The Real Enemy by Kathy Herman

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Real Enemy
David C. Cook (March 2009)
by
Kathy Herman

MY REVIEW:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
– Romans 12:21 –

I always look forward to Kathy Herman’s next book and The Real Enemy did not disappoint. As usual, the story is populated with real characters who experience every day real life problems but also find themselves in the midst of unusual, stressful, and suspenseful events.

In The Real Enemy, Kathy expertly weaves a page turning suspense with sobering spiritual lessons based on the central scripture from Romans 12. As the central characters wrestle with bitterness, unforgiveness, and guilt, they learn the power of one wrong choice and the devastating effects it can have on others. They also learn that sometimes the negative reactions of the injured person can  result in even more damaging consequences.

The Real Enemy is an emotional and climatic tale that blends truth and myth, danger and suspense, courage and love while all the time pointing the reader to the only true answers without being preachy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Suspense novelist Kathy Herman is very much at home in the Christian book industry, having worked five years on staff at the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and eleven years at Better Books Christian Center in Tyler, Texas, as product buyer/manager for the children’s department, and eventually as director of human resources.

She has conducted numerous educational seminars on children’s books at CBA Conventions in the U.S. and Canada, served a preliminary judge for the Gold Medallion Book Awards of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association , and worked as an independent product/marketing consultant to the CBA market.

Since her first novel, Tested by Fire, debuted in 2001 as a CBA national bestseller, she’s added thirteen more titles to her credit, including another bestseller, All Things Hidden.

Kathy’s husband Paul is her best friend and most ardent supporter and manages the LifeWay Christian Store in Tyler, Texas. They have three grown children, five adorable grandkids, a cat named Samantha—and an ongoing fascination with hummingbirds. They also enjoy world travel, deep sea fishing, stargazing, and bird watching and sometimes incorporate all these hobbies into one big adventure.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Brill Jessup just became the first female police chief in Sophie Trace, Tennessee, and is riding on the credentials of a stellar eighteen-year career on the Memphis police force. She may be a pro at finding clues, but she tends to ignore the obvious in her personal life. And she would rather work than deal with the bitterness she feels about her husband Kurt’s infidelity. Kurt, is weighed down by her unrelenting anger as he struggles to let God redeem the stupidest mistake he ever made. He is genuinely contrite and making every effort to show his commitment to Brill. But she hides behind her badge and her bitterness, deciding that moving her family away from Memphis is the only change she needs to make. So why can’t Brill get over this anger?

Before she ever has time to unpack her boxes, people start disappearing. Lots of them. Seven people in seven days To complicate matters, a local legend has many residents believing that the cause is unearthly?tied to the “red shadows,” or spirits of the departed Cherokee who once inhabited the land.

While Brill draws on all of her experience and instinct to solve the case, she must confront an enemy that threatens everything she holds dear -one that cannot be stopped with a badge and a gun. She is forced to confront the real enemy.

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Real Enemy, go HERE

Learn more about Kathy and her books on her Website. (more…)

Salty Like Blood by Harry Kraus, M.D.

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:

Salty Like Blood

Howard Books (March 24, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Harry Kraus, M.D., is a board-certified surgeon whose contemporary fiction, including Stainless Steel Hearts, is flavored with medical realism. A bestselling author, he has also written two works of nonfiction. He currently lives with his family in Kenya, where he is serving as a full-time medical missionary.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (March 24, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416577890
ISBN-13: 978-1416577898

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Rachel and I tumbled into the tall grass at the bottom of the hill, having survived yet another Daddy-just-one-more sled ride from the edge of our front porch. I collapsed on my back, trying to find oxygen between gasps of laughter and looked up at the summer sky. My daughter, with limbs sprawled in a wide “X” and her head against my foot, shouted her delight toward the house. “We did it! We made it!”

Seconds before, airborne and soaring toward record distance, Rachel reached for an octave above the normal human voice range, squealing a note that rang on in my head and I suspected invited half the neighborhood’s canine population to play. I laughed and put my fingers in my ears, rolling them in an exaggerated twist as if she’d deafened me.

She moved to lay her head upon my chest and quieted herself there, listening to my racing heart.

I stroked her hair, inhaled the scent of mown grass, and nestled my head back into the tickle of green.

“Is it okay?” she asked.

“It’s okay.”

“It’s too fast,” she said, raising up and pushing a bony elbow into my gut.

“Oh so now you’re the doctor.”

She smiled. “Someday,” she said. “For now, you’re the doctor.”

“Don’t worry. I’m okay.” I scowled at my first-grader. “Really.”

We rested together, staring at the sky full of clouds of hippopotamus, horses, rockets—whatever Rachel imagined. Mostly I gasped and oohed. In a moment, I found myself blinking away tears, overwhelmed with the enormity of it all.

It was so ordinary. A summer Saturday morning without an agenda. It’s hard for me to describe beyond the sense I had of emerging, as if I’d been submerged for so long, and now, just to play and laugh and roll in the grass seemed a joy that would burst my heart. I smiled, taking it in, gulping in ordinary life as if I’d never have a chance again.

As Rachel chatted on with her running commentary of sky castles, fiery dragons and fairies, other images drifted through my mind, pictures of painful chapters that set my current joy into sharp contrast. Traveling with Joanne through the dark tunnel of post-partum depression. My mother’s battle with cancer. Memories of an intensive care unit visit while I was the too-young patient, watching my own heart monitor and wondering if life would be cut short.

Joanne’s voice swept me into the here and now. “What’s going on?”

I looked up to see her standing on the covered porch, eyeing a bottle of vegetable oil sitting on the white railing.

Rachel lifted her head. Her blond hair dotted with grass seed. “We’re sledding, Mommy.”

Joanne’s hands rested firmly on her hips. “It’s July, David.” She picked up the bottle. “And I’ve been looking for this.” She was serious, but her eyes betrayed her attempt at scolding me. Her happiness at my delight in our little Rachel couldn’t be spoiled by my summer antics.

I exchanged a mischievous glance with Rachel. She betrayed me in a heartbeat. “It was Daddy’s idea.”

“Women!” I said, grabbing my daughter by the waist and swinging her around in a circle. “You always stick together!”

As I trudged up the hill with Rachel folded around my back, I grunted exaggerated puffs. “You’re getting so big.”

I set her on the top step and kissed her forehead. She started pulling away. “Wait.” I picked at the seeds in her hair.“You’ll need to brush this out.”

She opted for the shake-it-out method. “I’m a rock star.”

I smiled. My star. For Joanne and I, Rachel had been the glue that helped us stick together through a valley of misery.

Joanne reappeared carrying lemonade in tall, sweaty glasses. She handed me one and kissed me. She had thin lips to go with sharp, elegant features, dark eyes alight with mystery, and hair the color of caramel. She could have been a model before big lips became the rage.

I’d been to hell and back with Joanne, but the last six months, I’d sensed a real change in her. She seemed settled somehow. Content. More romantic toward me—like she had been back in my medical school days. Our relationship, once teetering on the precipice of divorce, was now solidly a safe distance from the edge. I’d seen significant pieces of my life’s puzzle fall together in the last few years. When the marriage one finally clicked into place, everything else brightened with it. It was as if I’d been living my life in black-and-white and someone just invented color.

I kissed her back, trying to discern her mood. There seemed a surface calm, but I sensed a deeper stirring. I’d become a champion at reading her. I knew the quiet of her bitterness, the bubbly way she prattled on when she felt guilty, and the aloofness that dared me to pursue her into bed. For a moment, our eyes met. It was only a flash, but in that instant, I felt the a foreboding that threatened my wonderful ordinary-life euphoria.

I took her hand. “What’s up?” She lowered her voice, but even at that volume, sharp irritation cut at the edges of her words, clipping them into little fragments.

“Your father.”

I raised my eyebrows in question.

“His neighbor called.”

I waited for more, but it seemed the silence only uncapped her annoyance. In a moment, she was on the verge of tears.

“He always does this. Every time we have plans, he has a crisis.”

Plans. The practice was dining at the country club tonight.

I started to protest, but she interrupted, pushing her finger against my lips. “You know they’re going to announce that you’ve made partner.”

I smiled. Partner. A year early. Just reward for the practice’s highest revenue-producer nine months in a row. Another puzzle piece in my wonderful life about to connect.

“Which neighbor?”

“That Somali family,” she said, flipping her hand in the air. “A woman. She has an accent. She said his place is a wreck. He’s ill.” She seemed to hesitate before adding. “He’s asking for you.”

It was my father’s way. The crab-fisherman wouldn’t pick up the phone and let me know he needed me. He sent word around the block and expected me to show. “Define ‘ill.’ ”

Joanne imitated the neighbor’s accent. “Mister Gus isn’t eating. He toilets in the bedroom.”

I groaned. Whatever the neighbor meant, I knew it couldn’t be good. I walked into the house to my study and picked up the phone. I was listening to the endless ringing on the other end when Joanne entered. “Not a good sign,” I said. “He doesn’t pick up.”

“What are we going to do?”

I looked at my wife. Petite. Strong. And so able to read my thoughts.

She threw up her hands. “We’re going to the shore,” she said. “Just like that.”

I nodded. I was predictable. Family first. We had to go.

She glared at me. I read the silence, loud and clear. That’s why I love you . . . and hate you.

“I’ll call Jim. The practice will understand.”

Joanne shook her head. “This is your night, David. The moment you’ve been waiting for. And you throw it away because of family.”

I couldn’t say anything. She had me pegged.

“I’ll see if Kristine will take Rachel for the weekend.”

“Let’s take her with us.”

Joanne’s face hardened. “With us? That place is so . . . “ She paused, apparently mulling over adjective options. “ . . . crusty.”

It was the gentlest description of several other options that came to mind.

“We’ll take care of the crisis and stay at that seaside bed and breakfast. It will be fun. A chance for her to see her grandfather.” I let a hopeful smile tease at the corners of my lips. “Even if he is crusty he does adore her.”

Joanne sighed in resignation. “Yes he does.” She tipped her glass against mine. “As long as we don’t have to sleep there,” she said, shivering as if that thought was horrifying. She gave me a don’t-even-try-to-cross-me look. “You’re driving.”

I walked out onto the porch and into the humidity we Virginians call “summer.” As I called for Rachel, I followed the border of the house, my prize lawn soft beneath my bare feet. From her perch on the back deck, my daughter ambushed me with open arms.

“Can we sled some more?”

I looked at the blue sky and my Southern Living home, and I pushed aside a fleeting presence. A ripple beneath the calm.

I’d been through too many hard times to trust the peace. Nothing this great can last forever.

“We’re going to Grandpa Conners’,” I said, trying my best to sound excited.

Rachel wrinkled her nose. To her, the shore meant stinky crabs and everything smelling fishy.

I poked her nose with a finger. “You’re too much like your mother.”

She poked me back. “You’re too much like your father.”

A sudden breeze lifted Rachel’s hair against my face. I stopped, looking east. In the distance, a small thundercloud hung over the horizon. Not today. I don’t want to travel the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in the rain.

My daughter squeezed my neck, bringing a smile to my face and pushing my anxieties aside. I nestled my face into her hair, trying to find an earlobe. She giggled and everything seemed right again.

Yesterday’s Embers by Deborah Raney

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:

Yesterday’s Embers

Howard Books (March 24, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Deborah Raney is the author of several novels, including Nest of Sparrows and the RITA Award-winning Beneath a Southern Sky. Her novel A Vow to Cherish was made into the highly acclaimed Worldwide Pictures film of the same name. She lives with her husband and four children in Kansas.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (March 24, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416593098
ISBN-13: 978-1416593096

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

The parade of taillights smoldered crimson through the patchy fog hovering over Old Highway 40. Mickey Valdez tapped the brakes with the toe of her black dress pumps, trying to stay a respectable distance from the car in front of her.

The procession had left the church almost twenty minutes ago, but they were still barely two miles outside Clayburn’s city limits. The line of cars snaked up the hill––if you could call the road’s rolling incline that––and ahead of her, the red glow of brake lights dotted the highway, flickering off and on like so many fireflies. Cresting the rise, Mickey could barely make out the rows of pewter-colored gravestones poking through the mist beyond the wrought-iron gates of the Clayburn Cemetery.

She smoothed the skirt of her black crepe dress and tried to focus her thoughts on maneuvering the car, working not to let them stray to the funeral service she’d come from. But when the first hearse turned onto the cemetery’s gravel drive in front of her, she lost it. Her sobs came like dry heaves, producing no tears, and for once, she was glad to be in the car alone.

The line of cars came almost to a standstill as the second hearse crept through the gates.

The twin black Lincolns pulled to the side of the gravel lane, parking one behind the other near the plots where two fresh graves scarred the prairie. The drivers emerged from the hearses, walked in unison to the rear of their cars, and opened the curtained back doors. Mickey looked away. She couldn’t view those two caskets again.

When it came her turn to drive over the culvert under the high arch of the iron gates, she wanted desperately to keep on driving. To head west and never turn back. But Pete Truesdell stood in her way, directing traffic into the fenced-in graveyard. Mickey almost didn’t recognize Pete. He sported a rumpled navy double-breasted suit instead of his usual coveralls. How he could see through the tears welling in his eyes, Mickey didn’t know.

Her heart broke for the old man. She wondered if he was related to the family somehow. Seemed like everybody in Clayburn was related to at least one other family in town. Everybody but the Valdezes.

Pete waved the car in front of her through the gates and halted her with his other hand.

Maybe if she stayed in the car until the procession left the cemetery. She didn’t want to walk across the uneven sod. Didn’t want to risk the DeVore kids seeing her…risk breaking down in front of them. What would she say? What could anybody say to make what had happened be all right?

She didn’t know much about carbon monoxide poisoning, but she’d heard that Kaye and Rachel had simply drifted off to sleep, never knowing they would wake up in heaven. She wondered if Doug DeVore found any solace in that knowledge. Maybe it was a small comfort that his wife and daughter had left this earth together.

But on Thanksgiving Day? What was God thinking?

She’d never really gotten to know Kaye DeVore that well. They’d exchanged pleasantries whenever Kaye dropped the kids off at the daycare on her way to her job at the high school, but usually Doug was the one who delivered the children and picked them up at night when he got off work at Trevor Ashlock’s print shop in town.

The DeVore kids were usually the last to get picked up, especially during harvest when Doug worked overtime to keep his farm going. But Mickey had never minded staying late. It wasn’t like she had a family of her own waiting for her at home. And she loved those kids.

Especially Rachel. Sweet, angel-faced Rachel, whose eyes always seemed to hold a wisdom beyond her years. Mickey had practically mourned when Rachel started kindergarten and was only at the daycare for an hour or two after school. Now she forced herself to look at the tiny white coffin the pallbearers lifted from the second hearse. She could not make it real that the sunny six-year-old was gone.

Through the gates, she watched Doug climb from a black towncar. One at a time, he helped his children out behind him. Carrying the baby in one arm, he tried to stretch his free arm around the other four kids, as if he could shelter them from what had happened. How he could even stand up under the weight of such tragedy was more than Mickey could imagine. And yet, for one shameful, irrational moment, she envied his grief, and would have traded places with him if it meant she’d known a love worth grieving over, or been entrusted with a child of her own flesh and blood. She shook away the thoughts, disturbed by how long she’d let herself entertain them.

She dreaded facing Doug the next time he brought the kids to the daycare center. Maybe they wouldn’t come back. She’d heard that Kaye’s mother had cancelled her plans to winter in Florida like she usually did. Harriet Thomas would remain in Kansas and help Doug out, at least for a while. Wren Johanssen had been helping with the kids and house, too, when she could take time away from running Wren’s Nest, the little bed-and-breakfast on Main Street. Wren was like a second grandma to the kids. Thank goodness for that. Six kids had to be—

Mickey shuddered and corrected herself. Only five now. That had to be a handful for anyone. The DeVores had gone on vacation in the middle of April last year, and with their kids out for a week, the workload was lighter, but the daycare center had been deathly quiet.

Deathly. Even though she was alone in the car, Mickey cringed at her choice of words.

She started at the tap on the hood of her car and looked up to see Pete motioning her through the gates. She put the car in gear and inched over the bumpy culvert. There was no turning back now. She followed the car in front of her and parked behind it next to the fence bordering the east side of the cemetery.

A tall white tombstone in the distance caught her eye and a startling thought nudged her. The last time she’d been here for a funeral had also been the funeral of a mother and child. Trevor Ashlock’s wife, Amy, and their little boy. It would be five years come summer.

As if conjured by her thoughts, Trevor’s green pickup pulled in beside her. Mickey watched in her side mirror as he parked, then helped his young wife climb out of the passenger side. Meg walked with the gait of an obviously pregnant woman, and Trevor put a hand at the small of her back, guiding her over the uneven sod toward the funeral tent.

Mickey looked away. Seeing Trevor still brought a wave of sadness. Because of his profound loss, yes. But more selfishly, for her own loss. She’d fallen hard for him after Amy’s death—and had entertained hopes that he might feel the same about her. That she might be able to ease his grief. But he was too deep in grief to even notice her.

Then Meg Anders had moved to town and almost before Mickey knew what happened, Trevor was married. He and Meg seemed very much in love, and Mickey didn’t begrudge either of them an ounce of that happiness. But it didn’t mean she was immune to a pang of envy whenever she saw them together.

This day had to be doubly difficult for Trevor. It must be a comfort to Doug having Trevor here––someone who’d walked in his shoes and still somehow managed to get up the next morning––and the next and the next.

Again, she had to wonder what God was thinking. Where was He when these tragedies struck? How could He stand by and let these terrible things happen to good men…the best men she knew, next to her brothers? None of it made sense. And the only One she knew to turn to for answers had stood by and let it all happen.

Deadly Charm by Claudia Mair Burney

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:

Deadly Charm (Amanda Bell Brown Mystery Series, Book 3)

Howard Books (March 24, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Claudia Mair Burney is the author of numerous novels and the popular Ragamuffin Diva blog. She lives with her husband and their seven children in Michigan.

Visit the author’s website and blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (March 24, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416551956
ISBN-13: 978-1416551959

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Rocky showed up at my apartment door with an offer that, in his words, I “no coulda refuse.” Or maybe those were Marlon Brando’s words. I couldn’t be sure. My blond, dreadlocked former pastor slash ex-boyfriend locked me into a stare with those big, brown puppy eyes. He’d puffed out his jowls to utter the Godfather’s most famous line, while grazing his cheek with the back of his fingers—an excruciatingly amiss imitation. I’ve seen newborn babies’ smiles more intimidating.

“You look more like a hamster than a mobster, Rock.”

“Hamsters are cool.”

“But less compelling, you must admit.”

Rocky grinned and wagged his finger at me, “Never underestimate the power of a furry little creature.” He twitched his nose and started making hamster noises.

“Amen!” I said.

I thought of my vicious, former pet sugar glider, Amos. Although he’d become my friend and hero, I had to give him away to another nocturnal creature—otherwise, I’d never sleep again. My husband’s best friend, Souldier, had taken the murderous marsupial. Now Amos happily shreds his drapes.

“Come on in, my not-so-furry friend,” I told Rocky, mostly so he would stop making weird rodent sounds.

I moved aside so he could enter my little slice of paradise: shabby chic meets Africa is what Jazz, my husband called it. Rocky loved my funky, eclectically furnished place, too. He just didn’t describe it as aptly as Jazz did.

Who was I kidding? Rocky didn’t do anything as aptly as Jazz did. I had lost them both six weeks ago, and now here was Rocky, surprising me by showing up at my door like unexpected grace.

“Welcome back, Rocky,” I said. I know how lame I sounded, but I wanted him to know I was glad he’d come no matter what the reason.

He muttered a shy, “Thanks.”

We stood in my foyer exchanging reticent glances until I got bold enough to take a long look at him. I’d missed him so. He wore a typical Rockyesque uniform underneath his white down jacket—khaki pants and a long-sleeved Batman T-shirt. A cupid earring dangled in his right ear. Every year about this time he wore it to remind me to come to the Saint Valentine’s Day feast.

Without thinking I blurted out. “I see you and Cupid are still advertising our—” I bit my tongue. There’d be no “our” Saint Valentine’s Day feast this year for prodigal Bell. “Sorry,” I muttered.

“No problem,” he rushed to say, and then an awful silence descended on us like a cold, grey fog.

When I was still a member of his church, aptly named the Rock House, I never missed the event. Rocky would tell stories of the historical Saint Valentine; we’d eat candy conversation hearts, listen to live music, and share abundant amounts of food and laughter. It was Rocky’s way of making sure the lonely hearts wouldn’t spend the evening alone. There with my church family, not only did I get heaps of love, I could give out some from my meager supply.

That and we always had a chocolate fountain.

What was I going to do now?

I tried not to think about the sting of Rocky kicking me out of his church. I didn’t want to think about anything that had happened six weeks ago. Still, I figured whatever brought him to my door had an olive branch attached to it, and whatever he asked, short of sin, I’d be willing to do to reconcile with him.

Rocky hung up his jacket, kicked out of his Birkenstocks, and headed over to my rose-colored velvet sofa and sat. I followed, plopping down beside him.

“So, what’s the offer, Godfather?”

He stared at me. “Did you gain weight?”

Because I know it’s rude to kill your loved ones, I let that one slide and gave him a polite smile, but I did grab a mudcloth throw pillow and cover my expanding waistline.

“So, what’s the offer, Rocky?”

He gushed in a most un-Godfatherly like way. “I want you to go to a meeting with me. It’s only going to be the way-coolest event you’ve been to in forever.”

I cuddled the pillow and eyed him cautiously. He didn’t mean the Valentine’s Day feast. I braced myself. Rocky’s idea of way cool could get scary. “Can you be a little more specific?”

He didn’t answer. Just reached out and touched my hand, rubbing his thumb across my knuckles. “I really missed you.”

Oh, man. That small gesture—him touching the hand nobody held anymore—that tiny movement had the effect of a pebble in a pond, creating ripples of unexpected sadness that circled out of my soul. Lord, have mercy. I didn’t fling myself at him, begging like a rhythm-and-blues singer for him to keep loving me, to not give up on me, but something in me wished I could.

I didn’t want to marry Rocky, or even date him. He had never been the love of my life. In that moment I simply wanted to banish the nearly incarnate loneliness that had been dogging my heels as a solemn, maddening companion, shuffling me through all those days with no best-friend Rocky.

And with no husband Jazz.

I gazed up at him with my own version of puppy eyes. “I missed you too, Rocky.”

We let a bit of silence sit between us on the sofa like a third and very quiet presence. Our heads hung low. Apparently we both still smarted over our mutual pain of separation.

Minutes passed, our hands still clasped together, but Rocky’s merciful presence soothed my dry soul patches like olive oil.

Thank God. Thank God for every kind soul I don’t deserve in my life who loves me anyway.

“Rocky.” I made my voice as soft and small as a baby’s blankie.

He turned to me, his face as open and vulnerable as that blankie’s little owner.

I squeezed his hand. “I’m so sorry I hurt you.”

Those puppy eyes shone with the compassion I knew like the backs of my freckled hands.

“I’m sorry for the things I did, too, babe. For the things I said that night.”

“Don’t call me babe.”

He chuckled. “Some things never change.” Again, those gentle peepers bore into me. “Why didn’t you tell me you married Jazz?”

“At the time I didn’t seem too clear on it myself. Things happened pretty fast, and the next thing I knew, I was a wife.” I paused, the weight of that statement shifting just a bit since Rocky had shown up to help bear my burden. “He’s mad at me.”

“Duh-uh. You were kissing your blond boy toy.” He nudged me with his tattooed arm. “What’s going on with the two of you now?”

“I’ve seen corpses on Carly’s autopsy tables more involved than our marriage.”

I wondered if I’d ever get over what I’d lost with Jazz.

“I can only imagine what his parents think of me. I guess they’d say I’m the nightmare that took his ex Kate’s place.”

He regarded me with the care and concern I’ve seen him lavish on the fortunate souls he counseled as a pastor. Rocky may be only twenty-seven years old, but he’d been a pastor for two years. Two good years. He didn’t have the life experience an older pastor would, but God had given him an extraordinary shepherd’s heart.

“You’re not a nightmare,” he said. “You jumped into a marriage with no spiritual or emotional preparation.”

Like I, the clinician, needed him to tell me that.

I sighed. “Yet another psychologist heal thyself thing.” I looked away from him, guilt gnawing at me. “Maybe Jazz and I just aren’t meant to be, Rocky.”

“Have you talked to him?”

I shrugged. “Just once. He came over for a few minutes on Christmas Eve. I let him know I wanted him in a way I knew he’d understand. And then I waited. He never came back.”

“Why didn’t you go to him?”

“The same reason I didn’t come to you. I wanted to give him some space to feel whatever he felt and then to decide on his own.”

“But, maybe he’s not like me, babe.”

“Ya, think? And don’t call me babe.”

“Maybe he needs you to help him decide. Like, some extra reassurance or something.”

“That’s crazy, Rock.”

“It’s not so crazy, babe.”

I took back every nice thing I’d just thought about him. What did he know? Yes, he pastors a church of more than two-hundred members. He did missions work. He had a shepherd’s heart. He took pastoral counseling classes in seminary, but, honestly! His voice sounded just like Patrick’s on Sponge Bob.

Rocky glared at me. “Babe. . . .”

“Don’t call me babe.”

“Babe! You gotta go to him.”

“But he yells. Sometimes he cusses like a fish wife.”

“What’s a fish wife?”

“I don’t know, but my great-grandmother used to say that and it stuck with me. Maybe only females cuss like fish wives. Maybe he cusses like the fish.” Now I sounded like Patrick!

“Fish don’t cuss.”

“Okay, I know I should have reassured him.”

He sighed. Looked at me with those eyes. Squeezed my hand. “Will you ever let anyone love you?”

“People love me, Rocky. My sister. My secretary. Sasha.”

“I have doubts about Sasha.”

I thought about that and chuckled with him. “You may be right. My mother has done a few things that make me wonder. Now I’m really depressed.”

“I want to see you happy.”

“I want to see you happy, too. Speaking of which, how are you and Elisa?”

He grinned, reddened, looked away.

“What? Did you marry her in six weeks? My goodness!” For the first time, I didn’t feel jealous that someone was interested in Rocky. Well, not much.

“No. I’m not married. I’m . . . .”

“You’re what?”

“She’s really special, but it hasn’t been that long since she left creepy cult dude. I’m not sure I should be involved.”

“How involved are you?”

“I’m involved, babe.”

“You’re in love?”

He wouldn’t say anything, but his goofy grin spoke for him.

“Rocky?”

He nudged me, “Cut it out, babe.”

So, Rocky was really in love. Wow. I always knew it would happen, but I didn’t realize I’d still have the teensiest bit of pain knowing he’d moved on from me for good. I could see a flower of astonishing beauty blossoming between them when I saw them together, even though it nearly killed me at the moment. But God knows Rocky deserved the biggest, juiciest love he could find. He needed to look beyond the non-existent us. And he still calls me babe.

“Just take it slow, Rock. Trust me. The cost of moving too fast is astronomical, even if you are in love.”

I could tell he didn’t feel comfortable talking to me about Elisa. I decided to let their love blossom without my tending, pruning, or pulling up weeds. I got back to the business at hand. “Are you ever going to tell me what your offer is?” I eased into the lush upholstery of my sofa.

Rocky’s face lit up. Honestly, if that guy had a tail to go with those puppy eyes, it’d be thumping my sofa with joy.

“It’s gonna be awesome, ba— I mean, Bell.”

Apparently our little chat about Elisa made him correct himself.

“You think everything is awesome, Rocky.”

“I don’t think everything is awesome.”

“You said my Love Bug is awesome. You said Switchfoot’s new CD is awesome. You said my new zillions braids are awesome, and you said the ice-cream at Cold Stone Creamery is awesome.” Okay, the ice-cream at Cold Stone happened to be awesome for real. Lately I’d craved it like the blind crave sight.

“But, babe . . . ”

There he goes again. Honestly! A holy war couldn’t make that man stop calling me babe.

He went on. “Those things are awesome.”

“God is awesome, Rock. Awesome meaning the subject inspires awe, as in reverence, respect, dread.”

“You reverence your tricked-out VW Beetle,” he said, “And I respect Switchfoot, especially Jon Foreman, and your way-cool, African-goddess hair inspired me to get dreads.”

I stared at him. Comments like these coming from Rocky tended to render me temporarily speechless.

He filled the silence with his proposal. “I want you to go see Ezekiel Thunder with me.”

My eyes widened. Electroshock therapy wouldn’t have given me such a jolt. “Ezekiel Thunder?” I screeched. I jerked up from my slouch. I’d heard the un-right reverend wanted to hit the comeback trail, taking his miracle crusade with him.

Rocky gave me a wicked grin and settled himself smugly into the soft folds of my sofa. He knew I’d left Thunder’s particular brand of Pentecostal fire many years ago and had no desire to go back.

Rocky bobble-head nodded, as if his physical movement would affect a change in my attitude.

“Stop all that nodding!”

“I’m just trying to encourage you.”

I did not feel encouraged.

“It’ll be fun,” he said, blasting me with the full puppy-eyes arsenal. Oh, those eyes. Powerful! Mesmerizing! Like a basket full of cocker spaniel puppies wearing red ribbons. I could feel myself weakening.

“Rocky, that meeting will torture me. It will torture you!”

“No, it won’t. Ezekiel is my friend.”

“Your friend?”

“He led me to Christ.”

“Ezekiel Thunder led you to Christ?”

“I told you I came to Christ at a Bible camp.”

“Yes? And?”

“It was a Sons of Thunder Bible camp. I’m a Thunder Kid!” He beamed with what I hoped wasn’t pride.

“You never told me that!”

Honestly! You think you know somebody! He was my ex-boyfriend for goodness’ sake. We’d talked about marriage. I couldn’t believe I had no idea he was close friends with the infamous Ezekiel Thunder!

“You can be kinda judgmental about guys like Ezekiel.” He went on. “I didn’t mean to upset you or trigger bad memories of your tongues-talking days.”

“Then don’t ask me to go see him.”

“He’s a different man. He and his family want to buy a house in Ann Arbor. He’s living at the Rock House house until one comes through for him. ”

“God forbid!”

“He needs support. People to show up and cheer him on.”

“Cheer him on? We should stop him!” Had Rocky forgotten that Ezekiel Thunder had fallen as hard as many of his televangelist contemporaries in the eighties—and for a tawdry little tryst with a young intern? May it never be!

“How hard would it be for you to sit there and listen? Maybe say a few prayers for him.”

“God bless you as you do that for him.”

“I was there for you, supporting Great Lakes Seminary when they were struggling and going to lose their building. I did it because of how much you love Mason May.”

“Rocky! That’s not even comparable. Mason is a fine theologian training good men and women for powerful, effective ministries. He’s not a snake-oil peddler.”

“It’s not snake oil. It’s miracle prosperity oil.”

I stared at him. He’d stunned me to silence once again. I waited for Rocky to fill the silence with testimonies about the healing properties of miracle prosperity oil. Thankfully, he refrained. But he didn’t look like he’d let me off the hook.

I tried to reason with him. “You shouldn’t ask me to do this. You’re Emergent, Rocky, not a dyed-in-the-wool charismatic.”

“You don’t like post-modern, post-denominational, Emergent folks either.”

“I like them more than Ezekiel Thunders.”

“What’s that thing you say about the Emergent Church?”

“This is not about the Emergent Church. I’d go to an Emergent meeting with you anytime. You name the place: Mars Hill, Ann Arbor Vineyard. How ‘bout Frontline Church? ”

He didn’t budge. “Come on, babe. He’s like a dad to me.”

“A dad?”

“You always say Mason is like a dad to you.”

“But Mason has a PhD. He doesn’t sell ‘miracle prosperity oil’.”

“Ezekiel doesn’t sell it, either. He gives it away for a love offering.”

“A considerable love offering, if I remember! It’s plain olive oil he’s pushing to gullible babes in the faith who don’t know any better. How can I support his money-lusting schemes?”

“Ummm. By going with me?” Hope burgeoned in his voice as if I hadn’t just accused his mentor of being a hustler.

“Did you hear what I said, Rock? Ezekiel Thunder is everything I walked away from.”

“You walked away from a lot more than that, babe. And you’ve been known to hang out with people with worse theology than his. People way more dangerous.”

He had a point.

“Rocky . . . .” I didn’t want to go. Please, God, don’t make me go.

“He’s changed, babe. Give him a chance. For me.”

The eyes again, and a smile with an invisible tail wag.

I grumbled.

He grinned.

I gave him a dramatic sigh. “What time are we leaving?”

“If you’re not busy, and you’re not, we can leave in a few hours. I’ll pick you up at six.”

“How do you know I don’t have plans?”

“Because you have antisocial tendencies.”

“Don’t hold back, Rock. What do you really think about me?”

“Don’t worry,” he said, ignoring my insolence. “You’re gonna fall in love with Ezekiel.”

I rolled my eyes. “Not likely.”

He put his face right in front of mine until we were eye to eye. “You are feeling veeeeeery tired. You’re getting sleepy. You’re going to enjoy yourself at the crusade.”

“No fair,” I said, “Those eyes of yours are potent hypnotizers.”

“You are going to love Ezekiel Thunder.”

“I am going to love Ezekiel Thunder.”

Rocky got out of my face. “You’ve gotta admit, babe. This will be safer than sleuthing.”

No, it won’t, a disembodied voice–also known as the still, small voice of God–informed me.

I tried to ignore it. Maybe this Spirit prompting was speaking figuratively.

Couldn’t ignore it.

What, Lord, am I some kind of trouble magnet?

Don’t answer that, God.

I started rationalizing immediately to take the edge off what I truly hoped was not a prophetic warning. Maybe I could fall in love with the guy and respect him. Maybe he could even heal the egg-sized growth on my lower abdomen that scared me to death each time I ran my index finger across it. Maybe I could even find the keys to unlock the little room inside my heart where all the Ezekiel Thunders I’ve ever known were locked. I’d stored them there to keep me safe from the particular brand of harm only they could inflict.

I could feel my defenses shoot up as if a rocket propelled them.

Fall in love with Ezekiel Thunder?

I wished.

I shouldn’t have wished. My great-grandmother and namesake Amanda Bell Brown use to say, “Be careful what you wish for, baby. You just might get it.”

She ain’t never lied.

Turning The Paige by Laura Jensen Walker

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Turning The Paige
Zondervan (March 1, 2009)
by
Laura Jensen Walker

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Laura Jensen Walker is an award-winning writer, popular speaker, and breast-cancer survivor who loves to touch readers and audiences with the healing power of laughter.

Born in Racine, Wisconsin (home of Western Printing and Johnson’s Wax—maker of your favorite floor care products) Laura moved to Phoenix, Arizona when she was in high school. But not being a fan of blazing heat and knowing that Uncle Sam was looking for a few good women, she enlisted in the United States Air Force shortly after graduation and spent the next five years flying a typewriter through Europe.

By the time she was 23, Laura had climbed the Eiffel Tower, trod the steps of the Parthenon, skied (okay, snowplowed) in the Alps, rode in a gondola in Venice, and wept at the ovens of Dachau. She’d also learned how to fold her underwear into equal thirds, make a proper cup of English tea, and repel the amorous advances of a blind date by donning combat gear and a gas mask.

Laura is a former newspaper reporter and columnist with a degree in journalism who has written hundreds of articles on many subjects ranging from emu ranching and pigeon racing to goat-roping and cemetery board meetings. However, realizing that livestock and local government weren’t her passion, she switched to writing humor, which she calls a “total God-thing.”

Her lifelong dream of writing fiction came true in Spring 2005 with the release of her first chick lit novel, Dreaming in Black & White which won the Contemporary Fiction Book of the Year from American Christian Fiction Writers. Her sophomore novel, Dreaming in Technicolor was published in Fall 2005.

Laura’s third novel, Reconstructing Natalie, chosen as the Women of Faith Novel of the Year for 2006, is the funny and poignant story of a young, single woman who gets breast cancer and how her life is reconstructed as a result. This book was born out of Laura’s cancer speaking engagements where she started meeting younger and younger women stricken with this disease—some whose husbands had left them, and others who wondered what breast cancer would do to their dating life. She wanted to write a novel that would give voice to those women. Something real. And honest. And funny.

Because although cancer isn’t funny, humor is healing.

A popular speaker and teacher at writing conferences, Laura has also been a guest on hundreds of radio and TV shows around the country including the ABC Weekend News, The 700 Club, and The Jay Thomas Morning Show.

Another book in this series is Daring Chloe

She lives in Northern California with her Renaissance-man husband Michael, and Gracie, their piano playing dog

ABOUT THE BOOK:

At 35, Paige Kelley is feeling very “in between.” She’s still working her temp job after two years, still not dating three years after her divorce, and still melting at every chubby-cheeked toddler she sees while her biological clock ticks ever louder. Paige even moves back home to help her ailing, high-maintenance mother.It’s not exactly the life she’d dreamed of!

When her Getaway Girls book club members urge Paige to break free and get on with her life, she’s afraid. How will her mother react? How can Paige honor her widowed mother and still pursue her own life? The answers come from a surprising source.
A trip to Scotland and a potential new love interest help launch an exciting new chapter in her life, and lead Paige to discover that God’s plan for her promises to be more than she ever imagined.

This latest release in the Getaway Girls collection delivers a smart, funny, and warm account of one woman’s challenge to reconcile who she is – a dutiful Christian daughter – with the woman she longs to be.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Turning The Paige, go HERE