poorest of the poor, indigent souls gathered from Egypt's overpopulated metropolitan centers and relocated to work small parcels of land as part of a government-sponsored program to stem the growth of poverty. It's the dearth that catches your eye, an abject sense of hopelessness that has sent most of the young men back into the cities to find work and thrust those who stayed behind into deeper and more odious schools of fundamentalist Islam.

 ... ... 

Zainab crouched at the stove, holding back the black tarha that covered her hair. She reached down and shoveled a handful of dung into the arched opening, stoking the fire. The stove, like a giant clay egg cut in half, was set against the outside wall of the dwelling. She blew the smoldering tinder until it erupted into flame, fanning the fumes away from her watering eyes while lifting the hem of her black galabia as she stepped back, hoping to keep the smoke from saturating her freshly washed garment.

She had bathed and, in the custom of Saidi women, darkened her eyes and hennaed her hair just as Nefertiti once did, though it was hard to look beautiful draped in a shroud of black. She fingered her earrings and necklace, pleased at the way the glossy dark stones shone in the light. Mere baubles perhaps, but Khalaf had given them to her, so their value was intrinsic.

He had been away more than a month, attending school. She hadn't been able to talk to him, but at least his brother, Sayyid—she cringed, then checked herself—had been kind enough to send word that today would be a day of celebration. It had to mean Khalaf was coming home. She brought a hand up, feeling the scarf at the back of her head. She wanted him to see her with her hair down, her raven-dark tresses lustrous and full, but that would have to wait.

She went inside to prepare a meal of lettuce and tomatoes with chicken and a dish called molohaya made of greens served with rice. It was an extravagance. Most days they drank milk for breakfast and in the evening ate eggs or beans. She'd saved every extra piaster while her husband was away, walking fifteen miles in the hot Egyptian sun to sell half of the beans she'd grown just so they'd be able to dine on chicken tonight. Khalaf would be pleased.

She turned toward the door. A beam of yellow light streamed into the room, revealing specks of cosmic dust floating through the air. She brought her hands to her hips, nodding. Everything was ready. She'd swept the straw mat and the hard dirt floor. The few unfinished boards that composed the low table where they would recline were set with ceramic dishware and cups. Even the cushion of their only other piece of furniture, the long low bench that rested against the wall, had been taken outside and the dust beaten from its seams.

Not counting the latrine, which was just a stall surrounding a hole in the ground that fed into a communal septic system, the house boasted only three rooms. One room served as the kitchen, living room, and dining room. The other two were small bedrooms. The one she shared with her husband, Khalaf, was barely wide enough for the dingy mattress that lay on the dirt floor leaking tufts of cotton. The other was for their son, who slept on a straw mat with only a frayed wool blanket to keep him warm.

She wiped her hands on her robe, satisfied that everything was in order. If Sayyid was right and Khalaf had news to celebrate, he would be in good spirits, and with a special dinner to complete the mood, perhaps she would have a chance to tell him.

She thought of the letter hidden safely under her mattress. Maybe she'd get to visit her friend in America and . . . best not to think about that. Please, Isa, make it so.

She reached for the clay pitcher on the table and poured water into a metal pot. Returning to the stove outside, she slipped the pot into the arched opening where it could boil. Khalaf liked his shai dark and sweet, and for that, the water had to be hot.

... ...

The boy danced around the palm with his arms flailing, balancing the ball on his toe. He flipped it into the air and spun around to catch it on his heel and then kicked it back over his shoulder and caught it on his elbow, keeping it in artful motion without letting it touch the ground. He could continue with the ball suspended in air for hours by bouncing it off various limbs of his body. Soccer was his game. If only they would take him seriously, but that wouldn't happen until he turned thirteen and became a man, and that was still two years away. It didn't matter. One day he would be a champion, with a real ball, running down the field with the crowds chanting his name.

He let the ball drop to the ground, feigning left and right, and scooping the ball under his toes, kicked it against the palm's trunk. Score! His hands flew into the air as he did a victory dance and leaned over to snatch his ball from the ground—not a ball really, just an old sock filled with rags and enough sand to give it weight—but someday he would have a real ball and then . . . 

A cloud of blackbirds burst from the field of cane. There was a rustling, then movement. He crept to the edge of the growth, curious, but whatever, or whoever, it was remained veiled behind the curtain of green.

He pushed the cane aside. "What are you doing?" he said, staring at Layla. The shadow of the leafy stalks made her face a puzzle of light.

"Come here," she whispered, drawing him toward her with a motion of her hand.

"No. Why are you hiding?"

"Come here and I'll tell you." Her voice was subdued but also tense, like the strings of a lute stretched to the point of breaking.

"I don't want to play games. You come out. Father's not here to see you."

"We're leaving."


"Come here. We have to talk."

"Talk? Why? What's there to talk about?" The boy let his ball drop to the ground. He stepped forward and, sweeping the cane aside and pushing it behind him, held it back with his thigh.

"We have to move. They're packing right now. We have to leave within the hour." Layla's eyes glistened and filled with moisture.

The boy blinked, once, slowly, but didn't respond. He knew. His mother had overheard friends talking. He shook his head. "Then I guess you'd better go."

"My father came here because he wanted to help, but now he says we can't stay. He says we're going to Minya where there are many Christians."

"Then I won't see you again?"

"I don't know. Maybe you will. Father says he can't abandon his patients. He may come to visit, but Mother's afraid. Why do they hate us?"

The boy shook his head, his lower lip curling in a pout.

"Do you think we will marry someday?"

His eyes narrowed. Where had that come from? "Marry? We could never be married. You . . . you're a Christian."

"I know. But that doesn't mean . . . "

"Yes, it does mean! My father says you're an infidel, a blasphemer. If your father wasn't a doctor, they would've driven him out long ago. Father would never let us marry. He hates it when he sees us together."

"That's why I've been thinking . . . " She paused, adding emphasis to her words. "You and your whole family must become Christians. Then we can be married."

"You're talking like a fool, Layla. My family is Saidi. We will never be Christian."

"But your mother's a Christian."

"No, she's not!"

"Is too. I heard—"

"Liar!" The boy clenched his fists. "My dad says all Christians are liars. My mother would never become a Christian. They would kill her."

Layla reached out, took the boy by the collar, and pulled him in, kissing him on the lips. Then she pushed him back, her eyes big as saucers against her olive skin, her eyebrows raised. She shrank back into the foliage. "Sorry, I . . . I didn't . . . I just . . . excuse me. I have to go. I'll pray for you," she said and, turning away, disappeared into the dry stalks of cane.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Gold of Kings by Davis Bunn

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:

Gold of Kings

Howard Books (May 12, 2009)


Davis Bunn is the author of over nineteen national bestsellers, and his books have sold over six million copies in sixteen languages. The recipient of three Christy Awards, Bunn currently serves as writer-in-residence at Oxford University.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $24.00
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (May 12, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416556311
ISBN-13: 978-1416556312


The rain pelting Seventh Avenue tasted of diesel and big-city friction. Sean Syrrell stared out the limo’s open window and let the day weep for him.

Sean gripped his chest with one hand, trying to compress his heart back into shape. His granddaughter managed to make the end of the block only because her aunt supported her. They turned the corner without a backward glance. Not till they were lost from view did Sean roll up his window.

Storm’s survival demanded that she be cut loose. He had fired her because it was the only way he could protect her. Sean knew the enemy was closing in. He had felt the killer’s breath for days. Storm was his last remaining hope for achieving his lifelong dream, and establishing his


But the knowledge he had been right to fire her did little to ease the knife-edged pain that shredded his heart.

The driver asked, “Everything okay, Mr. Syrrell?”

Sean glanced at the young man behind the wheel. The driver was new, but the company was the only one he used ever since the danger had been revealed. If the enemy wanted a way to monitor his movements in New York, he’d handed it to them on a platter. “Why don’t you

go for a coffee or something. I’d like a moment.”

“No can do, sir. I leave the wheel, they pull my license.”

Sean stared blindly at the rain-streaked side window. He could only hope that one day Storm would understand, and tell Claudia, and the pair of them would forgive him.

Unless, of course, he was wrong and the threat did not exist.

But he wasn’t wrong.

“Mr. Syrrell?”

Sean opened his door and rose from the car. “Drop my bags off at the hotel. We’re done for the day.”

Sean passed the Steinway showroom’s main entrance, turned the corner, pressed the buzzer beside the painted steel elevator doors, and gave his name. A white-suited apprentice grinned a hello and led him downstairs. Sean greeted the technicians, most of whom he knew by

name. He chatted about recent acquisitions and listened as they spoke of their charges. The ladies in black. Always feminine. Always moody and temperamental. Always in need of a firm but gentle hand.

Among professional pianists, the Steinway showroom’s basement was a place of myth. The long room was clad in whitewashed concrete. Beneath exposed pipes and brutal fluorescent lights stood Steinway’s most valuable asset: their collection of concert pianos.

All but one were black. The exception had been finished in white as a personal favor to Billy Joel. Otherwise they looked identical. But each instrument was unique. The Steinway basement had been a place of pilgrimage for over a hundred years. Leonard Bernstein, Vladimir

Horowitz, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leon Fleisher, Elton John, Glenn Gould, Alfred Brendel, Mitsuko Uchida. They all came. An invitation to the Steinway basement meant entry to one of the world’s most exclusive musical circles.

Sean Syrrell had not been granted access because of his talent. As a pianist, he was mechanical. He did not play the keys so much as box with the music. He lacked the finesse required for greatness. But fifteen years ago, he had done Steinway a great favor. He had located and salvaged the grand that had graced the White Palace, summer home to the Russian czars.

After the Trotsky rebellion, the piano had vanished. For years the world believed that Stalin had placed it in his dacha, then in a drunken rage had chopped it up for firewood. But Sean had found it in a Krakow junk shop the year after the Berlin Wall fell, just one more bit of communist flotsam. He had smuggled it west, where Germany’s finest restorer had spent a year returning it to its original pristine state. It was now housed in the Steinway family’s private collection.

The basement was overseen by Steinway’s chief technician. He and an assistant were “juicing” the hammers of a new concert grand. Sean spent a few minutes listening and discussing the piano’s raw tones. Then he moved to his favorite. CD‑18 was more or less retired from service after 109 years of touring. Occasionally it was brought out as a favor to a special Steinway client. The last time had been for a voice-piano duet—Lang Lang and Pavarotti. For fifteen years, Van Cliburn had begged Steinway to sell him the instrument. Yet here it remained.

Sean seated himself and ran through a trio of exercises. His hands were too stubby for concert-quality play, his manner at the keys too brusque. Added to that were his failing ears, which had lost a great deal of their higher-range tonality. And his strength, which these days was

far more bluster than muscle. And his heart, which still thudded painfully from firing Storm.

This time, it took a great deal longer than usual to leave the world behind. He hovered, he drifted, yet he was not transported. The tragic elements of his unfolding fate held him down.

When peace finally entered his internal realm, Sean switched to an étude by Chopin. It was a courtly dance, even when thumped out by his bricklayer’s hands. The instrument was bell-like, a radiant sound that caused even his antiquated frame to resonate.

Between the first and second movement, his playing transported him away from the realm of business and debt and his own multitude of failings. He knew others believed he harbored an old man’s fantasy of playing on the concert stage. But that was rubbish. He was here because twice each year, for a few treasured moments, an instrument brought him as close to divinity as Sean Syrrell would ever come. At least, so long as he was chained to this traumatic ordeal called life.

Sean detected a subtle shift in the chamber’s atmosphere. He was well aware of what it probably meant. He shut his eyes and turned to his favorite composer. Brahms was so very right for the moment, if indeed he was correct in thinking the moment had arrived.

Brahms above all composers had managed to form prayer into a series of notes. Yet Brahms had always been the hardest for Sean to play. Brahms required gentle eloquence. Normally Sean Syrrell played with all the gentleness of a drummer.

Today, however, Sean found himself able to perform the melody as it should be performed, as a supplicant with a lover’s heart.

Then Sean heard a different sound. A quiet hiss, accompanied by a puff of air on his cheek.

Sean opened his eyes in time to see a hand reflected in the piano’s mirrored surface, moving away from his face. It held a small crystal vial.

Sean’s cry of alarm was stifled by what felt like a hammer crashing into his chest. He doubled over the instrument, and his forehead slammed into the keyboard. But he heard none of it.

His entire being resonated with a single clarity of purpose, as strong as a funeral bell. He had been right all along.

Sean did not halt his playing. Even when his fingers slipped from the keys, still he played on.

His final thought was of Storm, which was only fitting. She was, after all, his one remaining earthbound hope.

He was carried along with notes that rose and rose until they joined in celestial perfection, transporting him into the realm he had prayed might find room for him. Even him.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Firstborn by Conlan Brown

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 Firstborn

Realms (May 5, 2009)


By the end of his sixteenth year Conlan Brown had completed his first novel, his first stage play, and his first year of college. Brown now holds a Master's degree in Communication and lives on Colorado's Front Range where he is working on his next book. He enjoys video editing, film scores, and developing high octane, thought provoking fiction that turns pages and excites the senses.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 311 pages
Publisher: Realms (May 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1599796074
ISBN-13: 978-1599796079


The door to the gas station opened with a tinny gling, the antiquated bell chiming as Devin entered the store. The sound was a testament to the essence of the small backwoods town. At best it was quaint; at worst it was a sign of dilapidation in the middle of snowy nowhere.

As he entered he picked up one of the newspapers by the door, reading the headline: Holy Man Murdered Outside of Ohio Mosque—Imam Basam Al Nassar Shot to Death in Car.

The person behind the counter was a young man. He was too old to be a boy, but he hardly exuded an aura of maturity. He was blond, with shaggy hair that hung in his eyes. Lips, nose, eyebrows, and ears were all pierced. The Virgin Mary was tattooed on the side of his neck. He didn’t seem to notice Devin’s approach at first, until the clipping sound of expensive shoe heels were within feet of the counter. The checker looked up, face startled.

Devin was used to it. His skin was black, which meant he looked different from the locals. The result was distrust. He didn’t like it, but he didn’t sink to showing it—no sign of weakness. Instead he advanced with purpose, stopping at the counter.

“Can I help you?” the checker asked, eyes darting over the new face.

Devin said nothing, simply sliding a crisp fifty-dollar bill across the glass.

The checker nodded through his unsettled demeanor. “Just the gas?” he asked.

“And the newspaper,” Devin said, voice articulate and commanding. Then something changed. He felt it in his stomach this time. No images, just the sinking feeling of finality and irreversible death:

Soon. Too soon.

Not days or hours.


His cellular phone came open with a snap.

—no signal—

Devin reached into his wallet, swiftly removing and writing on a business card before sliding it across the glass countertop. He tapped his index finger on the card, indicating the neatly written script across its back. He tightened his vocal cords, voice intense.

“I need you to call the police. Tell them to send a car to this address. A woman’s life is in danger. Do you understand?”

Devin was looked over skeptically. “That all depends on what you have in mind. What’s your business here?”

Small towns, Devin thought cynically. People always talked about the joys of small town living, but he personally found it infuriating—nosy people who didn’t trust you if they hadn’t grown up with you. At least in the city you had a reason not to trust each other.

“Do it,” he said with a commanding edge, “and do it now.” He left the store, pushing through the curtain of early-spring snow.

The young man behind the counter looked over the letters, taking a moment to let the information sink in. He brushed his thumb anxiously across his lower lip, shifting a piercing. “Hey . . . ” His voice dragged inarticulately. “Hey, Gary.” The checker lifted his head, calling to the far end of the gas station near the refrigerators on the back wall.

“Yeah?” a voice called back.

“Come here.”

A gruff-looking man with a craggy face approached the counter. “What is it?”

“That guy just told me to have the cops sent here,” the checker said, handing over the business card.

Gary looked it over, thinking for a second. “I know this place,” he said with a nod. “Outsiders trying to tell us how to run our own town,” he growled, then crumpled the card in his fist.

The eggs were burning.

Brett cursed quietly under his breath as he reached for the skillet, trying to keep breakfast from turning to coal.

The kitchen phone rang.

He lifted it from the cradle, positioning it snugly between his shoulder and cheek as he fought with the eggs, waving smoke away with a towel.

“Yeah?” he said through a cough.

“This is Gary.”

“Hi, Gary; how can I help you?”

“Some guy just came by the gas station. Black fella, nice suit, fancy coat—looked like he might work for the IRS or something.”

Brett paused. “Did he say what he wanted?”

“He wanted somebody to send the cops over.”

“Why?” Brett stammered, eyes moving toward the CCTV monitor on the countertop.

“Didn’t say.”

“Do you think he’s headed here now?”

“Don’t know.”

Brett continued to stare into the monitor. “How long ago did he leave?”

“Just a second ago.”

He watched as the black-and-white screen flickered: it showed the image of the girl as she sat tied to her chair in the dark basement room below, hair hanging across her bowed face, morose from her captivity. “I can’t talk right now,” Brett said shortly, then hung up.

This was a problem.

Hannah’s head hung, long brown hair in her eyes.

Her face felt pasty with cold, fatigue, and pain. Dark lumps covered her body, swelling bruises on her cheek and forehead from rough treatment. Arms behind her back, she sat in a chair, wrists and ankles tied to the wooden frame, chair legs bolted to the floor.

The room was dark. Mattresses and foam padding lined the walls and windows to soundproof the basement room. Tan foam lined the seams between sound-buffering pads, rippling in imperfect bubbles and waves, frozen solid in time as it had been spewed from an aerosol canister. A tiny security camera was fixed in an upper corner.

Time stood still for her. One long unbroken moment of darkness and fear was all that filled her memory. Hours? Days? Weeks? She had no perception of how long she had been there. They had turned on lights at moments, brilliantly hot and bright, stabbing at her eyes, then extinguished them for what could have been days on end.

Every time she fell asleep they woke her. Feedings were sporadic—two meals she knew could have only been forty-five minutes apart. Judging time had been easier when they were still playing music—something they had done to make sure she couldn’t hear them until they realized how well they had soundproofed her room. The length of the songs had given her a perception of time, but now that measure was gone, and her sanity was going with it.

Hannah had been raised in a conservative Christian home. It was something she had taken at varying degrees of seriousness throughout the phases of her life, but here, now, in the abyss, in her hour of darkness, she clung to it.

At first her prayers had been specific, personal, and directed to God as if He were standing right in front of her. Now she was tired, her mind swimming. Her lips mumbled out a tiny incoherent appeal, begging for rescue, pleading for light, imploring for continued safety, hoping upon terrified hope that the sanctity of her body would not be violated. Through her pleas she felt God draw closer and her sanity slip further away.

She was hallucinating. She had to be, seeing things that had happened long ago or not at all—and she felt it coming on again. It had been different each time, but she always felt it coming. This time it was a taste, like the bright tang of a penny in her mouth.

Then she began to see things that weren’t there—

A cold car.

An Islamic holy man praying for forgiveness that Allah, the merciful and just, would have pity on him. He had recruited young, innocent Palestinian men to bind explosives to themselves—to walk into crowds of Israelis—to kill—and to die.

He had failed for years to free Palestine from Israel.

He was an American now, the imam of a small Ohio mosque. A man of peace.

Sitting in the car, waiting for it to warm up.

Thoughts of his sons—wanting to kiss them before they went to sleep.

A pedestrian in a heavy coat walking in the direction of his car.

Eye contact.

The man reached into his jacket.

—a gun—


Clawing at the car door—trying to escape. The first bullet punching through the glass.

Pain. Skin breaking. Muscle splitting. Bone shattering.

Horror. Pain. Grief. Screaming.

The windshield blistering with holes.

Thoughts of his wife—of his children.

Body torn to pieces by the striking of lead.


Minutes later a jogger in the middle of the street, stammering into his cell phone. “The windshield is filled with bullet holes and there’s blood . . . everywhere!”

It all came over her like a flood, a pouring out of pictures in her mind. But then there was one more thing. Not an image, but a feeling—that half a continent away someone else had felt it all happening too.

The sedan thundered down the wet, snowy dirt road. White snow, brown mud, and ashen gravel kicked up and out from the sides of the vehicle. The silver automobile cut through the road’s debris like a blade as the surrounding world blurred into fleeting streaks.

A midsize luxury sedan with a manual transmission—as always, the vehicle of choice the rental company had in his file. Devin had rented it at the airport expecting to have more time, but he didn’t. He hadn’t expected to cut it so close, but there was no reasoning with it now. All he could do was drive, hands gripping the wheel as if he had to wrestle the sedan to the ground like a beast.

The snow had stopped falling for the moment, and that helped—a little. But what a horrid frozen wasteland to be trapped in. Back home in New York, spring had already begun—sunshine all over. But he had to be called here: to the only place in the entire continental United States to have a blizzard, where snow had fallen in buckets and the sun hadn’t been seen in days.

To his right Devin saw the house appear over the horizon as the silver car glided up the hill. Five minutes at the most. He was almost there. He checked his phone again and snarled—too far from any kind of cell tower—a snowy wasteland.

Somewhere in the back of his mind he focused himself, aligning his will and his strength in faith. Some would call it a prayer. Devin resisted that word prayer. To him it was a necessary requisitioning of needed resources—spiritual or otherwise, it didn’t matter.

It was his thoughts narrowing into a finely focused, single-minded bolt of mental force, preparing for imminent havoc.

Hannah’s mind swam.

She saw him as her world dissolved to white.

Tall, handsome, dark skin.

Sitting at a dinner party.

Pausing. Something changing.

A thought or epiphany.

The man boarding a plane.

Searching for . . . 


Strikingly handsome in an olive-colored suit that seemed to radiate class, money, and power. His frame stood strong in the midst of the frozen breeze, his tight muscular body accented by the hang of the trench coat over his strong shoulders.

He had been afraid for her, more than just for her captivity; for something far more treacherous. She paused. How afraid should she be for herself?

Brett growled in anger. It was really fear, but he denied it by letting it bubble out in a swell of wrath.

“I should never have let you use my home!” He was frantic, nearly wringing his hands. “This can’t be happening!”

Snider and Jimmy stared at him, unmoved. They didn’t take him seriously. They thought he was prone to panic, that was all.

“Calm down,” Jimmy said sarcastically.

“Calm down? Calm down?” His face burned. “We’ve got a girl in the basement. That’s kidnapping! And this fella’s gonna bring the cops!”

Snider, middle-aged and dressed in black, stepped forward. “And what if he’s not?” He was the leader, the one who had approached Brett, offered him money for the use of his home. Brett knew he had a reputation for being somewhat shady, but Brett liked money. And now things were getting serious.

“If you don’t settle down, you’re going to look suspicious,” Snider continued. “And then what will you do when he really does bring the cops?”

Brett waved his hands nervously. “This has gotten out of hand. We can’t do this anymore.”

“What do you suggest?” Snider asked. “That we dispose of her?”

There was a long silence as they all looked at one another; then Brett turned sharply, heading for his room.

“Where are you going?” Snider asked.

Brett called back, “I’ll deal with this!”

The turn was a blind corner, covered by snow. Devin slammed on the brakes, and the car lost control.

The back end of the car swung wide, losing traction in the slick of white. The tires left wide swaths of grime as the side of the car crunched into a pack of snow. Devin worked the sedan into gear and eased into the gas—the engine revved, the vehicle rocked, but he didn’t move forward. He gave the pedal a futile stomp, but he knew all he was doing was chopping ground into snowy pulp.

His eyes lifted, mind calculating the distance—maybe a hundred or so meters. He shoved the door open and climbed out into the snow. Cold ran up his foot, into his throat. It wasn’t the cold of the snow; it was—

Panic. Anger. Desperation.

Blam. Blam. BLAM!

The killer’s face, covered with relief.

His foot slipped, his body nearly going down. It had snowed again the night before, and the snow was as deep as three feet in some places. Devin lifted his burning legs, body heaving forward through the thick mass beneath him.

He’d done forced marches before. Ten years of military life had provided him with everything he needed in this moment, everything he’d ever needed to live this life.

Devin looked up.

Almost there.

Beretta 9mm.

Shimmering blue steel nestled in a form-fitting glove of padding. The scent of gun oil wafted from the case, sweet and lethal. Brett lifted the firearm, felt its weight as he removed a magazine swelling with a full allowance of rounds and thrust it into the grip’s base.

“What are you doing?” Snider demanded from behind as he cursed in exasperation.

Brett snapped the safety off, shoving past Snider toward the door. Snider shoved back, slamming Brett’s shoulder blades into the wall.

“Let go!”

“Answer me!” Snider shouted, face filled with wrath. “What do you think you’re going to do with that?”

Brett’s face burned with reckless emotion. “This is my house. I’m going to protect myself my way!” He stared into furious, unforgiving eyes.

“I swear if you do anything stupid I will put you in the ground!”

Brett shoved back to no avail. A third voice called from the hall.

“Hey, guys. There’s somebody coming.”

Snider moved to the window, betraying none of his worry. To his left Brett leaned, hand resting against the window frame, twitching with near-frantic energy.

The man outside was coming up the snowy drive, drawing closer and closer.

“This is bad,” Brett said again. “This is very bad.”

“Calm down,” Snider ordered. “I’ll deal with this.”

“We’ve got to get rid of the girl.”

Snider shook his head. “Do you want him to find the girl or a dead body?”

Brett groaned, agonized.

“That’s not the answer.”

“Then what do you suggest?”

Snider went calm, looking at the other two men. “Let our visitor in—”

Brett tried to protest.

“—then kill him.”

Devin reached out to the door with an ebony hand.

Frantic whispers slipped through the door. They were stalling.

The door opened, and a middle-aged man in black jeans, a black button-up shirt, and a tan undershirt looked back at Devin.

Devin smiled disarmingly. “Good morning, sir. I hate to say it, but it looks like I might have been driving too fast for the conditions. I seem to have slipped into the snow.” Devin pointed back over his shoulder to the sedan’s front end consumed by a drift. “My cell phone isn’t getting a signal, and I was wondering if I could use your phone.”

The man looked past Devin, examining the buried vehicle in the distance. “We can help you dig that out.” He gestured toward a younger man standing behind him.

“Thank you.”

The man stepped aside welcomingly. “My name’s Snider. You look completely frozen—why don’t you come in and warm up? I’ll pour you a cup of coffee. There’s a fireplace in the next room if you want to sit there for a few minutes before we dig out your car.”

“Thank you, sir.” Devin stepped across the threshold, knocking the snow from an expensive shoe. The interior carpet was factory standard beige, the walls white. Devin’s eyes scanned the room, looking for any hint of the girl. He remembered what he’d seen. She had to be in the basement, but for now he was just going to have to see what he was up against.

Snider squared up to Devin. “Jimmy here can take that wet jacket of yours and put it in front of the fire to dry it out.”

Jimmy reached for Devin’s trench coat.

“Thank you,” Devin said, as he felt strong arms grab his own—restraining him from behind.

He threw his weight back, shoving against Jimmy. Fighting. Struggling. Lashing out.

Throwing his weight back he lifted his legs, heel landing in Snider’s chest with a thud, sending the man crashing back. The man behind him spun him and the world blurred. Devin kicked backward, going for the knee—

Something jammed into his neck, hard.

He tried to fight. Tried to knock it away. A repetitive, electric clicking.

Too late.

Brett heard the fighting and the sound of dead weight hitting the floor as he ran back up the stairs, Beretta in hand. The intruder lay on the floor, limp. Brett’s hands began to shake.

“We’ve been found,” he said, voice anxious and wavering.

Jimmy groaned. “Shut up, Brett.”

Brett’s face flushed, his ears turning bright pink. “No. I’m not going to shut up,” he shouted, gripping his pistol. “This is bad. This is very, very bad, and we’re neck-deep in it.”

“Knock it off.”

“No. We’re all going to go to prison. Do you understand that?”

“It was just one guy—”

“—who’s now lying limp on my floor!” Brett’s tone raised an octave.

Snider knelt over the intruder’s slumped form. “Take him to the lake in his car. Make it look like he lost control and went in.”

“Like an accident?” Jimmy clarified.

Snider nodded. “These roads can be treacherous in snowy conditions.”

Brett watched as Jimmy hoisted the intruder over his shoulder, heaving him out the front door. “You know the police are going to tie this back to me.”

“Calm down,” Snider snapped.

“Stop telling me to calm down. They’re not going to tie this to you. They’re going to tie this to me.”

Snider ran a hand through his hair wearily. “Where’s breakfast?”

“Don’t try to change the subject. This is serious!”

“Finish breakfast,” Snider ordered as he moved down the hall, back turned.

“Don’t you walk away from me!” Brett blustered as he stomped after him, gun in hand. “I’m talking to you!” He reached out, putting a hand on the black-clad shoulder, then felt it twist as Snider spun.

Brett doubled over with his arm cocked violently in the air, wrist screwed in an unnatural direction, a strong hand shoving his shoulder down like a fulcrum. A knee to his stomach and the pistol hit the carpet.

Snider came close to Brett’s ear. “You do not talk to me that way”—his tone was soft but ferocious—“or so help me you’ll find yourself in the lake next to our uninvited guest here. Got it?”

Brett felt like his arm was about to be torn from its socket.

“Got it?”

Brett didn’t say anything; he only groaned in agony. A whimper escaped him; then he felt the force of the floor as Snider gave a brutal shove. He lay there, groaning, carpet pressed to his cheek as he watched Snider scoop up the pistol and walk away.

Jimmy came back in the front door and Snider handed off the Beretta, then looked back at Brett.

“Finish breakfast. I’m hungry.”

Brett sat up, leaning his aching body against the wall, seething. He touched his nose. Blood.

His shaking hands clenched.

Hannah listened intently. They’d done a good job of soundproofing the room, but there was only so much foam and mattresses could keep out. She held her breath, trying to hear more.

It had sounded like fighting. Shouting mostly, but things hit the walls, shaking the beams down to her shadowy basement.

There wasn’t much time for her, she supposed. They were getting desperate. What little she could make out from the tone of the shouting told her that. They weren’t going to keep her around much longer. That was certain.

What was the point? Two decades of living. She was nineteen years old and alone. A college freshman, living in the dorms, failing to adapt. Her roommate liked to drink and liked guys even more—Hannah had come home to find a “do not disturb” sign hanging from her own door at least once a week all semester, forcing her to sleep on a couch in the downstairs commons. The food in the dining halls was bad, the company worse. All she had wanted was to go home.

She didn’t want to be a college graduate with a career. All she wanted was to meet a nice man and love him, feed him, raise his children. It was an old-fashioned and naïve desire, all her professors and friends had told her that, but still it was the life she wanted.

She wanted peace and quiet and love and cookies made for her children—not an education or a life in the fast lane, but her
grandfather had made her go, wanting her to get a degree in business so she could make the family business more profitable.

The sensation was in her temples this time—soft images blending one to another.

Her eighth birthday party.

She wore a cowgirl hat and boots.

A chocolate cake with sprinkles.

The number eight embedded in frosting, a single flame rising from the wick.

Her friends smiling.

Her childhood dog, Max, licking her face.


The stinging all over her.

Crying in her grandfather’s arms.

—her grandfather’s arms.

Hannah lifted her head. She wanted to live.

Snider dialed the phone.

“Yes?” his employer said across the line.

“It’s me.”

There was a pause. “What do you need?”

“Some guy started snooping around.”


“I think it’s time you told me exactly why you hired us to kidnap the girl.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t—”

“I swear, we’ll kill her now.”

There was another pause.

“Are you watching the news?”

“Do you mean the murdered imam?”


“Are you guys responsible for that?”

“We need control of our situation.”

“And the girl’s kidnapping provides you with that?”

“We’ll double your money.”

Snider sneered. “We’re now connected to a politically charged killing. You’ll triple our money, and you’ll have the rest of it for us tonight, because after that we’re sending her back in a garbage bag!”

Devin’s thoughts floated.

Confused—in the front seat of the car. The car hood breaking the ice, plunging into the water.

The windshield cracking—leaking. Breaking. Cold water spilling in.

Body seizing from the shock. Lungs filling with ice water.

Devin’s eyes opened—darkness everywhere. His whole world shook as his head slammed into something. How had he gotten here? On his back, in some dark, confined place.

His world shook again with a jarring slam as he heard the engine rev.

He was in the trunk of a car.

It smelled new or at least freshly detailed—like his rental car. He shivered in the chilled trunk as his mind put it all together. It was his rental car. He remembered what had flashed through his mind. They were going to send the car into a lake with him in it, make it look like an accident. But it wouldn’t look like an accident if he was in the trunk. He remembered what he’d seen—

They weren’t going to leave him in the trunk. How had they gotten him here in the first place?

Something had pinched him in the neck, hard. There had been some sort of ticking sound and—

They’d hit him with a Taser, an electrical stun gun. Police and military used them for restraint purposes. He’d had to use one himself on several occasions when he was with intelligence. They were available to private citizens too for self-defense, and he’d been hit with one of those.

They weren’t going to take any chances. They were going to stun him again for good measure, put him in the front seat, and send him into the lake. He wouldn’t even have to drown. The water was cold enough that the chill would get him first. The shock of it alone would be enough to suck the air from his lungs, cause his muscles to seize. The impact would batter his body, and the breaking glass would slash him to ribbons. The water would cut off his air, choking him to death.

And if he survived all that, his lungs would fill and burst.

Brett moved into the living room, his body still sore. The TV was on—the morning news—all about this murdered imam in Ohio.

Brett watched for a moment and thought.

They were going to have to get rid of the girl, no matter what Snider said. It was going to have to happen.

He looked on the ottoman.

The Beretta.

Devin fumbled in the dark. He couldn’t find what he was looking for.

Just the previous summer he’d been led to the trunk of an older-model car where a four-year-old boy had accidentally trapped himself on a sweltering day. He read up on it afterward. He’d learned of the eleven children who had died in the summer of 1998, trapped in the trunks of automobiles. As a result, new standards required the auto manufacturers to have interior release handles inside every trunk manufactured after 2000. Most glowed in the dark with pictographic instructions inscribed on them. Devin saw nothing.

He searched with his eyes and his fingertips. He couldn’t find the latch. This wasn’t right. The rental was a brand-new car with all the latest safety requirements. They must have removed the safety latch somehow in the fear that he might come to and search for it, exactly as he was doing now.

There was another option—he could kick out the backseat and find himself face-to-face with his captor, a fight he would have to win against a man who was almost certainly armed.

He turned back to the trunk latch, feeling with his fingertips.

Snider stood in the kitchen, touching his forehead. It all gave him a headache—the logistics of it all. It was supposed to be a simple job, not this. The news was playing in the background—some Muslim had been murdered. He rubbed his temples.

He trusted Jimmy, but it still bothered him to delegate something like ditching a body to him. Why hadn’t he done it himself? Why hadn’t he made sure it was flawless?

Because, he reminded himself, Brett was the biggest problem they had. Someone needed to keep an eye on that trigger-happy . . . 

Where was Brett, anyway?

Snider stepped out of the kitchen and looked around. Then his eyes fell on the ottoman.

The pistol was gone.

Devin’s fingers glided across the plastic surface of the trunk’s latch cover and found the edges. He worked at the plastic, but his short, manicured fingernails couldn’t work their way underneath.

He traced the cover farther up. The cover was the size of his hand, roughly the shape of an egg, and at the top he felt two small indentations, one on each side of the release. His fingers worked their way in and the cover came loose. He felt blindly at the mechanism, working at it with his fingers.

Cold metal and a long, thick wire running the length of the mechanism.

That’s it, he thought. He pulled. The trunk popped and white light exploded off of the snow, flooding Devin’s eyes.

An old country road. Trees streaming away on each side.

He hurled himself out into the snow, rolling with the impact.

Brett moved to the door, unlocked it, and pushed it open gently.

There was the girl. She looked up and saw his face. His heart skipped as he tightened his stranglehold on the pistol’s grip behind his back. She’d seen his face. She could identify him.

Now there was no changing his mind.

He stepped in, closing the door.

Jimmy slammed on the brakes as he saw the trunk burst open in his rearview mirror. To the left he saw the man lift himself out of the snow and dash for the trees at the edge of the road.

The vehicle came to a sliding stop in the snow. He lunged at the passenger’s seat, clawing at a pile of things he’d brought along for cleanup. He snatched the Glock pistol with his rubber-gloved hand and glanced back at the escaping figure in the mirror.

He launched out of the car door, spinning in a single fluid motion, the handgun resting on the roof of the car as he braced himself to fire.

Only time for one shot before the man slipped into the trees . . . 

The gun sounded like thunder.

Snow exploded off the burdened branches of an evergreen, sending white scattering through the air like a starburst. Devin hit the ground and rolled, then quickly scrambled back to his feet and sprinted into the trees.

Hannah stared at the man. He stared back, hand hiding something behind him.

He stood there, not moving, as if he were trying to work up the courage to do something. Her mind skimmed across the surface of possibilities. There were only a few options of things he had come for: her body or her life—or both.

The doorknob at the far end of the room turned, and someone pushed on the door. The man in front of her flinched, then turned around quickly, showing her his back—and the pistol he was holding.

The door opened.

“What are you doing?” Another man, dressed in black, looked around the room.

“Nothing. I was just . . . ”

Hannah stared at the pistol. She wanted to scream, to tell the second man what she saw, but she couldn’t. She tried to speak, but her voice held in her throat.

“You don’t belong in here,” the second man announced.

The first man nodded. “You’re right.” As he spoke he tucked the firearm discreetly in his belt and moved toward the door, following the other man.

Jimmy moved into the trees, lowering his head beneath a branch—eyes sharp and attentive, handgun at the ready. The tracks were clear and distinct in the deep snow.

Just beyond, the world was darker, the ground shadowed by the canopy of trees. He looked for blood—there was none, but there were gaping tracks in the snow. He pushed on toward his quarry.


That was all Hannah heard for several moments. Then she heard it, even through the padding—

Her captors.

Arguing. Yelling. Shouting.


She held her breath for a moment then threw her head up, attentive to the noise—

The gunshot was deafening.

Devin pressed his back against the tree, his stalker so close he could hear the crunch of snow. He took a long, deep breath—and held it. He had to be completely undetectable, or he was dead.

Jimmy squinted. Just ahead he saw it—the cloth of a trench coat peeking out from behind a small tree. He took in a breath and stepped gently.

Carefully. Silently. Agonizing as he placed his feet in the packed snow at the bottom of each track he followed.

He was getting closer. Rounding the tree. Then his moment—

Jimmy threw himself forward, the pistol in his hand blasting.

One—two—three rounds.

He stopped.

The coat was empty. Riddled with bullets, it hung from a branch, limp and vacant. Cursing to himself he looked around frantically.

Something rammed between his shoulder blades, and he went face-first into the snow, pain stabbing at the base of his skull, chest slamming into the icy cold. His vision only went black for a moment.

He pushed up with a fist then felt an arm swoop around his neck, his chin locking in the cleft of the man’s elbow. Jimmy fought to bite the other man’s arm as he struggled to gain hold with his clawing fingertips. A hand pressed expertly against the base of his skull.

He threw elbows to the side, punches to the face. He clawed, scratched, and tried to jam a thumb under the man’s eye to put it out. The choke hold only tightened. Jimmy felt his body being thrown as he was fought deeper into submission, forced to his knees, his vision swinging hard to the right—

He saw it.

In the snow.

The pistol.

He snatched the cold metal, swinging it upward toward the black man’s face.

One bullet would do—

The pistol bucked in Jimmy’s hand as a round exploded from the muzzle, firing off into the air as a well-placed strike knocked the weapon away. The other arm continued squeezing, and Jimmy reprised violently.

Sweat ran down his back, sweet and slick.

His face burned. Muscles flaming.

Frustration. Burning rage.

He fought to bring his restrained arm to bear—the pistol going off again and again and again, blasting away at the snow near their feet.

He screamed in anger.

The man he would have murdered was quiet, calculated.

Jimmy snarled as the weapon was stripped from his hand, tumbling into the snow.

They both went back, slamming into snow. The air left Jimmy’s lungs and he gasped. The other man’s legs wrapped around his own, holding him down tightly. Trapped.

How did this happen? He was going to kill this man. In cold blood. But he was losing control, body locked in an expertly executed choke hold.

He gasped for air. Gray crept into his vision. Sight blurred. Consciousness slipped.

His world went dark.

Hannah was bleeding from her wrists, the ropes cutting deep into her soft flesh as she tried to work her way free. Her bruised wrists twisted under the stinging strain of the ropes that bit into her. A trickle of her own warm blood slithered down her finger. It hurt so much, but she just kept working.

She wanted to live. She wanted to see the sun.

Footsteps down the hall. Nearing.

Her work became more rapid, trying harder to free herself from the expertly tied fetters.

The door opened. She saw a man dressed all in black. He came close, leaning by her ear. Hannah went stiff—except for her lip, which quivered uncontrollably.

Devin climbed into the silver rental car and looked around. The keys were still in the ignition. He turned them and heard the rush of air—

The woods. The girl.

Snider, aiming his pistol deliberately.

“Please don’t kill me. Please!”

The girl, back turned, walking away.


Devin set the sedan into reverse, easing into the gas. He felt the tires grip and begin to slowly roll out of the snow—couldn’t rush it or he’d get stuck. He turned the car around, working the wheel to the left.

Devin pushed the gearshift forward, locking it in place, and fed the gas. The car began to move forward, gaining speed, then took off, blazing down the snowy road. His eyes glanced at the dashboard—a mile ticked over faster than it should have for the conditions. Then another. And another.

“Please don’t kill me. Please!”

The words played over again in his mind, frantic and desperate.

He was driving much, much too fast for the conditions. The back end slipped, and he adjusted the gearshift. The car was fishtailing. Too fast, he thought again, but he had no choice now. No other option. Not now. Not with the future racing toward him.

He recognized the landscape. From the other side, but this was it: his turn was just ahead, where he’d hit the drift before.

Devin’s fist wrenched the emergency brake skyward.

He spun the wheel.

The car snapped to a ninety-degree angle, sliding to a stop—right in front of the long drive.

First gear. The sedan leapt into action.

The engine snarled.

Second gear. He laid into the gas.

Over a small hill.

The house ahead.

Like the chiming of a bell announcing the drawing of midnight, the words repeated in his mind:

“Please don’t kill me. Please!”

No more time. The future was becoming the present.

The gas pedal touched the floor. The car began to fishtail, the front end nosing to the right. Devin overcorrected as control of the car slipped away from him. He fought the vehicle as he felt it tipping inexorably out of control. Something slipped beneath the car, the tires losing all traction—he was completely out of control, the car swerving perpendicular to the long drive. His foot pumped the brake, but the wheels were no longer propelling the car, only the force of gravity pulling him down the incline—screaming across a layer of slippery packed snow—careening toward a tall embankment at the end of
the drive.

Devin braced for impact, and his entire body shuddered as the silver sedan plowed into the drift. The seat belt snapped tight, constricting against his chest as the force of the blow threatened to throw him out the far side of the car. The shock wave subsided, and he reached for the door handle with a disoriented hand.

Devin threw the door open and got out, Glock pistol in hand—raised in anticipation of trouble.

He stared down the iron sights at the front door of the house, only feet away. Devin moved from the car with purpose and speed, eyes locked on the front door, weapon held out in front of him as he moved up the steps.

Devin turned the door handle and gave a hearty kick, sending the door flinging in. He charged across the threshold and paused, weapon ready, arms locked in place, body turning with the pistol. He moved in.

Left turn—one sharp movement as he glared down the iron sights.


To the right—same.

Devin moved into the kitchen. On the counter was a black and white monitor—a room. Chair, bonds—that was where he’d seen the girl—but the room was empty.

Then he saw it—something more shocking. Next to the monitor was a lapel pin. A royal crest—he recognized the symbol. The Trinity knot—a triquetra—under a crenulated label: the sign of the Firstborn.

No color—simply the symbol itself. It didn’t have any of the distinctive colors: the red of the Domani, the gold of the Ora, or the blue of the Prima. But it was the symbol of the Firstborn—that was simple enough to see. And more disturbing than anything else he could consider.

A cool draft played against his cheek, and he turned. The sliding glass door was slightly ajar. Devin moved forward, looked through the glass at the distant trees—

And saw them.

Hannah screamed again.

Snider shoved her into the trees. She fell down, and he reached for her, grabbing her hair roughly with a fist.

“Do not make my life more difficult than it has to be. Do you understand?”

She quavered.

“Do you understand?”

Hannah nodded, and he pulled her to her feet. They kept walking, deeper and deeper into the trees.

Snider stopped in a clearing, a hundred yards beyond the tree line. She went to her knees. He lowered himself down to her ear, whispering.

“That way,” he said, pointing deeper into the trees. “Start walking that way, and don’t look back.”

She turned and looked at him. Her first thought was that he was letting her go, then she looked him in the eye and felt—

He’d killed before—

A deal gone bad.

A job gone wrong.

Intimidation gone too far.

To survive in prison.

To repay a debt.

For money.

For safety.

For revenge.

For convenience . . . 

She saw it all—

He was going to kill her too.

“Get up.” His voice soft but stern.

She stood and looked into his face. “Please don’t. Please don’t kill me. I won’t tell anyone. I promise.”

“Start walking,” he said flatly, “and don’t turn around.”

She held for a moment.


Hannah turned slowly, facing the snowy trees ahead of her, and began to walk. One foot in front of another, waiting expectantly for it to happen any moment. She turned her head, saw the man in the corner of her eye still standing there, pistol in hand.

“Keep going,” he instructed.

Another step. Another moment of life.

Another step—


Her entire body went stiff and she looked down—she’d stepped on a twig.

“That’s good.”

She stopped, turning back to Snider.

“I didn’t tell you to turn around,” he reprimanded, as if she were a child. As she looked back into the trees she sucked air, slowly.

She looked at the trees. So beautiful. The snow and the early-morning sun. Her heart slowed. Her muscles relaxed. If this was going to be the last thing she ever saw, she was going to embrace it.

Days in a dark basement had driven her back to the faith of her childhood; now it filled her entire heart and mind.

She was coming home.

The gunshot was loud, hammering in her temples as if a hole had been punched in her eardrums. A single round fired in the stillness of the snow, echoing endlessly through the trees.

Snow dropped from branches. Birds took off into flight. And the blast rolled through the world.

She stood for a moment, waiting to feel it, but all she felt was the chill in her feet and in her lungs. Hannah looked down. No wound.

Slowly she turned around and saw Snider clutching his chest, bleeding from a steaming wound. He coughed, face confused, and a trickle of blood ran down his lip. The man hit his knees and went face-first into the snow.

The body lay there, steam rising from the hot wound. Beyond stood a man—tall, handsome, black skin—a pistol in hand raised expertly, face blank, a single twist of smoke rising from the muzzle of the weapon.

He approached Snider’s body, weapon pointed down, kicking the Beretta pistol away. Kneeling down, he checked for a pulse. When he was satisfied, he put his own weapon on safety and looked up at Hannah.

“Are you hurt?”

She shook her head.

“Good.” Then he took her by the arm and led her away.