Saturday, November 1, 2008



It is time for the FIRST Blog Tour! On the FIRST day of every month we feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!






The feature author is:



and his book:


Forsaken
B&H Fiction (October 1, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

James David Jordan is a business litigation attorney with the prominent Texas law firm of Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, P.C. From 1998 through 2005, he served as the firm's Chairman and CEO. The Dallas Business Journal has named him one of the most influential leaders in the Dallas/Fort Worth legal community and one of the top fifteen business defense attorneys in Dallas/Fort Worth. His peers have voted him one of the Best Lawyers in America in commercial litigation.

A minister's son who grew up in the Mississippi River town of Alton, Illinois, Jim has a law degree and MBA from the University of Illinois, and a journalism degree from the University of Missouri. He lives with his wife and two teenage children in the Dallas suburbs.

Jim grew up playing sports and loves athletics of all kinds. But he especially loves baseball, the sport that is a little bit closer to God than all the others.

His first novel was Something that Lasts . Forsaken is his second novel.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: B&H Fiction (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805447490
ISBN-13: 978-0805447491

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Even in high school I didn’t mind sleeping on the ground. When your father is a retired Special Forces officer, you pick up things that most girls don’t learn. As the years passed I slept in lots of places a good girl shouldn’t sleep. It’s a part of my past I don’t brag about, like ugly wallpaper that won’t come unstuck. No matter how hard I scrape, it just hangs on in big, obscene blotches. I’m twenty-nine years old now, and I’ve done my best to paint over it. But it’s still there under the surface, making everything rougher, less presentable than it should be. Though I want more than anything to be smooth and fresh and clean.


Sometimes I wonder what will happen if the paint begins to fade. Will the wallpaper show? I thought so for a long time. But I have hope now that it won’t. Simon Mason helped me find that hope. That’s why it’s important for me to tell our story. There must be others who need hope, too. There must be others who are afraid that their ugly wallpaper might bleed through.


What does sleeping on the ground have to do with a world-famous preacher like Simon Mason? The story begins twelve years ago—eleven years before I met Simon. My dad and I packed our camping gear and went fishing. It was mid-May, and the trip was a present for my seventeenth birthday. Not exactly every high school girl’s dream, but my dad wasn’t like most dads. He taught me to camp and fish and, particularly, to shoot. He had trained me in self-defense since I was nine, the year Mom fell apart and left for good. With my long legs, long arms, and Dad’s athletic genes, I could handle myself even back then. I suppose I wasn’t like most other girls.


After what happened on that fishing trip, I know I wasn’t.


Fishing with my dad didn’t mean renting a cane pole and buying bait pellets out of a dispenser at some catfish tank near an RV park. It generally meant tramping miles across a field to a glassy pond on some war buddy’s ranch, or winding through dense woods, pitching a tent, and fly fishing an icy stream far from the nearest telephone. The trips were rough, but they were the bright times of my life—and his, too. They let him forget the things that haunted him and remember how to be happy.


This particular outing was to a ranch in the Texas Panhandle, owned by a former Defense Department bigwig. The ranch bordered one of the few sizeable lakes in a corner of Texas that is brown and rocky and dry. We loaded Dad’s new Chevy pickup with cheese puffs and soft drinks—healthy eat­ing wouldn’t begin until the first fish hit the skillet—and left Dallas just before noon with the bass boat in tow. The drive was long, but we had leather interior, plenty of tunes, and time to talk. Dad and I could always talk.


The heat rose early that year, and the temperature hung in the nineties. Two hours after we left Dallas, the brand-new air conditioner in the brand-new truck rattled and clicked and dropped dead. We drove the rest of the way with the windows down while the high Texas sun tried to burn a hole through the roof.


Around five-thirty we stopped to use the bathroom at a rundown gas station somewhere southeast of Amarillo. The station was nothing but a twisted gray shack dropped in the middle of a hundred square miles of blistering hard pan. It hadn’t rained for a month in that part of Texas, and the place was so baked that even the brittle weeds rolled over on their bellies, as if preparing a last-ditch effort to drag themselves to shade.


The restroom door was on the outside of the station, iso­lated from the rest of the building. There was no hope of cool­ing off until I finished my business and got around to the little store in the front, where a rusty air conditioner chugged in the window. When I walked into the bathroom, I had to cover my nose and mouth with my hand. A mound of rotting trash leaned like a grimy snow drift against a metal garbage can in the corner. Thick, black flies zipped and bounced from floor to wall and ceiling to floor, occasionally smacking my arms and legs as if I were a bumper in a buzzing pinball machine. It was the filthiest place I’d ever been.


Looking back, it was an apt spot to begin the filthiest night of my life.


I had just leaned over the rust-ringed sink to inspect my teeth in the sole remaining corner of a shattered mirror when someone pounded on the door.


“Just a minute!” I turned on the faucet. A soupy liquid dribbled out, followed by the steamy smell of rotten eggs. I turned off the faucet, pulled my sport bottle from the holster on my hip, and squirted water on my face and in my mouth. I wiped my face on the sleeve of my T-shirt.


My blue-jean cutoffs were short and tight, and I pried free a tube of lotion that was wedged into my front pocket. I raised one foot at a time to the edge of the toilet seat and did my best to brush the dust from my legs. Then I spread the lotion over them. The ride may have turned me into a dust ball, but I was determined at least to be a soft dust ball with a coconut scent. Before leaving I took one last look in my little corner of mir­ror. The hair was auburn, the dust was beige. I gave the hair a shake, sending tiny flecks floating through a slash of light that cut the room diagonally from a hole in the roof. Someone pounded on the door again. I turned away from the mirror.


“Okay, okay, I’m coming!”


When I pulled open the door and stepped into the light, I shaded my eyes and blinked to clear away the spots. All that I could think about was the little air conditioner in the front window and how great it would feel when I got inside. That’s probably why I was completely unprepared when a man’s hand reached from beside the door and clamped hard onto my wrist.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008



It's the 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!




and his book:



Zondervan (October 1, 2008)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Paul McCusker is the author of The Mill House, Epiphany, The Faded Flower and several Adventures in Odyssey programs. Winner of the Peabody Award for his radio drama on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for Focus on the Family, he lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and two children.

Product Details

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714362
ISBN-13: 978-0310714361


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“I’m running away,” Elizabeth announced defiantly. She chomped a french fry in half.

Jeff looked up at her. He’d been absentmindedly swirling his straw in his malted milkshake while she complained about her parents, which she had been doing for the past half hour. “You’re what?”

“You weren’t listening, were you?”

“I was too.”

“Then what did I say?” Elizabeth tucked a loose strand of her long brown hair behind her ear so it wouldn’t fall into the puddle of ketchup next to her fries.

“You were complaining about how your mom and dad drive you crazy because your dad embarrassed you last night while you and Melissa Morgan were doing your history homework. And your dad lectured you for twenty minutes about . . . about . . .” He was stumped.

“Chris-tian symbolism in the King Arthur legends,” Elizabeth said.

“Yeah, except that you and Melissa were supposed to be studying the . . . um — ”

“French Revolution.”

“Right, and Melissa finally made up an excuse to go home, and you were embarrassed and mad at your dad — ”

“As usual,” she said and savaged another french fry.

Jeff gave a sigh of relief. Elizabeth’s pop quizzes were a lot tougher than anything they gave him at school. But it was hard for him to listen when she griped about her parents. Not having any parents of his own, Jeff didn’t connect when Elizabeth went on and on about hers.

“Then what did I say?” she asked.

He was mid-suck on his straw and nearly blew the contents back into the glass. “Huh?”

“What did I say after that?”

“You said . . . uh . . .” He coughed, then glanced around the Fawlt Line Diner, hoping for inspiration or a way to change the subject. His eye was dazzled by the endless chrome, beveled mirrors, worn red upholstery, and checkered floor tiles. And it boasted Alice Dempsey, the world’s oldest living waitress, dressed in her paper cap and red-striped uniform with white apron.

She had seen Jeff look up and now hustled over to their booth. She arrived smelling like burnt hamburgers and chewed her gum loudly. “You kids want anything else?”

Rescued, Jeff thought. “No, thank you,” he said.

She cracked an internal bubble on her gum and dropped the check on the edge of the table. “See you tomorrow,” Alice said.

“No, you won’t,” Elizabeth said under her breath. “I won’t be here.”

As she walked off, Alice shot a curious look back at Elizabeth. She was old, but she wasn’t deaf.

“Take it easy,” Jeff said to Elizabeth.

“I’m going to run away,” she said, heavy rebuke in her tone. “If you’d been listening — ”

“Aw, c’mon, Bits — ” Jeff began. He’d called her “Bits” for as long as either of them could remember, all the way back to first grade. “It’s not that bad.”

“You try living with my mom and dad, and tell me it’s not that bad.”

“I know your folks,” Jeff said. “They’re a little quirky, that’s all.”

“Quirky! They’re just plain weird. They’re clueless about life in the real world. Did you know that my dad went to church last Sunday with his shirt on inside out?”

“It happens.”

“And wearing his bedroom slippers?”

Jeff smiled. Yeah, that’s Alan Forde, all right, he thought.

“Don’t you dare smile,” Elizabeth threatened, pointing a french fry at him. “It’s not funny. His slippers are grass stained. Do you know why?”

“Because he does his gardening in his bedroom slippers.”

Elizabeth threw up her hands. “That’s right! He doesn’t care. He doesn’t care how he looks, what -people think of him, or anything! And my mom doesn’t even have the decency to be embarrassed for him. She thinks he’s adorable! They’re weird.”

“They’re just . . . themselves. They’re — ”

Elizabeth threw herself against the back of the red vinyl bench and groaned. “You don’t understand.”

“Sure I do!” Jeff said. “Your parents are no worse than Malcolm.” Malcolm Dubbs was Jeff’s father’s cousin, on the English side of the family, and had been Jeff’s guardian since his parents had died five years ago in a plane crash. As the last adult of the Dubbs family line, he came from England to take over the family fortune and estate. “He’s quirky.”

“But that’s different. Malcolm is nice and sensitive and has that wonderful English accent,” Elizabeth said, nearly swooning. Jeff’s cousin was a heartthrob among some of the girls.

“Don’t get yourself all worked up,” Jeff said.

“My parents just go on and on about things I don’t care about,” she continued. “And if I hear the life-can’t-be-taken-too-seriously-because-it’s-just-a-small-part-of-a-bigger-picture lecture one more time, I’ll go out of my mind.”

Again Jeff restrained his smile. He knew that lecture well. Except his cousin Malcolm summarized the same idea in the phrase “the eternal perspective.” All it meant was that there was a lot more to life than what we can see or experience with our senses. This world is a temporary stop on a journey to a truer, more real reality, he’d say — an eternal reality. “Look, your parents see things differently from most -people. That’s all,” Jeff said, determined not to turn this gripe session into an Olympic event.

“They’re from another planet,” Elizabeth said. “Sometimes I think this whole town is. Haven’t you figured it out yet?”

“I like Fawlt Line,” Jeff said softly, afraid Elizabeth’s complaints might offend some of the other regulars at the diner.

“Everybody’s so . . . so oblivious! Nobody even seems to notice how strange this place is.”

Jeff shrugged. “It’s just a town, Bits. Every town has its quirks.”

“Is that your word of the day?” Elizabeth snapped. “These aren’t just quirks, Jeffrey.”

Jeff rolled his eyes. When she resorted to calling him Jeffrey, there was no reasoning with her. He rubbed the side of his face and absentmindedly pushed his fingers through his wavy black hair.

“What about Helen?” Elizabeth challenged him.

“Which Helen? You mean the volunteer at the information booth in the mall? That Helen?”

“I mean Helen the volunteer at the information booth in the mall who thinks she’s psychic. That’s who I mean.” Elizabeth leaned over the Formica tabletop. Jeff moved her plate of fries and ketchup to one side. “She won’t let you speak until she guesses what you’re going to ask. And she’s never right!”

Jeff shrugged.

“Our only life insurance agent has been dead for six years.”

“Yeah, but — ”

“And there’s Walter Keenan. He’s a professional proofreader for park bench ads! He wanders around, making -people move out of the way so he can do his job.” Her voice was a shrill whisper.

“Ben Hearn only pays him to do that because he feels sorry for him. You know old Walter hasn’t been the same since that shaving accident.”

“But I heard he just got a job doing the same thing at a tattoo parlor!”

“I’m sure tattooists want to make sure their spelling is correct.”

Elizabeth groaned and shook her head. “It’s like Mayberry trapped in the Twilight Zone. I thought you’d understand. I thought you knew how nuts this town is.” Elizabeth locked her gaze onto Jeff’s.

He gazed back at her and, suddenly, the image of her large brown eyes, the faint freckles on her upturned nose, her full lips, made him want to kiss her. He wasn’t sure why — they’d been friends for so long that she’d probably laugh at him if he ever actually did it — but the urge was still there.

“It’s not such a bad place,” he managed to say.

“I’ve had enough of this town,” she said. “Of my parents. Of all the weirdness. I’m fifteen years old and I wanna be a normal kid with normal problems. Are you coming with me or not?”

Jeff cocked an eyebrow. “To where?”

“To wherever I run away to,” she replied. “I’m serious about this, Jeff. I’m getting all my money together and going somewhere normal. We can take your Volkswagen and — ”

“Listen, Bits,” Jeff interrupted, “I know how you feel. But we can’t just run away. Where would we go? What would we do?”

“And who are you all of a sudden: Mr. Responsibility? You never know where you’re going or what you’re doing. You’re our very own Huck Finn.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Not according to Mr. Vidler.”

“Mr. Vidler said that?” Jeff asked defensively, wondering why their English teacher would be talking about him to Elizabeth.

“He says it’s because you don’t have parents, and Malcolm doesn’t care what you do.”

Jeff grunted. He didn’t like the idea of Mr. Vidler discussing him like that. And Malcolm certainly cared a great deal about what he did.

Elizabeth continued. “So why should you care where we go or what we do? Let’s just get out of here.”

“But, Bits, it’s stupid and — ”

“No! I’m not listening to you,” Elizabeth shouted and hit the tabletop with the palms of her hands. Silence washed over the diner like a wave as everyone turned to look.

“Keep it down, will you?” Jeff whispered fiercely.

“Either you go with me, or stay here and rot in this town. It’s up to you.”

Jeff looked away. It was unusual for them to argue. And when they did, it was usually Jeff who gave in. Like now. “I don’t know,” he said quietly.

Elizabeth also softened her tone. “If you’re going, then meet me at the Old Saw Mill by the edge of the river tonight at ten.” She paused, then added, “I’m going whether you come with me or not.”

Saturday, October 11, 2008



It is October 11th, and FIRST is doing a special tour to 'Say Goodbye to Hollywood Nobody'.




Today's feature author is:




and her book:



Goodbye Hollywood Nobody



NavPress Publishing Group (September 15, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lisa Samson is the author of twenty books, including the Christy Award-winning Songbird. Apples of Gold was her first novel for teens

These days, she's working on Quaker Summer, volunteering at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, raising children and trying to be supportive of a husband in seminary. (Trying . . . some days she's downright awful. It's a good thing he's such a fabulous cook!) She can tell you one thing, it's never dull around there.

Other Novels by Lisa:

Hollywood Nobody, Finding Hollywood Nobody, Romancing Hollywood Nobody, Straight Up, Club Sandwich, Songbird, Tiger Lillie, The Church Ladies, Women's Intuition: A Novel, Songbird, The Living End

Visit her at her website.

Product Details

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: NavPress Publishing Group (September 15, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1600062229
ISBN-13: 978-1600062223

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Monday, July 11, 6:30 a.m.

I awaken to a tap on my shoulder and open my eye. My right eye. See, these days it could be one of four people: Charley, Dad, Grampie, or Grammie.

“’Morning, dear!”

Grammie.

Oh well, might as well go for broke. I open the other eye.

“Did you sleep well?”

I shake my head and reach for my cat glasses. “Nope. I kept dreaming about Charley in Scotland.” We sent her off with her new beau, the amazing Anthony Harris, two days ago. “I imagined a road full of sheep chasing her down.”

“That would be silly. They would have to know she hates lamb chops.” Grammie sits on my bed. Yes, my bed. In their fabulous house. In my own wonderful room, complete with reproductions of the Barcelona chair and a platform bed of gleaming sanded mahogany. I burrow further into my white down comforter. I sweat like a pig at night, but I don’t care. A real bed, a bona fide comforter, and four pillows. Feather pillows deep enough to sink the Titanic in.

She pats my shoulder, her bangled wrists emitting the music of wooden jewelry. “Up and at ’em, Scotty. Your dad wants to be on the road by seven thirty.”

“I need a shower.”

“Hop to it then.”

Several minutes later, I revel in the glories of a real shower. Not the crazy little stall we have in the TrailMama, which Dad gassed up last night for our trip to Maine. Our trip to find Babette, my mother. Is she dead or alive? That’s what we’re going to find out.

It’s complicated.

The warm water slides over me from the top of my head on down, and I’ve found the coolest shampoo. It smells like limeade. I kid you not. It’s the greatest stuff ever.

Over breakfast, Grampie sits down with us and goes over the map to make certain Dad knows the best route. My father sits patiently, nodding as words like turnpike, bypass, and scenic route roll like a convoy out of Grampie’s mouth.

Poor Grampie. Dad is just the best at navigation and knows everything about getting from point A to point B, but I think Grampie wants to be a part of it. He hinted at us all going in the Beaver Marquis, their Luxury-with-a-capital-L RV, but Dad pretended not to get it.

Later, Dad said to me, “It’s got to be just us, Scotty. I love my mother and father, but some things just aren’t complete-family affairs.”

“I know. I think you’re right. And if it’s bad . . .”

He nods. “I’d just as soon they not be there while we fall apart.”

Right.

So then, I hop up into our RV, affectionately known as the TrailMama, Dad’s black pickup already hitched behind. (Charley’s kitchen trailer is sitting on a lot in storage at a nearby RV dealership, and good riddance. I’m hoping Charley never needs to use that thing again.) “Want me to drive?”

He laughs.

Yep. I still don’t have my license.

Man. But it’s been such a great month or so at the beach. So, okay, I don’t tan much really, but I do have a nice peachy glow.

I’ll take it.

And Grampie grilled a lot, and Grammie helped me sew a couple of vintage-looking skirts, and I’ve learned the basics of my harp.

I jump into the passenger’s seat, buckle in, and look over at my dad. “You really ready for this?” My heart speeds up. This is the final leg of a very long journey, and what’s at the end of the path will determine the rest of our lives.

He looks into my eyes. “Are you?”

“I don’t know,” I whisper. “But we don’t really have a choice, do we?”

“I can go alone.”

I shake my head. “No, Dad. Whatever we do, whatever happens from here on out, we do it together.”

“Deal.”

Wednesday, October 1, 2008



It is time for the FIRST Blog Tour! On the FIRST day of every month we feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!






The feature author is:



and her book:


Single Sashimi
Zondervan (September 1, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Camy Tang is a FIRST Family Member! She also is a moderator for FIRST Wild Card Tours. She is a loud Asian chick who writes loud Asian chick-lit. She grew up in Hawaii, but now lives in San Jose, California, with her engineer husband and rambunctious poi-dog. In a previous life she was a biologist researcher, but these days she is surgically attached to her computer, writing full-time. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service.


Sushi for One? (Sushi Series, Book One) was her first novel. Her second, Only Uni (Sushi Series, Book Two) was published in March of this year. The next book in the series, Single Sashimi (Sushi Series, Book Three) came out in September 2008!

Visit her at her website.

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (September 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310274001
ISBN-13: 978-0310274001

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Single Sashimi
By
Camy Tang

Chapter one

Venus Chau opened the door to her aunt's house and almost fainted.

"What died?" She exhaled sharply, trying to get the foul air out of her body before it caused cancer or something.

Her cousin Jennifer Lim entered the foyer with the look of an oni goblin about to eat someone. "She's stinking up my kitchen."

"Who?" Venus hesitated on the threshold, breathing clean night air before she had to close the door.

"My mother, who else?"

The ire in Jenn's voice made Venus busy herself with kicking off her heels amongst the other shoes in the tile foyer. Hoo-boy, she'd never seen quiet Jenn this irate before. Then again, since Aunty Yuki had given her daughter the rule of the kitchen when she'd started cooking in high school, Jenn rarely had to make way for another cook.

"What is she cooking? Beef intestines?"

Jenn flung her arms out. "Who knows? Something Trish is supposed to eat."

"But we don't have to eat it, right? Right?"

"I'll never become pregnant if I have to eat stuff like that." Jenn whirled and stomped toward the kitchen.

Venus turned right into the living room where her very pregnant cousin Trish lounged on the sofa next to her boyfriend, Spenser. "Hey, guys." Her gaze paused on their twined hands. It continued to amaze her that Spenser would date a woman pregnant with another man's child. Maybe Venus shouldn't be so cynical about the men she met. Here was at least one good guy.

Trish's arms shot into the air like a Raiders' cheerleader, nearly clocking Spenser in the eye. "I'm officially on maternity leave!"

Venus paused to clap. "So how did you celebrate?"

"I babysat Matthew all day today." She smiled dreamily at Spenser at the mention of his son.

Venus frowned and landed her hands on her hips. "In your condition?"

Trish waved a hand. "He's not that bad. He stopped swallowing things weeks ago."

"I'm finally not wasting money on all those emergency room visits," Spenser said.

"Besides, I got a book about how to help toddlers expect a new baby." Trish bounced lightly on the sofa cushion in her excitement.

"And?" It seemed kind of weird to Venus, since Trish and Spenser weren't engaged or anything. Yet.

Trish chewed her lip. "I don't know if he totally understands, but at least it's a start."

A sense of strangeness washed over Venus as she watched the two of them, the looks they exchanged that weren't mushy or intimate, just . . . knowing. Like mind reading. It made her feel alienated from her cousin for the first time in her life, and she didn't really like it.

She immediately damped down the feeling. How could she begrudge Trish such a wonderful relationship? Venus was so selfish. She disgusted herself.

She looked around the living room. "Where is -- "

"Venus!" The childish voice rang down the short hallway. She stepped back into the foyer to see Spenser's son, Matthew, trotting down the carpet with hands reached out to her. He grabbed her at the knees, wrinkling her silk pants, but she didn't mind. His shining face looking up at her -- way up, since she was the tallest of the cousins -- made her feel like she was the only reason he lived and breathed. "Psycho Bunny?" he pleaded.

She pretended to think about it. His hands shook her pants legs to make her decide faster.

"Okay."

He darted into the living room and plopped in front of the television, grabbing at the game controllers. The kid had it down pat -- in less than a minute, the music for the Psycho Bunny video game rolled into the room.

Venus sank to the floor next to him.

"Jenn is totally freaking out." Trish's eyes had popped to the size of siu mai dumplings.

"What brought all this on?" Venus picked up the other controller.

"Well, Aunty Yuki had a doctor's appointment today -- "

"Is she doing okay?" She chose the Bunny Foo-Foo character for the game just starting.

"Clean bill of health. Cancer's gone, as far as they can tell."

"So that's why she's taken over Jenn's domain?"

Trish rubbed her back and winced. "She took one look at me and decided I needed something to help the baby along."

Jenn huffed into the living room. "She's going to make me ruin the roast chicken!"

Venus ignored her screeching tone. "Sit down. You're not going to make her hurry by hovering." She and Matthew both jumped over the snake pit and landed in the hollow tree.

Jenn flung herself into an overstuffed chair and dumped her feet on the battered oak coffee table.

Venus turned to glance at the foyer. No Nikes. "Where's Lex?"

"Late. Where else?" Jenn snapped.

"I thought Aiden was helping her be better about that."

"He's not a miracle worker." Spenser massaged Trish's back.

"I have to leave early." Venus stretched her silk-clad feet out, wriggling her toes. Her new stilettos looked great but man, they hurt her arches.

"Then you might not eat at all." Jenn crossed her arms over her chest.

Venus speared her with a glance like a stainless steel skewer. "Chill, okay Cujo?"

Jenn pouted and scrunched further down in the chair.

Venus ignored her and turned back to the game. Her inattention had let Matthew pick up the treasure chest. "I have to work on a project."

"For work?"

"No, for me." Only the Spiderweb, the achievement of her lifetime, a new tool that would propel her to the heights of video game development stardom. Which was why she'd kept it separate from her job-related things -- she didn't even use her company computer when she worked on it, only her personal laptop.

A new smell wafted into the room, this one rivaling the other in its stomach-roiling ability. Venus waved her hand in front of her face.

"Pffaugh! What is she cooking?"

Trish's face had turned the color of green tea. "You're lucky you don't have to eat it. Whatever it is, it ain't gonna stay down for long."

"Just say you still have morning sickness."

"In my ninth month?"

Venus shrugged.

The door slammed open. "Hey, guys -- blech."

Venus twisted around to see her cousin Lex doubled over, clenching her washboard stomach (Venus wished she could have one of those) and looking like she'd hurled up all the shoes littering the foyer floor.

Lex's boyfriend Aiden grabbed her waist to prevent her from nosediving into the tile. "Lex, it's not that bad."

"The gym locker room smells better." Lex used her toes to pull off her cross-trainers without bothering to untie them. "The men's locker room."

"It's not me," Jenn declared. "It's Mom, ruining all my best pots."

"What is she doing? Killing small animals on the stovetop?"

"Something for the baby." Trish tried to smile, but it looked more like a wince.

"As long as we don't have to eat it." Lex dropped her slouchy purse on the floor and walked into the living room.

Aunty Yuki appeared behind her in the doorway, bearing a steaming bowl. "Here, Trish. Drink this." The brilliant smile on her wide face eclipsed her tiny stature.

Venus smelled something pungent, like when she walked into a Chinese medicine shop with her dad. A bolus of air erupted from her mouth, and she coughed. "What is that?" She dropped the game controller.

"Pig's brain soup."

Trish's smile hardened to plastic. Lex grabbed her mouth. Spenser -- who was Chinese and therefore had been raised with the weird concoctions -- sighed. Aiden looked at them all like they were funny-farm rejects.

Venus closed her eyes, tightened her mouth, and concentrated on not gagging. Good thing her stomach was empty.

Aunty Yuki's mouth pursed. "What's wrong? My mother-in-law made me eat pig's brain soup when I was a couple weeks from delivering Jennifer."

"That's what you ruined my pots with?" Jennifer steamed hotter than the bowl of soup.

Her mom caught the yakuza-about-to-hack-your-finger-off expression on Jenn's face. Aunty Yuki paused, then backtracked to the kitchen. With the soup bowl, thankfully.

"Papa?" Matthew's voice sounded faint.

Venus turned.

"Don't feel good." He clutched his poochy tummy.

"Oh, no." Spenser grabbed his son and headed out of the living room.

Then the world exploded.

Just as they passed into the foyer, Matthew threw up onto the tiles.

Lex, with her weak stomach when it came to bodily fluids, took one look and turned pasty.

A burning smell and a few cries sounded from the kitchen.

Trish sat up straighter than a Buddha and clenched her rounded abdomen. "Oh!"

Spenser held his crying son as he urped up the rest of his afternoon snack. Lex clapped a hand to her mouth to prevent herself from following Matthew's example. Jenn started for the kitchen, but then Matthew's mess blocking the foyer stopped her. Trish groaned and curled in on herself, clutching her tummy.

Venus shot to her feet. She wasn't acting Game Lead at her company for nothing.

"You." She pointed to Jenn. "Get to the kitchen and send your mom in here for Trish." Jenn leaped over Matthew's puddle and darted away. "And bring paper towels for the mess!"

"You," she flung at Spenser. "Take Matthew to the bathroom."

He gestured to the brand new hallway carpet.

Oh no, Aunty Yuki would have a fit. But it couldn't be helped. "If he makes a mess on the carpet, we'll just clean it up later."

He didn't hesitate. He hustled down the hallway with Matthew in his arms.

Venus kicked the miniscule living room garbage basket closer to Lex. "Hang your head over that." Not that it would hold more than spittle, but it was better than letting Lex upchuck all over the plush cream carpet. Why did Lex, tomboy and jock, have to go weak every time something gross happened?

"You." Venus stabbed a manicured finger at Aiden. "Get your car, we're taking Trish to the hospital."

He didn't jump at her command. "After one contraction?"

Trish moaned, and Venus had a vision of the baby flying out of her in the next minute. She pointed to the door again. "Just go!"

Aiden shrugged and slipped out the front door, muttering to himself.

"You." She stood in front of Trish, who'd started Lamaze breathing through her pursed lips. "Uh . . ."

Trish peered up at her.

"Um . . . stop having contractions."

Trish rolled her eyes, but didn't speak through her pursed lips.

Venus ignored her and went to kneel over Matthew's rather watery puddle, which had spread with amoeba fingers reaching down the lines of grout. Lex's purse lay nearby, so she rooted in it for a tissue or something to start blotting up the mess.

Footsteps approaching. Before she could raise her head or shout a warning, Aunty Yuki hurried into the foyer. "What's wron -- !"

It was like a Three Stooges episode. Aunty Yuki barreled into Venus's bent figure. She had leaned over Matthew's mess to protect anyone from stepping in it, but it also made her an obstacle in the middle of the foyer.

"Ooomph!" The older woman's feet -- shod in cotton house slippers, luckily, and not shoes -- jammed into Venus's ribs. She couldn't see much except a pair of slippers leaving the floor at the same time, and then a body landing on the living room carpet on the other side of her. Ouch.

"Are you okay?" Venus twisted to kneel in front of her, but she seemed slow to rise.

"Venus, here're the paper towels -- "

Jenn's voice in the foyer made Venus whirl on the balls of her feet and fling her hands up. "Watch out!"

Jenn stopped just in time. Her toes were only inches away from Matthew's mess, her body leaning forward. Her arms whirled, still clutching the towels, like a cheerleader and her pom-poms.

"Jenn." Spenser's voice coming down the hallway toward the foyer. "Where are the -- "

"Stop!" Venus and Jenn shouted at the same time.

Spenser froze, his foot hovering above a finger of the puddle that had stretched toward the hallway. "Ah. Okay. Thanks." He lowered his foot on the clean tile to the side.

Aiden opened the front door. "The car's out front -- " The sight of them all left him speechless.

Trish had started to hyperventilate, her breath seething through her teeth. "Will somebody do something?!"

Aunty Yuki moaned from her crumpled position on the floor.

Smoke started pouring from the kitchen, along with the awful smell of burned . . . something that wasn't normal food.

Venus snatched the paper towels from Jenn. "Kitchen!" Jenn fled before she'd finished speaking. "What do you need?" Venus barked at Spenser.

"Extra towels."

"Guest bedroom closet, top shelf."

He headed back down the hall. Venus turned to Aiden and swept a hand toward Aunty Yuki on the living room floor. "Take care of her, will you?"

"What about me?" Trish moaned through a clenched jaw.

"Stop having contractions!" Venus swiped up the mess on the tile before something worse happened, like someone stepped in it and slid. That would just be the crowning cherry to her evening. Even when she wasn't at work, she was still working.

"Are you okay, Aunty?" She stood with the sodden paper towels.

Aiden had helped her to a seat next to Lex, who was ashen-faced and still leaning over the tiny trash can. Aside from a reddish spot on Aunty Yuki's elbow, she seemed fine.

Jenn entered the living room, her hair wild and a distinctive burned smell sizzling from her clothes. "My imported French saucepan is completely blackened!" But she had enough sense not to glare at her parent as she probably wanted to. Aunty Yuki suddenly found
the wall hangings fascinating.

Venus started to turn toward the kitchen to throw away the paper towels she still held. "Well, we have to take Trish to the hospital -- "

"Actually . . ." Trish's breathing had slowed. "I think it's just a false alarm."

Venus turned to look at her. "False alarm? Pregnant women have those?"

"It happened a couple days ago too."

"What?" Venus almost slammed her fist into her hip, but remembered the dirty paper towels just in time. Good thing too, because she had on a Chanel suit.

Trish gave a long, slow sigh. "Yup, they're gone. That was fast." She smiled cheerfully.

Venus wanted to scream. This was out of her realm. At work, she was used to grabbing a crisis at the throat and wrestling it to submission. This was somewhere Trish was heading without her, and the thought both frightened and unnerved her. She shrugged it off. "Well . . . Aunty -- "

"I'm fine, Venus." Aunty Yuki inspected her elbow. "Jennifer, get those Japanese Salonpas patches -- "

"Mom, they stink." Jenn's stress over her beautiful kitchen made her more belligerent than Venus had ever seen her before. Not that the camphor patches could smell any worse than the burned Chinese-old-wives'-pregnancy-food permeating the house.

At the sound of the word Salonpas, Lex pinched her lips together but didn't say anything.

Aunty Yuki gave Jenn a limpid look. "The Salonpas gets rid of the pain."

"I'll get it." Aiden headed down the hallway to get the adhesive patches.

"In the hall closet." Jenn's words slurred a bit through her tight jaw.

Distraction time. Venus tried to smile. "Aunty, if you're okay, then let's eat."

Jenn's eyes flared neon red. "Can't."

"Huh?"

"Somebody turned off the oven." Jenn frowned at her mother, who tactfully looked away. "Dinner won't be for another hour." She stalked back to the kitchen.

Even with the nasty smell, Venus's stomach protested its empty state. "It's already eight o'clock."

"Suck it up!" Jenn yelled from the kitchen.

It was going to be a long night.

***

Venus needed a Reese's peanut butter cup.

No, a Reese's was bad. Sugar, fat, preservatives, all kinds of chemicals she couldn't even pronounce.

Oooh, but it would taste so good . . .

No, she equated Reese's cups with her fat days. She was no longer fat. She didn't need a Reese's.

But she sure wanted one after such a hectic evening with her cousins.

She trudged up the steps to her condo. Home. Too small to invite people over, and that was the way she liked it. Her haven, where she could relax and let go, no one to see her when she was vulnerable --

Her front door was ajar.

Her limbs froze mid-step, but her heart rat-tat-tatted in her chest like a machine gun. Someone. Had. Broken. Into. Her. Home.

Her hand started to shake. She clenched it to her hip, crushing the silk of her pants. What to do? He might still be there. Pepper spray. In her purse. She searched in her bag and finally found the tiny bottle. Her hand trembled so much, she'd be more likely to spritz herself than the intruder.

Were those sounds coming from inside? She reached out a hand, but couldn't quite bring herself to push the door open further.

Stupid, call the police! She fumbled with the pepper spray so she could extract her cell phone. Dummy, don't pop yourself in the eye with that stuff! She switched the spray to her other hand while her thumb dialed 9 - 1 - 1. Her handbag's leather straps dug into her elbow.

Thump! That came from her living room! Footsteps. Get away from the door! She stumbled backwards, but remembering the stairs right behind her, she tried to stop herself from tumbling down. Her ankle tilted on her stilettos, and she fell sideways to lean against the wall. The footsteps approached her open door.

"9 - 1 - 1, what's your emergency?"

She raised her hand with the bottle of pepper spray. "Someone's -- "

The door swung open.

"Edgar!" The cell phone dropped with a clatter, but she kept a firm grip on the pepper spray, suddenly tempted to use it.

One of her junior programmers stood in her open doorway.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Camy Tang
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530

Sunday, September 21, 2008



It's the 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!





and her books:


It's All About Us: A Novel

FaithWords (May 12, 2008)


and


The Fruit of My Lipstick (All About Us Series, Book 2)

FaithWords (August 11, 2008)


Plus a Tiffany's Bracelet Giveaway! Go to Camy Tang's Blog and leave a comment on the Teen FIRST All About Us Tour and you will be placed into a drawing for a bracelet that looks similar to the picture below. But the winning FaithWords Tiffany's bracelet will be a double heart charm.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Shelley Adina is a world traveler and pop culture junkie with an incurable addiction to designer handbags. She knows the value of a relationship with a gracious God and loving Christian friends, and she's inviting today's teenage girls to join her in these refreshingly honest books about real life as a Christian teen--with a little extra glitz thrown in for fun! In between books, Adina loves traveling, listening to and making music, and watching all kinds of movies.

It's All About Us is Book One in the All About Us Series. Book Two, The Fruit of my Lipstick came out in August 2008, and Book Three, Be Strong & Curvaceous, comes out in January 2009.

Visit the author's website.

It's All About Us: A Novel



Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (May 12, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446177989
ISBN-13: 978-0446177986

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

SOME THINGS YOU just know without being told. Like, you passed the math final (or you didn't). Your boyfriend isn't into you anymore and wants to break up. Vanessa Talbot has decided that since you're the New Girl, you have a big bull's-eye on your forehead and your junior year is going to be just as miserable as she can make it.

Carly once told me she used to wish she were me. Ha! That first week at Spencer Academy, I wouldn't have wished my life on anyone.

My name is Lissa Evelyn Mansfield, and since everything seemed to happen to me this quarter, we decided I'd be the one to write it all down. Maybe you'll think I'm some kind of drama queen, but I swear this is the truth. Don't listen to Gillian and Carly—they weren't there for some of it, so probably when they read this, it'll be news to them, too.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. When it all started, I didn't even know them. All I knew was that I was starting my junior year at the Spencer Academy of San Francisco, this private boarding school for trust fund kids and the offspring of the hopelessly rich, and I totally did not want to be there.

I mean, picture it: You go from having fun and being popular in tenth grade at Pacific High in Santa Barbara, where you can hang out on State Street or join a drumming circle or surf whenever you feel like it with all your friends, to being absolutely nobody in this massive old mansion where rich kids go because their parents don't have time to take care of them.

Not that my parents are like that. My dad's a movie director, and he's home whenever his shooting schedule allows it. When he's not, sometimes he flies us out to cool places like Barbados or Hungary for a week so we can be on location together. You've probably heard of my dad. He directed that big pirate movie that Warner Brothers did a couple of years ago. That's how he got on the radar of some of the big A-list directors, so when George (hey, he asked me to call him that, so it's not like I'm dropping names) rang him up from Marin and suggested they do a movie together, of course he said yes. I can't imagine anybody saying no to George, but anyway, that's why we're in San Francisco for the next two years. Since Dad's going to be out at the Ranch or on location so much, and my sister, Jolie, is at UCLA (film school, what else—she's a daddy's girl and she admits it), and my mom's dividing her time among all of us, I had the choice of going to boarding school or having a live-in. Boarding school sounded fun in a Harry Potter kind of way, so I picked that.

Sigh. That was before I realized how lonely it is being the New Girl. Before the full effect of my breakup really hit. Before I knew about Vanessa Talbot, who I swear would make the perfect girlfriend for a warlock.

And speaking of witch . . .

"Melissa!"

Note: my name is not Melissa. But on the first day of classes, I'd made the mistake of correcting Vanessa, which meant that every time she saw me after that, she made a point of saying it wrong. The annoying part is that now people really think that's my name.

Vanessa, Emily Overton, and Dani Lavigne ("Yes, that Lavigne. Did I tell you she's my cousin?") are like this triad of terror at Spencer. Their parents are all fabulously wealthy—richer than my mom's family, even—and they never let you forget it. Vanessa and Dani have the genes to go with all that money, which means they look good in everything from designer dresses to street chic.

Vanessa's dark brown hair is cut so perfectly, it always falls into place when she moves. She has the kind of skin and dark eyes that might be from some Italian beauty somewhere in her family tree. Which, of course, means the camera loves her. It didn't take me long to figure out that there was likely to be a photographer or two somewhere on the grounds pretty much all the time, and nine times out of ten, Vanessa was the one they bagged. Her mom is minor royalty and the ex-wife of some U.N. Secretary or other, which means every time he gives a speech, a photographer shows up here. Believe me, seeing Vanessa in the halls at school and never knowing when she's going to pop out at me from the pages of Teen People or some society news Web site is just annoying. Can you say overexposed?

Anyway. Where was I? Dani has butterscotch-colored hair that she has highlighted at Biondi once a month, and big blue eyes that make her look way more innocent than she is. Emily is shorter and chunkier and could maybe be nice if you got her on her own, but she's not the kind that functions well outside of a clique.

Some people are born independent and some aren't. You should see Emily these days. All that money doesn't help her one bit out at the farm, where—

Okay, Gillian just told me I have to stop doing that. She says it's messing her up, like I'm telling her the ending when I'm supposed to be telling the beginning.

Not that it's all about her, okay? It's about us: me, Gillian, Carly, Shani, Mac . . . and God. But just to make Gillian happy, I'll skip to the part where I met her, and she (and you) can see what I really thought of her. Ha. Maybe that'll make her stop reading over my shoulder.

So as I was saying, there they were—Vanessa, Emily, and Dani—standing between me and the dining room doors. "What's up?" I said, walking up to them when I should have turned and settled for something out of the snack machine at the other end of the hall.

"She doesn't know." Emily poked Dani. "Maybe we shouldn't tell her."

I did a fast mental check. Plaid skirt—okay. Oxfords—no embarrassing toilet paper. White blouse—buttoned, no stains. Slate blue cardigan—clean. Hair—freshly brushed.

They couldn't be talking about me personally, in which case I didn't need to hear it. "Whatever." I pushed past them and took two steps down the hall.

"Don't you want to hear about your new roommate?" Vanessa asked.

Roommate? At that point I'd survived for five days, and the only good things about them were the crème brulée in the dining room and the blessed privacy of my own room. What fresh disaster was this?

Oops. I'd stopped in my tracks and tipped them off that (a) I didn't know, and (b) I wanted to know. And when Vanessa knows you want something, she'll do everything she can not to let you have it.

"I think we should tell her," Emily said. "It would be kinder to get it over with." "I'm sure I'll find out eventually." There, that sounded bored enough. "Byeee." "I hope you like Chinese!" Dani whooped at her own cleverness, and the three of them floated off down the hall.

So I thought, Great, maybe they're having dim sum today for lunch, though what that had to do with my new roommate I had no idea. At that point it hadn't really sunk in that conversation with those three is a dangerous thing.

That had been my first mistake the previous Wednesday, when classes had officially begun. Conversation, I mean. You know, normal civilized discourse with someone you think might be a friend. Like a total dummy, I'd actually thought this about Vanessa, who'd pulled newbie duty, walking me down the hall to show me where my first class was. It turned out to not be my first class, but the teacher was nice about steering me to the right room, where I was, of course, late.

That should've been my first clue.

My second clue was when Vanessa invited me to eat with them and Dani managed to spill her Coke all over my uniform skirt, which is, as I said, plaid and made of this easy-clean fake wool that people with sensitive skin can wear. She'd jumped up, all full of apologies, and handed me napkins and stuff, but the fact remained that I had to go upstairs and change and then figure out how the laundry service worked, which meant I was late for Biology, too.

On Thursday Dani apologized again, and Vanessa loaned me some of her Bumble and bumble shampoo ("You can't use Paul Mitchell on gorgeous hair like yours—people get that stuff at the drugstore now"), and I was dumb enough to think that maybe things were looking up. Because really, the shampoo was superb. My hair is blond and I wear it long, but before you go hating me for it, it's fine and thick, and the fog we have here in San Francisco makes it go all frizzy. And it's foggy a lot. So this shampoo made it just coo with pleasure.

You're probably asking yourself why I bothered trying to be friends with these girls. The harrowing truth was, I was used to being in the A-list group. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't fit in with the popular girls at Spencer, once I figured out who they were.

Lucky me—Vanessa made that so easy. And I was so lonely and out of my depth that even she was looking good. Her dad had once backed one of my dad's films, so there was that minimal connection.

Too bad it wasn't enough.

jolie.mansfield L, don't let them bug you. Some people are
threatened by anything new. It's a compliment
really.

LMansfield You always find the bright side. Gahh. Love you,
but not helping.

jolie.mansfield What can I do?

LMansfield I'd give absolutely anything to be back in S.B.

jolie.mansfield :(

LMansfield I want to hang with the kids from my youth group.
Not worry about anything but the SPF of my sun
block.

jolie.mansfield It'll get better. Promise. Heard from Mom?
LMansfield No. She's doing some fundraiser with Angelina.
She's pretty busy.

jolie.mansfield If you say so. Love you.



Copyright © 2008 by Shelley Adina


&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

The Fruit of My Lipstick (All About Us Series, Book 2)



Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (August 11, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446177970
ISBN-13: 978-0446177979

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

chapter 1


Top Five Clues That He’s the One

1. He’s smart, which is why he’s dating you and not the queen of the snob mob.

2. He knows he’s hot, but he thinks you’re hotter.

3. He’d rather listen to you than to himself.

4. You’re in on his jokes—not the butt of them.

5. He always gives you the last cookie in the box.

THE NEW YEAR. . . when a young girl’s heart turns to new beginnings, weight loss, and a new term of chemistry!

Whew! Got that little squee out of my system. But you may as well know right now that science and music are what I do, and they tend to come up a lot in conversation. Sometimes my friends think this is good, like when I’m helping them cram for an exam. Sometimes they just think I’m a geek. But that’s okay. My name is Gillian Frances Jiao-Lan Chang, and since Lissa was brave enough to fall on her sword and spill what happened last fall, I guess I can’t do anything less.

I’m kidding about the sword. You know that, right?

Term was set to start on the first Wednesday in January, so I flew into SFO first class from JFK on Monday. I thought I’d packed pretty efficiently, but I still exceeded the weight limit by fifty pounds. It took some doing to get me and my bags into the limo, let me tell you. But I’d found last term that I couldn’t live without certain things, so they came with me. Like my sheet music and some more of my books. And warmer clothes.

You say California and everyone thinks L.A. The reality of San Francisco in the winter is that it’s cold, whether the sun is shining or the fog is stealing in through the Golden Gate and blanketing the bay. A perfect excuse for a trip to Barney’s to get Vera Wang’s tulip-hem black wool coat, right?

I thought so, too.

Dorm, sweet dorm. I staggered through the door of the room I share with Lissa Mansfield. It’s up to us to get our stuff into our rooms, so here’s where it pays to be on the rowing team, I guess. Biceps are good for hauling bulging Louis Vuittons up marble staircases. But I am so not the athletic type. I leave that to John, the youngest of my three older brothers. He’s been into gymnastics since he was, like, four, and he’s training hard to make the U.S. Olympic team. I haven’t seen him since I was fourteen—he trains with a coach out in Arizona.

My oldest brother, Richard, is twenty-six and works for my dad at the bank, and the second oldest, Darren—the one I’m closest to—is graduating next spring from Harvard and going straight into medical school after that.

Yeah, we’re a family of overachievers. Don’t hate me, okay?

I heard a thump in the hall outside and got the door open just in time to come face-to-face with a huge piece of striped fiberglass with three fins.

I stood aside to let Lissa into the room with her surfboard. She was practically bowed at the knees with the weight of the duffel slung over her shoulder, and another duffel with a big O’Neill logo waited outside. I grabbed it and swung it onto her bed.

“Welcome back, girlfriend!”

She stood the board against the wall, let the duffel drop to the floor with a thud that probably shook the chandelier in the room below us, and pulled me into a hug.

“I am so glad to see you!” Her perfect Nordic face lit up with happiness. “How was your Christmas—the parts you didn’t tell me about on e-mail?”

“The usual. Too many family parties. Mom and Nai-Nai made way too much food, two of my brothers fought over the remote like they were ten years old, my dad and oldest brother bailed to go back to work early, and, oh, Nai-Nai wanted to know at least twice a day why I didn’t have a boyfriend.” I considered the chaos we’d just made of our pristine room. “The typical Chang holiday. What about you? Did Scotland improve after the first couple of days?”

“It was fre-e-e-e-zing.” She slipped off her coat and tam. “And I don’t just mean rainy-freezing. I mean sleet-and-icicles freezing. The first time I wore my high-heeled Louboutin boots, I nearly broke my ankle. As it was, I landed flat on my butt in the middle of the Royal Mile. Totally embarrassing.”

“What’s a Royal Mile? Princesses by the square foot?”

“This big broad avenue that goes through the old part of Edinburgh toward the queen’s castle. Good shopping. Restaurants. Tourists. Ice.” She unzipped the duffel and began pulling things out of it. “Dad was away a lot at the locations for this movie. Sometimes I went with him, and sometimes I hung out with this really adorable guy who was supposed to be somebody’s production assistant but who wound up being my guide the whole time.”

“It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.”

“I made it worth his while.” She flashed me a wicked grin, but behind it I saw something else. Pain, and memory. “So.” She spread her hands. “What’s new around here?”

I shrugged. “I just walked in myself a few minutes ago. You probably passed the limo leaving. But if what you really want to know is whether the webcam incident is over and done with, I don’t know yet.”

She turned away, but not before I saw her flush pink and then blink really fast, like her contacts had just been flooded. “Let’s hope so.”

“You made it through last term.” I tried to be encouraging. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?”

“It made one thing stronger.” She pulled a cashmere scarf out of the duffel and stroked it as though it were a kitten. “I never prayed so hard in my life. Especially during finals week, remember? When those two idiots seriously thought they could force me into that storage closet and get away with it?”

“Before we left, I heard the short one was going to be on crutches for six weeks.” I grinned at her. Fact of the day: Surfers are pretty good athletes. Don’t mess with them. “Maybe it should be, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes your relationship with God stronger.’”

“That I’ll agree with. Do you know if Carly’s here yet?”

“Her dad was driving her up in time for supper, so she should be calling any second.”

Sure enough, within a few minutes, someone knocked. “That’s gotta be her.” I jumped for the door and swung it open.

“Hey, chicas!” Carly hugged me and then Lissa. “Did you miss me?”

“Like chips miss guacamole.” Lissa grinned at her. “Good break?”

She grimaced, her soft brown eyes a little sad. Clearly Christmas break isn’t what it’s cracked up to be in anybody’s world.

“Dad had to go straighten out some computer chip thing in Singapore, so Antony and I got shipped off to Veracruz. It was great to see my mom and the grandparents, but you know . . .” Her voice trailed away.

“What?” I asked. “Did you have a fight?” That’s what happens at our house.

“No.” She sighed, then lifted her head to look at both of us. “I think my mom has a boyfriend.”

“Ewww,” Lissa and I said together, with identical grimaces.

“I always kind of hoped my mom and dad would figure it out, you know? And get back together. But it looks like that’s not going to happen.”

I hugged her again. “I’m sorry, Carly. That stinks.”

“Yeah.” She straightened up, and my arm slid from her shoulders. “So, enough about me. What about you guys?”

With a quick recap, we put her in the picture. “So do you have something going with this Scottish guy?” Carly asked Lissa.

Lissa shook her head, a curtain of blonde hair falling to partially hide her face—a trick I’ve never quite been able to master, even though my hair hangs past my shoulders. But it’s so thick and coarse, it never does what I want on the best of days. It has to be beaten into submission by a professional.

“I think I liked his accent most of all,” she said. “I could just sit there and listen to him talk all day. In fact, I did. What he doesn’t know about murders and wars and Edinburgh Castle and Lord This and Earl That would probably fit in my lip gloss tube.”

I contrasted walking the cold streets of Edinburgh, listening to some guy drone on about history, with fighting with my brothers. Do we girls know how to have fun, or what? “Better you than me.”

“I’d have loved it,” Carly said. “Can you imagine walking through a castle with your own private tour guide? Especially if he’s cute. It doesn’t get better than that.”

“Um, okay.” Lissa gave her a sideways glance. “Miss A-plus in History.”

“Really?” I had A-pluses in AP Chem and Math, but with anything less in those subjects, I wouldn’t have been able to face my father at Christmas. As it was, he had a fit over my B in History, and the only reason I managed to achieve an A-minus in English was because of a certain person with the initials L. M.

Carly shrugged. “I like history. I like knowing what happened where, and who it happened to, and what they were wearing. Not that I’ve ever been anywhere very much, except Texas and Mexico.”

“You’d definitely have liked Alasdair, then,” Lissa said. “He knows all about what happened to whom. But the worst was having to go for tea at some freezing old stone castle that Dad was using for a set. I thought I’d lose my toes from frostbite.”

“Somebody lives in the castle?” Carly looked fascinated. “Who?”

“Some earl.” Lissa looked into the distance as she flipped through the PDA in her head. Then she blinked. “The Earl and Countess of Strathcairn.”

“Cool!”

“Very. Forty degrees, tops. He said he had a daughter about our age, but I never met her. She heard we were coming and took off on her horse.”

“Mo guai nuer,” I said. “Rude much?”

Lissa shrugged. “Alasdair knew the family. He said Lady Lindsay does what she wants, and clearly she didn’t want to meet us. Not that I cared. I was too busy having hypothermia. I’ve never been so glad to see the inside of a hotel room in my life. I’d have put my feet in my mug of tea if I could have.”

“Well, cold or not, I still think it’s cool that you met an earl,” Carly said. “And I can’t wait to see your dad’s movie.”

“Filming starts in February, so Dad won’t be around much. But Mom’s big charity gig for the Babies of Somalia went off just before Christmas and was a huge success, so she’ll be around a bit more.” She paused. “Until she finds something else to get involved in.”

“Did you meet Angelina?” I asked. Lissa’s life fascinated me. To her, movie stars are her dad’s coworkers, like the brokers and venture capitalists who come to the bank are my dad’s coworkers. But Dad doesn’t work with people who look like Orlando and Angelina, that’s for sure.

“Yes, I met her. She apologized for flaking on me for the Benefactors’ Day Ball. Not that I blame her. It all turned out okay in the end.”

“Except for your career as Vanessa Talbot’s BFF.”

Lissa snorted. “Yeah. Except that.”

None of us mentioned what else had crashed and burned in flames after the infamous webcam incident—her relationship with the most popular guy in school, Callum McCloud. I had a feeling that that was a scab we just didn’t need to pick at.

“You don’t need Vanessa Talbot,” Carly said firmly. “You have us.”

We exchanged a grin. “She’s right,” I said. “This term, it’s totally all about us.”

“Thank goodness for that,” she said. “Come on. Let’s go eat. I’m starving.”


RStapleton I heard from a mutual friend that you take care of people at midterm time.

Source10 What friend?

RStapleton Loyola.

Source10 Been known to happen.

RStapleton How much?

Source10 1K. Math, sciences, geography only.

RStapleton I hate numbers.

Source10 IM me the day before to confirm.

RStapleton OK. Who are you?

RStapleton You there?


BY NOON THE next day, I’d hustled down to the student print shop in the basement and printed the notices I’d laid out on my Mac. I tacked them on the bulletin boards in the common rooms and classroom corridors on all four floors.


Christian prayer circle every Tuesday night 7:00 p.m., Room 216 Bring your Bible and a friend!


“Nice work,” Lissa told me when I found her and Carly in the dining room. “Love the salmon pink paper. But school hasn’t officially started yet. We probably won’t get a very good turnout if the first one’s tonight.”

“Maybe not.” I bit into a succulent California roll and savored the tart, thin seaweed wrapper around the rice, avocado, and shrimp. I had to hand it to Dining Services. Their food was amazing. “But even if it’s just the three of us, I can’t think of a better way to start off the term, can you?”

Lissa didn’t reply. The color faded from her face and she concentrated on her square ceramic plate of sushi as though it were her last meal. Carly swallowed a bite of makizushi with an audible gulp as it went down whole. Slowly, casually, I reached for the pepper shaker and glanced over my shoulder.

“If it isn’t the holy trinity,” Vanessa drawled, plastered against Brett Loyola’s arm and standing so close behind us, neither Carly nor I could move. “Going to multiply the rice and fish for us?”

“Nice to see you, too, Vanessa,” Lissa said coolly. “Been reading your Bible, I see.”

“Hi, Brett,” Carly managed, her voice about six notes higher than usual as she craned to look up at him.

He looked at her, puzzled, as if he’d seen her before somewhere but couldn’t place where, and gave her a vague smile. “Hey.”

I rolled my eyes. Like we hadn’t spent an entire term in History together. Like Carly didn’t light up like a Christmas tree every time she passed a paper to him, or maneuvered her way into a study group that had him in it. Honestly. I don’t know how that guy got past the entrance requirements.

Oh, wait. Silly me. Daddy probably made a nice big donation to the athletics department, and they waved Brett through Admissions with a grateful smile.

“Have any of you seen Callum?” Vanessa inquired sweetly. “I’m dying to see him. I hear he spent Christmas skiing at their place in Vail with his sisters and his new girlfriend. No parents.”

“He’s a day student.” I glanced at Lissa to see how she was taking this, but she’d leaned over to the table behind her to snag a bunch of napkins. “Why would he be eating here?”

“To see all his friends, of course. I guess that’s why you haven’t seen him.”

“Neither have you, if you’re asking where he is.” Poor Vanessa. I hope she’s never on a debating team. It could get humiliating.

But what she lacked in logic she made up for in venom. She ignored me and gushed, “I love your outfit, Lissa. I’m sure Callum would, too. That is, if he were still speaking to you.”

I barely restrained myself from giving Vanessa an elbow in the stomach. But Lissa had come a long way since her ugly breakup with a guy who didn’t deserve her. Vanessa had no idea who she was dealing with—Lissa with an army of angels at her back was a scary thing.

She pinned Vanessa with a stare as cold as fresh snow.

“You mean you haven’t told him yet that you made that video?” She shook her head. “Naughty Vanessa, lying to your friends like that.” A big smile and a meaningful glance at Brett. “But then, they’re probably used to it.”

Vanessa opened her mouth to say something scathing, when a tall, lanky guy elbowed past her to put his sushi dishes on the table next to mine. Six feet of sheer brilliance, with blue eyes and brown hair cropped short so he didn’t have to deal with it. A mind so sharp, he put even the overachievers here in the shade—but in spite of that, a guy who’d started coming to prayer circle last term. Who could fluster me with a look, and wipe my brain completely blank with just a smile.

Lucas Hayes.

“Hey, Vanessa, Brett.”

My jaw sagged in surprise, and I snapped it shut on my mouthful of rice, hoping he hadn’t seen. Since when was the king of the science geeks on speaking terms with the popular crowd?

To add to the astonishment, the two of them stepped back, as if to give him some space. “Yo, Einstein.” Brett grinned and they shook hands.

“Hi, Lucas.” Vanessa glanced from him to me to our dishes sitting next to each other. “I didn’t know you were friends with these people.”

He shrugged. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me.”

“That could change. Why don’t you come and sit with us?” she asked. Brett looked longingly at the sushi bar and tugged on her arm. She ignored him. “We’re much more fun. We don’t sing hymns and save souls.”

“So I’ve heard. Did you make it into Trig?”

“Of course.” She tossed her gleaming sheet of hair over one shoulder. “Thanks to you.”

I couldn’t keep quiet another second. “You tutored her?” I asked him, trying not to squeak.

He picked up a piece of California roll and popped it in his mouth, nodding. “All last term.” He glanced at Vanessa. “Contrary to popular opinion, she isn’t all looks.”

Oh, gack. Way TMI. Vanessa smiled as though she’d won this and all other possible arguments now and in the future, world without end, amen. “Come on, Lucas. Hold our table for us while Brett and I get our food. I want to talk to you about something anyway.”

He shrugged and picked up his dishes while she and Brett swanned away. “See you at prayer circle,” he said to me. “I saw the signs. Same time and place, right?”

I could only nod as he headed for the table in the middle of the big window looking out on the quad. The one no one else dared to sit at, in case they risked the derision and social ostracism that would follow.

The empty seat on my right seemed even emptier. How could he do that? How could he just dump us and then say he’d see us at prayer circle? Shouldn’t he want to eat with the people he prayed with?

“It’s okay, Gillian,” Carly whispered. “At least he’s coming.”

“And Vanessa isn’t,” Lissa put in with satisfaction.

“I’m not so sure I want him to, now,” I said. I looked at my sushi and my stomach sort of lurched. Ugh. I pushed it away.

And here I’d been feeling so superior to Carly and her unrequited yen for Brett. I was just as bad, and this proved it. What else could explain this sick feeling in my middle?

Two hours later, while Lissa, Carly, and I shoved aside the canvases and whatnot that had accumulated in Room 216 over the break, making enough room for half a dozen people to sit, I’d almost talked myself into not caring whether Lucas came or not.

And then he stepped through the door and I realized my body was more honest than my brain. I sucked in a breath and my heart began to pound.

Oh, yeah. You so don’t care.

Travis, who must have arrived during dinner, trickled in behind him, and then Shani Hanna, who moved with the confidence of an Arabian queen, arrived with a couple of sophomores I didn’t know. Her hair, tinted bronze and caught up at the crown of her head, tumbled to her shoulders in corkscrew curls. I fingered my own arrow-straight mop that wouldn’t hold a curl if you threatened it with death.

Okay, stop feeling sorry for yourself, would you? Enough is enough.

“Hey, everyone, thanks for coming,” I said brightly, getting to my feet. “I’m Gillian Chang. Why don’t the newbies introduce themselves, and then we’ll get started?”

The sophomores told us their names, and I found out Travis’s last name was Fanshaw. And the dots connected. Of course he’d been assigned as Lucas’s roommate—he’s like this Chemistry genius. If it weren’t for Lucas, he’d be the king of the science geeks. Sometimes science people have a hard time reconciling scientific method with faith. If they were here at prayer circle, maybe Travis and Lucas were among the lucky few who figured science was a form of worship, of marveling at the amazement that is creation. I mean, if Lucas was one of those guys who got a kick out of arguing with the Earth Sciences prof, I wouldn’t even be able to date him.

Not that there was any possibility of that.

As our prayers went up one by one, quietly from people like Carly and brash and uncomfortably from people like Travis and the sophomores, I wished that dating was the kind of thing I could pray about.

But I don’t think God has my social life on His to-do list.


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2008 by Shelley Adina

This article is used with the permission of Hachette Book Group and Shelley Adina. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

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





Today's Wild Card author is:


and her book:


A Passion Redeemed

Revell (September 1, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Julie Lessman is a debut author who has already garnered writing acclaim, including ten Romance Writers of America awards. She resides in Missouri with her husband and their golden retriever, and has two grown children and a daughter-in-law. Her first book in the Daughters of Boston series, A Passion Most Pure was released January 2008, followed by the second in September 2008, A Passion Redeemed, and the third in May 2009, A Passion Denied (working title).

You can visit Julie at her Web site.

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Revell (September 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 080073212X

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

“Make them like tumbleweed, O my God,

like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest or a flame

sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest

and terrify them with your storm. Cover their faces with shame

so they will seek your name …”


– Psalm 83:13-16



A passion redeemed


Prologue


Boston, Massachusetts, The Day After Thanksgiving 1918

Patrick O’Connor stirred from a deep sleep at the feather touch of his wife’s breath, warm against his neck. “Patrick, I need you …”

Her words tingled through him and he slowly turned, gathering her into his arms with a sleepy smile. He ran his hand up the side of her body, all senses effectively roused.

“No, Patrick,” she whispered, shooing his hand from her waist, “I need you to go downstairs—now! There’s someone in the kitchen.”

Patrick groaned and plopped back on his pillow. “Marcy, there’s no one in the kitchen. Go back to bed, darlin’.”

She sat up and shook his shoulder. “Yes, there is—I heard it. The back door opened and closed.”

“It’s probably Sean after a late night with his friends. He hasn’t seen them since before the war, remember?”

“No, he came home hours ago. It’s three-forty-five in the morning. I’m telling you, someone’s in the kitchen.”

Marcy jerked the cover from his body. Icy air prickled his skin. Both of her size-six feet butted hard against his side and began to push.

He groaned and fisted her ankle, his stubborn streak surfacing along with goose bumps. “So help me, woman, I’ll not be shoved out of my own bed …”

She leaned across his chest with pleading eyes. “Patrick, I’m afraid. Can’t you at least go downstairs and check?”

Her tone disarmed him. “It’s probably just Faith, digging into Thanksgiving leftovers. She didn’t eat much at dinner, you know.”

“I know, and that’s what I thought, too, but I just peeked in her room, and I’m sure she was under the covers.

“One of the others, then—”

“No, they’re all sleeping. I checked. Please, Patrick? For my peace of mind? Won’t you go down and see?”

He sighed and swung his legs over the side of the bed. “Yes, Marcy, I will go down and see. For your peace of mind.” He swiped his slippers off the floor and yanked them on his feet. “And for mine.” He started for the door.

“Wait! Take something with you. A shoe, a belt—something for protection.”

He turned and propped his hands low on the sides of his tie-string pajamas. “Shoes. Yes, that should do the trick. Newspaper editor bludgeons intruder with wing-tips.”

Marcy tossed the covers aside and hopped out of bed. “Wait! My iron. You can take my iron. It weighs a ton.” She padded to the wardrobe in bare feet and hefted a cast-iron appliance off the shelf. She lugged it to where he stood watching her, a half-smile twitching on his lips. “Here, take it. And hurry, will you? He could be gone by now.”

He snatched the iron from her hands. “And that would be a good thing, right?” He turned on his heel and lumbered down the hall, stifling a yawn as he descended the steps.

“Be careful,” Marcy whispered at the top of the stairs, looking more like a little girl than a mother of six. She stood biting her lip, barefoot and shivering while golden hair spilled down the front of her flannel nightgown. He waved her back and moved into the parlor, noting that Blarney wasn’t curled up on his usual spot in the foyer.

Patrick stopped. Was that a noise? A chair scraping? He tightened his hold on the iron while the hairs bristled on the back of his neck. He spied the shaft of light seeping through the bottom of the kitchen door and sucked in a deep breath. Heart pounding in his chest, he tiptoed to the swinging door and pushed just enough to peek inside.

A husky laugh bubbled in his throat. He heaved the door wide, pinning it open with the iron. “I trust this means you’ve made up your mind?”

“Father!” Faith jerked out of Collin’s embrace while Blarney darted to the door and speared a wet nose into Patrick’s free hand. His daughter faltered back several steps and pressed a hand to her cheek. Her face was as crimson as the bowl of cranberries on the table. “I … I was just giving Collin Thanksgiving leftovers.”

Patrick smiled. “Yes, I can see … starting with dessert, were you?”

“Patrick, who is it?” Marcy’s frantic whisper carried from the top of the stairs and he grinned, turning to call over his shoulder. “It’s Faith, Marcy, getting a bite to eat. Go back to bed. I’ll be right up.”

Collin took a step forward. His face was ruddy with embarrassment despite the grin on his lips. “Mr. O’Connor, I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you again. When I’d heard you were killed in the war …” His voice broke and he quickly cleared it, his eyes moist. He straightened his shoulders. “Well, when my mother told me you were alive, I hitched a ride anyway I could just to get here from New York.” He took another step and held out his hand. “Sir, despite the fact that you could take me to task for kissing your daughter, I thank God you’re alive.”

Patrick grinned and pulled him into a tight hug. He closed his eyes to ward off tears of his own at holding this man who was more like a son. He cleared his throat and pulled away, waving the iron at Collin’s chest. “So, the chest wound all healed up? Good as new, despite the war?”

Collin smiled and tucked an arm around Faith. “Better than new, Mr. O’Connor. You might say I’m a new man.”

“So I’ve heard,” Patrick said, scratching his forehead with Marcy’s iron.

Collin stifled a grin. “Uh, sir, did we wake you up … or were you catching up on your ironing?”

Patrick chuckled and set the iron on the table. “Marcy’s idea, I’m afraid. She’s a light sleeper.” He reached over and popped a piece of turkey in his mouth. “So, Collin, you haven’t answered my question. Have you made up your mind?”

Collin glanced down at Faith and swallowed hard. “Yes, sir, I have. I’m in love with Faith. I want to marry her.”

Patrick assessed the soft blush on his daughter’s cheeks as she gazed up at the man who had once been engaged to her sister. Her eyes shimmered with joy, and he had never seen her so happy. He snatched another piece of turkey. “And Charity? You’ve discussed all of this with her, I suppose? As your former fiancée, she has a right to know of your intentions with her sister.”

“Yes, sir, I agree and wrote her immediately before I came home from the war.”

“And she’s fine with it? No heartbreak?” Patrick chewed slowly, studying the pair through cautious eyes.

“No, sir, no heartbreak, I can assure you. Actually, she was more than fine with it. As I told Faith, it seems she has a new love interest.”

Patrick stopped chewing. “A new love interest? Who in blazes could that be?”

Collin and Faith exchanged looks before Faith took a deep breath. “Father, we think she’s after Mitch.”

Patrick blinked. “Your Mitch?”

Collin’s lips pulled into a scowl, and Faith squeezed his hand. “Father, please, we’re not engaged anymore, so he’s no longer ‘my’ Mitch. And yes, we think he’s the one Charity’s after.”

“Saints alive, the man is practically old enough to be her father! And after the stunt she pulled in Dublin, trying to break you and Mitch up, does he even like her?”

Faith bit her lip and glanced up at Collin. “I don’t think so. But you know Charity. Once she gets an idea in her head, it’s there to stay.”

“Yes, yes, I know Charity.” Patrick exhaled a weary breath. “Faith, put some coffee on, will you? Then you let that man sit down and eat. I suspect your mother won’t be able to sleep anymore than I will, so we may as well talk. We’ve got a lot of praying to do—about your plans for the future, your wedding, and your wayward sister in Dublin.”

Faith grinned and scooted to the stove to make coffee. “Yes, sir. Want a sandwich too?”

“May as well. Looks to be a long day, and I’m going to need all the energy I can get.” Patrick started to leave, then turned with his hand braced on the door. He squinted at Collin. “You’re home to stay, I hope? No more New York?”

Collin shot him a grin and reached for a hefty drumstick. “Yes, sir, home to stay. I hope that’s good news. Except for your grocery bill.”

Patrick chuckled and pushed through the kitchen door. Thank you, Lord, for bringing that boy home safe and sound. With a bounce in his step, he mounted the stairs, anxious to share the good news with Marcy. His thoughts suddenly returned to Charity, and his pace slowed considerably. She was the daughter who puzzled him the most. Beautiful, stubborn, wild—and so hard to reach. He fought a smile and made his way down the dark hall, shaking his head as he entered his room. God help Mitch Dennehy!










Chapter One


Dublin, Ireland, October 1919

Poor, unsuspecting Mitch. The dear boy—well, hardly a boy—doesn’t stand a chance.

The thought coaxed a smile to Charity O’Connor’s lips as she entered the smoky confines of Duffy’s Bar & Grille. The aroma of boxty cakes and sausage bangers sizzling on the griddle reminded her she’d been too nervous to eat. Her escort held the heavy wooden door while she stepped in. The brisk night air collided with the warmth of the cozy pub. Her eyes scanned the room, past the long serpentine bar crowded with patrons, to the glazed mahogany booths lining the mirror-laden walls. Disappointment squeezed in her stomach like hunger pangs.

He isn’t here!

With a lift of her chin, her gaze shifted to the sea of tables occupied by lovely lasses and well-to-do gentlemen fawning over their food and each other. In a cozy corner, a flute and concertina harmonized, the sound of their lively reel laced with laughter, off-key singing and the hush of intimate conversations.

“Charity, if this is too crowded, I know a quiet place we can go—”

She whirled around. “No, please. I see a table in the back.”

Her breathy tone and eager smile produced the desired effect on Rigan Gallagher. His hazel eyes softened. Slacking a hip, he notched his straw boater up with one thumb to reveal an errant strand of dark hair, giving him a boyish look despite his thirty years. His lips pulled into a wicked grin. “Aye, Duffy’s it is. But it’s fair to warn you, Miss O’Connor, you can’t avoid being alone with me forever.” He pressed his hand firmly against the small of her back and guided her to the one unoccupied table at the rear of the room.

Every nerve in her body tingled with electricity, but not from Rigan’s touch. Charity took the seat he offered and draped her shawl over the back. Her eyes flitted to the booth she had shared with Mitch Dennehy over a year ago. The memory washed over her like the candlelight flickering across the crisp, white tablecloth before her, its flame dancing high and hot.

A tall, gangly waiter approached and Charity looked up, fixing him with a radiant smile. He must be new, she thought; she hadn’t seen him before. A lump the size of a persimmon bobbed in his throat while two pink splotches stained his cheeks. He handed them each a menu, his bony fingers fumbling the parchment sheets. “G’day, miss … sir. What can I get for your pleasure?”

Rigan opened the menu. “I daresay the most important thing would be a liter of your best wine, my good man.”

“Yes, sir, very good, sir.” The waiter wagged his head and darted away.

Rigan perused his menu, absently reaching across the table to twine Charity’s hand in his. “Suddenly I find myself quite ravenous.” He looked up, a twinkle lighting his eyes. “But then you always whet my appetite, Miss O’Connor.”

Charity bit back a smile and slipped her hand from his. “Rigan, you are incorrigible. Behave … or I shall never accompany you again.”

He leaned back in the chair with a low, throaty laugh. His gaze assessed her from head to waist, finally lingering on her mouth. “Oh, I think you will. I’ve been told I’m irresistible.”

“Mmmm … to the right woman, I suppose.” She studied her menu and decided on the shepherd’s pie. She looked up, eyes blinking wide in innocence. “Tell me, Rigan, did they happen to mention anything about being a rogue?”

He clutched at his chest with a pained expression. “Charity, you wound me. The moment I stepped into Shaw’s Emporium, I’ve only had eyes for you.” He leaned forward, his manner suddenly serious. “Charity O’Connor—you, only you—take my breath away.”

She fidgeted with the filmy sleeve of her lavender blouse to deflect the intensity of his gaze. For the hundredth time, she thought what a pity it was she was in love with Mitch Dennehy. With money, looks and reckless notoriety, Rigan was a catch for any girl. But alas, for her, that’s all he was. A catch—the perfect man to “catch” the eye of a certain editor from the Times.

Rigan removed his hat and placed it on the table. He returned to his menu, his manner confident as he relaxed in the chair. That maverick strand of ebony hair fell across his forehead in an unruly fashion—like the man himself—providing a mesmerizing contrast to the umber hue of his eyes. His nose, no doubt once straight and strong, now sported the slightest of bumps, as if broken in a brawl. Probably over a woman, Charity mused, given what her friend, Emma, had told her about Rigan Gallagher III.

“Too handsome for his own good, that one,” Emma had whispered on the fateful day he entered the shop where Charity worked. “And too handsome for the good of any lass, if you ask me.” Dear Emma had rolled her eyes in such a comical way, Charity had to stifle a giggle. “Aye, and too rich as well. But that won’t be stopping Mr. High-and-Mighty once he sets his eyes on the likes of you, I’ll bet me firstborn.”

The waiter returned with a bottle and two glasses. His hands were quivering as he poured the wine. Suddenly a stream of port splashed over the edge into Rigan’s hat. Rigan jumped up with a shout. He snatched his hat from the table and shook it out. “You clumsy oaf! It would take two months of your wages to replace this hat!”

Charity shot to her feet. “Rigan, please,” she soothed, “it was just an accident, and it’s only a dribble of wine.” She blotted the table with her napkin, chancing a peek at the waiter. The poor man appeared to be having trouble breathing as he gasped for air. Charity chewed on her lip. Oh, my—she had never seen a redder face! She laid a gentle hand on his arm. “Don’t mind him,” she whispered, “It could happen to anyone. Why, my first week on the job, I broke an expensive bottle of perfume and the shop reeked for days.” She patted his hand and smiled. “But after that, the place smelled rather nice.”

The fear faded from his eyes and he nodded. “Thank ye, miss, you’re a kind lady, ye are.” He turned to Rigan and clicked his heels. “Forgive me, sir, for my clumsiness. Please allow me to tidy your hat …”

Rigan waved him away. “No, the lady’s right. It’s only a dribble of wine.” He glanced at Charity with a sheepish grin. “Although I’d prefer it dribbled down my throat rather than my hat.”

“Yes, sir,” the waiter said with another blush. “I can bring a fresh bottle if you wish …”

“No, no, just see to our food, my good man, and we’ll call it even.”

“Yes, sir, thank you, sir.”

Rigan ordered their food and dismissed the waiter. Charity watched as he poured their wine and put the bottle down. He propped both arms on the table and leaned forward, slowly twiddling his glass. He fixed her with a probing stare. “So, Charity, tell me. Why are we slumming in Duffy’s again when there are nicer places I could take you?”

Her cheeks grew warm. “No reason. I came here once and liked it, that’s all.”

Rigan eyed her with frank curiosity. “With Dennehy?”

Charity drew a quick breath. It lodged in her lungs, refusing to budge.

Rigan’s laugh was harsh. He grabbed his wine and downed it. “Really, Charity, how big of a fool do you think I am? The moment you discovered my father owned the Irish Times, you were more than willing to go out with me. Of course, that was fine with me—you certainly wouldn’t be the first woman after my money.”

“Rigan, you’re being ridiculous. I couldn’t care less about your money …”

“Or me.”

“Well, no, not when you behave like a fool.”

He poured himself more wine and lifted his glass in a toast. “To the ‘fool’—a part I suspect I will play more than once when it comes to you.” He took a drink and settled back in his chair. “So … what is Mitch Dennehy to you?”

She fingered the silk ruffle of her V-necked blouse, careful to avoid his eyes. “I already told you. He was my sister’s fiancé. He’s like a member of the family.”

Rigan snorted, idly tracing the rim of his glass with his finger. “How is it that I don’t get a ‘brotherly’ feeling?”

Another rush of warmth invaded her cheeks, stiffening her jaw. “What you ‘get’ or don’t get is of no concern of mine. Nor are my relationships any concern of yours.”

He slanted forward with a low growl. “They are if I intend to go on seeing you.”

Charity pushed her wine glass away and reached for her shawl. “Very well, perhaps you’d better take me home.” She stood in a rush and swiped a strand of hair from her eyes. Take that, Mr. Gallagher!

He rose and blocked her exit, straw boater in hand and a smile on his lips. His thumbs stroked the nubby rim of his hat. “I can do that, but I don’t think that’s what you want. I think you would much rather stay and enjoy a plate of Dublin coddle with a charming—albeit notorious—scoundrel.” He bowed slightly, his boater clutched to his chest. “Especially a scoundrel with a knack for boiling the blood of Mr. Mitch Dennehy.”

Charity drew in a quick breath. “What do you mean?”

Rigan pressed close, his low laugh warming her ear. “I mean, who better to enlist in turning the head of the man you love than the one he can’t abide?”

“Oh, Rigan, you’re utterly impossible. I’m not in love with anyone.”

He cocked a brow. “Maybe not, but for some reason I have yet to ascertain, you desperately want to catch his eye. Of course, I hoped you were interested in me. But regrettably, I do believe I detected an increase in your ardor once you learned of my connection with the Times. Tell me, Charity, did you think I wouldn’t notice your subtle queries about him? And now this—” He waved his hat toward the pub, “your curious obstinance to continually have dinner in a middle-class bar frequented by Times employees?”

Charity thrust her chin out. “Are you suggesting I’m using you?”

Rigan lifted a curl fallen loose from her topknot. He fondled it with his fingers as he studied her. A hint of a smile played on his lips. “I am … and most happily so. I must admit I was disappointed it wasn’t my charm that wooed you. But alas, I will take you, Charity O’Connor, anyway I can. If I am to be the bait to entice some hapless suitor, so be it.”

Charity sank to her chair. “You would do that? Whatever for?”

Rigan returned to his seat. “Call me a hopeless romantic. Or maybe I’m counting on you falling in love with me in the process. Either way, I’m willing to play the fool—for a price.”

Her gaze narrowed. “What price?”

The waiter interrupted with steaming plates of shepherd’s pie and roast mutton before dashing off again. Charity felt her stomach rumble. She picked up her fork. “What price?” she repeated, stabbing into her food.

Rigan sipped his wine. He took his time while he watched her over the rim of his glass. He finally set it down and relaxed back in the chair, assessing her through hooded eyes. “The taste of your lips—anytime, anywhere.”

Charity’s fork clattered to her plate. Her hand flew to her mouth to stop the nervous laughter from bubbling up. Impossible! It rolled from her lips in unrestrained hilarity, bringing tears to her eyes and discomfort to her cheeks. The rogue! He couldn’t be serious! She dabbed at the wetness with her napkin and took a deep breath, a shaky hand pressed to her chest. “Really, Rigan, I have a mind to leave right now and never see you again. You can’t be serious.”

He never blinked. “Quite.”

Charity quickly reached for her wine, desperate to diffuse her shock. Her lips rested on the edge before sipping it while thoughts of Mitch Dennehy clouded her mind. She stared at the scarlet liquid glazing the glass and fought back the hint of impropriety that nettled her nerves. No! She couldn’t do this … could she? She swallowed hard and slowly looked up, careful to place the glass back on the table with steady fingers. Her chin lifted with resolve. “My lips? And nothing more?”

She could feel the heat of his gaze from across the table.

“Nothing … until you beg.”

Heat flooded her cheeks. Dear Lord, what was she doing? She picked up her fork and forced a smile she didn’t feel. At least the tantalizing smell of the food, if not Rigan, had her salivating. She took a deep breath to dispel her discomfort and strove for a show of confidence. “Not a likely scenario, but I won’t ruin your fun.” She closed her eyes for her first taste of the pie, fighting the urge to emit a soft moan as she rolled it across her tongue. Opening her eyes once again, she hoisted her glass with a nervous grin. “Absolutely delicious … and far, far better than the taste of my lips, I assure you. Nonetheless, feed me, kiss me and turn a head in the process, and we, my good man, shall have a deal. After all, I’m a woman who usually gets what she wants—a trait I also admire in others.”

Rigan tipped his glass in a toast. “Well then, my dear Charity, I daresay, if admiration were love, we’d be well on our way.”

***

Mitch Dennehy glanced at the clock and groaned. He plowed his fingers through his short, cropped hair, then stood from his desk to stretch. “Come on, Bridie, I’ll buy you supper. It’s the least I can do after keeping you so late.”

Bridie O’Halloran looked up, and her gold-brown eyes reflected the fatigue of a long day. She slumped back in the chair and blew a wisp of silver hair out of her face. “Sweet angels in Heaven, I thought you’d never ask! I’m no good dead from starvation, you know.” She held up the latest edition of the Times and wagged it in the air. “Read all about it. Fifty-year-old Dunkirk woman perishes at the Irish Times.”

Mitch laughed and reached for his coat. “And I’ll do better than Brody’s. How does Guinness Stew and fresh-baked soda bread sound, hot out of the oven?”

Bridie rolled her eyes in obvious ecstasy. “Like the gates of Heaven itself … or otherwise if you’ll throw in a pint of ale.”

Mitch retrieved her coat and held it while she slipped it on. “Well then, Duffy’s it is. Nothing but the best for my slave labor.”

Bridie grunted. “Keep that up and I’ll be ordering scones and lemon curd as well.”

Mitch laughed and ushered her through the newsroom and into the lobby, nodding at those who worked the second shift. He opened the door, and a rush of cold air assaulted their faces. With it came the fumes of the city, from its gas lamps and motor lorries and faint whiff of manure. Bridie shivered as he led her around the corner to Duffy’s, a favorite haunt he’d once frequented. Shouldering the heavy, oak-carved door, Mitch pushed it open and allowed Bridie to enter before him. One foot on the threshold, and the onslaught of boisterous laughter and tempting aromas assailed his senses. The reaction in his gut was immediate. Everything—from the pungent smell of spiced beef and crubeens simmering on the stove, to the scent of lemon oil gleaming the bar and booths to a high sheen—all of it, dredged up memories he’d rather forget.

Mitch slammed the door behind him. His lips stiffened in a frown as he surveyed the room, hunting for an empty booth or table, to no avail. What? They giving food away now?

“Saints above, has it always been this busy?” Bridie asked, searching the room for some sign of an empty chair.

“Didn’t used to be. But I haven’t been here in a while.”

Bridie wheeled to face him. “Aw, Mitch, I’m so sorry. I completely forgot—this is the place you and Faith—”

Mitch pushed past her, hooking her elbow on his way to the bar. “Yes, it is, but it doesn’t matter. It’s been over a year and by thunder, if I want to eat in Duffy’s again, I will.” He glanced behind the bar, catching the eye of a portly, red-haired waitress toting a tray of foaming ales. At sight of him, her mouth tilted into a toothy grin. She passed the tray off to another waitress and hurried over, her blue eyes sparkling.

“Well as I live and breathe, if it isn’t the man of me dreams.” Clutching fleshy arms around Mitch’s waist, she squeezed with a teasing groan. “Where on this fair isle of ours have you been keeping yourself, Mitch Dennehy? We’ve missed you! The rest of us thought maybe Duffy poisoned you.” She grinned at Bridie. “Nice to see you too, Bridie.”

Mitch laughed and returned the woman’s hug with one of his own. He chucked her double chin with his thumb and grinned. “Truth be told, Duffy told me ol’ Harry finally proposed. Near broke my heart, it did. Enough to stay away and nurse my wounds.”

Sally blushed. The folds of her full cheeks dimpled in delight. “Aw, go on with you now, you silver-tongued rake.” Her smile faded. “We heard about Faith, Mitch. No tight lips in a place like this, you know. I kinda wondered if maybe that was why we hadn’t seen ya. You okay?”

Mitch sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Yeah, Sal, I’m okay.” He leaned forward, ducking his head. “But I’d be a sight better if we had a booth.”

Sally tossed her head back in a giggle, causing her short, puffy curls to bob. “Well now, I can’t toss customers out, even for a heartbreaker like you.” She inclined her head with a saucy sway. “But I’m not without my influence. Why don’t you and Bridie sit at the bar and get yourselves a pint. I’ll see you get the very next one.”

Mitch planted a kiss on Sally’s glowing cheek. “You’re the best, Sal. Tell ol’ Harry to treat you right or I’ll hunt him down.”

Mitch steered Bridie to the nearest empty stool where she sank against the bar with a low groan. “Never again will you talk me into working this late. I’m starving. Hope you brought lots of cash.”

He gave her a wry grin. “I always bring lots of cash when I feed you. What’s your pleasure?”

She perked up and squinted her eyes at the rows of bottles behind the bar. “I believe I’ll have an extra stout porter.”

Mitch signaled the bartender and ordered a Guinness for Bridie and a ginger ale for himself. He turned and leaned back to survey the action.

She swiveled on the stool and puckered her brow. “Ginger ale? You’re reduced to ginger ale?”

He frowned. “Lay off, Bridie.”

The bartender delivered their drinks. He gulped his like it was pure corn liquor, then wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

Bridie shook her head. “I’ll lay off when you get back to normal.” She took a swig of her beer, eyeing him over her mug. “When you gonna get on with your life?”

“Leave it be, I said.” His lips cemented into a hard line as a clear warning.

“No, I won’t leave it be. You’re miserable. When are you going to move on?”

He shot up from his stool and loomed over her like a tree about to timber. A muscle twitched in his jaw. “I said, lay off! As your manager, my personal life is none of your business.”

She bristled. Her chin slanted up. “Yeah, but as your ‘friend,’ it’s getting on my bloomin’ nerves. It’s been a year. Have you seen anyone else? Even taken another woman out to dinner?”

Mitch grabbed his ginger ale and guzzled. He turned away, a sour feeling in his stomach. “Not interested.”

She lifted her porter in a mock salute. “Mmmm … not interested in drinking, not interested in women. Sounds like the old Mitch left when Faith did.” She whirled to face the bar, two-fisting her beer like it was her long-lost mother.

Mitch cuffed the back of his neck. He released a noisy sigh, fraught with frustration. “So help me, Bridie, I knew you’d give me trouble tonight. You have no talent whatsoever for minding your own business.” He exhaled again, then turned to face her, his muscles fatigued from trying to fake it. “I’ve given up drinking because …” He closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose with his fingers, “once she left, it got harder to stop.” He leaned heavily against the bar and stared straight ahead. “And I gave up women because … not one could even come close.”

Bridie rested her hand on his arm. “Let her go, Mitch. Faith wasn’t for you. But someone is. Find her. Get out there and do what you do best—break a few hearts. Trust me, it will all make sense when you find the right one.” She tilted her head and grinned. “Where’s that annoying confidence of yours when you need it? Your faith in God?”

A smile tugged at his lips. “Yeah, it did get me through the last year without losing my mind.” He downed the ginger ale. “But I suppose you’re right. Maybe it’s time.”

“Kathleen might be a good place to start, you know. You two used to have a lot of fun before Faith. And you know she still cares for you, Mitch.”

He nodded, his gaze fixed on the empty glass in his hand. “I know.”

“Ready for a booth?” Sally flitted by, gesturing for them to follow.

Bridie slipped off her stool. “The saints be praised! Another minute and I’d be but a faint heap on the floor. Get your wallet out, Mr. Dennehy. This is going to cost ya dearly.”

“It already cost me dearly,” he mumbled. He followed the bounce of Sally’s head as she led them across the room, menus in hand. He breathed a sigh of relief when she passed the front-corner booth where he and Faith had often sat.

She slapped the menus down on a booth at the back of the smoky pub. “How’s this?” she asked with a perky smile. “And Duffy told me to go ahead and wait on you myself, even though I’m working the bar tonight.”

Bridie grinned. “Oh, that’s a great big tip for sure, Sally girl.” She winked at Mitch. “Very dearly, my friend.”

“Thanks, Sally,” Mitch said, cutting Bridie a searing look. “I’ll take another ginger ale, then we should be ready to order.” Sally toddled away and he leaned back, stretching his legs. He picked up the menu, hoping he could assess it without drooling. “I swear, Bridie, I’m so blasted hungry, I could order one of everything.”

“The shepherd’s pie is quite good and, I might add, quite filling.”

The sound of a familiar voice froze his fingers to the paper. Looking up, shock nipped at the heels of his hunger.

“Charity …” Her name solidified on his tongue, refusing to let another word pass. It was seconds before he realized his mouth hung open, allowing painful silence to fill the air. He cleared his throat and stood to his feet, angered at the heat she generated. “Charity …”

“You said that,” she whispered, her smile almost shy.

His jaw hardened in self-defense. “You’re looking well.” Well? She was heart-stoppingly beautiful and nothing less. “How’s your grandmother doing?” he asked. He could feel his hands sweat.

The smile faded from her full lips. “She’s doing all right, I suppose, despite the fact that my great-grandmother is not.” Her clear, blue eyes darkened with worry. She pushed a strand of honey-blond hair away from her face. “Mima seems to get weaker every day. Grandmother and I are both concerned.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do?”

Charity blinked, the depths of her eyes drawing him in. “Mima would love to see you, Mitch. We all would.”

Something cramped in his gut, and he suspected it wasn’t hunger.

Bridie cleared her throat and held out her hand. “Hello, I’m Bridie O’Halloran. I work with Mitch at the Times.”

Charity smiled and extended her hand. “I’m Charity O’Connor. Nice to meet you.”

“Faith’s sister?”

A blush crept into Charity’s cheeks. Her gaze fluttered to Mitch and back. “Yes.”

“It’s good to meet some of Faith’s family. We loved her at the Times, you know.”

The color in Charity’s cheeks deepened. “Thank you,” she whispered. Her smile faltered as she withdrew her hand and turned to Mitch. “It’s wonderful seeing you again, but we have to be going …”

“We?”

“My gentleman friend and I. We have tickets to the theater.” She glanced over her shoulder, then returned her gaze to his. “Do come by, Mitch. We would love to catch up.”

“Ready, darling?” Rigan appeared behind her. He rested his hands on her shoulders and gave Mitch a cool smile. “Hello, Mitch.”

The blood drained from Mitch’s face as his jaw calcified to stone. “Hello, Rigan. It’s been a long time.”

Charity’s hand floated to the flounce of silk on her chest. A pretty blush stained her cheeks. “Goodness, you two know each other?”

“Yes, Mitch works for me.” Rigan’s hands slid to Charity’s waist, resting comfortably. “Or should I say, my father?”

Mitch ground his teeth behind a tight-lipped expression, biting back insults that lingered on the tip of his tongue. He forced a smile. “Definitely not you.”

Rigan laughed and swung his arm around Charity’s shoulders, pulling her close. “No, not at the present, certainly. But perhaps the future?” With maddening ease, his fingers casually traced at the base of Charity’s throat, sending another wash of color into her face. “Shall we be on our way, Charity? It wouldn’t do to miss the first act. Good night, Mitch.” He nodded his head at Bridie. “Ma’am.”

“Good night, Mitch,” Charity whispered. “Stop by anytime, please.” She extended her arm to shake Bridie’s hand. “Bridie, it was a pleasure. I hope we meet again.”

Mitch watched while Rigan whisked her away. Heads turned as they made their way to the door. Mitch scowled. Nothing but trouble for any woman. Humph—a perfect match.

Bridie’s voice jarred him back. “My, oh my. So that’s the infamous Charity O’Connor? Goodness, Boss, rumors don’t do her justice. That one could turn the head of the Pope.”

Mitch frowned. “Where the blazes is Sally?” he bellowed, ignoring Bridie’s remark.

Her eyes narrowed. “And dangerous, too, from the look of that vein twitching in your head. Who’s the guy? He looks familiar.”

“Rigan Gallagher III.” Mitch all but bit the words out.

Bridie’s eyes popped. “No joke? So that’s Old Man Gallagher’s black-sheep son? Sweet saints above—handsome as the devil and all that money too.”

“He’s no good.”

“For you? Or for Charity?”

Mitch sneered. “He’s nothing but heartbreak for any woman.”

Bridie paused, then took a deep breath. “But she’s not just any woman, is she, Mitch?”

Sally descended upon the table, her cheeks puffing with heat. “Sorry about the wait. There’s some sort of company meeting in the back slamming away kegs of ale like it was sarsaparilla. Ready to order?”

“Just bring me another ginger ale, Sally. I’m not hungry.”

Bridie looked up. “Sally, bring us two plates of crubeens, a side of champ and some of your best brown soda bread. And I’ll have another Guinness.”

“Sit tight; I’ll dish it right up for ye.” She scooted away, disappearing through the maze of tables into the kitchen.

Bridie crossed her arms and rested them on the table. “She’s not, is she?”

He looked up, the whites of his eyes burning. “Not what?”

“Just any woman?”

He leaned in. “She’s a spoiled brat who uses her beauty to get what she wants. She ruined my life once. It won’t happen again.” He fairly spit the words in Bridie’s face.

“And you had nothing to do with it, I suppose …”

He slammed his fist on the table, causing her to jump. “So help me, Bridie, I’d fire you right now if I didn’t think Michael would cinch me up.”

The fire in her eyes matched what he felt in his gut. “All I’m saying is don’t be laying all the blame on her for hanging you up. You’re the fool who gave her the rope.”

“Stay out of it, Bridie; I’m warning you.”

“I will not. At least not until you admit she’s under your skin.”

“You’re out of your mind. No one’s under my skin.”

“She was once. Enough to change the course of your life.”

“She’s a kid.”

Bridie cocked a brow. “Not from where I was sitting. How old?”

He glared. “Almost twenty … going on sixteen.”

Her forehead puckered. “Oooh … that is rather young. What are you again? Thirty-four?”

Mitch looked up with a glare meant to singe.

Bridie ignored it. “Faith was twenty when you fell in love with her.”

“She’s nothing like Faith.”

Bridie reached across the table to take his hand in hers, her voice a near-whisper. “Nobody is. But there’s a reason it didn’t work out.”

He grunted. “Yeah, there’s a reason all right. A golden-haired vixen, five-foot-four.”

“No, I mean ‘a reason,’ like maybe Faith wasn’t the one.”

Mitch rubbed his jaw with the side of his hand. “Yeah, well, apparently not.” He looked up, his eyes shooting her a warning. “Don’t get any ideas. That woman gives me cold chills.”

Bridie pulled her hand away and leaned back against the booth, a smile hovering on her lips. “So I noticed.” She grinned. “I haven’t seen you that off-guard since Faith took a potshot at you on her first day of work.”

The memory brought a faint smile to Mitch’s lips. “Yeah, she was something.” He saw Sally heading their way with a tray piled high with food and drinks.

Bridie shook out her napkin. “Yes, she was. And so is her sister, evidently.”

Sally plopped two steaming plates of crubeens on the table with a thud. The smell of spicy pork caused his juices to flow. When Sally finished unloading plate after plate, she stood back and grinned, hands propped on her ample hips. “Hope you’re hungry. Ready to dive in?”

Bridie smiled at Sally and picked up her fork. She winked at Mitch. “You know, Sally, I think he just might be.”

***

“You’ve been awfully quiet all night, at least since we left Duffy’s. Honestly, Charity, I’m a bit dismayed. I thought you would be feeling quite victorious. You had him eating out of your hand, you know.”

Charity continued to stare out the window of Rigan’s Rolls Royce as they pulled up in front of her grandmother’s house. Moonlight flooded the garden, casting distorted shadows of fuchsia and larkspur across the cobblestone walk.

He turned the ignition off and shifted to face her. “Charity, look at me.”

She glanced over, one hand hovering on the door handle. “What is it, Rigan?”

He scrutinized her, head cocked as if trying to decipher the mystery of her mood. “What’s wrong?”

She expelled a weighty sigh and leaned back, eyes fixed straight ahead. “I don’t know.”

“You got your wish. You turned his head. You should be happy.”

“I know,” she muttered, her tone quiet. I should be. But what if he still blames me …

“Charity, you effectively reduced the man to moronic monosyllables and clenched teeth.”

Mischief twitched on her lips. She had caught Mitch by surprise. His clear, blue eyes had stared in bold appraisal, taking her in from head to foot without even being aware. At six-foot-four, he towered over her, a mountain of a man with unruly blond hair and a petulant gaze, adept at turning heads as well as she. She grinned, peering at Rigan out of the corner of her eye. “I did, didn’t I?”

Rigan’s smile matched her own. “We did, my dear. You and yours truly—your partner in crime.”

She giggled and twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “It was glorious, wasn’t it? And yes, Rigan, I couldn’t have done it without you.” Her finger suddenly stilled, causing the curl to spring free and spiral to her shoulder. She tilted her head to study him through narrowed eyes. “Why does he dislike you?”

Rigan laughed and reached for her hand, warming it between his fingers. “I could ask you the same thing.”

Her rib cage suddenly felt too tight. A sick feeling settled in her stomach. She tugged her hand free and hefted her chin a notch. “He doesn’t dislike me.”

“Oh, he dislikes you, all right. It was as clear as his stony stare and the humorous tic in his jaw. A thin, cold thread of disgust tightly twined with a scarlet strand of lust. What did you do, Charity? Why does he hate you?”

Fear constricted her throat. He doesn’t hate me—he wanted me! She sat up, her eyes burning with heat. “I think this conversation has come to an end. Thank you for a wonderful evening. Now, if you’ll walk me to the door …”

She fumbled with the door latch, finally swinging it open. He reached across and slammed it closed. The heat of his breath was hot on her face. “No, this conversation is not over. Tell me, Charity. Why does a beautiful woman like you need the assistance of a rogue like me to snare another man’s heart?”

Her pulse pounded in her throat. She didn’t answer.

He jerked her close. “All right. I’ll tell you. I think somehow, someway, you’re the reason he’s no longer engaged to your sister. Lies, perchance. Or perhaps you exposed him, something dark and sinister from his past. Or maybe, just maybe, seduction …” He traced his finger along the curve of her jaw, pausing beneath her lips. “That would be my personal favorite, of course. A temptress.” He lifted her chin with his finger, his gaze upon her mouth. “I’m quite partial to temptresses, you know.” He leaned to kiss her.

Charity pushed him away. “Rigan, stop! What are you doing?”

“Extracting payment,” he whispered. The warmth of his words feathered her cheek.

“Oh,” she breathed, swallowing hard. He leaned in to nuzzle her neck, and the heat of his lips burned like fire. She twisted away. “Lips, Rigan, only lips. Our bargain, remember?” She stared, wide-eyed, her chest rising and falling with ragged breaths.

He grinned. “So it was, Charity, so it was.” He stroked her cheek with his fingers. “I see our ‘temptress’ is nowhere in sight. Pity.” He sighed and took her hand in his. “But temptress or innocent makes little difference to me. Either way, payment is long overdue.”

Cupping her chin in his hand, Rigan brushed her lips with his own, a gentle sway of his mouth against hers before pressing in. A shiver of heat traveled her spine, and her eyes blinked wide as he pulled away. Her hand fluttered to her chest, surprised he’d left her breathless.

“I’ll walk you in.” He opened his door and swung out, circling the car to open hers on the other side. He extended his arm. “I do believe, Miss O’Connor, we’ve struck a bargain that will serve us well.”

Charity blinked and took his hand. “I do believe …” she whispered. She clung to his arm for the trembling of her legs on the final few steps to the porch.

***

“How’s it going, Jimmy?” Mitch scrounged in the pocket of his woolen suit coat. He tossed a punt into a battered can next to a tall pile of newspapers on the street in front of the Irish Times. He took a paper off the top, the stack taller than the toothless man hawking them.

“Oh, not too bad, I suppose.” Jimmy squatted, warming stubby fingers over a pitiful firepot at his feet. He cocked his head and looked up with a grin. “Let’s just say me and the missus won’t be going on a seaside holiday anytime soon.”

Mitch dug back in the coat. He tossed another punt in the can. “Give Mary my love.”

“I will at that, but I’ll wager she’d rather have it from you.”

Mitch attempted a smile and shoved the newspaper under his arm, yawning as he headed to his Model T. He should kick himself for coming back to work after taking Bridie home. What had possessed him? The work could wait. He reached down to rotate the crank. After several tries, the engine sputtered to life. He clenched his jacket closer and got in the car, slowly weaving into the flow of traffic. A weighty bloke on a bike darted in front of him, forcing him to skid to a stop. Mitch blew through his teeth. You’re testing my limits, mister. I’m in the perfect mood to run somebody down.

His foul disposition stayed with him all the way home. He parked the car and got out, flinging the door shut before shuffling up the steps to his grey-stone flat on Cork Street. The window flowerboxes spilled over with leggy impatiens and trailing ivy, stubborn survivors of Dublin’s temperate October nights. Mitch yanked on the curve-handled knob and opened the heavy Georgian door with its arched window and sunny yellow paint. It slammed behind him with a noisy thud. He mounted the gleaming wood staircase, noting that Mrs. Lynch had been busy—the warm maple flooring was buffed to a sheen. Where in the world did the woman get her energy? She was almost eighty, but her vitality left him in the dust.

Mitch jammed the key in his door and jimmied the lock with too much agitation. It might as well have been a fortress. He rammed the door with his knee. “Open up, you blasted thing.” He jangled the knob until the wall vibrated.

“Easy does it, Mitch.” Mrs. Lynch peeped around the corner of her door across the hall, silver tresses trailing beneath a lavender sleep kerchief. Her cornflower-blue eyes sparkled. “It’s just like a woman—the gentler, the better.”

Mitch hung his head in exhaustion. “Sorry, Mrs. Lynch. I didn’t mean to waken you.”

“Bad day at the paper?”

He breathed in some air, then blew it out with the last of his energy. His frustration drifted out along with it. “No, not really. I’m just tired.”

“Well, I already took Runt for his constitutional, so no need to worry about that. Looks like you should go straight to bed.” She squinted, her blue eyes obscured by paper-thin crinkles of skin. “You’re home late. Out with a lady?”

He turned back to the door, turning the key with painstaking ease. “No.” The lock clicked and the door swung open. Mitch managed a stiff smile over his shoulder. “Thank you, Mrs. Lynch. Good night.” He closed the door and flipped the bolt, flinging his coat on the wrought-iron rack. Runt greeted him, his tail thudding against the wall while he burrowed his cold nose into Mitch’s hand. His lovesick squeals helped to soften Mitch’s mood. Tapping his chest with his hands, Mitch chuckled when Runt jumped up, forepaws planted firmly against his shirt. “Hello, big guy, how’s my buddy today? Did you have a nice walk with Mrs. Lynch?”

Runt strained and groaned while Mitch rubbed the side of his snout, his tail flapping in ecstasy. Mitch leaned in and nuzzled the golden retriever, scrubbing his neck with a forceful motion. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, big guy. You keep me sane, you know that?”

Runt woofed, jumped down and commenced dancing in circles.

“All right, all right. Dinner’s coming. Give me a minute to get my bearings.” Mitch struck a match and reached up to light the oil wick of a pewter wall sconce. The light flickered, then filtered into his parlor with a soft, steady glow. He stooped to pick up a piece of lavender-scented stationery off a stack of freshly laundered clothes. He held the note to the light, its edge scalloped with a lacey effect.

Mitch—Runt has been fed and walked. I still have a few of your shirts to press. You can pick them up tomorrow. Mrs. Lynch.

He lifted the sheet to his nose, doubting the lavender fragrance would have any effect in calming his nerves. God bless her. More like a mother than a landlady. A niggling guilt settled in. Great. Perfect company for the irritability that throbbed inside like a splinter of glass. He should take her on an outing. Lunch and the art museum, maybe. She would like that.

Runt continued to bounce, his tail reaching new heights of aerial flight. Mitch propped a hand loosely on his hip. “Don’t try to con me with that pitiful ‘I haven’t eaten in twenty-four-hours act.’ I’m wise to you, buddy-boy. I have it on the best authority you’ve already been fed and watered, and quite well, no doubt.” Runt let out a gruff bark and sank to the floor, extending his forepaws in a long stretch.

Mitch loosened his tie and tossed it on the chair. He lit the Tiffany oil lamp beside his cordovan sofa, then bent to rekindle the remains of a fire he’d started that morning. Warmth seeped into the room, along with the pungent smell of burning peat, but it did little for the cold feeling in his chest. He reached for the newspaper and stretched out on the sofa.

What was wrong with him? His muscles twitched like he’d just sprinted a mile. The clock on the mantle chimed and he looked up, fatigue and edginess warring within. Eleven o’clock, but sleep was nowhere in sight. Mitch sighed and pitched the paper to the other side of the couch. He reached down to scratch Runt, who had sprawled along the foot of the sofa. Mitch exhaled a hefty sigh. His thoughts strayed to their favorite topic.

Faith.

His stomach no longer clutched at the memory of her, but a dull sadness still remained. There had been times when he’d been like this with her, his nerves volatile as if raw and pasted on the outside of his skin. She could always sense it, feel it. And always knew what to do. How to calm him down, soothe him, love him.

Mitch closed his eyes and kneaded his forehead. Usually she’d put her arms around him and hold him, whispering words of love and encouragement and prayer. Always prayer.

Mitch jumped up to dispel the thought and tripped over Runt. A swear word got as far as the edge of his tongue before he bit it back. Runt looked up with liquid-brown eyes. Mitch sighed.

“It’s not your fault, buddy,” he muttered. Runt’s eyes followed him as he paced the room. He stopped and rubbed the back of his neck. He had been doing better lately, hadn’t he? More like himself? Going for days at a time without even thinking of her. Even weeks without missing her. She was across the ocean, for pity’s sake, engaged to someone else. How much farther out of his life could she possibly be?

And then, tonight. Charity. Those hypnotic eyes, staking through his heart with bitter regret and deadly allure.

Just like before.

Mitch slapped the newspaper out of his way and sat back down, hunching on the far edge of the sofa, opposite Runt. He put his head in his hands. She was poison, pure and fatal, even toxic to his mood. Like a spider spinning a light, breezy web, beckoning … “Mima would love to see you, Mitch. We all would.”

He sat up and burrowed his fingers through his hair, cursing the attraction he felt, even now. That had always been the problem. Loving Faith and avoiding Charity. Ignoring the fascination she seemed to have with him.

Until he gave in.

Mitch jumped up, shaking it off. The guilt, the regret, the attraction. He fumbled through his desk drawer for the Bible Faith had given him. He uncovered it beneath a stack of coffee-stained galley sheets. Clutching it to his chest, he sank back on the sofa, calm finally settling in.

He wanted to avoid Charity completely, but something in his gut told him no. He had to see her again, if only to warn her about Rigan. His jaw hardened. She needed to know.

Mitch leaned his head back on the sofa and closed his eyes. It would be good to see her grandmother and great-grandmother again. In the eight months he courted Faith, he’d grown fond of Bridget Murphy and her mother, Mima. They had been like family. Then the war ended, and Faith’s family had returned to Boston, leaving Charity behind. To help take care of Mima, she said. Somehow Mitch suspected she had other motives. She always did.

He sat up and opened his eyes, flipping the pages of the Bible at random. He settled on 2nd Corinthians, and his eyes widened as he scanned the page. Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?

A ghost of a smile flitted across his lips. So much for Bridie’s implication that he pursue Charity O’Connor. ‘As far as the east is from the west,’ so is Charity from her God. Mitch sighed. It was a real pity. She was an amazingly beautiful woman who drew him like a magnet. Once, he would have gladly explored the bounds of her generosity without compunction. But Faith had changed everything. Attraction, lust and beauty had been enough before. Not anymore. Now he craved the beauty of the Spirit, the touch of God in his soul. His love for Faith had been pure, God-directed, exhilarating. Never again would he settle for less.

Mitch continued to read, the power of the words warming his body like the fire had been unable to do. He yawned, realizing his tension had finally dissipated, slinking away like the dusk at the end of day. He placed the Bible on the table and stood, stretching to release the kinks.

Thoughts of Charity suddenly flashed, and he stiffened his jaw. By the grace of God, he could do this. He would warn her and be done with it. And then he’d get on with his life.

He looked up to the ceiling, brows arched in expectation. “I’m gonna need your grace to do it, you know.” He stifled a yawn and blew out the lamp. “A boatload should do.”