Thursday, November 21, 2013

"For Love or Loyalty" Book 1, MacGregor Legacy by Jennifer Hudson Taylor

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

Abingdon Press (November 5, 2013)

***Special thanks to Jennifer Hudson Taylor for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jennifer Hudson Taylor is an award winning author of inspirational fiction set in historical Europe & the Carolinas. She provides keynotes and presentations on the publishing industry, the craft of writing building an author platform & social media marketing. Her debut novel, Highland Blessings, received a 4 1/2 star review from RT Book Reviews and won the Holt Medallion Award for Best First Book. Jennifer's work has appeared in national publications, such as Guideposts, Heritage Quest Magazine, RT Book Reviews, and The Military Trader. Jennifer graduated from Elon University with a B.A. in Communications/Journalism. When she isn't writing, Jennifer enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, visiting historical sites, parasailing, horseback riding, cycling, long walks, genealogy and reading.

Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

One conquest could destroy her, but avenge his family.

Scotland to Carolina, 1760

Malcolm MacGregor vows to free his family and exact revenge against Duncan Campbell. When the opportunity arises, Malcolm decides to use Duncan’s daughter as the bargaining price. Lauren Campbell is the perfect answer, until she begins chipping away at the bitterness in Malcolm’s heart and changing everything. Her bold faith and forgiveness ignites guilt he would rather avoid and a love he doesn't deserve.

Lauren Campbell never expected to discover such a caring and protective man behind the façade of Malcolm MacGregor’s fierce reputation. When they arrive in America, things turn against them, and Lauren finds herself in a fate worse than death. Now Malcolm has the dilemma of freeing the rest of his family or rescuing Lauren, but time is short and with little means, he needs a miracle



Product Details:
List Price: $14.99
Series: The Macgregor Legacy
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Abingdon Press (November 5, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1426714696
ISBN-13: 978-1426714696


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

A feeling of foreboding crawled over Malcolm MacGregor like a colony of insects picking at his skin. He gripped the reins as he inhaled the crisp March air, but it burned his lungs with the residue of tainted fire. A cloud of dark smoke hovered over the wee village of Inverawe—home. Fear coiled inside Malcolm’s gut as he urged his mount forward.

 His brother kept pace beside him. At a score and four, Thomas was two years Malcolm’s junior. He favored Malcolm with the same stubborn chin and broad shoulders from hard work.

Distant moors lined the overcast sky. Morning fog hovered over the glen, blending with heavy smoke. As they drew near, their eyes stung and the burnt smell accosted them until they coughed. Keening scraped his ears like a tormented bagpipe.

They reached the stone huts, packed with dirt and straw roofs. At least the village homes weren’t on fire, as he originally feared. Piles of furniture and personal items burned in front of each hut. Sad faces and weeping echoed from every direction.

Malcolm’s throat constricted.His chest tightened in a mixture of compassion and fear for his family. He maneuvered his horse between the huts heading toward the center of the village, seeking the home where he had grown from a lad into a man. Engulfed in flames, itblazed to the sky.

“Mither an’ Carleen  . . .” The words fell from Malcolm’s swollen tongue, stalling in the air as his thoughts shifted to their youngest brother, Graham. At only twenty, the lad would have done aught to protect the women in their absence.

“Malcolm, ye’re back!” Heather strode toward him, her eyes red and swollen. Words stalled upon her tongue, increasing his anxiety as he waited for her to collect her emotions and continue.

“What happened?” Malcolm asked, pulling his horse to a stop and dismounting. It was an effort to keep his voice calm, but he tried for Heather’s sake, though his insides quaked.

“‘Tis the worst.” Heather succumbed to tears, shaking with grief.

“What is it, lass?” Malcom shook her hoping to force her out of her temporary stupor.

“Where’s Mither an’ Carleen?” Thomas strode toward them, his voice betraying his fears.

Heather sobbed, falling against Malcolm’s chest. On instinct, his arms slipped around her.He looked up, his eyes questioning the rest of the villagers approaching with sorrowful expressions.

“The Campbells were here.” Roy strode foward, his red eyes weary with similar grief—his right eye swollen and his lip cut. Even in his late fifties, Roy was healthy and robust. It would have taken several men to bring him low. “They took Iona an’ Carleen.”

“Took them?” Thomas gave the elder man a look of disbelief. “Where?”

“How long ago?” Malcolm pressed Heather into the arms of her mother who came up behind her. He turned back to his horse and prepared to mount.

“Nay! There’s too many o’ them. Sixty or more.” A strong hand grabbed his shoulder. “Listen to me, lad. Ye canna help yer mither an’ sister if ye’re dead.”

“I’ve time to catch them if I leave now.” Malcolm pulled away. More hands grabbed him. He didn’t want to fight his own kinsmen, but they wouldn’t deter him from his mission. He had to act now before it was too late.

“Let me go!” Thomas yelled, fighting a similar battle.

“I’ve got ’im, Da.” Strong arms belted around Malcolm’s neck and jerked him backward, cutting off his air. Malcolm coughed. He swung his elbow into Alan’s ribs.

“Argh!” Alan relaxed his hold, but didn’t let go.

“Listen to reason, lad. The rest o’ us are too auld an’ wounded to be fightin’ ye.” A fist from another angle slammed into his jaw. “But fight ye, we will, if it’s the only way to save yer life.” Roy’s voice echoed over the multiple hands and arms keeping him down.

Never had the villagers fought him like this. More dread pooled in the pit of his stomach as he realized there had to be a reason for their adamancy. What had they not yet told him? They were right. How could he and Thomas expect to best sixty or more Campbell men? This feat would require his wits, and he wasn’t thinking, only reacting.

“All right.” He clenched his teeth, willing his body to relax against their resistance. “Tell me why I shan’t go after them. It does not make sense to lose precious time.”

Following Malcolm’s example, Thomas also surrendered.

“Duncan Campbell came to collect the rents,” Roy said. “But he arrived with an army of warriors. He did not come hither on business as he claimsHis purpose was to cause trouble an’ he chose yer family to be the example.”

“They were not supposed to come for another fortnight.” Malcolm jerked away from Alan who sported a bloody lip, already swelling, and a long sword gash upon his arm. Malcolm frowned. Only the Campbells would have been carrying broadswords. Blood soaked Alan’s sleeve, probably more so from his skirmish with Malcolm. Guilt lacerated Malcolm’s emotionally scarred heart. How long must they go on living like peasant pawns for the Campbells’ entertainment?

“They did all this over unpaid rents?” Malcolm lifted his hands in disbelief. “We took the cattle to market an’ we now have the rent. ‘Tis all for naught!” His voice cracked as he ran a hand through his hair. A deep ache twisted his gut.

“Listen to Da.” Alan wiped the back of his hand across his lip. “We need a plan. The Campbells want us to come after them in a mad rage. They have the king’s favor an’ all the wealth they need. We canna fall into their trap again.”

“We can gather more MacGregors an’ break into Kilchurn Manor.” Thomas walked over. The others stepped aside to let him through. “We’ll get Mither an’ Carleen out.” “We canna abandon them.”

“‘Tisn’t that simple. I wish it were.” Roy rubbed a wrinkled hand over his weathered face with a broken sigh. “Even if we gather more MacGregors from other parts of Argyll, we may not be strong enough to break through Duncan Campbell’s forces. He has too many allies. If we succeed an’ bring them home, how will we stop them from coming again?”

Roy and Alan stood still, watching Malcolm and Thomas as though they would tackle them again if need be. More villagers crowded around. All of them looked like a sorry lot, the men having been beaten, the women wearing expressions of grief and sorrow. Soot layered their faces, arms, and clothing.

 ‘Tis possible they have taken them to a debtor’s prison,” Mary MacGregor maneuvered around her husband and son, “since yer mither did not have the rent money.”

“If that is the case,” Malcolm said. “They will have to release Mither an’ Carleen once I pay the rent.”

“Duncan raised the rents again, plus he’s charging interest,” Mary said. “He took our furniture an’ burned what he did not want.” Tears filled her eyes. “William an’ Graham are young an’ foolish to try to fight them. They killed William this day. How many more do ye think we can stand to lose?”

“An’ Graham?” Malcolm staggered at the news. He closed his eyes, rubbing his brows. William and Graham were inseparable. Had Graham suffered the same fate? Heather broke into more weeping and Malcolm’s chest tightened. The lass had been sweet on their youngest brother as soon as they could walk. Now he understood the extent of her grief. “Where is Graham? Did they take him, too?” Malcolm clenched his fists at his sides, attempting to calm the rising tide of anxiety. “Is he alive?”

“Aye, but barely,” Roy said. “I’m sorry, Malcolm. We tried to fight them, but there were too many . . .”

“Take us to ‘im,” Thomas said in a gruff voice, moving to stand beside Malcolm.

“Greg and Colin are tendin to ‘im. The Campbells beat him bad an’ hung ’im on a tree.” Roy’s voice faltered. “To make an example out o’ ‘im.”

“By the neck?” Malcolm followed Roy and Alan to their hut. Fear clawed at his heart and gripped his lungs, stealing the breath from him.

“Nay,” Alan said. “With his arms spread out. We think both shoulders are dislocated.”

They stopped before entering Roy’s hut. “They left us only one bed, so that is where we put ’im.” Roy held up a palm and shook his head. “Prepare yerself, lads.”

Malcolm bent through the threshold and blinked, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dim candlelight. Their small huts contained no windows for daylight to filter inside. He walked across the dirt floor to the tiny bed. Graham’s long legs hung over the side. His height matched Malcolm’s at six-four. Among the three brothers, Thomas was the shortest, shy of them by a couple of inches.

Colin looked up from where he hunched over stitching a wound in the lad’s side. Greg cleaned his bruised face from the other side. Neither of them spoke as they concentrated on their tasks.

Both Malcolm and Thomas dropped to their knees. Thomas groaned and gulped back a threatening cry. Malcolm searched for his voice, but it lodged in his throat as a sickening pain clutched his soul and wouldn’t let go. They stayed that way for several moments, trying to make sense of it all.

Colin cleared his throat. “The lad fought bravely, like a Highland warrior if ever I saw one.”

Graham disliked fighting. Unlike the rest of them, who thrived upon the sword, Graham had preferred his wits to outsmart the wretched Campbells. He held out in stubborn pride believing forgiveness and reason would bridge the great divide between the Campbells and MacGregors. Today, he had discovered the truth and his faith had almost cost him his life.

“Is he . . .” Still unable to say it, Malcolm laid a hand on Graham’s chest. A faint heartbeat pulsed beneath his palm. Malcolm closed his eyes in relief.

“He passed out from the pain when I reset his shoulders back into the sockets,” Greg said. “As soon as Colin stitches his side, we’ll bind his ribs.”

“At least he’s alive,” Thomas said, shaking his head in disbelief. “I always teased him about being the bonny son. Now look at ’im. I fear he won’t ever be the same again.”

“Graham was never vain.” Malcolm gripped Graham’s limp hand. “I worry ’bout the lad’s spirit an’ his broken ideals. He will blame himself for not saving Mither an’ Carleen. No doubt, he will feel naïve he ever thought reconciliation with the Campbells was possible.”

“Aye, ’twill take him a while to recover,” Thomas said with a sigh. “Did Mither an’ Carleen see what happened to ’im?”

“Nay,” Colin shook his head. “The Campbells split up. Scott Campbell took them away, while his father stayed behind to cause more damage.” Colin rubbed his eyebrows and sat back. “That one has the heart of the devil, he does.”

“I shall get revenge for our family an’ the whole MacGregor Clan. The Campbells have wronged us for two centuries. They have tried to wipe out the MacGregor Clan, an’ here we survive against all odds.” Malcolm raised a fist and growled. “This time, I care not what it takes.” Malcolm turned to Roy. “We shall send a scout to Kilchurn Manor to see if Mither an’ Carleen are being held thereand the nearest debtor’s prison. We will move our family to Glenstrae under the protection of the MacGregor Clan Chief.” He shoved a hand on his hip and rubbed his eyebrow, fighting the onslaught of a headache and too much regret. “Should have done it a long time ago after Da died.”

“Ye were but a wee lad.” Roy shook his head. “Do not do this to yerself. ’Tisn’t yer fault.”

“Aye, ’tis time. I’ve tarried long enough. I almost lost my family because of it.” Malcolm glanced down at Graham, fear spiking inside him. He hoped it wasn’t too late.

* * *

“Where ye going?”

Lauren Campbell jumped with a start, throwing a hand over her hammering chest. She placed a finger across her lips to shush her sister of ten and two. A quick glance around the busy kitchen assured her no one paid them any attention. Cook put away uneaten food, while the rest of the servants cleaned up where the Campbells had broken their morning fast.

“Do I have yer word to say naught?” Lauren peeked at her sister’s wide brown eyes, curious as Blair twisted her lips into a mischievous grin.

“If ye take me with ye.” Blair nodded, her sandy, brown hair slid over her face. She brushed the long strands out of her eyes with an impatient sigh.

“I canna.” Lauren shook her head, biting her lower lip as she placed biscuits in a basket. “’Tis dangerous where I’m going.”

“Where?” Blair sidled up to the counter beside Lauren, excitement building in her tone.

“I’m going to the ancient castle of Kilchurn.” Lauren’s heart swelled as her sister’s eyes widened in admiration.

“All alone? Ye know Da would not approve if he was home.” Blair lowered her voice to a whisper. “He will be angry if ye do not take cousin Keith.”

“Keith is studying to take orders next week and will give his first sermon.” Lauren whispered,  touching the tip of her sister’s nose and grabbing a block of cheese. “I canna interfere with the Lord’s work. Besides, Kilchurn Castle is part of our estate. ‘Tisn’t as if I’m leaving the grounds.”

“But ye’re leaving Kilchurn Manor,” Blair said.

“’Tis only a short ride.” Lauren covered the basket with a cloth and tucked in the edges. She paused, considering her sister’s hopeful expression.

“I want to go, please.” Blair linked her fingers as if she was about to pray. She wore the Campbell plaid over a dark blue dress and frowned with a sulky pout as she crossed her thin arms. “Lauren?”

“Run along and get ready. Meet me at the stables,” Lauren said. “I shall see that your horse is saddled and ready.”

Blair disappeared. Her footsteps pattered down the hall. Lauren chuckled and shook her head, knowing the child ran in haste. She hoped Blair would not tumble into one of the servants. With her basket of goods in tow, Lauren let herself out the side door and made her way to the stables.

It was a crisp morning, bright with sunshine and promise. Lauren loved the ancient relic of Kilchurn Castle now crumbling on the far side of Loch Awe. The short journey would take them less than an hour on horseback. On the days she walked the grounds, Lauren loved imagining what it must have been like centuries ago when the castle passed from the MagGregors to the Campbells through marriage.

Lauren entered the shaded stables. “Aidan?” Lauren called to the stable lad. “Are ye there? Blair are going for a ride.” No one answered. Strange. Lauren shrugged and stepped back, trampling on a pair of booted feet. A man’s hand clamped over her mouth, shoving a piece of cloth inside to silence her scream. Another hand pulled her by the hair and jerked her back against his hard body. Her basket of goods went flew over a nearby stall. The horse inside stomped and snorted.

“I took care o’ the lad,” said a gruff voice at her ear. “Just needed to get ’im out o’ the way. ’Tis Duncan Campbell’s daughter I want.”

Lauren’s heart pounded in her ears as she kicked behind her, but he slammed a fist against her temple. Pain sliced through her head. He wrapped an arm around her neck, cutting off her air, and dragged her into a dark corner.

“Lauren?” Blair called. Her footsteps came closer. “Are ye here?”

Closing her eyes, Lauren stopped struggling, praying God would spare her sister. The man breathed heavy at her ear, his grip intense. To Lauren’s relief, he appeared to be alone, and he did not go after Blair.

“Aidan?” Her sister sighed with frustration. “Where did everyone go?” She stomped out of the stables and back toward the manor.

As soon as Blair disappeared , the man slipped a knife to Lauren’s throat. “Go.” The blade nicked her skin as he pushed her forward, leading her out of the stables on the other side. The gag tied in her mouth made her jaw ache and dried her tongue. He  dragged her into the woods where a horse waited.

Lauren tripped over a fallen branch, but he caught her and shoved her against a tree. Her bruised hip stung as he pulled her arms behind her and bound her hands. The man slung her over his horse and mounted up behind her. Between a dizzy spell and a wave of nausea, she caught a glimpse of his MacGregor plaid.

They rode toward Inverawe where Lauren often visited the poor and brought them food. Iona and Carleen MacGregor always welcomed her and shared their faith. Iona’s sons were not quite as friendly, but Graham was open-minded and kind. As the youngest, Lauren supposed he wasn’t as set in his ways as the other two. He was closer to Lauren’s age at twenty.

When they arrived at the village, Lauren wasn’t prepared for the devastation she witnessed. Ashes simmered in gray piles. Grief-stricken faces glared at her with hatred. Several people spit at her and one threw a rotten onion at her. The putrid smell made her stomach roll.

They came to a pile of rubble that should have been Iona and Carleen’s hut. Hot smoke still pumped from the smoldering remains. Lauren’s stomach tightened as tears sprang to her eyes. Her father and brother were supposed to arrive here and collect the rents. Surely, they were not responsible? Her heart ached, fearing it was the truth she wanted to deny.

Her abductor stopped at one of the huts, pumping smoke through the chimney. He grabbed Lauren by the arm and yanked her down. She stumbled  to her feet, finding it hard to regain her balance. He pushed her toward the door as others surrounded them.

“Why did ye bring a Campbell ’ere?” a woman asked. “Do ye not think they have caused enough trouble?”

“Aye,” a man said. “The whole lot o’ them will come looking for ’er.”

“Malcolm! Thomas!” Lauren’s captor ignored them and banged on the worn wooden door. “Open up. I have Lauren Campbell.”

The door swung open and Malcolm’s tall form ducked under the threshold. He crossed his arms with a menacing scowl. “Colin, ye were supposed to  find my mither an’ sister, not bring back a hostage.”

“Iona an’ Carleen were not at Kilchurn.” Colin’s words came out in a rush, as he tightened his grip on her. “But she was.”

“What are we supposed to do with her?” Malcolm pointed at Lauren, venom coating his tone. “This was not the plan.”

“We have no plan since they were not at Kilchurn,” Thomas said, coming to stand behind Malcolm. “Mayhap, she can be the plan. Who else is goin’ to be as important to Duncan?”

“She canna stay here,” another man said. “Her father will destroy the whole village lookin’ for her.”

“Aye, but she’s here now Mary MacGregorsaid. “The damage is done. Ye should best make the best o’ her situation. Could we exchange her for Iona or Carleen?”

Shock vibrated through Lauren. What had her father done? While the MacGregors had never been cruel to her, most were wary and reluctant to befriend her except Iona and Carleen. Now that the villagers had good reason to be seething in anger and resentment, she had no idea how far they would go in using her. She wondered if anyone at home had discovered her disappearance.

“What if he comes back an’ burns the rest o’ our homes?” a woman asked.

“Heather, he owns all these huts. If he burns them all, he canna rent them out.” Malcolm scratched his temple and glanced at Lauren. “Remove her gag. She may know something.”

“How ye plan to get ‘er to talk?” Colin asked, jerking at her bindings. The cloth fell from around her head, and Lauren spit out the other piece.

“Speak up, lass.” Malcolm stepped toward her, his height more like a tower than a mere man. “Where did yer da take my mither an’ sister? The sooner we find out, the sooner negotiations can begin an’ ye can go home.”

“All I know is that he intended to collect the rents and go to the harbor.”

“The harbor?” Thomas joined his brother, his palm up against the side of his head, pondering the possibilities. “Why would he do that?”

“Only one explanation,” an older man said, lifting a finger. All eyes turned to him. “To sell them. What else?”

The women gasped, some wept, while the men groaned and complained in outrage. Colin jerked Lauren by the arm and shoved her to the center. “We have one of their own!” She stumbled and fell to her knees. He pulled her hair. Fire burned her scalp. She prayed her neck wouldn’t break from the pressure. Tears stung her eyes. Lord, I thank you for sparing Blair.

“What would Duncan do to save this bonny face?” An elderly woman bent to squeeze Lauren’s cheeks. The others came at her all at once with raised hands. Lauren closed her eyes, expecting a beating.

“Stop!” Malcolm’s firm voice sliced through the mob like a king. With the MacGregors scattered throughout Campbell lands that used to belong to the MacGregors, none of them had a clan chief.The exception was Glenstrae farther north in the heart of the Scottish highlands. Yet, no one laid a hand on her. They obeyed Malcolm out of respect.

“Let us think about our actions an’ how the Campbells might retaliate.” Malcolm lifted his hands and pointed in the direction of Kilchurn Manor. “As long as the lass lives an’ remains unharmed, we have something to bargain. None o’ us wanna worry ’bout being murdered in our beds at night or forced to flee to the hills again.”

Eyes widened, mouths dropped open, and heads shook back and forth in slow motion. Some of the villagers’ skin turned paler. They backed away from her.

“Duncan an’ Scott Campbell have a good head start. At this point, we would be guessing which harbor they went to an’ taking the lass at her word,” Malcolm said.

“Taynuilt Harbor is the closest,” Roy said. Lauren had heard one of the others call him by name. He was a middle-aged man who looked at her with so much malice her skin itched and burned. “’Tis on Loch Etive an’ leads out to sea.”

“Aye.” Malcolm nodded, rubbing the back of his neck. “First, I want to ensure Graham’s safety ’til he heals, as well as the villagers. I shall find her wretched father.” His boiling gaze landed on Lauren and their eyes met. If the good Lord hadn’t been holding her together, she might have crumbled in fear, but Lauren not only found the courage she needed, but managed to lift her chin and kept her peace. Later in solitude she would  bear her burdensome fear to the Lord.

“Let us bring her inside while we tend to Graham an’ make our plans,” Malcolm said, turning to the others.

Colin shoved her. Lauren stumbled into Malcolm. He reached out a steady hand and gripped her arm. She assumed the action was only out of instinct, not for her welfare.

“What happened to Graham?” The words tumbled through her lips. Of all the MacGregor men, he had always been kind to her.

Malcolm paused, his lips twisting in anger. “Yer da ordered him beaten. They tied him to a tree, pulled an’ tortured him ’til his shoulders snapped out o’ the sockets. They murdered his best friend, William.”

Lauren cringed as her mouth drained dry and her stomach twirled. The temptation to deny his words frayed at the edge of her mind, as she followed him inside.

Malcolm directed her over to a large figure lying motionless on a small bed. A candle burned on a makeshift table beside him. She took small steps, her heart pounding into her throat.

“Graham?” Lauren leaned over him, taking in the sight of his bruised and disfigured face. The memory of his handsome features were like a vision. Graham didn’t respond. Deep sorrow filled her soul as she imagined what agony he must be enduring. “My . . .  da . . . did this?”

“Aye,.” Malcolm’s tone dripped with bitterness. “I was not here, but they tell me he tried to protect my mither an’ sister—yer friends.” He emphasized the last words as if she had betrayed them herself.

“They are my friends,” she whispered, unable to wipe at her tears with her hands bound behind her. Bile rose to the back of Lauren’s throat, threatening to overcome her. Graham’s wounds would be branded in her brain forever. What would become of Iona and Carleen? She slid to her knees as grief wracked her body.  Lauren had never been able to deny the emotional tug of compassion. While she wondered what was to become of her, Graham’s grave condition weighed upon her heart along with the spiritual state of the souls within her father and brother.

Lauren turned and tried to wipe her cheek on her shoulder. Malcolm strode toward her, his mouth set in a grim expression. She resisted the desire to cower and forced her muscles to remain still.

My Thoughts:

As soon as I saw this new book was by Jennifer Hudson Taylor, I KNEW it was going to be a great read and I just HAD to request it. If you a longtime follower of this blog, you should remember her Highland series (a must read!) and how much I enjoyed those books.

"For Love or Loyalty" takes place in Scotland in 1760 and involves two feuding families: the Campbells and the MacGregors. When Duncan Campbell oversteps his position and ruins Malcolm MacGregor's home and family, Malcolm decides he will seek revenge, and that means using Duncan's daughter, Lauren, to get it.

Fast-paced and fully captivating, I found myself lost in the past and totally involved with both Malcolm and Lauren who both ended up being victims of Duncan's wrath and sick sense of justice. As the story unfolds, I became truly in love with both Malcolm and Lauren. Lauren because of her patience, love and faith and Malcolm because he was a very good and honorable "mon" underneath all the anger he felt caused by Duncan's horrible deed. As Malcolm spends time thinking and seeing the Lord move through Lauren, he slowly realizes his actions have consequences that are just as bad as what Duncan did to his family.

This book is a must read for any fan of Scottish or early Colonial history as well as those who enjoy great Christian fiction. The Christian message is not over the top but is placed well throughout the story. It is realistic and is where it would be most used in certain situations: death, sickness, danger, etc. It is also realistic in the fact that some characters question where God was when things happened. Because of this, I think that even a secular audience would enjoy the storyline without feeling preached to.

This book/new series comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

WARNING! "Micorsoft" Scam - Be Aware and Protect Yourself

I received a call from a blocked name and number this morning (alert #1), and instead of ignoring it, I decided to see what sales pitch was coming in today. I was surprised by this one as it was a malicious scam that anyone can easily fall for, so that's why I'm blogging about it.

The caller, who had a very strong Indian accent, identified himself from Microsoft and said my Microsoft Windows program was alerting them that I had a malicious program on my computer. Alert warning number 2. Microsoft DOES NOT do this!!!! He proceeded to tell me about the computer registered to my name. Nope - warning number 3. I questioned him about that because there is no way that could be possible. He read off my name and address (easily obtainable anywhere) and said they were receiving numerous warnings from my PC.

Still not much of a problem - expecting a sales pitch for an antivirus, I was shocked by what he wanted me to do next. HERE'S THE PROBLEM... He wanted me to log into my PC and he'd walk me through steps to find the malicious virus/program. UHHHHH I don't think so! I told him my husband works in IT and just let me know what the problem is so that I can have him fix it. He got extremely cocky and said "Does he work for Microsoft?!!" My answer back was "He's certified so he knows what to do."

There was a pause and then the man said he'd call back later and speak to my husband and quickly hung up. I'd bet my bottom dollar he won't be calling back to talk to hubby.

So what would have happened it I had followed his instructions and sat at my PC to check on the "virus"? I would have ended up allowing the malicious caller to "piggy-back" my PC and gather personal information - credit cards, accounts, and even possible identity theft. 

How can you protect yourself from these scam artists? NEVER log on to your computer and follow any unsolicited phone caller's instructions to check or allow them to gain access of any of your computers: PC, laptop or tablet. The only time you would allow this is if you initiate a call to technical support yourself when you have problems - weather it is your internet provider or computer support. They will NEVER initiate the call telling YOU about YOUR problems. 

For more information about this scam, what to do if you did allow access, as well as where you can report it, visit Microsoft's website at:
http://www.microsoft.com/security/online-privacy/avoid-phone-scams.aspx
and


Four Blood Moons by John Hagee

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

Worthy Publishing (October 8, 2013)

***Special thanks to Leeanna Case for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

John Hagee is the author of four New York Times bestsellers, as well as Jerusalem Countdown, which itself has sold over 1 million copies. He is the founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, a nondenominational evangelical church with more than 20,000 active members, as well as the founder and president of John Hagee Ministries, which telecasts his radio and television teachings throughout America and in 249 nations worldwide. Hagee is also the founder and national chairman of Christians United for Israel, a grassroots national association with over one million members to date.
http://worthypublishing.com/books/Four-Blood-Moons/


Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:


 Inspired by NASA projections and recorded history, Pastor John Hagee reveals direct connections between four upcoming blood-moon eclipses and what they portend for Israel and all of humankind.

Over the last 500 years, blood-red moons have fallen on the first day of Passover three separate times. These occurrences were connected to some of the most significant days in Jewish history: 1492 (the final year of the Spanish Inquisition when Jews were expelled from Spain), 1948 (statehood for Israel and the War of Independence) and 1967 (the Six-Day War). Every heavenly body is controlled by the unseen hand of God, which signals coming events to humanity. There are no solar or lunar accidents. The next series of four blood moons occurs at Passover and Sukkot in 2014 and 2015. In this riveting book, Hagee explores what these blood moons mean and why Christians must understand these signs and what they bode both for Israel and the world.

Joel 2 and Acts 2 both state: "And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness [eclipse] and the moon into blood [eclipse] before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes."



Product Details:
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Worthy Publishing (October 8, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1617952141
ISBN-13: 978-1617952142


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Signs in the Heavens




There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars. . . . Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.
—Luke 21:25, 27–28




As the jet plane gracefully circled over the majestic beauty of Puget Sound, I looked out of the window at the tall and perfectly shaped spruce trees that surrounded a series of glis- tening lakes. Along the shoreline stood elegant homes with boat ramps and fishing docks extending from beautifully








#bloodmoons




manicured lawns. It was the American paradise that is the gorgeous state of Washington.
The wheels of the jet touched down on the runway with their familiar screech, which is always music to my ears. Every safe landing is a great landing!
The jet rolled to a stop. I unbuckled my seat belt, climbed down the steps, and was refreshingly jolted by the cool breeze on my face. I knew then we were far from the sweltering Texas heat! I began to focus on the reason I was here and what I was to say to the thousands that were gathering for the statewide Night to Honor Israel rally that evening.
Six years earlier, on February 6, 2006, I had invited four hundred of America’s foremost evangelical leaders to join me at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, to form a na- tional organization called Christians United for Israel. The purpose of our organization is to bring Christians and Jews together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and brotherly love, in order to emphasize that what we have in common is far greater than the differences we have allowed to separate us over the centuries.
If you are not currently a member of Christians United for Israel and desire to stand with Israel and the Jewish people, I strongly encourage you to join us today by going to CUFI.org.
King David said, “You will arise and have compassion on
Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come” (Psalm 102:13 niv). . . . The appointed time is now!




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Signs in the Heavens




why Should we Support iSrael?
If we are to correctly understand heavenly signs and wonders, it’s imperative we grasp the full scope of Scripture and history. The following are five biblical reasons why Christians should be grateful to, and show support for, the nation of Israel and the Jewish people:




1. god proMiSeS to BleSS thoSe who BleSS iSrael “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you” (Genesis 12:3). This is God’s pledge to Abraham and the Jewish people for all generations to come. God has promised to bless nations, churches, and individuals who do practical acts of kindness to bless Israel and the Jewish people.
Biblical evidence of God’s promised blessing is found in Luke 7, where a Roman centurion who had a sick servant wanted the Rabbi from Nazareth to come into his home and heal his servant. Jesus was an observant Jew; yet He would have to break the laws of Moses to enter the house of a Gen- tile, who was considered unclean.
The centurion—commander of a hundred soldiers—sent the Jewish elders to intercept Jesus. The elders begged Jesus earnestly, saying that the Roman centurion request was de- serving of Jesus’ healing, “for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue” (Luke 7:5).
Jesus healed the sick servant because a Gentile had




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#bloodmoons




performed a practical act of kindness to bless Israel and the
Jewish people.
The Bible further supports God’s blessing on those who bless Israel with the evidence of Cornelius. Why were Cor- nelius and his household the first Gentiles to hear the gospel and to receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? The answer is found in Acts 10:22, which describes Cornelius the centurion as “a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews.”
God performed a miracle to motivate the apostle Peter to go to the house of this unclean Gentile. Peter had a vision of a sheet (a prayer shawl) filled with unclean animals (Gentiles), and God commanded him not to call unclean what God had pronounced as clean (Acts 10:9–16). Peter obeyed the mes- sage of the vision and went, against religious tradition, to the house of a Gentile to present the gospel.
When Peter shared the gospel with the household of Cor- nelius, they all received salvation and were filled with the Holy Spirit, and then Peter commanded them to be baptized in wa- ter (Acts 10:44–48).
The Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius and his household because a Gentile did practical acts of kindness to bless the Jewish people, and true to His promise, God blessed him beyond measure.
I can testify personally that there is no human explana-
tion for the unprecedented blessing of God on Cornerstone




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Signs in the Heavens




Church and John Hagee Ministries other than the fact that more than thirty years ago we decided to show practical acts of kindness for Israel and the Jewish people. Since that time, God has opened the windows of heaven and blessed us be- yond measure.
God’s promise is a fact: “I will bless those who bless you.”




2. we are coMManded to pray for the peace of JeruSaleM
Praying for the peace of Jerusalem is not a request—it’s a command! “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: may they prosper who love you” (Psalm 122:6).
From God’s perspective, Jerusalem is the center of the uni- verse. Jerusalem is the city David conquered from the Jebusi- tes three thousand years ago, and it became the capital of Isra- el forever. May it always be the eternal and undivided capital of Israel, and may peace be within her walls and prosperity within her palaces (Psalm 122:7).
Jerusalem is where Abraham offered Isaac on Mount Mo- riah. Jerusalem is where Jeremiah and Isaiah penned prin- ciples of righteousness that became the moral compass for Western civilization. And outside of its gates Jesus Christ, the Son of David, was crucified for the sins of the world.
According to biblical prophecy, Jerusalem is the past, present, and future of the world! From this city, Jesus will rule
planet earth with a rod of iron, and of His kingdom there shall




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#bloodmoons




be no end (Isaiah 9:7; Luke 1:33).
When you pray for Jerusalem, you are praying for world peace. History proves that when there is peace in Jerusalem, there is peace in the world. When there is war in Jerusalem, the blood flows on planet earth. The universe revolves around Jerusalem. I quote my friend Dr. Graham Lacey, “As long as there is Jerusalem there is God; and as long as there is God there is Jerusalem.”




3. we are coMManded to Be watchMen on the
wallS of iSrael
God commands us through the prophet Isaiah to be watch- men on the walls of Jerusalem (62:6). We are commanded by God, through the prophet Isaiah, to speak up and defend Is- rael and the Jewish people when they are slandered, attacked by their enemies, and are subjected to any callous act of anti- Semitism. Isaiah writes:




For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest. . . .
I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; They shall never hold their peace day or night.
You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent.


(62:1, 6)












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Signs in the Heavens




4. we are coMManded to MiniSter to iSrael in
Material thingS
Another biblical reason we support Israel is given by the apostle Paul: “For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things [the Jewish people], their duty [the Gentiles] is also to minister to them [the Jewish people] in material things” (Romans 15:27).
What are the “spiritual things” Paul is referring to?




• The Jewish people have given to us the written Word of God.
• The Jewish people have given to us the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
• The Jewish people have given to us the Old Testament prophets: Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habak- kuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
• The Jewish people have given to us the first family of Christianity: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Take Jesus out of Christianity and there is no Christianity.
• The Jewish people have given to us the twelve disciples and the apostle Paul.


Consider the monumental contribution given to us by the seed of Abraham. For this reason Jesus said in John 4:22, “For salvation is of the Jews.”




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#bloodmoons




If you take away the Jewish contribution to Christianity, there would be no Christianity. Judaism does not need Chris- tianity to explain its existence; Christianity, however, cannot explain its existence without Judaism.
When I refer to Christianity I am referencing the teach- ings of Christ, which were based on the principles of Juda- ism—not the deeds of polluted historic Christianity.
Historic Christianity has left an evil legacy. It is responsible for the Crusades, in which Jewish people from Europe to Je- rusalem were slaughtered in seven major pogroms (crusades). The first crusade was declared by Pope Urban II in 1095. The Crusaders were rapists and thieves, forgiven in advance by the reigning pope for any sins they might commit while on their holy campaign to liberate Jerusalem from the “infidels.”
Not one Christian in a hundred today can answer the ques- tion: “How is it that Christianity, born through the teachings of a Jewish rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth, could three hundred years later kill Jews in the name of God?”
There is a dramatic difference between historic Christian- ity and the teachings of Jesus Christ. I publicly state that I am not a follower of historic Christianity; I am a follower of Jesus Christ!




5. JeSuS entreated the church to Support iSrael We should support Israel and the Jewish people because it was Jesus’ final request to His church. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40:




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Signs in the Heavens




Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren [the Jewish people], you did it to Me.




Jesus never called the Gentiles His brethren until after the cross. Before the cross we were, as described by the apostle Paul, outside the covenants of Israel, without God and with- out hope, of all men most miserable (Ephesians 2:12; 1 Cor- inthians 15:19).
Gentile Christians can look at the day of the cross and shout for joy. It was there we were grafted into the original olive tree (Romans 11:17). It was there our sins were forgiven, buried in the deepest sea, never to be remembered anymore (Jeremiah 31:34). It was there that our sicknesses and diseas- es were removed and we received divine health, for “by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
It was at the cross that Jesus took our poverty and gave to us the riches of Abraham. We who were “not a people” (1 Pe- ter 2:10) were adopted and became “kings and priests to His God” (Revelation 1:6), “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthi- ans 5:20), and have been taken from rags to royalty through the precious blood of the virgin-born, “the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). The curse of death, hell, and the grave was broken, and we were given eternal life; hallelujah for the cross!
God’s Gentile assignment toward the Jewish people is to
show them what they have not seen from historic Christianity




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#bloodmoons




in two thousand years—the pure and unconditional love of
God!




Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works [practical acts of kindness] and glo- rify your Father in heaven.


(Matthew 5:16)




Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me” (Matthew
25:35–36).
Jesus makes it very clear that it’s not what you feel about the Jewish people that is the acid test, for Jesus didn’t say, “I was hungry and you felt sorry for Me; I was thirsty and you felt concern for Me; I was a stranger and you felt pity for Me.” I often hear pastors, evangelists, and Christians say, “I really like Israel” or “I like the Jewish people.” Jesus couldn’t care less what you like or don’t like; He’s looking for action. What will you do? What practical acts of kindness have you or your church done to demonstrate your love for Israel as mentioned in Matthew
25:40? What action have you taken to support Israel?
Stop talking about what you feel . . . and start taking action by showing practical acts of kindness toward God’s chosen people. Simply put, “Don’t tell me you love me. Show me!”




12

My Thoughts:

I have never had any exposure to John Hagee, so since it sounded like a fascinating topic, I thought I would join the tour and request his new book. My huge mistake. You see, it appears Hagee does not rightly divide the Word of Truth (2 Ti 2:15) nor does he stay with any one Bible version, so it makes it so very, very easy to make his theories sound scriptural. I mean, hey, it came out of the Bible, right?!! This book doesn't hold Truth for me.

I cannot endorse "Four Blood Moons  because of the above reasons.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Journey's End by Dora Hiers - FIRST WildCard Tours

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

White Rose Publishing (May 20, 2011)

***Special thanks to Dora Hiers for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

After a successful auditing career, Dora left the corporate world to be a stay-at-home mom to her two sons. When her youngest son didn't want her hanging out at school with him anymore, Dora started writing Heart Racing, God-Gracing romance. Dora belongs to the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the Carolina Christian Writers. Dora and her husband, her real life hero, make their home in North Carolina.

When Dora isn’t writing, she enjoys reading, family gatherings, and mountain cabin getaways. She despises traffic, bad coffee, technological meltdowns, and a sad ending to a book. Her books always end with a happily-ever-after!

Readers can connect with Dora:
Website - www.dorahiers.com
Email - Dora(at)DoraHiers(dot)com
Blogs - http://seriouslywrite.blogspot.com/ & http://dorahiers.blogspot.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/dorahiers
Twitter - https://twitter.com/DoraHiers
Pinterest - http://pinterest.com/dorahiers/boards/

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Devastated after the brutal murder of her husband, Chelsea Hammond vows never to love another lawman.Intent on rebuilding her shattered life, she turns her focus to helping troubled teens. But when an angry father bent on retaliation, threatens her, Chelsea must turn to the one man she never thought to trust: Deputy U.S. Marshal Trey Colten.

Trey wants only to protect Chelsea, but she blames him for her husband’s death. Trey can relate. He blames himself, also. As danger lurks, Trey begs Chelsea to heed his warnings. He let down one Hammond. He won’t let down another—especially one who now holds his heart.

When Chelsea is snatched from her home, can she put aside her fear, and trust Trey with her life? Can she forgive him for destroying her past and let him help to rebuild her future?



Product Details:
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 232 pages
Publisher: White Rose Publishing (May 20, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1611160804
ISBN-13: 978-1611160802


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

The mystery man with haunted eyes was back.

Chelsea Hammond placed the lawn chairs next to the cooler in the trunk, but kept her eyes on the man. He stood alone, farther up the hill, tucked under some towering maple trees. Far enough away that she couldn’t make out all his features, but close enough for Chelsea to glimpse his pain. The slight slumping of his expansive shoulders; the hands clenched at his sides; the haunted eyes that stared out into the distance when he removed his sunglasses; the lips set in a straight, hard line.

And the words “Deputy U.S. Marshal” that blazed from the front of his polo shirt. It had taken her three years, but this year she determined to talk to him, to rid her dreams of those haunted eyes. To hear his story. To offer closure if his version somehow connected to hers.

Chelsea closed the trunk of the old Cadillac and turned to her in-laws. “There you go, Henry. You’re all set.”

“Thank you, dear. We appreciate you lugging those lawn chairs for us.” Henry opened the door for his wife while she wrestled to get into the car, sweat beading on her upper lip. Henry and Stella always made a day of it when they visited their two sons.

“You’re welcome. You take it easy going home.” Chelsea peered overhead at the steely gray clouds, swirling into angry puffs. “Looks like a storm is brewing.”

Henry followed her gaze, then turned to look at her. “Oh, we will, dear. We don’t have far to go. Will we see you next year?”

Her stomach lurched. She couldn’t let Doug’s elderly parents face this day alone. Besides, where else would she be on the anniversary of her husband’s death? “Same time, same place, Henry.” Chelsea smiled and leaned into the car to give Stella a peck on her moist cheek. “Bye, Stella.”

Chelsea straightened and Henry wrapped his frail arms around her for a hug. “Glad to see you with a smile on your face this year.”

She slipped away from his embrace, blinking, until Henry started the engine. The giant sedan glided away, their hands flapping through the open windows. She lifted her hand in return, the smile still firmly planted across her lips. Henry was right. This was the first year she hadn’t cried on his shoulder.

Thunder rumbled across the sky, and she jumped, feeling the echo vibrate against the ground. Fat raindrops splashed against her bare legs.

She glanced up the hill. The mystery man was gone.

Disappointment sliced through her chest. Maybe next year.

Chelsea hurried toward her truck and dived in through the open door. Now she wished she’d taken the time to change from her sundress into jeans after the graduation ceremony this morning.

She exited the memorial gardens and headed south on the interstate toward Charlotte. Dark gray clouds dumped rain from the sky, but even the stormy skies couldn’t dampen her spirits. Her sunglasses and an unopened tissue box sat on the seat next to her. She dared a glance in the rear-view mirror. Nope. Not bloodshot. Wonder blossomed in her chest.

Life was turning around. Finally.

She hunched forward and strained to see, the windshield wipers swishing at their maximum speed, her white knuckles gripping the steering wheel. She slowed down to exit the interstate and released a pent-up breath.

She pulled to a stop in front of the barn and cut the engine. Two streaks of lightning pierced the sky, snapping into electrical balls a few feet away. She sucked in a deep breath and pulled the keys from the ignition, chuckling at her shaky hands.

Thunder couldn’t be too far behind.

One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three. A long crack of thunder boomed through the silence, the ground trembling in its wake.

Whew. That was close.

Chelsea waited, peering through the rain pelting the windshield, feeling the truck sway with the heavy winds. She didn’t want to go out in this, but she had to check on Molly. Kalyn, her live-in housekeeper, had fed the fawn earlier but Chelsea wanted to settle her in for the night. Besides, this rain didn’t appear to be lessening. She couldn’t stay in the truck all night.

She glanced to the passenger seat, deciding to leave her purse in the truck for now. She reached under the seat for the umbrella. She couldn’t use it now, but maybe the rain would dwindle enough where she could use it from the barn to the house. She slipped her sandals off. No need to ruin them.

Jerking the door open, she bolted for the barn, gripping her sundress, the wind all but whipping it over her head. Good thing it was just her and Kalyn out here.

She reached the barn and screeched to a halt, digging toes in the wet grass. The door stood slightly ajar. Alarm snaked up and down Chelsea’s spine. Hadn’t she closed it when she left this morning? She knew she had. She’d been worried about Molly roaming around, so she’d locked her up in a stall. A baby deer without a mama was easy prey.

Chelsea shook her head. Enough. Wondering wasn’t keeping her dry. She slid the barn door open the rest of the way and stepped inside. Mustiness and humidity slammed her in the face, along with the comfortable smells of leather and hay. Chelsea flipped on the light switch, but nothing happened.

She squeezed back the apprehension that rippled through her chest. The storm had clearly knocked out the power; she’d seen the fireballs.

Water rolled down the middle of her back. She shook her head, bouncing wet curls to get some of the water off, then gathered long hair in her hands and squeezed. That would have to do until she got inside where she had access to a dry towel. She shivered and rubbed her upper arms to generate some warmth.

Her eyes adjusted to the darkness. OK, so the barn smelled normal, but something didn’t feel right. Chelsea scanned the cool interior. The riding lawn mower and a few garden tools. Some extra straw for Molly’s stall. Looked about the same as it did every other day.

She was acting like a baby. She needed to get over it. Kalyn had probably come out to feed Molly, then left the door open. End of story.

Chelsea gritted her teeth and pushed shoulders back. She wasn’t scared. She couldn’t be. When Journey’s End opened next week, a bunch of teenagers would look to her as a role model for strength and courage. Teenagers could sense cowardice. They wouldn’t see it in her. No way.

Rain pummeled the barn roof. The wind howled, screaming through the open door of the barn and hurling straw pieces from one wall to the other. Another deafening crack of thunder boomed outside. She jumped, a nervous giggle escaping from her throat.

So, maybe she was just a little scared. She’d feel better if she were inside the house sipping a cup of coffee. Something to warm up her insides.

She would check on Molly. Get inside and dry off. Then whip up the latest recipe for apple pie that she’d been dying to try. Oh yeah. She grinned. Sounded good.

With quick steps, she headed toward Molly’s stall and pulled the latch to open the gate.

A streak of lightning flashed from the open door, lighting up the inside of the barn, and she turned to look outside. Blinded, Chelsea blinked and waited for her eyes to readjust, expecting to see Molly cowering in the corner.

But she didn’t. Molly snuggled comfortably next to something.

Someone?

Chelsea gasped, hearing the wild pounding of her pulse over the rain hammering on the roof.

A pencil-thin teenager scrambled to his knees, grabbing something from the straw next to him. Drool oozed from his open mouth, and straw poked out of his black hair. With sleepy brown eyes, he crouched on one knee and brandished a pitch fork at her like it was a rifle. “Don’t co-come any cl-closer.”

Chelsea did what any rational female would have done under the circumstances.

She screamed and threw hands in the air, the umbrella banging against her forearm.

He frowned and shook his head. “I…I’m not go-going to hurt you, lady.”  Squeaky Voice said. He brushed the lone tear sliding down one cheek with his shirt sleeve. “I wouldn’t.”

“I believe you.” Chelsea took a step closer. The umbrella zinged open. Whoosh.

Chelsea rolled her eyes to the open umbrella, then back to the teenager.

Surprise distorted Squeaky Voice’s face until he dropped the pitchfork to the straw and doubled over, laughing. He laughed like he couldn’t imagine a tomorrow, like he couldn’t bear to look at yesterday, like he didn’t want to face today. Tears streamed down his face.

She knew that laugh. Recognized the tears.

Shock.

She needed to get him inside and assess the situation. She lowered her hands, slow and easy, and tossed the umbrella into the corner of the stall. She held out a hand with more confidence than she felt. “I’m Chelsea Hammond. Welcome to Journey’s End.”

He waited a few beats before standing up to his full six foot plus height. In what seemed like slow motion, his hand slid into hers. “I’m Jacob Carpocelli.”

Her stomach threatened to give up the hamburger she had devoured on the drive home. The stall started to spin. She reached out with a hand to steady herself against the door. Maybe she was the one who would need medical attention. “Did you say Jacob Carpocelli?”

He nodded while his face blanched, almost like he didn’t want to be known by his last name. She could understand that. Jacob tugged his hand away from her wet, slimy one and stepped back. “Jacob’s my real name, but I just go by Jake.”

“Jake?” Was that harsh whisper her voice?

Tony Carpocelli’s son?

God, why would you do this to me?

OK. Maybe she wasn’t so ready for closure after all.



****



It wasn’t too late to turn around.

Yeah, well, maybe it wasn’t too late to turn around, but he wouldn’t have a job to turn around to. His boss had made that clear.

Trey Colten spotted the end of the snaking road and blew out a long breath. “Looks like we’re here. I don’t see any signs for the shelter, but this is the right address.”

Renner Crossman, his partner, glanced up from studying the case file and looked at him, sympathy oozing from his face. “Sorry about what happened with the chief, buddy.”

“Yeah.” Trey’s hands clenched the steering wheel. He turned into the clearing used for parking, pulling the Suburban to a stop in front of a house tucked deep in the middle of a forest. Hundreds of chirping birds drowned out any noise that might otherwise have filtered through the trees, like the neighbor’s dog from two miles back that ran back and forth barking at their car. Good ol’ Nowhere, USA.

The chugging of a lawn mower sounded nearby although they couldn’t see it.

Hammond’s widow?

Trey’s gut churned, and he reached in the center console for his roll of antacids, popping one into his mouth with a loud sigh. “Tell me again how Carpocelli’s kid found this place.”

“Chelsea Hammond’s brother.”

“Her brother?”

“Yeah, indirectly. It says here that”—Renner flipped the page in the folder to read the notes—“Chelsea’s brother is the resource officer at Jake’s school.”

“Chelsea’s brother sent him here?” Trey frowned. What kind of brother would send trouble to his sister in the form of Jake Carpocelli? Trey might go looking for her brother when he got back to Raleigh. Sit down and have a friendly little chat with him. Instruct him on the do’s and don’ts of brotherhood. Do not send a kid related to the mob to your sister’s house.

“No. Her brother didn’t send him here.”

Trey rolled his eyes and opened his door, his legs not cooperating. “So if Chelsea’s brother didn’t send Jake…”

“Jake was chatting with the resource officer in his office. The officer was called out for a fight.”

“Let me guess. He left Jake sitting in his office while he took care of business?”

“Yep. Chelsea’s advertising fliers were on his desk.”

“Ah. Pretty slick kid.” Trey still wanted that chat with the brother. It was due to his negligence that Carpocelli’s kid had landed here. That burned his gut. He popped another antacid in his mouth before stuffing the roll in his pocket.

Renner grinned and opened his door wide. “Let’s go, cowboy. Home sweet home.”

Trey glared at his partner. Renner’s joking manner only set him further on edge. Didn’t he know who they were up against? Tony Carpocelli? He wouldn’t put anything past that scum. His drug money would buy anything. Or anybody. Trey knew not to trust Carpocelli, even if Carpocelli was locked up, but nobody else seemed inclined to take Trey seriously.

“Maybe it’s time for a new partner.”

Renner scoffed. “Yeah, right. Nobody else will put up with you like I do.”

“I think it’s the other way around.”

Renner threw his head back and laughed. “Could be. But after your conversation with the chief this morning, I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon.”

Trey gritted his teeth and forced his legs out of the car. “Don’t remind me. I should have tendered my resignation. While I still had a job.”

Renner walked around the car to join him, his dark eyebrows raised. “Meaning you won’t have one after this is over?”

“You never know.” Trey mumbled, looking away from the troubled eyes of his partner to scan the yard.

Two other agents were staged at vantage points around the perimeter, but this area was his worry. He wanted to make sure he knew what he was up against before trouble came knocking. And he was fairly sure it would. It was just a matter of time.

His eyes settled on the wrap-around front porch. Water gurgled softly down the side of a ceramic pot. Giant green ferns swayed gently in the breeze. Rocking chairs, Adirondacks and a swinging bench beckoned visitors to step onto the porch, to relax and embrace the solitude, the serenity.

He took a deep breath, appreciating the scent of freshly mowed grass.

This place whispered peace, quiet, and tranquility. He could see how it would be a beacon to a troubled soul. His lips twisted in a grimace. Too bad it had to attract the likes of Carpocelli’s son.

Most of the time Trey liked kids. But this was Carpocelli’s son. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that the chief had given him responsibility for the widow.

Trey licked his dry lips.

“Nervous, buddy?” Renner said.

Trey shot him another annoyed glance. “Shove it, Renner.”

His gaze jerked back to the front door. Their trip from Raleigh had taken a little over two hours, but now it didn’t seem nearly long enough. With his eyes focused on the front door, he took the first step and willed his mind to cooperate. His boots felt weighted down with mud. Renner’s movement from behind forced him forward.

He licked his lips again. The widow Hammond would be standing in front of him in about four minutes.

Three years and he still wasn’t ready for this. How could he explain the knot in his stomach that grew tighter every time he heard the name Hammond? Like a sucker punch to the belly that produced more pain with every blow.

He had considered quitting after the chief refused to take him off this assignment, even up until he got in the car today. Days like this, he didn’t like his job. Where was the justice in all this?

He blinked and shook his head, hoping to clear his thoughts, to shake off this pathetic attitude. An attitude that could get him killed if he wasn’t careful.

He slowed his steps further, glanced back at Renner. How could he explain to his partner the sudden, urgent desire to…uh, take an extended vacation? Trey reached the end of the sidewalk and started up the steps. It wasn’t too late. They could be in the Suburban and out of here before anybody knew different. But where would they—?

“Looking for Journey’s End, gentlemen?”

That wasn’t good. She already caught him off guard, and he hadn’t even rung the doorbell. How was he ever going to focus on this assignment? He took a deep breath before turning around, hands fisted at his sides.

Renner pushed his back and propelled him forward, but Trey dug his heels in the ground a few feet away from the widow. He’d never seen her this close.

Chelsea Hammond’s simple beauty knocked the breath out of his lungs. Curly auburn locks cascaded gently onto a cream-colored shirt, and faded jeans graced gentle curves. Her lips formed a slight smile, and freckles peeked out from under a hint of makeup. A fawn nestled at her side, enhancing her sweetness and gentle aura.

Panic rippled through his chest at the war going on between guilt and attraction. His memories—and he hated to admit—his dreams hadn’t captured her essence. He wasn’t sure what he expected, but it definitely wasn’t the beauty standing in front of him.

Trey tipped his head forward in a slight nod. “Ma’am.”

“Good afternoon, gentlemen. I’m Chelsea Hammond. Welcome to Journey’s End.” She extended her hand, graceful, poised.

And him? He needed to get his act together before he lost his job. Reaching out to shake her hand required all of Trey’s willpower. “Trey Colten. Deputy U.S. Marshal.” Trey flashed his badge briefly, as he always did.

She tugged her hand from his grasp. Heart racing, he studied her through hooded lids, not wanting his eyes to mirror his own thoughts but wanting, no, needing, to know hers.

Trey tilted his head sideways to introduce Renner, never taking his eyes off Chelsea’s face. “And this is my partner, Renner Crossman.”

Renner shook hands with Chelsea and flashed his badge.

“Please forgive me, but may I take a closer look at your badges?”

“Sure.” Trey reached for Renner’s badge and handed both to Chelsea for closer identification. “We appreciate your caution. You’re tucked out here in the wilderness pretty far.” An understatement for sure. Two miles from her nearest neighbor? The chief had mentioned Chelsea installed a security system specifically designed for the shelter. He made a mental note to ask her about that later.

“Not so far out that Jake couldn’t find me, I guess.”

She had a point there. He caught her biting her lower lip while she studied the badges, and his stomach clenched. Did she recognize him from her husband’s graveside? He visited Hammond’s grave every year, around the same time as her, but he always stayed far enough away where she couldn’t recognize him.

Or maybe she recognized his name from the newspaper? He’d scoured the newspaper for weeks after Hammond’s death, relieved that the Marshal’s office hadn’t coughed up his name to the press.

She couldn’t possibly know him, could she?

Trey stuffed an antacid in his mouth, almost swallowed it whole.

She handed back their badges without a word, and he released the pressure that had been building in his lungs. “I believe you spoke with Joshua Hamilton, our Deputy Supervisor from the Raleigh office who worked out the details of our visit?”

Chelsea nodded.

“Would you mind if we continued this conversation inside?” The hair on the back of Trey’s neck stood on end. Standing outside, exposed, made him feel like a sitting duck. A big, open target, screaming, “Shoot me.”

Chelsea blinked and her eyes grew wide. “Oh, sure. I’m sorry. Come on in. Do you need me to call Jake in?”

“Let me guess. Jake’s the one mowing the lawn?” Renner’s voice expressed the disbelief that threatened to clog Trey’s arteries.

Jake, their key witness, was outside mowing the lawn? In broad daylight?

“Is there anything sweeter than a teenager mowing the lawn?” Summer and sunshine sparkled in Chelsea’s smile. She scooted passed him to wave at Jake, leaving the fawn lazing in the grass. The light scent of jasmine floated around Trey’s head.

Trey had anticipated other emotions from Chelsea. Like coldness. Anger. Contempt. Even had prepared himself for hatred. Those he could deal with, would actually make his job easier. But this sweetness and sugar? It would kill him. If one of Carpocelli’s thugs didn’t get to him first.

Trey waited while their witness, the one they were supposed to be protecting, rumbled over to Chelsea and cut the motor, casting a furtive glance in their direction. Chelsea spoke quietly to Jake before he hopped off the lawn mower. Trey didn’t miss the look that passed between them or the way she placed her hand protectively on Jake’s back while she led the way indoors.

Trey caught Renner’s raised eyebrows and his cocky grin before following Chelsea inside. Once inside the reception area, he allowed his eyes to wander. In the connecting room, sofas and recliners arranged in different settings throughout the massive area beckoned them to relax, and a 52-inch flat screen television played softly over a beautiful stone fireplace. He could imagine the flames frolicking quietly in the fireplace during the winter, adding a touch of warmth to the large room. Balls were racked on a nearby pool table, set and ready, inviting them to play.

Chelsea, still with her hand against Jake’s back, propelled them around, her quiet spirit a healing balm. No wonder Jake had found his way to Journey’s End.

Maybe there were some perks to staying here after all.

Something about Jake’s profile blasted through Trey’s consciousness, reminding him of Carpocelli. Did Chelsea know who this kid was? Did she know that Jake’s last name was Carpocelli? As in Tony Carpocelli’s son? Tony Carpocelli, the murderer who killed her husband? Why hadn’t they thought of asking the chief that important detail?

OK, go with the flow. No sense in giving away Jake’s last name or trying to fabricate one at the last minute. He would never be able to keep up with the lie. All the lies.

He could hardly live with the truth.

Trey stuck out his hand. “I’m Trey Colten, and this is Renner Crossman. We’re from the U.S. Marshal’s office. You must be Jake.”

“Yeah.” The kid squawked, sliding his sweaty palm into Trey’s. Dressed in slim-fitting jeans and a wrinkled t-shirt, Jake didn’t come across as a wealthy fourteen year old. All the money in the world couldn’t help the kid now. He was scared to death. Scared of them? Or retaliation from his father?

Trey would find out eventually. “Jake, I’m sorry about your mother.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” The kid swiped at his eyes with the back of his arm.

Trey turned his head away to give Jake a chance to pull himself together. “We’ll need to sit down and talk with you for a few minutes. Ask you a few questions about what happened and discuss the schedule for the next few weeks.”

“Yeah. Sure.” Another squawk.

“You guys can make yourselves comfortable in here.” Chelsea led them to the seating area in front of the fireplace and then disappeared. Trey sank down into one of the leather recliners and closed his eyes for a moment.

He opened his eyes to see Jake settle on the couch, his white knuckles gripping the arm, while Renner plunked down in the other recliner.

Trey leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He didn’t want to be too comfortable. He had a job to do. “You’ll be spending most of your time with Agent Crossman.”

Renner grinned at the kid. “Just call me plain old Renner.”

“And you can call me Trey.”

“OK.”

So far so good. “Do you have any specific questions we might be able to answer right now?”

“Do you guys know when my mom’s funeral is?”

O-K. That didn’t take long to go south. Trey glanced at Renner, hoping he might want to field that question.

Renner took the bait. “It’s planned for Monday at two.”

“Will I be able to go?” Hopeful brown eyes flicked warily from him to Renner, scanning the two of them for the response he wanted.

Trey measured his answer. Let the kid think about the danger in going to the funeral. “Do you think that would be a wise thing to do?”

Jake’s eyes narrowed and filled. “I don’t care if it’s the wise thing to do. She’s my mom.”

Trey settled back in the recliner at Jake’s sudden hostility and reached for his roll of antacids. He popped one in his mouth.

Chelsea walked into the great room carrying a tray of glasses filled with ice and a full pitcher. She placed the tray on the coffee table and sat down on the couch next to Jake, glancing at the three of them as she poured. “Iced tea?”

“Sure, thanks.” Trey reached to take hold of the glass she offered, then watched Renner and Jake do the same.

Trey took a sip. Sweet, with just the right amount of sugar. Good stuff.

No one said anything. Chelsea looked up, an uncomfortable expression settling on her face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude on this conversation.” She started to stand.

Jake stopped her with his free hand. He coughed and seemed to fight to keep control of his emotions. He wasn’t winning. “They’re trying to tell me that I can’t go to my mom’s funeral.” His voice faltered, then exploded, sorrow making his words sound angry. “My own mother’s funeral.”

Chelsea’s censure flitted from Trey to Renner, leaving both of them aware of how she felt. Mama bear.

“How could there be a problem with Jake attending his mother’s funeral?”

A problem? Couldn’t she see that attending the funeral would create just a tiny little problem? As in ambush? “You do realize Jake’s dad doesn’t work by himself? There’s probably six or seven guys waiting for word from him, happy to do his dirty work.”

He heard her soft intake of breath. So he scared her. Good. Now if he could only scare Jake. “Have either of you considered that Jake’s mom’s funeral would be the first place one—”

“Maybe you guys would like to freshen up? Give Jake a chance to catch his breath. I believe your rooms are ready.” Chelsea interrupted. She stood, pointing toward the stairwell. “If you’ll follow me—”

“We have a lot to go over and not much time—” Renner stopped her mid-sentence.

Chelsea flashed her teeth, something between a smile and a warning. “You’re at Journey’s End now. In our little corner of the world we have all the time we need. Right, Jake?”

My Thoughts:

First a warning - Before you decided to snuggle up with this book, make sure you get extremely comfortable and have all the basic needs surrounding you... your favorite blanket, a cup of tea (or coffee) and a nice comfortable chair that you won't mine sitting in for a long time, because once you start reading "Journey's End" you aren't going to want to put it down! This captivating read is not very long and with the nice pace of events, it is guaranteed to keep you turning the pages to see what is going to happen next.

I was surprised to see that this was Mrs. Hiers' debut novel, as it reads like one written by a seasoned author. She has all the elements that makes a great story: main characters with flaws that make them realistic, a tragedy that creates tension, a budding romance that isn't perfect, a lurking danger that keeps the reader interested and on edge - and all unfolding at comfortable pace that keeps one interested enough that there is no "good" place to put the book down!

This is truly one of the best romantic suspense novels I have read in a long time. I enjoyed the subtle inclusion of faith just where it belongs - realistic and far from over the top. Mrs. Hiers has impressed me with this first novel and I'm looking forward to her next books "Journey's Edge" and "Journey's Embrace". If this is any clue what the next two books hold, I know they will be fantastic!

Make sure to put this one on your must read list ASAP!



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

CSFF Blog Tour - "The Shadow Lamp" by Stephen Lawhead

The Shadow Lamp
The Bright Empire Series Book #4
Author: Stephen Lawhead
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 9781595548078
Hardbound: 400 pages

About the Book:
The quest for answers—and ultimate survival—hinges on finding the cosmic link between the Skin Map, the Shadow Lamp, and the Spirit Well.

The search for the map of blue symbols began in a rainy alley in London but has since expanded through space and time and includes more seekers.

Kit, Mina, Gianni, Cass, Haven, and Giles have gathered in Mina’s 16th-century coffee house and are united in their determination to find a path back to the Spirit Well. Yet, with their shadow lamps destroyed and key pieces of the map still missing, the journey will be far more difficult than they imagine. And when one of their own disappears with Sir Henry’s cryptic Green Book, they no longer know who to trust.

At the same time, the Zetetic Society has uncovered a terrifying secret which, if proven, will rock the very foundations of Creation. The quest for answers is no longer limited to recovering an unknown treasure. The fate of the universe depends on unraveling the riddle of the Skin Map.
My Thoughts:

I enjoyed all of Lawhead's previous books in the "Bright Empires" series and was ecstatic to get my hands on this next installment. I was thrilled to find the cast of characters in the beginning along with a recap of what has happened so far. This little addition was just what I needed to remind me of past events and set the stage for the opening chapter.

I don't know if it was me or not, but I had a hard time really settling in with this book. It seemed to start out much slower than I remember the others, but it did pick up eventually. We were reacquainted with our beloved cast of characters and even found new ones. As the story unfolds, we find out more about Burleigh and his men and the role of a new character.

Action does pick up as the book goes on and it might even be construed as somewhat disturbing for some. This installment is darker than the others and is more violent. Loyalties are tested, trust wanes and the ending... oh! A cliffhanger that makes you want to get your hands on the next and final book! The wait is going to seem like forever until it is finally released!!

As much as I like this series, I'm really beginning to wonder about the Christian message within the series. I haven't found a positive Christian influence yet - in fact, it may be just the opposite. Hopefully in the last book that will change and all will be disclosed. I am really surprised where the message appears to be going, though. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

This book (actually the whole series) will appeal to mainstream sci-fi readers and also to those who enjoy time travel novels. For those who enjoy Christian fiction that pushes the envelope, I think this series will satisfy and intrigue the reader.

Purchase your own copy of The Shadow Lamp here .

About the Author:


Stephen R. Lawhead is a prolific and bestselling author of mythic history and imaginative fiction. He is best known for his King Raven trilogy, a re-telling of the Robin Hood legend, and Pendragon Cycle, centering on the King Arthur legend. Other notable works include the Song of Albion, Celtic Crusades and Dragon King Trilogies, Byzantium, Patrick, Avalon, and the works of science-fiction Dream Thief and Empyrion saga. Lawhead makes his home in Oxford, England, with his wife.

If you would like to learn more about Stephen or his work, you can visit his website at: http://www.stephenlawhead.com/ and his Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Stephen-R-Lawhead/84503526872

See what other members of the CSFF Tour think about Lawhead's latest installment of The Bright Empire Series:

Julie Bihn
Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Karri Compton
Theresa Dunlap
April Erwin
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirriam Neal
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Rachel Wyant
Phyllis Wheeler
Deborah Wilson


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a favorable review.

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