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Saturday, December 31, 2011

dog Confessions shocking tales straight from the doghouse by Allia Zobel Nolan


This is a short book, just 64 pages. The photos of the animals are excellent, with lots of great expressions on the faces of the dogs. Love all the different choices of the dogs that are used. They gave a lot of breeds a chance to be showcased. There are a few with more than one dog, and one with three little culprits, which I think is one of my favorites The Three Amigo Banditos! The kids adored the pictures of the dogs that look like they are wearing old fashioned mops...and saying they have hair extensions!
The author does explain that she is a Cat person, but her Hubby is a lover of Man's Companion. She told that her feline fur children, were out of sorts with her writing this book...but she had them partake of the month-long salmon-and-cream bribe. She apologized to her little darlings for writing about dogs!
I shared this with my 4 and 6 year old and they loved hearing the captions that go with the pictures. Some are hysterical, and they were giggling. Of course he loves animals. He wanted the book read over and over.
As it said on the cover, these pups are covering up their crimes, and the photo's are priceless. These are all quotes that are trying to get them out of the Doghouse!! To funny!!
I found some really great, and others just didn't quite make it.
For my little ones the pictures alone are worth having the book!

I received this book from Reader's Favorite, and was not required to give a positive review.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones

There You'll Find Me

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Finley Sinclair has come to Ireland to retrace the steps of her murdered brother. She has had a rough time and wants to find peace for her soul in being where her brother found such contentment.

Finley arrives on an airplane seated next to a movie star...she is not impressed. Becket is not what he appears, and you will learn to love him!

This book has so much packed into it, there are mean girls in the form of the Principals daughter Beatrice and the Posh girls. Her haven is her host family Sean & Nora Callaghan and their children Erin & Liam. Erin and Finely are the same age and become good friends.

She is very musically talented and is trying to finish a song to honor her brother and gain admission to a great school. She and Becket do become friends and he has taken her to some of the places her brother Will visited.

There is also Cathleen Sweeney, whom was assigned as her service project. Cathleen is dying of bone cancer and is very cantankerous. You are going to come to love this old woman!

There are a range of feelings in this hard to put down book! Some very sad happenings...have the tissues handy. I do recommend this read!

I received this book through Netgalley and Thomas Nelson the Publisher, and was not required to give a positive review.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!



Merry Christmas from all of us at Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoyed these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you missed a few posts, I hope you'll be able go back through and read them on this blog over the next few days. If you'd like to keep up with Pearl Girls and our new book project, Mother of Pearl, coming this spring, just click this link and sign up for our newsletter (lower left sidebar).



Also, just a reminder that today is the last day for the pearl necklace and earrings giveaway! Enter now by filling out this {form}. The winner will on 1/1 at the Pearl Girls blog.



If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***
Jesus -- The Reason For the Season

By: Rachel Hauck



Through the narrow scope of 2000 years, Mary, the mother of Jesus, appears to be one lucky woman. Chosen by God to give birth to His son, the Savior of the world? All right, Mary, way to go.



“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you,” Gabriel said.



How many of us would like a declaration like that? Highly favored. The Lord is with you. But Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.



The angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Mary’s seems confident and resolved when she responds, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”



She’d just been told the Holy Spirit will come upon her, that God’s power will overshadow her, that she’d become with child even though she wasn’t married, and she said, “I’m the Lord’s servant. Let your words be true.”



I find this amazing! A young woman. Ancient Bethlehem. Unwed mother. They stoned women for such things in her day. But Mary believed in God. And submitted to His will. He gave her the Holy Spirit – the same Holy Spirit given to us. If He gave her confidence, He will give us confidence. Even though, like Mary, our situation seems impossible.



Listen to Mary’s song later on in the first chapter of Luke.



“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me Holy is his name…”



Conceiving a child out of wedlock, by Divine intervention. Not a girl’s every day existence. Yet she had a Yes in her heart to God. She rejoiced. She boldly said, “Generations will remember me!”



How we struggle to trust God with our children. Our finances. Our emotional well-being. We worry. We fret. And wonder why we have no peace.



Christmas is the season where words like joy, peace and love are bantered around like Christmas candy. Let’s not take them as just words, but as truth. Let’s be like Mary and embrace God’s favor on our lives. Boldly declare "He’s done great things for me!”



Out of the grit of our own souls, we can reach His heart, and feel Him reaching for ours. No matter the pain of our past, present or future, God is there for us. He is able. Best of all, He is willing. “My soul glorifies the Lord this Christmas!”



***
Rachel Hauck is an award winning, best selling author who believes God has done great things for her. She lives in Central Florida with her husband and ornery pets. Her next release is Love Lifted Me with multi-platinum country artist Sara Evans, January 2012. Then in April, look for The Wedding Dress. www.rachelhauck.com.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!



Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.



AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.



If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.




***
The Panhandler's Breath

By Robin Dance



He slipped in sideways between the closing elevator doors, as if he were late to a meeting; he pressed the "5" without looking. Instead of suit and tie, though, baggy pants and faded navy hung on his tall, slim frame...and his stealth entry stiffened the hairs on the back of my neck.



I had noticed him a few seconds earlier, just after we had parted a sea of clamorous teens. He was smiling, grandfatherly, standing maybe 30 feet away where the electric shuttle picks up.



I had no idea he had been watching us, studying us, predator patiently awaiting his next prey.



The four of us were sealed in a four- by six-foot metal tomb. Tomb--that thought really scampered across my mind. I wondered if he had a knife in his pocket. I wanted to protect my son. Fight or flight pumped adrenaline but there was no where to run.



Extreme and ridiculous, these thoughts - and more - flashed through my mind. The Stranger began speaking.



"Yessir, I see you're a family man with your wife and your son here..." and he nodded in my and my son’s direction.



"...you see I'm homeless and all I've got..." and on queue, he reached into his left pocket and pulled out two old pennies blackened with age. Two cents to his name?! It was all too contrived, too practiced, and I didn't believe a word he was saying.



It was then I smelled it ~ the small space lent itself to that ~ and I doubted my doubt.



His breath.



It wasn't the scent of alcohol. His eyes weren't red, his voice didn't waver; his wizened face matched his graying hair.



His breath was morning's, zoo breath, the pet name I'd given to the scent inhaled when kissing my children awake when they were little.



He needed to brush his teeth. I wondered how long it had been since he brushed his teeth.



The elevator door opened and I handed him my leftover pizza as my son and I brushed past him. My husband handed him a bill and the Stranger thanked and God blessed him.



The elevator door closed behind us. Conflicted, I was relieved.



We got in the car and blurted first reaction--



"I didn't believe a word he said."



"That made me nervous."



"I wonder if he'll really eat the pizza."



In the quiet, we were left to our own thoughts, contemplating the right thing to do. At the end of the day, this is what I decided: It doesn't matter whether or not his story is true; for an old man to resort to begging, he has to be desperate. The money my husband gave him will never be missed. It was a reminder we've been entrusted with much and given much. Materially, yes, but more so spiritually. Loved, chosen, forgiven, redeemed, graced, lavished--every spiritual blessing. E v e r y.



There's a part of me that wishes I would have been brave enough to ask the man his story, made sure he knew he was loved...and bought him a tooth brush.



Later, it occurred to me he could have been an angel. Doesn’t that mean generosity, kindness and hospitality is always the right response? Then it's not about you or the stranger or the circumstance, it's about a simple, God-glorifying response.



Had we entertained an angel unaware? We'll never know.



But it wouldn't be the first time the Breath of Heaven smelled like a zoo.



***
In a decades-old, scandalous affair with her husband, Robin also confesses mad crushes on her three teens. As Southern as sugar-shocked tea, she’s a recovering people pleaser who advocates talking to strangers. A memoirist, Compassion International Blogger, and Maker-upper of words, Robin writes for her own site, PENSIEVE, and also for (in)courage by DaySpring (a subsidiary of Hallmark) and Simple Mom. She loves to get to know readers through their blog comments and on Twitter and Pinterest. www.pensieve.me

Friday, December 23, 2011

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!



Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.



AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.



If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.



***
Inside Out Christmas

by Debora M. Coty



My veterinarian friend, Dr. Katie, tells the story about the December when a woman brought a very sick black lab into her clinic. The dog was only ten months old, so she was really just a big puppy, but she’d been vomiting incessantly and her worried owner didn’t know what was wrong.



“Why don’t you go on home?” Dr. Katie told the owner. “I’ll need to run tests for about four hours. We’ll give you a call when we’re finished.”



Dr. Katie’s assistant took x-rays and hung them on the light panel for Dr. Katie to examine. Hmm. Something looked a little peculiar. Dr. Katie called her assistant over.



“Is it just me, or does that look like a … a camel to you?” she asked incredulously.



“Matter of fact, it does,” replied the astute assistant. “And look, there’s an angel here, a shepherd there, and down there in the colon, it’s Baby Jesus!”



At that moment the phone rang. It was the dog’s distraught owner. “I can’t believe this! I just got home and glanced at the coffee table where I put my manger scene yesterday. There’s nothing there but an empty stable!”



As I thought about this quite literal technique for internalizing the true meaning of Christmas, it occurred to me that sometimes I have the opposite problem. With all the bustling busyness, my inner joy in celebration of my savior’s birth never really makes it to the outside.



Oh, I have plenty of glittery, festive evidences of the holiday in decorations, baking galore, and gifts under my tree. But those things are for show. They’re merely the pretty wrappings, not the gift itself.



Can people really see the core-deep joy that radiates within me when I think of the true gift that Papa God sent the world in his son, Jesus? Is my immeasurable gratitude for eternal life evident as I dash through this hectic season?



I’m afraid all too often, the answer is no.



I’m just too preoccupied to allow my outside to reflect my inside so that nonbelievers recognize that I rejoice because of the hope that is within me. My joy is obscured by the mounds of clutter. Gratefulness is sucked out of my soul by the vacuum called urgency.



“But let the godly rejoice. Let them be glad in God’s presence. Let them be filled with joy” (Psalm 68:3, NLT).



This verse has become my prayer this Christmas season – that I would make the time to give priority to rejoicing, being glad in God’s presence, and letting my inner joy show for those who may be silently desperate to know the giver of true joy.



Yep, there’s a better way to internalize the gift of Christmas than the black lab technique. We can lodge the Little Lord Jesus in our hearts rather than our colons.



***
Debora M. Coty is a humorist, inspirational speaker, and award-winning author of twelve books, including Too Blessed to be Stressed, and coming in March, More Beauty, Less Beast: Transforming Your Inner Ogre. Debora would love to swap Christmas hugs with you at www.DeboraCoty.com.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!



Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.



AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.



If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.



***
Simple or Sparkle?

by Tracey Eyster



It’s a simple ornament made of thin cheap metal and it looks quite out of place on our CHRISTmas tree. But each year I lovingly and safely nestle it amongst its expensive and sparkly peers, without a care as to how unglamorous it appears.



Many of our CHRISTmas ornaments have a story and an uncanny way of welling up emotion in me, but this certain one causes an intense stir.



You see the ornament is engraved with the name of my grandmother, Sara, and was given to me by my mother, who ordered it from Hospice, after Grandmama’s death. Yes, the months leading up to her death carry memories of a frail and failing grandmama, but that ornament carries my thoughts to sweet CHRISTmas memories of the past.



CHRISTmas Eve dinners in her home, laughing, singing, gathering and celebrating a year filled with blessings as we remembered the birth of our Savior. CHRISTmas mornings, she was always there participating with glee, in our raucous CHRISTmas happiness. Her gifts were always bank envelopes gently tucked into the pine needles of our CHRISTmas tree, fresh cut from the property she grew up on.



All memories of my Grandmama make my heart swell. You see she was my Jesus with skin on. She lived her life full of joy, serving others and approached life selflessly with an attitude of, “What can I do for you?”



Just months before she left us, even as the Alzheimer’s was robbing her mind she shared her love of Jesus with a sweet little old lady friend, who came to know the Lord – a divine appointment.  The very next day that little old lady silently slipped away to meet in person the One Sara introduced her to just the day before.



At the time I wept, realizing that regardless of our own frailties and failings, God can still use those of us who are willing to do His work and are well practiced at hearing His voice...no matter our lack of sparkle in comparison to others.



A simple life lived for Him, a simple ornament in memory of Sara...a simple truth for you to ponder.



***
Tracey Eyster wife, mom, relationship gatherer and Creator/Editor of FamilyLife’s MomLife Today is a media savvy mom making a difference where moms are, on-line. Through speaking, writing and video interviews Tracey is passionate about encouraging, equipping and advising moms on every facet of momlife. Her first book, Be The Mom will be released August 2012. You can connect with Tracey at www.momlifetoday.com, her personal site www.traceyster.com or www.twitter/momblog.com.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

First Wild Card Tours: Anessia's Quest by Karen Arnpriester



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:


CreateSpace (January 18, 2011)



***Special thanks to Karen Arnpriester for sending me a review copy.***




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Karen Slimick Arnpriester is a creative, passionate and adventuresome woman. She raised her two children, adores her seven grandchildren and is now a foster mom of two young ladies. She has been a self-taught graphic designer for twenty five years and started her own business twenty years ago. Her faith in God is strong and she believes that we are Christ's hands, feet, arms and wallet. This translates into her involvement in youth ministries, local women's shelter, street ministry, the elderly, as well as many other outreaches over the years. Her home has been available to single moms and their children, allowing them to get a fresh start.





Visit the author's website.




SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:




Anessia’s Quest follows the life of a woman born into dysfunction and neglect. The story takes you on her journey. A journey that begins with abandonment, abuse, and physical injury. Pagne (Pain) believes she is all alone, thrown away, but soon discovers that she is protected and guided by her guardian angel. A powerful relationship develops between this lost child and her loving protector that manifests as a unique method of communication.



Pagne encounters other broken people that become her family, friends and community. Her grace and compassion alter their destructive paths. She moves through her life unaware of the impact she creates, her purpose on Earth.



Her life is filled with tears, laughter, joy and heartbreak. She faces challenges that include ultimate betrayal, loss and shame. Challenges that are only bearable due to her trust and faith in heaven’s love and value for her. Love that is reinforced by her angel. She discovers the events that led to her mother’s indifference and neglect, and must decide how much grace she can extend to a woman she has hated for most of her life. The ultimate test of forgiveness.



When she faces her death, Pagne discovers the true value and power of forgiveness and love. She is shown how her life created ripples that spread into waves of glorious influence. She was not an accident, she was placed on Earth with divine intent.












Product Details:




List Price: $11.95

Paperback: 302 pages

Publisher: CreateSpace (January 18, 2011)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1456504363

ISBN-13: 978-1456504366




AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:













IN THE HEAVENS

Psalms 91:11

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;”


Draken walked swiftly through the marble passageway, which was only lit by a warm, golden glow that’s source was undefinable. The excitement was building, as he weaved his way through the network of stone halls, intricate stained glass panels, and vines with incredible cobalt and purple blossoms. Each flower’s center had a spray of tendrils that shimmered and flickered with light. They pushed their way in through small openings and cracks, covering the ancient stone walls with their winding tendrils. He had the ability to instantly think himself to her, but instead he savored the journey through the tabernacle. As Draken entered the great hall, he sent groups of colorful butterflies

scattering. Some of the butterflies were tiny and flashed bright yellow and orange light, while others were massive and moved almost as in slow motion. Their deep-purple and metallic gold wings didn’t shine brightly like the others, but had a velvety luster that picked up the room’s light with each flutter. The spaces in between were filled with every size and color of these delicate creatures. This room never failed to take Draken’s breath away. There were sculptures in exquisite detail, cast or carved from every precious metal and stone, encrusted with jewels and pearls. Above him were strings of glowing orbs that didn’t appear to be connected in any way, glistening shades of pink, lavender, blue and green. Beautiful birds of every description dove and soared in the upper dome. Draken would spend hours in this room, simply appreciating its beauty.

As he came upon an area of comfortable chairs, he saw Anessia sitting on the hard floor in her usual position, both legs folded under her with feet twisted out to the sides. She would sit this way for hours.

“When will you ever discover the comfort of these lush chairs?” he teased her.

She just grinned and said, “Probably never.” Draken just shook his head. She liked the coolness of the stone floor on her skin.

Draken sat down in his favorite chair, a opulent purple satin with three times the stuffing most chairs would contain. He waited for her to speak, but silence. After a few anxious minutes, he could wait no longer.

“Well, Anessia. You summoned me here. You said you were ready.”

She hesitated, she seemed unsure for a moment and then handed him the delicate gold scroll. Draken, a regal man with long white hair and a full beard, took the scroll and fingered it gently, knowing the importance of its content. He took a deep breath and looked into Anessia’s eyes. He loved her eyes, so large, so engulfing.

“I am ready,” is all she said. Draken felt the contradiction of relief and dread. This would be a difficult quest, filled with many hardships and pain.

“You will have a lot of sadness to deal with, but you were selected with the

knowledge that you are capable. You have a strong sense of justice and love.”

“Oh, Draken, I want to make a difference, to be part of these miracles!”

“Once you leave, you realize you will not be able to change your mind. The quest will not be recalled,” he reminded her.

“I totally understand. I know that I can do this. I know I can make you and our Father proud. I believe I am the one to help fulfill the destiny described in the scroll.”

Draken truly adored Anessia and her tender heart, but she was fierce, one of the most committed wards he had responsibility for. He also knew that the quest was a journey filled with love, joy and an incredible outcome.

“I will make the arrangements. Prepare yourself, your time here is short.” They both came to a stand, and with a hug and a kiss on her head, Draken disappeared to carry out the necessary details.

Anessia stood alone and waited until she was sure Draken had left the chamber. She could contain herself no longer. She spun around, her hair flowing and gleaming in the light that was radiating down from above. It was wonderful to have a destiny. She giggled and hugged herself. Anessia then mentally willed her beautiful wings to engage, and she flew out of the windows near the top of the upper dome.

She didn’t have to fly very far; there, by the glimmering pools, was Ennett. She slowly dropped down behind him, so quietly that he didn’t know she was there. Anessia crept slowly behind him and jumped back as Ennett whirled around. But not quick enough, his folded wings smacked her in the face. “Oh Ennett, I thought I got you this time,” she said, as she rubbed her cheek.

“Do you forget that I can read your thoughts? You need to work on shutting down that brain of yours when you plan to attack,” he pouted at her, while touching her tender cheek. They both laughed and sat down on the cool grass next to the pools of crystal clear water. They slipped their feet in and giggled loudly, as the fish nibbled their toes. Anessia loved the landscape outside the main tabernacle. It had sumptuous gardens, streams, and trees that bore delicious fruits. Flowers of every size, color and scent. Some were deep shades that were fuzzy and glimmered, while others were tucked under the shade of the trees with transparent petals that glowed with pulsing light. The aromas were so delicious.

She couldn’t count the different species of animals that roamed through the gardens. Every visit was a new discovery. These unique and exotic creatures would wander the gardens and come when beckoned, allowing her to pet and love on them.

“Well, I am assuming that it is time?”

“Yes, it is,” she acknowledged.

“Anessia, it is a different realm there,” he warned. “There is darkness,

despair and pain.”

“I know, I can do this. Draken and our Father do not send me to fail.”

“I have faith in you, but please be careful!”

They both sat quietly for a short time. “I need to go prepare,” whispered Anessia.

“I love you Anessia, I will be here for you always.” They held each other for what felt like an eternity but it was only moments in another time.


CHAPTER 1

Leah thought she could bear it no longer … why didn’t this baby come out? She had been pushing and writhing here for hours, hurting so bad that she wanted to die. Finally, the nurse came in and said she was ready to have the baby. Leah knew that she would have feelings for this kid eventually, but right now, she almost hated it. They wheeled her into delivery, and after thirty more minutes, the miracle of birth happened. A little, white skinned, red-haired girl with blue eyes. She looked at her and felt numb. She may have connected better if the baby had looked like her. If she had gotten her golden skin, dark, curly hair and chestnut brown eyes. This baby looked like a stray, not her kid.

Leah had endured a difficult life and tried to bury it with alcohol, drugs and sex. During her drunken months of pregnancy, she thought it would be funny to name her baby girl Champagne, after her favorite beverage. Champagne Marie Crenshaw. Champagne would carry her mother’s last name since Leah didn’t know which John was the proud papa. Leah had considered having another abortion, but this time was different. This baby would change her life, she just knew it. Leah wanted to be loved and wanted someone to love. She convinced herself that she could be a mom. When Leah was in her seventh month, she had stopped hooking and left Los Angeles. She moved north for

a fresh start. Champagne was to find out quickly that her mom would fail miserably at being a mother. She also would find out that there was someone watching over her, protecting her.

When the hospital determined that Leah was ready to be released, she was indignant and annoyed. Three days was not nearly long enough if you asked Leah. She figured she deserved and could use at least another week of leisure and strong pain meds while the nurses cared for Champagne. Upon leaving the hospital, she brought the baby back to the disgusting motel room that Leah managed to rent with her assistance checks. Leah figured they would do okay since the amount written on those checks would increase with the birth of Champagne. She might have been able to afford a nicer place, but the majority of her money went for her alcohol and drugs. How was she going to take care of a baby all by herself?, she thought. Looking around the room, Leah realized that she should have prepared a little more for the baby. She pulled out a drawer, dumped it, and laid Champagne in it. The strong pain meds were wearing off, and they had only prescribed glorified aspirin as far as Leah was concerned. Luckily she had stopped on the way home to pick up a big bottle of cheap wine.

“Well brat, guess the closest I’ll come to champagne for awhile is changing your crappy diapers.” She laughed to herself, “That was a good one Leah … you haven’t lost your dazzling wit yet.”

~

Several years crawled by, and somehow, Champagne had survived her mother’s indifference. On one summer evening, Leah finally could not take it any longer, the pounding on the door was killing her head. What a hang-over she had. When she jerked the door open, she looked into the chest of a police officer. Behind him stood her neighbor, Miss Nose Up My Butt. She could tell this wasn’t good by the smirk on Miss Butt’s face.

“We got a call that you have a toddler playing unattended on the landing,” said the officer.

“Well, I don’t see no kid out here, do you?” shot back Leah.

“Not at the moment, but your neighbor called quite concerned. She said that it is not unusual to see your front door wide open and your small daughter playing out here by the stairs. Do you understand how dangerous that is?”

“Well yes, Officer, I do. I’m not an idiot. I am always just inside the door, watching her every move. The kid has gotta have some fresh air and sunshine right?”

“Ma’am, unless you use better judgment and find a safer place for your daughter to play, we will be back out with Child Services,” threatened the Officer.

“Okay. I will figure out something.”

The officer filled out his paperwork and handed Leah her copy. “This call will be documented.” He held the paper for a delayed moment, while making eye contact with Leah.

“Thank you Officer,” Leah said sarcastically as she snatched it from his hand.

As the officer moved down the stairs, Leah looked over at Miss Butt as she was turning to head back to her door. Leah smiled a big smile at her and then flipped her off with both hands, followed by slamming the door as loud as possible.

“Thanks Pagne, just what I needed.” She glared at her sweet face and grumbled, “Worthless brat.” Leah had decided that when Champagne was a year old, she did not deserve the name Champagne. She hadn’t improved Leah’s life, but complicated it. Leah called her Pagne, which was pronounced as “Pain.” The fact that she was showing signs of freckles to go with the red hair from her nameless father didn’t help either. Leah hated freckles with a passion. Leah plopped down on the ratty couch that folded out to their bed, and turned on the TV as she filled a tumbler with wine.

Leah’s lust for drinking would not allow her to survive on the meager assistance she received, so she began hooking again shortly after Pagne was born. Pagne’s childhood was a whirlwind of her mother’s customers, late nights, and the consequences of being the child of an alcoholic. One thing was consistent, an anchor that Pagne could rely on, her mother’s total disregard for her. Pagne was forced to be self-sufficient. She kept herself clean, got herself ready for school, and made sure the trash in the room didn’t pile up too high.

When Pagne was eight years old, Adam Williams was her mother’s new flavor of the month … good looking, funny and he actually had a job. Nice change for Leah. Adam always brought a bottle of quality champagne for her and Jack Daniels for him. A few drinks, some laughs and then …. “Good lovin’,” as her mother would say. Leah considered him a boyfriend, so she didn’t charge him for her company. Pagne learned to keep out of the way when Adam or other men were there. The close quarters of the motel room made it difficult, but Pagne would lock the bathroom door and climb into the tub, pretending she was in a boat heading to a strange new land.

Pagne would also read with a passion. She loved stories about fairies, far away places, or brave characters who saved the day. She read whatever she could bring home from school. Her mom certainly wouldn’t take the time to take her to the library or buy a book. When the tub was too disgusting to get into, Pagne would pile up any dirty laundry on the floor and make a nest. The width of the floor space fit her and the nest perfectly. She wished the walls were more sound proof though. The loud laughing and the noises they made when her mother had sex with the men made it hard for her to read, pretend or sleep. Pagne wasn’t sure what they were doing, but she felt uncomfortable hearing them. Sometimes, the men that Leah brought home would hit her. Pagne knew to stay very quiet. She didn’t want them to know she was there. Some mornings, Leah’s face would be swollen and bruised. When Pagne would look at her with concern, Leah would shrug and say, “Comes with the territory.”

Adam never hit her mom. He would always bring Pagne a toy or candy when he came over. He was nice enough but something made her uneasy about him. He didn’t do anything bad, but he always wanted Pagne to sit on his lap. She didn’t like it, and she wasn’t sure why. Even her mom didn’t like it. Leah would jerk Pagne up off of him and plop herself down on his lap, while giving Pagne the evil eye. Leah didn’t realize how grateful Pagne was for removing her from the awkward situation.

Even at the age of eight, Pagne was independent. She could get her own breakfast and lunch, toaster pastries or cold cereal. It wasn’t so bad when the milk hadn’t soured, but usually she ate the cereal dry. She did get free hot lunches at school when she started first grade. Leah wasn’t hungry until late evening, since she drank her meals during the day. She would throw something together for dinner, but in her drunken stupor, usually burnt it. Pagne didn’t eat much. She didn’t talk much either, and doctors thought it was because of Leah’s frequent drinking during her pregnancy. But, according to Pagne, she just didn’t have anything much to say.

One hot summer evening, Leah had drank herself into a stupor and passed out on the bathroom floor, leaving Pagne alone with Adam. He grinned at her and turned on cartoons. Their TV only had three channels. Luckily, one was cartoons ... most of the time. Pagne loved cartoons. She could watch them all day and just pretend she lived in the TV with them where she could fly like a super hero. Adam sat down in the old recliner and motioned for Pagne to come over to him. When she came close, he reached out and grabbed her by the waist and pulled her up on his lap.

“Your mommy is outta service, so maybe Adam and Pagne will have some fun? You wanna play with me, sweetheart?” Her instincts told her that this was not good. Adam’s breath stunk so bad from the liquor. She felt his arms tighten around her. Pagne began to whimper and tried to pull away. Adam was whispering and sputtering spit into her ear.

“Be quiet. I’m not going to hurt you. Trust me, you’ll like it ... well, I will.” She felt one hand slipping between her thighs and the other sliding up her belly, lifting up her t-shirt. Pagne brought her leg up and slammed down hard, kicking him in the shin with her heel. He grabbed onto her even tighter, squeezing her painfully. She kicked his shin again, and this time he let go. As he grabbed at his leg, Pagne was able to slip off his lap and headed to the front door. Adam came up out of the chair and lunged at her, screaming out with anger and pain. He was behind her and grabbed onto her arms. It hurt terribly. She was kicking and screaming. Pagne’s screams woke up Leah, and she came stumbling into the room, yelling for Adam to shut the brat up. She was confused when she saw Adam and Pagne struggling by the door.

“What the hell is going on?” She bellowed.

Adam released Pagne and spun around to Leah. “Nuthin, kid just went nuts on me, she tried to run away.” It took a few minutes for Leah’s drunken brain to absorb the situation. “So my little Pagne didn’t wanna play with you huh?” Leah showed no reaction while she tried to remain standing. She managed to focus on Pagne’s face and gave her the most hateful glare Pagne had seen her manage. Pagne pulled open the front door and ran out, tears filling her eyes and clouding her vision. Through her tears, Pagne thought she saw white wings fluttering around her. Then black.

When Pagne woke up, she hurt all over. Every part of her was bruised and sore. Her head was pounding with pain. She could hear voices but she didn’t want to open her eyes. She would hear a sweet lady’s voice speaking to her at times. She was curious about the woman, but decided it was better to pretend that she was somewhere else. Sleep, she just wanted to sleep. It didn’t hurt so bad when she slept. In her dreams she could fly with wonderful white wings, as others flew around her. Laughing, dipping, gliding ...

Pagne woke up to her mother’s voice close to her ear. “You gotta wake up. What am I going to do with a brain-dead kid? I can’t deal with this Pagne. Wake up now!” Pagne opened her eyes and looked at her mother. Her face was not haggard and worn from worry, but the familiar face of someone hung over. Leah’s breath reeked of wine. “Well it’s about time. What took you so long ... sweetheart?” Sweetheart was thrown in for the benefit of the nurse who just walked in. “Me and Adam have been worried sick. You scared your mama something awful.” As the nurse finished her duties and left the room, Leah moved in really close, so only Pagne could hear. “Pagne, they think Adam hurt you. We both know that’s a big fat lie, right? The police are going to talk to you. Mommy can’t lose Adam, baby. You gotta fix this.”

Later that day, several officers and a very nervous skinny woman named Miss Lament, came into Pagne’s room. The officers tried to be friendly and had a teddy bear with them. It was very cute, and Pagne found it oddly comforting to hug. Miss Lament, who didn’t smile and had very tiny, beady eyes was trying to ask Pagne what happened with Adam. Pagne decided she didn’t have anything to say. She knew that Adam was a bad man, but even at her tender age, Pagne intuitively understood that it was her mother’s truth. Leah needed him.

The officers and Miss Lament left very frustrated. Her mother had been waiting in the hall and slipped in. “Good girl. Now we just have to convince the judge. We’re going to move in with Adam once this whole mess is cleared up. He’s going to take care of both of us. Won’t that be nice. We’ll be a family real soon!” Pagne didn’t respond. “We hit the jackpot, baby,” cooed Leah.

That evening, the sweet-talking nurse was on duty. She was taking Pagne’s temperature and adjusted her tubing. While she worked, she talked softly to Pagne, assuring her that she would be fine. As she turned to leave, Pagne grabbed her hand, squeezing it tight. The nurse, who’s nametag said “Mrs. Greenly,” looked into Pagne’s eyes. She saw fear and worry in them. She asked, “What’s wrong, hon? You in pain?” Pagne took a deep breath and spoke in a whisper for the first time since waking up.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Oh honey, no one has told you what’s going on? Well, I’m not sure why, but you ran out your front door, and then you fell down three flights of cement stairs. You broke your leg, your arm, cracked your head, and have lots of bumps and bruises. You are very lucky that you didn’t hurt yourself even worse. I believe you have a guardian angel, dear. Yep, an angel that cushioned your fall. We all have an angel, you know. Talk to mine sometimes, when I’m sad or scared. You should thank your angel for protecting you. They have a thankless job!”

Pagne managed to ask when she would be going home. “You should be able to go home in a few days,” the nurse answered. With that news, Pagne began to weep softly. “Oh sweetheart, that’s not that far away.” She looked into Pagne’s face and realized this was something different. “Don’t you want to go home?” Pagne just closed her eyes and let go of the sweet nurses hand.

After she left, Pagne whispered quietly, “Thank you.” She did see wings, she was sure of it.

Pagne laid in her bed, a cast on right arm, a cast on her left leg, bandages here and there, and a dull headache. Her mom was filling out all the paperwork for her release. Leah looked at the prescriptions for Pagne and was grumbling that nothing was strong enough to do her much good. “The least they could do is give us Valium.” Several nurses entered the room and helped Pagne into a wheelchair, Pagne’s doctor and a police officer walked into the room. “Now Miss Crenshaw, there are some requirements you must meet to have your daughter home with you,” said the officer. “This Adam Williams is not to be within 300 yards of your daughter or your residence.”

“But he didn’t do anything,” Leah insisted.

“That might be, but until the judge makes his determination, the restraining order is in effect,” the officer responded.

“Yes, of course,” Leah said with attitude.

Pagne’s doctor stepped toward Leah and began speaking. “Here is the treatment plan for Champagne’s after care. Her therapy is crucial if she is to have a full recovery. I also want to stress that she will need a balanced, healthy diet and a safe, clean environment. Obviously the stairs will present a safety issue, have you made arrangements for assistance?”

“Yes, I have taken care of everything necessary,” lied Leah.

“Mrs. Crenshaw, a child services worker will be checking in,” reminded the officer.

“Yes, I know, another person up my butt. Can we leave now?”

“Yes, you may. But remember, your court appearance is at three o’clock today. We will remove Champagne from your care if you fail to appear.”

“Yes, I know, I know,” replied Leah with total disrespect to the officer.

The nurses put Pagne into a cab for the ride home while Leah had a cigarette. Once her nicotine fix was complete, she climbed into the cab next to Pagne. She shot the nurses a hard glare when their faces revealed their disapproval of her indifference. Pagne quietly sat while her mom went on and on about their new life with Adam. Leah talked about how Adam really cared about them, how happy they would all be together, and how Adam would bring money into the house. She could quit hooking, she thought to herself. Leah finally shut up and drifted into her fantasy of a wonderful future with Adam.

Pagne considered telling her mother what Adam had done, but she was a smart girl. She knew there was no point, her mother already knew. When they got to the hotel, Leah struggled to get Pagne upstairs, cursing with each step. Once inside the room, Pagne looked around and wasn’t surprised to see that everything the doctor had listed was not done. Pagne hopped over to the couch and sat in silence.

“Wanna toaster pastry doll? Know how much you love them.” Pagne shook her head and turned on the TV.

A few minutes later, there was a tap on the door. Leah opened it and Adam’s head popped in.

“Hey, my two favorite girls. Just wanted to stop by and bring Pagne a get well gift.” It was a tin of mints from the liquor store down the street and a car air freshener in the shape of a rose.

“What did you bring mama?” asked Leah with a little girl voice and giggle. Adam slipped a big bottle of champagne around the door.

“Can I come in for awhile?” he asked.

“No baby, not till the court says it’s okay. My neighbor next door has big ears and eyes. This should all be resolved this afternoon, you gotta be patient.” Leah laughed as Adam tried to grope her through the opening. “We’ll all be together soon,” assured Leah. Adam looked over at Pagne and winked with a disgusting lick of his lips.

“Okay, but I miss you guys. Good to have you back with us, Pagne.” Pagne turned the TV volume up and turned away to look at the screen.

“She’ll warm up to ya, baby, just give her some time. I’ll call when I get out of court.” Leah closed the door giggling. She looked over at Pagne, wanting to share the joy. Pagne could feel her eyes on her, but she didn’t respond.

~

Pagne was very nervous sitting in the courtroom, waiting to find out what was expected of her. Everyone was so serious, except her mother. She was whispering insulting comments about everyone. Sticks up their you know what’s … and other such childish remarks. When it was their turn to appear before the judge, Leah bounced up, flicking her hair. Once she was at the front, she realized that Pagne was still struggling to get out of her seat. She smiled and loudly proclaimed … “It’s okay baby, Mommy is here.” She went back, and very graciously, helped Pagne into the aisle. Pagne was impressed by her performance. Once she made it to the front, Pagne sat at the table facing the judge.

Leah began by explaining that this whole thing was a misunderstanding. She said that Pagne had been throwing a temper-tantrum, and Adam was trying to keep her from running out of the room. When the judge asked if she had been in the room at the time, she admitted that she had not because she was suffering from one of her migraines and was laying on the bathroom floor for relief. “The cool tile is soothing,” she explained.

Pagne’s doctor was called forward, and he described the extensive bruising on Pagne’s thighs, chest and arms. Obviously, a large man’s handprints could clearly be seen in the photos they were showing. Leah did not have any explanation for the bruises. The judge looked at Pagne and asked if she had anything she wanted to say. Pagne just looked out the windows at the beautiful blue sky, wishing she could fly away.

The lawyer, representing Pagne’s interests, made a good case that the events before her fall were clearly assault and possibly molestation. The judge agreed, and the restraining order was to stand pending further investigation. Adam had been picked up and interviewed after Pagne was admitted into the hospital. He wasn’t arrested, but did have a court date.

Leah went into a rage. “This is ridiculous, you are punishing a good man, my man, for something that was very innocent. This isn’t fair,” she yelled.

“Well, Miss Crenshaw, if you want to have your daughter in your home, you must honor the restraining order. If you disregard the order, Champagne will be placed in the care of the state until this case is resolved,” responded the judge with obvious distain.

“Well, I don’t think me and Adam should suffer because of this brat. We have a life to start. You guys can deal with her,” Leah said as she looked at Pagne in disgust. Leah then turned and walked out of the courtroom.

Everyone stood there in shock, not knowing what to say or do. Pagne

hobbled over to the window and allowed one tear to roll down her face, just one. Then she looked to the skies and flew far away.






My Review: I couldn't put this amazing and heart wrenching book down. This is Champagne Crenshaw's story, you will watch her life adventure in this book.
Make sure you have plenty of tissues handy. Pagne is a survivor is more than one sense, you will wonder how sometimes.
God's hand is on her from the beginning in the form of one of his angels...whom she names Chantal.
Most of the people who come into her life will touch your heart also. There are Pam and Brent, Bree and Richie, and then Amanda. Then of course there is Lenny, and Mrs Buttonhook, Pastor Tim. There were so many who were destined to be a part of her life.
This is a book that will linger with you a long time after you have finished. I highly recommend it!

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!



Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.



AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.



If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.



***
Enjoy the Ride!

Susan May Warren



We sit poised on the top of a cliff, a near drop off before us, that falls to a rushing river. In the middle, a bridge of snow and ice hints at our destination. My husband guns the snowmobile engine. “Ready?”



Ready? For a face plant into a tree, maybe reconstructive surgery? To feel my stomach ripped from my body as we plummet down the mountain? Let’s do it!



We live on five acres of woods in northern Minnesota that butts up to a national forest. Hence, our backyard is about a hundred thousand acres. Aside from harboring deer, lynx, fox, cougar and bear, it also makes excellent snowmobile terrain. And not long ago, Mrs. Claus gave her Santa a snowmobile for two.



I love snowmobiling. Flying over the snow, catching air over drifts. I love to drive, to be at the helm of the beast as I weave around trees and over hill and dale, my husband sitting behind me. I also love riding behind my husband as he drives, feeling those powerful arms as he’s muscling the snowmobile into the wilds. We follow unknown trails, driven by a Magellan spirit, hoping that we have enough gas to get us back to civilization. I love hanging on, simply trusting him, knowing that wherever he’s taking me, he’s going first.



But there are times, when I see where he’s taking me, and I just have to bury my head in his back. Like straight down a cliff.



However, my heart cheers, despite the terror as we gun it down the hill, over the river, up the opposite side. And, if we hadn’t let ourselves go, we would have never discovered the beauty of a winter river, a hidden jewel buried deep in the forest. Nor the exhilaration of facing the challenge together.



Further on, we find an enchanted forest of towering white pine. Catch a view of Lake Superior, discover an old cabin in the woods.



It occurs to me that snowmobiling is much like my spiritual life. Occasionally, I drive, and it’s me setting our course, weaving through the trees, getting us hopelessly lost. But when God takes the “wheel” and I hang on, trusting Him for the speed and destination, I see the scenery. I trust him to keep me safe. I trust him to bring me home, where there is an eternal supply of hot chocolate.



As Christmas season becomes more hectic, what if I let God drive?  Maybe everything doesn’t have to be perfect, and maybe I don’t have to control every tradition, every holiday nuance. What if I just held on for the ride?



I’ll bet I’ll still get there, and I might even enjoy the scenery along the way.



How have you let go, and “enjoyed” the scenery of this hectic, exhilarating Christmas season?



Merry Christmas!



***
Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning author of thirty novels with Tyndale, Barbour, Steeple Hill and Summerside Press.  A four-time Christy award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Carol Award.  A seasoned women’s events speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!.  She is also the founder of www.MyBookTherapy.com, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

First Wil Card Tours: A Heart Renewed (Prescott Pioneers, #2) by Karen Baney

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:


Karen Baney (April 17, 2011)



***Special thanks to Karen Baney for sending me a review copy.***




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Karen Baney, in addition to writing Christian historical fiction and contemporary novels, works as a Software Engineer. Her faith plays an important role both in her life and in her writing. Karen and her husband make their home in Gilbert, Arizona, with their two dogs. She also holds a Masters of Business Administration from Arizona State University.






Visit the author's website.






SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:


Headstrong. Unconventional. Until life turns upside down…



Julia Colter struggles to accept life under her controlling brother’s greed. The suitors he selects would benefit him, but are far from the ideal husband for her. When her rebellion against her brother puts her life at risk, she turns to her friend for help.



Adam Larson longs to train horses and plans to head west to the Arizona Territory to see his dreams fulfilled. When his sister’s best friend shows up in the middle of the night, he agrees to help her flee. The decision changes his life, in more ways than he expected.



Can Julia forget the pain from her past and open her heart to love?



Product Details:




List Price: $14.99

  • Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Karen Baney (April 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0983548625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0983548621




AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:







Star C Ranch, Texas

July 4, 1864



“You cannot be serious, Reuben!” Julia Colter shouted, not caring that she might wake her niece and nephew from their afternoon nap. Pacing back and forth across the length of the kitchen, she stopped in front of her older brother, her temper flaring almost as hot as the stove. “He is balding and fat and twice my age!”

“You will marry who I say!” Reuben thundered. “I expect you to treat Mr. Hiram Norton with the upmost respect this evening. He has shown great interest in you and the least you can do is be civil with the man.”

“But, I could never love him!”

As Reuben shoved her violently up against the wall, Julia’s breath left her lungs in a rush. Digging his fingers into her arms, she could feel the bruises starting to form. His brown eyes darkened with unrestrained anger as he glared down at her. She swallowed in fear, stunned by his abrupt action.

“Stop, you’re hurting me,” she said, trying to break free from his vice like grip.

He raised his hand as if he meant to strike her—something he had never done before. The action startled her to silence. Instead of hitting her across the face, as she thought he might, Reuben returned his hands to her upper arms squeezing even harder.

Leaning so close the heat of his breath warmed her cheeks, he said, “You have no idea what hurt is, Julia. You are an insolent little whelp. You will paste a smile on that tart little face of yours. And you will do your best to win his affections or,” his voice menacing, “you will suffer my wrath, the likes of which you have yet to see.”

Releasing his hold, he pushed her so that she tumbled to the floor in a heap. As he turned to walk away, he added in a sinister tone, “It would be best if you get used to the idea of Hiram Norton and give up fanciful notions of love, dear sister. You will not have that luxury. The sooner you come to accept that, the better it will go for you.”

She sat in stunned silence as Reuben stalked to his office down the hall. Tears streaming down her face, Julia bolted to her feet, running out the front door of the ranch house to the nearby stables, still frightened by her brother’s brutal behavior.

The smell of hay and horse assaulted her delicate senses as she selected a gentle mare. Throwing her saddle on the horse’s back, she led her from the barn. Once under the open blue skies, she shoved one foot into the stirrup, swinging her other leg over the mare, riding astride. Nudging the mare into a full gallop, Julia fled to the one place she would always feel free—the back of a horse in the wide open pastures.

Reuben may be her guardian now, but she had only to endure a few more years of this before she would be of age and in control of her life. If only she could stop him from marrying her off before then.

At seventeen, she considered herself too young to get married, though many women her age and younger married. She wasn’t ready. She didn’t pine for the responsibilities marriage entailed. She liked her freedom. But, when she was ready to marry, she would marry for love and not because Reuben wished it.

Certainly, she would never marry Hiram Norton. The thirty-seven year old rancher was the exact opposite of what Julia wanted for a husband. His short stature and fading hairline made him look even older. He had a reputation for loving excess. When it came to food, his waistline showed the results of that love. There were other unsavory aspects to his reputation as well which included rumors that he frequented the saloon and brothel.

No, the man for Julia would be young and handsome. His character would be impeccable, his honor undeniable. Land, money, and wealth held no importance to her. She only cared that her dream man would be able to provide for her and their family.

As the wind tangled her long, sandy brown curls, she continued to press the horse for more speed—needing it to soothe her fear and anger. In the distance she saw the herd of longhorns kicking up dust. The sight sparked a memory of Will, the kinder, more honorable of the Colter brothers, sending her mind racing in another direction. So many times he’d taken Julia out to the pasture, teaching her how to rope, ride, and work with the cattle. Some thought such behavior unacceptable for a lady. She was glad to learn these skills. Should her handsome young dream man end up being a rancher, he might appreciate her ability to work the ranch by his side.

Why hasn’t Will written? The thought of Will brought fresh tears as memories of his hasty departure flooded her mind. Not only had she buried her father, but she also lost the brother she was close to—all within a few short weeks. Almost a year ago, following her father’s death, Reuben forced Will to leave the ranch when he had been deeded the house and ranch. While Will and Reuben both received half of the herd and the financial holdings, Will was left with no home or land. Unable to find anything close, Will moved to the Arizona Territory, leaving Julia behind. Alone.

The only time she heard from him was in November 1863. Will wrote that he, his men, and his cattle arrived safely and set up their new home near the Granite Creek settlement in the Arizona Territory—wherever that was. No other letters came.

Despite the thirteen year age difference between Will and Julia, they adored each other. She followed him everywhere, never far from his side even when he worked with the herd. When she needed protecting, it was Will who came to her defense.

Oh, how she could use his protection now. If he were here, he would stop Reuben from forcing her to marry that awful Hiram Norton.

But, he wasn’t here. He was in a distant territory, far from Texas, far from her aid. Her father left her in Reuben’s care—not Will’s—even though Will would have been the better choice as far as Julia was concerned.

Their father never saw the evil that clouded Reuben’s heart and he knew nothing of his manipulative ways. In her father’s eyes, Reuben was as good of a son as Will. If her father knew of Reuben’s late nights in town or of his forceful tactics for bankrupting other ranchers and taking over their lands, he turned a blind eye. She found it hard to fathom that father could have missed such thinly concealed behavior.

As the mare started to struggle for breath, sides heaving with great effort, Julia eased up the pace. She was so torn. She had thought more than once to runaway to Arizona, but was afraid Reuben would find her and drag her back. Now he wanted her to flirt with Hiram Norton and get him to marry her. She had no desire to do what Reuben was asking. Mr. Norton may be wealthy, but he was twenty years older than her. There was something indecent in that alone. Nothing about him or his character appealed to her.

Realizing she was nearing the outer pasture, Julia turned the mare around to head back to the ranch house. She did not want to risk angering Reuben further by being unprepared for their dinner guests. Lord, please don’t make me have to marry that repulsive man. Will always said you could work things together for good. I am not seeing much good right now. Please give me the strength to make it through this evening meal.

As she pulled the mare to a stop in front of the stables, she slid off the horse. One of the young cowboys, Bates, took the reins from her hand.

“Miss Colter, you best hurry,” he said, nodding toward the lane leading to the ranch house.

A cloud of dust at the far end of the lane indicated their guests were already arriving. Julia shot a quick word of thanks to the friendly cowboy before picking up her skirts and running to the house. As she threw the door open, panting for breath, she caught Reuben’s seething look.

Rushing down the hall she slammed her bedroom door shut. She splashed some water on her face, wiping away the dust from her ride.

“Where have you been?” Mary’s panicked voice preceded her entrance into Julia’s room. Reuben’s normally calm, quiet wife seemed rather anxious as she picked up the corset she laid out.

“Riding.”

“Whatever for?” came the squeaky, agitated response.

Julia tore off her day dress, tossing it over a chair. As Mary came to assist her with the corset, Julia took her last deep breath of the evening. She hated the confining contraption. Once the stays were tightened, she lifted her arms as Mary helped settle the lovely yellow silk down over her shoulders.

“You should have been in here an hour ago,” Mary lamented. “Now there is no possible way we can fashion your hair into ringlets. The other women will think you don’t care about your appearance.”

They would be correct, Julia thought. “You fret, too much,” she replied, brushing out her tangled curls. She would be content with twisting her unruly hair into a chignon, despite how much it fought against the pins.

“Go on. I’ll finish,” she instructed Mary, hoping to have a quiet moment to compose herself before entering the fray.

Mary hesitated for a brief moment before softly exiting the room. Taking as deep a breath as she could, Julia let it out in a heavy sigh. Undoubtedly, Hiram Norton was already here, waiting for her in the other room. Pasting a smile on her face, she squared her shoulders and left the solitude of her room.

“Hiram,” Reuben said as Julia approached, “I do not believe you have met my sister, Julia.”

It took every ounce of courage to hold her smile steady and extend her hand towards Mr. Norton’s rotund frame. Taking her hand, he placed a sloppy kiss on top, before asking, “Reuben, where have you been hiding this lovely filly?”

Filly? The distasteful comment sickened her.

“Mr. Norton, a pleasure to meet you,” Julia said with more decorum than she thought she possessed. As soon as his hold lifted, she discretely wiped the back of her hand on her dress.

“Miss Colter, you are absolutely stunning,” he replied, allowing his lustful gaze to rove over her neckline, down her curvy figure, making overtly inappropriate stops along the way.

She fought to tamp down her mounting abhorrence. As the guests were seated around the table, she eagerly helped Mary set out the food.

Still irritated by Mr. Norton’s uncouth comment, she decided to fight back as she took her seat. “Mr. Norton, my brother tells me you have been very successful with your ranch, despite the Union’s blockade. Tell me, how do you do it?”

Reuben’s eyes narrowed slightly, letting her know he caught her barely hidden sarcasm.

“My lovely Miss Colter, such matters are too complicated for your simple mind to understand.”

Another mark against Mr. Norton—condescension towards women, she thought, keeping the sweet smile firmly in place. Lobbing a spoonful of potatoes on her plate she waited for him to continue.

“However, I shall endeavor to enlighten you,” he said with an air of superiority, snatching the potatoes from her hand. “While the Union may have blockaded our route to drive cattle to the New Orleans market, they have made no such effort to stop us from driving to points north or west. It seems that as long as we aren’t supplying the Confederate Army, they care little where we sell our cattle. We have simply changed our route north to the railways in Missouri. While I don’t care for the Union and their imposing ways, a profit is a profit. And I have made significant gains by being one of the first Texans to sell to eastern markets by way of Missouri.”

“Mr. Norton.” As her irritation rose, Julia retorted, “If a large profit is to your liking, why not drive the cattle west towards the California market where prices are more than triple that of the eastern markets?”

Reuben shifted in his chair uncomfortably. His darkening eyes warned her to hold her tongue. Julia knew she should have heeded the warning, but she preferred being forthright. Let Mr. Norton find that out now.

Mr. Norton laughed off her question, causing her to dislike the man even more. “You are a spirited little woman, I will give you that. But your comment shows your youth and your naivety.”

Taking not one, but two large pork chops from the platter she handed him, he said, “While the prices west are much higher, so is the cost to drive the cattle such a great distance. The length of time it takes to drive the cattle to California is almost three times as long as the northern route. It is also much more dangerous. There are many more Indians and cattle thieves westward. It would simply not be profitable to drive the herd west.”

His snooty tone grated on her nerves. When she opened her mouth to speak, Reuben interrupted. “Perhaps, dear sister, you should leave the business matters to men. I’m sure you would be much more interested in knowing how Mrs. Withers’ new baby is faring.”

Mrs. Withers quickly picked up the conversation, monopolizing both Julia and Mary’s time. While Julia was surprised Reuben even knew the woman had a child, she was thankful for the opportunity to ignore Mr. Norton.

As the conversation continued, she felt something brush against her knee then move away. She kept her focus on Mrs. Withers’ overlong description of her young son and on eating the meal, until she felt the unmistakable presence of a man’s hand move above her knee. She stole a glance and confirmed Mr. Norton’s hand rested most inappropriately on her thigh. Angling her legs further away from him as discreetly as possible, Julia’s stomach churned. When Mr. Norton pressed closer, she thought she might lose her dinner. The man appeared to have no limits.

Standing abruptly, she said, “If you’ll excuse me. I’m not feeling quite myself.” Without waiting for a reply she hurried to her room.

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Reuben scowled after his sister. Her behavior had been completely unacceptable, despite his attempt earlier in the day to reason with her. This silly idea of marrying for love must have worked its way into her thinking from the stories their father told of their mother. No one married for love.

He certainly hadn’t. While Mary was pleasant looking enough and easy to control, he did not love his wife. He had married her to increase his social standing among the area ranchers—something his father never seemed to care about. Her father had been one of the wealthier men in the area and he was easy to win over. In fact, Reuben thought, most everyone he met was easy to manipulate—except Will and Julia.

It didn’t matter. Will was gone and out of the picture. He was no longer a nuisance, even though it was Will’s fault that he was in such a financial mess. The timing of Will leaving with half the herd and half the financial holdings was disastrous, leaving him unable to pay debts to some very powerful men—a situation he was desperately trying to resolve.

The last bite of his pork chop churned in his stomach as fear gained a foothold. He needed Hiram’s money from the marriage arrangement to Julia. It was his only hope of turning things around.

As his guests finished the meal, Reuben stood. “Gentlemen, shall we retire to the front porch for some refreshments and cigars?”

The men eagerly nodded, obviously wanting to be away from the women as quickly as he did. As Hiram stood, Reuben pulled him aside. Speaking loud enough for the others to hear, he said, “We’ll join you in a moment. Hiram and I have a few business matters to discuss.”

Leading Hiram back towards his office, Reuben hoped Hiram would still be amiable to the agreement they discussed several days ago at the saloon, despite Julia’s less than enthusiastic attitude this evening.

Before he offered a seat, Hiram took one, starting the conversation on his terms. “Julia is quite lovely, Reuben. You’ve been holding out on me. When you asked for such a large sum, I assumed she must be dreadful to look at.”

“So you are pleased?”

“To a point,” Hiram admitted. “While she’ll keep me entertained well, she needs to learn to control her tongue, especially in front of guests. I’m surprised you haven’t dealt with this already.”

Reuben frowned. If only Hiram knew what he was up against. With any luck, he wouldn’t find out until after his wedding day. “Well, father has only been gone a short time. He doted on her, so it will take some time to get her to properly respect a man.”

“Ah, there’s the catch. I’ll have to train her myself then.” Hiram laughed. “It will be a fun challenge—breaking her. Too bad you didn’t have more time to do the job yourself. You could get a much higher price for her, as beautiful as she is.”

The price he was asking was enough. Normally prone to greediness, when it came to selling his sister’s hand in marriage, he felt it prudent not to get too greedy. He was running out of time and needed to pay his debts soon. Once that pressure slackened, he could focus his energy on rebuilding his wealth.

A brief hint of remorse came over Reuben. Had he stooped so low that he was selling his sister for money? But, it was not as if he were selling her to a brothel. No, he was just selling her to a wealthy rancher. She would live in luxury. What could be bad about that?

He knew living with Hiram Norton would not be pleasant. The man had a reputation for being ruthless to his business associates, to his women, and even to his mother. He had no limits. He made Reuben look like a saint. Julia would undoubtedly be miserable married to him until she learned her place.

Chiding himself, he refocused his attention back to what Hiram was saying. He needed this man’s money, not a sudden case of conscience.

“After we have our cigars,” Hiram was saying, “then, I will take Julia for a walk. See if I still fancy her. When I return, we will announce our engagement. It will be short. No longer than a month.”

Reuben held back a gasp. He hadn’t expected Norton to want a short engagement. “You know what the townsfolk will say with such a hurried wedding. They will think my sister has been compromised.”

Pulling a large stack of bills from his coat pocket, Hiram slammed it down on the desk. “I don’t think you will care too much what is said about your sister’s reputation. Who knows, what they say may end up being true anyway.”

The dark look on Hiram’s face sent shivers down Reuben’s spine. Ruthless seemed rather inadequate of a word to describe the man before him. He had to make sure Julia did not ruin this deal, for he did not want the added pressure of Norton’s anger.

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Mary knocked on Julia’s door not more than ten minutes after she left the meal. Her voice was timid when she spoke, “The men have retired to the front porch for cigars. Reuben requested that you return to the parlor with the women.”

Sighing, Julia did as instructed. She listened to the gossip of the rancher’s wives and wished her friend Caroline Larson was in attendance, so she might actually be able to enjoy the evening. The Larsons owned a ranch to the east of the Star C and they had been long-time family friends. Up until last year, before father passed away, the Larsons were always invited for every social gathering—sometimes they were the only guests. Since then, Reuben saw little use for Mr. Larson’s moral ways and only included them on rare occasions to pacify her or his wife.

Not paying attention to the boring conversation, Julia missed seeing the men return from the outdoors. Mr. Norton’s hand on her forearm jolted her from her thoughts. “Miss Colter, I was hoping you might take a walk with me.”

“And who will be acting as chaperone?” she replied curtly, not wanting to be alone in his presence.

Mr. Norton laughed, a sound she was beginning to detest. “Silly girl, I am much too old for a chaperone. I assure you, your reputation will be safe with me. I simply want to stroll for a few moments with a beautiful woman on my arm.”

Julia thought a stroll might be too much for the man. He was sweating profusely and seemed to have difficulty walking the distance to the door, as his breath came in short, heavy bursts. She looked to Mary for support. She smiled and nodded her approval, oblivious to Mr. Norton’s reprehensible behavior. As Reuben stood next to Mary, his eyes narrowed with a silent warning. Heeding the unspoken message, she stood and accepted Mr. Norton’s arm.

Outside, the air barely cooled in the waning sunlight, causing Julia to grow warm in a matter of seconds. She wished she thought to grab her fan when a sour odor wafted from the man at her side. Averting her face, she tried to catch an untainted breath of air. Unsuccessful, she decided parting her lips to breathe through her mouth might be preferable.

Nearing the stables, Mr. Norton stopped abruptly, turning towards Julia. The quick motion—seemingly impossible coming from the man who seemed to struggle walking much of a distance—frightened her. Sucking in air quickly through her mouth, a slight tickle lingered in the back of her throat, almost bringing on a cough.

When he spoke, his voice took on a sinister edge. Even in the dimming light she could see the contempt in his eyes. “Miss Colter, while I admire your feisty spirit,” he said as he grabbed her wrists, “It would serve you not to embarrass me again, especially by questioning my business practices in a room full of my peers. I can make your life most unbearable if you cross me.” Without warning he pulled her close and crushed his mouth down on hers as his hands took great liberty in exploring her body.

The shock of his action took a moment to register. Once it did, Julia brought her booted heel down hard on the top center of his foot, just as Will showed her. He dropped his hold instantly, crying out in pain. As he limped toward her, she ran for the front of the house to put some distance between them. Tripping over something, she stumbled, giving Mr. Norton time to catch up. He grabbed her bruised upper arms with surprising strength.

“Do not ever do that again,” he said in a hostile tone. “Do you not know that Reuben has promised you to me? Make no mistake, Miss Colter, I am a powerful man. If you want to live a decent, peaceful life under my roof, you best lose some of your haughtiness… Or, I will take whatever measures necessary to force it out of you.”

Julia blinked, trying to absorb all that he said. Was he saying that Reuben already agreed to her marrying this loathsome man? An ominous chill swept over her as he continued his intense stare. Her heart beat rapidly within her chest as her panic rose. She could not—would not—marry this dreadful man.

Dropping his hold on her, Mr. Norton extended his arm and placed her hand in the crook. “Smile,” he commanded as he limped to open the front door.

While her smile came insincerely, his seemed quite pleased. He crossed the room slowly, still favoring his injured foot, before stopping in front of Reuben and Mary. “Reuben, it gives me great pleasure to announce that Julia has eagerly agreed to accept my offer of marriage,” he said smugly. “She was so delighted that she agreed to a short engagement. We will be married in a month.” His fingernails dug into her arm daring her to speak otherwise.

The smirk on Reuben’s face told her this had been their plan all along. Such a public announcement, even though it was completely false, would be difficult to break. Lord, help me. I cannot marry that man.

My Review: I really enjoyed reading this book, the second one in the Prescott Pioneers Series. What a great movie, or continuing TV show this series would make.
Hannah and Will are now married and living on the beautiful ranch. Will has offered a good neighbor from back home in Texas a job training Horses. Adam Larson has agreed to come and needs to reply and let Will know.
In the mean time Julia has not heard from Will since he left, except that he had arrived in Arizona.
Her Dad at his passing had left her in the care of her older brother Reuben. Reuben has put himself in a great deal of debt and has decided to Marry off 17 year old Julia. He picks old, obnoxious men, with money to give him. When Julie manages to throw them aside, he is furious and beats and does much worse to her.
She runs away to her friend Caroline Larson. Once Caroline finds out what has happened she convinces Adam to leave immediately and take Julia with him. He agrees and so starts Julia's and Adam's adventure to Arizona.
Am so glad that we get further visits with Betty, Paul and Ben, among others. We also meet up again with Thomas Anderson, Drew's brother. I am also happy that there is another book in this series.
You won't be able to put this one down once you start reading. Enjoy!