Monday, June 30, 2008

Book Giveaway Results and Other Ramblings

Yet again--no winner for the book by Ann Rinaldi- The Coffin Quilt.



I guess that will be the last of the giveaways on my site for now. Unless readership picks up and more people start commenting... Oh well, it was worth a try!



Congratulations to The Lohrs--who will be receiving a copy of She Always Wore Red by Angela Hunt. It's a great sequel to the first book, Doesn't She Look Natural? and I can't wait for book three to be published!


Through all of the computer drama over the past few months, I've kind of been letting things drop on the web side of things. I FINALLY broke down and had one of my students build a computer for me, and I'm still trying to get all of my files and pictures situated on the new machine. I know--mad4books--REALLY wants to see my VBS "angels." And I'm sure you all want to know about my parents' trip to Europe and what they brought me back, right?!

Well, my website bookmarks will have to be rebuilt because I haven't been able to get then switched--grrrr... and "my pictures" has disappeared somewhere. Yes, all 6,000 pictures are hiding somewhere on this new-fangled program. Grrr...VISTA...I WILL WIN in the end! Those missing pictures WILL be found, and then I can share them with you. Okay?


However, I AM thankful that my computer runs MUCH faster and I am able to finally load Photoshop. Now, I just need to figure out how to use it so I can start scrapbooking digitally. Anyone....? I also need to learn how to use Dreamweaver so that I can revamp our websites: Professional Horticultural Services and pH-Farms. I have all kinds of ideas on what I want to do, but when I opened up the program, most of the letters looked like gobbledy-gook. So, it's off to Borders to see if I can find books to show me how to use each of the programs. Have a great week!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cheerio!


My parents are returning from their trip to Europe this evening. My brother, Adam (who took the picture you see above) , sent them plane tickets to spend part of the week in London with him, and the rest to go exploring. I am still really jealous about their whole trip (Where's my ticket?). Of course it didn't help that my Mom called me from Paris and begged me to guess what she was doing right then (midnight their time)---standing in front of the lit up Eiffel Tower. Grrrr......aside from Australia, France is the other place I would LOVE to go and possibly live. Of course I'd have to learn French, but it shouldn't be too hard...right????




Oohhh--sorry.. Didn't mean to make coffee shoot out your nose. Are you okay? Do you need a towel?




I'll have to update you on their adventures after I get the scoop this evening. That is, if their flight is on time.



In other news, I'm kind of disappointed that NO ONE signed up for a chance to win Angela Hunt's first two books in the Fairlawn Series. Did I not give enough time for people to comment for the book giveaways? Should I try again at a later date? Let me know what you think.

---- Disappointed in soggy Tampa

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Spring Read Thing 2008 Wrap-Up


Summer is now here in full swing, complete with the afternoon showers and the hot and muggy weather. This Spring I had decided to read a whole slew of books for the Spring Read Thing 2008.

The Bully by Paul Langan (DONE!)

The Gun by Paul Langan (DONE!)

Until We Meet Again by Anne Schraff (DONE!)

Blood Is Thicker by Paul Langan and D.M. Blackwell (DONE!)

Brothers In Arms by Paul Langan and Ben Alirez (DONE!)

Summer of Secrets by Paul Langan (DONE!)

The Fallen by Paul Langan (DONE!)

Shattered by Paul Langan (DONE!)

Search for Safety by John Langan (DONE!)

Caitlin #1: Becoming Me by Melody Carlson

Caitlin#2: It's My Life by Melody Carlson

Caitlin#3: Who I Am by Melody Carlson

Caitlin#4: On My Own by Melody Carlson

Caitlin#5: I Do! by Melody Carlson

On the Loose by Jenny B. Jones

In Between by Jenny B. Jones

The Coffin Quilt by Ann Rinaldi (DONE!)

Amber Morn by Brandilyn Collins (DONE!)

The Restorer by Sharon Hinck

The Restorer's Son by Sharon Hinck

The Restorer's Journey by Sharon Hinck


Unfortunately, time managed to get away from me and other reading commitments superseded this list. However, I am not beating myself up over not finishing like I did last year--which is quite an improvement!

Bluford Series:

The books by Paul Langan and Anne Scraff are part of what is called the Bluford Series. Right now it is a series of thirteen books about teens in an urban setting. Most of the characters are black or hispanic and come from "rough" backgrounds or lives. These books are great for reluctant or low-level readers, and are touted as low level-high interest books--which I can attest that they fit that category. In fact, we couldn't keep them on the shelves in my last school library--AND most of them disappeared without being checked out. Needless to say, with that much popularity, I just had to read them to find out what the big fuss what all about.


I will say that it is a series and that it has a definite order, but you can hop into the series at any time and still know what's going on. Anne Schraff's books seem to be a little more light-hearted and deal with family and relational issues. She even mentions God a few times and has undercurrents of faith in her storylines. Paul Langan's books have a little bit of faith through in them, but they are more rough and coarse for their readers. He has a lot of gang activity and fighting in his books, and most of his characters are males dealing with "teenage male issues." He also throws some profanity in, but not too much since it's written for teens. Each book is relatively short, and for a good reader--will take about thirty minutes to an hour to read. If you have reluctant readers--have them read some of these books. After all, they're only a dollar each from Townsend Press. :)


The Coffin Quilt by Ann Rinaldi

I realized after I started reading this book that I think I've read it before. However, it may be that I just know the story so well, that it only seems that way. You see, this book is about the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. I'm related to "Devil" Ance Hatfield and have heard many stories from my grandma about his life and "the feud."
It was kind of neat to read about a coffin quilt. (I think that part is the fictional part of the story because my grandmother didn't know anything about a quilt.) Basically, it's a quilt that has little coffins around the outer edge with the family members' names and birth dates embroidered on them. When that person dies, a death date is sewn on and the coffin is moved to the center of the quilt. It's kind of like a family tree through a blanket.
In any case, this quilt is a source of contention throughout the story, which is told by one of the teenaged McCoys. After all, it was her sister that ran away with that "awful" Hatfield boy and continued the feud between the families. (It actually started with pigs being "stolen," which is mentioned in the book, but most people talk about the two teens running away to elope as the source of the feud.) This is a great book if you're interested in reading a historical fiction book. Ann Rinaldi is known for the research she does before writing her books for teenagers.


If you leave a comment on this post between now and Sunday, June 29,2008, I will enter you to win my copy of this book! Right now I can only open this contest up to people in the US, but if you live elsewhere and are interested in giveaways, please let me know. I will post the winner on Monday, June 30, 2008.




This is the last book in her Kanner Lake Series, and I think it's one of the best! It includes all of the characters we've met in the series and they're meeting to celebrate with their very own about-to-be-published author. Unfortunately, evil invades the town again and sets this celebration on its end. Hostages are taken and shots are fired. You'll have to read the series and this book to find out who makes it out alive. It's a great ending to a wonderful series and I'm really sad to have to say goodbye to these characters. The writing has made me feel like I'm a part of Kanner Lake and now they're moving away. (Yes, I do tend to get wrapped up in books, but that just means the writing is superb!) Definitely grab a mug of tea and keep the doors locked while reading. You never know who's watching....




I will eventually get to the other books on my list because I want to add them to our school's library when we return in August, but there are a couple of other books that I want to finish between now and then as well.
I hope you had a wonderful time during the Spring Read Thing 2008. Let me know what you read!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Teen FIRST: Mixed Bags by Melody Carlson



It's June 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!




and her book:


Zondervan (May 1, 2008)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

In sixth grade, Melody Carlson helped start a school newspaper called The BuccaNews (her school’s mascot was a Buccaneer...arrr!). As editor of this paper, she wrote most of the material herself, creating goofy phony bylines to hide the fact that the school newspaper was mostly a "one man" show.

Visit the Melody's website to see all of her wonderful and various book titles.

Don't miss the second book in this series: Stealing Bradford (Carter House Girls, Book 2)

And one of her latest, A Mile in My Flip-Flops will be featured on FIRST Blog Alliance on July 1st!

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714885
ISBN-13: 978-0310714880



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“Desiree,” called Inez as she knocked on the other side of the closed bedroom door. “Mrs. Carter wants to see you downstairs.”

“The name is DJ.”

“I’m sorry, but your grandmother has instructed me to call you Desiree.”

DJ opened the door and looked down on the short and slightly overweight middle-aged housekeeper. “And I have instructed you to call me DJ.”

Inez’s dark eyes twinkled as she gave her a sly grin. “Yes, but it’s your grandmother who pays my salary, Desiree. I take orders from Mrs. Carter. And she wants to see you downstairs in her office, pronto.”

DJ grabbed her favorite Yankees ball cap and shoved it onto her head, pulling her scraggly looking blonde ponytail through the hole in the back of it.

“You’re wearing that?” asked Inez with a frown. “You know what your grandmother says about?—?-”

“Look,” said DJ. “My grandmother might pay you to take orders from her, but I’m a free agent. Got that?”

Inez chuckled. “I got that. But you’re the one who’ll be getting it before too long, Desiree.”

“DJ,” she growled as she tromped loudly down the curving staircase. Why had she let Dad talk her into living with her grandmother for her last two years of high school? She’d only been here since last spring, late into the school year, but long enough to know that it was nearly unbearable. Boarding school would be better than this. At least she’d have a little privacy there and no one constantly riding her?—?-telling her how to act, walk, look, and think. She wished there were some way, short of running away (which would be totally stupid), out of this uncomfortable arrangement.

“There you are,” said Grandmother when DJ walked into the office. Her grandmother frowned at her ball cap and then pasted what appeared to be a very forced smile onto her collagen-injected lips. “I want you to meet a new resident.” She made a graceful hand movement, motioning to where an attractive and somewhat familiar-looking Latina woman was sitting next to a fashionably dressed girl who seemed to be about DJ’s age, but could probably pass for older. The girl was beautiful. Even with the scowl creasing her forehead, it was obvious that this girl was stunning. Her skin was darker than her mother’s, latte-colored and creamy. Her long black hair curled softly around her face. She had high cheekbones and dramatic eyes.

DJ noticed her grandmother smiling her approval on this unhappy-looking girl. But the girl looked oblivious as she fiddled with the gold chain of what looked like an expensive designer bag. Not that DJ was an expert when it came to fashion. The woman stood politely, extending her hand to DJ.

“I’d like to present my granddaughter, Desiree Lane.” Grandmother turned back to DJ now, the approval evaporating from her expression. “Desiree, this is Ms. Perez and her daughter Taylor.”

DJ shook the woman’s hand and mumbled, “Nice to meet you.” But the unfriendly daughter just sat in the leather chair, one long leg elegantly crossed over the other, as she totally ignored everyone in the room.

Grandmother continued speaking to DJ, although DJ suspected this little speech was for Taylor’s mother. “Ms. Perez and I first met when my magazine featured her for her illustrious music career. Her face graced our cover numerous times over the years. Perhaps you’ve heard of Eva Perez.”

The woman smiled. “Or perhaps not,” she said in a voice that was as smooth as honey. “According to my daughter, kids in your age group don’t comprise even a minuscule part of my fan base.”

DJ smiled at the woman now. “Actually, I have heard of you, Ms. Perez. My mom used to play your CDs. She was a serious Latin jazz fan.”

“Was?” She frowned. “I hope her taste in music hasn’t changed. I need all the fans I can get these days.”

Grandmother cleared her throat. “Desiree’s mother?—?-my daughter?—?-was killed in a car accident about a year ago.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

DJ sort of nodded. She never knew how to react when -people said they were sorry about the loss of her mother. It wasn’t as if it were their fault.

“Desiree,” said Grandmother, “Would you mind giving Taylor a tour of the house while I go over some business details with her mother?”

“No problem.”

Grandmother’s recently Botoxed forehead creased ever so slightly, and DJ knew that, once again, she had either said the wrong thing, used bad grammar, or was slumping like a “bag of potatoes.” Nothing she did ever seemed right when it came to her grandmother. “And after the tour, perhaps you could show Taylor to her room.”

“Which room?” asked DJ, feeling concerned. Sure, Taylor might be a perfectly nice person, even if a little snobbish, but DJ was not ready for a roommate just yet.

“The blue room, please. Inez has already taken some of Taylor’s bags up for her. Thank you, Desiree.”

Feeling dismissed as well as disapproved of, DJ led their reluctant new resident out to the foyer. “Well, you’ve probably already seen this.” DJ waved her arm toward the elegant front entrance with its carved double doors and shining marble floor and Persian rug. She motioned toward the ornate oak staircase. “And that’s where the bedrooms are, but we can see that later.” She walked through to the dining room. “This is where we chow down.” She pointed to the swinging doors. “The kitchen’s back there, but the cook, Clara, can be a little witchy about trespassers.” DJ snickered. “Besides, my grandmother does not want her girls to spend much time in the kitchen anyway.”

“Like that’s going to be a problem,” said Taylor, the first words she’d spoken since meeting DJ.

“Huh?” said DJ.

“I don’t imagine anyone is going to be exactly pigging out around here. I mean aren’t we all supposed to become famous models or something?” asked Taylor as she examined a perfectly manicured thumbnail.

DJ frowned. “Well, my grandmother did edit one of the biggest fashion magazines in the world, but I don’t think that means we’re all going to become famous models. I know I’m not.”

Taylor peered curiously at her. “Why not? You’ve got the height, the build, and you’re not half bad looking .?.?. well, other than the fact that you obviously have absolutely no style.” She sort of laughed, but not with genuine humor. “But then you’ve got your grandmother to straighten that out for you.”

DJ just shook her head. “I think my grandmother will give up on me pretty soon. Especially when the others get here. She’ll have girls with more promise to set her sights on.” At least that was what DJ was hoping.

“Has anyone else arrived?”

“Not yet.” DJ continued the tour. “This is the library.” She paused to allow Taylor to look inside the room and then moved on. “And that’s the sunroom, or observatory, as Grandmother calls it.” She laughed. “Hearing her talk about this house sometimes reminds me of playing Clue.”

“What?”

“You know, the murder game, like where Colonel Mustard kills Mrs. Peacock with a wrench in the observatory.”

“Oh, I never played that.”

“Right .?.?.” Then DJ showed Taylor the large living room, the most modern space in the house. Grandmother had put this room together shortly after deciding to take on her crazy venture. Above the fireplace hung a large flat-screen TV, which was connected to a state-of-the-art DVD and sound system. This was encircled by some comfortable pieces of leather furniture, pillows, and throws.

“Not bad,” admitted Taylor.

“Welcome back to the twenty-first century.”

“Do you have wireless here?”

“Yeah. I told Grandmother it was a necessity for school.”

“Good.”

“This house has been in our family for a long time,” said DJ as she led Taylor up the stairs. “But no one has lived here for the past twenty years. My grandmother had it restored after she retired a -couple of years ago.” DJ didn’t add that her grandmother had been forced to retire due to her age (a carefully guarded and mysterious number) or that this new business venture, boarding teen “debutantes,” was to help supplement her retirement income. Those were strict family secrets and, despite DJ’s angst in living here, she did have a sense of family loyalty?—?-at least for the time being. She wasn’t sure if she could control herself indefinitely.

DJ stopped at the second-floor landing. “The bedrooms are on this floor, and the third floor has a ballroom that would be perfect for volleyball, although Grandmother has made it clear that it’s not that kind of ballroom.” She led Taylor down the hall. “My bedroom is here,” she pointed to the closed door. “And yours is right next door.” She opened the door. “The blue room.”

Taylor looked into the pale blue room and shook her head in a dismal way. “And is it true that I have to share this room with a perfect stranger?”

“Well, I don’t know how perfect she’ll be.”

“Funny.” Taylor rolled her eyes as she opened a door to one of the walk-in closets opposite the beds.

“I try.”

“It’s not as big as I expected.”

“It’s bigger than it looks,” said DJ as she walked into the room and then pointed to a small alcove that led to the bathroom.

“Do I get any say in who becomes my roommate?”

“I guess you can take that up with my grandmother.”

Taylor tossed her purse onto the bed closest to the bathroom and then kicked off her metallic-toned sandals. “These shoes might be Marc Jacobs, but they’re killing me.”

“So, you’re really into this?” asked DJ. “The whole fashion thing?”

Taylor sat down on the bed, rubbing a foot. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good.”

DJ felt the need to bite her tongue. Taylor was her grandmother’s first official paying customer to arrive and participate in this crazy scheme. Far be it from DJ to rock Grandmother’s boat. At least not just yet.

“Well, thanks for the tour,” said Taylor in a bored voice. Then she went over to where a set of expensive-looking luggage was stacked in a corner. “Don’t the servants around here know how to put things away properly?”

“Properly?” DJ shrugged.

Taylor picked up the top bag and laid it down on the bench at the foot of one of the beds and opened it.

“Don’t you want to go down and tell your mom good-bye?” asked DJ as she moved toward the door.

Taylor laughed in a mean way. “And make her think she’s doing me a favor by dumping me here? Not on your life.”

“Here are some more bags for Miss Mitchell,” said Inez as she lugged two large suitcases into the room, setting them by the door.

“Put them over there,” commanded Taylor, pointing to the bench at the foot of the other bed. “And don’t pile them on top of each other. This happens to be Louis Vuitton, you know.”

DJ saw Inez make a face behind Taylor’s back. But the truth was DJ didn’t blame her. Inez might be a housekeeper, but she didn’t deserve to be treated like a slave. Suddenly, DJ felt guilty for snapping at Inez earlier today. She smiled now, and Inez looked surprised and a little suspicious. Then DJ grabbed the largest bag, hoisted it onto the bench with a loud grunt, and Taylor turned around and gave her a dark scowl.

“Thank you,” she snapped.

“Later,” said DJ as she exited the room with Inez on her heels.

“Mrs. Carter wants to see you downstairs, Desiree,” announced Inez when they were out on the landing.

“Again?” complained DJ. “What for?”

“Another girl just arrived. Your grandmother wants you to give her a tour too.”

“What am I now?” asked DJ. “The official tour guide?”

“That sounds about right.” Inez gave her a smirk.

DJ wasn’t sure if she could stomach another fashion diva with an attitude problem, but on the other hand, she didn’t want to risk another etiquette lecture from her grandmother either. Once again, she clomped down the stairs and made her appearance in the office, suppressing the urge to bow and say, “At your ser-vice, Madam.”

“Eliza,” gushed Grandmother, “This is my granddaughter, Desiree Lane. And Desiree, I’d like you to meet Eliza Wilton.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Desiree.”

DJ nodded. She could tell by how formal her grandmother was acting that Eliza Wilton must be someone really important?—?-meaning extraordinarily wealthy?—?-even more so than the Mitchells. And that’s when she remembered her grandmother going on about “the Wilton fortune” this morning at breakfast. Of course, that must be Eliza’s family.

“Nice to meet ya, Eliza,” DJ said in a purposely casual tone. This girl was pretty too, but not like Taylor’s dark and dramatic beauty. Eliza was a tall, slender, impeccably dressed, blue-eyed blonde. She wasn’t exactly a Paris Hilton clone?—?-and she didn’t have a little dog as far as DJ could see?—?-but there was a similarity, except that Eliza’s face was a little softer looking, a little sweeter, but then looks could be deceiving.

DJ wondered if the Botox was starting to wear off, as her grandmother studied her with a furrowed brow, probably comparing her to Miss Perfect Eliza. Naturally, DJ would not measure up.

“Eliza is from Louisville,” said Grandmother. “Her parents are presently residing in France, where her father just purchased a vineyard. But Eliza’s grandmother and I are old friends. We went to college together. When she heard about what I was doing up here in Connecticut, she encouraged her daughter to send dear Eliza our way.”

“Lucky Eliza,” said DJ in a droll tone.

Eliza actually giggled. Then Grandmother cleared her throat. “Desiree will give you a tour of the house,” she said. “And she’ll show you to your room.”

“Which is .?.?.??” asked DJ.

“The rose room.”

Of course, thought DJ as she led Eliza from the office. Next to her grandmother’s suite, the rose room was probably the best room in the house. Naturally, someone as important as Eliza would be entitled to that. Not that DJ had wanted it. And perhaps her grandmother had actually offered it to her last month. DJ couldn’t remember. But she had never been a flowery sort of girl, and she knew the rose wallpaper in there would’ve been giving her a serious migraine by now. Besides she liked her sunny yellow bedroom and, in her opinion, it had the best view in the house. On a clear day, you could actually glimpse a sliver of the Atlantic Ocean from her small bathroom window.

DJ started to do a repeat of her earlier tour, even using the same lines, until she realized that Eliza was actually interested.

“How old is this house?”

“Just over a hundred years,” DJ told her. “It was built in 1891.”

“It has a nice feel to it.”

DJ considered this. “Yeah, I kinda thought that too, after I got used to it. To be honest, it seemed pretty big to me at first. But then you’re probably used to big houses.”

“I suppose. Not that I’m particularly fond of mansions.”

“Why aren’t you with your parents?” asked DJ. “In France?”

“They’re concerned about things like politics and security,” said Eliza as they exited the library. “In fact, they almost refused to let me come here.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I think they felt I was safer in boarding school. If our grandmothers hadn’t been such good friends, I’m sure they never would’ve agreed.”

“So, you’re happy to be here?” DJ studied Eliza’s expression.

“Sure, aren’t you?”

DJ frowned. “I don’t know .?.?. I guess.”

“I think it’ll be fun to go to a real high school, to just live like a normal girl, with other normal girls.”

DJ tried not to look too shocked. “You think this is normal?”

Eliza laughed. “I guess I don’t really know what normal is, but it’s more normal that what I’m used to.”

“But what about the whole fashion thing?” asked DJ. “I mean you must know about my grandmother’s plans to turn us all into little debutantes. Are you into all that?”

“That’s nothing new. Remember, I’m from the south. My family is obsessed with turning me into a lady. That was one of the other reasons my parents agreed to this. I think they see the Carter House as some sort of finishing school.”

Or some sort of reformatory school, thought DJ. Although she didn’t say it out loud. Not yet, anyway.





Dynamic Uno here: For anyone who lived through high school, you'll remember the girls who were "worshipped" by all the cute guys and had a wake of "wanna-bes" following their every footsteps. Yep--you know who I'm talking about. Well, Mixed Bags, is about THOSE girls and it gives us a behind-the scenes look at their "secret" lives.

Okay, so it's not a big secret that DJ, or Desiree as her grandmother insists on calling her, is not happy with her new housemates. Not only are they "beautiful" but they also make fun of her because she is NOT the "beautiful" type. DJ prefers sports and sweating to makeup and clothing designers. Taylor--one of her newest housemates--really seems to have it out for DJ. You'll have to read the book to find out what DJ does to try and survive her new guests and her grandmother. You won't be disappointed!

Melody Carlson is a fabulous author. She writes in such a way that her characters and their story come alive while you read. She'll have you laughing and crying--sometimes at the same time! BTW--Book #2: Stealing Bradford is also out in the stores, so you may want to pick that one up while you're there--you'll want to start reading it as soon as you finish Mixed Bags. Yep--they're THAT good!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer Already?

Today is the first day of summer and THIS is what it looks like in "sunny" Tampa, FL.






Yuck! Although I suppose I should be happy for the rain--especially since we are experiencing a drought--I still can't help but feel slightly jilted because summer is supposed to have beautiful days. However, I do know that since we are in Florida, this rain storm will pass and it will be so hot and muggy that I'll probably start complaining about that next.
Happy Summer--wherever you live!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

WILD Card: She Always Wore Red by Angela Hunt




It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

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




Today's Wild Card author is:


Align Center







and her book:







She Always Wore Red




Tyndale House Publishers (April 23, 2008)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Christy-Award winner Angela Hunt writes for readers who have learned to expect the unexpected in novels from this versatile author. With over three million copies of her books sold worldwide, she is the best-selling author of more than 100 works ranging from picture books (The Tale of Three Trees) to novels.

Now that her two children have reached their twenties, Angie and her husband live in Florida with Very Big Dogs (a direct result of watching Turner and Hooch and Sandlot too many times). This affinity for mastiffs has not been without its rewards--one of their dogs was featured on Live with Regis and Kelly as the second-largest canine in America. Their dog received this dubious honor after an all-expenses-paid trip to Manhattan for the dog and the Hunts, complete with VIP air travel and a stretch limo in which they toured New York City.

Afterward, the dog gave out pawtographs at the airport.

Angela admits to being fascinated by animals, medicine, psychology, unexplained phenomena, and “just about everything” except sports. Books, she says, have always shaped her life— in the fifth grade she learned how to flirt from reading Gone with the Wind.

Her books have won the coveted Christy Award, several Angel Awards from Excellence in Media, and the Gold and Silver Medallions from Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award. In 2007, her novel The Note was featured as a Christmas movie on the Hallmark channel. Romantic Times Book Club presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

In 2006, Angela completed her Master of Biblical Studies in Theology degree and completed her doctorate in 2008. When she’s not home reading or writing, Angie often travels to teach writing workshops at schools and writers’ conferences. And to talk about her dogs, of course.


Visit her at her website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One






The nameless cadaver on the cover of my anatomy textbook—a middle-aged man who is no longer black, white, or brown—would be counted among the orange in a census of the embalmed.

Someone should have adjusted the tint before they juiced him.

I flip the book open and study the color photographs of the cadaver’s aortic arch and brachiocephalic veins, then close my eyes and try to commit the multisyllable words to memory. Here I am, near the end of my first semester of mortuary school, and I’m still having trouble keeping my veins and arteries straight.

Behind me, an irate mother in the carpool line is honking, though we have a good three minutes before kindergarten dismissal. She probably has to pick up her child and get back to work before the end of her lunch hour. While I sympathize with her impatience, I wish she’d lay off the horn so I can concentrate.

I open one eye and examine the book propped on my steering wheel. The right internal jugular branches off the right and left brachiocephalic veins, which lie outside the brachiocephalic trunk. Brachiocephalic sounds like some kind of dinosaur. Bugs would like that word.

I turn the book sideways, but the photograph on the page looks nothing like a prehistoric animal. In fact, I find it hard to believe that anything like this jumble of tunnels and tubes exists in my body, but skin covers myriad mysteries.

I snap the book shut as the bell at Round lake elementary trills through the warm afternoon. The kindergarten classes troop out into the sunshine, their hands filled with lunch boxes and construction paper cutouts. The tired teachers stride to the curb and peer into various vehicles, then motion the appropriate children forward.

My spirits lift when my red-haired cherub catches my eye and waves. Bradley “Bugs” graham waits until his teacher calls his name and skips toward me.

“Hey, Mom.” He climbs into the backseat of the van as his teacher holds the door.

“Hey yourself, kiddo.” I check to make sure he’s snapped his seat belt before smiling my thanks at his teacher. “Did you have a good morning?”

“Yep.” He leans forward to peek into the front seat. “Do we hafta go home, or can we stop to get a snack?”

My thoughts veer toward the to-do list riding shotgun in the front passenger seat. I still have to run to the grocery store, swing by the dry cleaner’s to pick up gerald’s funeral suit, and stop to see if the bookstore has found a used copy of Introduction to Infectious Diseases, Second edition. Textbooks are usually pricey, but medical textbooks ought to come with fixed-rate mortgages. Still, I need to find that book if I’m going to complete my online course by the end of the semester.

“I’ll pull into a drive-through,” I tell Bugs, knowing he won’t mind. “You want McDonald’s?”

He nods, so I point the van toward Highway 441.

“Mr. gerald make any pickups today?” Bugs asks.

I ease onto the highway, amazed at how easily my children have accepted the ongoing work of the funeral home. “none today.”

“See this?”

I glance in the rearview mirror and see Bugs waving his construction paper creation. “Yes.”

“It’s a stegosaurus. Can I give it to gerald?”

“I think he’d like that.” I force a smile as an unexpected wave of grief rises within me. like a troublesome relative who doesn’t realize she’s worn out her welcome, sorrow often catches me by surprise. Gerald, the elderly embalmer at Fairlawn, has become a surrogate father for my sons. Thomas, my ex-husband and my children’s father, has been gone for months, but in some ways he’s never been closer. He lies in the Pine Forest Cemetery, less than two miles from our house, so we can’t help but think of him every time we drive by.

I get Bugs a vanilla ice cream cone at the McDonald’s drive-through, and then we run to the grocery store and the dry cleaner. I’ll call the bookstore later. no sense in going there when a simple phone call will suffice.

Finally we turn into the long driveway that leads to the Fairlawn Funeral Home.

Gerald has poured a new concrete pad next to the garage, and as I park on it, Bugs notices that the call car is gone. “uh-oh.” He looks at me. “Somebody bit the dust.”

I press my lips together. A couple of months ago I would have mumbled something about the old station wagon maybe needing a wash, but now I know there’s no reason to shield my children from the truth—we are in the death care industry. The squeamishness I felt when we first arrived vanished the day I walked into the prep room and gloved up to help gerald lay out my ex-husband.

“Come in the house,” I tell my son. “I’ll pour you a glass of milk.”





Dynamic Uno here: Angela Hunt is developing into one of my favorite authors. I had the chance to meet her during Spring Break at my local public library where she shared information about the writing process and her latest books--of which She Always Wore Red is one. I must admit, when I saw the cover for Doesn't She Look Natural, Book #1 in the Fairlawn series, I truly thought it was a typical "chic-lit" book. As I started reading, I realized that this book was SO much more! (When Ms. Hunt came to our library to speak, she mentioned that the covers were different because she didn't want to convey a different meaning for the series because it isn't your standard chic-lit book, which is what the first original cover shows.)





Doesn't She Look Natural (Book #1):
It's about Jennifer Graham, who is going through a divorce as she tries to raise her two young sons in today's world. Having no money, and now, no job, she is living with her mother as she weighs her options for income. One day she receives a phone call that completely changes her world--she has inherited a dilapidated funeral home in Mt. Dora, Florida! Thinking that this might be a blessing in disguise, Jennifer decides to check things out in this sleepy little town. The rest of the story is about how Jennifer must work through her own shortcomings and learn to forgive others, all while learning to trust in God. It's a great beginner to the series that continues to surprise me.




She Always Wore Red (Book #2):
Jennifer continues to try and fix-up Fairlawn while learning to adapt to a small town's life. There are a lot of surprises in this book, so I don't want to say too much more except--you HAVE to read it!


To help you out, I am giving away a copy of each "gently used" book (Doesn't She Look Natural and She Always Wore Red) to one person who comments on this posting between now and Sunday, June 22, 2008. I will announce the winner of the two books on Monday, June 23, 2008! Unfortunately, this contest is only open to people in the US, but if you live elsewhere and are interested in future give-aways, please let me know!
Good luck and Happy Reading!!








Tuesday, June 17, 2008

An Interview with Author Sue Dent

I cannot take credit for this interview. However, if you are interested in Sue Dent, or other "WILD Card authors", please join our group!


Sue, I've been doing a little research into your book. Congrats!
You've gotten some great kudos for the book and I'm even more anxious
to read it.

Yes, I'm always surprised when another review rolls in. Especially I
usually never solicit for them! I'd always heard getting those
reviews would be tough and many first time novelists must send out
review copies to get the reviews that people will pay attention to.
Good thing God's in control! J My first publisher didn't have time to
send out review copies. We were on a deadline to get the books to
Book Expo 2006 for my author signing.


I am interested in ways to express, as you said, Light in new
ways. I would think a story of evil vs good could be well presented
in the legends of vampires and werewolves. Anyway, I'm anxious to
read the book.

That's just what it does too. And in a way so that a Christian can
read and enjoy without compromising their Faith.


I am curious - where has your book been marketed? Obviously not to
the CBA stores so are you out in the general market? Has that been a
challenge to get it marketed there?

I marketed my book to the general market, Christian and otherwise. I
Targeted Young Adult readers, Horror readers, Fantasy readers and, it
seems, readers of the conservative evangelical CBA market. I
certainly do market to CBA readers as they, so far, have been some of
my biggest advocates. Sadly that doesn't mean my book will be in CBA
Christian Bookstores, (BTW most bookstores with the label Christian
attached are CBA) but that's because, as a rule, they only allow
books in that meet their strict CBA/ECPA guidelines. Guidelines set
up to protect their conservative evangelical market. The only
challenge there has been to redirect people's thinking that not being
in a Christian bookstore means nothing more than you don't write for
a particular niche market. And let me tell you, that's a BIG
challenge!


What inspired you to write Forever Ceese?
*Sue shaking head* Yet another title for my book. LOL Okay, it's
Never Ceese, silly. But at least you didn't call it Never Cease. I'm
keeping a tally you know. J


What readers do you think would most enjoy this book?
Based on the reviews—everyone! My mom looks at everything I do with
a critical eye and rose above that to tell me she really enjoyed it.
Many CBA readers have rushed to embrace it. Horror readers, Fantasy
readers, readers who like good books—you name it. I'm constantly
amazed.


What would you like your readers to gain from the book?
I good read. I want them to have a spare moment that they want to
fill with something entertaining and exciting. That's what I want
from a book.


What inspires you as you write?
What inspires you to breath? There are stories in my head all the
time, every day. They're so good that as a child, I'd think all day
about one in particular so I'd could hopefully dream about it at
night. I honestly did this and was always excited when it worked out
that it happened.


Tell us something about yourself that we couldn't discover from
reading your website.

I don't like the horror genre. It scares me. LOL But I love vampire
and werewolf lore. It intrigues me.


I know you've written a second novel, Forever Richard. Do you plan
to write more books in this genre?

I like the speculative aspect. I have several other stories ready to
go that are speculative in nature. Hopefully the next one out will be
my modern day rodeo, western with a bit of voo-doo in it! Oh, yes I
did just say that! LOL


How is your faith expressed in your writing?
I write what I know. I was raised a Southern Baptist. Go figure! My
Granddaddy Lawler was a fire and brimstone Southern Baptist preacher.
He ordained my brother who is also presently a Baptist minister after
spending much time on the road with his family as the southern gospel
singing wonders, "The Steele Family." My family later started
attending a charismatic non-denominational church. What a wonderful
place of worship that was! My writing is a culmination of all that I
am.


What advice could you give to other writers interested in writing
Christian horror/speculative fiction?

A Christian author should never assume everything with the label
Christian means that's what it is even if they're told differently.
There are many different markets for Christians. The label Christian
should never be attached to an organization unless it strives to
appeal to all Christians. Otherwise they should say who they appeal
to. I point directly to CBA/ECPA because they are notorious for not
saying who their market is and it leads a LOT of authors into
experiences they shouldn't have to go through. CBA serves a very
targeted market of conservative evangelicals. It's important to make
the distinction between them and the general Christian market. It's
important to do so because, as a rule, they won't. Their market is
not the general Christian market. The speculative fiction they
produce should legitimately be called CBA speculative fiction, as it
has to meet the same guidelines and writing restrictions as all their
other work.

When a Christian market is asking for speculative fiction MS's please
explore the market. If you're turned down and told it's because your
work isn't Christian enough, please explore further. It's difficult
to be write for the CBA market and why would you if you want to
appeal to the general Christian market. You will have to compromise
your writing to appeal to their market. BTW that's not a problem if
that's what you want to do. Just know that they're looking for
something very specific. J

My first publisher was Christian (not CBA affiliated as the label now
seems to infer.) My new publisher is also Christian. I've been
blessed by God twice and actually found two publishers who aren't
afraid to say who they are and sever the general Christian market as
well! How cool is that?

Grrr...the Post Office is on my Bad List!

In my last post about Sue Dent's book--Never Ceese, I was excitedly waiting to receive it in the mail. When I arrived home from work Friday evening, there in the mailbox was the much anticipated book. When I opened the package--very carefully, I might add--I pulled out the book, and this is what it looked like....




Obviously something was a little off, and then I turned it over...



And over again.....


And then I turned it sideways...






So then I decided to look at the packaging. It was there that I found this note stamped onto the front...


Most of it is missing due to the tape on the envelope, but in essence it says:
"Package Damaged in Handling. Please accept our apologies....Memphis, Tennessee"




My first thought was--YIKES! At least they thought to put a stamp on the package. I'm sure they're really sorry, so I'll take it to the post office and have them replace the book for me. No worries. (Even though it was a signed book. I guess I can cut out the signature from the old one and no one else will know the difference.)




I couldn't go on Saturday because I had to work until after noon, so I took my package after work Monday afternoon. After being called up in the non-existent line, I exchanged pleasantries with J. (yes, that was what was on his name tag) and explained the situation. That I had received the book in the mail on Friday afternoon and that it was damaged in shipping as the stamp indicated on the front, and that I would please like the book (Never Ceese by Sue Dent) replaced so that I could start reading it because I was really excited about the book's plot.





J. calmly informed me that because the package did not have insurance on it ("which you can buy for each package you send, and I highly recommend it") that the Postal Service would not replace the book.





To which I replied, a little less calmly, but I've never put insurance on a book and I've never had them damaged before in the mail--and I purchase/receive roughly 20 books a month in the mail, and that this was the first book that has been damaged, and would he please replace it because it was damaged in shipping as the stamp indicates?





J. then proceeded to tell me about all the ways a book/box can be damaged, and that once again, he highly recommends insuring packages for this very reason, and that he's sorry, but there's nothing he, or the Postal Service can do about my damaged book.





Now wearing a frown, I then asked J. why Tennessee hadn't contacted the sender of the package since they are the ones who damaged it? He proceeded to tell me that he didn't know, but that there's nothing he could do, and sent me on my less-than-merry way.





Needless to say, I am NOT happy about the state of things. However, I am really excited about reading Never Ceese, by Sue Dent, so I am going to try and purchase a signed copy at Signed By the Author, and I'll go ahead and pre-buy the sequel--Forever Richard.






Thanks for listening to me whine about the Post Office. Needless to say, I will not be having a drawing for this book, however, I will be giving some other books away soon, so stay tuned!


UPDATE:
The books are not available at the Signed by the Author site--I should have checked before I published that information (bad librarian!)! They are available through other local and online retailers such as Borders.

Friday, June 13, 2008

FIRST: WILD Card Tour-Never Ceese by Sue Dent



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

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



This Friday the 13th -- A vampire . . . a werewolf . . . can two who were wronged make it right? By their Faith!



Today's Wild Card author is:






and her book:




Never Ceese

Journey Stone Creations (February 1, 2006)
(Autographed copies can be ordered through www.thewriterscafepress.com/)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sue Dent hails from Mississippi. She graduated from Mississippi College in 1983. Since graduating she’s sold computers, taught computer classes and has worked as a Technical Specialist IV for the Mississippi Department of Natural Resources.

Her first book Never Ceese was published in May of 2006. It has since been short-listed for a Bram Stoker Award in the category of Superior Achievement in a First Novel.

This past March Sue was an invited guest of Nicholas Grabowsky to the World Horror Convention in Toronto Canada. Never Ceese was also at Comic-Con 2007 in San Diego and represented by Head Press Publishing.

Of her writing, which continues to successfully cross both Secular and Christian boundaries, Sue says, “Well, somebody had to do it. Might as well be me.”

Her much anticipated sequel Forever Richard is due out in 2008 published by The Writers’ CafĂ© Press. As always, watch www.NeverCeese.com/ and www.ForeverRichard.com/ for updates.

Visit her at her website.


Product Details

List Price: $17.99
Hardcover: 300 pages
Publisher: Journey Stone Creations (February 1, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1599580179
ISBN-13: 978-1599580173

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


PROLOGUE

She was finally alone, all alone. Merideth had taken all six children with him, and she wouldn’t see them again until much later, after the church service Merideth was leading ended. The weathered, horse-drawn wagon had never looked so full, and for a brief moment, Julia wanted to go along, too. Holding back tears as they pulled away wasn’t easy. Yet when she could no longer hear the wagon wheels creaking along, or the steady plod of their mare pulling it, she regrouped. They would be back soon enough, and until then, she should enjoy this free time. After all, Merideth had planned this time alone for her. Julia wouldn’t spoil it by being sad.

She would work in the garden. No, she would sit in her garden, and absolutely no one would bother her. But first, she must tidy up. Yes, she thought. I will tidy up, then relax.

She started in the small kitchen, but only had to spend a little time there. Her two daughters had cleaned it before they left. She moved on. Instinctively, she kept looking for a child to come darting out, a daughter or a son, calling to her for one thing or another. She paused, fought back another tear. Even when they weren’t there, they were. She went along, picked up a shirt and scolded the child who had left it, though the child was nowhere around to be affected by her words. This time Julia laughed, realized how ridiculous she sounded. I’ve been a mother far too long! But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Julia didn’t look at all like someone’s mother. After six children, she still looked very much like an older sister. She and Merideth married young and had gotten started early. She hadn’t had time to think about growing old and, consequently, it didn’t seem she had. Her face was smooth, not one line or blemish, and only seemed to attract more attention than when she was younger. Men took notice, but she wanted none but Meri. He doted on her, took care of her and loved her like no other could.

Meri was a fine catch in his own right: a man of God, strong and humble, captivating and caring. She smiled knowingly, then carried the shirt she had collected from the floor back to where it belonged, all while thinking of the one person she could never get enough of.

In the small room where the boys slept, she placed the shirt on the bed closest to the door. But just as she began turning around to leave, a shadow overtook hers, a much larger one.

“Who’s there?” she said, rattled. “What do you want?” But she got no answer.

She turned slowly, and stifled her scream. The man was much too close, blocking her way out of the room.

She would go. She would run. He would never catch her. “If . . . AWRIf you’re here to see Mer— my husband . . . he’s just out back. I’ll go and get him.”

But he grabbed her arm tight when she tried to get by.

“Husband not here. Children not here. Julia all alone. Julia woman of Go—” He stopped, placed the palm of his free hand against his forehead, as though trying to force some unimaginable pain away. After a moment, he spoke again. “Want Julia and husband to leave.”

Why was he talking like that? What was wrong with him and how did he know her name? The questions came to her at once. She didn’t care about the answers though; she just wanted to leave. She pulled again. “Please, let me go.”

But he didn’t. Instead, he led her outside, took her into the woods that thickened just past the garden, and handed her off to another man whose grip was just as firm.

“No words,” the first man said. “No kill.”

A feeling of dread overcame her as she watched the first man leave, then turned to face the one who now held her. She’d seen his lustful smile before. When Meri couldn’t accompany her on her errands in town, she got those looks sometimes. They always made her feel awkward, uneasy. But not terrified, as she was now.

The remainder of that time was a blur as Julia forced herself not to think about what the man was doing as he forced himself on her. Finally it was over, and he left.

Julia felt sick, rolled over onto her side and took deep breaths. A twig snapped behind her. She started, managed to get to her feet but froze in fear. Why won’t they just leave me alone?

The first man was back, moved toward her cowering form and spoke. “Julia not forget this day. Julia never forget. Tell husband to go. Only evil will stand here.”

What happened next, Julia was sure no one would ever believe. Right before her eyes, the man turned into a wolf. The wolf came at her, tore his claws at her right side.

She managed to get to a tree and hid behind it, certain the wolf would come after her and kill her. She waited, eyes screwed shut, but nothing happened. Long moments passed, and she finally opened her eyes to see that the wolf was once again the man.

“Leave,” he grunted at her.

Holding her bleeding side with her hands, she pushed through the pain and ran—stumbling, falling to her knees more than once—but eventually making it back to the house. The door was still open, she noticed, and, with what energy she had left, she stumbled inside, bolted the door and collapsed. When she was able, she tore at her already-ripped blouse to make long strips. Using them as bandages, she dressed the wound.

As she worked, the room became steadily darker; the sun was setting, her family would be home soon. She did what she could to pull herself together for their sakes. They couldn’t know. No one could know. No one could ever, ever know!

When her family returned, they found her sitting in the tiny parlor, sewing.

She fumbled through the next few days. When emotion overwhelmed her, she simply went to her room. One morning her oldest son questioned her. She told him it was nothing, but his face told her he didn’t believe her. She knew he’d go to his father, but no longer cared.

* * *AWR

AWRThe garden was where Julia went often to seek solace, and she was there when Merideth found her that afternoon, sitting and staring vacantly at her favorite rosebush, the one he gave her on her birthday: the one she nurtured like her seventh child.

In May of 1785, Merideth answered the call of God to go to Llandyfan, Wales. He took Bibles, medicines, his wife and small son. To the Baptists, who had established themselves in this new territory, Merideth was a Godsend. To the evil that had taken root all around, he was an adversary. Merideth won many souls over. For him and his family, it was a new beginning, something they were looking forward to. But now, his dear wife was troubled, and that troubled him mightily.

“And what thought has you staring so intently?” Merideth asked, his kind voice offset by his worry.

Julia broke herself from her trance, shook her head. “Nothing, Meri.” She tried but failed to smile.

Merideth took a few steps closer, sat on his heels next to where she’d settled on a small wooden bench, one he’d made for her so she could sit while tending to her roses. “Our oldest son has come to me with concerns about his mother. I have been far too busy, I should have seen. You haven’t been yourself, and I do so miss that. What is troubling you?”

She wanted to tell him but her words caught in her throat. The memory of that horrid day was still too fresh. All at once she felt the man’s hands on her again, could hear him breathing close to her ear, smell the earth as he pinned her to the ground. She stared at Merideth, tried to push the memories away, but they couldn’t be stopped. Tears threatened.

Merideth, seeing this, attempted to pull her toward him with gentle hands. But all Julia could see was the man in the woods. “No,” she said, and flung her hands in front of her.

His alarm grew. “Julia, please, I just— If I have done something, please tell me.”

She was staring at the ground when she spoke. “It is not you, it is me. I . . . I have shamed you.”

“Shamed me?” he sputtered. “What are you saying? You could never shame me.”

She took a wavering breath. “Two days ago, there was a man. When you took the children with you. He-He came into the house while I was alone— I tried to run, Meri, but he grabbed me and took me to the woods . . . to where another man waited and—”

“Julia,” Merideth said, his breath going out of him, and then again, “Julia.”

He took her by her shoulders this time, and Julia froze. After a second, though, she realized this was Meri, her Meri, and not some terrible memory. Seconds later, she relaxed, allowed him to hold her close, drew from his strength.

“I can’t believe you kept this from me,” he said, his voice catching. “I can’t believe you— that you didn’t say something sooner. Right away.”

“I . . . I didn’t want to upset the children.”

In awe, Merideth held her at arms’ length. “The children? Julia, what about you? What did you think would happen if you kept this inside?”

“I also didn’t want to lose you. I couldn’t bear it.”

“As if I would ever consider leaving you!”

A tiny wave of relief washed over her.

“You are my life, Julia. My world.” He pulled her close again. “We’ll get through this. God will help us.”

“There’s more, Meri,” Julia said, pushing herself farther away on the bench. “The man . . . the first man, he-he came back after the other man had . . . had—”

Merideth put a finger to her lips before she could finish. “None of it matters.”

“But it’s not what you think.” She wanted to get the words out before fear overwhelmed her. “The first man, he . . . he talked about your mission, about the work you do.” The words rushed out now. “He said we should leave this place and never come back. Said there was no room for good here, that evil prevailed. He then said . . .” she took a deep breath, “if we didn’t leave, he would come back for the children and—”

She couldn’t finish, and he wouldn’t make her. Neither did he hesitate to respond. “Then we shall move—as soon as possible. We will leave this place.”

“But Meri, this is where you felt the Lord leading you! You have sacrificed so much, worked so hard—it would be like giving up.” She was remembering the stir he’d caused when he started baptizing. Immersion in water wasn’t something familiar to anyone in the area then.

“The Lord will understand,” he said without compromise. “I must protect you . . . our children.”

“But you have done so much good here. If only I could have gotten away—”

“Listen to me, Julia! This was not your fault. It was a terrible thing that happened to you, but we will get through it.”

“But Meri . . . I fear . . . I fear I am with child. His child.”

Meri’s eyes widened, but held none of the censure Julia had dreaded. “You really believe you are with child?” he said, wiping a wayward tear from her face. “His child?”

She could only nod.

“But it has only been two days, how can you—? The midwife was certain you could bear no more. We have tried, and—”

At last, her eyes met his. “I know how it must sound, and I don’t want to believe it either. But I’ve had six. I . . . I know how it feels. All six times, I felt like I do now.”

A long pause later, Meri said, “Then we will have another child—another AWRblessing.”

The words sounded harsh to Julia. No, they sounded foolish. How could this child ever be a blessing? “Not like this, Meri,” she said, more tears breaking free. “Not like this.”

“It will be fine, Julia. You’ll see. We will call it a miracle. The children will be overjoyed. No one will know the truth but us . . . and we will never tell.”

“You could love this child?” she said, not believing.

“As if it were my own. I love you, Julia and if this child is yours, then it is mine and it always will be.”

“Meri . . . there is one other thing.” Because of the bizarre nature of what she was about to say, she didn’t wait for him to ask. “Before the man left— the first man, the one who led me into the woods, he . . . he turned into a wolf.”

For the first time, she saw disbelief pass over his face—and something else.

“Perhaps you were just overwhelmed by what happened,” he said. “Delirious. It-It must have been horrible.”

Julia eased up her blouse, carefully removed the strips of cloth she kept over her wounds and revealed what was beneath. The marks were deep and still looked fresh. “He told me . . . before he changed . . . you might need proof.”

Her tears returned, but Merideth could only stare glassy-eyed. He had seen marks such as these before. A young boy and two men from his last mission. All three had died after being attacked by a wolf. All three bore marks identical to the ones his wife was showing him now. And all three had given him a message before they breathed their last breath. They had told him to leave and never come back.

“Did he bite you?” he asked awkwardly. “When he was the wolf, I mean.”

Julie shook her head. “No. Just left these scratches.” She had a hard time figuring out why he asked something so odd. “Is there a reason why you need to know that? Would-Would it make matters worse?”

“Just different,” Merideth said, and reached out to help her ease her shirt back down. “Now, let’s go have those scratches looked at.”

* * *AWR

As he left with her, the two responsible looked on from behind thick bushes. One was a man, the other . . . not quite. He’d been cursed centuries ago, his soul held captive by his own evil. He had cursed many, and would therefore remain cursed forever.

“All right,” the one beside him said. “I did what you asked. Yet I still don’t understand why you couldn’t have done it yourself.” He gave the same leering smile that had so frightened Julia. “You might have enjoyed it. I rather did.”

The man listening wasn’t bothered by the comment. His curse lessened his desire to indulge in the act the other man referred to, even made it difficult. Even if he had been able to, there was no way for him to do what the other man had done. The act, yes, but his seed wouldn’t yield any offspring. He had tried many times before without success.

“Just seems odd to me you wouldn’t want her for yourself.”

The man gave a distant nod, but said nothing. He had other ways of getting pleasure. Spreading his curse was one of those. But since this interfering minister had come to live in the town, pleasure was hard to come by. It wasn’t easy to get close to people who forever had a prayer on their lips or a cross around their neck.

He had to get rid of the minister . . . make an example of him so others wouldn’t feel inclined to take up his cause. This was his territory. He was here first, and the minister was in the way.

“So when do I get the money you promised?” his companion said. “I need to be on my way.” He gave a furtive grin. “Or maybe I’ll just visit Julia again.”

He put a hand to the talkative man’s throat and squeezed. “Julia with child. No touch Julia!”

“Why would you care?” the man croaked. “It’s not your child, but mine.”

The accusation was true, to a point. Yet the scratches he’d left for the minister to see were potent enough to affect the child. Perhaps it would develop keen hearing or an enhanced sense of smell. He’d heard of a similar attack, which yielded a boy-child who could pick up a scent as quick as any dog. When the child was old enough, weaned from its mother’s breast, the attacker, the one who’d done the scratching, took the child from his parents. In the same way, Julia’s child would be his child. When the time was right.

Gasping sounds brought his attention back to the one at the end of his arm, and he loosened his grip slightly.

“All right,” the man sputtered. “I won’t touch her. Just give me my money and I’ll be on my way.”

He might have screamed if he’d known what was coming, but he was dead the second the canine-like fangs pierced the large vein in his neck. He never felt his mutilated body being dragged, then dropped near the spot where Julia’s attack occurred.

* * *AWR

The gravedigger stood knee-deep in what he’d already dug out and shoveled a little longer, his task not far from done. The man’s remains lay, covered, a few feet away.

There were no mourners.

Merideth was there to read last rites at the request of another who’d had other obligations, and Julia had come along with him. She often did when she could arrange to be away from the children. And Merideth had said the one they were burying had no family, no friends anyone knew of, and this bothered her. Julia believed everyone deserved a proper burial, so she stood by the grave of someone she didn’t know, face veiled and head bowed, to pay her respects.

The gravedigger worked a little longer, then climbed out, plunged his shovel into the fresh pile of dirt and stepped far back, wiping beads of sweat from his forehead. “Whenever you’re ready, Minister.”

Merideth nodded, clutched his Bible, and knelt beside the body. When the gravedigger bowed his head, Julia raised hers, and when Merideth lifted the shroud covering the man’s face, as he typically did to begin the service, Julia gasped, “It’s him!”

Stunned, Merideth looked back toward Julia, turned slightly to the gravedigger. When it was clear the man hadn’t heard her, he turned back to Julia. “You’re sure?” he whispered.

She brought a shaky hand to her mouth and nodded. Merideth got up and went to his wife, pulled her close, noting her rapid breathing.

“I’m taking you home,” he said, lifting her up to carry her back to their horse-drawn wagon.

The gravedigger was paying attention now, and looked confused. “But what about your duty?” he called after them.

Merideth’s words were hard. “You shall have to find the Devil himself to bury that one.”

A week after, Merideth and his family loaded their possessions and moved on.


Dynamic Uno here: I can't wait to get Never Ceese in the mail! The first chapter alone has me hooked--especially the bit about the curse. I know, I probably shouldn't be so enthralled with vampires and werewolves, but it's been an obsession since I was little and I don't think I'll ever get rid of it. I want to find out if the baby becomes a werewolf, or if the werewolf is able to get rid of the curse by accepting Christ as his Savior. Hopefully the postman brings it in the mail today so I can find out! (How apropos for Friday the 13th!) Happy Reading!

Friday, June 6, 2008

FIRST-WILD Card Tour: Fossil Hunter by Dr. John Olsen



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

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






Today's Wild Card author is:


and his book:


Fossil Hunter
Tyndale House Publishers (April 2, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

John Olson is an award-winning novelist and speaker who lives with his wife Amy and two children in San Leandro, CA. John earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and did postdoctoral research at the University of California at San Francisco. After eight years as a director and principal scientist at a major scientific software company, John has quit his day job to devote himself full-time to a ministry of writing and speaking. He has won several awards for his writing, including a Christy Award, a Christy finalist, a Silver Angel award, and placement on the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age.

John's book is part of the Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed campaign. Ben Stein's movie Expelled is now available on DVD. Find more details at Expelled the Movie.

Visit his website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

Katie braced her shoulder against the ladies’ room door. Heavy knocks pounded into her arm, rattling the metal door against its frame.

“Katie, come out right now!” Dietrich Fischer’s voice echoed through the tiled bathroom. “Already we are six minutes late. Everyone is now waiting!”

Squinting her eyes against the hard fluorescent light, Katie tried to clear her mind, but the faces wouldn’t go away. An old man in a brown suit. Bloodshot, yellowing eyes. A generous dusting of dandruff on his shoulders, more on the left than on the right. The Asian woman standing in the back with the Mi-nolta camera clasped tightly in long, manicured fingers. The fat man in the straining yellow polo. The four undergrads in the front row, whispering and nudging when she poked her head into the room . . .

“So what is it that is wrong? You are being sick?” Dietrich’s voice broke through the battery of faces. “Answer me!”

Katie lifted a hand to her cheek. Her skin was cold and moist. Her stomach felt like it was going to boil over. Maybe if she just told him . . .

“Katie?” Dietrich hammered on the door, three piercing blows that buzzed into her brain.

She turned to face the door. “I told you . . . an intimate seminar-—just for the department. You promised.”

“I did. I invited only the department. They made to put up the flyers, but I told them no.”

“But the conference room’s almost full. You know I can’t . . . We had a deal.”

“Katie, listen to me. These people are already liking you. They want to meet this smart, brave fossil hunter they read about in the papers. You should be happy to have such fans. What do you want? To disappoint them?”

“But I . . . you know I can’t do this. It’s too many people. I’ll just make a fool of myself. Maybe if I did a webcast for every-one. I could include pictures and all my data. They’d actually get a much better—”

The door pushed in on her, skidding her ridiculous heels clackety--clack across the tiled floor. Dietrich’s jowly face ap-peared in the doorway, squinty eyes darting around the room before settling on her with a frown.

Pulling herself up straight, Katie stared back at him. She wasn’t budging from the ladies’ room. If he wanted a confronta-tion, he was going to get it right here.

“Katie . . .” Dietrich cleared his throat uneasily. “Katie, I know you don’t like much the speaking to crowds. But I need you to do this. I and the whole lab. We need you.”

Katie searched Dietrich’s face. Something was wrong. Great beads of sweat were rolling down his expansive cheeks. His pupils were too contracted. “This isn’t about the depart-ment, is it? Something else is going on.”

“Nothing is going on with anything. It is a seminar. That is all. A simple seminar in which Thomas Woodburne just hap-pens to be in the audience. But not to worry about him. He’s one of your biggest fans. He told me this himself. Just tell the story of Peru. Show the pictures of the Pericetus. You’ll be very good.”

“Thomas Woodburne? The guy from the Smithsonian? What’s he doing here?”

“He’s very important in Washington. In the NAS.”

“Since when do you care about the National Academy?”

“Since always I care about the Academy. Our grant . . .” Dietrich’s face contorted into a scowl. He cocked his head and turned to face the wall. “Grant money does not grow on the trees, you know. This affects your research as much more than mine.”

“My research?” Katie stepped toward Dietrich, forcing him to look her in the eye. “You said they’d renewed the grant. You said it wasn’t a problem.”

Dietrich took a couple of shuffling steps backward until he hit the wall. “It won’t be. I’m filing an appeal. Once they find out about your new work . . .”

“So you invited Woodburne without telling me? Who else did you invite? Half of Albuquerque’s in there.”

Dietrich looked down at his watch. “Eight minutes late! We must go out there now.”

“Fine; go ahead. I’m not stopping you.” Katie turned to walk away, but a meaty paw pulled her up short.

“Just tell the story of Peru. The capture of the fossil thieves. That is just what they would like to hear.”

“But there isn’t anything to tell. They destroyed the fossil before I could even look at it.”

“Katie, please.” His hand tightened around her shoulder. “I need you to do this. Without the grant renewed . . . we’ll be out of money by November. I won’t be able to pay your salary. Hooman’s salary. Wayne’s, Peggy’s . . . No money, no re-search.”

Katie took a deep breath. The room was so crowded. . . .

“You want I should tell Hooman he has to go back?”

“Okay, I get the point. I’m being blackmailed.” She resisted the tug on her shoulder.

“Whitemailed only. I’m the good guy boss. Yes?”

Katie couldn’t help smiling. She stopped resisting and al-lowed herself to be led back to the door.

“This will be very easy. You will see.” He held the door open for her and guided her through. “They are all your biggest fans.”

Katie focused on her adviser’s voice as he led her down the hallway. She could do this. It was just like her thesis de-fense. The number of people didn’t matter. Four or four hun-dred. It was all the same—as long as she didn’t look at them.

Dietrich opened the auditorium door and the roar of voices filled her ears. God, help me. Please . . . She looked down at the floor, allowing herself to be guided to the front of the room. Her heart pounded in her chest, pulsing through her neck. She couldn’t breathe. There was too much pressure.

“Everyone, thank you for being so patient. . . .” Dietrich’s voice beat against the roar. Seats squeaked. Desktops clanged into place. Zippers, papers, the shuffling of feet . . .

Katie tightened her grip on Dietrich’s arm, leaning against his bulk for balance. One step at a time, she focused on each carpeted stair tread as she climbed higher and higher onto the stage. The murmur of voices assaulted her. She could feel thousands of eyes staring at her. She was naked, exposed, on display for all the world to see.

God, please . . .

“. . . earned her PhD in earth and planetary sciences here at the University of New Mexico, where she was the first to dis-cover . . .”

Katie gripped the podium with both hands and pulled her-self up straight as Dietrich introduced her. The Pericetus whales, the geology of South America . . . She could do this. She didn’t have many geology slides, but she could start with her latest findings and use them as a segue into her research on the Pericetus fossils. And then maybe, if everything was going okay, she’d tell them about Peru. It was the only thing people seemed to care about these days—even the other pale-ontologists were more interested in Peru than in her research. Nothing ever changed. Even behind bars the fossil poachers were still stealing her science.

A burst of applause washed through the auditorium. Flashes of blinding light. Katie stared determinedly down at the laptop on the podium. Her ears and cheeks were burning scar-let. Who was taking pictures? She was going to look like a blushing radish.

“Thank you for coming.” Her words came out strong and clear. “Before I start talking about ancient whale anatomy, which is, I’m sure, the reason you’re all here—” Katie took a calming breath as a ripple of laughter ran through the room—“I’d like to give a brief summary of some recent work I’ve done on the geology of South America.”

The auditorium was perfectly still. Katie relaxed her grip on the podium. She could do this. Piece of cake.

“As you all know, the Tethys Sea, which once covered In-dia, Pakistan, and most of what is now the modern Middle East, was home to the earliest archaeocetes we’ve uncovered to date: the pakicetids, ambulocetids, protocetids, basilo-saurines—”

“Katie, a tiny minute please!” Dietrich called out from the corner of the stage. “For the undergrads and guests . . . Per-haps you must explain the evolutionary significance of these early whales. What is it, the reason of their importance?”

“Okay . . .” Katie closed her eyes and focused on her breathing. She wouldn’t let him get to her. Now wasn’t the time. “Fifty years ago—” she chose her words carefully—“whales were held up as an argument against the evolutionary model. If modern whales evolved from terrestrial mammals, why didn’t we see any evidence in the fossil record? Why didn’t we see any intermediary forms?

“Since then, however, paleontologists have uncovered scores of putative intermediary whale forms. The pakicetids, first discov-ered in Pakistan by Gingerich in 1981, were fleet-footed land animals with very few adaptations for marine life except for a few features of their ears. They lived roughly 50 million years ago during the early Eocene sub-epoch.

“The ambulocetids, or so-called walking whales, also lived during the early Eocene of Pakistan. They too seemed primarily terrestrial and had well-developed limbs and feet.

“The protocetids of the middle Eocene, however, were pri-marily aquatic. The Rodhocetus, for example, swam using elongated, paddlelike hind feet and the side-to-side motion of its powerful tail.

“Later, during the late Eocene, we get the appearance of the basilosaurines and durodontines, which were fully aquatic and swam like modern whales using an up-and-down motion of their tale flukes. These archaeocetes differed from modern whales in that they had very small, almost vestigial, hind limbs. They also lacked blowholes on the tops of their skulls.”

Katie glanced over at Dietrich and received a curt nod. So far so good. “Okay, as I was saying before, most of the earliest whales have been found in and around the Middle East, but due to certain social and political, um . . . factors, most Western paleontologists haven’t been able to get into these areas for a long time. A few privileged scientists have obtained exclusive permits to go into Pakistan, and one scientist in particular, who shall remain nameless, has recently made some pretty amaz-ing discoveries there, but since the fossils aren’t allowed out-side the country, none of the rest of us have been able to verify them. So those of us who want to study ancient whales are pretty much out of luck. Until now . . .

“It just so happens that the geology of the western South American continent is very similar to that of the Middle East. In theory we should be able to find the same types of whales there that Nick Murad, our unnamed scientist, has found in Pakistan but without all the social and political factors that make expeditions to the Tethys region so prohibitive.

“As many of you know, I had the opportunity to explore a middle Eocene plain in Peru and was able to demonstrate the presence of whale fossils there. Unfortunately, the fossil I found was destroyed before I had the chance to study it. The part of the skull I could see looked fairly modern, but until we return to the area and uncover another one, we won’t know for sure whether the whale had hind limbs and nostrils at the front of the snout like a Rodhocetus or a strong swimming tail and a blowhole on the top of the skull like the more modern Perice-tus whales we’ve already found in Peru. The sooner we—”

“Katie, a question.” Dietrich called out. “Sorry to be inter-rupting again, but Dr. Webb has a question.”

Katie gripped the podium tighter. She could feel the pres-sure building in her chest. “Okay . . . Dr. Webb?” She kept her eyes fixed on the laptop keyboard.

“So what makes you question the age of the layer? Was it the appearance of the fossil or the geology of the layer itself?”

“I’m sorry.” Katie ran through the question in her mind. “I wasn’t questioning the age of the layer. It’s definitely middle Eocene. Several other finds confirm the geology report.”

“Then how can you question the morphology? If it’s middle Eocene, it has to be a primitive whale, an Archaeoceti.”

“How can I question it?” Katie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I question it because it’s not known yet. Until we find another fossil, we can’t know for sure what it will look like. For all we know, it could have the morphology of Shamu, the killer whale.”

A gasp sounded somewhere in the auditorium. So much for her attempt at levity.

“Dr. James,” a woman’s voice called out from the back of the room, “this whale you’re talking about—the one that was destroyed—it was the reason you were attacked by fossil poachers?”

“Yes, I . . .” Katie could feel the blood rushing into her cheeks. “With more and more private collectors buying fossils on the black market, fossil poaching is getting to be a huge problem, especially in impoverished countries where—”

“Could you confirm the report that you single-handedly captured five armed men?” A man’s voice.

“I . . .” Katie’s face was burning now. “Yes, there were five of them. But I . . .”

“How did you do it?” The woman again. “How did you stop so many men?”

“How did I stop them?” Katie sagged against the podium. Weren’t these people listening? “I didn’t stop them. I tried, but by the time I got back to camp, they’d already started digging. And then, like an idiot, I let myself get captured. By the time I got back in control of the situation, they’d already powdered the fossil. We think they were looking for teeth. A tooth from a T. rex can sell for as much as five thousand dollars.”

She hit the Page Down key on the laptop to bring up her first slide. “The whales I typically study, including the Pericetus whales I want to talk about now, don’t have teeth. They have baleen, which they use to—”

“But how did you do it? How did you get away?”

Katie gripped the podium tighter. “It wasn’t a big deal. They weren’t paying attention so I . . . whacked them on the head.”

A volley of flashes hit Katie in the face as a wave of shouted questions washed over her. She squeezed her eyes shut. Tried to tune out the voices. “Baleen whales—”

“Dr. James! Please! Dr. James!” The woman’s shouts rose above the roar, beating the other voices down to a low murmur. “Dr. James, please. How do you expect us to believe you hit five men over their heads?”

“Not all at once. They only had two men guarding—”

“Dr. James!” Webb’s bellowing voice. “Back to the subject at hand. You still haven’t answered my question!”

Katie looked up from the podium. The Asian woman in the back. Her hand was still raised. A man, freckles and thinning red hair, was holding out a microphone. The man with dandruff. The woman beside him, twisting a finger through her hair. Drooping earlobes with big dangly earrings. Mark Cranley from the White lab. Joe Sayers . . . They were all staring, watching. . . .

Katie’s stomach surged. Cold sweat streamed down her face. She felt dizzy. Couldn’t breathe. Please, no . . . not again!

Pushing away from the podium, she staggered across the stage to the stairs. A shoe twisted beneath her foot, sending her crashing down the steps. She hit the carpeted floor and rolled back onto her feet, running. Up the side aisle. Out the door.

The echoes of clacking footsteps chased her down the hallway and into the bathroom. Through the swinging door, into one of the stalls, she collapsed onto her knees in front of a toi-let.

Reporters . . . Dietrich was such a liar. He’d promised inti-mate, but he’d invited reporters! A shudder convulsed her body. She took a long, deep breath. It would serve him right if she walked into his office right now and quit. Let him find someone else to lead the next Peru expedition.

Katie stood up slowly, bracing herself against the stall par-tition. The pressure in her stomach was subsiding. She took a few experimental steps.

Of all the childish stunts . . . She tottered over to the coun-ter, pulled out a wad of paper towels, and started dabbing her skin. It’d serve him right if the visas were denied. She leaned against the sink, staring at the drain to avoid the reflection that hovered mockingly in the mirror. All those cameras. Thomas Woodburne. She’d looked like an idiot.

A knock sounded at the door. Katie spun around, bracing herself for another encounter.

“Katie?” It was Hooman, one of the grad students from Dietrich’s lab. “Katie, are you all right? Dr. Fischer sent me. He asked me to make sure you’re okay.”

Great . . . Does he have to yell? Katie took a step toward the door. Why didn’t bathroom doors have locks?

“He wants you to come back to the conference room as soon as you feel better, okay? There are some people in the audience who want to meet you.”

An unfamiliar voice sounded in the hallway. Another voice, this one female. Katie cast a glance back at the mirror. Tendrils of fine dark hair were plastered to the side of her sweat-beaded face. She was white as a ghost.

“Katie, are you there?”

Katie glanced around the room. A window was partially open. It looked big enough.

Tiptoeing to the back of the room, she slid the frosted glass panel all the way up and stuck her head out. The courtyard was three stories below her, but at least it was empty. And the ledge was more than wide enough. . . .

“Katie?”

Glancing back at the door, Katie kicked off her heels and tossed them through the window. Then, lifting a leg cautiously over the sill, she ducked through the opening and stepped gin-gerly out onto the pigeon-stained ledge.

An image flashed before her eyes. She was five years old, scaling a rocky cliff on the Navajo reservation. Her father was down below, calling up to her with a ragged voice. A geyser of panic surged through her body, freezing her against the dusty wall. Her father . . . She couldn’t lose her job. Not now. Her father needed her.

She swung a knee over the windowsill and ducked her head back inside. If Dietrich didn’t get his grant renewed . . . because of her freaking out . . .

Another knock rapped at the bathroom door. The murmur of anxious voices. How many people were out there? It sounded like the whole seminar room.

Katie’s head started to throb. What was the point? She took a deep breath and stepped back onto the ledge. Going inside would only make it worse. Throwing up on the reporters wasn’t going to get Dietrich’s grant renewed.

Gripping the bricks with her fingertips, she inched her way along the ledge, careful not to look down. Heights didn’t bother her, but if someone was down there watching her . . . if the crowd from the auditorium . . .

Flashing cameras lit her memory. The man with red hair. Orange-brown freckles framing pale blue eyes. The man with dandruff . . .

Stop it! Katie stared hard at a grainy line of off-white mortar. What had gotten into her? She was acting like a baby.

She worked her way around a projecting windowsill and si-dled to the corner of the building in long, determined strides. She swung herself around the corner and looked down at the roof of the adjoining building. Only a ten-foot drop. Piece of cake.

Pushing off the wall, she twisted her body into the shrieking air. Pain stabbed into her feet as she hit and rolled across a sweltering surface of gravel and tar. Hot! She hopped from foot to foot across the burning rooftop and flung herself at the edge of the building. Clinging to the blistering cornice work, she swung her legs over the side and climbed down the ladderlike arrangement of ornamental bricks before dropping onto the ground below.

Brilliant. Katie lay on her back, combing her feet through the soothing coolness of the grass. Jumping barefoot onto a blazing-hot rooftop. Katie James, brilliant fossil hunter. For her next trick she would jump barefoot into a hot unemployment line.

Nick Murad leaned against an outcropping of rock and wiped his face with the back of his sleeve. The dusty fabric gritted like wet sand-paper. His right eye burned as a drop of sweat rolled across his upper lid. He raised a hand to wipe his face, but his fingers were coated with a paste of sunscreen and dirt. His shirt, his hat, his pants . . . the grit was everywhere. Eating its way like hookworms into every crease and crevice of his body.

He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head from side to side, flinging away drops of sweat like a big Labrador after a swim. Beautiful . . . Now both eyes were burning. What he needed was a shower. A hot shower using nonbiodegradable soap and a towel that wasn’t full of sand. He stood slowly, arching his lower back against the Pakistani sunset.

Tomorrow . . . less than twenty hours away. He checked his watch, automatically subtracting nine hours in his mind. It was almost 5 a.m. in New York. Cindy would already be at the air-port by now. He could see her standing in line at the flight counter dressed to the nines in an impossibly impractical but totally seductive skirt and blouse. He tried to imagine her car-rying twice her limit of suitcases by herself, but his mind’s eye kept drifting to her face. Soft, limpid eyes. Full, pouty lips. Her dark sapphire necklace caressing soft, creamy skin.

A hungry ache coiled around Nick’s chest, squeezing him until he couldn’t breathe. “Okay. Enough.” He dropped back to the ground and retrieved his geology hammer from the rocky shelf he’d been working on since noon. He’d see Cindy soon enough. But only a third of the whale vertebra was exposed. If he was going to get it pedestaled before he left, he had to hurry. He grabbed a chisel and started chipping away at the mudstone that encased the fossilized bone. His students wouldn’t have time to finish the excavation before their expedition to Iraq, but he at least wanted to know what it was he’d found.

A soft cry drifted up from the valley. Nick stopped chiseling and turned back to stare into the setting sun. The clank of metal on metal. Nick held his breath, listening.

Maaaah, maaaah. The bleating of sheep.

Diving for his pack, Nick pulled a radio out of one of the side pockets.

“Okay, people, we’ve got sheep!” He threw open the bag and started stuffing it with gear as the static of answering calls filled the air.

“Nick, this is Andy. Annalise is down by the ridge with Ahamed. Waseem, where are you?”

“Karl here. Waseem’s with me. We’re at the ridge, but An-nalise isn’t here.”

“Annalise, where are you? We’ve got sheep coming through!”

Nick swung the pack onto his shoulder and ran sliding and skidding down the gravelly slope. When he got to the bottom, he held the radio to his mouth. “Everybody, this is Nick. Get to the camp right away. Karl, tell Waseem I need him to find An-nalise now!”

Leaping a clump of polygonaceae shrubs, Nick took off running toward a point just to the right of the ridge excavation. If Annalise had gone off on her own to do some prospecting, she’d probably work her way west along the hills. That’s what he’d do.

A bell clanked—just beyond the rise. Nick, already panting for breath, pushed his burning legs to move faster. The bedouin tribes in the north were usually pretty friendly, but this close to the Afghanistan border all bets were off—especially after what happened to the GSP team in western Baluchistan.

A burst of static cut through the radio. “Nick, this is Andy. We’ve got Annalise. She and Ahamed were already on their way back to camp.”

Relief washed through Nick’s body, turning his legs to jelly. He slowed to a jog and turned back in the direction of the camp. “Okay, everybody. Stay inside! Have Waseem watch the trucks. . . . I’ll be right there.”

By the time Nick reached the campsite, only a half mile separated him from the advance guard of the camel-mounted bedouins. He risked another backward glance. Still too far to make out their features. Unless they had binoculars, they couldn’t be sure he was a Westerner. Lots of Pakistanis wore baseball caps.

He jogged into the circle of four tents and three vehicles that made up their camp. Karl and Andy were shuttling equipment from one of the transport trucks to the cook tent at the base of a rocky mound. Annalise was rolling up the win-dows of one of the jeeps.

“Michigan students out of sight now!” Nick leaned over, swept up a pack emblazoned with a big gold M, and tossed it into the cook tent. “Waseem, stay with the trucks. Ahamed, you’re with me. Make sure you keep your hands out of sight!”


Nick paced the length of the camp, inspecting all of their visible gear. Some pickaxes, a tripod and surveyor’s scope, a field laptop wrapped in a sheet of plastic . . . There was a lot of expensive -equipment, but nothing to indicate the presence of Westerners. Theft was the least of his concerns. Bedouins weren’t generally thieves—even the poorest of them. But with all the anti-American sentiment these days, he couldn’t afford to have their whereabouts leak out. Even if they weren’t harboring terrorists, bedouins liked to talk. And no news traveled like the news of American scientists prospecting alone and unprotected out in the middle of the Baluchistan desert.

The echo of Pakistani voices carried across the thin desert air. The clomp of heavy hooves. Nick hurried over to his tent and crawled past Ahamed, who was already sitting in the entrance, his right arm extended awkwardly back inside the tent like he was holding a concealed weapon.

“Okay . . . everybody quiet.” Nick hissed in a whisper loud enough to carry to all the tents. “I hear one word of English and I’m shipping you back to the States.”

“Jee haan maan.” Urdu for Yes, Mommy. . . . Nick couldn’t tell whether it was Andy or Karl. A feminine giggle broke the silence off to the right.

“I’m serious.” Nick put a hand to his mouth even though none of his students were there to see his smile. “We’ll pack this camp up and leave that Basilosaurus behind.”

A voice jabbered off to the left. The bedouins were almost even with the camp. Keeping well back from the tent opening, Nick angled forward until he had a clear view of the pass. It was getting darker. The shadow of the tents already stretched most of the way across the camp. If those bedouins didn’t hurry up . . .

A pang stabbed through him like a knife. Surely the bed-ouins wouldn’t set up camp so close to their campsite? He had to drive to Quetta in the morning. He needed time to shower and shave and get a haircut. Cindy would be there by noon. If he was going to have any time at all to clean the apartment, he had to leave by 5 a.m. Why hadn’t he gone with his instincts and cleaned up before he left?

Come on. Hurry up. Nick’s eyes strained into the shadows, willing the bedouins to appear. Maybe they’d already stopped for the night. At least that way the road would be clear for him. As long as they didn’t see him leave . . .

Beautiful. Two camel riders plodded into view—not more than a hundred feet from where Nick sat crouched in the shad-ows of his tent. The bedouins stared back silently at the camp, long rifles still holstered against the sides of their complaining mounts. Go on. Keep on going. . . . Nick repeated the words like a prayer as one rider after another passed, guiding a stream of dust-colored sheep.

One of the riders, a tall, lanky, dark-skinned man in a cloak of dusty brown, pulled his mount over to the side and stood facing the tents. He waved with his left hand, keeping his right hand within easy reach of his rifle. Nick crept around the back of the tent until he could see Waseem wave from one of the trucks. Waseem’s movements seemed wooden, like he was nervous . . . hiding something. Of all the stupid mistakes . . . He should have put Ahamed in the trucks.

He moved back to the right. The bedouin was just sitting there, staring at the camp. Nick shrank even farther into the tent. Of course the guy was staring. They should have been cooking, preparing for the approaching night.

A musical ring tone shattered the silence. Ahamed jumped like he’d been shot. Nick searched frantically about the tent, his eyes finally settling on his nylon pack. Crawling over to the bag, he ripped open the outer compartment and pulled out his satel-lite phone. Just as he was about to hit the Off switch, he no-ticed the name glowing on the display. It was Cindy. . . .

The phone rang again.

Had there been another travel advisory? Had they can-celed the flight? Please, no . . . She wasn’t chickening out again. Not now!

He stabbed at the green button and pressed the phone to his ear, turning away from the entrance. “Hello?” he whispered into his cupped hand.

“Hello, Nick? Are you there? I can’t hear you.” Cindy sounded frantic. Something was wrong. He had to talk to her.

“Hey, Cindy. I really can’t talk now. Can you call back in a few minutes?” Nick raised his voice to a hoarse whisper.

“Nick, is that you? I can barely hear you.”

“I hear you fine. What’s wrong?” His voice sounded like a shout in his ears.

“Must be a bad connection. Anyway, I . . .” Cindy was about to panic. He could hear it in her voice. “The Middle East is all over the news. New fighting in Iraq. Pakistanis protesting the president’s visit. I . . . It just doesn’t seem like a good time.”

“No . . . it’s fine. There’s nothing to worry about.” Nick knew he was talking too loud, but he had no choice. He couldn’t let her back out now. Not after all his plans . . .

“You’re sure? They showed a huge crowd on the news. They were yelling and burning American flags.”

“That’s just for the cameras. Just get on the plane. You’ll be safe. I promise. Okay? Just get on the plane. I’ve got every-thing planned. I even have a surprise.”

“A surprise?” Nick could hear the life coming back into her voice. “What kind of surprise?”

“Just get on the plane, okay? You’ll see when you get here.”

“You’re sure it’s safe?”

“I’m positive. I love you, okay?”

“Nick, I . . .”

“I’ve got to go now. Bye.” Nick switched off the phone and turned back to the opening of the tent. The bedouin was still watching their camp, his face lit by the faintest hint of a smile.

Ahamed turned and looked back at Nick, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. “I love you too . . . honey.”



Dynamic Uno here: I haven't received this book to review yet, but the first chapter alone has me intrigued. I can't wait to read more! Let me know what you think!