My Review: A Love of Her Own (Heart of the West, Bk 3) by Maggie Brendan

(Heart of the West, Bk 3)
by Maggie Brendan

Christian Fiction / Historical /

Revell Publishing
Copyright 2010
Pages:  326
ISBN:  9780800733513

(from Amazon):

She has everything her heart desires . . . except the one thing money can't buy
Still cautious after a broken engagement, April McBride fully intends to guard her heart when she travels to Lewistown, Montana, to attend her brother's wedding. One look around the small mining town convinces April that doing so won't be difficult--just a bunch of dusty shops, bad service, and ill-bred cowboys. But a run-in with horse trainer Wes Owen opens up vast possibilities for frustration, embarrassment, friendship, and . . . love?

Can April and Wes see past their differences to envision a future together? Or are they destined to live the rest of their lives alone?

Book three in the Heart of the West series, A Love of Her Own is an adventurous, spark-filled ride through love in turn-of-the-century Montana.

What I thought (with a few spoilers):

I'm so happy to finally know what happens to Josh McBride's sister, April!  Ever since I first met this blonde-haired spit-fire in No Place for a Lady, I've wondered how her story was gonna play out.  It was a wild ride, just as I had suspected!

Though April was my least favorite person back then, she finally redeems herself in her own story.  She still comes across as a little selfish, very independent, and somewhat spoiled.  All in all, this makes for a really fast-paced read.  It was nice to catch up with some of the folks from The Jewel of His Heart, but Josh and Juliana were hardly even mentioned (they were on their honeymoon!).

Wes Owen turns out to be such a sweetheart -- I'm so glad!  I wanted to like him in The Jewel of Her Heart, but he was still rough around the edges.  He has since straightened out his life, and become one delicious horse trainer.  ;)

There are lots of great secondary characters, one of which is Billy Taylor, a young orphan who loves horses almost as much as April.  He became one of my favorite people right from the start.  It was also lots of fun getting to know Natalie, Louise, Miss Margaret, and so many more of the folks who reside in Lewistown, Montana.

I only have one "complaint" with this book -- the very abrupt, slam-the-door in your face ending.  I mean, WOW!  One minute you're sitting there, enjoying a historical moment with April, Wes, Billy, and their friends -- then, a few pages later, the story is over!  I didn't see it coming and was unpleasantly surprised.  I still had a few questions that weren't yet answered.  What happened to Billy (he's one of my favorite characters)?  Did he find a permanent home with Morgan and Lenora?  Did anything serious develop between Louise and Mark?  What did April's parents think about her decision to stay in Montana?  I just felt unsettled at the end; like I wasn't given time to prepare.  Maybe it's just me, and it didn't/won't bother anyone else.  Don't get me wrong, it's definitely worth reading - I was just a little disappointed.

If you haven't read any of Maggie Brendan's books, be sure to pick up this series and read them from beginning to end.  The characters are wonderful and will seem like family in no time.  You can visit Maggie at her blog:  SouthernBelle Writer.

***Thanks to Donna @ Revell Publishing for providing me a copy to review! ***


My Review: Seeds of Summer (Seasons of Tallgrass, Bk 2) by Deborah Vogts

Seeds of Summer
(Seasons of Tallgrass, Bk 2)
 by Deborah Vogts

Christian Fiction / Contemporary /

Copyright 2010
Pages:  320
ISBN:  9780310292760

(from Amazon):
When opposites attract, sparks fly--like an electrical malfunction. That's what happens when former rodeo queen, Natalie Adams meets the new pastor in Diamond Falls. 

Upon the death of her father, Natalie returns to the Flint Hills to raise her two half-siblings and run the family ranch, giving up her dreams for the future. She soon realizes her time in college and as Miss Rodeo Kansas is not enough to break the bonds that held her as a girl. 

Jared Logan, a new pastor in Diamond Falls, is set on making a good impression to his first congregation, but finds that change doesn't come easy for some people. In fact, most in his congregation are set against it. Natalie and her troubled family provide an outlet for his energy and soon become his personal mission project. Having raised her stepbrother and sister from an early youth, Natalie's self-sufficient nature isn't inclined to accept help, especially from a city-boy do-gooder like Jared Logen. Though attracted to him, there's no way she'd ever consider being a pastor's wife. Bible studies and bake sales just aren't her thing. 

Jared repeatedly comes to Natalie's rescue, forcing her to see him with new eyes. At the same time, Jared's plan to plant Christ's word in Natalie's heart backfires when he loses his own heart to this wayward family. When problems arise in his congregation, he must face his greatest fears---of letting down God, his congregation, or those he loves. His time with Natalie has shown him the importance of standing by those you love, a lesson he chose to ignore in order to please his father years ago. This is put to the test when Natalie faces a battle of custody of her half-siblings against the mother who abandoned them twelve years ago. Natalie's fight for the children turns into a fight for custody of her heart as she learns the true meaning of unconditional love. In turn, Jared must decide which dreams are his own---and whether Natalie is part of those dreams. 

What I thought:
As soon as I finished reading the first book in this series, Snow Melts in Spring, I didn't know how I could possibly wait months to read this one.  As it turns out, it wasn't as hard as I expected.  =)  Let me also mention, to those of you that are familiar with my obsession of reading series books in order, there is really no need with these 2 books.  The characters from Snow Melts in Spring are just briefly mentioned in Seeds of Summer.

While this was a really good story, it didn't touch my heart as much as the first one did.  For some reason, I had a really hard time connecting with Natalie.  She just seemed so distant, and even a little selfish, at times.  Initially, I thought we would have quite a bit in common, as I'm the oldest of 4 girls and pretty much helped my Mom raise my 2 youngest sisters.  I guess the fact that my Mom WAS around took out the "common" factor, as I wasn't completely responsible for them like Natalie was her younger half-siblings, Chelsey and Dillon.

I fell in love with Dillon from the beginning, especially the way he was always looking out for Natalie, though he is years younger -- Chelsey, not so much.  She was pretty obnoxious in the beginning, but eventually turned out to be a really sweet girl.  And their mother, Libby, whew!, she is something else.  

On a positive note, I thought Jared was a real sweetheart!  Normally, I think of pastors as being serious, older men -- definitely NOT so in Jared's case.  He is the perfect example of how we should all treat one another, while at the same time doing his best to straighten out his own life.  Jared faces some really tough personal decisions, but doesn't lose sight of the fact that he is a pastor first; before being a son, a friend, or a potential boyfriend/husband.  He takes the time to stop and listen to what God has in mind for him, instead of just continuing to make his own choices -- even though, it might mean not getting what his heart desires most.

If you haven't had the pleasure of reading either of Deborah Vogts books, be sure to drop by and visit her blog, Country at Heart, or her website.

***I would like to say "thank you" to Deborah for sending me a copy of her book.  I would also like to thank Londa Alderink of Zondervan.***

If you'd like to read the first chapter, CLICK HERE.

My Review: Hurricanes in Paradise by Denise Hildreth

by Denise Hildreth

General Fiction / Christian /
(some) Romance

Tyndale Fiction
Copyright 2010
Pages:  375
ISBN:  9781414335575

(from Amazon):

When Riley Sinclair stepped into her new job as director of guest relations at a posh resort on Paradise Island, she felt the final pieces of her once-broken life coming together. But the waters become choppy when Riley discovers that some who come to the Atlantis Hotel are accompanied by paralyzing secrets and overwhelming fears. 

Riley and three guests are in desperate but unknowing need of each other, eventually forging unlikely yet powerful friendships. With a hurricane headed straight for the island, together they embark on a journey of laughter, heartache, and healing. 

What I thought:

When I first saw this book was available to review, via FIRST Wild Card Tours, I wasn't sure whether it was something I would enjoy reading, or not.  I decided to go ahead and request it, since I had enjoyed Denise's previous book, The Will of Wisteria

Let me just tell you that I am sooooo glad I got my hands on this book -- it is absolutely amazing!  There are so many laugh-out-loud moments, but I also found myself almost sobbing at times.  Hurricanes in Paradise will most definitely be on my Top 10 list of favorite books for 2010.  Yes, it's THAT good!

As you can see from the synopsis, this book is about 4 women who end up at the same resort in the Bahamas.  They've all had life-changing experiences that they haven't quite come to terms with, though none of them actually realize it.

Let me interrupt myself, and mention this -- if you don't enjoy reading books that focus on how truly great God is, then this one may not be for you.  I, personally, don't enjoy reading a book where I feel like religion is being "forced" on me, but in no way whatsoever did I feel that way with this book.  I actually thought everything fit together perfectly.

The first person you meet will be Riley Sinclair -- she is the director of guest relations at the five-star resort, Atlantis, where this story takes place.  After her life fell completely apart, and she reached absolute rock-bottom, Riley decided that she needed to get away from everything familiar and try to start over with a clean slate.  Even though she feels like she has dealt with the heart-breaking events of her past, she soon finds out that she has a lot of emotional "baggage" locked up tight inside.  One huge lesson that Riley has yet to learn is that she can't truly move on with her life until she finally forgives herself for the tragic events from her past -- as her family, her friends, and especially her God, have already done.

The next woman to arrive at Atlantis is Tamyra Larsen, who is a "pagent" girl.  A few weeks before her arrival, she decided to sell everything she owned, including her car.  She made this extreme decision after receiving the most devastating news of her young life.  Tamyra hasn't even found the courage to tell her family what's going on, but she eventually opens up to one of the other ladies staying at the resort.  Her story was a real tear-jerker for me!

Dr. Winnie Harris is the third to arrive, and she is the most colorful character in this story.  Her crazy sayings had me laughing so hard I had tears running down my face!  You never know what's gonna come out of her mouth!  She is also one of the most caring women -- always ready to listen whenever anyone needs to talk, no matter if it's day or night.

The most famous guest is Laine Fulton.  She is a world renowned author, and has an attitude that just won't wait.  Laine was the hardest character for me to warm up to, as she gives you no reason whatsoever to like her.  She's rude, obnoxious, and just plain uncaring of other people's feelings -- at least, that's how she first comes across.  By the end of the story, she had found a special place in my heart.

There are quite a few more characters involved to help carry this story along, but I don't want to bore you to death, or give away any vital information that might ruin it in any way for someone!

Writing this review, and remembering special scenes, has almost brought me to tears once again.  I can't encourage you enough to go out and BUY a copy of this book if you have to!  Just get yourself a copy as soon as you possibly can -- it's definitely worth your time!

To find out more about Denise Hildreth and/or her books, be sure to pop over to her website.

***I would like to say a special "thank you" to Vicky Lynch of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc for sending me a review copy, via FIRST Wild Card Tours.***

To read the first chapter, CLICK HERE.



The Homecoming by Dan Walsh

First of all, let me apologize for not having my review ready to post.  I was out of town all last week, on vacation with my family, and forgot to take this book with me to read -- not that I had much quiet time to read anyway.  Our 6-year-old nephew went, too, so he kept us entertained most of the time!  We had a lot of fun, but it went by way too quickly.

I'm posting the info/synopsis about Dan's book, until I have a chance to read it, then post my review.

by Dan Walsh

Christian Fiction / Historical

Revell Publishing
Copyright 2010
Pages:  320
ISBN:  9780800733896

(from Amazon):

No sooner is Shawn Collins home from the fighting in Europe than he's called upon to serve his country as a war hero on a USO bond tour. Others might jump at the chance to travel all around the country with attractive Hollywood starlets. But not Shawn. He just wants to stay home with his son Patrick, his aging father and to grieve the loss of his wife in private. 

When Shawn asks Katherine Townsend, Patrick's former social worker, to be Patrick's nanny while he's on the road, he has no idea how this decision will impact his life. Could it be the key to his future happiness and the mending of his heart? Or will the war once again threaten his chances for a new start?

Watch for my review -- coming soon!


FIRST Wild Card Tour: Ransome's Crossing (The Ransome Trilogy, Bk 2) by Kaye Dacus

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:

Harvest House Publishers (June 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Karri James of Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***


Kaye Dacus, author of Ransome’s Honor has a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a minor in history, and a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction. Her love of the Regency era started with Jane Austen. Her passion for literature and for history come together to shape her creative, well-researched, and engaging writing

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 336 pages

Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (June 1, 2010)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0736927549

ISBN-13: 978-0736927543


Portsmouth, England

August 17, 1814

Ned Cochrane, first lieutenant, HMS Alexandra, stepped out of the jolly boat onto the stone dock and glanced around at the early morning bustle of the dockyard crew. Only nine days remained to fill the crew roster and fit out the ship with the supplies needed for the first leg of a transatlantic voyage. With yesterday lost in celebrating Captain—no, Commodore Ransome’s wedding—and since the commodore’s attention would be necessarily split between distractions on land and his duties to his ship, Ned would shoulder the burden of preparing the ship and crew.

“Sir, look out! Lieutenant Cochrane!”

Ned spun—and fell back just in time to save himself from being swept off the quay by a net full of barrels swinging at the end of a crane. His hat wasn’t so fortunate.

The cargo swayed menacingly overhead. Ned scrambled backward, out of harm’s way. Once clear, he leapt to his feet. “You, there! Watch what you’re about. Secure that crane,” he yelled at the negligent dock crew.

“Are you all right, sir?”

The voice—an odd timbre in the chorus of tenor, baritone, and bass tones usually heard in the dockyard—matched the one which had called the warning. He turned.

A young man, not really more than a boy in a worn, ill-fitting midshipman’s uniform, stood holding Ned’s dripping hat. Sure enough, the lad’s right sleeve was wet to the shoulder.

“Nothing injured but my pride.” Ned took his hat and studied the midshipman. The boy’s tall, round hat concealed most of his dark hair, but…Ned squinted against the bright glare of the sun off the water and surrounding gray stone. “Do I know you, lad?”

The boy touched the brim of the shabby hat. “Charles Lott, sir. We spoke last week. You said there might be a place for me aboard your ship.”

“Ah, yes.” Ned now recalled meeting the midshipman, who’d answered Ned’s questions when the boy had first approached him about a position aboard Alexandra last week, even the question Ned had missed the first time he’d stood for his lieutenancy examination. “I’m sorry, but we have filled the positions on Alexandra.”

Shocked disappointment filled the boy’s elfin face.

“However, I have recommended you to the captain of Audacious.” Ned struggled to keep the smile from his face.

“Audacious? Captain Yates, then?”

Ned sighed. He liked Commodore Ransome’s friend extraordinarily and had looked forward to the fun to be had on Jamaica station with two such commanders. “Alas, I am afraid to say Captain Yates has resigned his commission. Captain Parker is taking command of Audacious.” Ned glanced around the quay. “There is his first officer. Come, I shall introduce you.”

“Thank you, sir.” Midshipman Lott straightened the white collar and cuffs of his too-large coat.

Ned caught his counterpart’s attention and met him near the steps to the upper rampart. He made the introduction and stood back as the first lieutenant of Audacious, Montgomery Howe, put a series of questions to the lad. Lott answered each quickly and with near textbook precision.

“Well done, Mr. Lott. You are ordered to present yourself day after tomorrow to begin your official duties.”

The boy’s face paled. “Sir, may I have until next Thursday?”

“The day before we sail?” Howe crossed his arms and glared at Ned and then at Lott.

Ned ground his teeth at the boy’s impertinence, which was casting him—Ned—in a bad light. He’d recommended the lad, after all.

“Yes, sir. I am aware it is an inconvenience, but my mother is a widow, and I must see that she is settled—that our business affairs are settled—before I could leave on such a long journey.”

“And it will take a sennight?” Ned asked.

“We live in the north part of the country, sir. ’Tis a three days’ journey by post, sir.” Lott spoke to the cobblestones below his feet.

Aye, well should he be ashamed to make such a request…though many years ago, a newly made captain had let a newly made lieutenant have four days to see to his own widowed mother and sister.

Apparently, from the expression that flickered across Howe’s face, he had also received a similar mercy some time earlier in his career. “Very well, then. You are to present yourself to me on deck of Audacious no later than seven bells in the morning watch Thursday next. If you are late, your spot will be given to someone else. Understand?”

“Aye, sir!” Lott touched the brim of his hat again. “Thank you, sir.”

“Dismissed—oh, and Mr. Lott?”

The boy, a few paces away already, halted and turned, at attention again. “Aye, sir?”

“Make yourself more presentable by next week if you can. You can find plenty of secondhand uniforms available in the shops in much better condition than yours. And get a haircut. I do not allow midshipmen to tuck their hair under their collars.”

Lott’s hand flew to the back of his neck, eyes wide. “Aye, aye, sir.”


Ned moved to stand beside Howe as the boy ran down the quay. “Sorry for the inconvenience, Monty, but I have a feeling that boy will do well by you.”

“I’ve never heard a lad recite the answers so perfectly. He’s slight. Says he’s fifteen? Can’t be more than thirteen or fourteen.”

“Some boys don’t mature as quickly as others. You should remember that quite well.” Ned bumped his shoulder against his former berth mate’s.

Howe shoved him back. “Just because you gained height and a deeper voice before I did doesn’t mean you matured faster, Ned. In fact, you could probably learn manners in decorum and respect from little Charlie Lott.”

Ned guffawed and bade his friend farewell. He wasn’t certain if he could learn anything from the young midshipman, but he would certainly look out for him and do whatever he could to promote the boy’s interest. He had the feeling Charles Lott would make a good officer some day.

Charlotte Ransome dived behind a large shrub and held her breath. Footsteps crunched on the gravel garden path, coming toward her closer and closer.

Had he seen her?

Keep walking. Please, Lord, let him keep walking.

When he reached her shrub, Charlotte squeezed her eyes shut, fearful of blinking. If the gardener had seen and recognized her, he would report her to the Yateses, who would in turn report her to her mother and brother—and all would be lost.

A gust of wind rustled the verdure around her. Her heart thundered against her ribs, and she feared she might be sick.

But the gardener did not stop. Long after his footsteps faded, Charlotte kept to her hiding place. Quiet descended until only the noise of the streets and alleys beyond the garden walls filtered in around the enclosure behind the enormous townhouse.

Peeking around the shrub, she found the path clear once again.

Sneaking into the garden through the servants’ entrance in the rear had proven risky but successful. She hadn’t been sure she’d avoid being spotted by any of the servants, busy with their early morning duties, but Providence appeared to be with her.

She cautiously made her way across the garden to the back of the house. She peeked through the window of Collin Yates’s study and, finding it empty, slipped inside, relieved no one had discovered that she’d left it unlocked when she sneaked out of the house near dawn. She stuck her head out into the hallway, and, hearing no movement, made her way upstairs as quietly as she could. She paused on the landing and looked around the corner, down the hallway on which all of the bedrooms opened. No stirrings, no sounds. Heart pounding wildly and trying to keep her feet from touching the floor, she made her way along the thick carpet to the bedroom at the end of the hall and slipped inside, pushing the door closed with a soft click.

Movement across the room caught her eye. Turning to face the intruder, she found herself looking at a bedraggled boy in an oversized coat and britches, a tall, round hat jammed on his head almost down to his eyes.

She laughed, and the bedraggled midshipman in the mirror did likewise. Yes, her disguise was convincing enough to startle even herself. With a sigh she unbuttoned the coat and pulled it off, dropping it to the floor. When Lieutenant Cochrane had looked at her with recognition in his gray eyes, she was certain her entire plan would crash like a ship against a rocky shore. She sent up a quick prayer of thanks that he hadn’t connected her appearance as Charles Lott with her true identity.

Sinking into the chair at the dressing table, she yanked off the hat and pulled her long thick hair out from under the high collar of the uniform coat. She’d tried pinning it flat to her head, but the cumbersome length of it—past her waist when unbound—created too much bulk for even the oversized hat to conceal.

The small porcelain clock on the mantel chimed once. Half-past eight. Panic once again rising, Charlotte peeled out of the uniform—picked up for mere pennies the first time she’d been able to sneak away from her mother’s and Mrs. Yates’s chaperonage a few days ago—stuffed it in the bottom of her trunk, threw her sleeping gown over her head, and jumped into the bed, still trying to find the sleeves with her hands as the bedroom door swung quietly open.

At the thump of the water pitcher on the commode, Charlotte sat up as if awakened by the sound.

Her maid curtsied. “Good morning, miss. I brought you fresh water for washing.”

“Thank you.” Charlotte grabbed her dressing gown from the end of the bed and shrugged into it, and then she stepped behind the screen in the corner. The scent of lilacs drifted up from the warm water as she poured it into the porcelain basin in the top of the exquisite dark-wood cabinet.

After running most of the way back from the dockyard, the wet cloth felt good against her skin, especially on her neck and back where her thick braid had been pressed against her by her uniform coat.

With the maid’s assistance, she soon stood before the mirror where Midshipman Charles Lott had been reflected less than an hour ago, now looking upon a fashionable young lady. Fear that she wouldn’t be able to pull off her plan swirled in her stomach, but she pushed it aside.

“The irons are ready, miss.”

Charlotte sat at the dressing table, sipped the coffee which had been delivered while she dressed, and reviewed her plans for the next eight days as the maid twisted and twirled and pinned her hair.

Anticipation, anxiety, and excitement danced within her veins. In just over a week, she would leave Portsmouth on a grand adventure. A grand adventure that would culminate in arriving in Jamaica, being reunited with Henry Winchester, and marrying him.

“Your new rank suits you, Commodore Ransome.”

William met Julia’s green eyes in the mirror’s reflection. Sitting in the middle of the bed in her white sleeping gown, her coppery hair cascading in riotous curls around her shoulders and back, she looked as young as when he’d made the gut-wrenching decision to walk away from her twelve years ago.

Now she was his wife. His knees quaked at the thought.

He returned to the examination of his new uniform coat, delivered from the tailor just this morning. “I am indebted to your father for arranging the promotion. There are many officers more deserving. All will say I received special favor because I am now his son-in-law.”

“As you should know by now,” Julia said, climbing off the bed and crossing to her dressing table, “my father does nothing unless he thinks it best for the Royal Navy.” Drawing her hairbrush through her fountain of hair, she ambled across the colorful carpet toward him. “He secured your promotion before he knew of our engagement, so that did not have any bearing on his decision.” She pulled the mass of her hair over her left shoulder and continued pulling the soft bristles of the brush through it. “And when have you ever worried about rumors going around about your being favored by my father?” A mischievous grin quirked the corners of her full lips. “Isn’t worrying about rumors and gossip what got us here in the first place?”

The fact she’d forgiven him, that she could now joke about the past, both thrilled and humbled him. He did not deserve her.

She set the brush down and came to stand behind him, looking around him at the reflection. She ran her hand along his sleeve to the braid-laden cuff. His arm tingled in reaction. He did not want to respond to her like this—every time she spoke, moved, breathed, he lost track of everything but her. He had to conquer it; otherwise, her presence aboard ship would be detrimental to his command.

A knock on the door roused both of them. The maid Lady Dalrymple had assigned to Julia entered on Julia’s entreaty.

“I will leave you.” William inclined his head and made for the door, and then he stopped as soon as he reached it. He turned and smiled at her. “Do not be long.”

“I will join you for breakfast shortly.”

He stood in the hallway a few moments after the door closed, separating him from Julia for the first time since their wedding yesterday morning. Pleasure and regret battled within him. Marrying Julia Witherington had, in less than twenty-four hours, brought him more joy than he could ever have dreamed or deserved. Yet when he thought of his duty, of his commitment to the Royal Navy, to king and country, he couldn’t help but fear he’d made his life more difficult by marrying at such a time.

The east wing of the manor house at Brampton Park, home to Lady Dalrymple, rang with emptiness. While William appreciated the privacy afforded them by the dowager viscountess’s invitation to stay in the unused section for their wedding night—with hints she would like them to stay even longer—the grandeur of it made his skin crawl, and he could not wait until he could deposit Julia at her father’s house and return to his ship.

After two wrong turns, he managed to find the small breakfast room, unused for nearly a century according to Lady Dalrymple, since the new wing and the much larger dining room had been completed.

The small room, paneled with dark wood, set him somewhat more at ease. By ignoring the narrow, tall windows, he could almost imagine himself aboard a ship in this room.

He paced, waiting for Julia, pondering how he could recover his good sense around her. When she entered the room a little while later—queenly in a purple dress, her hair the only crown she would ever need—he realized the only way he would be able to regain control of his mind would be to limit his contact with her.

Trying not to watch her serve eggs, sausage, and toast onto her plate, nor admire the curve of her neck above the lace set into the neck of her gown, William piled food onto his own plate, held Julia’s chair for her, and then took his place at the head of the small table.

“I must return to my ship today.”

Julia stirred sugar into her coffee. “Of course. I knew you would need to spend your days preparing Alexandra for the voyage.”

He cleared his throat of the bite of egg that wished to lodge there. “What I mean is that I must return to reside aboard my ship.”

Julia’s spoon clanked against her cup. Her face paled, and the light which had danced in her eyes all morning vanished.

William’s innards clenched. Perhaps he should have eased into the idea instead of blurting it out. He blamed it on her. He could not think clearly in her presence.

“Have…have you received word from your crew that there is trouble?” Her voice quavered.

“No. It is nothing like that.” Unable to stop himself, he reached across the corner of the table and took her hand in his. “My duty is to my ship, to my crew. I am needed there. Here, my attentions and loyalty are divided.”

For a brief moment, Julia’s chin quivered. But she pressed her lips together and drew in a deep breath. “I understand. And I have no desire to draw you away from your duties. I have already created too much inconvenience and upheaval in your life. I do not wish to generate more. However, I have promised Lady Dalrymple we would join her tonight for her dinner and card party as her honored guests. If we were to abdicate from her hospitality today, how would that reflect on her?”

Though well masked, the pain in Julia’s expression made William want to retract his words, to promise her he would stay here with her the remainder of the time they had in England. Any other woman would have been offended by his blundering, unreasonable demand. Julia apologized for inconveniencing him.

He raised her hand and kissed the back of it. “Aye. We will stay one more night.” Then, giving in to impulse, he leaned over, cupped that quivering chin, and claimed her lips in a searing kiss. “And I will not have you thinking yourself an inconvenience to me.”

His action resulted in the desired effect—the spark rekindled in her green eyes. She ran her finger along his jaw. “You lie too well, Commodore Ransome.”

“You start off our marriage ill, Mrs. Ransome, if you believe I would ever lie to you.” He squeezed her hand and then tucked in to his breakfast.

“Conceal the hard truth, then,” she said, cocking her head and sending the spiral curls at her temples dancing, “for the last few days have not been a convenience to you.”

“An upheaval, certainly.” He feigned a close interest in the piece of sausage speared on his fork. “However, any inconvenience I have suffered has been more than adequately recompensed not just by gaining a wife, but by finally receiving the complete approbation of my admiral.”

Julia’s gasp preceded a gale of laughter.

A surge of contentment washed away the morning’s anxieties. Perhaps being married would not interfere with his duty to the navy as severely as he’d feared.

Watch for my review -- coming soon!!


FIRST Wild Card Tour: Love on a Dime by Cara Lynn James

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:

Thomas Nelson (June 1, 2010) 

***Special thanks to Katie Bond of Thomas Nelson for sending me a review copy.***


Cara Lynn James is a debut writer who has received numerous contest awards from Romance Writers of America chapters and the American Christian Fiction Writers. She resides in northwest Florida with her husband Jim. They have two grown children, Justin and Alicia; a grandson, Damian; and Papillion named Sparky.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595546790
ISBN-13: 978-1595546791


P rolo g u e

N e w Y o r k C i t y , M ay 1 8 9 3

Jack slowed his pace, his courage once more waning at
the sight of the Westbrook home across the way. Anxiety

twisted his stomach in a knot. But in the dusky light,

Lilly’s glow of confidence reignited his own flame. She

understood her parents far better than he did. Since she believed her father

would agree to the marriage, why should he hesitate?

Arm-in-arm they strolled across the road. Among the row of

fine brick townhouses facing them, the Westbrook house stood

three stories tall like all the rest, with long, paned windows overlooking

Washington Park.

Mr. Ames, the ancient butler, opened the front door. Jack and

Lilly entered the dimly lit foyer.

“Where is my father this evening?” Lilly asked the butler.

“In the back parlor, miss.”

“Shall I go with you, Jack?”

“No,” he whispered, squeezing her hand, “I’d rather do this

on my own. Say a prayer all will go well.”

Jack strode toward the parlor, determined to plead his case.

Every nerve ending in his body fired with life—and more than

a few with apprehension. He’d calm himself and then ask Mr.

Westbrook for Lilly’s hand in a respectful tone, solicitous, but

not fawning. He’d restrain his usual brash attitude and hope Mr.

Westbrook would consent to a marriage most would deem unsuitable.

If he weighed the odds of success, he wouldn’t even try.

Jack inhaled a steadying breath and increased his pace down

the narrow hallway leading to the back of the house. Gas sconces

threw a pale light along the Persian runner that muffled his footsteps

to a soft shuffle. The house lay silent except for the noise of

a sledge hammer beating against his chest.

Lord, I need a large dose of Your strength. Don’t allow me to cower.

I’ve never been a quitter and I don’t want to start now.

He hadn’t asked God for much in the past, but this was too

important to rely on his own untested powers.

Jack paused before he came to the door of the back parlor,

straightened his bow tie, and squared his shoulders. Voices stopped

him before he moved forward. He recognized Mrs. Westbrook’s

high, girlish tone. He’d wait for a lull in the conversation, excuse

his entry, and then ask to speak to Mr. Westbrook. Jack waited for

several minutes before he heard his name.

“Thomas, I noticed Jackson Grail seems especially fond of

Lilly. You don’t suppose he wants to marry her, do you?”

Jack winced at the worry in her voice. With his back to the

wall he stepped closer to the parlor.

Mr. Westbrook chuckled. “No, my dear, he’s George ’s friend,

not Lilly’s. She ’s hardly more than a child.”

“For goodness’ sake. Lilly’s nineteen, certainly old enough to

catch the eye of a young man.”

“All right, she ’s not my little girl anymore. But ready for marriage?

No, Nessie, I don’t believe so. She has lots of time to choose

a mate. There ’s no rush.”

“Hmm. I wouldn’t want her to delay too long. I’ve given considerable

thought to her future.”

“I’m sure you have,” Mr. Westbrook murmured. Jack pictured

his wry smile.

“Well, it’s my duty as her mother to guide her. Oliver Cross

or Pelham Mills come to mind as possible suitors. Maybe Harlan

Santerre. He’s such a polite young man and his mother and I have

been friends since childhood. Yes, he’s most definitely my first


Jack let out the breath he’d been holding, knowing he should

break away, cease his eavesdropping—

“They’re all acceptable to me. But what about young Grail?

You say he might be interested in her. He’s got a good head on his


“But no money in his pocket. Need I say more?”

Jack frowned and tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry.

Mr. Westbrook sighed. “No, my dear. You’re absolutely right.

He’s not suitable, though I do like him.”

“I do as well. And now he’s as finely educated as our own

George. But he would have to strike it rich quickly in order to court

Lilly,” Mrs. Westbrook added. “And that’s highly unlikely.”

“Nearly impossible, I’m afraid. So I hope you’re wrong and

young Grail hasn’t set his heart on Lilly.” Her father sighed. “He’s

an intelligent boy. I’m sure he’d know better. Especially when she

has an ambitious mama anxious to make her the perfect match.”

Mrs. Westbrook laughed. “Thomas, do stop your teasing.”

Jack bumped his shoulder against the curlicues of a large gilt

picture frame. Turning to give it a hard shove, he stopped himself.

He wouldn’t let his temper get the better of him. Leaving the oil

painting crooked, he stumbled down the patterned runner, away

from the awful voices. When he came to the foyer he dropped into

a rosewood chair and ignored the curious stare from Mr. Ames.

Jack buried his head in his hands and tried to gather his wits

before he had to face Lilly. But the Westbrooks’ conversation

resounded through his mind. Poor. Unsuitable. Why had he ever

thought they’d accept him as a son-in-law? His love for Lilly had

banished all reason. He’d lived in a fog of hope these last several

months, but now it cleared.

At the sound of light footsteps he looked up. “What did Papa

say?” Lilly asked, grasping his hands.

He glanced at her without speaking and then saw his own

anguish reflected in her eyes. He so wished his answer could bring

her joy. She gently pulled him into the dimly lit sitting room. The

sheers and heavy velvet curtains blocked all but the final rays of

daylight from seeping through the windows overlooking the park.

They faced each other in front of the unlit marble fireplace, his arms

tight around her slim waist, her hands lightly touching his vest.

“Tell me,” she said in a rasping voice, barely audible.

“I never had the chance to ask, Lilly. When I got to the back

parlor your parents were already discussing appropriate husbands.

And my name wasn’t on the list.”

“That’s because they don’t know we love each other. Papa

has never refused me anything. It might take some persuasion, but

you can do it. We can approach him together.”

Lovely, pampered Lilly, who owned her father’s heart—

except when it came to marriage partners. And marriage among

the rich was certainly a business transaction. Their kind never

married Jack’s kind. He’d gone to St. Luke ’s and Yale with the

wealthy, but as a scholarship student, he didn’t belong to their set

no matter how hard he tried to fit in. Maybe he would’ve accepted

the impenetrable barrier if Lilly hadn’t swept into his life.

He gazed at her, drinking in her passion, memorizing her

large, expressive eyes and flawless skin, her tall, slender form and

thick brown hair framing her face.

Her eyes blazed like blue fire. “Come. We ’ll speak to Papa.

Right now.”

Jack caught her wrists. “No, I can’t. I’m so sorry. He won’t change

his mind. It’s pointless to even ask.” Save me the humiliation.

Her strangled cry pierced his heart. “You won’t even try? We

love each other. Isn’t that worth fighting for?” Lilly’s voice rose

with disbelief.

How could he explain he couldn’t abide her father’s rejection?

He refused to hear again that he wasn’t good enough to court

Lilly—once was enough. And he didn’t want her to elope with

him without her parents’ approval. Jack groaned. As much as he

adored Lilly, he wasn’t acceptable to the family. The daughter of

a prosperous banker, Lilly couldn’t marry a man without a family


“We can marry without their consent. You’ll find a good job.

I know you will. Don’t you see, Jack, we don’t need my parents’


“But I want their respect.” And he’d never gain their esteem

by stealing their daughter away. He turned from her, running a

hand through his hair. He ’d been fooling himself. How could

he provide for Lilly, care for her in a manner in which she was

accustomed? What could he promise her? A one room apartment

in a dingy part of town while he made his way in the world,

if he ever made it at all. How long before his beautiful, young

and idealistic bride would realize she ’d sacrificed too much for

an improbable dream? He ’d harm her if he stole her from her


He glanced at her and could see in her face the stubborn, naïve

hope that lingered there. But he understood reality as she never

would. He ’d let his love blossom before he should have.

Jack slowly moved away, steeling himself for the hurt yet

to come. “Your parents are right. I’m in no position to marry. I

should never have proposed, because I have nothing to offer.”

Lilly rushed to him and flung her arms around his neck, tears

spilling down her cheeks. “What about our love? Why do you

need more than that?”

“Lilly, we can’t exist on dreams. I have to earn a living. And I

can’t support you on a clerk’s salary. You’d miss your old life.”

Her lovely, soft features hardened. “You must think my love

is too weak to withstand hardship. It’s strong enough to survive

anything. Why do you doubt me so?”

Jack shook his head. “I doubt myself, not you.” What if her

confidence in his abilities weren’t warranted? What if he never

rose above petty clerk, despite his fancy education? A girl from a

society family, proud and successful for generations, could never

be content washing laundry, cooking meals, and scrubbing floors

on her hands and knees. She ’d grow bitter and resentful.

“I can adapt to less. I don’t care about a beautiful home. I only

want you,” she said, her voice rising with frustration.

He wouldn’t argue about the effects of poverty and how it

wore on a person. She wouldn’t understand. “If we came from

the same background, I wouldn’t hesitate to speak to your father.

But we didn’t.”

“But you will. I know it. I’ll wait until you feel ready to marry

me. There’s no hurry. I’m patient. I can wait forever.” She pleaded

with beautiful eyes glistening with tears.

“No, please don’t wait for me.” Jack’s voice cracked like ice.

He wanted her to wait, but he couldn’t ruin her chances of

making a suitable, maybe even a happy marriage. The odds of

succeeding in the business world without connections were small.

If and when he’d proven himself, he’d return and hope she ’d still

want him. And forgive him. But he couldn’t ask her to wait.

He blotted her tears with his handkerchief, but they kept

streaming down her face. Her slender shoulders heaved with soft

sobs. He kissed her again gently and then retreated to his bedroom

before he was tempted to crush her in his arms and beg her to

elope. He’d planned to stay for the week as George ’s guest, but

now he needed to leave quickly.

Within ten minutes he was gone.

Jack’s heart slammed against his ribs. The past two weeks had

been a misery. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t eat. Go back, go back!

his mind and heart screamed. You’ve made a terrible mistake!

His stomach roiling, Jack fought to keep a dignified pace and

not run all the way to Washington Square. At last, he stood before

the Westbrook home and tapped the front door knocker against

the heavy wood.

He’d explain he couldn’t manage without her and his infernal

pride had blocked his common sense and their tender love. Would

she accept his apology? They’d work something out. He didn’t

know how exactly, but they would. He knew their union was sanctioned,

indeed designed, by God.

Mr. Ames pulled the heavy door open. “May I help you, sir?”

“Yes. Is Miss Westbrook at home?”

The hunched-over butler shook his head. “They’ve all gone

abroad. They sailed yesterday.”

Jack’s cautious optimism collapsed in a heap of despair. “And

when will they return?”

“Next spring.”

Next spring. Jack groaned. “G-Good day,” he mumbled, turning

from the door.

I’m too late. I’ve lost her.

On e

N e w p o rt , R h o d e I s l a n d — J u ly 1 8 9 9

Six years later

With a deep sigh of satisfaction, Lilly Westbrook

whipped the last page of her manuscript out of

the Underwood typewriter. Carefully she shredded

the carbon and threw the messy strips into the wastebasket. No


maid could possibly reconstruct her work and tattle

to Mama.

For a moment, a wave of sadness overshadowed the pleasure

she felt at finishing another story. How she longed to share her

secret with her mother, but as much as Lilly hated deception, she

knew Mama would never understand. Mama was proud of her for

dabbling in poetry, but this?

No. It was best to stay behind closed doors to write her dime


Lilly shuddered to think of the disgrace she ’d bring upon herself

and, even worse, upon her family, if her secret was revealed.

The very notion of social ostracism weakened her knees and left

her legs wobbly. A twinge of guilt pinched her conscience as it

often did when she considered her concealment. Yet why look for

trouble when her work was progressing so well?

Lilly scrubbed her hands until all evidence of the carbon paper

and inky ribbon disappeared into the washbasin near her bed, then

covered the typewriter Mama had given her as a birthday gift a

few years before. Mama thought a typing machine unnecessary

for a poet, but she wasn’t one to begrudge her children anything

within reason.

Lilly withdrew a letter from her skirt pocket and smiled as she

re-read the last lines.

My dear Lilly,

I want to again express my thanks for all you’ve contributed to

the Christian Settlement House of New York. We so value the time

and effort you have devoted to assisting our young ladies with their

sundry life skills and English fluency. Your exceptional generosity

and financial support have enabled us to continue our work in accordance

with the Lord’s purposes.


Phoebe Diller, Director

Miss Diller’s kind words sent a rush of warmth to Lilly’s heart

and strengthened her resolve to continue writing. For without the

profits from her novels, she couldn’t afford to donate more than

a few dollars to her favorite charity. How could she possibly quit

writing when her romance novels provided so many blessings to


Lilly locked the final chapter in the rolltop desk by the bay

window and hid the key beneath the lining of her keepsake box.

Time for a well-deserved walk by the sea. She removed her reading

spectacles and placed her straw hat decorated with bright

poppies squarely on top of her upswept hair. After a last furtive

glance toward the desk, she left her bedroom to the morning sunshine

that splashed across the shiny oak floor and floral carpet.

All the way down the staircase she congratulated herself for

typing “The End” of her story, though it was only a few days

before deadline. That was much too close for comfort. She sighed.

Too many social events had disrupted her normal writing routine

this summer. But she had no choice but to force a smile and

attend the functions, even though most of them bored her to


She wouldn’t think of that now. At least she’d finished the manuscript

before the deadline and for that she’d treat herself to a few

minutes out of her room. With a light heart, she strolled through

the deserted foyer, past Mr. Ames, the butler, and out the front

door. A beautiful day greeted her with its sun-blessed smile.

As she crossed the veranda, her sister-in-law Irene Westbrook,

seated at the end of the porch, peered over a small, familiar book.

The lurid cover of Lilly’s latest novel, Dorothea’s Dilemma,

popped out in garish color. Lilly stopped short and pressed her

palm over her gyrating heart.

“Oh my,” she murmured. She’d never expected to see one of

her novels in her own home, let alone in the hands of her brother’s


Irene smoothed her halo of silky blonde curls caught up in a

loose pompadour. She laid the slim paperback on her lap, her eyes

gleaming with curiosity. “Why hello, Lilly. Where have you been

on this beautiful afternoon? Cooped up in your bedroom again?

My goodness, what do you do in there all day?”

“Sometimes I enjoy a few hours of solitude.” Lilly’s nerves

seized control of her voice and it rose like the screech of a seagull.

“I’m sorry I interrupted your reading.” Heat crept into her skin as

Irene watched her, face aglow with interest.

“Do sit down, Lilly.”

She slipped into a wicker chair opposite Irene. A gust of

salty air, typical of Newport’s summer weather, blew in from the

Atlantic and brushed its cool breath across her cheeks. She prayed

it would fade the red splotches that came so easily when embarrassment


Irene cocked her head. “Is something wrong? You look positively


“No, I’m fine.” Though every fiber of her body continued to

quiver, Lilly steadied her breathing. She folded her hands in the

lap of her charcoal-gray skirt and willed them not to shake.

“You aren’t shocked by my novel, are you?” Irene smirked.

“Of course not.” Lilly squirmed around on the soft chintz

cushion and avoided Irene ’s skeptical stare. “Why should I be


Irene leaned forward. “Some people claim dime novels are

trash, and from your reaction I thought you might be one of those

faultfinders. Of course they’re wrong. These books are filled with

adventure and I love adventure.” She rolled the last word around

her tongue like a stream of honey.

Irene, the niece of Quentin Kirby, one of San Francisco’s

silver kings, fancied herself an adventuress, but Lilly inwardly

disagreed. Irene merely appreciated fun and frivolity more than

most. That hardly made her a woman like the heroines of Lilly’s

books. “I’m so sorry, Irene. I didn’t mean to criticize your choice

of books. I just wondered where you obtained your copy.”

“I discovered it in the kitchen while I was searching for a

blueberry tart.” Irene grinned as if Lilly ought to admire her


“One of the scullery maids must have left it there.”

“You took it without asking permission?” Lilly could scarcely

believe Irene had wandered downstairs to the basement kitchen,

the domain of servants who strongly disapproved of visitors,

even the family.

“Why yes. Well no, not exactly. I borrowed it. As soon as I finish

reading, I’ll give it back. Of course.”

Irene tapped the big, red letters spelling out the author’s name

across the cover. “Fannie Cole. She’s a splendid writer, the very

best. Have you ever read any of her books? I devour them like


Lilly’s heart lurched. “Naturally I’ve heard of her. I believe

her stories are rather popular.”

“They’re enthralling.”

At the sound of the front door squeaking open, Lilly looked

away with relief.

Mama bustled onto the veranda, a frown knitting her eyebrows.

“What’s that about Fannie Cole? She’s quite infamous, I

hear.” Glancing from Lilly to Irene, Mama’s eyelashes fluttered, a

sure sign of agitation. “Oh, I see you have one of her books . . .”

Lilly knew her mother couldn’t let this breach of propriety

pass without comment. On the other hand, the kind and ever

tactful Vanessa Westbrook would hate to offend her new daughter-in-


“Mama, Fannie Cole writes harmless fiction. You needn’t

worry.” Lilly smiled her assurance, hoping she’d veer off to

another topic.

Her mother sunk into a wicker chair beside Irene. “Perhaps,

my dear, but you must admit, there are so many more uplifting

novels.” She patted Irene ’s arm, which was robed in a cream silk

blouse that matched the lace of her skirt. “Lillian is a poet, you

know. Her work is delightful. You must read it. I’ll go fetch you

a copy.”

Lilly cringed. “No, Mama. I wrote those poems years ago. She

wouldn’t be interested in the meanderings of an eighteen-yearold

ninny. It’s sentimental tripe.”

“Nonsense, my dear. You’ve always been much too critical of


“Nevertheless, I’m sure Irene would prefer Fannie Cole.”

Who wouldn’t? Lilly thought. Still, she appreciated her mother’s

enthusiasm for her meager literary efforts.

Irene tossed her a wide, grateful smile. “There, that’s settled.”

Mama’s round, girlish face tightened with distaste. “I wish

you wouldn’t read dime novels because . . .” She looked toward

Lilly for support.

“Really, Mama.” Lilly softened her voice, not meaning to

scold. “While some of the dime novels are sensational, others are

written to help working girls avoid the pitfalls of city life. They’re

moralistic tales that encourage virtue. Nothing to be ashamed of

reading.” Or writing.

“Exactly.” Irene beamed. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Of course, I read for the story, not the moral lesson, but I’m sure

it’s beneficial for those who enjoy a good sermon.”

Lilly suppressed a sigh of resignation. “No doubt Miss Cole

hopes and prays her words touch the hearts of her readers and

bring them closer to the Lord.” Lilly looked at Mama and Irene,

hoping they’d somehow understand her purpose and approve.

But both looked puzzled over her words.

Irene ’s gaze narrowed. “An odd way to spread the gospel,

don’t you think?”

“Not at all. The Lord is more creative than we are.” Lilly

bristled and then glanced away when she found her mother and

sister-in-law still staring at her.

She’d spoken up much more forcefully than she intended.

With a sinking heart, Lilly realized Mama would never accept her

viewpoint; it flew in the face of beliefs and opinions ingrained

since childhood.

Irene picked up a sheet of paper resting on a small table between

two pots of ferns and waved it like a flag on the Fourth of July. Lilly

immediately recognized Talk of the Town, a gossip rag published

by that scandalmonger, Colonel MacIntyre, the bane of Newport

society. He shot fear into the hearts of all upstanding people and

others who weren’t quite so virtuous. Lilly swallowed hard.

Mama gasped. Her pale skin whitened. “Oh my dear, that’s

hardly appropriate for a respectable home.”

Irene shrugged. “Perhaps not. But if you don’t mind my saying

so, it’s great fun to read. I’m learning the crème de la crème

of Newport are up to all kinds of mischief.” She laughed with


“Listen to this.” Irene leaned forward. “One hears that Miss

Fannie Cole, author of wildly popular dime novels, has taken up residence

at one of the ocean villas for the season. The talk about town

claims this writer of sensational—some might even say salacious—

stories, belongs to the New York and Newport aristocracy. Which of our

fine debutantes or matrons writes under the nom de plume, Fannie Cole?

Speculation runs rampant. Would the talented but mysterious author of

Dorothea’s Dilemma, Hearts in Tune, and several other delectable

novels please come forward and identify herself for her public?”

Lilly’s throat closed. She clamped her hands down on her lap,

but they shook like a hummingbird’s wings. Had a maid or a footman

stumbled across her secret and sold the information? Colonel

Rufus MacIntyre of Talk of the Town paid handsomely for gossip.

No one was safe from his long, grasping tentacles, including some

of the most prominent people in society.

“The colonel has mentioned Miss Cole in his column for the

last two weeks, so I expect we’ll hear more about her during the

summer.” Irene grinned as she studied the sheet. “I wonder who

she is. I’d love to meet her.”

Mama’s mouth puckered into a small circle. “Undoubtedly

someone from the wrong side of the tracks. No one we’d know.”

She punctuated her words with a firm nod.

Irene persisted. “You must have an idea, Lilly. You seem to

know everything that’s going on in society.”

Lilly turned away, sure that a red stain had again spilled across

her pale skin. Her sister-in-law was right. She did listen to all the

tittle-tattle, but she prided herself on her discretion. The foibles

of her set provided grist for her novels, not for spreading rumors

and innuendo.

“You give me far too much credit, Irene.” She hated to dodge

questions to keep from lying, but what was her option short of

confessing? She twisted the cameo at the neck of her tailored


Mama wagged her finger. “Mark my words. By the end of

the summer someone will discover Fannie Cole’s true name and

announce it to the entire town. Oh, my. What humiliation she ’ll

bring upon her family. They’ll be mortified.”

“How delicious,” Irene murmured.

Lilly groaned inwardly. Her subterfuge gnawed at her conscience,

worsening day by day, but she couldn’t turn back the

clock and reconsider her decision to write in secret.

She rose. “Will you excuse me? I need to take my walk now.”

With her head held high and as much poise as she could muster,

Lilly descended the veranda’s shallow steps. She strode across

the wide, sloping lawn that surrounded Summerhill, the old

twenty-two-room mansion the Westbrooks rented for the season.

Once she reached the giant rocks that separated the grounds

from the ocean, she picked her way over to a smooth boulder that

doubled for a bench. As she ’d done every day since her arrival

three weeks ago, Lilly settled onto its cold surface. Instead of

watching the breakers pound against the coast and absorb the majesty

of nature ’s rhythm, she rested her head in her hands and let

the breeze brush against her face.

What would happen if her beau, Harlan Santerre, discovered

that she and Fannie Cole were the same person? The wealthy railroad

heir, a guest of the family for the eight weeks of summer,

miraculously seemed ripe to propose. Her mother kept reminding

her how grateful she should be that such a solid, upstanding man

as Harlan Santerre had shown interest in a twenty-five-year-old

spinster with no grand fortune and no great beauty. Mama and the

entire family would be humiliated if her writing became public

knowledge and Harlan turned his attention elsewhere.

Yet the Holy Ghost had urged her to compose her simple stories,

and as she wrote, her melancholy gradually faded. Her enthusiasm

never waned thanks to the joy she received from doing the Lord’s


Why would He allow someone to ruin her and end the good

deeds she accomplished? He should smite her enemies instead. All

her life she ’d trusted the Lord to guide her and protect her, but

never had she needed His help more than now. But would He continue

to shield her?

Trembling, Lilly tossed a stone into the roiling surf and

watched it sink into the foamy white waves. What if the surge

of curiosity aroused by Colonel MacIntyre didn’t fade away and

everything she held dear was threatened?

Watch for my review -- coming soon!


FIRST Wild Card Tour: Seeds of Summer (Seasons of the Tallgrass, Book 2) by Deborah Vogts

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:

Zondervan (May 21, 2010)
***Special thanks to Londa Alderink of Zondervan for sending me a review copy.***


Deborah Vogts and her husband have three daughters and make their home in Southeast Kansas where they raise and train American Quarter Horses. As a student at Emporia State University studying English and journalism, Deborah developed a love for the Flint Hills that has never faded. In writing this series, she hopes to share her passion for one of the last tallgrass prairie regions in the world, showing that God’s great beauty rests on the prairie and in the hearts of those who live there.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 21, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 031029276X
ISBN-13: 978-0310292760


Five Months Later

Metal scraped against metal, waking Natalie from a restless sleep. Again, the screech came from outside. With a reluctant groan, she forced herself from her cotton sheets and fumbled in the dark to find her boots.

What was out there? And why wasn't Jessie barking?

She slipped her bare feet into leather ropers, then hurried from the bedroom down the stairs, hoping she wouldn't rouse her younger siblings. An instant foreboding caused her to grab the shotgun her dad always kept behind the back door. Natalie loaded it with a couple of shells before heading to the porch -- just in case. As her eyes adjusted to the outside darkness, she distinguished the faint outline of a truck backed up to the barn entrance. She crept through the barnyard.

“Who's there?” Her voice wavered as she clutched the wooden forearm of the aged Winchester, prepared to fire a warning shot at the moon if necessary.

A small beam of light darted inside the old limestone barn, then disappeared.

“Tom, is that you?” Natalie eased her finger closer to the trigger.

Silence. Then the hollow clamor of feed buckets knocked to the ground as though someone had tripped over them.

Natalie held her breath. Her heart thumped wildly against her chest as she thought about the recent thefts in the county. If only her dad were here.

But he's not, and you're in charge. Slow, mechanical breaths helped her to see this might be nothing more than their hired hand returning from a night at the bar. She knew little about Tom Walker, but the idea that he'd been out with friends on a Friday night was more probable than not.

A tall figure edged from the shadows. Natalie recognized the pale shock of curls highlighted by the luminous night.

“Hey there, don't shoot.” The ranch employee rested his hands on his head. “I was only putting some stuff away in the barn.”

“Working kind of late, aren't you?”

“Just got back from a rodeo.” Tom's voice grew louder as he approached. “Sorry if I frightened you.”

Natalie lowered the shotgun, then gazed up at the sky, relief lodged in her throat. “You could've turned on the barn lights. At least then I wouldn't have thought someone was sneaking around out here.”

“Didn't want to wake the house.”

In the faint moonlight, she caught the glint of an uneasy smile on the man's face. “How'd you do?”

“Tough night for steer wrestling.”

Natalie knew all about rodeo and tough nights. “There'll be others.”

He dropped his arms, and she noticed Jessie at his side. No wonder the faithful border collie hadn't barked. Suddenly aware of how she must look, she combed her fingers through her wayward locks. Dressed in baggy shorts, a torn T-shirt, and a pair of pink boots, she held little resemblance to her former title as Miss Rodeo Kansas, or of a rancher either.

And that's what she was now -- a twenty-two-year-old ranch owner in the Flint Hills of Charris County, Kansas. She shook her head, confounded by the turn of events her life had taken in the past week. “Well, I'm sorry for interrupting your work. I'll let you get back to your business.” Hoping he wouldn't sense her despair, she turned toward the house. As she did, an engine revved in the near distance. Tracing the noise, she saw a truck tear from behind the barn, its headlights aimed for the lane.

Staggering backward, she almost dropped her father's shotgun but somehow managed to bring the wooden stock to her shoulder. “Hey, you there,” she called out. “Stop or I'll shoot.”

The truck vaulted onto the dirt road and spun gravel as it sped away. Speechless, Natalie lowered the gun and whirled toward the hired hand, expecting him to go after the culprits sneaking around her father's barn.

Then she acknowledged the panic in the man's eyes.

“What were you and your buddies doing in there?” Her brows crinkled, and she instantly thought the worst. Dark barn, suspicious behavior. Had they been doing drugs, or were they stealing?

“It's not what you think.” The hostility in the air pricked her skin as the man stepped closer. He stood a half-foot taller than her own five-foot-eight.

Natalie gripped the shotgun, her palms damp with sweat. Did she have the guts to shoot a man? She aimed the barrel at his chest. “Is this how you're going to honor my father? By stealing from him? He's not been dead a week.”

“The boys and I --we were just having some fun --talking was all.” His gentle voice caressed her.

Natalie recognized the seduction of his lie --the flicker of deceit in his eyes. “In the dark?”

“No law against talking in the dark.” He reached in her direction, much too close for her comfort.

She shoved his lanky body back with the metal barrel and thought of all the work they needed to accomplish the next day unloading and sorting cattle. Could she and the kids get along without his help if she fired him? Could she trust him to tell the truth?

His lips pulled into a pout. “Come on, Miss Adams. I've been with your dad for nearly six months. He trusted me. We weren't doing nothing wrong ... honest.”

Natalie searched the man's eyes for a hint of sincerity. “Swear on your mama's grave?” Even as the words came from her mouth, she knew she was a fool to trust him.

“Better -- I'll swear on your daddy's.”

Natalie's throat swelled as hot tears threatened to fall. Her good judgment now clouded with grief, she eased the barrel toward the ground and shook her head in embarrassment. “I guess the stress is getting to me. Sorry for being so jumpy.”

Tom nodded in understanding. “No need to apologize. A person can't be too careful these days -- especially a young woman like yourself. It's good I'm around for protection.”

Natalie disregarded his remark, finding no comfort in it. Her gut twisted at the vulnerable position her father's death had placed her in as Tom drifted back to the darkness of the barn. With a weary sigh, she studied the moon above. Like a shooting star, her life had changed in an instant and no matter how much she wished it, not even the crickets or the moaning bullfrogs could set it right again.

Returning to the house, she peeked in on her twelve-year-old brother, asleep in his upstairs bedroom. His tranquil face reflected no worries, no hint of strain from their recent ordeal.

Oh, that her rest could be as peaceful.

When Natalie opened the door to her sister's bedroom, she failed to make out a form under the covers. A flick of the light revealed Chelsey's bed hadn't been slept in. She glanced about the room, and then noticed the splay of curtains caught in a warm breeze from the open dormer window. Natalie darted back to Dillon's room.

“Where's Chelsey?” She jiggled her brother's leg and watched the young boy rouse from a deep sleep.

Dillon rubbed his eyes and sat up in bed. “What?”

“Chelsey's not in her room. Do you have any idea where she might be? Out with friends? A party somewhere?”

Her brother shook his head, then yawned. “I heard her talking on the phone to Lucas earlier. Maybe she's with him.”

Natalie's mouth grew taut. Nothing good ever happened past midnight, and it was now close to two. She hoped the reckless teenagers weren't in a ditch somewhere.

A loud thump from Chelsey's room caused those thoughts to evaporate.

Natalie rounded the hallway to find her fifteen-year-old sister crumpled on the bedroom floor.

Chelsey raised her head, her eyes glazed. “Hey, sis.” Her words came out slurred as she tried to stand. “Did ya miss me?”

Watch for my review -- coming soon!


FIRST Wild Card Tour: Hurricanes in Paradise by Denise Hildreth

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (May 10, 2010)

***Special thanks to Vicky Lynch of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc for sending me a review copy.***


Denise Hildreth is a novelist and international speaker. She has spoken for the last ten years to women's ministries, churches, and for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Denise began her career over seventeen years ago writing for other people. She eventually ventured into the world of fiction with her first novel, Savannah from Savannah, and has since published several books. Her novels have been featured in Southern Living; hailed as "smart and witty" by Library Journal; and chosen for the Pulpwood Queen's and Women of Faith book clubs.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (May 10, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414335571
ISBN-13: 978-1414335575


Saturday morning . . .

The salt air of the Caribbean rushed through the open sliding-glass door with the force of a tropical storm gust and blew a picture frame on her coffee table to the floor, reminding Riley Sinclair that her second chance at life was just as fragile. Her bare feet stepped onto the warm concrete of the small balcony, and she leaned against the iron railing. Her pajama pants blew between the teal-painted slats as a soft curl swept in front of her face, its color as dark as the black tank top she wore.

She closed her eyes and breathed in, the oxygen traveling all the way to her toes. This was the smell she knew, the scent of her memories. She also knew the teasing dance that hurricanes played on the coastal waters. And this tropical paradise that she now resided in had avoided another close call in Hurricane Jesse. But rumor had it a new storm churned in the Atlantic. And though the Bahamas had avoided each storm this year, the mere chance was never good for business. She exhaled deliberately and released anything else that needed to go. The first prayer of the day was offered as the sun pressed its way through dissipating clouds.

When the discourse of her morning was over, she headed back inside to get some Dr Pepper, her new a.m. sugar kick of choice. The South knew how to grow its women proper, raise its boys to be gentlemen, and make its tea sweet. But Bahamians had no idea they were as southern as you could get, so sweet tea wasn’t a readily accessible commodity here. So she had switched to Dr Pepper.

She knew that amount of sugar probably wasn’t an ideal breakfast companion, but she figured if that was the only addiction she possessed after what she’d been through, she’d fared pretty well. She set her liquid sunshine down and turned the sleek silver shower handle upward to let the water heat up to just below scalding. When steam had taken over the shower door and made its way to the bathroom mirror, she entombed herself. As warm water cascaded over her, the low, melodic sounds of her hum reverberated through the stone bathroom. She closed her eyes and began to sing softly, letting the thickness of her alto voice take up the spaces the steam had left vacant.

The shower was over when she was finished singing. She dried off, dressed, and released her hair from a large clip; it fell to the center of her back as she glanced at her reflection in the mirror.

There were days she could see it. This was one of them.

Life had come back into her almost-thirty-nine-year-old face. It was as if she got younger with each day that moved her farther from her past. And sometimes, like today, she could actually see it in her eyes. They were alive. Even her laughter had changed. Okay, come back. And every time it arrived, she could feel it travel from somewhere in her gut. It was real. And it was wonderful. Yet still slightly foreign. But she was so grateful for it. And if it brought new lines with it, that was a fair trade. She’d trade the aged face of stress for a new one streaked with laugh lines as willingly as the gamblers here traded dollars for chips.

She gave her reflection a smile and pulled the taupe silk top over her head, then readied her face for the day. Now she was ready to face the biggest challenge of her day: waking Gabby.

The distance from her bedroom to Gabby’s was three full steps. Though at five foot two, for her, it was more like five. Even though the condo was only a little over nine hundred square feet, she and Gabby didn’t require much; plus it was right on the Atlantis property and a blessing of a deal for this season in her life. And it was peaceful. She was more than willing to sacrifice her four thousand square feet of turmoil for nine hundred square feet of peace.

The twin bed gave slightly beneath her weight as she sat down and pushed the curls that hid Gabby’s tiny face. They brushed across the Cinderella nightgown and fell over her shoulder. Riley relished this brief moment without her mouth moving. Since Gabby had learned to talk, she hadn’t stopped. That’s why Gabriella had quickly been shortened to Gabby.

She leaned over and pressed her mouth against the soft skin of her little girl’s face. Her words swept past Gabby’s ear. “Time to get up, sunshine. You’ve got to get ready for school.”

The tiny frame wriggled beneath the white down comforter. Long black eyelashes tugged at each other before they finally broke free and revealed eyes that carried as much variety of blue as the Bahamian ocean. Even though Bahamian waters could be as unique as aquamarine, as taunting as turquoise, and as regal as royal blue, they were the only waters distinguishable from space. Gabby’s eyes were able to transform as well, but Riley could recognize them from space too.

Gabby rubbed her eyes with the backs of her fists. Her mouth opened wide as she yawned away some of her sleepiness. Then she rolled over.

“Come on, Gabby. You’ve got to get up.” Riley rubbed her back. “It’s a big day, remember?”

Gabby rolled over and forced her eyes open. “I’m going to the science museum today.”

Riley stood up from the bed. “That’s right. Are you still taking Ted?”

Gabby slipped quickly out of the bed, her tiny feet dotting the carpet as she ran toward her fishbowl, where Ted resided. “Yep. I’m taking Ted,” she stated matter-of-factly in her distinctly raspy little voice.

She lifted his bowl and spun it around the room. Ted jolted from the rock he had been sleeping on, his stubby turtle legs rapidly trying to regain their positioning. “Don’t you want the little boys and girls to see you today on our field trip, Ted?” she asked.

Ted didn’t respond. He was still trying to get back to his throne.

“Slip on your clothes, and Mommy will go make your breakfast,” Riley said as she laid out some khaki shorts and a white polo. She hadn’t told Gabby that they didn’t have to wear uniforms today because it was a Saturday field trip to celebrate the end of this semester and to begin their three-week break from year-round school. She thanked God for school uniforms. They removed one morning battle. Pink ballerina outfits weren’t the best attire for first grade.

Riley headed to the kitchen. “What are you hungry for, angel girl?”

“I’m thinking pancakes would be good!” Gabby called out.

Riley laughed as she opened the refrigerator door. She kept a flourless, sugarless pancake batter in the refrigerator most of the week. A friend had given her the recipe and Gabby had no idea they were healthy. Riley had no intention of telling her.

Gabby finally bounded into the kitchen and pulled out a barstool from beneath the black granite countertop. Riley turned over the last pancake and put it on Gabby’s plate next to her glass of orange juice. She picked up her own plate and sat down beside her.

Gabby held up her hand as if Riley was about to intrude on her prayer. “I’ll bless it, Mommy.”

“Go for it.”

Gabby folded her tiny hands, where pieces of her hot pink fingernail polish clung for dear life. “God is great and God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed. Give us, Lord, our daily bread. Amen,” she announced with a bob of her head.

“Amen,” Riley echoed.

“Is Daddy coming to get me this week?” Gabby asked, half a piece of pancake hanging from her mouth.

“That’s pretty.” Riley laughed.

Gabby snickered and chewed wildly.

“No, he’s coming next Saturday. You’re going to spend the first part of your break with Mommy and the last part with Daddy.” Gabby smiled wildly; then Riley saw the light slowly dim behind Gabby’s eyes. For six, her mind worked way too hard. “Whatcha thinking?”

“That you’ll be by yourself. I don’t like you being by yourself, Mommy.”

Gabby could still get her in the deep place. Riley set her fork down. “Angel girl, you don’t have to worry about Mommy. I love it that you get to go see Daddy. And you need to spend that time enjoying him and Amanda, not worrying about me, okay? I’ve got a lot of things to keep me busy and I want you to have fun. That’s what matters to Mommy. Okay?”

Gabby had stopped chewing and begun talking, her Southern accent as thick as pluff mud, keeping Charleston always before her. “But now we have to fly to get to you. Used to, you could just drive.”

Riley placed her hand on Gabby’s exposed knee that stuck out from her shorts. “But Mommy can get to you at any time if I need to. So you just know that. Mommy’s not going anywhere. Got it? Not ever again. You can get to me anytime and I can get to you anytime.”

Gabby’s voice was solemn. “Anytime?”

Riley gave her a reassuring smile and wished for a six-year-old instead of a thirty-year-old. “Anytime. Now eat up. You and Ted have a busy day.”

Gabby jammed her fork into a piece of pancake and stuck it in her mouth. Her muffled tones came through anyway. “Ted’s going to be a hit!”

“A surefire hit.”


When Gabby’s form disappeared through the front door of St. Andrew’s School, the International School of the Bahamas, Riley could finally deal with the heaviness that Gabby’s words had blanketed over her heart. She had spent the last few years climbing out of heavy moments that were as boggy and stinky as Charleston’s marshes. Thankfully, she handled them much differently now than she had in the past. Now she plowed through them when they swept over her. She didn’t avoid them. Nor did she stay in them. She simply put her head down and didn’t look up until she got to the other side.

The second prayer of the day was made on the way to the hotel. And by the time she got there, one more moment had been experienced, grieved, and left. She was through existing. Even if living meant fording through pain, that was a journey worth taking. To her, living meant no longer hiding. Hiding had robbed her of years with Gabby, of her marriage, and almost of herself. No, there would be no more hiding.

Riley parked her car in the employee parking lot and headed toward The Cove, one of the exclusive properties on the Atlantis complex. This place took her breath away. She couldn’t imagine a day that it wouldn’t.

Towering palm trees swayed slowly with the subtle breeze of the tropical morning as she stepped into the porte cochere that welcomed guests at The Cove.

She passed a young valet. “Hey, Bart.” They had become friends on her first day.

“Hello, Miss Riley. You and Gabby enjoying your weekend?”

She smiled. “So far, so good.”

“So is this our week?” he said with his thick Bahamian accent, an accent that could move with such a quick cadence, she sometimes had to make him repeat himself.

“I’m thinking Friday would be great.”

His huge white smile took over his black face. “Well, that’s what I was thinking.” The pitch of his voice rose. “I’ll meet you at the end of the aisle.”

“Don’t be late,” she chided at their little joke. Then laughed from deep inside. He had been proposing marriage since she’d arrived, even though he was probably twenty years younger than she was. But now he no longer proposed marriage, only the wedding date.

She headed into the Nave, the open-air lobby of The Cove, with its thirty-five-foot teak ceiling and magnificent sculptured lines. This six-hundred-suite tower was her responsibility. Her small heels clicked on the stone flooring as she walked through the expansive walkway, then softened when they met the deep wood that encased the stone. She walked into the glassed-in guest services offices directly across the hall from guest registration.

“Hello, Mia,” she said to the newest staff member and her top assistant. Mia had arrived two weeks ago from Australia. The staff was as much a melting pot as were the guests who stayed in their rooms.

“Hello, Riley.” Her face lit up as Riley walked by. “Busy week, I hear.”

“Yes. A few special guests this week.”

Mia’s long blonde locks fell across her shoulder as she pulled a leather portfolio from her black Chanel bag. With the straw market at the port in Nassau where the cruise ships came in, Riley knew that fake designer handbags ruled in most of the Bahamas. But not so much here. Fake handbags were as scorned in this luxurious environment as husbands with laptops, but both sneaked in every now and then.

She followed behind as Riley walked into her office. Mia’s long, lean legs bridged the chasm quickly. “So who are our VIPs this week?”

Riley looked down at the large desktop calendar to the names written in red ink. Three women arrived today. Three women whose arrivals had been preceded by slightly panicked phone calls: one from a detailed agent, one from a concerned parent, and one conference call from three loving and determined children.

“Let’s see here; our primary focus will be Laine Fulton, the author. She’s coming here to research for her new book.”

Mia scribbled in her notebook like a diligent student. “I hear she’s demanding,” she said in her slightly frantic way.

Riley’s ears piqued at her statement. In the two weeks Mia had been here, Riley had been slightly disarmed by her moments of childishness quickly diffused by an action of maturity. She couldn’t figure Mia out. Her outward beauty was obvious. Her reactions not so much. “You have? How so?”

“Oh, I have a friend who hosted her at a property in Dubai. She used that as the setting of her last book. She said there are as many layers to Laine Fulton as there are characters in her novels.”

“I prefer to think she’s a woman who knows what she wants. And she happens to want things a specific way. I spoke with her agent this morning and—”

“Mitchell?” Mia interrupted.

Riley cocked her head. “Yes, Mitchell.”

“That’s her ex-husband. And I heard he wasn’t her agent anymore,” Mia responded matter-of-factly.

“Yes, well . . . okay.” Riley shook her head. “Let’s stay on our toes with her this week and make sure everything runs smoothly. Her specific room requests should have been taken care of, and it sounds like she’ll be occupying a lot of my time. So if you could go make sure everything is in place, that would be great. Just in case I don’t get to go back and check.”

“No problem.” Mia continued to write. “Who else?”

“We’ve got a young lady named Tamyra Larsen. She’s a ‘Miss Something,’ but I can’t remember what her title is.”

“Not a pageant girl.” Mia scrunched her nose and shook her head. “Really?”

“I’m sure she’s delightful. And her mother called and . . . well, she sounded really concerned about her.”

“So we’re to babysit a beauty queen? I hear they all need babysitting.”

Riley gave Mia her best smile. “We don’t babysit, Mia. We take care of our guests. Plus, I have a daughter. I know what worried parents sound like, and this mother was worried. So, beauty queen or not, we need to keep our eyes on her.”

Mia looked up. Her blue eyes held Riley’s. “Consider it done.”

“Finally, we have Ms. Winnie Harris.”

“Ms. Harris?”

“Yes, Dr. Harris actually, but her children said she only uses that title at school. She’s a principal at a high school in Nashville.”

“Oh, that kind of doctor.”

“Yes, that kind. And her children are really concerned about her because she has never been on a vacation alone. Her husband died three years ago and this is her first vacation without him. So it’s our responsibility to make sure she is taken care of. And she made a special request not to be able to see the Beach Tower from her room.”

Mia eyed her oddly. “Why?”

“I have no idea. We don’t ask why. We just fulfill the requests.” Riley patted her calendar and raised her head. “I believe that’s it.”

Mia closed her portfolio and stuck it back in her bag. “I’ll go check on each of their rooms and make sure they are ready as soon as our guests arrive.”

“Thanks. We’ll catch up later.”

Mia walked out of the office, and Riley sat down. She studied the three names again, making sure she had them committed to memory. She knew what it meant to a guest to be known by name. So she had made remembering a practice ever since she had gone into the hospitality business fifteen years ago. She knew there would be other guests that required her attention this week. But as of today there were only three that were demanding it. Whether they knew it or not.


Riley exited the elevator of the suite tower. Laine Fulton’s room was ready to go. Everything she had requested, from the fully stocked liquor cabinet to the pistachios and the all-black M&M’S, awaited her arrival. Her entire bedroom had been rearranged at Mitchell’s request, the desk placed in front of the sliding-glass doors to give a view of the ocean. Mia had done an excellent job paying attention to every detail. Now all Riley had to do was wait for her guests to arrive.

She headed down to the Cain, the adult-only pool, to check on Laine’s poolside cabana.

A body glided up beside her. “Hi, Riley. Mind if I walk with you?”

She turned toward him, but she knew that voice. She and Christian Manos had worked side by side, he at The Reef, she at The Cove, for the last six months. Their virtually identical jobs brought them to a place of familiarity quicker than most. And that closeness had awakened things in her she hadn’t felt in a long time. That’s why she had taken to avoiding him. Her pace increased with the rate of her heartbeat. “No. Not at all.” She pushed her hair back and turned to look into his beautiful, tanned face.

“Are you coming to the meeting this afternoon?”

She could smell his cologne. The breeze carried it right up her nose. “Umm . . . no.” She blinked hard. “I’ve got a couple arrivals this afternoon that I’ve got to make sure get settled in okay. Mia is covering for me.” She gave a soft smile.

“The luxury of revolving guests,” he said.

“Yes, must be nice to have stationary guests.” The Reef was a property of luxury condominiums with part-time residents instead of temporary vacationers.

“Very nice. But it looks as if it will prevent you from coming to the meeting. So does that mean it would prevent you from grabbing some lunch before?” he asked, stopping short of one of the poolside towel cabanas. His six-foot-one build towered over her petite frame.

Riley stopped too. “Oh?”

He smiled, the fresh sun on his cheeks. “Yeah, I just wondered if you’d like to have lunch. But it sounds like you’re pretty busy. Seems like work is taking up all your time. So I guess maybe we could make it dinner, then.”

She knew he could see her heart beating at the base of her neck. This was a date. A date offered by a man who did something to the increase of her pulse that even running a 5K didn’t do. She knew she must look extremely awkward, standing there, mouth slightly open, but she wasn’t sure what came after this. It had been so long.

“I’m thinking . . . you’re wanting to say something?” The subtleties of his Greek accent were still present.

She shook her head to try to break her trance. He was almost too pretty to be a boy. And every time he got near her, heat rose to her face no matter the temperature. “Oh yeah, dinner . . . Well, sure. I guess . . . I think dinner would be nice . . . maybe.”

He laughed, his white teeth taking over his face. Taking it over perfectly. And they were a stark contrast to his tousled black hair. “I’m thinking, ‘Sure, I guess, nice, maybe’ is not quite the response I was hoping for.”

Riley laughed awkwardly. “I’m sorry. I . . . Well, you don’t need to know all of that. But I . . .” She breathed in deeply and sighed loudly. This was what she had been trying to avoid. “I’d like that. Dinner. Sometime. Yes. Sure. I’d like that.”

He laughed again. “Okay, I’ll take that. I was thinking maybe this evening.”

She shifted on her heels, placing her hand awkwardly on her hip, and scrunched her lips. “Oh . . . this evening . . . well. That soon?”

He reached out and touched her arm. The hair on her arms shot to attention. She hadn’t been touched with this effect in a very long time. Old Mr. Tucker, who directed housekeeping and loved to touch her arm, had never caused quite the same reaction.

“If tonight doesn’t work, we can pick another night.”

She knew if she hesitated, she’d talk herself out of it. “No . . . no . . . tonight would be great. But it’s probably too late notice to get a sitter for Gabby.”

“Bring her. We’ll have a blast.”

She studied his face. But the inflection of his voice had convinced her he meant it. He let his hand fall to his side. She resisted the urge to grab it and put it back. “Yeah?”

“Sure. There’s this great little place over on Nassau. It’s where the locals hang out. Is that okay? It’s really casual.”

“Gabby and I do casual very well.”

“Can I pick you up at six thirty?”

“Yeah, six thirty will be fine.”

He reached up and patted her arm again, grabbing it slightly as he did. “It will be fun. Thank you for saying yes.”

“Sure. Yeah. No problem.”

She watched as he headed around the walkway and back up toward The Reef. His brown leather flip-flops slapped against the concrete and reverberated on her insides. She bit her lip. “Sure? Yeah? No problem? Are you an idiot?” she whispered as she headed back toward her office. “You get asked out on your first date in fifteen years—by a beautiful man, no less—and you say, ‘Sure. Yeah. No problem.’ You are an idiot.” She shook her head and turned toward the pool. Fear dropped with a thud in her gut. It pressed harder with each step she took. By the time she reached Laine’s cabana, it had taken over, verifying one thing. She would not be going out with Christian Manos tonight. Or any night.

Taken from Hurricanes in Paradise by Denise Hildreth. Copyright © 2010 by Denise Hildreth. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.