Friday, October 29, 2010

Chocolate.com and The Chocolate Gecko Review

My mailbox is often filled with exciting packages. The most exciting one I've received in the last few weeks was a chocolatey package of goodness from Chocolate.com!

I mean, really? Which is more exciting? A bill, a new book, or chocolate?!

Yep, I thought so!

Chocolate ALL. THE. WAY! ;-)

Chocolate.com is exactly what you think it is! A site dedicated entirely to CHOCOLATE, offering delicious treats from countless high-quality vendors.

Chocolate.com sent me The Chocolate Gecko's dark chocolate-dipped homemade marshmallows.

Yummy.

I've never had homemade marshmallows before and these were a lovely surprise. The Chocolate Gecko's marshmallows weren't overly sweet, which made them perfect to be paired with the rich all-natural, Belgian dark chocolate they use.

They were also HUGE! Look! The size of my hand!



I was very pleased with the quality and service of Chocolate.com and The Chocolate Gecko. I would not hesitate to order chocolate goodies for myself or friends for any occasion, from birthday truffles to stocking stuffer cashew bark to I love and appreciate you peanut butter meltaways!

If I had to choose between flowers or chocolate, it'd definitely be chocolate! Chocolate.com makes it easy to treat your special someone (hint, hint!) by joining their Chocolate of the Month Club! Mmmm!

Why not get some of your Christmas shopping done?? Register HERE for Chocolate.com's newsletter AND a $5.00 gift certificate towards a yummy treat to give (or keep)! YUM!

Recommend: 2 THUMBS UP YES

blog signature

**Disclaimer: Many thanks to The Chocolate Gecko and Chocolate.com for providing me with a free product for review purposes only. Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family. Post *may* contain affiliate links. .**
___________________________________

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Waiting by Suzanne Woods Fisher *EDITED*

ABOUT THE BOOK:

The Waiting, a stand alone story in The Lancaster Secrets collection, is a compelling page turner. Jorie King has been waiting for Benjamin Zook to return home to Lancaster County so they can marry. When news arrives that Ben has been killed, Jorie finds comfort in the friendship of his brother Caleb. That friendship ripens into love, and it seems that they are meant to be together. But when the unexpected happens, their worlds are turned upside down once more. Will Jorie trust God to lead her into the arms of a new man?

A multifaceted story about complex people living the simple life. Readers will find themselves transported into the world of the Amish and deeply invested in these wonderful characters.

MY THOUGHTS:

I was thoroughly enjoying Suzanne's newest book, The Waiting.

However, I was severely disappointed on page 274, a mere 25 or so pages from the end. The name of my Savior was taken in vain.

I did not complete the book, no matter how much I loved the story up to that point and wanted to see all the ends tie up.

Any and every excuse can be made as to who said it or why it was said.

Doesn't matter to me. I will not tolerate it.

Shame on any "Christian" publisher or author allowing such blasphemy.

"Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain." Exodus 20:7

*EDITED*
I am always pleased when an author reads my review and lets me know. Although my review and recommendation of The Waiting was negative, Suzanne immediately contacted me about the concerns I had over the language issue. Suzanne was quite apologetic and told me that she had contacted her editor after reading my review to make changes in any future reprints.
First--I want you to know that I never intended to take the Lord's name in vain. Never! I have to be honest--I have not thought of that word in such a manner.

But...I do respect that it felt like a disrespectful use of Jesus' name to you and I sincerely apologize for that. I know I can't please every reader--but your response definitely touched a chord in me. I would never, ever want a reader to think I would use God's name in a flippant way. Never!

So I e-mailed my project editor at Revell about it--she and I both have decided to substitute that word for future print runs.

I hope you'll forgive me for being careless. That word is officially "retired" for me!

I truly appreciated Suzanne's humble heart, and wanted to make sure I let all of my readers know.

blog signature
**Disclaimer: I was given a free product for review purposes only. My reviews are not monetarily compensated and have not been influenced by the sponsor in any way, unless otherwise disclosed. Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family. Post *may* contain affiliate links..**
___________________________________

Monday, October 25, 2010

Febreze Home Collection Wooden Wick Candle - and Walmart gift card GIVEAWAY!

{COMMENTS CLOSED - WINNER ANNOUNCED SOON!}



I love candles.

Love them.

Although I burn them all year long, as the chillier days of fall and winter approach, I find myself burning candles more often.

I was excited to have a chance, through MyBlogSpark, to test Febreze's new wooden wick candles.

No fireplace, no problem. Breathe a sigh of relief because the new Febreze Home Collection Wooden Wick candle has you covered. Bring the calming crackle of a burning fire into your home anytime of year with 80 hours of “ahhhhhhhh.”






Available in nine premium scents, these tranquil candles are specially designed with a wooden wick to recreate the ambiance and sound of a crackling fire indoors. Offering a brilliant range of everyday fragrances, Febreze Home Collection Wooden Wick candles can help inspire a scent and design transformation in your home.

Be sure to look for Febreze Home Collection Wooden Wick candles at your local Walmart in fragrances like Green Tea Citrus, Pomegranate Mango, Cranberry Pear, Orange Honeycomb, Rosewood Plum and Willow Blossom; as well as seasonal scents that include Anjou Pear Spice, Gingersnap Vanilla, and Yumberry Sangria.

When burning Febreze's new candles, I'm not quite sure you'll feel you're sitting in front of a fireplace. You have to listen pretty close for any 'crackling.' But, the candles are strongly and pleasingly scented, and I thought they flickered more than a normal wick, providing a warm and romantic atmosphere.

GIVEAWAY ALERT!

Want to WIN IT? One winner will receive a $15 Walmart gift card to buy her own Febreze wooden wick candle! To enter, visit Febreze and tell me which Febreze wooden wick candle scent you'd most like to try! For additional entries (must do above to qualify for extra entries!),
  • Follow my blog publicly via Google Friend Connect (sidebar) or a feed reader or subscribe by email (must confirm subscription). Comment and let me know! If you're already a follower/subscriber, comment and let me know! (1 entry)
  • Blog about my giveaway and leave me a link to your post! (1 entry
  • Follow The Creative Side of Me via Networked Blogs. Comment and let me know! (1 entry)
  • Enter my giveaway URL into another blog's giveaway McLinky and send me the link so I can see it! (1 entry)
  • Snag my blog button (in the far right column) and leave a comment with the link! (1 entry)
  • Fan Febreze and The Creative Side of Me on facebook and leave me a comment saying so! (1 entry)
  • Sign up for Swagbucks using my referral link! Comment and give me your Swag Name! (10 entries!)
  • Follow Febreze and The Creative Side of Me on Twitter and tweet this (1 entry, daily):




Enter to WIN a $15 Walmart gift card @creativeSOme and Febreze! Details: http://bit.ly/9Dn1nu Ends 11/8 #giveaway #myblogspark #contest

Entries that do not fulfill guidelines will be deleted, so read carefully!

Entries accepted until Monday, November 8, 11:59 PM (EST).Winner(s) will be chosen by random.org and winner(s) will be notified by email. Winner(s) must confirm prize email within 48 hours or another winner(s) will be chosen.


Recommend: YES
blog signature
**Disclaimer: I was given a free product for review purposes only, as well as a Walmart gift card to share with my readers, from P&G, through MyBlogSpark. Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family. P&G does not represent or warrant the accuracy of any statement or product claims made here, nor does it endorse any opinions expressed within this blogsite. Post *may* contain affiliate links..**
___________________________________

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

While We're Far Apart by Lynn Austin

This week, CFBA is introducing While We're Far Apart by Lynn Austin.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

In an unassuming apartment building in Brooklyn, New York, three lives intersect as the reality of war invades each aspect of their lives. Young Esther is heartbroken when her father decides to enlist in the army shortly after the death of her mother.

Penny Goodrich has been in love with Eddie Shaffer for as long as she can remember; now that Eddie's wife is dead, Penny feels she has been given a second chance and offers to care for his children in the hope that he will finally notice her and marry her after the war.

And elderly Mr. Mendel, the landlord, waits for the war to end to hear what has happened to his son trapped in war-torn Hungary. But during the long, endless wait for victory overseas, life on the home front will go from bad to worse.

Yet these characters will find themselves growing and changing in ways they never expected--and ultimately discovering truths about God's love...even when He is silent.

MY THOUGHTS:

I've read several of Lynn's books over the years. Some I've liked, some I didn't.

Considering that I was already crying at the end of the first chapter, While We're Far Apart was one I LIKED. I couldn't put it down!

I loved each separate character's story, but when they were all tied together, it was wonderful. Even as the story progressed, I was still surprised by unexpected conclusions, from silent Peter to Penny's sister to Roy! 

While We're Far Apart is as much a story about the pain of loss and grieving as the hope and healing of love.

AND FOR YOU, a peek into the book:
If you would like to read the first chapter of While We're Far Apart, go HERE.

Recommend: YES

Many thanks to Lynn and Bethany House, through CFBA, for sending me a review copy!

blog signature
**Disclaimer: I was given a free product for review purposes only. My reviews are not monetarily compensated and have not been influenced by the sponsor in any way, unless otherwise disclosed. Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family. Post *may* contain affiliate links. If you click on them and decide to make a purchase, I receive a (very!) small commission. Hey, every little bit helps! So, I thank you! :-).**
___________________________________

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

We have a WINNER! Was it you?

Thanks to everyone who gave me hints and tips on my pottery! I've looked at most of the links and they've been very helpful!

But, now for what you really want to know...did YOU win??

Congratulations to KATIE (comment #83) on WINNING a $70 gift certificate to CSN Stores!!

I wish I could have chosen you all!

Don't despair! I've got another giveaway to post in a day or two!

Katie, I've emailed you! Check your inbox!


blog signature

**Disclaimer: I was given a free product for review purposes only. My reviews are not monetarily compensated and have not been influenced by the sponsor in any way, unless otherwise disclosed. Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family. Post *may* contain affiliate links. If you click on them and decide to make a purchase, I receive a (very!) small commission. Hey, every little bit helps! So, I thank you! :-).** ___________________________________

Friday, October 15, 2010

Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Wow.

It is so time for a non-book review post! ;-)

My husband just finished a 6-month long addition project, and my mother-in-law is now our new 'neighbor.'

Needless to say, we've been pretty busy.

Although I've still been trying new recipes here and there, most of our meals have been super quick and not worthy of blog posts!

But THIS...!

This Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake is certainly worthy to be posted!


It was FAN.TAB.U.LOUS!!!


Perfect for brunch or overnight company! Or just eat the whole thing yourself! ;-)

I found the recipe over on Krista's blog and I hope you'll give it a try! Mmmm, yummy!

RASPBERRY CREAM CHEESE COFFEE CAKE

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup cold butter
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sour cream
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract

FILLING:
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup raspberry jam (I used seedless)
1/2 cup sliced almonds

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and sugar. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Remove 1 cup and set aside. To the remaining crumbs, add baking powder, baking soda, salt, sour cream, egg, and almond extract; mix well. Spread in the bottom and 1 inch up the sides of a greased 9-in springform pan.

For the filling, in a small bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, and egg in a small bowl until blended. Pour over batter; spoon or pipe raspberry jam on top. Swirl with a knife. Sprinkle with almonds and reserved crumbs.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand for 15 minutes. Carefully run a knife around the edge of pan to loosen; remove sides from pan. Serve warm or cool. Refrigerate leftovers.



Recommend: YES

blog signature
**Disclaimer: Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family. Post *may* contain affiliate links. If you click on them and decide to make a purchase, I receive a (very!) small commission. Hey, every little bit helps! So, I thank you! :-).**
___________________________________

Embers of Love by Tracie Peterson

This week, CFBA is introducing




Embers of Love
by Tracie Peterson
(Bethany House, October 1, 2010)


ABOUT THE BOOK:

The logging industry in eastern Texas is booming, and Deborah Vandermark plans to assist her family's business now that she's completed college. Unexpectedly, her best friend, Lizzie Decker, accompanies her back home--fleeing a wedding and groom she has no interest in.

Deborah, the determined matchmaker, puts her sights on uniting her brother and dear friend in a true love match. Deborah soon meets Dr. Christopher Clayton, a much-needed addition to the town. As their lives intersect, Deborah realizes that she has a much greater interest in medicine and science than the bookkeeping she was trained in.

But when typhoid begins to spread and Lizzie's jilted fiance returns, Deborah wonders if true love can overcome such obstacles...for those dearest to her, and for herself.

MY THOUGHTS:

When I began Embers of Love, I felt like the beginning was rushed, almost as if I was starting a sequel. It seemed the characters had already been introduced, but I'd been left out of the introductions.

There were a few moments that I thought I might be reading about modern-day Emma. Well-intentioned matchmaker. But, then it wasn't. But, then it was.

I had a hard time figuring out many of the characters. Sometimes Euphanel spoke with a soft drawl and other times she seemed to speak primly and properly. Same with G.W. It was difficult for me to connect with any one character.

Really, Embers of Love wasn't bad. I've just read better books by Tracie. I am quite interested to see what happens with the second book in Tracie's Striking A Match series, Hearts Aglow (February 2011). I would love to see if Deborah will be able to pursue a medical career.

AND FOR YOU, a peek into the book:
Embers of Love

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.

Recommend: YES
blog signature

**Disclaimer: I was given a free product for review purposes only. My reviews are not monetarily compensated and have not been influenced by the sponsor in any way, unless otherwise disclosed. Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family. Post *may* contain affiliate links. If you click on them and decide to make a purchase, I receive a (very!) small commission. Hey, every little bit helps! So, I thank you! :-).** ___________________________________

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Memory Between Us by Sarah Sundin

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Can they overcome the past to find a brighter future together?

Major Jack Novak has never failed to meet a challenge--until he meets army nurse Lieutenant Ruth Doherty. When Jack lands in the army hospital after a plane crash, he makes winning Ruth's heart a top-priority mission. But he has his work cut out for him. Not only is Ruth focused on her work in order to support her orphaned siblings back home, she also is determined not to give her heart to any man.

As the danger and tension of World War II rise to a fever pitch, Jack and Ruth will need each other more than ever. Can Jack break down her defenses? Or are they destined to go their separate ways?

From the English countryside to the perilous skies over France, A Memory Between Us takes you on a journey through love, forgiveness, and sacrifice.

A Memory Between Us is the second book in the WINGS OF GLORY series, which follows the three Novak brothers, B-17 bomber pilots with the US Eighth Air Force stationed in England during World War II.

MY THOUGHTS:
I couldn't wait to get my hands on Sarah's debut novel, A Distant Melody, and really enjoyed the WWII homefront love story. So, when I was given the opportunity to read about another of the Novak brothers in her second book, A Memory Between Us, I quickly accepted.

You can tell that Sarah has put a lot of time into her research. I don't know the accuracy - I'm not a WWII plane buff - but, she writes such detail, that I felt I could imagine the plane, the flights, and the fights. While I was reading, I even told my husband that I want to visit our local warplane museum and check some of these planes out!

While A Distant Melody was a sweet love story,  A Memory Between Us was more serious, dealing with some tough subjects. These tough subjects made for some uncomfortable reading, and I much preferred book one, although pride and forgiveness are certainly two of my own weaknesses.

Despite the hard subject matter, I had a hard time putting the book down, due to Sarah's finesse at portraying the realistic emotions and reactions of the characters.

So far, both books in the Wings of Glory series are easily standalones, but I still look forward to seeing what Sarah does with the 'last' Novak brother in book three!

CONTEST!


Sarah Sundin is hosting a great Movies and Memories giveaway! Click on the above picture to enter to win a fabulous prize package that includes gourmet chocolate, British specialty teas, a Netflix subscription, and MORE!

ALSO, I received a few bookmarks from Sarah, and I'd like to pass them on to my readers! So, if you're interested, comment on the post or drop me an email! I'll send them out until they run out! ;-)

Many thanks to Sarah, through Litfuse, for sending me a copy of A Memory Between Us to read and review!

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.

Recommend: YES

blog signature
**Disclaimer:
I was given a free product for review purposes only. My reviews are not monetarily compensated and have not been influenced by the sponsor in any way, unless otherwise disclosed. Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family. Post *may* contain affiliate links. If you click on them and decide to make a purchase, I receive a (very!) small commission. Hey, every little bit helps! So, I thank you! :-).** ___________________________________

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Surrender the Heart by MaryLu Tyndall

Today's FIRST Wild Card author is MaryLu Tyndall and the book:


Surrender the Heart

Barbour Books (August 1, 2010)


When her fiance, Noah, abruptly leaves their engagement party, Marianne Denton boards his ship to confront him. While searching belowdeck, she gets hit in the head, and Marianne wakes the next day...out at sea...headed for England.

When Marianne's sabotage leads to a fearful situation, will she and Noah be able to set aside their differences to find love and freedom?

This was my first book by MaryLu, and I must say that I enjoyed the pirate-y feel of Surrender the Heart. I thought liquor was mentioned too much in the book. But overall, it was a fun and different kind of read for me.

AND FOR YOU, a peek into the book:

June 18, 1812, Baltimore, Maryland

“I would rather boil in oil than marry Noah Brenin.” Marianne tossed the silver brooch onto her vanity.

“Hold your breath and stay still.” Rose said from behind her. “Besides, it is only an engagement party, not a wedding.”

“But it is one more step to that horrid destination.” Marianne sucked in her breath as Rose threaded the laces through the eyelets on her stays. “Why must women wear these contraptions?”

“To look our best for the gentlemen in our lives.” Cassandra appeared on Marianne’s left, a lacy petticoat flung over one arm. With shimmering auburn hair and eyes the color of emeralds, Cassandra had no trouble looking her best for anyone.

Marianne huffed. “I have no care what any gentleman thinks of my appearance.”

“Which is why you are still unmarried at five and twenty.”

“Then what is your excuse at three and twenty?” Marianne arched a brow, to which Cassandra responded with a shrug. “I have not yet met a man worthy of me.” She grinned.

“Where on earth is your chambermaid?” Rose grunted as she squeezed Marianne’s rounded figure into the stays and tied the final lace tight. “Shouldn’t she be doing this?”

“I dismissed her.” Marianne waved a hand through the air. “I prefer to dress myself.” She hoped they didn’t hear the slight quaver in her voice. If only they knew that her mother had been forced to let the entire staff go and the ones here today were hired just for her betrothal party.

“There.” Rose finished her work and stepped back as Marianne took the petticoat from Cassandra and slipped it over her head.

“Truth is, I do not wish to marry—ever.” Marianne squared her shoulders as Cassandra slid behind her and latched the petticoat hooks.

Rose put her hands on her waist. “Noah Brenin is a fine man and a good catch.”

Marianne gazed at her friend and couldn’t help but smile at the motherly reprimand burning in her crystal blue eyes. Tall and slender, with honey blond hair, Rose turned many a head in Baltimore. Just like Cassandra.

But not like Marianne.

“He is a boor.”

“Why so low an opinion of him? Haven’t you and he been friends since childhood?” Rose cocked her head and gave Marianne a look of censure.

“I wouldn’t call it friendship, more like forced acquaintance. And my knowledge of him is precisely why I know him for the churlish clod he is.”

Gathering a cream-colored silk-embroidered gown from Marianne’s bed, Rose and Cassandra tossed it over her head and assisted her as she wiggled into it. She adjusted the ruffled lace bordering her neckline and circling her puffy sleeves. Cassandra handed her a jeweled belt which Marianne strapped around her high waist and buckled in front. She pressed down the folds of her gown, admiring the pink lace trailing down the front and trimming the hemline. After slipping on her white satin slippers, Marianne moved to the full length looking glass and paused to eye her reflection.

Plain. Despite the shimmering, glamorous dress, plain was the first word that came to her mind. Perhaps because that was how she had always been described. Brown hair, brown eyes, average height, a bit plump. Nothing remarkable, nothing to catch an eye.

Simply plain.

Which was precisely why, when the other girls her age were being courted, Marianne had preferred to spend her time caring for her ailing mother and younger sister, particularly after their father died. No whirlwind romances, no soirees, no grand adventures lit up the horizon for her. She had resigned herself to lead an ordinary life. An ordinary life for an ordinary girl.

“Come now, it won’t be so bad.” Rose brushed a lock of hair from Marianne’s forehead and then straightened one of the curls dangling about her neck. “You look as though you were attending your own funeral.”

“I dare say I feel as though I am.” Tired of staring into the mirror with the hope her reflection would transform into that of a beautiful woman, Marianne turned aside, picked up her silk gloves from the vanity and sauntered toward the window.

“I, for one, cannot wait to get married,” Rose said. “To the right man of course. He must be a good, honest, god-fearing man. A man who stays home, not a seaman. And he must be agreeable in all respects.”

“What about handsome?” Cassandra asked, and Marianne turned to see a blush creep up Rose’s neck.

“Well, yes, I suppose I would not be opposed to that.” Her blue eyes twinkled.

Facing the window, Marianne slid the white gloves onto her hands and tugged them up her arms. Shouts echoed from the street below, accompanied by the clip clop of horse hooves and the grating of carriage wheels. She brushed aside the curtain to see people running to and fro darting between carriages. A warm breeze, heavy with moisture and the smells of the sea, stirred the curtains. A bell rang in the distance, drawing Marianne’s attention to the maze of ship’s masts thrusting into the blue sky like iron bars of a prison. A prison that could not constrain the ravenous blue waters from feeding upon the innocent—an innocent like her father.

Rose and Cassandra joined her at the window as more shouts blasted in with the wind. “What is all the commotion about?” Cassandra pushed back the other side of the curtains.

“There have been rumors that President Madison will soon declare war on Britain,” Marianne said.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that.” Rose peered over Marianne’s shoulder. “War is such horrid business.”

“But necessary if the British insist on stealing our men from land and sea and impressing them into their Navy.” Marianne felt her ire rising. “Not to mention how they rouse the Indians to attack us on the frontier.”

“They want their colonies back, I suppose.” Afternoon sunlight set Cassandra’s red hair aflame in ribbons of liquid fire. “England never was good at losing.”

“Well they can’t have them.” Marianne’s voice rose with a determination she felt building within. Though she’d been born after the Revolution, she had heard the stories of oppression and tyranny enforced upon them by a nation across the seas whose king thought he had the right to dictate laws and taxes without giving the people a voice. But no more. “We won our freedom from them. We are a nation now. A new nation that represents liberty to the entire world.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” Cassandra nodded with a smile. “Perhaps you should run for mayor?”

“A woman in public office?” Marianne chuckled. “That will never happen.”

The door creaked open, and Marianne turned to see her mother and younger sister slip inside.

Lizzie’s eyes widened and she rushed toward Marianne. “You look so beautiful, Marianne!”

Kneeling, Marianne embraced her sister. She held her tight and took a big whiff of the lavender soap with which their mother always scrubbed the little girl. “Thank you, Lizzie. I can always count on you for a compliment.”

“Now, Lizzie, don’t wrinkle your sister’s dress.” Marianne’s mother sank into one of the chairs by the fireplace and winced. The slight reminder of her mother’s pain caused Marianne’s heart to shrink. She squeezed her little sister again—the one beacon of joy in their house these past three years since Father died—and kissed her on the cheek. “You look very beautiful too.”

The little girl clutched her skirt and twirled around. “Do you really think so?” She drew her lips into a pout. “But when can I wear a dress like yours?”

“Come now, Lizzie,” Mother said. “You are only six. When you are a grown woman like Marianne, you may wear more elaborate gowns.” She gestured toward Rose and Cassandra. “Ladies, would you take Lizzie downstairs for a moment? I need a word with Marianne.”

“Of course, Mrs. Denton.” Rose took Lizzie’s hand. “Come along little one.”

Cassandra followed after them and closed the door.

Marianne sat in the chair beside her mother and gently grasped her hands. She flinched at how cold and moist they were. “How are you feeling, Mama?”

“Very well today, dear.” She looked down as if hiding something..

But Marianne didn’t need to look in her mother’s eyes to know she was lying. The sprinkles of perspiration on her forehead, the paleness of her skin, and the tightening of her lips when the pains hit spoke more clearly than any words.

Marianne squeezed her mother’s hands. “The medicaments are not working?”

“They will work. It takes time.” Her mother attempted a smile. “But let us not talk of that now. I have something more important to discuss with you.” She released a heavy sigh then lifted her gaze to Marianne’s. Though illness had stolen the glimmer from her eyes, it could not hide the sweet kindness of her soul. “You don’t have to do this, you know.”

The truth of her words sliced through Marianne. She stared at the floral pattern woven into the carpet. “You know I do.”

“It isn’t fair of me to ask this of you.” Her mother’s voice rang with conviction and deep sorrow.

“You didn’t ask, Mama. I want to do this.” A truth followed by a lie. Marianne hoped the good canceled out the bad.

“Come now. You cannot fool me.” Mama said. “I know this is not the match you would choose.”

Releasing her mother’s hands, Marianne rose from the chair and sauntered toward the window. The rustle of her gown crackled through the air with conviction. “In truth, I would choose no match.” She turned and forced a smile. “So if I must marry, why not this man?”

Her mother gazed at her with such love and sorrow that Marianne felt her heart would burst. Once considered the most beautiful woman in Baltimore, Jane Denton, now withered away with the sickness that robbed her of her glow and luster and stole the fat from her bones, leaving her but a frail skeleton of what she once had been. The physicians had no idea what ailed her save that without the medicaments they administered, she would die a quicker and more painful death.

Tearing her gaze from the tragic vision, Marianne glanced out the window where it seemed as though the approaching evening only heightened the citizens’ agitation. “Marrying Noah Brenin will save us. It will save you.”

“But what of saving you?” Her mother’s sweet plea caressed Marianne’s ears, but she forced down the spark of hope that dared to rise at her mother’s question. There was no room for hope now, only necessity.

“You know if we continue as is, all that is left of our fortune will be spent in one year on your medicaments. Then what will we do? Without my dowry, no man will look my way, since that and our good name is all that has caught this particular fish upon the hook.” And without a husband to unlock her inheritance, her father had ensured that the seven thousand dollars would remain as far from her reach as if she did not own it at all.

“Perhaps you will meet another man—someone you love?” Her mother said.

“Mama, I am five and twenty.” Marianne turned and waved her hands over herself. “And plain to look at.” She gave a bitter laugh. “Do you see suitors lining up at our door?”

“You are too beautiful for words, dearest.” Her mother’s eyes beamed in adoration. “You just don’t know it yet.”

Shrugging off her mother’s compliment as the obligation of a parent, Marianne stiffened her back before she attempted to rekindle an argument long since put to death. “We could take what’s left of our money and fund a privateer, Mama.” Marianne glanced out the window at a mob that had formed down the street. “War is certain and our fledgling navy will need all the help it can get.”

Her mother’s nervous huff drew Marianne’s gaze. “It is far too much of a gamble. And gambling destroys lives”—a glaze covered her mother’s eyes as she stared into the room—“and families.”

Marianne grimaced. “I am not like Papa. I have heard these privateers can make a fortune while helping to defend our country.”

A breeze stirred a curled wisp of her mother’s hair as she gazed at Marianne with concern.

Marianne twisted the ring on her finger. “Down at the docks, merchantmen are already outfitted their ships as privateers. The call for investors goes out daily.” If only she could convince her mother, not only would Marianne not have to marry that clod, Noah, but she could do something to help this great nation of hers.

Her mother’s boney hands perched in her lap began to tremble. “We could lose everything. And what of Lizzie? I could not bare it.”

Shame drummed upon Marianne’s hopes. She had upset her mother when the doctor strictly instructed her to keep her calm.

“Perhaps a trade of some sort?” Mama offered. “I hear that Mrs. Pickersgill makes a decent living sewing ensigns.”

A blast of warm wind stirred the gauzy curtains and cooled the perspiration forming on Marianne’s neck. “Mama you know I have no skills. I’m not like other ladies. The last gown I attempted to sew fell apart. My cooking would drive the hardiest frontiersman back to the woods, and the pianoforte runs when it sees me coming.”

Mother chuckled. “You exaggerate, dearest.”

But Marianne could tell by the look in her mother’s eyes that despite the humorous delivery, her words rang true. Though a governess in her younger years and her mother in her later years had strived to teach Marianne the skills every proper lady should acquire, she had found them nothing but tedious. She possessed no useful skills, no talents. As her father had so often declared before his death. In essence, Marianne had nothing to offer. If her mother would not agree to fund a privateer, Marianne would have to accept her fate in marriage.

“I’m an old woman and will die soon anyway,” Mama said with a sigh. “But I must ensure you and Lizzie are cared for.”

Gathering her skirts, Marianne dashed toward her mother and knelt at her feet. “You must never say such a thing.”

“Do not soil your beautiful gown.” Her mother smiled and wiped a tear from Marianne’s cheek. “Perhaps we should simply trust God with my health and let His will prevail.”

Marianne laid her head on her mother’s lap like she used to do as a child. She had trusted her father, she had trusted God.

And they had both let her down—her and her mother.

Trust no longer came so easily. “I will not let you die, Mother. I cannot.” Her eyes burned with tears. “As long as I have my inheritance and a man who is willing to marry me, I promise you will be well cared for. And Lizzie too. That is all that matters, now.” Marianne lifted her gaze to her mother’s, feeling strength surge through her.

“And mark my words, Mama. Nothing will stand in my way. Especially not Noah Brenin.”

Thank you to MaryLu and Barbour, through FIRST, for sending me a review copy!

Recommend: YES

blog signature


**Disclaimer: I was given a free product for review purposes only. My reviews are not monetarily compensated and have not been influenced by the sponsor in any way, unless otherwise disclosed. Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family. Post *may* contain affiliate links. If you click on them and decide to make a purchase, I receive a (very!) small commission. Hey, every little bit helps! So, I thank you! :-).** ___________________________________

Monday, October 4, 2010

Within My Heart by Tamara Alexander

This week, CFBA is introducing

Within My Heart 






Bethany House; Original edition (September 1, 2010)
by
Tamera Alexander


REVIEW TO FOLLOW. Stay tuned!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tamera Alexander is the best-selling author of Rekindled, Revealed and Remembered, the critically acclaimed Fountain Creek Chronicles historical series with Bethany House Publishers. Her second historical series, Timber Ridge Reflections (From a Distance, Beyond This Moment, and Within My Heart), penned in her style with deeply drawn characters, thought-provoking plots, and poignant prose have earned her devoted readers—and multiple industry awards.

After living in Colorado for seventeen years, Tamera has returned to her Southern roots. She and her husband now make their home in Nashville with Tamera's father, Doug. They enjoy life there with Joe and Tamera's two adult children, and Jack, a precious—and precocious—silky terrier.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Widow Rachel Boyd struggles to keep her ranch afloat and provide for her two young sons, though some days it feels as though her efforts are sabotaged at every turn. When her cattle come down with disease and her sons' lives are endangered, she must turn to Rand Brookston, Timber Ridge's physician and reluctant veterinarian. While Rachel appreciates his help, she squelches any feelings she might have for Rand--her own father was a doctor and his patients always took priority over his family. Rachel refuses to repeat the mistakes her mother made. But when she's courted by a wealthy client of the local resort, she faces a choice: self-sufficiency and security or the risk inherent in the deepest of loves.

AND FOR YOU, a peek into the book:


Within My Heart
Bethany House; Original edition (September 1, 2010)

by
Tamera Alexander

Prologue

Dusk, hours following the Battle of Nashville
December 17, 1864

Half hidden beneath the bare-limbed canopy of a dogwood tree, the gravedigger kept a reverent distance, patiently waiting for the last whispered prayers to be uttered and for the final mourner to take her leave. Only then did he step into the fading light, a worn spool of string clutched tight in his gnarled hand. Not much time left. It would be dark soon. And the last grave still needed tending before the pewter skies let loose their winter white.

The distant squeak of wagon wheels and the clomp of horses' hooves faded into the night, leaving only the faint chirrup of crickets to companion the silence. Jessup Collum lifted the lid of the oblong pine box and with painstaking care, his arthritic fingers numb from the cold and marred with time and age, he tied a trailing length of string around the soldier's right wrist. Mindful not to tie the string overtight, he looped the other end through a tiny bell.

He stared for a moment at the soldier's face—the fallen Confederate a mere boy judging from his features—then he glanced around at the freshly covered graves. Deep in his bones he knew what he was doing was right, even if a bit out of the ordinary. There was no malice in his actions, and no sin, most certainly. Nothing that would bring serious offense. Though folks would surely think him a touch senile, if they saw. If they knew ...

So many ways for a man to die, yet only one was needed for the earth to cradle a body back from whence all life had come.

Jessup turned that thought over in his mind as he'd done countless times before, not indifferent to the shadows stealing across the graveyard as the December sun hastened its retreat. Nightfall brought bitter cold, but not a breath of wind stirred, and each snowflake lofted downward from heaven, unhindered in its journey. He worked hurriedly to cover the last grave, mindful of the trailing string.

After the last shovel of dirt, he straightened, slowly, his crooked spine bearing the brunt of forty-two years of tending this hallowed ground—and of the last few hours of burying the bloodied remnants the Federal Army had abandoned following their assault. If the once-valiant Tennessee Army had been crippled in the battle at Franklin two weeks ago, then the past two days of fighting had delivered a mortal wound.

Jessup lit a torch and stared over row after row of mounded earth, the light casting a burnished glow around him. Too many and too young were those who lay here, going before their time. Before their lives had been lived out. He thought again of the young woman earlier who'd been last to take her leave.

Dark-haired with skin pale and smooth as cream, she'd knelt for the longest time at the grave on the far end, one he'd taken care in covering not two hours earlier, as he'd done the one at his feet just now. She'd huddled close by that grave, weeping, arms drawn around herself, looking as if she'd wanted to lay herself down and mark an end to her own life, what little she had left after losing the man buried there—"a decorated lieutenant from the Tennessee regiment, and my only brother," she'd whispered through tears.

The wound on the lieutenant's neck had told Jessup how the man had died, and the sutures and bloodstained bandages told him how hard some doctor had fought to save him. Shame how fast these soldiers were buried. No proper funeral. No time for one— not with the Federal Army bearing down hard, void of mercy, bent on conquering what little was left.

He tugged the worn collar of his coat closer about his neck and begged the Almighty, again, to intervene, to put an end to this war. Surely it couldn't go on much longer.

A heavy mist crept over the rise from the creek, shrouding the stone markers. The fog seemed to deepen the pungent aroma of upturned earth, and a beguiling trace of honeysuckle clung to the cool night air, despite the wild vine not being in bloom. Jessup took a deeper whiff and could almost taste the sweet summer nectar. A smile pushed up his whiskered cheeks. Maybe folks were right. Maybe he was a touch senile after all. These days recent memories skittered off about as quickly as he reached for them, while others that should have been long gathering dust inched closer as the years stretched on.

He sat down against an ancient poplar, borrowing its strength. Still no wind, and the snow had ceased falling. He imagined the boy's face again, able to see it clearly in his mind's eye as he stared at the bell, willing it to move.

Even the slightest bit.

He put his head back, resting his eyes, only for a moment. But the moments lengthened and gathered and pulled taut, coaxing him along on a gentle wave, absent of the throb in his lower back and the ache across his swollen knuckles.

He was a boy again, running through fields knee-high with summer grass, the sun hot on his face, sweat from a humid Tennessee afternoon beading on his forehead and matting his hair to his head. Someone called to him in the distance. A voice so sweet ... A lifetime had passed since he'd heard that voice. Mother ...

He ran, youthful legs pumping hard, trying to reach her, wanting to see her again. But the faster he ran, the farther away her voice seemed to—

Jessup awakened with a start, his breath coming in sharp staggers.

An uncanny sense of presence crowded the darkness around him, and he realized the torch had gone out. He sat straighter, head cocked to one side, and listened, straining to hear his mother's voice again.

But her voice was gone.

He wiped the telling moisture from his cheeks and rose, the joints cracking in his knees. In all his days, he couldn't recall so still a night. So loud a hush over the graves. With a sinking feeling, he looked down at the grave of the young boy. It was late now. Too late.

He prayed the boy was at peace, wherever he was. Same for the decorated lieutenant down the way. He didn't know much about the afterlife—not like folks expected him to—but he reckoned if God was as kind as he believed Him to be that there was some sort of special welcome going on right now for those men who'd laid down their lives in this terrible—

The distant tinkling of a bell brought Jessup upright.

A skitter shimmied up his spine. The air trapped viselike in his lungs. Praying he wasn't still dreaming, he searched the darkness at the end of the row where the woman had knelt earlier, and his skin turned to gooseflesh. If this was what some folks felt when they visited this place late at night, he knew now why they never ventured back.

He also knew why he would never leave.

Chapter 1


Timber Ridge, Colorado, Rocky Mountains
April 12, 1877

Rachel Boyd stood motionless in the main aisle of the general store, knowing she shouldn't eavesdrop. But heaven help her, she couldn't bring herself to move! Half afraid that Ben and Lyda Mullins would hear her if she did try to make a stealthy exit, she gripped the jar of molasses in her hand, unable to stifle a giggle. The only patron in the store, she was grateful for the lull in afternoon traffic and was more than a little amused—and surprised— by the affectionate whispers coming from beyond the curtained doorway.

A soft chuckle. "Ben Mullins, what's gotten into you? Someone could walk in on us."

A deeper laugh. "Who's going to come back here into the storeroom? All I want is a little kiss. Come here, woman, and let me ..."

Rachel couldn't make out the low murmurs that followed, and didn't need to. Her imagination filled in the blanks just fine. Warmth rose to her face. Unbidden, her memory skimmed the past two years, and emotions long buried since Thomas's death, yet never forgotten, slowly reawakened inside her.

With them came bittersweet memories of the tender way her husband used to love her, and desires long dormant began to unfurl. She closed her eyes, recalling what it had felt like to be loved by a man. A shiver stole through her, though not an altogether pleasurable one. Her smile slowly faded.

While this wasn't the first time she'd remembered the intimacy she and Thomas had enjoyed in marriage, it was her first time to feel those intimate stirrings again. The desire for a man's touch, for that relationship. But the desire wasn't welcome. She would not—could not—ever again love a man the way she'd loved Thomas.

Following his passing, there had been moments when she'd questioned whether she would survive. It had taken so long to find her way out of that fog, that deep, dark place where she'd known she needed to start living again, if only for her boys, but couldn't. With the double-edged gift of time's passing, and the persistent encouragement of family and friends, she'd finally found her way back into the sunlight.

But loving someone so completely, giving herself to a man the way she'd done with her husband, it gave them the power to hurt you in a way no one else could, even when it wasn't their intention.

And she never wanted to hurt like that again. Ever.

More than once, she'd been told she needed to consider remarrying, if only for her boys' sake. But just as she wouldn't risk her heart a second time, neither would she risk her sons having to endure the same hurt they'd gone through with their father's passing. Besides, she and Mitchell and Kurt were getting along fine, just the three of them.

A not-so-gentle check tugged at her flagging confidence. She fingered the jar of molasses in her hand. Perhaps fine wasn't the best choice of a word, but the three of them were managing as best they could. She smoothed a hand down the front panel of her skirt and forced down a recurring tide of emotion. With effort, she refocused her thoughts.

School would dismiss within the hour, and she planned on dropping by to visit with the schoolteacher about Kurt. She didn't have an appointment—and it wasn't her first "meeting" with Miss Stafford over her younger son. She just wanted to make sure things were going smoothly and that Kurt hadn't done something else foolish. Again. Like the shenanigan he'd pulled two weeks prior involving the school's outhouse.

He hadn't been the only boy involved, she'd learned, but she had a feeling he'd been the instigator. And she cringed again just thinking about it, putting herself in Miss Stafford's place. Young and inexperienced, Judith Stafford was, from all accounts, being more than patient with Kurt. How embarrassing that must have been. Kurt had written a note of apology, and she'd written Judith Stafford a note too, offering her own expression of regret and thanking the teacher for her understanding. Hopefully a quick visit today would keep things moving in the right direction.

After dealing with that issue, endless chores awaited on the ranch, not to mention the meeting about the overdue loan payment. Mr. Fossey, the bank manager, had been more than lenient, but she sensed his patience waning.

She returned the jar of molasses to the shelf, considering it a luxury these days with funds on the scarce side. In the midst of everything, she was still determined to keep Thomas's dream alive for their two sons. It was what pushed her from bed each morning and what carried her through each day until she fell exhausted back into bed long after dark. That, and the pledge they'd made as a couple to give Mitchell and Kurt a heritage, a better life than the boys would have had if she and Thomas had stayed in Tennessee following the war.

She fingered a callus on her palm. Losing the ranch Thomas had worked so diligently to build wasn't an option, and it hardly defined giving their boys a "better life." She'd stood over her husband's grave and had given her solemn oath that she would see his dream—their dream—come to fruition. And that was a promise she intended to keep. If Mr. Fossey still considered her a worthwhile risk.

The intimate exchange behind the blue-and-yellow gingham curtain grew more ardent, and Rachel felt a blush, regretting not having left at the outset. She made her way to the door, hoping Ben had remembered to oil the squeaky hinge. Guilty as she felt, it was nice to know that after twenty-something years of marriage, Ben and Lyda's feelings for each other were still—

"Ben?"

Hearing the name, and catching the unmistakable alarm in Lyda's tone, Rachel paused, hand on the latch.

"Ben, what's—" A muted gasp sounded from the back storeroom. "Honey, what's wrong? Ben ... are you all—"

A dull thud.

"Ben!"

Rachel raced to the curtain that separated the store from the back part of the building but stopped shy of continuing on. "Lyda, it's Rachel. Is everything all right?" She waited, impatient. "Lyda?"

"No, we're— Ben, can you hear me?" Anxiety constricted Lyda's voice. "Rachel! Something's wrong. I ... I don't think he's breathing!"

Rachel whipped past the curtain and hurried down the hallway, and came to a stilting halt by the storage closet.

Ben lay crumpled on the floor, motionless, his complexion drained of color. Lyda knelt close beside him. Panic lined her features.

Instinct kicked in and Rachel squeezed in beside them into the cramped space. "What happened?" She checked Ben's pulse, first on the underside of his wrist, then on his neck.

Tears rimmed Lyda's eyes. Her hands shook. "We were ..." She looked away and Rachel felt a pinch of guilt. "We were ... kissing, and the next thing I knew Ben was clutching at his arm." Panic thinned her tone. "He acted like he couldn't catch his breath, and then he ..." She bit her lower lip as tears spilled over. "He just went down."

Rachel closed her eyes and concentrated on finding a pulse, wishing she had her father's old stethoscope. "Has anything like this happened to Ben before?"

Lyda shook her head and nudged her husband's shoulder with a trembling hand. "Ben," she whispered, "can you hear me?"

Fingertips pressed against the underside of his wrist, Rachel stilled. There—finally, she felt something. A pulse. Thready and shallow. Too much so. "He needs Dr. Brookston," she whispered, touching Ben's brow to find it cool and clammy. "I'll go find him. You stay here."

Lyda reached for her hand. "You know what's happening ..."

It wasn't a question and Rachel didn't answer. Before Timber Ridge boasted a physician of its own, she'd served as midwife to women in town. She'd also treated wounds and sewn up her share of cuts and gashes. People rarely called on her since the doctor arrived—maybe an expectant mother every now and then—but she had a fairly good idea of what was happening to Ben. Yet she wasn't about to state it aloud. It would only add to Lyda's worry, and her assumption could well be wrong. She wasn't a trained physician, after all. Medical schools were for men, not women.

"The important thing, Lyda, is that Ben is breathing and I can feel a pulse. Whatever you do, don't move him. If he comes to while I'm gone, make sure he doesn't try to get up. That's very important." She reached for a towel on a shelf, rolled it up, and gently slid it beneath Ben's head. "And keep his head elevated until I get back with the doctor." She stood.

Lyda stared up, fresh tears rising. "Is he ... going to be all right?"

Rachel knelt again, on the verge of tears herself. At forty-nine, Ben Mullins was almost twenty years her senior—Lyda was half that. Yet in recent years the older couple had become almost like parents to her. Ben treated her much like a father would and was like an uncle to her sons. Lyda was a trusted friend and filled the role of an indulgent aunt to the boys, which included sneaking them candy in church when they were younger, and occasionally even now. Yet Rachel still couldn't bring herself to answer Lyda's question.

She forced a smile she didn't feel. "Did you hear what I said? About making sure Ben stays still and about keeping his head elevated?"

Shadows of realization darkened Lyda's eyes. "Yes," she choked out, nodding. "I heard. It's just that—" She drew in a ragged breath. "Rachel ... he's all I have now. I can't lose him too."

A horrible, suffocating wave of grief hit Rachel all over again. Only it wasn't from memories of Thomas. She knew that pain only too well. This was different, and it tore at her heart. She reached for Lyda's hand and gripped it tight, remembering a bitter wintry night eight years ago. A night she and Lyda had spoken of only a handful of times since.

Filling her lungs, she worked to steady her voice, the image of Ben and Lyda's children, their expressions so peaceful, so precious, even in death, making that nearly impossible. She squeezed her eyes shut, but the haunting images remained. "I'm going to go find the doctor—he'll know what to do. I won't be long, I promise."

Lyda nodded, her expression communicating what words could not. "Thank you, Rachel. And please ... hurry."

* * *

Rachel ran the short distance to the doctor's clinic and entered without knocking. Angelo Giordano stood at a worktable inside, pestle in hand. "Angelo—" She paused to catch her breath, the chilled mountain air still burning her lungs. "Is Dr. Brookston here?"

The young man shook his head. "The doctor ... he is at—" He lowered his head. "He is away, Mrs. Boyd." Though his Italian accent was thick and his word choices careful, Angelo Giordano's diction was flawless. "But if maybe ... I could be of help—"

"I need Dr. Brookston, Angelo! I think Ben Mullins is having heart failure."

The boy's dark eyes went wide.

Rachel hurried to a bookcase crammed with bottles and metal tins, each neatly labeled. But the shelves were cramped, and numerous tins sat stacked on the plank-wood floor gathering dust. She scanned the labels, finding them a challenge to read in the poor light and with the containers stuffed in as they were. She exhaled. Could Dr. Brookston not afford a proper cabinet for his medicine? "Do you know if the doctor has any foxglove? It's a plant—an herb. It's used with patients who have heart ailments."

"I do not know, ma'am," Angelo said, joining her in the search.

Rachel shoved a tin aside to view another behind it, and a bottle of laudanum slipped off the shelf. She tried to catch it, but the bottle hit the floor with a crack and shattered, splattering laudanum and sending glass shards in all directions. She bit back a harsh word. "I'm sorry, Angelo. I didn't mean to break—"

"Dr. Brookston will not be angry." The boy reached for a rag. "I will clean it."

Her panic mounting, Rachel spotted two wooden crates in the corner, but they held only bottles of lamp oil. Enough to last for an entire year! What did anyone need with that much oil? An unopened box on the examination table drew her attention.

Angelo gestured. "It is new medicine. It came today. That is why I am here. Maybe I should—"

She nodded, anticipating what he might say next. "Yes. Go through that box—quickly please, Angelo—and look for anything that has either of these words on it." She grabbed the fountain pen and a piece of paper from Dr. Brookston's desk and scribbled a note. She already knew firsthand from having assisted Dr. Rand Brookston last fall that he was an exemplary surgeon—she only hoped he was as conscientious about keeping medications ordered and in stock.

She pressed the paper into Angelo's hand. "Now, do you have any idea where the doctor might be? Who he was going to see?"

Angelo blinked, glancing downward.

"Angelo, please! There's little time."

Wincing, the young man reluctantly met her gaze. "He spoke of going to ... to Miss Bailey's."

Rachel frowned, confused. "Miss Bailey's ..."

He nodded once. "The woman, she has a house over on—"

"I know where Miss Bailey's house is."

Angelo swallowed and the sound was audible. "The doctor ... sometimes he sees to the ... boarders who live there."

Rachel felt the furrows in her brow. Boarders wasn't exactly the word she would have chosen to describe the women who lived under Miss Bailey's roof. Regardless, she needed the doctor, and if that's where he was, for whatever reason, then that's where she would go. "As soon as you find either of the items listed on that sheet of paper, bring them as quickly as you can to the mercantile, to the back storeroom. Will you do that, please?"

Angelo nodded, his chest puffing out. "Yes, Mrs. Boyd. If what is on this paper is in this box, I will find it. I will bring it."

She thanked him and took off down the boardwalk at a run.

The April air was brisk, burning her lungs. It held the promise of more snow, and Rachel pulled her winter shawl tighter around her shoulders, wishing she hadn't left her coat at the store. A gust of wind disturbed the layer of fresh-fallen snow lining the rooftops and sent it swirling downward.

Winter wouldn't leave the Rockies for at least another month, maybe two, and she prayed the cold wouldn't cost her more cattle than it already had, or the calves due to drop any day. But especially the calf belonging to Lady. She'd bought Lady a year ago, her first major investment for the ranch, and a good one, for a change.

She turned at the next street. Thankfully, foot traffic on the boardwalk was scarce.

School hadn't dismissed yet but soon would—and she wouldn't be there to meet the boys, or to have that visit with their teacher. When she didn't show, she knew Mitchell and Kurt would walk to James's office and wait there until she arrived. The boys loved their uncle James and never complained about visiting the sheriff 's office, but she worried about what they saw and overheard there. Still, some days it couldn't be helped.

Only last fall had she begun to allow Mitch and Kurt to walk to school on their own again. She still accompanied them in the wagon as far as Ben and Lyda's store each morning, unable to stomach the thought of them walking the distance from the ranch like they once had. Not after what had happened to Thomas, and with the recent reports of cougar sightings.

Winded, she struggled to maintain the hurried pace, her breath puffing white. Winter-shrouded peaks towered high above Timber Ridge and drew her gaze upward as thoughts of Ben pressed close. The rush of her pulse pounded hard in her ears.

If only Ben's heart could beat half as strong ...

If Ben had a history of heart weakness, he'd never mentioned it. Neither had Lyda. And Rachel felt certain they would have, given her closeness to them.

A left at the next intersection led her into a part of town she didn't usually frequent. Saloons and gaming halls lined the thoroughfare. Even midday the smell of liquor was potent. She spotted Miss Bailey's establishment at the end of the street and made a beeline for it, wondering how she knew which building it was. She couldn't recall being told. It was simply one of those places everybody in town knew of, but most folks—at least in her circle—never spoke about.

Two women lazed against the railing of the wraparound porch, talking, dressed in a manner ill-advised for the cold and that might have been shocking had Rachel been na├»ve about their occupation. But she wasn't, and she raced up the porch stairs, the unease over having to visit a place like this paling in comparison to her concern for Ben. She never broke stride. "I've come to get Dr. Brookston. It's an emergen—"

The woman on the left, a blonde, stepped directly into her path, blocking the door.

Rachel stopped short.

"I think you mean Rand, don't you?" the woman said, looking her up and down and smiling, though not in a friendly way. "That's what we all call him." She crossed her arms over her chest and her ample cleavage lifted to threaten the already strained buttons of her thin shirtwaist. "He's inside, visiting with one of the girls. And I don't think he'll take kindly to being interrupted." She gave a throaty laugh. "I know Patricia won't. She's been waitin' for this all week." She tossed a wink at the woman beside her.

"Visiting with one of the girls." Fairly good at reading people, Rachel knew when she was being goaded. She had no qualms about the doctor seeing to the health of these women. Her father had been a physician, and she respected a physician's oath to care for the sick, regardless of person or circumstance. Yet Dr. Brookston's coming here, to this place, and his apparent familiarity with these women ... Such behavior hinted at arrogance. An arrogance with which she was only too familiar when it came to men of his profession.

An arrogance that often led to their downfall.

"Like it or not—" Rachel squared her shoulders, finding boldness when picturing Lyda cradling Ben—"Dr. Brookston's visit here is about to be cut short." She pushed past the woman, yanking her arm free when the blonde grabbed hold. Once inside, she hustled to close the door and flipped the lock into place, knowing it wouldn't buy her much time.

The women pounded on the glass-paned door behind her, yelling obscenities. Surely the building had a back door, so Rachel knew she was only prolonging the inevitable, but she didn't need long.

The sickeningly sweet smell of perfume hit her full in the face. That, and stale liquor. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dim light.

Laughter drifted down from the second floor, giving hint as to where she should begin her search. She hurried up the spiral staircase. The garish red carpet muted her boot steps. She instinctively reached for the handrail, then held back, thinking better of it.

Oversized oil paintings covered the walls, detailed in their renderings and advertising the services bartered in this place. After her gaze collided with a particularly graphic "portrait," she kept her eyes averted, but couldn't block out the disturbing memories that came with being inside a place like this. Not that she'd ever been inside a brothel before—

But her father had. On numerous occasions. With many women. For many years.

For the thousandth time, she questioned why doctors considered themselves more highly than they ought, more immune to weaknesses in character and less prone to fault—when based on personal experience, with few exceptions, she'd found quite the opposite to be true.

She reached the second-story landing, and the gravel of male voices blended with female laughter to paint a plurality of mental images Rachel tried in vain to block out. She looked down the long hallway. So many doors ... and they were all closed.

The rush of footsteps sounded from downstairs. "She must have gone up there!"

Time running out, Rachel pounded on the first door.


blog signature
**Disclaimer: I was given a free product for review purposes only. My reviews are not monetarily compensated and have not been influenced by the sponsor in any way, unless otherwise disclosed. Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family. Post *may* contain affiliate links. If you click on them and decide to make a purchase, I receive a (very!) small commission. Hey, every little bit helps! So, I thank you! :-).** ___________________________________
Blog Widget by LinkWithin