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Thursday, January 30, 2014

January 30: THE SECOND TIME AROUND

      "Morgan?" Kat burst through his open office door almost before he could finish hanging up the phone that morning. "We really need your help."
      All Daniel could think of was that Lynette was in trouble and had asked for him. He had driven by her house more times than he could count in the last three weeks, looking for some sign of her, trying to screw up his courage to ring the doorbell and ask if they could talk about Kat. He wanted his daughter to know who he was and become more than just her teacher and advisor.
      He wanted a small piece of Lynette's life again, even though she was married. Was that so wrong? They had a shared past. In a sense, in the entirely Biblical sense, she was his wife from the moment they had first had sex in the field house on a pile of wrestling mats. Yes, she had pushed him out of her life and married someone else, but Kat's existence bound them together. Didn't he have any rights?
      But he kept thinking of those miserable days when he haunted her dormitory and then her mother's house, begging just to talk to Lynette. He relived his anger and hurt, guilt and sense of betrayal. With so many years behind him, he could look back and honestly assess the situation. With their irresponsible actions, they had betrayed each other. Yes, she had forced him to go away, wronging him irreparably, denying him his rights as Kat's father. But in all honesty, Daniel knew he had wronged her by giving up so easily.
      He refused to give up now where Kat was concerned. He vowed a dozen times already he would be there for Kat whenever she needed him, whatever she needed. Whatever Kat needed right now, he would do it for her, get it for her, no matter what. And he would be patient, giving Lynette time and space to get used to his being in their lives now, so they could work together to tell Kat the truth.
      "What's wrong?" He shot to his feet, reaching out a hand to Kat.
      "It's Bekka. You know that book she was so excited about? The one that guy she met in Florida wants to publish? It's all a scam. He's a major crook and he's trying to extort money from her grandparents and I know she needs to lean on somebody and she won't cry but I bet she wants to and... can you talk to her?"
      "Sure." Daniel almost dropped back down into his creaky chair again. He felt blindsided.
      Kat didn't need him, but Bekka did. Yet Bekka never seemed to need anybody. Whenever she asked for advice, it was mostly to check out what she'd already prayed about and decided for herself.
      "Great. I knew you'd help." She started backing through the door, then paused. Daniel wondered if she was about to finally reveal what had been a shadow at the back of her eyes since she got back from Christmas. "It's... it's really nice to..." Kat shrugged, and Daniel could have sworn she blushed a little. "It's great to be able to... depend on... well, if we could pick our own fathers, all three of us decided we'd pick you. If you were old enough to be somebody's father," she added, hastily, and vanished through the door.

      Daniel stared at the empty door for at least five minutes, his mouth hanging open. Then he laughed. He turned and propped his elbows on his desktop and hid his face in his hands and laughed until the tears came.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

January 29: A QUIET PLACE

      "Never thought you'd be the kind of..." Bill Carr stopped Jeannette in the church classroom. His mouth worked soundlessly for a moment, his throat contracting as if he fought not to be sick.
      Jeannette stared for a few moments, fascinated, like someone caught at the scene of a car wreck. She had no idea why Bill would have such a disgusted look on his face, directed at her -- especially when she could have sworn up until three weeks ago, Bill and his clique in the Singles group didn't even know she was alive. They were all the 'pretty people' as Mrs. McTavish, her housemother, referred to the popular, talented, 'in' crowd.
      "I have no idea what you're talking about," she said, and turned to go around him. As much as she enjoyed helping tutor fellow students with math in the study aid workshop that Tabor Christian offered as outreach to the Butler-Williams students, she had other places she wanted to be right now. Especially with Bill glaring at her like that.
      "You're way too smart to be that stupid," he said, grabbing hold of her arm to stop her. "Playing high and mighty because you got yourself hooked up with a war hero? Think you're too good for the rest of us now?"
      "That's enough!" Pastor Wally snapped, filling the doorway and blocking them both from leaving the room. "You disappoint me, William."
      Jeannette bit back a smirk. Pastor Wally was just a big Czechoslovakian teddy bear, but he could roar with the best of them, and had a major talent for inflicting a guilt trip with just a disappointed look. The fact he called Bill by his full name was another sign of being on Pastor Wally's 'bad' list.
      "You and your gang have been giving Jeannette here a hard time ever since Brody showed a preference for her company instead of yours," Pastor Wally observed, crossing his arms and spreading his legs to a more comfortable stance -- visibly settling in for a long talk. "I don't blame him at all. You might try smiling more often and judging people only a tenth as much as you do now, and you'll make more friends."
      "But -- sir -- what about Nathan?" Bill finally spat.
      "What about him?"
      "She's -- Nathan --" He looked back and forth between Jeannette and Pastor Wally a couple times. "The two of them -- and Brody shows up and she dumps Nathan like he's dirt, while he's out of the country. You don't treat a guy that way."
      "Nathan and Jeannette are more brother and sister than boyfriend and girlfriend, if that's what you're worked up about. And Nathan asked Jeannette to look after Brody, make him feel welcome. I happen to know because I got the same request in a letter from Nathan."
      "Yeah, but there's such a thing as too welcome," he growled.

      Jeannette couldn't breathe for a moment. Her face burned. If Nathan ever felt anything more for her than brotherly affection, he had never indicated it to her. He wouldn't have asked her to take care of his good buddy Brody Evans if he felt possessive of her, would he?

Monday, January 27, 2014

COMING UP: Tabor Heights Year Two Book 4, WHEELS

Coming in April, the next Tabor Heights novel.

WHEELS

Tommy Donnelly has been in a wheelchair since an accident when he was a pre-teen. Through the disintegration of their family, he and his sister, Claire, have been a solid team. They moved to Tabor Heights to help establish the Mission, and nobody was happier than Tommy when Claire finally found love with Paul Hunter. Except maybe Sammy Hunter, who made him her Uncle Tommy almost from the day they met.

Now it's time for Tommy's story, and for the girl -- not next door, but across the street -- who adored him as child to come back into his life.

Natalie has an important assignment with the national magazine she writes for: to cover a Handicap Awareness Campaign and neighborhood walk -- or rather, a roll, as Tommy puts it -- sponsored by the Mission. Tommy is the head conspirator. Natalie focuses on him, both for her story and to satisfy her curiosity, and maybe put to bed the childhood crush that never let go. Should she tell him who she was so long ago? Tommy certainly doesn't seem to remember her.

Or does he?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

January 25: DETOURS

      There was no one home, and a message light blinked on the answering machine when Bekka got home from the post office that morning. With all the sleet pounding down on Tabor, she hadn't dared to open and read the contents of the thick envelope with her name scrawled across it in running ink and Barney Elberts' return address scribbled in the corner. Bekka didn't even mind that she had to make up for inadequate postage on the thick packet of papers. She reasoned that with all the damp, the stamps might have been pried off or been lost in the mailing process. It had happened to her several times, having precious manuscripts returned to her because of inadequate and missing postage when she had put enough stamps on the envelopes.
      She shed her soaking, mislabeled waterproof poncho and hung it on the hook on the back of the apartment door. Bekka slid her finger under the flap of the envelope as she headed for the couch to sit down, and then saw the flashing light on the answering machine.
      "Rebekah, this is Grandpa," Mr. Sanderson said, after the machine beeped. "Honey, you gotta call us quick. There's something fishy going on and you're caught right in the middle, little girl. Your grandma and I feel just awful, because it looks like it's our fault."
      "Come on," she whispered, feeling her stomach twist into knots while the chill of the day settled into her hands and feet and raced up her spine.
      Bekka could hardly recognize her grandfather's voice, the way it wavered. It sounded so thin. Was he sick? What could frighten him so much that he actually sounded like he begged her to call, instead of giving her a gruff order? After a month of silence, there was no way her grandparents would be pleasant on the phone. They would have worked themselves into icy, loud, bitter, self-righteous sermons by now.
      Maybe this was a totally new tactic on their part. Maybe the call was nothing more than a trick? They wanted to make her worried, so when they lambasted her for her 'performance' at Christmas, she wouldn't have any defenses raised. The problem was that she still loved her grandparents, despite their manipulative ways. They were fun to be around when they weren't trying to dictate how she should think and what kind of future she should have.
      "Later," she told herself, and finished opening up the envelope with her long-awaited, precious contract.
      His cover letter was soggy, barely legible. Elberts warned her to sign the contract immediately and get it back to him by next-day mail so he could start processing her manuscript. He had to have the electronic copy of her full manuscript even sooner than that. He didn't want to wait for the printout and the CD to be mailed to him as agreed, but she was to send it as an email attachment immediately. He told her not to wait until she registered it for copyright, because he would take care of going to the Library of Congress to register her copyright, and if both of them did that, it would delay the process even further.
      Timing was critical, he claimed. If there was a delay of even one day, all the steps necessary to make her dream a reality would fall out of sequence and there would be disaster. Her book might never see the light of day, and if she started out her writing career with a bad reputation, unable and unwilling to cooperate with a publishing house, nothing she wrote would ever be considered for publication again, much less actually printed.
      Bekka shivered and read through the letter a second time. Why would he tell her such things? He had been so upbeat on the phone last Sunday, telling her everything would be easy and smooth. 'A walk through the park', he had said at least a dozen times. Why was he worried and uptight now? What had gone wrong?
      Or had he been lying to her?

      "Please, God, all of a sudden this feels so wrong..." Bekka closed her eyes, wanting to pray but not quite sure what to say. She felt scared and worried and angry -- and guilty. Had she done something wrong? Set herself up for a fall?

Friday, January 24, 2014

January 24: DETOURS

      That Friday afternoon, Bekka shuffled down the street, having an internal debate over which hair salon was the best choice to finally get ready for her photo session. She looked up in time to see Max coming out of Rick's Bakery with the telltale long sheet cake box balanced across her arms. Bekka hurried across the slushy street to help her open her Cavalier and put the cake inside.
      "Another strike party?" she asked, inhaling a whiff of delicious date-nut cake aroma seeping out of the box.
      "Tradition." Max made sure the cake box was sitting flat. "Thanks. So, how's it feel to know you're going to be on the shelves soon?"
      "How did it feel for you?"
      "Unreal. I couldn't believe it was happening even after we got the cover flats. In some ways, it's still unreal because we're only printed in our pen names." She chuckled. "Don't let this moment pass by too quickly, because it's all too rare. Have you lined up an agent, or are you taking care of the contract and such all by yourself?"
      "Well..." Bekka shrugged. "Haven't even seen the contract yet. I've been so busy planning for pictures and bookmarks and all the little promo things I haven't even realized until today that no contracts have come yet. The mail's been put out for the day, so I have to wait until tomorrow..."
      "It's a waiting game, don't you know? If you want, I'll connect you with my agent."
      "Really?" She felt her knees get wobbly, just like they had the first time she realized that when Max talked about 'my Mom', she actually meant Emily Keeler, former Hollywood sweetheart, still gifted and beautiful, who devoted her talents to community theater.
      Bekka still felt funny when she saw videotapes in the rental stores, or offered for sale, with Miss Emily's face and name splashed across them. It didn't feel strange, though, to go over the Randolphs' house for dinner. Miss Emily treated her like another daughter. She listened when Bekka's own grandparents had forgotten how. For Max to offer to hook Bekka up with her own agent seemed such a simple thing. Simple for her, maybe, having grown up with Hollywood connections.
      "Isn't your agent more like screenplays and TV scripts and things? I know he sold the novels you and Tony are writing but..."
      "Chuck does everything. Actors, playwrights, novelists. If you want, he'll look through the contract and steer you clear of trouble. No charge. I guarantee." She snickered. "Dad already asked him. Actually, it was more like he told him. I believe the words he used were 'You'll look after any of my kids who need help, won't you?' So how could Chuck say no?"
      "That'd be... great. Really great." Bekka wondered if this breathless feeling would keep coming back until her book was actually in her hands. "Thanks. I really appreciate it."
      "No problem. You deserve all the breaks you can get, Bekka." Max squeezed her shoulder a moment. "I heard some rumors... someone was telling some gossip and someone else heard it and... well, the story on the nasty side of church is that your grandparents threw you out in the middle of Christmas vacation. If you need any help--"
      "I walked out on them." Bekka shrugged and swallowed hard against a sudden urge to cry. "I suppose they've told their friends up here that they threw me out, just to make themselves look good and counteract anything I've been telling people."
      "But as usual, you haven't told anybody anything. Do your roommates even know?"
      "A few people. But they don't gossip." She sighed. "Should have known I couldn't just slide on past. It's amazing their old friends haven't come by to chew me out for being ungrateful."

      "Maybe their friends suspect the truth." Max nodded, a shadow of old hurt momentarily darkening her eyes. "I know what it's like to be put down for something you didn't do. Anyway, you've got friends over at Homespun, and any time you need someone to talk to..." 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

COMING UP: Quarry Hall Book 3, KATHRYN

Coming in February, the next book in the Quarry Hall series, which runs parallel with the Tabor Heights books:

KATHRYN

Out on the road, taking some personal time to deal with her chronic illness and knowing that she will die from it, but not when, Kathryn is the only one closest to respond to a report of a damsel in distress. She drives through the mountains, hampered by raging storms and limited cell phone coverage -- and a warning not to trust the local authorities, because there is treachery involved and no clue who is the traitor.

Kathryn has no one to support her except her companion dog, Bea, her prayers, and the small miracles God drops along her path in the form of friendly souls and convenient shelter.

When the damsel proves to be more distressing than whatever problems she was fleeing, Kathryn does some soul-searching on her own. Just how strong are her own faith and spiritual convictions, when she lets the young woman's selfishness and thoughtlessness bother her? When does mercy stop and self-preservation kick in? Is she willing to risk her life for someone who will never appreciate the sacrifices others make for her?

And then there's the whole issue of Finn, the FBI agent who loves her and who doesn't yet know she's dying ...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

January 21: WHITE ROSES

      "Explain to me why I shouldn't fire both of you?" Angela said.
      Toni's heart ached for her. Angela leaned against her desk, both hands braced on either side of the front page. She looked tired, more than furious. The printer wouldn't have called Angela about the switch in layout because Curt had the authority to make those changes. The only thing that could have awakened her in the middle of the night and stolen her sleep was thinking about the White Rose calling her his true love. Toni figured that justified everything she and Curt had done.
      Maybe later, when the shock had worn off, Angela would get angry. Toni felt a strange, calm sense of fascination, wondering how she would act when she was angry. The woman was such a class act, it was hard to imagine her furious with anyone.
      "Maybe you should," Curt said. He stood three steps back from Angela's desk, instead of sitting in his usual chair facing her, with his arms crossed over his chest. "Insubordination and all that rot. I agree. I'd probably urge you to fire someone else, under the circumstances. But it's those circumstances that make me think this was the right thing to do."
      "And you can't really fire me," Toni added. "I'm only here temporarily. Until the White Rose is caught. And like you said, this has to end. This story will help bring it to an end. We all but called him a coward and a liar and dared him to reveal his face and his name."
      "And brought you forward to become his next target. Think about Sam Conrad, who got in his way and Bobby Hollander. I remember Bobby now." Angela's eyes went distant. "Nobody knew why he was beat up and left hanging in a tree in the park, until your parents found Angel's diary, and she named him as someone who told lies about her. Bobby was in the hospital for a week with stitches and a concussion and broken fingers. That was what a teenage boy did to him. Imagine what that grown man can do to you today, to punish you for telling the world about him." Angela took a deep breath, visibly fighting for calm. "Such a story shouldn't have been used except as a last resort."
      "And it's time for that last resort," Curt said.
      "No, it isn't." She paused as the sound of the phone ringing echoed down the hall. "The storm is just starting to hit. I don't know if it's a blessing to have Myrna on the phones today to fight with people, or if she'll just make things worse. Don't talk to anyone about this story, do you hear me? No TV reporters, no one in this office, no one in town. If you have to go home and hide in your basement--"
      "Apartment," Curt said with a shrug. "No basement."
      Angela picked up her desk calendar and flung it at him. A tiny, gasping laugh escaped her and she sank down in her chair. "Get out of here. Both of you. Call it a personal day. Mental health day."
      "Only if you take one for yourself," Toni said. "You need it even more than we do."

      To her surprise and relief, Angela nodded and laughed, with tears in her eyes.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Tabor Heights, Year One at OneTrueMedia.com

A new book trailer, giving thumbnail sketches of all the titles in Year One of the Tabor Heights, Ohio, Inspirational romance series.

January 20: DETOURS

      Bekka felt that little shiver go up and down her back when Amy and Kat reported that Shane Hopkins was asking about her. She had seen him a few times outside of class, but he was always in a hurry. She saw more of his back than his face. It made no sense why she should be so interested in him, when he certainly hadn't bothered following up with her. The few times she managed to strike up a conversation, he hadn't shown any interest.
      "He who hesitates... probably lives longer," she muttered, and headed over to the student center to see if she could find a campus directory. According to the conversation she had with Shane before they flew to Florida, he lived off campus, but he had been in his apartment for two years now. All she had to do was find him in the most recent directory, get his phone number, and call.
      She had realized a long time ago that she didn't know the first thing about letting a guy know she was interested. How was an inexperienced girl supposed to encourage a guy without looking desperate or easy? Maybe openness was the best bet. She could be honest, saying that Kat and Amy said he was asking about her, so she thought she could call him and find out what he wanted.
      Only heavy praying could take them from there.
      Bekka felt like doing a victory dance when she found Shane's name in the campus directory. She wished yet again she had a cell phone -- that would be the first thing she would buy with her advance check from Barney Elberts, although, come to think of it, he hadn't mentioned what she was getting for an advance when they talked. Digging in her pocket for change, she went to the bank of payphones by the entrance of the student center. Despite the prevalence of modern technology among college students, she had to wait for someone to finish using one of the five payphones.
      "Hello?" The person who answered the phone at Shane's apartment was a woman.
      She sounded young. She sounded like she had just gotten up from a nap, her voice slurry. Bekka almost hung up.
      "Umm, I was looking for Shane Hopkins. I guess I have the wrong number."
      "Nope, you got the right number, but he's not here, if--"
      "Thanks, I'll try to catch up with him in class." Bekka hung up, feeling like a big, hot hand had wrapped around her throat.

      Did she really want to know what Shane wanted from her?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

January 19: DETOURS

      The third Sunday in January, Bekka was coming back from church when she saw the delivery truck for Cleveland Arts magazine pulling away from the front door of the apartment building. Cleveland Arts was a twice-monthly magazine in dispenser boxes, seventy-five cents, printed on newsprint with black and white art, but they were more than willing to print fiction and poetry, and reviews of books, music, and movies, all by local people. Bekka jammed her quarters into the slot and yanked out the top copy, hoping to read the latest issue before Amy got hold of it. She scanned down the table of contents, looking for familiar names, and nearly dropped the magazine in the puddle of melting snow coming off her boots.
      "They ran my story early!" she shrieked, erupting into the apartment five minutes later -- she ran up the stairs, unable to wait for the elevator.
      Amy and Kat staggered out of the kitchen, both still in their pajamas, with mugs of tea in their hands.
      "It's Sunday, Bekka. We don't get excited about anything until after lunch, remember?" Amy sighed, and sank down slowly into the couch.
      "My story got printed two issues early!"
      "She won't shut up until we read her story," Kat said.
      "I say we just kill her and go back to bed." Amy took a big gulp of tea and slouched down further on the couch.
      "Come on, you guys!" Bekka felt closer to tears now than she had when she walked out on her grandparents.
      Amy and Kat exchanged glances. A tiny smile caught one corner of Amy's mouth. Kat nodded. They shrieked simultaneously and leaped on Bekka from two sides -- nearly knocking over their mugs in the ambush. The three went down in a heap, giggling.
      "Why didn't you tell us it was running today?" Amy demanded, and mock-punched her in the shoulder.
      "I just said, it ran early."
      "I don't think you even told us it was running at all," Kat said. "I know you don't get a lot of coverage around here, with the two of us hogging the spotlight, but you could have at least told us you made a sale! You drive us crazy, you know that? Keeping secrets and surprising us. One of these days you'll give us a heart attack."
      "If I do, I promise I'll keep it a secret."

      Growling, Amy grabbed a pillow from the couch and beat Bekka with it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

January 18: WHITE ROSES

      "Ray..." She fought down the thick sense of pressure in her throat, and was stunned when the feeling turned into choked laughter. The sound grew stronger when his eyes widened, just as stunned as her. "This is so idiotic..." Angela sighed and rested her hands on his upper arms. "I know I've said I don't care about romance, but honestly, this is the worst reason to get married that I've ever heard of."
      "I can't think of a better reason to get married, than to protect the woman who means more to me than anyone or anything." He let out a groan, just a second after he turned into a teary blur in her eyes, and wrapped his arms tight around her.
      Angela admitted in that moment, as the ice fled her bones and the warm, clean, cotton-and-leather scent of him filled her lungs, he couldn't have done anything more persuasive. Even before the White Rose Killer emerged from the shadows of the past, being held in Ray Cooper's arms for the rest of her life had become a temptation that was harder to resist with every day that passed.
      She wasn't sure if it would be wise to admit that to him. Even after they were married. And just considering the possibility of that shocked and amused her, and sent a throb of longing through her, as well.
      "Well it's about time," Diane Cooper drawled, just about the same time Angela registered the sound of footsteps in the straw of the aisle.
      "Di--" Ray began. He held onto Angela when she tried to step back out of his arms.
      "For heaven's sake, Daddy, do you two honestly think I don't know? Okay, you're a cop, the king of secrecy and all that garbage, but..." She jammed her fists into her hips, and the glare she aimed at them was ruined by the laughter in her eyes. "I approve, okay? Stop using me as an excuse to be a coward."
      "An excuse--"
      "But I think maybe we'd all be more comfortable if I didn't call Angela 'Mom,' okay?" She winked at them.
      "Okay," Angela managed to say. She wanted to laugh, but Ray was still staring at his daughter as if he couldn't translate what she had just said. "So I'm guessing we have your blessing?"

      "Just don't make me wear a dorky bridesmaid dress. That's all I ask." Diane raised her arms in the universal gesture of 'whatever,' and backed away. "I'm gonna get out of here and give you some privacy, but I want some hard facts by the end of the month -- a date, the honeymoon spot, and if I should call Mr. Coffelt 'Grandpa' or something else." She giggled as she vanished down the aisle.

Friday, January 17, 2014

January 17: WHITE ROSES

      He pulled into a side street where he could see the Coffelt house, two stories, surrounded by old oak and maple trees, a wrap-around porch, all painted gray and white. The Christmas tree still sat in the front window and the sunlight sparkled on the colored lights and the icicle lights hanging from the eaves. He sat for a few minutes, studying the neighborhood.
      All was silent. He got out of his car and walked around the back, aiming for the driveway of the house next door. He would cross the back yards and come into the house from the back door. He had his lock picks in his pocket and he could see Angela's car sitting in the driveway. He had to stop the lies now, today. How could he ever find his angel if people kept telling lies about him?
      "Angel?" Andrew Coffelt stepped out onto the back porch and shaded his eyes against the bright sunshine sparkling on the snow.
      He stopped, hiding in the shadows of the bushes in the side yard and watched. He shuddered, seeing movement in the garage, and realized Angela was working in the garage. What if she had seen him coming upon her? She didn't deserve any warning. She didn't deserve a chance to call for help. No warning, to try to run or fight to defend herself.
      "Angel, are you okay?" the old man called again. He came down two steps and paused, still looking at the open garage door.
      He shuddered as memories crashed down on him. His angel and Angela had laughed together about the similarities in their names. They had looked so much alike, and laughed when they chose clothes that were similar. Blue pleated skirts, white blouses, black loafers, red ribbons in their long, black hair.
      Tears filled his eyes, turning everything into sparkling prisms as he watched Angela come out of the garage. His heart thudded in his ears, so he couldn't hear the old man and his daughter talk. A sob caught in his throat when the two embraced. He watched Angela take a grip on her father's arm and support him a little as he climbed the steps up to the porch.
      Her father called her Angel.
      Brilliant light seemed to burst into his mind and he sat back among the bushes, ignoring the snow that soaked through his pants and filled his boots.
      Her father called her Angel.
      Why hadn't he seen it before? She wasn't printing lies in the paper. She was trying to send him clues, trying to warn him. She was trying to get him to stop looking for his angel, because she was his angel. She always had been. She had been there, watching, waiting, when he thought he was in love with Angel. Could she even be jealous?

      No, she couldn't be jealous. She was his angel, perfect and sweet and kind.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

January 16: WHITE ROSES

      The article denounced him for breaking into the Gray house after dark, calling him a kidnapper because he took Annalee away from her home where she thought she was safe. It described her left alone in the darkness after he strangled her. Then it described how he left a love note for his next target the very next day, proving that he didn't love any of his victims, because he always found someone new to love before the bodies were even cold.
      What kind of love is it, the article challenged, that doesn't even sit still for a few hours to grieve the death of youth, beauty and innocence?
      The article called him sadistic and cruel, terrorizing a college girl so she abandoned her education to protect her life. It described the stitches and bruises and terror the girl's roommate suffered when the White Rose broke into their college room, hunting her.
      "I didn't attack her. She wouldn't help me. She lied to me. It's her fault I hit her," he choked out through an aching need to sob.
      Then the article finished by describing the emotional distress Sheila McGuire felt when she got home from school and found the rose on her bed and realized a stranger had broken into the house while the family was away. It denounced the White Rose as a child molester and those same psychologists came back to speculate that the White Rose had been abused, emotionally, mentally and sexually as a child, and estimated the chances that he was involved in child pornography.
      "No!" he yelled, so his voice bounced off the panes of the semi-opaque roof. He ripped the paper into pieces and threw them on the floor and stomped on them.
      The words he had read bounced through his mind, so he couldn't get rid of them. Sobbing, he dropped to his knees and hid his face in his crossed arms.
      The moon hung high overhead, shining softly through a hazy threat of more snow, when he finally calmed and could get to his feet again. He stood a long time staring upward, as if he could climb the slope of the light and escape the aching that gnawed deeper into his spirit with every beat of his heart.
      They were liars. Everyone was lying about him. Everyone had lied to him. No one kept their word. He was a friend to everyone, but no one was a friend to him.
      He had to punish them.
      He bent over, aching in every joint from spending so long curled up on the cold, damp cement floor, and picked up the fragments of the paper. One of the tears went through the byline of the lead story, so he could only read one name.
Angela Coffelt.
      Yes, he would punish Angela. She was the editor of the paper. She made the decision to print all those lies about him and make people think that he was bad, that he was the criminal. The truth was that he was the victim. Nobody was his friend. Not even his angel.

      He had to punish Angela. Then he would find someone else to punish, until everyone who kept him from finding his angel was gone.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

January 15: COMMON GROUNDS

      "Rough day, huh?" Xander asked.
      "Actually, it was kind of nice, right up until I walked into the sanctuary. Don't those people understand what 'sanctuary' means?" Hannah's voice cracked, sounding like she tried to laugh. "I had plenty of time to think and get my head straightened out."
      "Why'd you quit your classes?"
      Xander admitted he was a coward, working his way up to the really important questions. He wasn't ashamed of it; not with Hannah held close to his side, where he had wanted her for a long time.
      "I don't want to be a lawyer."
      "Why not?" He stopped them just two steps away from the doors. "You'd be a great lawyer. We need people like you."
      "What I'm doing right now is just as important. Maybe more important, because everybody else in my position is just using it as a steppingstone to higher things. I like what I'm doing." She tipped her head back to meet his gaze. "Don't you think it's important?"
      "Well, yeah. The way you handle people and get them to open up and you keep all of us in line and¾"
      Xander flinched when the doors slammed open and a gaggle of children raced through, obviously late for their activities at the other end of the church. He guided Hannah out of the way of the stampede, and then outside before the doors closed.
      "I guess I was really looking forward to you passing the bar with flying colors and introducing you to everybody as my new partner." He shrugged, wondering if that odd, achy sensation in his chest was disappointment, a premonition of something going wrong, or he was just hungry. He hadn't been able to eat for worrying about Hannah and wondering where she was. "But you're already my partner, so what's the difference?"
      "Maybe it wouldn't look so weird to date another lawyer, rather than just your paralegal and office manager. Even if she was your partner." Hannah nodded and looked across the parking lot. Xander couldn't see her face clearly enough in the shadows to guess what she might be thinking or feeling.
      "Do you think it would look wrong if I dated a lowly paralegal?" He tried to laugh. "Or maybe even married her?"
      "Wow," she murmured. "You actually let the 'M' word past your lips. You must have really been worried about me today."
      "What's it going to take to convince you that I care about you all the time, not just when you're in danger?"
      "You're a fantastic lawyer, Xander Finley. I'm sure you'll think of a way to convince me."
      "I don't want to battle you, like another lawyer." He sighed. "And I don't see you as someone I need to defend, either. There are a lot of different ways to be partners, Hannah. We're partners in the office, even if you never become a lawyer. I hope someday, we'll be partners in the rest of our lives, too."
      "Sounds like a workable proposal."

      "Proposal, huh?" He released her once they reached his car, to unlock the door for her. "I like that word."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

January 14: COMMON GROUNDS

      "You're lawyers," Vic said in the silence that rang through the conference room after he turned off the tape player. "Talk for a change, would you?"
      He slammed his chair back, gathered up his coat and stowed both tape players in the pockets. He and Rene kept silent as they hurried out of the conference room.
      "Well." Xander sighed.
      "Feel like a prize idiot?" Hannah ventured.
      "Yeah." He scooted his chair around. She felt him watching her again, but she couldn't find the courage to face him. "It's not so bad being an idiot if you're one with me."
      A snort of laughter surprised her. Hannah tipped her head up just enough to see that he smiled. She raised her gaze a little more. Laugh lines crinkled around his eyes, which glistened with a threat of tears. She swallowed hard, terrified she would burst into tears, which made absolutely no sense. What was there to cry about? Xander sounded like he was still serious about her, and now he knew she was serious about him.
      The problem, she knew, was that they couldn't seem to say that to each other, only to other people. What good was a relationship where they couldn't communicate?
      "We have a lot of things to figure out." Xander rested his hand over hers on the table, his touch so slow and tentative, Hannah wondered if he feared she would resist. What kind of impression had she been giving him lately?
      "We're a pretty pitiful couple."
      "Partly right." He tried to chuckle. The sound seemed to catch in his throat. "You're the prettiest lady I've ever seen, and I'm kind of pitiful, and it'd be great if we really were a couple."
      "Xander—" Hannah choked on a growl of complete frustration as tears filled her eyes. What was wrong with her?

      "Sorry." Bekka shoved the sliding doors apart. "Emergency. I know Vic said he'd pound me and cancel my gym membership if I let anybody interrupt, but I think Chief Cooper has priority." She hooked a thumb over her shoulder, into the rest of the office.

Monday, January 13, 2014

January 13: WHITE ROSES

      "Greenhouse supplies?" Officer Joe Watkins laughed when Toni sat up and clutched the notepad to her chest. "Thinking of going into business?"
      She scolded herself for thinking of her stomach ahead of security. She shouldn't have gone to the Bluebird CafĂ© for dinner. Or if she was too lazy to cook for herself tonight, she should have kept her work in the car or in her shoulderbag and not brought it out where anyone could see it as they walked by her table. Why did the Bluebird have to keep their lights so bright, anyway? Didn't they know what atmosphere and ambiance were?
      "My parents are coming back to Tabor." Toni shrugged and smiled. She really did like Joe, so helpful whenever she ran into him around town. He never laughed at her when she found out she was going in the wrong direction or had places and people mixed up yet again.
      It was embarrassing admitting that she couldn't seem to keep things straight, and kept trying to go to businesses that were closed or had moved to larger quarters. Just another sign that she needed to completely let go of the past.
      "At least, they're thinking of it. Mom has always wanted to have a little greenhouse. I thought if I could do the legwork that might help them decide one way or another if they want to start up the business," she lied.
      It wasn't like she was hiding a crime, so why did her heart thunder that way? Joe wasn't even in uniform, so technically she wasn't lying to a police officer, right?
      "Wish I could help you, there." He shrugged and jammed his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. "My uncle used to own a greenhouse, but he sold it and the half of his property that it sat on to the greenhouse next door. Then about five years ago, they tore everything down and now it's just empty fields." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, in the direction of Shorewood Township.
      "So you know about the greenhouses that used to be around here, right?" Toni slowly put the notepad down and picked up her pen, ready to scribble notes.
      Maybe it hadn't been such a big, stupid mistake to take her research work out in public after all. If Joe could give her a big lead in tracking down the greenhouses or even abandoned greenhouses in the area, she would have definite proof there was no such thing as coincidences.
      "My uncle was into that stuff. Me, I have a registered brown thumb." Joe laughed, the sound warm and comforting and flowing over Toni like maple syrup. "You ought to see my house and what's left of the yard. Nothing but mile-high weeds." He seemed to take pity on her and the obvious disappointment on her face. "Tell you what, though. I'll dig through his old papers, see if there's some contact information anywhere. Might be a starting place, but I can't guarantee any of those places are still in business after all these years."
      "Thanks, Joe. My mom would be so grateful. It's a dream she's had to put off for just years."

      A dream of justice, Toni amended silently.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

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January 12: WHITE ROSES

      His angel played in the snow with her much younger cousins, helping them build a fort and then a row of snowmen-warriors to stand guard. He watched her, pausing only a few seconds at a time as he went past on his usual route. Even though he knew he had every right to be there, watching out for her, protecting the one who belonged to him, he also knew that others might not understand. So he went away and came back and went away again, always checking the neighborhood, ensuring it stayed safe for his angel.
      He laughed, bubbling over with an excitement he hadn't felt in years. Everything was right this time. Everything was perfect. His angel was safe, living under the eye of a police officer. He knew McGuire, his angel's guardian. He was a good man. The best man possible to keep her safe.

      Best of all, McGuire was his friend.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

January 11: COMMON GROUNDS

     "Hannah?" Xander gaped, paralyzed in his own doorway. Despite his daydreams, he had never expected to see her standing on the front doorstep of his condo.
     "Yes, me." She grinned, and mischief sparkled in her eyes. "Did you think I climbed into a storage locker on the weekends and slept until Monday morning?"
     "Don't be silly. I mean, I see you in church." Xander sighed, rubbed his eyes, and wondered if ten in the morning was too early to get up on a Saturday. "I don't mean to sound rude, but what are you doing here?"
     "Hey, leave my date alone," Tyler bellowed and emerged from the laundry room, via the kitchen. He tugged a Southeastern football jersey over his head and hurried to the front door. "Sorry, running late. We stayed up a little too late last night talking about the old days." He elbowed Xander aside. "She can come inside and wait, can't she?"
     "Uh, yeah. Sure." Xander shook his head, hoping it would help. Maybe he would wake up and find out it was all a bad dream.
     "Be right back."
     "Take your time. I'm a little early," Hannah said. She nodded thanks as Xander stepped back and gestured for her to come in.
     Tyler slid down the hall, his stocking feet turning the bare wood floor into an ice rink. It had been funny last night, Xander knew, but right now he found himself envisioning his old buddy landing flat on his back.
     "What's going on? What date?" Xander tried to remember if Tyler had mentioned Hannah coming over, but nothing sprang to mind.
     "He's just being silly." She perched on the edge of the recliner and glanced around the stark living room.

     Xander wondered what she thought of it. He never really cared what his condo looked like since he didn't spend much time there. The only times he thought about the interior, the furnishings or decorations, was when he thought about Hannah being here. He supposed there was something a little too Spartan about a recliner, a two-seater sofa, two bookshelves and the entertainment center holding his television and stereo system. No carpeting, nothing but basic blinds on the big picture window. The dining room was even more echoing empty, with his little bistro table and two filing cabinets. Tyler had laughed at him when Xander showed him to his room that first night, neatly furnished with a mattress, a chest of drawers and a sheet hanging across the window. He hadn't thought anything of it, since Tyler's furniture was due to arrive by moving van on Monday. Maybe he had been living a little too simply?

Friday, January 10, 2014

January 10: DETOURS

      "What'd you do with all those packing boxes for your stuff, when you came back from Denver?" Shane asked, and decided now was as good a time as any to announce he was moving out. Duke might not like it, but he would have to agree that the apartment was only made for two people, not three.
      "What do you need them for?" Then Trix's eyes widened and she uncurled and got up from the sofa. "You're moving out, aren't you?"
      "How come, with the way we always know what the other one is thinking, we never... we never made it more serious?"
      "Oh, no. Please tell me you're not." She shook her head hard enough Shane's neck ached in sympathy.
      "Not what?"
      "Are you moving out because I'm pregnant? Are you pissed because the baby isn't yours? You're still mad at me because I didn't want to get serious?"
      "Listen to me -- listen to yourself. If I was serious about getting serious, don't you think I would have tried harder? We both know it's not right for us." Shane wasn't going to go near the subject of not marrying someone who didn't have the same spiritual values and beliefs.
      "Then you're leaving because Duke is bugging you to marry me and take care of me, is that it?"
      "I'm leaving because it's not right for me to be here, with you, when we're not married." He leaned back against the wall opposite the doorway and felt like the pressures of the whole day had just slid off his shoulders. "And even though marrying to give a baby a father is a really good reason, it's not... it's not right. Not for you. Because you don't need rescuing, and when I do get married, it's gonna be for other reasons. Better reasons." Shane shrugged and tried to smile.
      "Well, that's a relief." Her little smirk came back, brightening her eyes.
      "I'm a selfish guy. I want more than pals. Does that make any sense?"
      "It makes a ton of sense. You've finally fallen for someone." She laughed when Shane could only stare at her for a few moments. "Yes, you have."
      "I don't think so. I haven't even dated since last spring."
      "Then you're a total moron. You've fallen for someone, and you don't even know who she is!"
      "Yeah, like that makes sense?" Shane shivered and pushed off the wall, fighting the memory of Bekka sitting in their Victorian Lit class, laughing with another classmate when he walked into the room. His gaze locked with hers for a few seconds, then she frowned, just barely noticeable -- but he noticed, because he concentrated on her -- and she looked away quickly. That sinking feeling in his gut had to mean something.

      "It will, eventually." Trix gestured for him to go back through the kitchen. "I put my boxes downstairs in the laundry room. I bet nobody has moved them yet. Where are you going to live?"

Thursday, January 9, 2014

January 9: WHITE ROSES

      Pure, sweet laughter rang out, bouncing off the ice coating the school playground. He stopped and leaned against the fence, dislodging snow from the chain links. He recognized that voice. It dragged him back to the happiest weeks of his life, the new boy in school meeting up with the shy, quiet girl, talking about books, meeting in the library, walking home from school together after choir practice or football games. His Angel had laughed like that.
      She stood by the jungle-gym, laughing with two other girls. They slipped and slid, deliberately skidding their feet on the slick, black ice that had collected under the climbing tower, holding onto the bars to keep themselves upright. She wore fluffy white earmuffs and her long, straight, dark hair swung in the gentle breeze. Her cheeks were red. Her dark eyes sparkled with life and purity and joy. His angel, come back to him just as she had left him.
      He knew exactly who she was, how to find her. No taking risks asking dangerous questions. No waiting outside her house or following her around town to learn her routine. He had been in her house before. How could he not have seen that she was his Angel, come back to him?

      The other angels, the false angels, had distracted him. He was glad he had killed them. They deserved to die for keeping him from seeing her. But he had found her now. His Angel.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

January 8: COMMON GROUNDS

      When the jangling of the doorway bells had fallen silent again, he moved over to sit on the edge of her vacated desk. "What did he say, besides offering you a job?"
      "Not much." Hannah spread the letter out on the desk in front of her with deliberate motions. "Dear Ms. Blake," she read slowly, "I must apologize yet again for my indiscrete words which prompted an ethically deprived young man to take such drastic action against you."
      "He's desperate to actually put an apology in writing." Xander cringed when his attempt at humor didn't even get Hannah to raise her head.
      "Let me state for the record that it is your exceptional reputation as a paralegal and office manager which is the foundation for my words. I continue to be dismayed at the threat to your safety and sense of security. As a consequence, I must here confess that I wish to permanently deprive Common Grounds Legal Clinic of your valuable talents. I would like to offer you a position as paralegal at Montgomery & Associates. As part of your terms of employment, you will have full access to the law library, time off with pay to pursue your studies toward your law degree, and tuition assistance."
      "Assistance? Arc pays everything. You can't get a better deal than that."
      "That's true." Hannah finally raised her gaze from the letter and studied his face in silence until Xander grew fidgety again.
      "You could pretend you never got the letter. Or wait until next week to send your reply."
      "I can't."
      "Hannah, you know he'll go into his suffering martyr role and then lambaste you for refusing to bow to his greater wisdom and experience. I've seen him do it at a dozen board meetings and congregational voting sessions."
      "I can't ignore him or delay responding because he's going to call the office on Friday for my decision." She folded up the letter and slid it back into its envelope.
      "Your decision?" His hackles rose. "What about an interview, discussing salary and benefits, your schedule, your duties, things like that? Does he think his firm is such a plum opportunity he can just snap his fingers and you'll come running?"
      "Obviously, he does." She shivered a little and wrapped her arms around herself. That distant look touched her eyes.
      "The only reason I can think for you to take up his offer — no, two reasons. First, a bigger salary—"
      "What makes you think I care about money?"
      "And second, if you work for him, we can date."
      "What?" She sat back hard, shoving her rolling chair against the filing cabinet. "What makes you think King Arthur Montgomery would put up with me dating the enemy while I work for him?"
      "So, I guess you can't take the job." Xander grinned, relieved that he had broken through her daze.
      "Was that the problem? You ignored me all this time because you wouldn't date an employee?"
      "Co-worker. Practically a partner," Xander hurried to say. What got her so angry? She was practically shooting sparks from her eyes. "And I never ignored you."
      "While I was in the office, no." Hannah stood and snatched up her coat. "The moment I step out the door in the evening, I don't exist."
      "Hannah—"
      "I can't decide if you're a snob or a coward. You won't date an employee, or you're afraid what self-righteous idiots like Montgomery would think or say if you showed some interest in me as a woman." She pulled on her coat with angry stabs of her arms into the sleeves.
      "I couldn't care less what he thinks. Especially when it comes to you." He cringed, positive that didn't sound right. He wished he stood in front of a hostile jury. He would know what to say to get them on his side. Hannah, he couldn't figure out if he had twenty guesses and unlimited time.
      "It's nearly six, Xander. I'm going home. It's been a very long day."
      "Let me take you out to dinner?"
      "I'm not hungry." She gestured at the door. "Do you want to turn everything off and lock up, or should I?"
      "I'll do it."
      "Fine." She picked up her purse and slid the letter into it as she walked toward the door.
      "Hannah!" For two agonizing heartbeats, Xander feared she wouldn't stop or look at him. She stopped and looked over her shoulder. "Don't leave me."
      "You mean, don't go work for Montgomery?"
      "I mean, don't leave me. I can't seem to do anything right lately when it comes to you. All I know is that I can't manage anything without you."
      "Xander," she sighed. A tiny smile caught the corners of her mouth, and despite the darkening skies full of snow, it seemed like summer noontime filled the office. "You are such an idiot sometimes."
      "Only sometimes. The rest of the time, I'm tolerable. Right?"

      "Tolerable." She closed her eyes, and for a moment he thought she swayed. Her smile faded. "Good night, Xander." She turned her head away and walked to the door, opened it, and stepped outside.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

January 7: DETOURS

      Bells jangled in the doorway when Bekka entered the ground floor suite of the old house that used to house Kiddie Time. She was pleased with the classy, muted shades in the wallpaper and paint, and the dark stain on the woodwork, remembering the garish colors splattered everywhere when the children's used clothing and toys store used to be here. She looked around, tugging off her stocking cap as Hannah came up to the front of the suite.
      "This place looks fantastic. Is it true that Ice Man Montgomery tried to swipe it from underneath you?"
      "Partially." Hannah gestured for Bekka to go take a seat in the office area set up to the left of the entryway. Two desks sat there and several filing cabinets, and shades had been installed in the windows with sills deep enough for sitting. Bekka loved old houses and all the comfort details built into them. Someday, she wanted enough money to buy one of the old houses on Main and restore it to its former splendor and have all that space and solitude to herself.
      "If you're asking about the office sitter position, you're hired," Hannah said when Bekka pulled out the Fish Wrapper in preparation for applying for the job. She laughed when Bekka stared at her. "You do understand it's only part-time, and only until we get the office fully-staffed. Maybe three months at the most."
      "Answer phones, direct people to the main office, and sort the mail." She nodded and mimed sagging with relief. "Perfect for me. It'll let me get some schoolwork done and keep me off the streets during the worst of the winter. I love my courier job, but I'm having a hard time finding chains for my bike tires."
      Hannah laughed with her, then they settled down to talk about the job requirements, the salary, and Bekka's schedule. Then she took Bekka on a tour of the rooms, giving her a general idea of where everything was stored, the circuit breaker box, the thermostat, and the supplies. The last step was to give Bekka a set of keys and the code for the security system that had been installed the Friday before.
      "Not a good idea to forget that one." Bekka nodded and looked around again as they settled down at the desks in Hannah's part of the office. She thought about the discussion she had with her roommates yesterday. "Um... I heard Annalee was found here. Is it true that he goes after brunettes only?"
      "Seems like it. We can only guess the pattern, but he targets girls who don't seem to date."
      "Uh oh. What an excuse to get a boyfriend. Think I can hire one?" She fiddled with the frayed cuff of her heavy, cherry red sweater. Ron hadn't called her back yet. She wondered if he had gotten impatient, finally, and was busy pressing Dana to set a date for their wedding.
      "If it's any comfort, he picks on girls who live at home, not on their own. That girl from the college is a break from the pattern."
      "Not really much of a pattern, is there, with only four? When do you think he'll pick number five?"

      "I hope he never does," Hannah said with a shiver.