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Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 30: THE MISSION

         Sammy had decided this was an exceedingly special occasion -- she had learned the word from Granny Simone, of course -- and had insisted on wearing her fanciest clothes. So what if the June morning threatened to be ninety in the shade, and humid enough to swim through the air? Her black velvet dress from last Christmas and her shocking pink Easter bonnet topped the outfit, with white lace leggings and her Mary Janes. The neon green net tutu Ginger from the prison ministry team had made for her last Halloween peeked out from underneath the black velvet skirts, puffing them out from her body.
         Granny Simone would understand Sammy's reasoning, and she would be touched. And she would laugh.
         Reason enough for Paul to let Sammy wear the outfit, though tongues would certainly wag. Not that he cared what anyone in Shiloh thought of him. He planned to leave Williams County and Lucasburg and get Sammy away from the gossips and the nasty stories and the speculations that still swirled around like the river at flood stage. His friend, Brock Pierson, had been as good as his word and found a job for Paul that more than filled his needs.
         "Is Great-Granny going to Heaven today, Daddy?" Sammy whispered. "Can we stay here until the angels come?"
         "I don't know. Let's see what Granny Simone says, okay?" Paul managed to say, despite the tightness in his throat. He opened the truck door and slid out, and then reached in, holding out his arms for Sammy. He was glad that she let him carry her. He needed to hold her when they were in Shiloh, to protect her, even if the threat of someone snatching his daughter away was only in his imagination.
         "Oh, sweetie," Granny Simone wheezed just a few minutes later, her eyes disappearing in the nest of wrinkles of her face. She laughed silently at Sammy's question and request, her entire soft little bird-like body shaking. "I can hear the angels hovering over the house, waiting to take me away, but I don't think they'll let you see them. Angels are big and powerful and frightening, and they love you too much to scare you."

         "I wouldn't be scared," Sammy proclaimed, shaking her head hard enough to dislodge her Easter bonnet.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

June 29: THE MISSION

         Got a minute?
         Claire Donnelly flinched when the instant message screen popped up on her computer. She hated when that happened. Her philosophy was to get online, take care of her business, and get off. Invariably, there was always someone who wanted to chat right when she needed to get off and get something done.
Then she looked at the screen name, and that flinch turned into a shiver of apprehension. Ell456 was one of the few people she kept in contact with back in The Pitt. That wasn't the name of the town where Claire and her brother, Tommy had been born, but she refused to use its actual name, or even think about it as her hometown.
         Better make it a couple minutes, Ellie added before Claire could start typing.
         Gossip? she typed, and hit the return.
         A good little Christian girl like me? <G> Warning. Maybe some crowing. Jerk Sr. is back, looking for you and 4wheel.
         Claire glanced over her shoulder at the other side of the big front room of the house she and Tommy had bought two years after moving to Tabor Heights. He was absorbed in his regular bi-weekly fight with the DVD recorder. From the wiggling of his wheelchair on the hardwood floor, he hadn't quite worked himself up to the -- loud, sarcastic -- point of wanting to get a new recorder and throw the current one into the deepest fishing lake in the Metroparks.
         Did he talk to you?
         Wouldn't sit still long enough for him to catch me, Ellie responded. A few seconds of waiting, while Claire tried to think of a response that wouldn't fry the circuits in her computer; then more message appeared on the screen. Dared to go to our church. Big sob story. Wants to reunite his family. Per Office Betsy, almost wd 4 wd what he said 3 years ago.
         Today?
         She says Wed. Saw him in office b4 service. Asked her. No1 is helping. Can't. Awww. <G>

         Claire grinned at the message screen. She imagined the selfish old liar, stumbling around the church where he had once been head deacon, Sunday school teacher, and part of the expansion committee. Sixteen years of absence on his part had brought many changes, most of them in the congregation, who wouldn't recognize his face or name, or remember how he had abandoned everyone and everything when things got too tough for him.

Friday, June 28, 2013

June 28: FIRESONG

        "I knew it!" a scratchy voice trumpeted from behind them.
        Dani and Andy turned, nearly falling off the bumper, to see two shriveled, gray-haired women coming around the side of the car. Their hair was twisted back in buns so tight, Dani wondered how they could think when their brains were squeezed like that. They wore long-sleeve dresses despite the heat of the day, heavy shoes and dark stockings, and carried Bibles bigger than phone books. Their eyes were bright coals in nests of wrinkles as they glared at brother and sister.
        "Huh?" was all Dani could manage. Where had these two come from? Only performers were allowed back there.
        "The minute I saw you on that stage, I knew you were here for no good reason," the tall one said.
        "Besides keeping the sound system together?" Andy said with an innocent tone so fake, Dani elbowed him. Couldn't he tell these two sourpusses were nothing to fool with?
        "The festival has their own sound system," the dumpy one declared in a voice so high and baby-dollish, Dani had to hold her breath to keep from laughing. "They don't need any outside help."
         "Tell them that," Dani couldn't help muttering.
         "Don't you use that tone with me, you little slut." She hefted her Bible as if she would club Dani with it.
         "Little what?" Andy got up and took a step toward them, and Dani grabbed his arm to stop him.
         "It's disgusting," the tall one growled. "You ought to be turned out of the festival immediately. The idea of you filthy musicians parading around in front of impressionable children. Isn't it bad enough you brought this tramp, you're sharing her among the four of you?" She gestured disdainfully at Dani, who automatically looked down at herself.
         What was wrong with shorts and bare feet? True, her T-shirt was slicked to her skin in spots with water, but it wasn't like she was running around without a bra. Dani had seen far more skin at church camp.
         "Even ten years ago," the baby-voiced one squealed, "we'd have you whipped out of town!"
         "You don't know what you're talking about," Andy growled.
         "Don't you take that tone with us!" the tall one snapped, and slapped at him as if he had attacked her. "The gall of you hypocrites, coming in here and claiming to be Christians and sleeping with this little tramp where everybody can see you."

         "My sister is not a tramp!"

Thursday, June 27, 2013

June 27: FIRESONG

         Firesong had the first concert that night; one hour of music before the main speaker. Another band would finish up the evening with another hour of music.
         Three songs into the evening, Dani looked across the rolling field as dusk moved in and could see the entire audience was tuned into them. Listening and intent, ready to have fun. Still throbbing with the final chords of Witch Hunt, in a slightly mellower rendition than Petra's original. She smiled at Andy as the last notes faded into the night. Her brother bowed to her and winked as the applause crashed up from the audience, across the stage, nearly throwing them against the makeshift walls of pipes and plywood and faded red threadbare curtains.
         Tom tossed the wireless microphone to Dani, who barely managed to catch it. She mimed terror, fumbling the microphone for a moment. The audience roared laughter.
         "Isn't it awful how we get sidetracked?" Dani said, sauntering to the edge of the stage. "We're so busy trying to get rid of the bad things in our lives -- and other people--" More laughter from the audience. "We forget to look for the good things. We forget to be thankful for all the blessings God loaded on us. Or else we go in the other direction, and we get kind of arrogant."
         "No! Not you!" Tom shouted, still several steps away from his own microphone.
         The audience reacted appropriately.
         "I used to be a rotten speller," Dani continued, when they had calmed a little. "How many here hated English class until you got past all the spelling and grammar and finally started reading stories?" She raised her hand. Hands shot up through the audience, out beyond the spot where all those faces and bodies turned into a blur. "Remember the old song, 'Dare to be a Daniel'? I used to sing it this way: 'Dare to be a Danielle, dare to stand alone.'" She grinned as groans swept the audience, rippling out into that blurry darkness.
         Is this where You want me, Lord? Reaching people? Speaking what's in my head and on my heart and getting through to them where nobody else can? I'll give up anything You want, Lord, to stay here, doing this, for the rest of my life.
         Even as she made her silent prayer, Dani felt a prickle on her neck that meant someone watched her. Despite her resolve not to, she turned. Kurt leaned against the big support pole for the sound system, hidden by the side curtains, grinning and watching with 'that look' in his big, dark, mesmerizing eyes.

         What was she going to do about him?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

June 25: FIRESONG

        Two days before they were to head to Indiana for the next festival, a new concert schedule came from Danziger -- for every night of the crusade, in other states. Worse, he had confirmed with the concerts' organizers and took deposits without verifying the dates with Firesong first, as their contract specified.
        "It's a power play," Tom said, looking around Andy and Katie's tiny living room, where they had all come for an emergency meeting.
        Katie and Stephanie sat on the couch, with Andy and Tom perched on the arms on either side of them. Jim and Jason sat on the floor. Dani sat on the deep windowsill Katie had turned into a reading nook with a piano bench cushion. Aunt Betty and Uncle George had the only other chairs in the room.
        "What it comes down to is this," Tom continued. "To perform at the crusade, we have to refuse all those jobs Danziger lined up for us. It'll be bad for our reputation. And you can bet he'll dig his heels in about returning the money. If the story goes around and nobody knows the truth, we could lose a lot of prospective jobs. People will think we're unreliable."
        "But if we told the right people--" Jason began.
        "Who are they going to believe? A bunch of kids who don't know anything except how to play and sing? Or Troy Danziger, who has all the right connections?"
        "Oh." His brother nodded and bowed his head over his clenched fists again.
        "On top of that," Andy said, taking up the subject, "we'll lose paychecks, from all the time we have to take off work."
        "Consider the up side to it," Dani offered. "We'll actually have more time at home, plus we'll cut down on the wear and tear on our cars."
        "Our contract states we have the right to refuse jobs and to accept jobs without Danziger's go-ahead," Jim added. "He signed the contract, and he's the one violating it."
        "And we're doing something important," Jason said.
        "Is it any different from what you've been doing before?" Katie asked, her voice a little softer than usual.
        "Heck yes! It's the crusade. How many chances does anyone have to do this big a production? With all the prep work put into it, and the publicity and the amount of people they can fit into the fairgrounds... they can't do more than three crusades a year. It's the chance of a lifetime."

         "But is it any better than the ministry you've had already? You'll reach more people, but I don't think God has ever worried about the numbers game."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Excerpt: QUARRY HALL #1: JOAN

The second policeman was Asian, with a buzz cut and a scar across his nose. His eyes were kind as he looked at Joan. His gaze lingered on her hands. She started to open her mouth to ask if she could wash her hands, but the first officer repeated his order, and he left.
"You're in a heap of trouble, aren't you?" Officer Godzilla's eyes glittered maliciously and his voice held a growl like a pit bull begging someone to step within his reach.
Joan swallowed down the urge to blurt that she hadn't done anything. It wasn't her fault someone had left a dead body in her house.
She hoped Sophie hadn't been here when this happened. Where was Sophie right now?
"Well, well, well, what do we have here?" He stepped through the door and reached with the toe of his boot under the baseboard of the cabinets on the other side of the kitchen. Something heavy scraped and slid out into the light.
Joan gaped at the sight of a gun, lying there on the spotted white linoleum. She felt as if she sat a very long way away from the kitchen, watching everything through a telescope. It was just a bad dream. Wasn't it?
           "What'd you do? Panic when you heard the siren, and trip over him on your way out the door? Dropped your gun and got squeamish?" He shook his head and made a tsk noise. "Well, pick it up."
The distant feeling shattered, bringing Joan back into reality with a jolt. Her brain spun dizzily, calculating everything that was intensely wrong with this scene. This wasn't a TV police show, after all.
Shouldn't he be handcuffing her and leading her away? Shouldn't he leave the scene for the lab people to investigate? Moving the gun had to be against orders.
Telling the supposed killer to pick up a gun was just plain stupid. What if it was still loaded?
Picking it up would put her fingerprints on the gun -- and then how would she prove to them that it wasn't hers and she hadn't fired it? Besides, her hands were sticky with drying blood. Joan clenched her hands into fists and stared down at them.
            She knew what would happen next. If she picked up the gun, she would put her fingerprints on it, and Officer Godzilla would shoot her. He would claim she had lunged for the gun, threatened him and made a break for it. She would be dead and he would be a hero, and nobody would speak up for her.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

June 22: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

        "It's about time." Abby Morgan stepped up to the information counter in the hallway outside the gym at Tabor Christian Church and tapped the signup sheets she had been waiting to see for the last two months. "This summer vacation has been way too long already. Where's a pen?"
        "Aunt Abby!" Candy tried to whine, but the sound warped into a giggle. She rested her hands on the counter and raised up on her tiptoes to see the signup sheets. She tried to pick one up, but it was taped to the counter. "Is there anything new this year?"
        Abby glanced over the two signup sheets and decided it was a hopeful sign that the sheets themselves didn't have a listing of activities for the month-long day camp held in the Metroparks. It meant there was much more to do this summer. Tabor Christian sponsored the camp in conjunction with several other churches in the cities surrounding the Metroparks. Last year there had been hiking, crafts, Bible studies, and nature studies. The last she heard, three more churches were joining the effort this year, and one had a family who ran a stable and might let the children come learn to tend horses and ride. There were also chances of water safety courses, and maybe access to a crafting community where children could learn to make pottery, spin and dye thread, and then weave it. Everything depended on what new churches joined the effort and what their volunteers had to offer the children.
        "Here we go." She spotted the plastic box holding brochures for the day camp, snagged two brochures, and handed one to Candy.

        Abby kicked herself yet again for forgetting to talk to Nikki James or anyone else on the committee for the day camp, to volunteer to take groups of children to the airport and at least talk about flying small aircraft. She cringed at the thought of the paperwork involved, permission from all the parents and the insurance questions, if she would ever actually take some of those campers up in the air in her small courier plane. Then there were the hurt feelings and other problems that would come from children who never turned in their permission slips, or whose parents didn't want them going up in the air, and the fighting that might occur between the ones left behind and those who bragged about flying. No, better to keep the children firmly planted on the pavement. Especially if Ethan Pluch went to day camp this year. That boy was a walking disaster -- though to be fair, it wasn't like he did any of his sabotage on purpose. Ethan was one of the "good" Pluchs in Tabor Heights. Abby saw a lot of his grandfather, who worked at the small private airstrip where she ran her courier business and gave flying lessons. She liked the old man, even though he didn't have too firm a grip on his grandson, or any idea how to control the disasters that trailed in Ethan's wake.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Excerpt: QUARRY HALL #1: JOAN

A flashlight blinded her and feet pounded on the back steps. Glass crashed and wood splintered as her front door slammed open. More running feet brought another man through from the front of the house.
The kitchen lights came on. Joan knelt on the floor, staring at her bloody hands. She stole a glance at the body and nearly wept when she saw it was a man. Not Sophie.
The policeman at the back door was huge, sunburned, what Sophie had always laughingly referred to as "Godzilla with a shave." He lowered the hand that had flipped on the lights and brought the gun back to bear on Joan while he thumbed off his flashlight and hooked it back on his belt. Ulysses stayed standing, leaning close against Joan, so she could feel the silent rumble of a snarl just waiting to erupt.
What had Vincent and Kathryn told her about Ulysses being ready to defend her?
Joan pushed that thought aside a heartbeat after it passed through her mind. There was no way she could make a run for it with two policemen blocking her only exits, and guns in their hands. She wouldn't risk Ulysses, and there was nowhere to go if she stumbled down to the cellar again. They would follow and catch her, and probably shoot her before she could get the door open.
"I've got her," the one at the back door said. "You check out the rest of the place.
           Joan swallowed a gasp, but couldn't hide her shiver at the sudden mental image of someone else with a gun hiding in her house. The body had felt warm when she sprawled across it those few seconds, but not warm enough. There was an odd clay-like feeling through the clothes, as if consciousness gave flesh a different density.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Excerpt: QUARRY HALL #1: JOAN

From the women's fiction series/spin-off from the Tabor Heights books. If you've read any of the Tabor Heights stories, you've probably met someone from Quarry Hall:

The wail of a police siren passing by in front of the house froze her with her foot on the second step of the stairs up to the kitchen. Joan gripped the splintery banister and waited until the sound faded away. Instead, it died abruptly. She swallowed hard and continued up the steps.
Ulysses growled and pushed her aside to go ahead of her when she was halfway up the steps. He pawed at the door, then turned and nudged her with his head, almost shoving her backwards.
"What is wrong with you?" Joan pulled down on the antique latch and shoved the door open. The coppery smell of blood flooded over her, carried on the warm summer air.
Lights. She needed lights. What was in the basement didn't reach beyond the top step. Joan shoved aside Ulysses and headed to the right, reaching for the bank of switches for the kitchen, right next to the back door.
Her eyes adjusted to the semi-dark just in time to show her the rectangle of lighter twilight where the closed door should have been. Joan continued reaching for the lights on the wall by the door, even as it registered that the door hung halfway open. Her foot connected with something soft and solid as she took a step. She lost her balance and went down, sprawled across whatever it was.
Her hands landed in something tepid and sticky, coating the floor, and slid a few inches.
The stink of drying blood filled her nose.
Joan screamed and threw herself backwards, off the still-warm body lying on her kitchen floor. She refused to believe that was Sophie. Please, God, don't let them kill Sophie!
          "Police!" a man barked.

Monday, June 17, 2013

June 17: FIRESONG

       "Extra, extra!" Tom shouted, rushing through the door so quickly he almost ran into Danziger. "Read all about it!" He held an envelope in one hand and waved several sheets of paper in the other.
       Stephanie followed him through the door. They were both sweaty and dusty, meaning they had come on Tom's motorcycle. She just grinned.
       "Hey, Mr. Danziger, you're here to hear the good news!" Tom continued. He held the papers up higher. "Guess who's going to the crusade?"
       "You're kidding!" Jim shouted. He raced up and tried to grab the papers from Tom's hand. His older brother grinned and twisted nimbly aside -- and handed them to Dani.
       "Would I kid about something so utterly fantastic as performing for an Allen Michaels crusade?"
       "So, how many evenings do we open up?" Jason demanded, stepping around behind Dani so he could read over her shoulder. He rested his chin on her shoulder and grabbed hold of her upper arms to steady her when his weight pushed her off balance.
       She barely noticed, feeling as if her feet were about five inches off the floor. She read the key paragraph again, just to be sure.
       "We're not," she said, feeling her breath leave in wonder. "We're performing. The main act… two nights in a row, and leading the singing the rest of the time, and for a special all-day youth crusade on Saturday."
       "Excuse me, folks," Danziger said through his bared teeth, his voice going nasal, "but don't you think you should tell your manager what's going on?"
       Dani glanced at Tom, who nodded. She handed him the pages of the letter. The others stood around grinning, vibrating with excitement, while Danziger read it.
       "It's for an entire week. How often does a big crusade like this come to our own hometown? It's the chance of a lifetime."
       "There's nothing here about how much you get paid." Danziger handed the papers to Tom.
       "Love offering," he said, taking the papers and shrugging.
       "Is there a guarantee with that?"
       "It's called trusting in God," Dani muttered. She shivered, frightened by how quickly the high-flying feeling of excitement and delight could vanish.
       "Yeah, well, I like things in writing. Like contracts. And checks. Guaranteed pay for work performed. And I'll tell you something, folks, I got people asking for you on those dates. Big-time promoters, big-name bands and big-time pay."
       "They'll understand. I mean, what Christian band or event would grudge us performing for Allen Michaels?"

       Danziger's face went too quiet, and Dani thought his lip twitched into a sneer. She knew then, all those 'big-name bands' couldn't have cared less about serving God. And neither did Danziger, for all his fine words when he first approached them.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

June 16: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

       "Ty?"
       At first, the shaky female voice coming from the answering machine was unrecognizable, but something inside Tyler Sloane woke up and went on the alert. He got up from the table where he and his roommate, Xander, shared a couple meat lovers' pizzas and waited for the Indians game to come on TV with two of his theater colleagues, Daniel Morgan and Joel Randolph of Butler-Williams University. A discussion of the sermon from the day before had turned into a laughing argument and what threatened to become a Bible study.
       "It's Tanya." His sister's voice broke. "I really hope you're there," she said as Tyler dove across the living room to snatch up the phone.
       "Tanya? What's wrong?" He swallowed down the torrent of questions that wanted to erupt, the first of which was to ask if that skunk, Pete Fenton, had finally dropped the mask Tyler always thought he wore and he had done something to harm her and their children, Pam and Danny.
       "Well, you know how you keep saying I have to come out and visit you there in Ohio, and Mom and Dad were saying now would be the perfect time since they're coming for that long visit this summer and--"
       "What happened? What did Pete do?"
       "What makes you think--"
       "He's the only one I know who could put that shattered sound in your voice. I still don't know why you love the slime dog as much as you do, or even why you married him -- no, sorry. I promised I'd never--"
       "We're not married." Tanya let out a broken laugh.
       In the background, Tyler heard the blare of what had to be a semi-truck horn. Where was his sister calling from?
       "You divorced him? Why didn't you tell me when you started?"
       "We're not married. Never were." She inhaled loudly, and he imagined her fighting tears. "He has three other families, in three other states."
       "Oh, Tanya... I'm sorry."
       "I'm not. You know how free that makes me? I'm not liable for any of his debts, because we're not legally married. I spent the last three days closing down our shared bank accounts and canceling all our shared credit cards so he can't stick me for any more debt than he already has and -- forget that. I can tell you all the boring and gory details when I get there."
       "You're coming? Good." He turned around and looked across the living room to the three men who were trying to look like they were intent on finding Bible verses instead of listening.
       Tyler's brain froze for a few heartbeats. Just where was he going to put his sister and her children?

       Please, Lord, help...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tie-in series: QUARRY HALL

If you've visited Tabor Heights for any length of time, you've probably met someone from Quarry Hall, or you've heard people talk about Quarry Hall and the people who work there.

Now, Desert Breeze Publishing is releasing the women's fiction series, Quarry Hall. The first book, JOAN, is already available, and book two, ANNE, is coming out this August.

What's the series about?
Adventure. Danger. Tough chicks. People risking their lives to do what's right. Helping the little people who fall through the cracks. And when you help the little people, you often run up against the big, nasty people who are hurting them.

Quarry Hall is the headquarters of the Arc Foundation, a philanthropic foundation that deals with needs down on the street level -- funding women's shelters, clinics, and scholarships, among other things. In Year One of Tabor Heights, the Arc Foundation decided to partner with Tabor Christian Church to help fund the Mission, to expand its many community outreach offerings.

The "daughters" of Quarry Hall travel in search of people who need help, investigating before Arc gets involved. And usually what they investigate or get involved in leads to danger, threats, mysteries ... and often situations where it takes more than just guts, hand-to-hand combat skills, high-tech gadgets, and teamwork to get out alive. It takes a lot of faith and prayer.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

June 13: FIRESONG

          Kurt arrived during set-up for their first concert Friday afternoon. Dani held her breath when he walked into the backstage area, just waiting for him to paralyze her with that 'look'.
          He had other matters on his mind. First, he fed them, bringing in pizza and buckets of barbecue chicken to gorge on after the concert. Then, when they were tired and relaxed, licking sauce from their fingers in the somewhat damp, mildewy privacy of their tent, he let them have it.
         "I need your help with two big events I'm helping put together," he said, after he had refilled his cup with ginger ale. Kurt very carefully didn't look at any of them as he said it. Dani, Katie and Andy exchanged curious glances.
         "Should have known he wouldn't have come just to see us," Katie chirped. She had been feeling unusually lively, and her high spirits had rubbed off on everyone.
         "On the contrary, favorite cousin of mine," Kurt retorted. "I just love rubbing shoulders with you down-to-earth types. Seriously, I'd kill for a chance to relax like this, exchange business suits for jeans and Ts and sit around. The most fun I've had in months. Not counting your wedding, of course."
         He didn't look at Dani, but everyone else did. Dani held perfectly still and prayed her face wasn't as red hot as it felt.
         "So, what are these two big events?" Andy prompted, coming to his sister's rescue.
         "Well, I got handed the organizer's job for the big Jesus Fest in Goshen, Indiana. Joe Mayser has been pretty sick and couldn't follow up on a lot of folks. He's lost some big name acts. I got together with the sponsors and they've agreed on a new angle: give a chance to some worthy, up-and-coming--"
         "Cheaper," Tom prompted with a grin.

         "Less expensive, newer Christian bands," Kurt corrected him, matching his grin. "How would Firesong like to be the main act for the entire fest?"

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June 12: THE SECOND TIME AROUND

          "Kat got caught between Shane and that Roger Alcott jerk who runs around with the beret and phony French accent," Bekka said.
          "What do you mean, 'caught'?" Daniel's feet came down from the desk with a thud. Not easy to do with sneakers on carpeting.
          "She set up a date with both of them for the same time, same day."
          "Oh, great." Still, he had to grin. Lynette had told him of Kat's occasional goofs in scheduling her dates.
          "They both decided she was a ditz and dumped her." Bekka took a deep breath. Let it out. Took another one. "Then Shane came back later that evening and asked me out."
          "Hate to say it, but it sounds like rebound to me."
          "He said it wasn't. He said he even wanted to ask me before he asked Kat, but someone told him I was dating, almost engaged... I don't want to know who. I don't even want to guess, but out there in the world is someone who knew a guy was interested in me and got in the way." She let out a mock growl, prompting a snort of laughter from Daniel. "Anyway, we hit a silent film festival at the Cinematique. Did you know he rides a motorcycle? And he never takes off that cowboy hat of his." From Bekka's grin, Daniel decided that didn't bother her at all. "But that's not the weird part. When he dropped me off, he said he'd look for me in church in the morning. He goes to our church!"
           "At least you don't have to worry about that part," he offered.
           "Yeah, I know. But going to church isn't the same as being a Christian. I figured, you have to know more about him than me."
           "Isn't it a little early to start worrying about getting that serious?"
           "Well..." Bekka grinned. "It's more like a month now, and we have at least two dates a week."
           "Moving fast." Daniel whistled. To his delight, she blushed.
           "I really need to find out, before I go any further. You know?" She settled on the edge of his desk. "You had Shane in a couple of classes, and you mentioned Dr. Holwood talked about him. What do you think?"


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Excerpt: INVITATION TO A WEDDING

             "Stace?" Bekka Sanderson's voice came as a welcome relief and distraction when Stacy approached the massive arched sandstone entrance of the administration building at quitting time that evening.
Mr. Ashcroft chatted with several men at the landing midway between the first and second floors. His voice was distinctive, especially that rumbling, infectious laughter that hadn't been heard nearly enough since he fell ill last fall. Despite him being busy, Stacy just knew he would see her as she passed by the base of the stairs on her way to the door. There was no other way out of her part of the administration building. The last thing she wanted was for him to call her name -- she would have to stop and wait for him, and then he would link his arm through hers and make her walk out to the car and get in and come home with him, assuming that she was free and planning on coming to a nice, cozy family dinner.
The sad thing was, she was definitely free, but nothing in the world could be more painful than to walk in the door of the Ashcroft house as if nothing had changed. As if she hadn't been ignored by Dinah for the last two years, since she moved to Virginia and Retchin' Gretchen latched onto her to become best buddies. Finally. As if she hadn't lost sight of Drake. As if she hadn't been forgotten like worn out linens since her grandmother died. It was easy to see she had only been included in the Ashcroft family because of her grandmother, and not because they actually wanted her and loved her as if she were one of their own.
"Hey, you okay?" Bekka said, catching hold of Stacy's arm. She glanced up the stairs, where the four men were still chatting, their voices echoing up the massive vaulted entryway to the fourth floor and back down.
             "Huh? Oh -- sorry. Spaced out." Stacy tried to laugh. "Too much time staring at my monitor, I guess. You spend too long untangling coding, you start thinking and seeing codes. What's up?" She stepped out into the entryway, putting Bekka between her and the stairs.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Excerpt: INVITATION TO A WEDDING

"What's wrong?" his mother said, coming in with the third and last tray, full of coffee and punch cups. She tipped her head at the bowl of stroganoff, still steaming from a visit to the microwave. By this time, Drake had settled down at the counter on a stool with his food. But he wasn't eating. "You didn't catch something on that drive home, did you?" She immediately stepped up to him and pressed her cool, smooth hand against his forehead.
"I'm fine, Mom." Drake caught hold of her hand when she would have withdrawn it. "Just a lot of memories. I keep wishing Mrs. B was here."
"Oh, so do I. She'd be so delighted with Dinah and Troy. I miss not being able to share the whole celebration with her." His mother settled down on the other stool. "But it's more than missing her funeral, isn't it?"
"There was a present on the back step when I came in. From Stacy."
"Stacy? Now why would she leave it by the back door? And why didn't she come in with it? As far as I know, she still has a key to the house." His mother's frown deepened and she sat back, withdrawing her hand.
"How come Stacy wasn't here, in the middle of things with Dinah?"
"I don't -- I don't know." She shook her head. "It's been such a whirlwind since Dinah got home, I guess I didn't even think about it. I guess I just assumed that she had to work today. And your sister didn't say anything."
"What, Mom?" Drake didn't like that deeper wrinkle in between his mother's eyebrows, that frown and flicker of sadness, maybe even hurt in her crystalline gray eyes, which he had inherited.
"She didn't RSVP for Friday. I expected her to stop by and tell us, but she hasn't called or returned the card from the invitation."
Muffled giggles startled Drake, and he looked up to see Gretchen and another girl who was vaguely familiar, standing in the swinging door from the kitchen.
"You know how that Belmont girl always used to be, when we were kids. So disorganized. She probably lost the invitation or she threw away the RSVP. She probably doesn't even know what RSVP means," Gretchen said. She punctuated that with a toss of her platinum curls as she stepped into the kitchen.
                Drake wondered if her hips churned like that all the time when she walked, or if he could blame those spike heels and that skin-tight dress for how she moved. How in the world had she gotten any work done -- or eaten anything, for that matter -- dressed up like that?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Excerpt: INVITATION TO A WEDDING

That instinct that made him a star on the basketball court had him glance at his parents' office doors and their bedroom door as he passed the second floor. He caught a glimpse of elegantly wrapped silver and white and gold presents stacked up on the floor of his mother's office. That was it -- the present from Stacy. Specifically, why was the present from Stacy sitting at the back door when she should have been sitting in the living room with Dinah?
"Perfect timing, like always," his mother said with a chuckle, as Drake reached the bottom of the steps and stepped into the dining room. She had a large serving tray and had just loaded the half-empty serving dishes onto it.
"You need help with dishwashing?" he said, feigning innocence, while his stomach rumbled again, at twice the volume.
"At least you waited until after the girls were fed before you descended." She thanked him with a smile and a brush of her fingertips against his cheek when he took the tray from her and headed into the kitchen.
Drake decided helping with the dishes would let him fill his plate without feeling guilty about ignoring any guests still in the house, and he would get to talk with his mother privately. If Dinah and Stacy were on the outs with each other, he certainly didn't want to bring it up in front of his sister. At least, not until he knew the whole story.
Memories slowed his hands as he rinsed bowls and silverware and loaded them in the dishwasher. He remembered standing at the sink next to Mrs. Belmont, trying to voice the things that bothered him while he dried dishes. There was something cleansing and energizing about the homey chore, and even more precious to him was the comforting feeling of knowing she would listen and she would help as much as she could. Drake had been convinced that God spoke directly into Mrs. Belmont's ear in those unbalanced days of middle school and high school. He asked many questions about her son and daughter-in-law, who had gone as missionaries to the Philippines and died in a hurricane. He had thought about being a missionary, but basketball scholarships and then a stint in the Marines -- where he met Troy, and introduced him to Dinah -- had detoured him until he ended up in seminary. He knew full-time missionary service was out of the picture for him, but there were many other ways he could serve God, right at home. He wished Mrs. Belmont were here so he could tell her what he had learned about himself. He thought she would be pleased.

She wouldn't be pleased at the way her granddaughter was treated, now that she was gone.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Excerpt: INVITATION TO A WEDDING

Now, midway through the morning, her feet were still damp and she couldn't seem to concentrate for more than an hour on her duties before her mind raced back to that strategic, cowardly retreat.
"Should have said something," Stacy muttered as she checked the coding for the new page in the alumni section of the BWU web site. "Why should I suffer just because Dinah finally gave in and let Retchin' Gretchen brainwash her?"
She smiled at her faint reflection in the monitor, remembering how she and Dinah and Drake had laughed at that nickname. They must have been about twelve, which meant Drake was seventeen. Gretchen had decided that summer that boys weren't disgusting, and when she grew up, her destiny was to marry Drake. She had also decided that she was fat, so she had to start losing weight. Somehow, she got hold of syrup of ipecac and took a dose every time she ate something. The ice cream truck had been a twice-daily fixture on the street that summer, and there were always snacks at summer school and Vacation Bible School and the old youth center, so Gretchen seemed to be always eating. And always puking a short time later. At least, those were Stacy's memories of that summer.
"Stacy?"
She flinched at the sound of that smooth baritone voice. The Ashcrofts, especially Drake, had been on her mind too much lately -- ever since she heard Mr. Ashcroft tell the chancellor that Drake was coming home for Dinah's wedding reception.
"Stacy, what are you doing here?" Devon Ashcroft stepped around to the side of her desk.
"Hi, Mr. A." Stacy hoped her face only felt hot and didn't look neon red.
"Sweetheart, I thought you'd be over at the house, helping with Dinah's mess." He leaned against her desk, giving her that adorable, slightly fuzzy, warm grin she had loved since she first stepped into the Ashcrofts' home with her grandmother.
"Nope. Gotta work. The Dean wants the new alumni offerings functional by the end of the month." She gestured at her monitor.
"You know, I haven't seen you at all since Dinah got home. Used to be, you girls were thicker than thieves. Drake is due home today -- you'll be there for the family dinner, right? Catch up with Drake and Dinah, and finally meet Troy."
"Uh--"
               Stacy thought up a silent, desperate prayer for help. There was no way she wanted to admit to dear, slightly befuddled Mr. Ashcroft that she hadn't talked to Dinah, hadn't seen her except from a distance, hadn't even gotten a text message or voicemail, since his daughter returned to town a week ago.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Excerpt: INVITATION TO A WEDDING

The plan had been simple enough this morning. Leave fifteen minutes early, take a detour down Horizon Street to cut through the older, wealthier section of Tabor on her way to work at BWU, and drop off the present. Stacy had meant to leave it on the front porch where it could be seen when the work crew for the reception showed up. She knew when they were due to arrive because she had heard Gretchen Crenshaw and her gaggle of nasty cats gossiping about it on the other side of the aisle at Fashion Finesse two days ago. Stacy was pretty sure Gretchen knew she was there, and brought up the subject just to rub it in that she was essentially Dinah's maid of honor and right hand during the whole fuss and preparations.
Unfortunately, for probably the first time in her life, Gretchen was not only on time for something, but early. Stacy had started up the long driveway, carrying her package, when she saw that distinctive cherry red Beamer spin around the corner. The Crenshaws were probably the only people in the whole town who drove BMWs, and each one had their own signature color. Gretchen's was red, naturally. Stacy caught the flash of red from the corner of her eye and immediately sped up, racing to the back of the house. She put the package on the back porch and considered hiding in the topiary garden until Gretchen had gone to the front door and stepped inside. But of course, Gretchen pulled up the driveway. She didn't park halfway up the driveway, for easy access to the front door, but pulled all the way around the back, to the wide parking area -- as if she were family. As if she belonged.
Gretchen took the parking spot that had always belonged to Stacy's grandmother, when she came to work each day. Stacy blinked away hurting tears and scurried through the morning shadows of the topiary garden and the snow. Would Gretchen be disgusted to know she had used the spot that the "hired help" had always used? Not that Stacy would ever tell her.
                So she had waded through calf-high drifts in the deep back yard and down into the swale between the Ashcrofts' property and the Tanners, then cut sideways up to the path leading to the little park that had been built at the end of the street when she was five. Stacy vaguely remembered that the park was in memory of a little girl who had been struck by a car going the wrong way down a one-way street, when she was on her way to the playground at her school, on a Saturday morning. It was a lonely, darkly shadowed spot at that time of the morning, and suited her mood perfectly. And of course, the walkways hadn't been cleared since the last big storm, so Stacy still had to wade through snow to reach the street that would take her to the side entrance of the administration building.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Excerpt: INVITATION TO A WEDDING

The first book in Year Two of the Tabor Heights series:

Stacy Belmont's feet were damp and cold for the first two hours of work. Part of that could be blamed on the age of the administration building at BWU -- well past a century, and still relying on steam heat. Those marble floors were gloriously cool in the summer and fought the humidity, but in the winter they made for slippery walking and chilly rooms. Part of her discomfort could be blamed on the fact that she cut through the Ashcrofts' backyard after dropping off her present for Dinah.
It was ridiculous, she knew, to have put the present down and fled. Mrs. Ashcroft would have welcomed her, and she missed seeing the woman, who had been like a mother to her. With Mr. Ashcroft ill over the holidays and Dinah living and working in Norfolk, there had been few holiday celebrations, and she hadn't felt like celebrating or seeing much of anyone, this being the first Christmas without her grandmother. Stacy knew Mrs. Ashcroft would have pulled her into the house and insisted on feeding her.
But she would have either apologized for Dinah not including her in the wedding party, or she would have insisted that Stacy take the day off work and join the crew anyway. Stacy couldn't stand that. She had gone to too many parties in her childhood where she learned after arriving that she had either been invited at the last minute, or had been included on the list as a pity invitation -- the token motherless child, or whichever other detail in her life was uppermost in the mind of the high society matron throwing the party. By the time she was ten, she had learned to discern which birthday girl or slumber party hostess really wanted her there, and which one only invited her because her mother made her do it -- or didn't even know Stacy was on the list. By that time, she had come home with enough headaches and upset stomachs that her grandmother let her refuse the invitations and stay home. Dinah's parties had been the only ones Stacy always went to, because she knew without a doubt Dinah wanted her there.
            But Dinah didn't want her there now.