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Saturday, October 31, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #10

"Bad dreams?" Elizabeth sighed when Anne nodded, and reached up to cup her cheek a moment. "Which ones?"

"The Black Prince and the Ogre." A snort escaped her. "I must drive all of you nuts sometimes, how I put everything into faerie-tale terms."

"It's how you cope."

"Shouldn't I be healed enough by now that I don't need to cope?"

"Is that what bothers you, more than the dreams?"

"Maybe." Anne shrugged and picked up the drizzled biscotti. She put it across the mug and studied her fingertips where a little chocolate had smeared off. "I really need to know about the Black Prince. Maybe you can tell me, so I don't have to bother Uncle Harrison?"

"Tell you what?" Elizabeth didn't react in any way Anne could interpret -- didn't look away, didn't make herself busy fussing with selecting a cookie or swirling the teapot to test the darkness of the steeping tea. She just sat still, looking relaxed, a little rumpled, waiting. "What did he do differently in the dream?"

"Nothing. I just -- why did he bring me here, to you, when he rescued me the second time? Why was he watching me, so he knew I was in trouble and nobody wanted to help?" A sob caught in her throat, startling her. "How come both times I really needed help, it was like people were so willing to blame me, and not what happened to me?"

Friday, October 30, 2015

Get Ready for some FUN

Get ready to celebrate! 

This December, Desert Breeze Publishing will be releasing the TWENTIETH Tabor Heights
Novel, "Truck Stop Angel." This will also be the last novel (at least for now) in the Tabor Heights series of Inspirational, small-town romance.

To celebrate, I'll be having some fun with 20 DAYS OF TABOR HEIGHTS. There will be excerpts and a scavenger hunt and chances for you to ask questions ... and prizes. Of course!

The FUN starts NOVEMBER 16, and runs to Christmas Eve. And it'll spread all over the Internet -- several pages on Facebook, a handful of blogs, and my website.
STAY TUNED for more details.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #9

"I was afraid of that." She looked around, wiped her sweaty face, tugged her rainbow-striped stocking cap down over her flyaway red curls, and walked over to his car. "I stopped in to see him after dinner last night, and he was talking about hurting a little boy, wanting to shake him until he broke bones. He said he killed the little boy's parents, and he wanted to make the boy cry, but…" She shrugged, blinking rapidly and swallowing in a loud gulp.

"But what, birdy?" he murmured, and caught hold of her shoulders, bracing her.

"Then he got really confused, and he said the shadows got in his way. He said the shadows tried to kill him, and he was glad. He was glad the shadows stopped him. He said he wished the shadows had killed him." Another loud gulp. "Vincent, I know there are bad things, from when George wasn't George. The last time you had me take him out rambling, he talked in his sleep. His voice sounded different. I couldn't understand most of what he said." She offered a crooked smile and a shrug. "Most of it was in German, I think."

Vincent bit his tongue to keep from correcting her -- Snow had been a master of half a dozen Eastern European languages, including Dutch and Russian, along with several Arabic dialects.

"How come you didn't tell me that?" he said instead.

"It was in my written report. Is it my fault if you don't like to read?"

"Smart-alec… little bird," he finished on a sigh, and lightly slapped her cheek once, before cupping it.

"I couldn't find you last night when I got in, and you weren't around when I went to see you this morning." She reached up to clasp his wrist. "What's wrong with him?"

"The man he used to be before George is trying to come back. He needs distracting. Are you up for it?"

"Me and Uncle George, on the road? You know I'd do it for free -- heck, I'd pay to do it."

BooBoo barked three times, as if giving support to her jaunty response.

"You're a good kid." Vincent drew her into his arms, hugging her hard.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #8

The pitiful question and the pain and impending tears in eyes that had once been cold and hard haunted Vincent when he headed back to Quarry Hall. He had convinced George to eat a good breakfast and then spend the day reading and studying -- he knew better than to tell George to try to get some sleep. By the time he drove through the gates and parked his car, he had an idea of what to do to deal with this threatened, unwelcome breakthrough. It had happened only twice before since giving George a new home and identity, and both times the distraction tactic had worked. It would work again. Vincent had been praying hard during the short drive, and he nearly laughed aloud when the answer to the most important question of all came to him as he pulled up to the stable and attached garage, and waited for the overhead door to open. Su-Ma and BooBoo jogged around the back of the stable, both of them covered in snow, gasping great gusts of smoky breath.

"Su-Ma!" he called, with his window only halfway open. "You up for a new job?"

"Where and when?" she shouted back, and slid to a stop, bending over, hands braced on her knees, to catch her breath. Her big dog kept running, galloping along like a great clumsy pony.

"Not a where, but a who. When -- as soon as you can get your gear together." He opened the door and climbed out of the car. Vincent felt as achy, suddenly, as if he had gone ten rounds with a man a good ten inches taller than him.

"Who?" Su-Ma snatched at BooBoo, who had finally realized she had been left behind, circled back around her, and then raced toward Vincent with a loud woof that echoed off the stable wall. The Great Dane evaded her grasp and hurtled across the snow.

"George," Vincent said. He gestured down and BooBoo let out another woof like a grunt and skidded to a stop three feet from him.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #7

Su-Ma and then Jennifer and Connie all reported over the next couple of days, when they turned in their trucks and SUVs to be serviced, that George was more restless than usual. Vincent wasn't surprised. He had been distracted more than he liked since the Porters visited, revisiting the past he shared with Josh and George. During the day he kept busy with chores, training the girls in self-defense, conferring with Carter on security needs at the various missions and outreach centers and shelters they were involved in. Working and reading his Bible helped keep the memories at bay. At night, he couldn't fight the dreams. Twice he woke up in a sweat, with fragments of his past life slicing through his dreams. For a few seconds as he rose from sleeping to waking, he thought he was Javelin again, trying to find Snow, Shadow, Midas and Daedalus. Or was he trying not to be found by them? Whatever he was going through, knowing what was happening in his mind, it had to be ten times worse for George.

He had done this to George -- he and Josh, just fearful enough they needed to know what remained of the cold-hearted, soulless man he had been. Needed to test him, if seeing the two of them together would awaken memories and evil.

Monday morning, he went to the industrial park to check on George himself, and went early enough he expected to find the other man still in bed. Since his drastic injuries, George had a tendency to rise with the sun, so in the winter he slept longer. Vincent found George awake, sitting on the bare, cold cement floor, staring at the partially assembled snowmobiles. As far as Vincent could tell, he hadn't made any progress on his pet project since the night of Josh's visit.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, and went down on one knee to rest a hand on George's shoulder. The other man's skin felt too warm, especially since he was sitting on the cold floor without a jacket. "Hey, how about we go back to your place and get some coffee, okay?"

"Got bad dreams." George blinked rapidly, as if he was still trying to wake up. "I see bad things." His voice cracked. "I hear children… crying. I think I'm--"

"No." Vincent cut that off before George made the confession that he always did when Snow tried to break through. "Not you. George is a good man who loves God and is loved by everyone he meets."

"What if I'm not George?"

Monday, October 19, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #6

"How about some coffee, George?" Vincent said.

"Coffee. Yes. Good host serves… got egg nog and cookies." He chuckled and beckoned for them to follow him as he toddled across the room to another doorway. "Su-Ma stopped on her way home. She knows I like the sprinkly cookies. Lots of cookies."

"Oh, man, don't tell me she brought you those cheap shortbread cookies they sell by the bucket." Vincent followed, glancing back at Josh. "You know Brooklyn will make you anything you want."

"Don't care if they're cheap, I just like them. Su-Ma takes good care of me." George swiped across the wall when he stepped through the doorway into the next room. A bright light came on in the ceiling, revealing a square kitchen cheerfully painted in red and white, with apples spilling endlessly out of bowls in the border along the ceiling. He vanished around the corner.

"She's poisoning you with junk food full of fat and sugar," he retorted.

"She loves her Uncle George." The pipes banged and water gushed.

"Since when do you care about junk cookies?" Josh murmured. He jammed his hands into his back pockets and followed Vincent into the kitchen.

"Your body is the temple of the Lord," Vincent said and stepped over to the far wall, to lean back against it. He gestured with a tip of his head for Josh to watch George, who was filling an electric kettle, the egg nog already forgotten. "So, how's it going on your new baby?"

Friday, October 16, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #5

The door on the other side of the main room hung open, framing a dark shape that stood on the square of patio, inside a simple picket fence. In the summer, half a dozen poles supported birdfeeders and bird houses, and several bird baths sat on stands on the outside of the fence. Now, though, the snow drifted against the fence and the slumped figure of the man stood in snow past his ankles. His hands were shoved in his pockets, and his head was tipped to one side.

"Yo, George." Vincent gestured for Josh to stay in the doorway while he crossed the room that was lined with bookshelves. A long folding table filled the center of the room, covered with open books and notebooks, papers and sticky notes everywhere. "Aren't you cold?"

"Snow," the man said, his voice trembling enough to make it a three-syllable word.

"Yeah, it's been snowing."

"No, I was… I was Snow." A loud sigh escaped George and he turned around, shuffling a few steps. He hunched his shoulders more and looked around as if he couldn't understand how he had gotten outside. "Cold. Inside. Outside. I was…" Another sigh and he shrugged. His shoulders straightened as if a massive weight had fallen off them. "I was cold. Once. Before."

"Yeah, before." Vincent held out his hand, beckoning the battered shell of his former nemesis back inside. "Come on in before you catch cold. You know how you get when you're too sick to work, and you gotta fix something."

"Fixing is… fixing things helps fix me." He stepped into the spill of light from the doorway, a tentative smile just starting to curve his mouth. "Gotta work a long time." He glanced past Vincent, his eyes widening a little as his gaze landed on Josh. "Not to get forgiveness." His voice strengthened, grew steadier. "You can't earn forgiveness. Stupid to try. You know why?"

"No," Josh said, his voice soft. "Why?"

"Stupid to try to earn a gift that's already given to you." George ducked his head like a bashful toddler and gestured with both hands, spreading wide, at the table that looked like four men were studying there. "Gotta work hard to say thanks, not apologize."

"That's pretty smart."

"There's God smart and there's man smart." He grinned, his joy childlike and bright, wiping away the scars across his face, the sagging jowls, the sparse hair. "Be smart God's way, so who cares if men think you're -- think I'm -- stupid?"

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #4

Vincent glanced over at him when he made the turn into the industrial park. One corner of his mouth quirked up when he saw Josh had his eyes closed and head bowed, and his hands were clenched into fists in his lap.

The overhead door of the sprawling auto service building opened before them when they pulled up. All was pitch-black inside, no lights on indicating anyone was at work. Vincent glanced at his watch. Going on nine on a weeknight, with no big mechanical puzzles to solve, no signs of activity didn't equal a problem. Over the years since he had stepped out in faith and offered shelter to the battered, broken remains of the man who had been sent to kill him, he had learned it was easier to deal with George when he was working. An engine lying open for service, with pieces spread on a clean drop cloth on a nearby table, somehow helped George's mind function more smoothly, gave him an anchor to keep him from slipping back behind the muffling curtain of confusion. Not even a lively debate on biblical archeology or scriptural interpretation could sharpen George's mind like a mechanical challenge. What he found ironic, though, was how a sense of humor appeared when George dove head-first into spiritual topics -- Snow never had a sense of humor.

Vincent parked and tapped the remote to close the door. A widely spaced line of ceiling lights came on once the door was down all the way. He climbed out of his SUV and looked around, holding still to listen. The muffled sounds of the Ravel music that was George's latest obsession came from the back of the building. He smiled and admitted he was relieved, and beckoned for Josh to follow him. They walked along the far wall, all the scrupulously neat tools and supplies in their assigned places on shelves and racks, all the power cables looped up just so and hanging on their pegs. A faint glow seeped under the closed door of the three-room suite that made up George's quarters in the right rear corner of the building. Vincent tapped twice, waited, listening, and then pushed the door open.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #3

"Does he know I'm coming -- we're coming?" Josh asked, breaking the silence of the ride from Quarry Hall to the industrial parkway where the Arc Foundation's motor pool was stored and serviced.

"Sometimes it's hard to know just what George knows and doesn't know, or understand." Vincent spared his former fellow soldier a glance and shrugged as he moved into the highway exit lane. "I didn't tell him. Mostly because he can't seem to remember things like that. Anything mechanical, he remembers like it's written inside his skull. People… some of the girls, he's taken to them really well. They're his special ones and he remembers every detail."

"Girls." He closed his eyes and tipped his head back against the headrest and let out a sigh. "I know you said he's changed, but I still can't wrap my mind around the concept of him caring about anyone. Not to the point of anyone being special to him. Especially when his only use for children and pets was something to torture. The more pain, the better," he added, his voice going raspy and faint. "Women existed to be used and abused. That's just the way Snow always ways."

"He's not Snow anymore. He's George. Uncle George, to some of the girls."

"And if I mess up and call him Snow? Or refer to you as Javelin? What might happen?"

"Depends." Vincent glanced left down the road to check for oncoming traffic, then pulled out, turning right. The sign for the industrial parkway was visible maybe one hundred yards down, another right hand turn. "On an ordinary day, he might not even hear you make the slip. Or he'll be confused. If he's been having nightmares, though… sometimes when he's tired and you can tell he's in pain, the old Snow slips out in his voice, the way he looks at you. Just for a moment."

"So he's still in there, despite the damage."

"Just like the men we used to be are still there, deep down inside. The only way to keep them sleeping, keep them from coming back into our minds and souls is to keep resting on God's grace."

"Amen," Josh murmured.

"Funny thing is, George taught me how to let go, how to take it one step at a time and just keep moving, trusting that the floor won't vanish under your feet without warning."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #2

"Sanctuary!" Su-Ma called. She dropped her multi-colored patchwork hooded coat on the threshold and flung her arms around Anne, almost knocking the platter and utensils from her hands. "You are a saint. I am starving!"

BooBoo, her Great Dane companion peered around the doorway. Snow still clung to the top of his head and the creases of his ears, making the black splotches on his gray-and-white face fainter. The big, lovable dog always looked to Anne as if he had rolled in spilled black and white paint. She could never figure out if he was white with black splatters, or black with white splotches. Argus stayed seated and tipped his head back, his nose barely touching the underside of BooBoo's jaw as the big dog towered over him. Anne muffled a chuckle. The two dogs were best of friends, but she always feared bruising Argus' dignity. BooBoo was as unself-conscious and clumsy as a dog could be, always with the air of a puppy that couldn't figure out how it had ended up in an adult body -- or how to run that body. He was perfectly paired with Su-Ma, who toned down her sometimes outrageous, exaggerated mannerisms and exuberance to keep her big companion out of trouble. In return, BooBoo helped Su-Ma with ordinary, everyday things that she couldn't seem to remember to do, always in a hurry to get on with the next task. She was notorious for forgetting to charge her cell phone or fill her gas tank before she headed off on a long trip, riding on fumes. The general consensus was that while everyone loved Su-Ma, they feared she would always be limited to courier duties.

"You're in luck. We had dinner guests, so Brooklyn went all out."

"Who?"

A clock silently clicked at the back of Anne's  mind as she filled Su-Ma in on the Porters and the vaguely revealed connection in the past between Josh and Vincent. Anne knew better than to urge Su-Ma to hurry, because the other girl would try her best and most likely make a mess. Joan, Nikki and Darcy would be settled in the lounge in their pajamas and wouldn't start the movie without them, and they wouldn't complain. Anne knew it was better to take a little more time getting the party started than to have to clean up a mess. Still, she hated being late, even when a specific starting time hadn't been set. She knew it was one of her coping mechanisms after all the chaos in her childhood, but knowing really didn't help her get over it. Someday, though, she knew she would be entirely healed. It would just take time.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #1

At the end of dinner, all the girls took care of cleanup, and Anne was pleased that Darcy just pitched in without being asked. Elizabeth had promised Geneva a walking tour of the grounds by moonlight, since the snow had stopped and the air was clear, while Josh and Vincent said they had an errand to run. The girls had the "agenda" for the pajama party all picked out by the time Nikki pushed the button on the dishwasher to get it started. Joan led the way down the hall to the back staircase when all their dogs went still, their ears pricked forward, and each let out a quiet huff-bark.

"Okay," Darcy said with a chuckle. "What just happened?"

"Someone's home," Anne said. She gestured at the stairs leading down half a flight. "My guess is Su-Ma decided not to stay overnight. She's going to be hungry, and since I know what leftovers went where…" She turned around and headed for the kitchen. "Just don't start the movie without me!"

The others laughed and promised and hurried up the stairs. Argus stayed in the hallway, posted near the stairs leading up from the back entrance. Anne had all the containers of leftovers open and lined up on the counter when her companion trotted up to the kitchen doorway and sat down with another huff-bark. The soft rumbling of the furnace stopped a moment later and she heard footsteps coming down the hall, accompanied by the scrape-clatter of big clawed paws thudding on the tile floor.

"You made good time," she called over her shoulder as she turned to pull utensils out of the big drawer of the cabinet that held the everyday dishes and glassware.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

NEW BOOK: Quarry Hall Series #7: ANNE'S OGRE

Announcing the NEW Quarry Hall book, due out in the middle of the month from Desert Breeze Publishing:

ANNE'S OGRE

George, Quarry Hall's mechanic, is a broken man, haunted by dreams of a life he can't remember. Vincent fights to keep George from remembering the soulless killer he once was -- until a trip to distract George gets his picture in a magazine, and awakens the past.

Anne's past again haunts her and she struggles to regain her peace. The Ogre who molested her and killed her parents is gone -- isn't he? The Black Prince who rescued her returns, but her delight in seeing her hero is crushed when she learns the Ogre escaped and is closer than she could have guessed.

As Anne re-fights the battle of forgiveness and healing, Quarry Hall and Vincent's former commando team race to find the mystery man hunting George. Will his trail lead to an enemy from decades ago? At what point can a monster be considered truly dead and gone?