Saturday, December 19, 2009

Merry Christmas!


We hope that you enjoy the Christmas holiday.
See you on January 4th with more fantastic books!


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tales of the Heart (3-in-1 Collection: Bridget’s Bargain; Kate Ties the Knot; Follow the Leader) by Loree Lough

Tour Date: December 18, 2009

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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!

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Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Tales of the Heart (3-in-1 Collection: Bridget’s Bargain; Kate Ties the Knot; Follow the Leader)

Whitaker House (January 2010)

***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***


A prolific writer, Loree Lough has more than seventy-one books, sixty-three short stories, and 2,500 articles in print. Her stories have earned dozens of industry and Reader’s Choice awards. A frequent guest speaker for writers’ organizations, book clubs, private and government institutions, corporations, college and high school writing programs, and more, Loree has encouraged thousands with her comedic approach to “learned-the-hard-way” lessons about the craft and industry. Loree and her husband split their time between Baltimore suburbs and a cabin in the Allegheny Mountains.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (January 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603741674
ISBN-13: 978-1603741675 :


Magnolia Grange, south of Richmond, Virginia


Chapter One

“It’s hard to believe you’ve been with us four years, Bridget.”

Winking one thick-lashed blue eye, the maid grinned. “Aye, Mr. Auburn.” She blew a tendril of flaming red hair away from her eye and secured a gigantic white satin bow to the railing. “Time has passed like a runaway engine.”

Fumbling with his collar, Chase chuckled. “You’ve always been a joy to have in the house, and your way with words is but one of the reasons.”

Bridget slid the ribbon up and down until it exactly matched the height of the decoration on the other side of the porch. In response to the great gulp of air he took in, she straightened from her work. “Were you this nervous the first time you were a bridegroom, sir?”

He leaned a shoulder against the pillar nearest him. “To tell the truth, I don’t recall.” And, raising both brows imploringly, he pointed at the lopsided knot at his throat. “Would you mind…?”

She stepped up to the man who’d been more of a big brother than an employer to her these past years. “Wouldn’t mind a bit.” And to think that during her long sea voyage from Ireland to Virginia, she’d envisioned him a brute and a monster!

Standing on tiptoe, Bridget repaired the damage he’d done to his black string tie. “There, now,” she said, brushing imaginary lint from his broad shoulders, “that’s got it.”

His hand trembling, he dug a gold watch from his pocket. “The guests will begin arriving soon. Is everything—?”

“All’s well, Mr. Auburn, so I pray ye’ll relax. Else ye’ll need another bath!” Gathering her bow-making materials, Bridget hustled through the front door. From the other side of the screen, she said, “I’ve a few things to see to in the kitchen, and then I’ll be lookin’ in on yer bride-to-be.” She started toward the parlor, then stopped and faced him again. “Mr. Auburn, sir?”

He stopped rubbing his temples to say, “Yes?”

“I set aside a pitcher of lemonade. Might be just the thing to calm your nerves. Now, why don’t you settle down there while I fetch you a nice tall glass?”

As she made her way toward the kitchen, she heard the unmistakable squeak of the porch swing. “Hard to believe you ever thought that dear, sweet man capable of beating his servants bloody.”

“What’s that?”

Scissors, ribbons, needles, and thread flew into the air, then rained down upon her at the sound of the rich, masculine voice. “Goodness gracious, sakes alive!” she gasped, hands flattened to her chest. “You just shaved ten years off m’life!”

“Sorry,” said the tall intruder. “Didn’t mean to frighten you.”

Rolling her eyes, Bridget stooped to retrieve the fallen articles. “No harm done, I suppose.” Then, narrowing one eye, she sent him a half smile. “Provided you help me clean up the mess ye’re responsible for.”

Immediately, he was on his hands and knees, and once they’d untangled the ribbon, she put it all in the linen cupboard. “Don’t recall seein’ you around here before.”

“Just arrived last evening.” He nodded toward the barn. “I’m bunking in the loft. Chase…uh, Mr. Auburn is hoping I can improve the lineage of his quarter horses.”

“Ah,” she said, returning the sewing supplies to their proper shelf, “so you’re the new stable hand we’ve all been hearing about.” Dusting off her hands, she started up the stairs, stopping on the bottom step to give him a quick once-over. “Don’t know why, but I thought you’d be older.”

Leaning both burly arms on the newel post, he frowned slightly. “The proper title is ‘stable master’.”

“Is that a fact, Mr. Big-for-His-Britches?” Grinning good-naturedly, she added, “Tack whatever fancy name ye choose to the work. You’re still the hired help, same as me, ’cept you’re likely more at home with a muck shovel in your hand than a mop or broom.”

For a moment, a look of embarrassment darkened his handsome face, but, to his credit, he shook it off. “It’s honest work, and the horses are my full responsibility, so they might as well be my very own.”

She scrutinized him carefully. “All right, then, so you’ve got the master’s horses, but have ye the horse sense to go with ’em?” Halfway up the curving staircase, she leaned over the landing banister. “And what might your name be, Mr. I’m-So-Sure-of-Myself…just so I’m sure to address you properly next time we meet?”

“Lance,” he said. “Lance York.”

Bridget’s smile disappeared. “You’re—you’re English?”

Another nod. “But only half.” The frown above his gray eyes deepened. “Why do you look as though you’ve just smelled something unpleasant? Is there something wrong with being English?”

Only if you’re a poor tenant farmer in County Donegal, Ireland, she thought, continuing up the stairs. Since they both worked for Mr. Auburn, she’d likely run into this fellow often, and she had no intention of behaving like one of those uppity town girls who were so difficult to get along with. “Well,” she said coolly, “I suppose we all have to be something, now, don’t we?”

Her peripheral vision told her he hadn’t budged as she reached the next landing. Bridget would not allow herself to look at him. What, and give him the satisfaction of knowing an Englishman had humiliated yet another Irishman? Not in a million Sundays!

Bridget hurried up the remaining stairs and set her mind on seeing what, if anything, Drewry might need, because in no time at all, she’d become Mrs. Chase Auburn. No doubt she’d be at least as fidgety as her bridegroom.

Funny, she thought, how folks tend to pair off at weddings. Most of the servants had spouses to accompany them to the shindig. All but Bridget and the hired hands’ children. More’s the pity the stableman has the blood of those thievin’ English flowin’ in his veins, she thought, ’cause he’d make a right handsome companion….


Bridget watched as the servants and hired hands of Magnolia Grange raced around, putting the finishing touches on the wedding preparations. How handsome they all looked dressed in their regal best, thanks to Chase Auburn’s generosity.

She remembered the day, not so long ago, when he’d stood beside the big buckboard, ushering every member of his staff into the back of the vehicle, oblivious to their slack-jawed, wide-eyed protests. “Magnolia Grange has survived locusts and storms and the Civil War, so I hardly think our little trip into town will cause its ruination.” Grabbing the reins, he’d added, “When we get to Richmond, every last one of you will choose a proper wedding outfit. And remember, money is no object.”

The wagon wheels had ground along the gritty road, drowning out the shocked whispers of his hired help. “Been with that boy since he was born,” Matilda had said behind a wrinkled black hand, “an’ I ain’t never seen him smile so bright.”

“I do believe he done lost his mind, Matty,” Simon had said. “This is gonna cost a fortune.”

“You just worry ’bout tending the fields,” she’d shot back, “an’ let Mistah Chase worry ’bout what he can afford.”

In town, the maid, the housekeeper, the foreman, and the field hands had quickly discovered that every Richmond shopkeeper had been instructed to put the suits, gowns, shoes, and baubles chosen by Auburn employees on Chase’s personal account. At first, they’d shied away from quality materials, picking through the bins for dresses of cotton and shirts of muslin. Until Chase had gotten wind of their frugality, that is.

“You’ll not attend my wedding dressed like that!” he’d gently admonished them, snatching a pair of dungarees from Claib’s hands. Holding some gabardine trousers in front of the tall, thin man, he’d said, “You’ve earned this.” Then, looking at each employee in turn, he had said, “You’ve all earned this. Why, Magnolia Grange wouldn’t be what it is without you!” With that, he’d disappeared into the bustling Richmond street.

Now, Bridget stepped into the full-skirted gown she’d chosen that day at Miss Dalia’s Dress Shop. Ma’s cameo would have looked lovely at the throat, she thought, buttoning its high, lace-trimmed collar. But the pin had long ago been handed over to the ruthless landlord Conyngham when he’d raised the rent yet again.

Slipping into slippers made from fabric the same shade of pink as the dress, Bridget recalled that in one of her mother’s leather-bound volumes—before Conyngham had demanded those, too—she’d seen a pen-and-ink sketch of a ballerina. According to the book, ballet originated in Renaissance Italy, where, as the nobility began to see themselves as superior to the peasantry, they rejected the robust and earthy steps of traditional dance. Emulating the slower, statelier movements of the ballerinas, they believed, accentuated their own elegance. Her arms forming a graceful circle over her head, the beautiful lady’s torso had curved gently to the right. Her dark hair had been pulled back tightly from her face, and on her head had been a tiny, sparkling crown. Long, shapely legs had peeked out from beneath a gauzy, knee-length gown, and on her feet had been satin slippers.

Smiling at the memory, Bridget stood at the mirror. Gathering her cinnamony hair atop her head, she secured it with a wide ribbon that matched her shoes. Lifting her skirt, she stuck out her right foot and, looking about to see if she were truly alone, grinned as mischief danced in her eyes. How long had it been since she’d struck this particular ballerina pose? Five years? Six? Then, feeling both giddy and girlish, Bridget covered her face with both hands and giggled. Ye’d better count yer blessin’s that nobody can see you, Bridget McKenna, for they’d cart y’off to the loony bin, to be sure!

The big grandfather clock in the hall began counting out the hour. Goodness gracious me, she thought, hurrying to the door, how can it be midday already? And with only an hour till the weddin’!

When Bridget entered Drewry’s room, she found the bride standing in front of a big, oval mirror like the one in her own room, smiling as Matilda pinned a white poinsettia in her long, dark hair. “You do make a lovely bride,” said the housekeeper. “Mistah Chase be one lucky fella, gettin’ a wife as fetchin’ as you.”

Blushing, Drewry hugged the woman. “Thank you, Matilda. But I’m the lucky one.”

“Not lucky,” Bridget said, closing the door behind her. “Blessed.”

The curious glances exchanged by the bride and housekeeper told Bridget that her interruption had stunned them. True, she’d never been overly chatty, but lately….

Several months ago, Mr. Auburn had walked into the kitchen as she’d been ciphering. When she’d admitted that she’d saved almost enough to send for her family, he’d promised to find work for her father and four siblings. And just this morning, a little more ciphering told Bridget that in six months, maybe eight, she’d finally have what she needed to bring them here from Ireland. If that didn’t put her in a chatty mood, a wedding was sure to do it!

“You’re so right,” Drewry said, grasping Bridget’s hand. “Luck had nothing to do with it. It was the good Lord who brought Chase and me together.”

“And He’ll keep you together, too.”

“Seems our gal here know as much about the Good Book as anyone,” Matilda said.

Bridget remembered another day, not long after her arrival at Magnolia Grange, when Mr. Auburn had invited her to join the family in prayer. “How many times must I tell you, Bridget McKenna,” he’d thundered, “that it’s not a sin to read the Scriptures!” He’d picked up the large, leather-bound Bible and opened it for the household’s morning devotions. On the other side of the big, wooden table, Bridget had begun to weep. It had been Drewry, the children’s nanny, who had passed her a lace-edged hanky.

“But Mr. Auburn, sir,” she’d cried, “my ma taught us that readin’ the Holy Scriptures is a sin and a crime. Learnin’ like that…it’s only for the clergy, who are blessed by God to understand what they read.” Trembling, she’d hidden her face in Drewry’s hanky. “Oh, please, sir…I don’t want to go to hell!”

Softening his tone, Chase had said, “I hate to disagree with your sweet mother, but I’m afraid she was mistaken.”

His comment had only served to cause a fresh torrent of tears, inspiring Drewry to scoot along the bench and drape an arm around Bridget. “Mr. Auburn is right, Bridget,” she’d said, her dark eyes shining and sweet voice soothing. “Our reading the Scriptures pleases God. Why else would He have given them to us?”

Bridget stopped crying and studied Drewry’s face. “But…how d’ye know for sure that it’s true, ma’am?”

“Because the Lord Jesus Himself said, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ “You see, going to church on Sunday and hearing about Jesus is but one way of growing closer to the Lord. Reading His Word for ourselves, why, there’s no better way!” And from that moment on, life at Magnolia Grange had changed for Bridget. Having access to the comfort of God’s Word was a key that unlocked a world of hope.

“So, what you think, li’l Miss Bridget?” Matilda said. “You knows the Bible as good as anybody?”

“Hardly!” she said, laughing. “The more I learn,” she admitted, “the more I realize how little I know.” Then she wagged a finger at the bride. “Now, you’d best be gettin’ yourself downstairs, Miss Drew. Pastor Tillman has arrived, and the guests are gatherin’ in the chapel. It’s a mighty pretty day for a wedding, ’specially for December!”

“I have God to thank for that, too,” Drewry admitted, tugging at the long snug sleeves of her white velvet gown. With arms extended, she took a deep breath as Matilda fastened the tiny pearl buttons on each cuff. After fastening her mother’s cameo at the high, stand-up collar, Drewry picked up the bouquet fashioned of red roses, white poinsettias, and greenery from Chase’s hothouse, which he had delivered at dawn.

“You gonna carry that to the altar, Miss Drew?”

“I most certainly am, Matilda. Perhaps Chase and I will start a trend…bridegrooms delivering flowers to their brides, and brides carrying the bouquets to the altar.” She punctuated her statement with a merry giggle. “Well, I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be, so I suppose we should get this wedding started!”

With Matilda leading the way, the women walked down the wide, curving staircase and onto the porch. Bridget saw that Claib had parked the carriage out front. He’d polished its chassis until the enamel gleamed like a black mirror. The farmhand cut quite a dashing figure in his long-tailed morning suit, and Bridget planned to tell him so the minute they returned to the kitchen to serve the guests at the reception. Bending low at the waist, Claib swept a gloved hand in front of him. “Your carriage awaits, m’lady,” he said, mimicking Pastor Tillman’s English butler.

The sounds of laughter and chatter grew louder as the buggy neared the chapel. “They’re here!” a woman shouted.

“Start the music!” hollered a man.

As the four-piece string ensemble began to play Beethoven’s Ninth, Drewry stood beside her Uncle James at the back of the chapel. Such a lovely bride, Bridget thought. And this little church in the woods is lovely, too. The red holly berries trimming the roof winked merrily, and a soft garland filled the air with the fresh, clean scent of pine. Massive arrangements of red and white poinsettias, along with evergreen boughs, flanked the altar, where Mr. Auburn waited alone.

But not for long.

Bridget and Matilda, in their new store-bought frocks, stepped importantly down the aisle in time to the music and took their places in the Auburn family pew. Chase’s daughter, Sally, stepped up in front of Drewry, one hand in her basket, prepared to sprinkle rose petals along the path that her new mother’s high-topped white boots would take. Behind Sally, her brother, Sam, held the white satin pillow that cushioned the wedding band. Bridget smiled as he tugged at the collar of his shirt and smiled adoringly up at Drewry.

The children love her so, and so does Mr. Auburn, Bridget thought. And it’s plain to see she loves them, too.

Just then, the throbbing strains of the “Wedding March” poured from the organ’s pipes, filling the chapel as Pastor Tillman took his place at the altar. Bridget watched Chase, resplendent in his black suit, as he focused on Drewry, the object of his hopes and dreams and promises soon to be fulfilled. “I love you,” he mouthed to her.

Bridget turned in her seat just in time to see the bride answer with a wink and a smile. Will I ever know love like that? she wondered, facing front again. Sighing, she felt her shoulders sag. Not likely, since all I do is work, work, work and save, save, save…. A feeling of guilt washed over Bridget, and she chastised herself for allowing such self-centered thoughts to enter her head. She had much to be grateful for, and this was Drewry and Chase’s day, after all!

Still, the bride and groom’s for-our-eyes-only communication made her yearn for a love like theirs—a love that reached beyond the bounds of family, binding man to woman and woman to man, cloaking them in trust, friendship, and companionship forever.

A chilly wind blew through the chapel, making Bridget shiver. Hugging herself, she focused on the rough-hewn cross that hung above the altar and, closing her eyes, prayed silently. Dear Lord, if it’s in Your plan, I wouldn’t mind havin’ a bit of love like that, for I’m weary of being cold and alone.


Drewry’s Uncle James and his lady friend, Joy, had arrived two days earlier. In many ways, the handsome couple reminded Bridget of Chase and Drewry.

Bridget and Joy had chatted while decorating the mansion. Joy, Bridget discovered, had been raised up north, near Baltimore. “Why, there’s a Baltimore, Ireland, too!” she’d said, excited at all she had in common with her new friend.

Bridget hadn’t had as many opportunities to talk with Drewry’s uncle, so when she saw him during the reception, standing alone under the willow tree, she didn’t know quite how to approach him. His grief was raw and real, that much was plain to see. And she knew precisely what had destroyed his previous high-spirited mood. For as she’d been gathering plates and cups nearby, she’d overheard the conversation….

James had dropped to one knee and taken Joy’s hand in his, then looked deep into her eyes and whispered hoarsely, “Miss Naomi Joy McGuire, will you do me the honor of becoming my bride?”

So romantic! Bridget had thought. She’d been taught better than to eavesdrop, but if she’d made any attempt to move just then, she would have alerted them to her presence, and what if that destroyed the whole mood? Then Joy had blinked, swallowed hard, and stiffened her back. “I can’t, James,” she’d said. Then, snatching back her hand, she’d lifted the billowing blue satin of her skirt and raced across the lawn to the house.

Hours passed before Bridget returned to collect the last of the dishes and glasses scattered about by the guests. Yet he still stood alone where she’d last seen him. “Is there anything I can do for you, sir?”

Without looking up, James shook his head.

“Won’t you come inside and let me brew you a cup of tea?”

But he only shook his head again.

“But sir, ye’re pale as a ghost, and I can’t in good conscience leave you here alone. I’ll make a pest of myself, if I must, to get you inside, where it’s warm.” She gestured toward the yard. “Ye’ll catch yer death if you stay out here.”

When he gave no response, she linked her arm with his and led him to the house, chattering nonstop the whole way about the way Pastor Tillman had nearly choked on a wad of tobacco before pronouncing Drewry and Chase husband and wife; about the perfect weather, the delicious food, the pretty decorations…anything but the ceremony itself. “My name is Bridget, sir,” she said as they approached the front porch. “Bridget McKenna.”

The way he climbed the steps, Bridget couldn’t help but picture the tin soldiers lined up on the shelf at McDoogle’s Store back home. The poor man had found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his days with, and her refusal had broken his spirit. Surely, Joy had a good reason for saying no, but that didn’t stop Bridget from feeling sorry for him.

Once inside, she stopped at the parlor door. “Why not have a seat there by the fire? I’ll fetch you a nice hot cup of tea.”

“I think I’d rather just go to bed.”

As she opened the door to his room, she said, “If you need anything, anything at all, just ring for me.”

Though he nodded as he stepped into the room, Bridget had a feeling he wouldn’t ring. In fact, something told her she might not see him at all before he returned to Baltimore. “Well,” she muttered as he closed the door, “I don’t suppose all matches are made in heaven….”

“Like Drewry and Chase, you mean?”

A tiny shriek escaped her lungs. “Land sakes, man,” she said, recognizing Lance. “Ye’ll be the death of me, sure!” Bridget regarded him with a wary eye. “Ye’ve got cat’s paws for feet. How else can I explain how you slink around without making a sound?”

Chuckling, Lance pocketed both hands. “I wasn’t slinking. You were so deep in thought, a herd of cattle could have thundered through here, and you wouldn’t have noticed until the dust cleared.”

Bridget raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I might’ve noticed a wee bit before then.” Pointing at his feet, she said, “There’d have been the stink of the stuff you’ve tracked across my clean floor to bring me around.” Planting both fists on her hips, she met his eyes. “Perhaps you have been raised as fine as those fancy airs you put on, Mr. York, for no self-respecting stable hand would enter the master’s house without first puttin’ his soles to the boot scrape by the servants’ entrance!”


Lance glanced down at his boots and the telltale clumps of mud and horse manure that showed the path he’d taken since entering the foyer. Feeling strangely like an errant child caught sneaking cookies before dinner, he was about to inform her that although this was indeed a grand mansion, it sat upon fertile pastureland. Did she really expect everyone who entered to wipe his boots? And who did she think she was, anyway, scolding him as if he were an ordinary—

Yet the moment he looked into her eyes to deliver his rebuttal, Lance’s ire abated. She was perhaps the loveliest creature he’d ever seen, tiny and feminine and just scrappy enough to be reckoned with. A mass of shining brick-red waves framed her heart-shaped face, and even after a long day of tending to and tidying up after wedding guests, her milky skin glowed with healthy radiance, making the pale freckles sprinkling her nose even more noticeable.

And those eyes! He’d seen her before, both up close and from a distance. Why hadn’t he noticed how large and thickly lashed they were?

“So, there’s another lesson yer ma obviously didn’t teach you. First, you thoughtlessly mess up the floors, and then, you stare like a simpleton.”

Lance blinked, then frowned in response to her anger. “What? I—I wasn’t—”

“You were, and you still are,” she interrupted him, crossing her arms over her chest as she lifted her chin.

If he didn’t know better, he’d say she was daring him to disagree!

Lance had no earthly idea where the thought came from, but, suddenly, he wanted nothing more than to grasp the narrow shoulders she’d thrown back in defiance and kiss her square on those full, pink lips. Sweet Jesus, he prayed, keep me true to my vow….

Newly resolved and strengthened, he straightened to his full five-foot eleven-inch height. “I didn’t mean to track dirt into the house,” he said at last. “If you like, I’ll help you clean it up. And you have my word, it won’t happen again.”

Grinning, she wiggled her perfectly arched brows. “Oh, that won’t be necessary.” Then, “I suppose I could have been a mite gentler with you, now, couldn’t I?” On the heels of a deep breath, Bridget added, “It’s been a long, hard day, not that that’s a good excuse for my harshness.” With one hand up to silence his denial, she continued, “I set aside a bit of cake and lemonade. Will you let me get it for you, as a peace offerin’?”

Truth was, he’d stuffed himself at the reception and had no idea where he’d put another bite of food, so his answer surprised him. “Only if you’ll share it with me.”

She turned on her heel and, wiggling a finger over her shoulder, said, “Then follow me, English.”

He did, too, like a pup on his boy’s heels. As they made their way down the stairs, she said, “What you said earlier….”

Lance fell into step beside her. “In response to your ‘not all matches are made in heaven’ comment?”

Rounding the corner into the kitchen, she nodded. “How’d you know that’s what I meant?”

He straddled a stool and leaned both elbows on the table. No woman had ever willingly served him before, unless he counted roadside tavern maids. Lance rather enjoyed watching Bridget bustling about, preparing the snack that had been her idea. “I overheard what went on between Drewry’s uncle and his lady friend, too,” he said. His smile became a frown. “Sad, the way she treated the bloke.”

Bridget laid a neatly folded napkin near his left elbow and unceremoniously plopped a silver fork atop it. “Now, let’s not be too quick to judge, English. We have no way of knowing why she said what she did.”

By the time she set the tall goblet of lemonade near the tines of his fork, he was all but scowling. “It’s been my experience,” he began, “that women don’t need a reason to be cruel.” He sat up straighter and feigned a dainty pose. “You’re such a darling man,” he sighed in a high-pitched falsetto. “Is that your heart?” he asked, pointing a dainty finger at his imaginary tablemate’s chest. Then, his hand formed an ugly claw as he pretended to tear into the invisible man’s rib cage. “I’ve got it!” he all but shouted, pretending to stuff it into his mouth.

Bridget stood gawking with one hand on her hip and then wrinkled her nose. “After ye’ve learned to wipe yer feet,” she said, sliding the cake plate in front of him, “we’ll have a go at teachin’ you how to make interesting table conversation.” After taking a sip of her own lemonade, she sat down across from him. “A body could only guess from that sorry demonstration that you’ve been wounded a time or two by love.”

“Not really,” he said around a bite of frosting. “And I’m sorry for the outburst.”

Smiling, she pressed a hand to his forearm. “You can apologize for scarin’ the soul from m’body, for dirtyin’ my floor.” Leaning closer, Bridget narrowed her eyes. “But don’t ever let me hear you say you’re sorry for what you feel, English.”

Resting his elbow on the table, Lance let the empty fork dangle from his hand. “What have you got against the English, if you don’t mind my asking?” Slicing off another hunk of cake, he added, “Keep in mind, I’m English only on my father’s side….”

Sighing, Bridget sat back. “Have you ever been to Ireland?”

Lance shook his head.

“And what do you know about the way your people dealt with the Irish during the famine?”

In place of an answer, Lance only shrugged.

She folded her hands on the tabletop. “Now, I’ll warn ye, ’tisn’t a pretty story.” Winking, she looked from side to side, as if in search of a spy. “And there’s a good chance you’ll dislike your folks as much as I do when I’ve finished.” Pausing, she said, “You sure you want me to go on?”

“I’m sure,” he said with a grin.

And for the next hour, she held him spellbound with her tale.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Sheriff’s Surrender by Susan Page Davis

Tour Date: December 17

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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!

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The Sheriff’s Surrender

Barbour Books (December 1, 2009)

***Special thanks to Angie Brillhart of Barbour Publishing for sending me a review copy.***


Award-winning author Susan Page Davis is a mother of six who lives in Maine with her husband, Jim. She worked as a newspaper correspondent for more than twenty-five years in addition to home-schooling her children. She writes historical romances and cozy mysteries and is a member of ACFW. Visit her Web site at

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Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (December 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602605629
ISBN-13: 978-1602605626


Fergus, Idaho

May 1885

Gert Dooley aimed at the scrap of red calico and squeezed the trigger. The Spencer rifle she held cracked, and the red cloth fifty yards away shivered.

“I’d say your shooting piece is in fine order.” She lowered the rifle and passed it to the owner, Cyrus Fennel. She didn’t particularly like Fennel, but he always paid her brother, the only gunsmith in Fergus, with hard money.

He nodded. “Thank you, Miss Dooley.” He shoved his hand into his pocket.

Gert knew he was fishing out a coin. This was the part her brother hated most—taking payment for his work. She turned away. Hiram would be embarrassed enough without her watching. She picked up the shawl she had let fall to the grass a few minutes earlier.

“That’s mighty fine shooting, Gert,” said Hiram’s friend, rancher Ethan Chapman. He’d come by earlier to see if Hiram would help him string a fence the next day. When Cyrus Fennel had arrived to pick up his repaired rifle, Ethan had sat down on the chopping block to watch Gert demonstrate the gun.

“Thank you kindly.” Gert accepted praise for shooting as a matter of course. Now, if Ethan had remarked that she looked fine today or some such pretty thing, she’d have been flustered. But he would never say anything like that. And shooting was just work.

Fennel levered the rifle’s action open and peered at the firing pin. “Looks good as new. I should be able to pick off those rats that are getting in my grain bins.”

“That’s quite a cannon for shooting rats,” Gert said.

Ethan stood and rested one foot on the chopping block, leaning forward with one arm on his knee. “You ought to hire Gert to shoot them for you.”

Gert scowled. “Why’d I want to do that? He can shoot his own rats.”

Hiram, who had pocketed his pay as quickly as possible, moved the straw he chewed from one side of his mouth to the other. He never talked much. Men brought him their firearms to fix. Hiram listened to them tell him what the trouble was while eyeing the piece keenly. Then he’d look at Gert. She would tell them, “Come back next week.” Hiram would nod, and that was the extent of the conversation. Since his wife, Violet, had died eight years ago, the only person Hiram seemed to talk to much was Ethan.

Fennel turned toward her with a condescending smile. “Folks say you’re the best shot in Fergus, Miss Dooley.”

Gert shrugged. It wasn’t worth debating. She had sharp eyes, and she’d fired so many guns for Hiram to make sure they were in working order that she’d gotten good at it, that was all.

Ethan’s features, however, sprang to life. “Ain’t it the truth? Why, Gert can shoot the tail feathers off a jay at a hundred yards with a gun like that. Mighty fine rifle.” He nodded at Fennel’s Spencer, wincing as though he regretted not having a gun as fine.

“Well, now, I’m a fair shot myself,” Fennel said. “I could maybe hit that rag, too.”

“Let’s see you do it,” Ethan said.

Fennel jacked a cartridge into the Spencer, smiling as he did. The rag still hung limp from a notched stick and was silhouetted against the distant dirt bank across the field. He put his left foot forward and swung the butt of the stock up to his shoulder, paused motionless for a second, and pulled the trigger.

Gert watched the cloth, not the shooter. The stick shattered just at the bottom of the rag. She frowned. She’d have to find another stick next time. At least when she tested a gun, she clipped the edge of the cloth so her stand could be used again.

Hiram took the straw out of his mouth and threw it on the ground. Without a word, he strode to where the tattered red cloth lay a couple of yards from the splintered stick and brought the scrap back. He stooped for a piece of firewood from the pile he’d made before Fennel showed up. The stick he chose had split raggedly, and Hiram slid the bit of cloth into a crack.

Ethan stood beside Gert as they watched Hiram walk across the field, all the way to the dirt bank, and set the piece of firewood on end.

“Hmm.” Fennel cleared his throat and loaded several cartridges into the magazine. When Hiram was back beside them, he raised the gun again, held for a second, and fired. The stick with the bit of red stood unwavering.

“Let Gert try,” Ethan said.

“No need,” she said, looking down at her worn shoe tips peeping out beneath the hem of her skirt.

“Oh, come on.” Ethan’s coaxing smile tempted her.

Fennel held the rifle out. “Be my guest.”

Gert looked to her brother. Hiram gave the slightest nod then looked up at the sky, tracking the late afternoon sun as it slipped behind a cloud. She could do it, of course. She’d been firing guns for Hiram for ten years—since she came to Fergus and found him grieving the loss of his wife and baby. Folks had brought him more work than he could handle. They felt sorry for him, she supposed, and wanted to give him a distraction. Gert had begun test firing the guns as fast as he could fix them. She found it satisfying, and she’d kept doing it ever since. Thousands upon thousands of rounds she’d fired, from every type of small firearm, unintentionally building herself a reputation of sorts.

She didn’t usually make a show of her shooting prowess, but Fennel rubbed her the wrong way. She knew he wasn’t Hiram’s favorite patron either. He ran the Wells Fargo office now, but back when he ran the assay office, he’d bought up a lot of failed mines and grassland cheap. He owned a great deal of land around Fergus, including the spread Hiram had hoped to buy when he first came to Idaho. Distracted by his wife’s illness, Hiram hadn’t moved quickly enough to file claim on the land and had missed out. Instead of the ranch he’d wanted, he lived on his small lot in town and got by on his sporadic pay as a gunsmith.

Gert let her shawl slip from her fingers to the grass once more and took the rifle. As she focused on the distant stick of firewood, she thought, That junk of wood is you, Mr. Rich Land Stealer. And that little piece of cloth is one of your rats.

She squeezed gently. The rifle recoiled against her shoulder, and the far stick of firewood jumped into the air then fell to earth, minus the red cloth.

“Well, I’ll be.” Fennel stared at her. “Are you always this accurate?”

“You ain’t seen nothing,” Ethan assured him.

Hiram actually cracked a smile, and Gert felt the blood rush to her cheeks even though Ethan hadn’t directly complimented her. She loved to see Hiram smile, something he seldom did.

“Mind sharing your secret, Miss Dooley?” Fennel asked.

Ethan chuckled. “I’ll tell you what it is. Every time she shoots, she pretends she’s aiming at something she really hates.”

“Aha.” Fennel smiled, too. “Might I ask what you were thinking of that time, ma’am?”

Gert’s mouth went dry. Never had she been so sorely tempted to tell a lie.

“Likely it was that coyote that kilt her rooster last month,” Hiram said.

Gert stared at him. He’d actually spoken. She knew when their eyes met that her brother had known exactly what she’d been thinking.

Ethan and Fennel both chuckled.

Of course, I wouldn’t really think of killing him, Gert thought, even though he stole the land right out from under my grieving brother. The Good Book says don’t kill and don’t hate. Determined to heap coals of fire on her adversary’s head, she handed the Spencer back to him. “You’re not too bad a shot yourself, Mr. Fennel.”

His posture relaxed, and he opened his mouth all smiley, like he might say something pleasant back, but suddenly he stiffened. His eyes focused beyond Gert, toward the dirt street. “Who is that?”

Gert swung around to look as Ethan answered. “That’s Millicent Peart.”

“Don’t think I’ve seen her since last fall.” Fennel shook his head. “She sure is showing her age.”

“I don’t think Milzie came into town much over the winter,” Gert said.

For a moment, they watched the stooped figure hobble along the dirt street toward the emporium. Engulfed in a shapeless old coat, Milzie Peart leaned on a stick with each step. Her mouth worked as though she were talking to someone, but no one accompanied her.

“How long since her man passed on?” Ethan asked.

“Long time,” Gert said. “Ten years, maybe. She still lives at their cabin out Mountain Road.”

Fennel grimaced as the next house hid the retreating figure from view. “Pitiful.”

Ethan shrugged. “She’s kinda crazy, but I reckon she likes living on their homestead.”

Gert wondered how Milzie got by. It must be lonesome to have no one, not even a nearly silent brother, to talk to out there in the foothills.

“Supper in half an hour.” She turned away from the men and headed for the back porch of the little house she shared with Hiram. She hoped Fennel would take the hint and leave. And she hoped Ethan would stay for supper, but of course she would never say so.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wisdom Hunter by Randall Arthur

Tour Date: December 16th

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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!

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Wisdom Hunter

Multnomah Books (September 20, 2003)

***Special thanks to Staci Carmichael of WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for sending me a review copy.***


Randall Arthur is the bestselling author of Jordan’s Crossing and Brotherhood of Betrayal. He and his wife have served as missionaries to Europe for over thirty years. From 1976 till 1998, he lived in Norway and Germany as a church planter. Since 2000, he has taken numerous missions teams from the United States on trips all over Europe. Arthur is also the founder of the AOK (Acts of Kindness) Bikers’ Fellowship, a group of men who enjoy the sport of motorcycling. He and his family live in Atlanta, Georgia.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Books (September 20, 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1590522591
ISBN-13: 978-1590522592


PART 1: 1971-1972

Jason cleared his throat. His wife knew what was coming next, and the pain within her rose again. At every evening meal for the last five hundred and fifteen days he had prayed aloud for their daughter, always working his way slowly through the prayer, emphasizing each word as if to prove his sincerity.

"0 God," he said tonight, "wherever Hannah might be right now, we ask that she'll know your protection. Thank you for watching over her. And thank you even more that one day you'll honor our faith and bring her home."

He paused, as if to arrest the Almighty's attention, then continued with a faltering voice. "Just-just make it soon. We miss her... "

LYING ON THE living room couch, Hannah Freedman proudly realized once again that she was the reason Cody had emerged from his loneliness. He was absolutely consumed by her-and the thought was enthralling. Admiring her diamond-studded wedding band, she gratified herself with the reminder that Cody always treated her like a princess, as if by royal decree she had somehow granted him a new life.

At this very moment, alone in their suburban Miami home, she could feel his infatuation. It lingered in every room, echoing in the easy recall of Cody's loving words and embraces.

Hannah turned heavily upon her side, the baby in her womb preventing her from rolling all the way over onto her stomach. She smiled. It was like a fairy tale. She and Cody had met only ten months ago-she a runaway, not yet eighteen; and he a well-bred, 25 year-old professional. Now they were together forever. How could it be real? How could they have it so good?

She reached over her head, retrieving from behind her a framed photograph of Cody that sat alone on the end table. The picture had been taken only weeks before she met him. It was the same handsome face, the same green-eyed, ash-blond man who was now her husband-but he had been so different then. There was a smile on the face, but it was hiding a sense of loss that had governed his life ever since the death of his parents in a plane crash two years earlier. From that seemingly unshakable disorientation, she had rescued him. Likewise, Cody had taken her from a miserable existence and placed her on a lofty pedestal of fulfillment beyond her wildest dreams.

Her spirit soared with gratefulness as she pressed the photograph to her chest. Lost in blissful thoughts, she relived for the thousandth time the nonstop passion of the last ten months. First, the explosive romance-the instant chemistry, like gunpowder contacting fire. Then came the unplanned but welcomed pregnancy, followed by the exchange of wedding vows seven and a half months ago. Every day had been glorious. If she could live all of it over, she would not change a single detail.

A wall clock across the room began to chime the hour, and Hannah closed her eyes and stilled her thoughts to listen: Four o'clock. It was four o'clock, Friday afternoon, December 15th. The "Christmas spirit" with its commercialism was in full swing-and she, Hannah Freedman, had everything in life a woman ever dreamed of: a large and beautiful home, a flaming love life, and emotional security. In only forty minutes her lover would be home from a day's work at his veterinary clinic, ready for their usual early and intimate dinner together. And in only fourteen days, according to the doctor's calculations, she and Cody would cuddle their first child.

She lifted the photograph and contentedly stared through tears at Cody's picture. For the first time in her eighteen years, she knew what it was to live and to love.

She slowly reached over her head and carefully returned the photograph to its place. She contemplated getting up from the couch. But due to an early morning burst of energy she had already put in a full day of cleaning house and baking Christmas cookies, and the work had left her exhausted. Her small frame, now carrying an extra twenty-six pounds, simply refused to rise.

AT 4:40, CODY came in the back door. He slipped quickly through the kitchen, moving his six-foot-three, 170-pound athletic body with the fluidity of a cat, and began singing: "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh what fun it is to live with a blue-eyed Georgia girl, hey!"

On the living room couch Hannah awoke from her light sleep, and broke into a smile as Cody continued singing heartily off-key: "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh what fun it is to love my blue-eyed Georgia girl!"

When Cody poked his head around the corner, Hannah was applauding. "Coe," she said, extending tired but inviting arms, "you can love this blue-eyed Georgia girl anytime you want to."

Like a moth to a flame, Cody was drawn into her arms. Kneeling on the plush gray carpet beside her, he kissed her full, moist lips as if he had been starving for her for weeks. When he finally withdrew, he looked into her eyes and said with intensity, "Hannah, you're so beautiful-even when you're tired"

So often before he had told her she was beautiful-and had never stopped, even after her pregnancy began showing. Spreading her arms playfully like wings, Hannah nodded toward her body. "You like it, huh?"

Cody smiled his reply, then ran his fingers slowly through her long, thick auburn hair. "Hannah," he moaned in earnest, "I'm missing you, bad."

"How much?" she asked with delight.

"You really want to know?"


Cody grinned. "Well, I'll tell you. I accidentally gave overdoses of antibiotics to four different dogs today and killed them all," he joked, "simply because I couldn't get my mind off you. All I've done today is dream about being with you."

Feeling aroused, Hannah slowly pulled him into another fiery kiss.

It took every ounce of self-control Cody could muster to keep from going further. When Hannah finally released him, he fell reluctantly to the floor and stretched out on his back. "Just you wait," he said with gusto, "till we're able to be together again. I'm going to make it unforgettable."

Hannah laughed seductively. "Are you sure you can hold out until then?"

With surprise, she watched Cody's mood turn sober. He rose to kneel beside her again, and took her hands in his. "Hannah, if I had to, I'd be willing to wait the rest of my life for you."

There was no doubt in Hannah's mind that he meant every word. She felt his sincerity as certainly as if it were rain pouring down on her. Instinctively she pulled him into another tight embrace.

“Cody,” she confided in his ear, “this will be the best Christmas I've ever had. And the reason is you…”

AFTER DINNER Cody raved as Hannah placed the tray of Christmas cookies on the dining room table beside him. "Better looking than Mother's used to be," he said. Taking a bite, he nodded, "And every bit as good!"

An LP of instrumental Christmas music was playing softly in the background. Hannah sat down to hear Cody finish telling her about his day: setting a German shepherd's broken leg, diagnosing an old tomcat that was refusing to eat, bobtailing a four-day old boxer, and giving an array of shots.

"And Mrs. Gravitt brought in her Dalmatian again," he said, then paused.

"And?" Hannah asked.

"And it should be the last time!" he smiled with satisfaction. "He's fully recovered, and Mrs. Gravitt is as happy as any client I've ever had."

"She should be," Hannah reassured him. "That dog was nearly dead two months ago when she first brought him to you. It was a miracle anyone could save him. But what can I say? You're the best!"

"Well, maybe not the best… But..."Cody tucked his thumbs beneath imaginary suspenders, in a mocking pose of greatness. They both erupted into laughter.

"Say," he said after finishing another cookie, "I called Reed's Travel Agency this morning. They promised they could reserve the cabin-"

Before he could complete the sentence, he saw Hannah suddenly gasp for breath, tense in her chair, then let out a low groan. Cody was immediately face to face with her, gripping her shoulders. "Are you all right?" he demanded.

She finally began breathing, then looked him in the eye and gave the most surprisingly beautiful smile he had ever seen. "I think so... I... uh... yeah, I'm okay," she answered. "My water just broke." She could feel the warm fluid puddling around her buttocks and running down her leg. For a moment she was embarrassed, but the feeling was quickly overcome by an acute surge of pain.

Still trying to figure out what to do, Cody saw Hannah tense again. He gripped her hand in silence, stunned by the piercing hurt locked on her face.

Several seconds later, Hannah relaxed and took a deep breath. "I'm not positive," she said, "but if that was my first contraction, we may be mommy and daddy two weeks earlier than we thought."

Elated, Cody held her in a big hug and said, "Can you believe it?" He started dancing around the table. "We're going to be a family!" he shouted, as Hannah laughed.

THEIR CELEBRATION was soon tempered by the quickly recurring pains, and the rush to leave for the hospital. Within twenty-five minutes from the time Hannah's water had broken, she was seated beside Cody in their Ford station wagon. He was timing her contractions, which now came at less than three-minute intervals. The quickly paced labor pains, coming so soon, made Cody nervous. He tried to relax, but it was all so new. And this was his wife, his baby.

This is happening too fast, he thought, calculating that the trip to the hospital would normally take twenty-five to thirty minutes. This time, he decided, it would have to be less than twenty. No stranger to speeding, he was confident he could meet the challenge.

He glanced at his wristwatch-5:51-just as they were leaving their residential area and approaching the nearest main road. One look ahead quickly confirmed a rising worry: It was rush hour. Traffic on the main road was packed, moving at only a fraction of the normal speed.

For the first time, Cody felt panic. To hide it, he forced a grin and said to Hannah, “I love adventure, but this is a little too much of the good stuff.”

She smiled briefly, before yielding to the start of yet another contraction.

Soon the eruptions of pain were less than two minutes apart. Hannah bravely fought back. Everything's under control, she kept telling herself. Be strong, be strong. Impossible as it seemed, each contraction hurt worse than the last, worse than anything she had ever felt in her life.

"Just hang in there, babe," Cody said. "I'll get you there."

The line of cars crept forward to an intersection which he realized was approximately their halfway point to the hospital. The flow of traffic halted again as he saw the same set of stoplights change to red for the second time. With mounting fear he looked at his watch: 6:16.

Suddenly, Hannah leaned forward, grabbed the dashboard with both hands, and screamed. Cody reached out and touched her shoulder. He was now almost beside himself with panic. "Are you going to make it?"

When her pain had passed its peak, she found her breath and shot back, "I don't know... Just hurry!"

He knew then what he had to do. And on impulse, as if the adrenaline surging through him had switched on a machine, he did it.

Trying to take charge of this desperate situation, he lurched the station wagon out of their traffic lane. Sounding his horn and flashing his headlights, he charged through the intersection and down the avenue, straddling the middle line.

Hannah did little more than flinch. The thought of how crazy it all seemed flashed in and out of her mind.

"I'll get you there," she heard Cody say again.