Tuesday, July 22, 2014

RELEASE DAY: Elizabeth Jackson "This Beautiful World"



As children, RaeAnne and her sidekick King were held captive after they discovered the body of a boy their age in a crate of apples in their small town’s peculiar orchard. Now RaeAnne is grown and the mother of a troubled young daughter. After her mother is killed in an accident, she travels home to her father with her daughter. But RaeAnne finds that she is not welcomed by everyone, and frightening incidents start to happen involving her and her family. As RaeAnne unravels the mysteries of her childhood, including what happened to her older brother, who vanished on the same night RaeAnne and King found terror in the orchard, she reunites with King. The boy she knew has grown up to be very handsome and guarded. But can the two ever be more than old friends who share a terrifying secret?



Elisabeth Jackson lives in rural New York, where she works as a freelance business writer, loves dogs, and is an all-around outdoorswoman.



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Chapter One

My past didn’t just haunt me. It became a part of me. I’m grown now, with a daughter of my own, but every time I sink my teeth into an apple’s smooth skin, I think of the orchard. I think of the secret I became a part of one day when I was twelve. A secret I shared with my friend, King.

In 1998, King and I searched through the crates of apples picked earlier in the morning at the Gray orchard to take a few for a snack. We’d made it all the way to the center of the orchard, where the apple crates were set out along the trail for the trucks to collect.

A bird screeched and the lanky apple trees, with branches like a witch’s curved, gnarled fingers, seemed to close in on us, as though we could become forever lost in this crowded world of trees. If the Gray family caught us, would anyone be able to hear our cries for help?

King plucked an especially red apple and tossed it to me.

“Thanks,” I said, catching it in my hand. I wiped the fruit against my shirt until it shone in the summertime light and bit through the tender skin, into the crisp white center, the sweet juice filling my mouth. I glanced up and King was gone.

“Hey,” I said, my voice faint.

He laughed, and his tall frame jumped out from behind the line of trees, where apples hung in the sunlight like glittering red jewels.

I dropped my half-eaten apple to the ground as he walked back to me. “Don’t ever do that again,” I said, facing him, the sun warming my arms. “I thought you’d left me here.”

“I’d never leave you alone.”


“Sure,” he said, and I made him shake on it.

A slender bird appeared like a wisp of dark paper in the pale blue sky, and I watched it glide. King gasped and I turned to look at him.

“What?” I asked. Then I saw what he saw – a smooth, white thing protruding out of one of the crates. I craned my neck for a closer look. It was a limp hand, reaching out to us from below a mass of apples unlike the kind I’d seen other times at the orchard, the just-picked beauties with red, dusty skins. The skins on these apples were peeling away from the browning fruit. There was a sickly sweet smell of cider.

The hand was still attached to an arm somewhere down below. In its appearance, it wasn’t like mine or Mama’s, and not like Daddy’s either. Dark, curly hairs were rooted in Daddy’s knuckles like underwater seagrass. This hand was fresh, like a newborn’s skin.

I touched the skin as fast as running my finger through a candle flame, and the surface was cold, yet soft. The hand, with smooth, blood-stained fingernails, grasped toward us from inside an old crate held together with warped slats punctured by loose nails. I gagged. My next instinct was to run. Run far away.

Behind me, King approached and I whirled around, tried to hold him back. He shrugged past me and edged closer to the waist-high apple crate, looking inside, searching for something more than a hand. He ran his fingers across the Gray Family Orchard stamp on the side.

“Is he way down in there somewhere?” he asked. Standing on his toes, he leaned over the high crate’s rim, reached to touch the inside.

“Don’t touch it,” I said, bringing his arm down, and it bumped against the rim of the crate.

His boyish curiosity got the better of him. “What did it feel like?”

RELEASE DAY: E.A. West "Different"


Jezebel Smith is different. She can’t talk, she doesn’t look like anyone in her family, and no matter what she does it’s always the wrong thing. God accepts her for who she is, but He’s the only one who does. Then she finds an unconscious man in her favorite cave, and her life is turned up-side down. New people and new rules collide with the old, leaving Jezebel unsure of which set of rules apply to her life. When the strangers in town attempt to help her out of the nightmare she’s grown up in, it promises to change her life forever.



E.A. West, award-winning author of sweet and inspirational romance, is a lifelong lover of books and storytelling. In high school, she picked up her pen in a creative writing class and hasn’t laid it down yet. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys reading, knitting, and crocheting. She lives in Indiana with her family and a small zoo of pets.

For more information visit: http://eawest.mcphitty.com


Now available on
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Chapter One

The distant drip of water echoed off the rocky walls as Jezebel Smith wandered through her cave. Pungent fumes from her kerosene lantern stung her nose, and she wished for a flashlight. But her family would miss a flashlight. They never noticed when she took the old lantern from the barn.

Turning her face away from the lantern, she caught a whiff of the familiar scent of the rocks around her. She loved the fresh, earthy smell of her cave. Through countless hours of careful practice, her hiking boots barely produced a whisper on the bumpy path leading to her special cavern. If she swung the lantern on its creaky handle, however, she could fill the cave with a creepy echo that reminded her of Halloween.

She passed through an opening in the wall and entered a large cavern with several ledges in one end. As she approached the lowest ledge, the glow from her lantern touched an unfamiliar lump on the floor below the rocky shelf and she froze. She knew every inch of this cavern — every rock, ledge, and bump in the floor. No one ever came here. Nothing ever changed unless she changed it. The cave was the only thing she could count on to always stay the same.

This time, however, there was something new. The cave had broken its own rules, adding a boulder where one didn’t belong. She crept toward it, fighting tears of hurt that the cave would trick her like everyone else, and the golden light of her lantern revealed it wasn’t a boulder after all — it was the still form of a man. Her pulse pounded in her ears, so loud it threatened to drown out her own thoughts. Where had he come from? Why wasn’t he moving? Her heart skipped a beat. Was he dead?

Fear and the need to know warred inside her, and the need to know won. She moved a little closer and studied the man carefully. When she saw his chest rise and fall she let out a relieved breath. Well, he wasn’t dead, but what was wrong with him? He was close to the higher ledges. Maybe he had fallen off one and gotten hurt. She scanned him for obvious injuries, the light swaying as she rocked from one foot to the other. His arms and legs were at the correct angle, and his neck looked okay, but he had a bleeding cut on the side of his forehead near his red hair.

She knew how to treat cuts, except she’d never bandaged a cut on another human. Only herself and hurt animals she found in the woods. But she couldn’t leave this man bleeding on the floor of her cave. Cuts hurt, and she hated seeing any living thing in pain.

Jezebel ran her mind over the meager contents of the small cavern through the opening in the far wall. She had enough supplies left from the injured raccoon she’d treated last week to take care of the wound on the man’s head. Was it okay to use the same kind of supplies on a human that she used on animals? She used the cloth strips to bandage bleeding cuts on animals, and the man had a bleeding cut. Since she didn’t have anything else, she decided it would be okay to use her animal bandaging supplies on the man. Ignoring the fact that she was making up new rules instead of following the old ones, she hurried to the small cavern that was her sanctuary from the world. Her older brother always said rules were for breaking, never mind that she’d never believed him. Jezebel didn’t agree with a lot of things people said, especially the things they said about her.

Everyone in her tiny rural Appalachian community said she was demon-possessed because she rocked all the time and didn’t talk, but they were wrong. During a revival her parents had forced her to attend three years earlier, she’d silently recited the prayer that the preacher said invited Jesus into a person’s heart and drove out all the evil inside. After saying the prayer in her mind, she’d felt peace for the first time in her twelve years of life and tried to tell her family what she’d done. But the words wouldn’t come, and she’d been taken outside and whipped for trying to stop the “good Christian folk” from hearing the preacher’s message. That was another thing people were wrong about, but she had learned her lesson. Never again did she try to explain she was one of the good Christian folk now. God loved her and wanted her when no one else did, and that was all that mattered.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

My Town in Three Photos - Friday Harbor

by Jill Urbach
My hometown is Friday Harbor, WA. (Incidentally, my AP novella "Mr. Impeccable" takes place in Friday Harbor.) This first picture is a view down Spring Street which is the main street through town.

This next picture is also of Spring Street during our 4th of July parade. In this picture, the local American Legion is pausing in front of our two-screen movie theatre to salute the flag.

Now here's a picture from our community dinner this week. Each month, the high school hosts a community dinner where the cooking students cook and the community can come to the high school to purchase dinner. When the weather is nice we all just kick back on the picnic benches and grass.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

AP Author Spotlight: Christi Corbett

Christi Corbett
Blog: http:christicorbett.wordpress.com
Twitter ID: @ChristiCorbett
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7132469.Christi_Corbett?from_search=true
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Christi-Corbett-Author/430817400345104
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/christicorbett/
Describe yourself in three words:
Tell us a little about your latest release:
Along the Way Home
Kate Davis is intrigued when her father reveals his dream of starting a horse ranch in Oregon Territory. Settlers out west value a strong woman, and though she manages the financials of her father’s mercantile her competence earns her ridicule, not respect, from Virginia’s elite society.
Jake Fitzpatrick, an experienced trail guide, wants land out west to raise cattle and crops. But dreams require money and he’s eating dandelion greens for dinner. So when a wealthy businessman offers double wages to guide his family across the Oregon Trail, Jake accepts with one stipulation—he is in complete control.
Departure day finds Kate clinging to her possessions as Jake demands she abandon all he deems frivolous, including her deceased mother’s heirlooms. Jake stands firm, refusing to let the whims of a headstrong woman jeopardize the wages he so desperately needs—even a beautiful one with fiery green eyes and a temper to match.
Trail life is a battle of wills between them until tragedy strikes, leaving Jake with an honor-bound promise to protect her from harm and Kate with a monumental choice—go back to everything she’s ever known or toward everything she’s ever wanted?
Along the Way Home is set on the 1843 Oregon Trail, so it’s little wonder I got the idea for this book while on a cross-country road trip.
Allow me to set the scene:
My fiancé (now husband) and I were traveling from Green Bay, Wisconsin to Marysville, Washington.
We’re driving my 1992 Hyundai Excel (compact car) and the backseat and hatchback are loaded to the windows with all my worldly possessions. As an extra bonus, my husband is 6 feet 4 inches tall. Plus it’s February, and since the middle of winter in the Midwest is brutally cold we’re sporting layers of long underwear, flannel shirts, and puffy coats.
We decided to take our time and stopped off at a number of landmarks, including Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, and Wall Drug.
By the time we reached the Montana border my hubby was ready to rip out the front seat and drive from the back one and I was beyond bored. Around mid-Montana I started whining about how long it was taking, how there was nothing to do but sit, and how the scenery never changed.
Mid-complaint it hit me—we were traveling in one hour what would take nearly three days to accomplish in the 1800’s. (Recall we’d just come from Wall Drug in South Dakota so I think “the old times” were fresh on my mind.)
I whipped out my notebook and the ideas just started flowing. Soon I had pages and pages of notes and ideas about a possible book.
Here’s the actual first line that started it all: A fantastic idea just occurred to me in light of the journey I have just taken…
Occasionally I will pull out that same notebook to see how far I’ve come. (For starters, I learned using the same word twice in one sentence is a big no no.)
The descriptions for the two main characters are completely different from what Jake and Kate are now and there wasn’t one mention of a covered wagon or the Oregon Trail, but the basic idea was there. Make it about a man and a woman who travel west, each for their own reasons, to start a new life.
And from that moment, a story was born.
What is your earliest memory?
Riding on my dad's shoulders through the house and almost bumping my head into a doorframe :)
What would you consider the greatest moment in your life?
Holding my twins in the hospital, with my loving husband by my side.
What’s the hardest thing in in life you’ve done?
I'm the first in my family to attend college, so I didn't really have anyone to give advice on what to expect. I was completely out of my element the first few months, but eventually I figured it all out. Graduation made every struggle worth it!
What have you learned in life so far?
If you never give up on your dreams, and you are always trying to learn and improve, you'll succeed.
Everyone’s favourite question: if you could invite five people for dinner, who would it be?
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Mark Twain, and my Great Aunt Ada.

Chance for our readers - what else would you like to know about Christi Corbett?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

RELEASE DAY: Lucie Ulrich "The Rose Ring"


With a will that reads like a piece of fiction, the return of his long-lost brother, and the possibility of losing the family ranch, Micah Cooper calls on high school friend, Sky Baxter, to bail him out of a bad situation.

Though her brain tells her no, Sky’s heart says yes. She accepts Micah’s in-name-only proposal, knowing it’s unlikely anything permanent will come of it. She’s been in love with him since the ninth grade, and if he hasn’t figured it out by now, there’s little chance he ever will.

When an unexpected kiss ignites a spark, giving Micah hope for a possible future with Sky, a tragic accident threatens to take it all away. Torn between following his heart, doing the right thing, and forgiving the past, Micah is lost in a whirlwind of pain and emotions. Will he make it through the next two years, or will a long-kept family secret be the undoing of the Cooper family? (or… be the undoing of all of them?)



Lucie Ulrich hasn’t stopped writing since her first skit was performed on a church stage more than fifteen years ago. An avid reader, she enjoyed sharing her passion for writing and storytelling with her middle and high school drama students. No longer part of the teaching profession Lucie looks forward to traveling the country with her husband, Rick, seeking story ideas, taking photographs, and enjoying life to the fullest.


Now available on
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Sky Baxter leaned against the worn red counter and stared through the diner’s plate glass window. Dime-sized snowflakes flitted around the streetlamps before joining the three inches already on the ground.

Sighing, she thought of the fur-lined boots sitting on the rubber mat by her front door. Why hadn’t she listened to the weatherman?

“Go home, Sky.”

She pivoted toward the small kitchen area behind the counter. Her boss and friend, Carl Johnston, scraped charred burger remains from the grill.

“But I still need to mop the floor.”

“I’ll mop. You go.”

“It’s only ten blocks. The snow won’t pile up that much more in the next few minutes.”

He stepped into the dining area, his limp more pronounced after the long day. “All the same, I’d rather you leave now.” He held out her parka and handbag. “And call me when you get there.”

Carl lived upstairs and didn’t have to worry about cold or snow. She knew he would have driven her if he could, but he’d given up driving two years ago. An auto accident had left him with a severe limp. That in itself wouldn’t have stopped him, but burying his wife a week later did.

“Guess you’re right.” Sky threw on her parka, covered her long black ponytail with a knit cap, and shoved her hands into a pair of gloves. She planted a kiss on his cheek. “See you tomorrow.”

Cold air and heavy snow swirled around her as she darted across the street and hurried down the sidewalk. A familiar black pickup stopped in front of her as she was about to step off the curb. The passenger window lowered. “Need a lift?”

Sky peered into the cab. The sight of Micah Cooper’s crooked smile sent a wave of heat from her icy nose to her frozen toes. She’d been crazy about him since high school. “I’m not fool enough to say no.”

He pushed the passenger door open. “I always knew you were smart.”

Scraping the snow from her shoes on the running board, she climbed in. “If I were smart, I’d have worn my boots today. That and figure out a way to buy a car.”

With a quick flick of his wrist, Micah put the truck in gear and pulled out into the nearly deserted street. “News flash. You have to know how to drive before they’ll give you a license.”

“Yeah, well, if my mother had ever owned a car, or could have afforded Driver’s Ed when I was in school, I’d already know how to drive. Besides, learning isn’t the problem. Saving is.”

“Hang in there. Who knows? Some customer might just leave you a thousand dollar tip tomorrow.”

 “Pssh. We’re talking Elk Flats, Montana, not New York City. The biggest tip I’ve ever gotten is six bucks. Old man Bentley left it after he pinched my backside and I didn’t slap him.”

Micah laughed. “With his arthritis, I’m surprised you felt anything.”

“That was two years ago. He doesn’t come in much these days.” The truck was warm, so she pulled off her hat and gloves. “Speaking of coming into town, I’m surprised to see you so soon. You normally don’t show up twice in one week.”

He stopped for a red light. “This month’s co-op meeting was moved up at the last minute. I also have a meeting with my grandfather’s lawyer in the morning.”

“You staying in town, then?”

RELEASE DAY: Stephy Smith "The Taunting"


Tossed back into the role of a homicide detective, high school counselor Belle Duncan feared for the life of the citizens of the small town of Sunnyspot, Texas. To save their lives she is forced to endure the emotional strain of the killer as he wanders the streets, bullying her at every chance. Stalking her with a vengeance that only she comes to know too well.

With the help of her sister, Rocki Streete, and her own sheer will to hunt down and put a stop to the black hearted killer, can Belle finally get her life back to normal.

Will she solve the murder? Or will she fall victim to… The Taunting?



Stephy Smith was born and raised in the Northwest Texas Panhandle. She owns and operates her own ranch. Stephy loves to write historical romance. Most of her inspiration comes from the weather, wildlife and imagination from country living. In her spare time, she loves to read, ride horses, watch rodeo’s and paint. Stephy is a  member of Panhandle Professional Writers, American Quarter Horse Association, and Foundation Quarter Horse Association.

Stephy has eleven books published through Astraea Press. She is an award-winning author of Shining Moon Rises.

Genres: Historical, historical sweet romance, contemporary sweet romance, mystery/suspense/thriller



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Chapter One

August 2007

"It's named wrong." Belle Duncan ran her fingers over the cold metal of her badge. She turned to leave but paused at the door when he spoke.

"What is?" The company shrink's bushy gray brows bunched over the narrow bridge of his pointed nose.

"Disorder. It should be demons. Post-Traumatic Stress Demons." She gave the doctor the best smile she could force from her lips.

"How do you figure?"

"I've had disorder in my life, but this…these demons haunt me every minute since Shane was killed." The doctor leaned back in his chair and motioned for her to sit back down.

The screech of the air conditioner recalled memories of the metal door that led to a cold, dark, musty room, and the faint cries of a child echoed in her mind. Wicked goose-bumps peppered across her skin under the cold blasts of air. But coolness wasn't the real cause of the shivers running down Belle's spine.

The angle of the third floor office window shades filtered in the thin, slanted rays of sunlight splattered across the desktop and waved mysteriously over the carpeted floor. Belle kept her eye on the broken shadows that seemed to writhe on the walls when a slight breeze moved the tree branches outside the window.

"Would you be willing to tell me about the demons?" The doctor ran his fingers through a shock of white hair as if he thought it had moved to uncover the bald spot on top of his head.

"I just feel like I'm trapped in my own mind. Tucked away in a bulletproof cage where pain, anger, and mass confusion are guards. I pound on the window, trying to get their attention, but they ignore me." Fake leather covered the chair, the police department logo stamped into the back of it. Her backside cooled as she sat on the edge.

"I see." The doctor stuck the end of his pen in his mouth.

"Have you ever been in that cage?" Belle studied the doctor's face. The blood raced through her veins. She scrunched her eyes shut. Hope stormed her mind. If he said 'yes', it would give her the strength she needed to listen to him.


"Then how in the world can you help me? You don't have a clue as to what is going on with me do you? I'm trying to swim in thick mud up to my neck. I never know what I want from one minute to the next. I'm ticked off at the world, even though I know it's not the world's fault Shane is dead. It's Andrew Konnors who is responsible, and me." Belle lurched from the chair and paced around the room. The paneled walls seemed to close in on her.

The dull thud of her footsteps across the wall-to-wall, flower-print carpet seemed muffled beneath her labored breathing. Her hair tickled her neck with each pass under the air conditioner vent.

"Why do you think you had anything to do with your husband's death? You know as well as any other officer the risk you both were taking when you put on the uniform. Belle, you and Shane saved that little girl. Try to think positive about that." The doctor's face creased with a series of lines and wrinkles.

"Saved her? How does she feel? Is she sharing the demons with me? Are hers worse than mine? Stronger, more agitating? Does she feel their grubby hands poking and prodding her mind as if she is a fattened pig headed to slaughter? I'm sure they are tormenting her worse than I can imagine. And you want me to take comfort in knowing she may or may not be getting help to fight these demons off just because we saved her?" The muscles in Belle's shoulders tightened spasmodically.

RELEASE DAY: Kimberley Troutte "God Whisperer"



A frightened mother on the run…

LONNIE HOGAN has lived and breathed fear for the eight years that she and her son have been on the run. She cut ties with the past and is hiding out in a small offbeat Danish community in California. Will the killers find them? She’s ready to run again, or fight for her son’s precious life, but she won’t let anyone take David.

A desperate man searching for his family…

Few people on St. John, Virgin Islands, know that their favorite doctor, MARK NORTON, is a desperate man searching for the life that was stolen from him. After hours, he surfs the internet for leads and retraces paths gone stone-cold to find his missing family. He’ll do anything to find them and get his son back.

Will sacrifice everything to protect the boy who hears God…

DAVID HOGAN is a regular kid, if you don’t count the one-ear thing. He didn’t mind being deaf in one ear, but it hurts his mom, way down deep, as if she caused it. Why won’t she see that bad things can happen for good reasons? Like the surgery that allows him to hear God. Talking to God is one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to him, even if Mom doesn’t believe it. But the killers could find them now. Can one little kid save them all?



Kimberley Troutte has been an accountant, substitute teacher, caterer, financial analyst for a major defense contractor, aerobics instructor, real-estate broker, freelance writer, homework corrector and caregiver to all the creatures the kids/hubby/dog drag in. She lives with her husband, two sons, one dog, a wild cat and four snakes in Southern California.

She goes for long walks, is learning how to breathe in yoga, and gets her heart pumping in spin classes. You might see her editing her books on the elliptical machine at the gym. She writes books to her heart's content, usually about love, because honestly what is more important than love? She adores interacting with readers.
Please visit her at www.kimberleytroutte.com to sign-up for the newsletter.

Now available on
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Chapter One

Eight-year-old David Hogan was being sucked into a scary hole—not black, as he’d imagined from those medical shows, but fuzzy and gray like the thick fog that oozed over the mountains back home. Except he wasn’t home in Solberg. He was lying on a hard table in Westwood Hospital, L.A., about to have his skull drilled open and his ear ripped off.

As cool as it sounded to his friends, David was scared. No, scratch that, he was beyond scared. If there was a word for terrified-times-a-million, that’s where he’d be right now.

“Is he ready?” Dr. Mason asked the nurse behind him. David hoped she’d say, “No, and he never will be. Let’s all go home and forget this operation stuff.” But instead, she answered, “Yes. Vitals stable.” He couldn’t tell for sure, but the wrinkles around her eyes made it seem like she was smiling at him under her light-green mask.

The guy who’d introduced himself earlier by some long word—any-these-o-logist?—leaned over the table and blocked the light shining in David’s eyes. “Okay, kiddo, here we go. Start counting, just like we talked about, backwards from one hundred.” He placed a mask over David’s face and in his good ear said, “And relax. We’ve got this.”

Relax? David could hear his heart beating on the monitor behind them. It sounded like a ticking bomb.

He did what he was told and started counting. “Ninety-nine, ninety-eight…” Maybe if he made it to zero, they’d stop this whole thing. He wanted to go home now.

When the smiley nurse rubbed his arm, he wished it was his mother instead. If Mom held his hand and said everything was going to be okay, his stomach would quit flopping. He might even feel as brave as the day he lied about wanting the operation. He didn’t want it, not really, but Mom did. Even though she never said so in words, her sad eyes told him how much she wished she had a normal kid. Not a deformed freak-boy.

“Ninety-seven…” His voice croaked like a sick frog’s inside the oxygen mask.

It was hard to breathe. His chest felt funny, tight, as if an alien was going to bust out as it did in that scary movie he wasn’t supposed to watch.

“Ninety…” He struggled to suck in another breath. “Ninety-sssixx…”

The heart-machine beeped like a crazy alarm going off. He couldn’t count anymore.


Lonnie Hogan glanced around a room designed to be calming. It came complete with pale-blue walls, plush couches, and plastic bouquets decorating each endtable. Lonnie was miles from calm. Her nerve endings were on fire.

She didn’t want to think about what was happening to her baby behind those double-doors, but her mind swirled with endless horrors. What if something went wrong in the operating room? Guilt and terror were a toxic mix.

She jumped up from the couch and paced. Ten steps to pick up a magazine she couldn’t concentrate on. Fifteen steps to the back window with the view of the boulevard. How she envied those people going to work out there. It was a normal day for mommies with safe, healthy kids. Her heart squeezed. Ten long strides to the other side of the room where she smacked the rolled up magazine against the wall, over and over.

A hand grabbed the back of her shoulder and Lonnie’s worst fears caught up with her.

He found us.

Eight years of running and he’d caught her today with David in surgery? Gripping the magazine as a weapon, she spun around, ready to fight for her life. To fight for David.

A little cry escaped her lips. She wasn’t eye-to-eye with the man who tried to kill her, but the startled face of her only friend, Carrie Beth.

“Whoa, hold on there, Slugger. The magazine’s dead, but go on, give it one more whack for good measure. It’ll make you feel better.” Carrie Beth chuckled.

Lonnie let out a deep breath. “You came all this way.”

“What kind of friend would let you go through this alone?” Carrie Beth’s hair was orange with silver spikes that morning. When she tipped her head, her bangs moved as one hair-sprayed wave. “How long has he been in there?”

“An hour? Three years? I didn’t think it would be so hard.” Lonnie swallowed the sob that stuck in her throat. If she started crying, she might never stop.

Carrie Beth patted her arm. “I know, hon. When your baby suffers, you suffer more. It’s one of those unwritten laws of motherhood. This is exactly why I never had kids. I wouldn’t survive it. But you will. You’re the strongest person I know.”

As a single mother raising a boy like David, she had to be tough. But today she had no strength left. “I’ve waited so long for this surgery. But now…oh, C. B., I’m scared.” She sank into the couch. “Have I made a terrible mistake?”

“You’re nervous, that’s all. It’ll work out for the best, you’ll see.”

Lonnie’s face heated up with resentment. Nothing in her life had worked out for the best. “David’s my world.”

“Yes, he is. But don’t forget I’m here too. You and David are the only family I’ve got who are not livin’ and dyin’ in Alabama.”

That touched Lonnie. No one had been there for her in a long time. The coil around her heart eased a little. “Thank you.”

“Besides, David’s doctor knows what he’s doin’. Look at his awards.” Carrie Beth stood up and read one of the plaques touting the Westwood Hospital’s excellence in head and neck surgeries. “Dr. Mason is a rock star.”