Pages

Monday, November 30, 2015

20 Days of Tabor Heights -- Day 12

This was a fun book to write -- despite the family tragedy that features as the main storyline.

The events in today's book

BEHIND THE SCENES

are mentioned in several other Tabor Heights novels. See that's the thing about Tabor Heights -- the stories overlap. You hear about the events of other books, other lives, as you read the different books. There's no one right place to start. You can start anywhere!

Absence makes the heart... see clearer.

Tony and Max were best friends, writing partners. People swore he didn't know she was a girl and she didn't know he was a boy. When Tony went away for a few months, he realized that empty place inside was Max-shaped. Every idea to tell her how he felt sounded like the plot for a book they would never write.

Then Max's parents were seriously injured.


Tony dropped everything to come home and be there for her and her brothers. He would just have to wait until things calmed down before he confessed his love, and pray Max felt the same way. Before the new guy in the tech crew made his move.

Max tried not to dream that she and Tony could be more to each other. As she held together her parents' theater and dealt with the invasion of paparazzi when Hollywood discovered where her mother had hidden years ago, she could help wishing...


In one crisis after another, dealing with spoiled actors, gossips, and secret nightmares, Tony was her rock. After all the answered prayers, would God answer this one, too?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #20

The big German Shepard performed with precision, ears and tail up, almost prancing as if he was in a dog show. He leaped from the back of the truck, then reared back on his hind legs, barked three times, dropped forward, and trotted halfway to her. Then, responding to more gestures, he turned around three times, sat down, got up again, ran to her and ran circles around her and Hal, weaving in and out between them twice. Hal's jaw was nearly dragging on the parking lot pavement by the time Argus finished his performance and sat down. Anne was grateful the parking lot had been scraped clean and was only a little slushy, as she bent down to hug and stroke Argus, praising him.

"How long did it take to teach him all that? What language were you using?"

"That's classified data. If I told you, I would have to kill you," Anne responded, keeping a perfectly deadpan expression.

Hal grinned, obviously thinking she was joking, but his smile faded after a few seconds when she didn't react. Then Anne laughed and he joined her, looking more than a little relieved. She answered some of his questions as they headed around the front of the building to go back inside.

"Our head of security trains our dogs. He also teaches us self-defense and gives us a refresher course every time we go home, beating us black and blue most of the time. Many of our dogs are born at Quarry Hall, our headquarters, but we get a good number from places like the DEA, ATF. We have a couple cadaver dogs, bomb dogs, border patrol dogs."

"I can't imagine road work for a philanthropic foundation can be that dangerous," Hal said as he pushed the door open for her.

"You'd be surprised how nasty some people can get when you come between them and the innocent and defenseless. It's like they think their rights are being violated."

"Uh huh. Not sure we want to put that in the story. If we run the story."

"We'd prefer the enemy not to know we're prepared for them," she offered with a half-smile, as she reached forward and pushed open the door into the front of the office suite. Her smile widened as she thought about the receptionist's reaction, wondering how she had gone into the back and then appeared at the front of the office without going past her.

Argus growled and pushed past her, sliding through the gap between door and frame before it was wide enough.

"What's--" Hal began.

A gun fired.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

20 Days of Tabor Heights -- Day 13

Interesting tidbit:

Today's book

DETOURS

started out as a screenplay, then a stage play, before being turned into a Tabor Heights novel.

A year in the life…

Roommates Bekka, Kat, and Amy had a lot in common: Theater
students, pursuing writing careers, supporting each other in crises and heartaches. Amy kept breaking up with her boyfriend. Kat never dated a boy more than twice. Bekka was too busy with part-time jobs and writing to even want a relationship. Especially seeing how miserable her roommates were.


So she thought, until Shane showed up, but Kat saw him first, and once she dumped a boyfriend, he never came back. Bekka couldn't help hoping, though.

Friday, November 27, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #19

"We help battered women and children find shelters, and get them out of the reach of their abusers. That's about the extent of it." Anne's shoulders suddenly prickled, the same feeling she got when she thought someone was pointing a gun at her.

After being shot at several times, she had learned to trust that feeling and duck before she looked for the gun. It took all her willpower not to turn and rake the people sitting in the reception area with her gaze. Vincent had her on extra-high alert, that was all. She just wished she could have brought Argus inside with her, and have him screen the people around her.

"I really need to talk with Jenni Doran, find out if anyone's been asking her about these pictures." She tapped the photo of Su-Ma and George catching snowflakes.

"Problem?" a young woman asked, stopping at the receptionist's desk. Fresh snowflakes clung to the shoulders of her battered brown leather jacket. She carried a computer case on one shoulder and what looked like a large camera case on the other.

"Are you Jenni?" Anne asked.

"Natalie Schaefer. Is this about those photos Bill took off the wrong flash drive?"

"I think you need to take--" The receptionist glanced at the card Anne gave her. "-- Miss Hachworth from the Arc Foundation in back to talk to Hal." She handed the card to Natalie. "I think Jenni is in trouble. I've had seven calls in the last three days about those photos, and some of the people I talked to weren't so nice."

"Gotcha." She beckoned for Anne to follow her.

"Thanks." Anne looked back at the receptionist, who nodded to her. She caught Mark watching her, but he looked away before their gazes met.

For a moment, she had the strongest urge to ask Natalie to wait, so she could go out and bring Argus in from the truck. How would she explain why she needed her companion? That thought stayed with her as Natalie led her down a long hallway that seemed to go all the way to the back of the building. She laughed and apologized for the long hike, and proudly informed her that America's Voice had just expanded four months ago, to take up all of the first and second floor in this four-story building.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

20 Days of Tabor Heights -- Day 14

Are you just getting started? There's still time to join in and play.

Go to my website and click on the Tabor folder, then the Contest tab, to learn the rules and get started!

Today's book:

FIRESONG


Dani has known all her life that God called her to ministry and music. Her life revolves around her brother and their band, Firesong.

Kurt returns to Tabor to prepare for a crusade and reunite with old friends. He never expects Dani to
capture his imagination, and then his heart. How can he convince the girl who once disdained him as an arrogant jerk to open her heart to him -- especially when she believes ministry leaves no room for romance?


Between the crusade, concerts, a new CD, and her brother's wedding, Dani doesn’t have time for Kurt's nonsense … but sometimes he gives her those looks that make her doubt everything she knows and believes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

20 Days of Tabor Heights -- Day 15

We're a little less than one-third of the way through the scavenger hunt and the celebration of the 20 Days of Tabor Heights.

Have you entered yet?

Remember to enter every day, because even if you don't win, you're racking up points toward the grand prize!

Today's book:

FORGIVEN


The hardest thing Nikki has ever done is go home to Tabor Heights, to the people who know how far
she fell, and the hearts she broke. Working for the Arc Foundation, she is to assess the Mission for funding. She refuses to fail the God who has forgiven her, and let down her home church.


Released from prison, Brock follows Nikki home. Now that he is right with God, he wants more than anything to win her back, and make sure their love is the right kind. Nikki knows she won't find full healing until she forgives Brock, but she discovers she has to forgive herself, first.

Monday, November 23, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #18

"Can I help you?" the receptionist said, standing up so she could look over the counter.

"Hi. I certainly hope so." Anne nodded to Mark and got up, spreading the magazine flat as she approached the counter that took up one whole side of the cubicle. "I need to talk to someone about this photo."

"I'm sorry, policy is to protect the privacy of the people who appear in our 'taste of the season' photo spreads. That means not revealing the names of the photographers or where the photos were taken."

"Oh, I know who took the photo. I know the people in the photo, and they told me when and where they met the reporter. The thing is, don't you need to get permission to publish someone's picture?"

"Oh, dear -- those photos?" The receptionist shook her head and brushed her hand over the photo of Su-Ma sitting in the snow. "It's been a terrible mix-up. Jenni never meant for them to be put in the spread, but we had a computer crash and lost the original spread and then the wrong files were accessed and…" She sighed. "Has it been a problem for your friends?"

"Not yet. What I'm more concerned about is that Jenni -- it is Jenni Doran, right?" Anne pulled her business card out of her pocket. She had meant to give it to the woman first, before she started talking. "I'm from the Arc Foundation, and our concern is that someone could make trouble for her, trying to get information on the -- on the people in the photos she took."

"Right. She was talking about you -- the boss is interested in doing a feature on you -- well, not you, specifically," she added with a chuckle, "but on the foundation, all the work you do helping people. Someone said you were working with Witness Protection, is that true?"

Sunday, November 22, 2015

20 Days of Tabor Heights -- Day 16

Day 5!

Today's book is:

A QUIET PLACE


Jeannette Marshall married Brody Evans despite the in-laws. Their love was deeper, stronger than what she felt for Nathan Lewis, her orphanage "big brother". They planned on seminary and a big family -- but a year later, Jeanette returned to Tabor Heights widowed and pregnant, and driven away by her hateful in-laws.

But Tabor Heights was home, her quiet shelter. With the love and support of her friends, she prepared for the birth of her son. With Nathan to be uncle to BJ, she had all she needed. Even if she sometimes wondered if she should have let Nathan persuade her to marry him instead of Brody.

Nathan realized too late he loved Jeannette as more than a little sister. When she returned, he put
aside his hopes for a second chance, positive she would never heal enough to love him that way.

All that mattered was that she and BJ were safe and happy.


Then the Evans clan comes to town, scheming and telling lies to get custody of BJ. Nathan would do anything to protect Jeannette -- but everything he tries seems to drive them further apart. Can he convince Jeannette what she means to him before it's too late?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #17

"What?" His voice rang a little against the cinderblock walls. "Josh?"

"Did she mention posing for some pictures when she met the reporter?"

"Yeah. She and George…" Vincent suddenly understood what drew those curses from Josh's tongue. "No, she wouldn't be so careless -- but obviously she was." His mind raced back through the report Su-Ma had made. He couldn't remember quizzing her on taking the usual precautions when she traveled around with George -- either before or after the trip. Maybe he was the one who had been careless, not Su-Ma.

Still, he thought she was getting better at remembering the little details. It was always the ordinary, everyday, common sense things she messed up on -- filling the gas tank, charging her cell phone and computer, locking the car when she got out -- not the important things like keeping George under control and below the radar. Didn't pictures taken by reporters for national magazines count as important? She should have remembered to either forbid the pictures, or ensure they didn't appear in public. Yet obviously she hadn't, or Josh wouldn't be calling.

Considering the options, trying to figure out who was to blame, made his head ache with a sharp stab, like the last time Genghis had sent someone to kill him.

"I want to say I wouldn't recognize George in those pictures if I hadn't seen him last year," Josh said slowly, "but … Genghis is still out there. As far as we know, so is Shadow. Even if they aren't back together, it only makes sense that one or the other would want to tie up some loose ends. Know what I mean?"

"Too well." He squeezed the phone hard enough to make the metal case creak. "All right. First I'll look at those pictures. Then… I don't need to yell at Su-Ma. She'll understand."

"What do you need me to do?" A choking sound that was probably an attempt at laughter came through the phone. "Besides pray?"

"Lord, You have made blind eyes see, now make seeing eyes blind," Vincent whispered.

"Amen."

Friday, November 20, 2015

20 Days of Tabor Heights -- Day 17

Today is the 4th day of the countdown in the 20 Days of Tabor Heights. 

Book #17 

THE FAMILY WAY

Everything is going right for Lisa. Her comic strip is becoming a book, and she is pregnant -- finally, her critical father-in-law will admit she is a good wife.

Todd comes home in a foul mood and destroys her happy announcement with: "Is it mine?"

He tries to make things right, but everything he does only worsens Lisa's pain
because he has never learned to apologize. Their marriage disintegrates, until his own sisters urge Lisa to leave him. Todd slowly, painfully learns to face family secrets, and break free of his father's poisonous influence.


Lisa knows she must forgive and learn to love Todd again, even as she wonders why. Todd never loved her, so why try to make their marriage work?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

20 Days of Tabor Heights -- Day 18

Day 18.

Don't know the rules yet?

Go to my web site, www.Mlevigne.com
Then click on the Tabor Heights folder
Then click on the Contest page

You have until 10pm tomorrow to get your answer to me!

Today's book:

SEASONS: A TABOR HEIGHTS ANTHOLOGY

EXCERPT:

Officer Mike Nichols lounged against the left-hand gate pole for the Tabor Heights Municipal Swimming Pool.  His long-time partner, Todd James, sauntered back from the concession stand that served customers inside and outside the pool area.  Mike snorted when he saw the red-white-and-blue bomb pop his partner crunched on as he walked. 

"So, what was the emergency?  Besides feeding your face again?"

Todd just waggled his eyebrows and strolled on past, waiting until the last minute to hook his thumb over his shoulder.  Trina Delveccio jingled around the shallow end of the pool, sparkling and fluttering with every step.  And from the grin that lit up her face when Mike's gaze met hers, she had aimed herself specifically in his direction.

Mike's back went slick with icy sweat, gluing him to the pole through his shirt.  His heart shuddered and twisted a few times, banging against his rib cage like it had done the first time he drew his gun in a real-life situation.  What was it about tiny Trina, half-buried in costume jewelry and fluttery, gauzy shirts, and a visible cloud of perfume?  What was it about her that made him ¾ sliding down a greased pole toward fifty ¾ feel like a pimply junior high kid with his throat closing up from allergies?  And what insanity made him like it so much?

"Hi, Mike!"  Trina wriggled a little even when she came to a stop.  Her long, honey-brown curls continued bobbing.  Was that glitter stuck in her lashes around her chocolate-colored eyes?  She laced her fingers through the chain links of the fence and leaned back so she hung by her arms and pivoted on her stiletto-heeled sandals. 

How could she walk in those things?  Mike got a nosebleed just thinking about them, and his legs ached in sympathy when he thought about her scurrying around the pool and the Recreation Department office in those things.  Trina ran the Summer Rec program for the city of Tabor Heights, and she made it look incredibly easy, until someone took a closer look at all the steps involved.  Mike felt exhausted just thinking about all the things she had to do.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #16

"Go sit in the hot tub for ten minutes, no more, then dress up warm and take a couple laps in the greenhouse to keep your muscles limber. The worst part of a lousy workout like you had is when your bruises stiffen up."

"Sadist," Nikki said, and stuck her tongue out at him.

Vincent managed to pretend to take a swing at her. She would worry about him if he didn't respond with the rough affection she needed to help her keep healing. Before she had managed to get to her feet, he was heading up the stairs from the workout room to the first basement level, and hitting the redial button for Josh's number.

"What's the emergency, brother?" he said as soon as Josh picked up the phone.

"You don't read America's Voice, do you? I'm sending a link for the electronic copy."

"No…" He stopped halfway up the stairs between the first basement level and the ground floor. "If they were going to write something about us, they're the kind of people who would let us know, ask for our input or at least give us warning. Su-Ma ran into one of their reporters back in December, and she was really impressed."

Josh muttered a couple curses in Arabic. Vincent looked around, half-expecting to find someone approaching, because that was always how it happened -- when he least needed someone to overhear a conversation, he found himself surrounded. He turned and put his back to the stairwell wall and braced against the chill settling in his belly. What among the things he had just said could make Josh break like that?

"Was hoping I was wrong, and I didn't recognize her. That it was all a big mistake." Josh's voice cracked on the last word.

Monday, November 16, 2015

20 Days of Tabor Heights -- Day 19

1 day down, 19 to go in the scavenger hunt celebrating the 20 books of the Tabor Heights series.

Ready?

Today's book is COMMON GROUNDS.

If you don't know the rules, go to my website, www.MLevigne.com, click on the folder for Tabor Heights, and then on the Contest page. Everything is spelled out. You have until 10pm tomorrow night to get your answer to me.

GO!

EXCERPT:

"Hannah."

Hannah Blake swallowed her shriek at the male voice that came from the snowy darkness as she stepped through the side door of the university classroom building. She took a step backwards and reached for the pepper spray hanging from the strap of her purse. She listened for voices coming down the stairwell behind her, but her classmates and the professor had gone down the stairs at the other end of the building.

Once the shock faded, she recognized the voice and stopped the heavy, old-fashioned metal door from swinging closed.

"Chief?" Her voice wobbled a little and she grinned, feeling foolish as the lean, wide-shouldered figure of Chief Cooper stepped into the puddle of light in the doorway.

"Sorry." The head of the Tabor Police Department shrugged his broad shoulders and offered a crooked, weary smile that didn't reach his deep-set gray eyes. "I was on my way inside to meet you coming from class. Didn't mean to scare you."

"But you wanted to know how I did, talking with Arc's people today?" She nodded and took a deep breath, trying to calm her still-racing heart.

"Aren't you going the long way around to the parking lot?" He stepped back as she came outside.

"I didn't drive. It's just a short hop down the street to my apartment, so it practically takes more time to drive and park than--" She shook her head. The police chief had more important things on his mind than saving gas and getting some exercise after a long day sitting at her desk.

"I'll walk you home."

"I should be safe, shouldn't I? The White Rose prefers brunettes, not blondes, and he never stalks more than one girl at a time, right?"

"This is a college campus, going on nine p.m., and you're a pretty young woman walking alone. If you were my daughter, I'd ground you for taking risks like that, whether there was a serial killer on the loose or not." The very calmness of his voice sent chills up Hannah's spine. He let out a long, loud breath. "Sorry again. It's been a long day."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #15

When his cell phone rang for the third time in as many minutes, Vincent called a halt to Nikki's self-defense training for the morning. If one of the girls currently on the road needed him for something, they would have taken the option of going through the switchboard and Connie, who was currently on duty, would have called down to him on the intercom. He couldn't think  who else had his personal number who would need to get hold of him that badly that they would keep calling -- and who didn't know about the switchboard option. He just didn't give many people his number to begin with.

"How do you feel?" he asked Nikki as he walked over to the bench where he left his shoes and phone and keys. "Sore or bones ready to crack?"

"I feel like a peach that got thrown against the wall too many times," the girl grumbled. She let out a groan and braced herself, one hand against the wall, as she slid down to the floor. The half-grown gray Akita that had adopted her just before Christmas poked his head through the door at the top of the stairs, leading down to the lower level basement workout room. He let out a whine and bounced down the stairs, taking three at a time. His momentum carried him along until he skidded to a stop on the workout mat and flopped into her lap. Nikki oofed, but she grinned and bent over to hug him. "I wish you were bigger, Gray, so you could carry me upstairs."

"Lazy," Vincent offered without really paying attention.

The screen on his phone showed that Josh Porter had called. All three missed calls were from him. What could be so important -- and what could be so touchy that he wouldn't use the switchboard option, which he most certainly knew about?

Unless Josh didn't want anyone else at Quarry Hall to know he had called…

Saturday, November 14, 2015

20 Days of Tabor Heights -- Let the Games Begin!

Today we launch the countdown for the 20 Days of Tabor Heights.

It's a scavenger hunt.
It's a party.
It's a chance to learn about all 20 books in the Tabor Heights series, ending with book #20, the last book, coming out in December. Which book is that? You'll have to stick around and find out!

Every other day, we'll post RIGHT HERE the cover art and number for the book of the day.

You have until 10pm EST of the next day to find where that cover and number are posted online -- it could be Facebook, it could be several blogs -- and then contact me, stating where you found it.

Example: Today is the 14th. That means you
have until 10pm tomorrow, the 15th, to get your entry in. And when the next number and cover appear on the 16th, you have until 10pm on the 17th to get your entry in. And so on. Got it?

Go to the Contest page on my web site to see all the rules and the possible places to find the cover art and number.

Today is 20, and the book is THE SECOND TIME AROUND.

Ready?
Set?
GO!


EXCERPT:
Dr. Daniel Morgan didn't believe in ghosts, so he didn't have an explanation for the vision that settled into the second seat, far left row, of his freshman theater history class on the first day of the fall semester. Fortunately, the auburn-haired freshman girl with Lynette Teague's face was one of the first into the room, so Daniel didn't stand there with his last two years at Northwestern University flashing through his mind while his new students sat and fidgeted and stared. He yanked himself back to the present, avoided looking at that part of the room, and pushed his heartbreak back into his memories for the duration of the first day lecture.

And the next three classes.

He retreated to his cramped, book-lined office in the basement of the theater arts building, and sat with his feet propped up on his desk, staring at the toes of his new sneakers -- always a new pair for the start of the school year -- trying to figure out what he felt.

"Morgan?" Bekka Sanderson, his student assistant, hung against the frame of his doorway, looking just as drained by the first-day-of-classes mayhem as he felt. Her belt-length straight brown hair had escaped the twistee that restrained it when she met him with his coffee and bagel at seven a.m. and helped him finish assembling the syllabi for all his classes. "You okay?" The fact that she called him Morgan rather than 'Dr. Morgan Sir' meant there were no emergencies or bombs ready to drop on him.

For that, he breathed a sigh of thankfulness to God.

"I just realized that it's been more than twenty years since I was in those kids' shoes." Daniel let his feet drop down to the cement floor. Bekka knew everything and everyone in the entire Humanities Department at Butler-Williams. What were the chances she would know the name of the girl in his first period class, with Lynette Teague's face and hair?

"Bekka?" an unfamiliar female voice called from out in the euphemistically labeled lobby of the theater department's office. It was more prop storage room and workspace than an area to lounge, and served as an auxiliary costume department for big productions.

"In here." Bekka turned and gestured. "Don't go scaring me, Morgan. The General is the one who gives us the 'I'm getting too old for this' routine just before auditions for the Christmas play. I'm the one who's too old to be playing psychologist for the whole department."

"You're my Gal Friday. Tell the General and Joel Randolph to keep their grimy--" Daniel stopped short as the girl from the first period class peered over Bekka's shoulder. He swallowed hard and put on his friendliest smile. "Hello. I hope you're not here to drop my class after one day."

The freshman girl laughed. He was relieved when that wasn't Lynette's musical laugh. Her hair, hanging nearly to the pocket of her shirt, was curlier than Lynette's straight auburn, a little darker, and her nose wasn't the tiny, up-tilted button that demanded kissing and always turned red with the first hint of autumn chill. "No way. It was the best part of the day."

"Because I was the only professor who didn't take roll call, you mean?"

"Uh... yeah." She shrugged, grinning, and that wasn't Lynette's smile. For which he thanked God again. "I'm Kat Tyler."

"Nice to meet you, Kat. Who's your advisor?"

"Dr. Defiore."

"You have to call him the General -- you're part of the theater gang now," Bekka said.

"You just missed him," Daniel added.

"I'm not here to see him," Kat said, and tipped her head in Bekka's direction.

"We're hitting the cafeteria for dinner. The food is fantastic at the beginning of the year," Bekka said. "Besides, you know how my grandparents are at the start of the term. I don't need another lecture over dinner on how I should be studying accounting, when I have homework for every single class already. We'd better run. See you tomorrow."

"Bright and early. Double chocolate muffin this time," Daniel added.

"Seig heil." Bekka saluted, two fingers off her eyebrow, and left with Kat, both girls laughing.

Daniel held onto his smile until he heard the wheeze of the ancient pneumatic door leading to the stairwell. Then he slouched in his chair and raked his fingers through his hair. He definitely felt old today.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #14

What kind of chain reactions would he set off if he approached the girl with her flyaway red hair and multi-colored, patchwork jacket and that huge dog, and asked if she knew what had happened to Annie? Was she still at Quarry Hall? Had she gotten her life put back together? Had she finished college? Was she happy? Had she fallen in love, had she found a man she could love, who could touch her and not remind her each time of the man who had molested and tortured her?

"Get a grip," he scolded himself as he approached the steps of the boarding house. "Natalia is your focus. One job at a time."

Natalia and her friends were visible in the big picture window of the front room of the boarding house. McAllistair made eye contact with the director, Bollander, who settled into a rocking chair next to the registration desk. The man nodded to him, heaved himself back to his feet, and left the room. A few minutes later, he came outside, still shrugging into his coat, and walked across the street, to where McAllistair had found a sheltered spot to sit and keep watch. Natalia was very good at keeping herself in places where he could see her, he had to give the girl credit for that. Bollander had two steaming cardboard cups of coffee.

"Appreciate it," McAllistair said, taking it. "Please tell me your kids are going to rest up before their next performance."

"Nope. They made a new friend and some of them are going around, seeing the sights. Not sure if Natalia is going with them, but you won't be able to miss them. Su-Ma has this enormous black-and-white dog. Never seen a Great Dane that coloring before." He turned, looking back at the house, where the students still seemed to be excitedly talking about something. "It's hard to believe Natalia could be in danger in a place like this. It's a Christmas card come to life."

"She won't be in any danger, no matter what happens. You have my word on it."

Monday, November 9, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #13

"It has a good reputation, but there are nasty stories going around. They sound like sour grapes to me, but a good reporter always investigates, goes deep." She looked around. "This is fun, I like the start of winter, but I think I'll find a few stories that take me south once January hits. I can wait until March or April to head east to Akron, Ohio, thanks very much."

"Akron?"

"Yeah, that's where the Arc Foundation is headquartered." She pulled a business card out of her pocket and showed it to him, the business card for S.M. Stankiweicz, representative of the Arc Foundation, Quarry Hall, Portage Trail, Akron, Ohio. A pen sketch of the front face of a Tudor-style, massive building, filled the background of the card like a watermark.

McAllistair's brain spun as he hurried down the street to the boarding house. He fought to focus on his surroundings, just because experience taught him that disaster always struck when he wasn't entirely focused on his assignment. Still, the image of the mansion kept flashing before his eyes. The one and only time he had seen it had been in the early morning hours, as the sun rose from the valleys and gardens behind it, driving chilly mist away. He had driven up with Annie Hachworth still drugged asleep, wrapped in the sheets from her bed at the mental hospital. The restraints were still on her wrists and ankles. He had cut them, and wasn't ashamed to admit his petty pleasure in the damage, when he stole her from the prison her so-called guardians had thrown her into. What kind of guardians decided medicating the symptoms and throwing the girl into a dark hole and throwing away the key was the best option for treating the damage to her mind and soul? He had taken even greater pleasure in the damage he did to their reputations and wresting Annie's trust fund out of their control.

He knew better than to approach the Stankiweicz girl to ask if she knew how Annie was doing, but the temptation almost ached in his chest. McAllistair's standard practice was to help people and then walk away. The only time he made contact again was when he needed help from the people who owed him for the help he had given them. Annie Hachworth and Mike McCoy were the only two exceptions, because he blamed himself for the damage that Snow had inflicted on their lives. He had checked on Annie every few years -- Mike had vanished into the system, and McAllistair was still looking for him. When he learned how Annie had disintegrated in college, and her guardians locked her away -- conveniently eliminating the only person they had to answer to when handling her trust fund -- McAllistair had called in a debt owed him, taking her to Harrison Carter. If anyone could help Annie find her soul and the healing that had eluded her, the man once known as Oracle would have the resources. McAllistair had told himself not to look back. He had told himself to be satisfied and have faith that Carter and his wife could be trusted to take care of Annie.

Friday, November 6, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #12

McAllistair trusted Natalia to use some common sense when dealing with the woman with the camera. He appreciated that she had looked around for him, made eye contact, and gave him the little hand signal that everything was all right. That didn't mean he wouldn't check out the woman and her story once the singing group and their new friend with the horse-sized dog had hurried back to the boarding house.

"What's up with the kids?" he asked, approaching the woman as she scrolled through the camera. He mentally calculated the chances of following her back to wherever she was staying, and getting his hands on the camera. Not to steal, just long enough to look through the images and erase the ones that showed Natalia's face clearly enough for enemies to recognize her. "They're not from around here, are they?"

After a few minutes of chatting with the woman, who reported for the monthly magazine, America's Voice, McAllistair decided things had definitely gone in his favor. First, he knew the magazine and its reputation, so he knew he could take everything Jenni Doran told him at face value. No evasions to protect her story. Then, the fact the pictures were for a collage of images with no stories attached, no names, not even identifying the locations where the pictures had been taken. And last, that the images wouldn't appear until January or February, depending on how long it took to get them to the main office and how many other great pictures other reporters were snapping during the holidays. The enemies of Natalia's family weren't the kind of people who would look in a feel-good, conservative magazine like America's Voice. Not even if they were bored. Not even if they needed toilet paper in an emergency situation.

"What about the girl with the dog -- that was a dog, wasn't it? Not a pony?" he added with a grin. "They do tricks on the side after the other kids sing?"

Jenni laughed and said no, she was a traveler stopping in town to enjoy the lights. She offered the information that the girl was a courier for a philanthropic foundation, and her idea of doing a story on the place in the future.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

ANNE'S OGRE -- Excerpt #11

"Not all people." She caught hold of Anne's hands, squeezing gently. "What's more important is what happened to you recently, what were you thinking about, that brought on the dreams again?"

"I'm not really sure. Something was just nagging at me…" Anne shook her head. "It's weird, but it started when I met George. I looked in his eyes and it was like I recognized -- or I heard -- or -- you know how you think you hear something, or you remember something, but it's not all there? And you just keep gnawing at it in your head, and you can't make it come back all the way?"

"And the harder you try, the further into the shadows it goes?" Elizabeth nodded. "Something about George reminded you of the Ogre?"

"His face," she whispered, seeing in her memory more clearly than she did the woman's face in front of her. "The scars on his face. Burn scars. Like I was burned. That was when the Black Prince came in, when the Ogre was about to pour boiling water on my face." Anne flinched, feeling the sting of boiling water splashing across her hands and feet, just for a moment. She tugged her hands free and pressed them together, palm-to-palm, fingers interwoven, and squeezed until the dream memory went away.

By some miracle, her hands and feet weren't scarred from the burns she had suffered. She had no loss of sensitivity, no loss of dexterity, and had gone on to run track in high school. How had she managed to escape that damage?

"That's what brought it on. The scars on his face." A gasping little laugh escaped her. "I started thinking about the Black Prince because he kept me from being burned on my face." Another burst of laughter, and a cool sensation washed over her, relief at having an explanation. "I think I'm disappointed."

"You were hoping for some great psychological breakthrough?" Elizabeth shook her head, smiling, and reached for the teapot to pour. "We need healing from splinters just as much as we do from broken bones."