The MacGregor Legacy - From Scotland to the Carolinas

(Book 1 - For Love or Loyalty) (Book 2 - For Love or Country) (Book 3 - For Love or Liberty)

Path of Freedom, Quilts of Love series

1858 North Carolina - When Quakers Flora Saferight and Bruce Millikan embark on the Underground Railroad, they agree to put their differences aside to save the lives of a pregnant slave couple..

Highland Sanctuary, (Highland series - Book 2)

1477 Scotland - A chieftain heir is hired to restore Briagh Castle and discovers a hidden village of outcasts who have created their own private sanctuary from the world.

Highland Blessings, (Book 1 - Highland series)

1473 Scotland - The story of a highland warrior who kidnaps the daughter of his greatest enemy and clan chief to honor a promise to his dying father.

Awakened Redemption (Inspirational Regency)

1815 England - A story that pierces the heart and captures the Regency era.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

CFBA Blog Tour - "The Protector" by Shelley Shepard Gray

#christianfiction, #amishfiction
 
The
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Protector
Avon Inspire; Original edition (June 28, 2011)
by
Shelley Shepard Gray





ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Shelley Shepard Gray is the beloved author of the Sisters of the Heart series, including Hidden, Wanted, and Forgiven. Before writing, she was a teacher in both Texas and Colorado. She now writes full time and lives in southern Ohio with her husband and two children. When not writing, Shelley volunteers at church, reads, and enjoys walking her miniature dachshund on her town's scenic bike trail.

Check out Shelley's Facebook Fan page.



ABOUT THE BOOK:


Everyone needs a safe place to call home

When her mother passes away, Ella's forced to auction off her family's farm. Her father died years ago, and she could never manage the fifty acres on her own. But after she moves to town, she can't deny the pain she feels watching the new owner, Loyal Weaver, repairing her family's old farmhouse—everything Ella had once dreamed of doing.

What Ella doesn't know is that Loyal secretly hopes she will occupy this house again...as his wife. He begins inviting her over, to ask her opinion on changes he wants to make. As their friendship blooms, Ella starts to wonder about Loyal's intentions, especially when her best friend, Dorothy, hints that Loyal is not who he seems. There's no way the golden boy of their close-knit Amish community could be interested in Ella, long the wallflower, hidden away caring for her ailing parents.

Should she trust the man she's always yearned for, or the friend who's always been by her side? When one of them threatens to disrupt the independence she's finally achieved, Ella is faced with a choice. She can protect her heart and keep things the way they've always been. Or she can come out of her shell, risk everything for the love she's always wanted, and finally have a place to call home.

If you would like to read an excerpt from The Protector, go HERE.

Buy it on Amazon, here

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

See the New Bookmarks for "Highland Sanctuary"

I wanted to share the new bookmarks I've created for my upcoming novel, Highland Sanctuary. I've posted an image of both the front and back. You can click on the image to make it larger. Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wild Card Book Tour - "Livvie's Song" by Sharlene MacLaren

#christianfiction, #christianromance

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

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


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

Whitaker House (July 5, 2011)
***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


“Shar” grew up in western Michigan and graduated from Spring Arbor University with a degree in education. She traveled the world with a musical group before returning home to marry Cecil MacLaren whom she’d known since childhood. Together they raised two daughters (and now have three grandchildren). As retirement approached, Shar asked God for a new mission that would fill her heart with the same kind of passion she’d felt for teaching and raising her family. She found her mission in Christian fiction writing, crafting plotlines that bring her characters face-to-face with God’s grace and restorative power. Since 2007 she’s released nine successful books – two historical series and three stand-alone contemporary novels – that have earned her numerous awards and an ever-increasing base of loyal readers who are comforted, inspired, and entertained by her books.

Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Life is far from a breeze for Olivia Beckman, owner of Livvie’s Kitchen, a favorite of locals in Wabash, Indiana. It’s the 1920’s and the widowed mother of two is struggling to make ends meet—no simple feat when her cook turns in his resignation. A late night patron soon solves the problem, though. Looking for work and carrying his only earthly possessions -- a harmonica and a Bible -- Will Taylor is an experienced cook eager for work. What Will doesn’t share is that his experience comes from ten years working behind bars in the prison cafeteria. He manages to bake his way into the stomachs of his customers—and into Livvie’s heart as well. Both Livvie and Will are hesitant, though, bearing deep wounds from the past. A recipe for love between them will require sharing secrets, braving dangers, and believing God for a bright future.


Product Details:
List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (July 5, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603742123
ISBN-13: 978-1603742122

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

May 1926

Wabash, Indiana

“Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song.”
—Psalm 149:1

Smoke rings rose and circled the heads of Charley Arnold and Roy Scott as they sat in Livvie’s Kitchen and partook of steaming coffee, savory roast beef and gravy, and conversation, guffawing every so often at each other’s blather. Neither seemed to care much who heard them, since the whole place buzzed with boisterous midday talk. Folks came to her restaurant to fill their stomachs, Livvie Beckman knew, but, for many, getting an earful of gossip was just as satisfying.

Behind the counter in the kitchen, utensils banged against metal and pots and pans sizzled and boiled with steam and smoke. “Order’s up!” hollered the cook, Joe Stewart. On cue, Livvie carried the two hamburger platters to Pete and Susie Jones’s table and set them down with a hasty smile. Her knee-length, floral cotton skirt flared as she turned, mopping her brow and blowing several strawberry blonde strands of damp hair off her face, and hustled to the counter. “You boys put out those disgusting nicotine sticks,” she scolded Charley and Roy on the run. “How many times do I have to tell you, I don’t allow smoking in this establishment? We don’t even have ashtrays.”

“Aw, Livvie, how you expect us t’ enjoy a proper cup o’ coffee without a cigarette?” Charley whined to her back. “’Sides, ar’ saucers work fine for ashtrays.”

“Saucers are not ashtrays,” stated old Evelyn Garner from the booth behind the two men. She craned her long, skinny neck and trained her owl eyes on them, her lips pinched together in a tight frown. Her husband, Ira Garner, had nothing to say, of course. He rarely did, preferring to let his wife do the talking. Instead, he slurped wordlessly on his tomato soup.

Livvie snatched up the next order slip from the counter and gave it a glance. Then, she lifted two more plates, one of macaroni and cheese, the other of a chicken drumstick and mashed potatoes, and whirled back around, eyeing both men sternly. “I expect you to follow my rules, boys”—she marched past them—“or go next door to Isaac’s, where the smoke’s as thick as cow dung.”

Her saucy remark gave rise to riotous hoots. “You tell ’em, Liv,” someone said—Harv Brewster, perhaps? With the racket of babies crying, patrons chattering, the cash register clinking as Cora Mae Livingston tallied somebody’s order, the screen door flapping open and shut, and car horns honking outside, Livvie couldn’t discern who said what. Oh, how she wished she had the funds to hire a few more waitresses. Some days, business didn’t call for it, but, today, it screamed, “Help!”

“You best listen, fellas. When Livvie Beckman speaks, she means every word,” said another. She turned at the husky male voice but couldn’t identify its source.

“Lady, you oughtta go to preachin’ school,” said yet another unknown speaker.

“She’s somethin’, ain’t she?” There was no mistaking Coot Hermanson’s croaky pipes. Her most loyal customer, also the oldest by far, gave her one of his famous, toothy grins over his coffee cup, which he held with trembling hands. No one really knew Coot’s age, and most people suspected he didn’t know it, himself, but Livvie thought he looked to be a hundred; ninety-nine, at the very least. But that didn’t keep him from showing up at her diner on Market Street every day, huffing from the two-block walk, his faithful black mongrel, Reggie, parked on his haunches under the red and white awning out front, waiting for his usual handout of leftover bacon or the heels of a fresh-baked loaf of bread.

Before scooting past him, she stooped to tap him with her elbow. “I’ll be right back to fill that coffee cup, Coot,” she whispered into his good ear.

He lifted an ancient white eyebrow and winked. “You take your time, missy,” he wheezed back before she straightened and hurried along.

Of all her regulars, Coot probably knew her best—knew about the tough fa├žade she put on, day in and day out; recognized the rawness of her heart, the ache she still carried from the loss of her beloved Frank. More than a year had come and gone since her husband’s passing, but it still hurt to the heavens to think about him. More painful still were her desperate attempts to keep his memory alive for her sons, Alex and Nathan. She’d often rehash how she’d met their father at a church picnic when the two were only teenagers; how he’d enjoyed fishing, hunting, and building things with his bare hands; and how, as he’d gotten older, his love of the culinary arts had planted within him a seed of desire to one day open his own restaurant. She’d tell them how they’d worked so hard to scrimp and save, even while raising a family, and how thrilled Frank had been when that dream had finally come to fruition.

What she didn’t tell her boys was how much she struggled to keep her passion for the restaurant alive in their daddy’s absence. Oh, she had Joe, of course, but he’d dropped the news last week that he’d picked up a new kitchen job in a Chicago diner—some well-known establishment, he’d said—and he could hardly have turned it down, especially with his daughter and grandchildren begging him to move closer to them. Wabash had been home to Joe Stewart since childhood, but his wife had died some five years ago, and he had little to keep him here. It made sense, Livvie supposed, but it didn’t make her life any easier having to find a replacement.

She set down two plates for a couple she’d never seen before, a middle-aged man and his wife. Strangers were always passing through Wabash on their ways north or south, so it wasn’t unusual for her not to know them. “You folks enjoy your lunch,” she said with a smile.

“Thank you kindly,” the man said, licking his lips and loosening his tie. “This meal looks mighty fine.”

Livvie nodded, then made for the coffeepot behind the counter, sensing it was time for a round of refills.

A cloud of smoke still surrounded Charley and Roy’s table, though their cigarettes looked to be nearing their ends. She decided not to mention anything further about their annoying behavior unless they lit up again. Those fools had little compunction and even less consideration for the feelings of others. She would have liked to ban them from her restaurant, if it weren’t for the revenue they brought in with their almost daily visits. Gracious, it cost an awful lot to keep a restaurant going. She would sell it tomorrow if she had a backup plan, but she didn’t. Besides, Frank would bust out of his casket if she hung a “For Sale” sign on the front door. The diner had been his dream, one she’d adopted with gusto because she’d loved him so much, but she hadn’t envisioned his leaving her in the thick of it before they’d paid off their mortgage on the three-story building and turned a good profit on the restaurant.

Oh, why had God taken Frank at such a young age? He’d been thirty-one, married for ten years and a restaurant owner for five. Couldn’t God have intervened and sent an angel just in time to keep Frank from stepping in front of that horse-drawn wagon hauling furniture? And why, for mercy’s sake, did the accident have to occur right in front of the restaurant, drawing a huge crowd and forever etching in her mind’s eye the sight of her beloved lying in the middle of the street, blood oozing from his nose and mouth, his eyes open but not really seeing? Coot often told her that God had her best interests in mind and that she needed to trust Him with her whole heart, but how could she, when it seemed like few things ever went right for her, and she had to work so hard to stay afloat? Goodness, she barely had a minute to spare for her own children.

Swallowing a sigh, she hefted up the coffeepot, which had finished percolating, and started the round of refills, beginning with Coot Hermanson.

***

Will Taylor ground out his last cigarette with the sole of his worn shoe as he leaned against the wall of the train car, his head pounding with every jolt, the whir and buzz of metal against metal ripping through his head. He stared down at his empty pack of Luckies and turned up his mouth in the corner, giving a little huff of self-disgust. He didn’t really smoke—not anymore. But, when he’d left Welfare Island State Penitentiary in New York City in the wee hours of the morning, one of the guards had handed him a fresh pack, along with the few belongings he had to his name, and he’d smoked the entire thing to help pass the time.

Sharing the mostly empty freight car with him were a dozen or so other men, the majority of whom wore unkempt beards, ragged clothing, and long faces. They also stank to the heavens. He figured he fit right in with the lot of them. Frankly, they all looked like a bunch of bums—and probably were, for that matter. Why else would they have jumped aboard the freight car at various stations while the yardmen had their backs turned instead of purchasing a ticket for a passenger car? Will had intended to pay his fare, and he’d even found himself standing in the queue outside the ticket booth, but when he’d counted his meager stash of cash, he’d fallen out of line. Thankfully, the dense morning fog had made his train-jumping maneuver a cinch. If only it could have had the same effect on his conscience. He’d just been released from prison. Couldn’t he get through his first day of freedom without breaking the law?

“Where you headed, mister?” the man closest to him asked.

He could count on one hand the number of minutes anybody on that dark, dingy car had spent engaged in conversation in the hours they’d been riding, and he didn’t much feel like talking now. Yet he turned to the fellow, anyway. “Wabash, Indiana,” he answered. “Heard it’s a nice place.”

Actually, he knew nothing about it, save for the state song, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” which spoke about the river running through it. He’d determined his destination just that morning while poring over a map in the train station, thinking that any other place in the country would beat where he’d spent the last ten years. When he’d overheard someone mention Wabash, he’d found it on the map and, knowing it had its own song, set his mind on going there.

He didn’t know a soul in Wabash, which made the place all the more appealing. Best to make a fresh start anonymously. Of course, he had no idea what he’d do to make a living, and it might be that he’d have to move on to the next town if jobs there were scarce. But he’d cross that bridge when he came to it.

His stomach growled, so he opened his knapsack and took out an apple, just one of the few items he’d lifted from the jail kitchen the previous night—with the approval of Harry Wilkinson, the kitchen supervisor. The friends he’d made at Welfare Island were few, as he couldn’t trust most folks any farther than he could pitch them, but he did consider Harry a friend, having worked alongside him for the past four years. Harry had told him about the love of God and convinced him not six months ago to give his heart over to Him, saying he’d need a good friend when he left the island and could do no better than the Creator of the universe. Will had agreed, of course, but he sure was green in the faith department, even though he’d taken to reading the Bible Harry had given him—his first and only—almost every night before laying his head on his flat, frayed pillow.

“Wabash, eh?” the man said, breaking into his musings. “I heard of it. Ain’t that the first electrically lighted city in the world? I do believe that’s their claim to fame.”

“That right? I wouldn’t know.”

“What takes you to Wabash?” he persisted, pulling on his straggly beard.

Will pulled on his own thick beard, mostly brown with some flecks of blond, briefly wondering if he ought to shave it off before he went in search of a job. He’d seen his reflection in a mirror that morning for the first time in a week and had nearly fallen over. In fact, he’d had to do some mental calculations to convince himself that he was actually thirty-four years old, not forty-three. Prison had not been kind to his appearance; where he’d slaved under the hot summer sun, digging trenches and hoeing the prison garden, and spent the winters hauling coal and chopping logs. While the work had put him in excellent shape physically, the sun and wind had wreaked havoc on his skin, freckling his nose and arms and wrinkling his forehead. When he hadn’t been outside, he’d worked in a scorching-hot kitchen, stirring kettles of soup, peeling potatoes, cutting slabs of beef, filleting fish, and plucking chickens’ feathers.

“Wabash seemed as good a place as any,” he replied after some thought, determined to keep his answers short and vague.

The fellow peered at him with arched eyebrows. “Where you come from, anyway?”

“Around.”

A chuckle floated through the air but quickly drowned in the train’s blaring whistle. The man dug into his side pocket and brought out a cigar, stuck it in his mouth, and lit the end, then took a deep drag before blowing out a long stream of smoke. He gave a thoughtful nod and gazed off. “Yeah, I know. Me, too.” Across the dark space, the others shifted or slept, legs crossed at the ankles, heads bobbing, not seeming to care about the conversation, if they even heard it.

Will might have inquired after his traveling companion, but his years behind bars had taught him plenty—most important, not to trust his fellow man, and certainly never to divulge his personal history. And posing questions to others would only invite inquiries about himself.

He chomped down his final bite of apple, then tossed the chiseled core onto the floor, figuring a rodent would appreciate it later. Then, he wiped his hands on his pant legs, reached inside his hip pocket, and pulled out his trusty harmonica. Moistening his lips, he brought the instrument to his mouth and started breathing into it, cupping it like he might a beautiful woman’s face. Music had always soothed whatever ailed him, and, ever since he’d picked up the skill as a youngster under his grandfather’s tutelage, he’d often whiled away the hours playing this humble instrument.

He must have played half a dozen songs—“Oh, Dem Golden Slippers,” “Oh My Darling, Clementine,” “Over There,” “Amazing Grace,” “The Sidewalks of New York,” and even “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away”—before the shrill train whistle announced their arrival in Wabash. Another stowaway pulled the car door open a crack to peek out and establish their whereabouts.

Quickly, Will stuffed his mouth organ inside his pocket, then stretched his back, the taut muscles tingling from being stationary for so long. At least his pounding headache had relented, replaced now by a mess of tangled nerves. “Reserved excitement” is how he would have described his emotion.

“Nice playin’,” said a man whose face was hidden by the shadow of his low-lying hat. He tipped the brim at Will and gave a slow nod. “You’ve got a way with that thing. Almost put me in a lonesome-type mood.”

“Thanks. For the compliment, I mean. Sorry ’bout your gloomy mood. Didn’t mean to bring that on.”

“Ain’t nothin’. I been jumpin’ trains fer as long as I can remember. Gettin’ the lonelies every now and again is somethin’ to be ’spected, I s’pose.”

“That’s for sure,” mumbled another man, sitting in a corner with his legs stretched out. Will glanced at the sole of his boot and noticed his sock pushing through a gaping hole. Something like a rock turned over in his gut. These guys made a habit of hopping on trains, living off handouts, and roaming the countryside. Vagabonds, they were. He hoped never to see the inside of another freight car, and, by gum, he’d make sure he didn’t—with the Lord’s help, of course. He had enough money to last a couple of weeks, so long as he holed up someplace dirt-cheap and watched what he spent on food. He prayed he’d land a job—any job—in that time. He wouldn’t be choosy in the beginning; he couldn’t afford to be. If he had to haul garbage, well, so be it. He couldn’t expect to do much more than that, not with a criminal record. His hope was that no one would inquire. After all, who but somebody downright desperate would hire an ex-con? Not that he planned to volunteer that bit of information, but he supposed anybody could go digging if they really wanted to know.

He hadn’t changed his name, against Harry’s advice. “I’m not going to run for the rest of my life, Harry,” he’d argued. “Heck, I served my time. It’s not that I plan to broadcast it, mind you, but I’m not going to carry the weight of it forever, either. I wasn’t the only one involved in that stupid burglary.” Though he did shoulder most of the responsibility for committing it. The others had left him to do most of the dirty work, and they’d run off when the law had shown up.

Harry had nodded in silence, then reached up to lay a bony hand on Will’s hulking shoulder. Few people ever laid a hand on him and got away with it, so, naturally, he’d started to pull away, but Harry had held firm, forcing Will to loosen up. “You got a good point there, Will. You’re a good man, you know that?” He hadn’t known that, and he’d appreciated Harry’s vote of confidence. “You just got to go out there and be yourself. Folks will believe in you if you take the first step, start seeing your own self-worth. The Lord sees it, and you need to look at yourself through His eyes. Before you know it, your past will no longer matter—not to you or to anyone else.”

The train brakes screeched for all of a minute, with smoke rising up from the tracks and seeping in through the cracks of the dirty floor. Will choked back the burning residue and stood up, then gazed down at his strange companions, feeling a certain kinship he’d never expected. “You men be safe, now,” he said, passing his gaze over each one. Several of them acknowledged him with a nod, but most just gave him a vacant stare. The fellow at the back of the car who’d spent the entire day sleeping in the shadows finally lifted his face a notch and looked at him—vigilantly, Will thought. Yet he shook off any uneasiness.

The one who’d first struck up a conversation with him, short-lived as it had been, raised his bearded chin. The two made eye contact. “You watch yourself out there, fella. You got to move fast once your feet hit that dirt. Anybody sees you jumpin’ off is sure to report you, and if it’s one of the yardmen, well, you may as well kiss your hiney good-bye. They got weapons on them, and they don’t look kindly on us spongers.”

“Thanks. I’ll be on guard.” Little did the man know how adept he was at handling himself. The years he’d served in the state pen had taught him survival skills he hoped never to have to use in the outside world.

When the train finally stopped, he reached inside his shirt pocket and peeked at his watch, which was missing its chain. Ten minutes after seven. He pulled the sliding door open just enough to fit his bulky body through, then poked his head out and looked around. Finding the coast clear, thanks to a long freight train parked on neighboring tracks, he gave the fellows one last nod, then leaped from the car and slunk off into the gathering dusk, his sack of meager possessions slung over his shoulder.

First item on his short agenda: look for a restaurant where he could silence his grumbling stomach.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Writers, Network with Agents & Editors

If I could give aspiring writers and established authors one piece of advice, it would be to network. When most of us hear the word network, we think about networking with other authors. Agents and editors are on a separate level from the rest of us, and we can only talk to them when we have something to pitch. Please know that this is a false perception and this thought process only hurts our career and grows a deep divide that shouldn't exist. 

Even if you aren't published or a well-known author, if they recognize your name from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, your comments on their blog, a writer's conference, or writing contests they've judged, they will pay extra attention to your query letter when they receive it. Marketing yourself doesn't begin after your get your first book published, it begins way before then as a pre-published author. You may be a shy introvert, but online social networking is a great opportunity for those of us with this problem. It helps break the ice for when we attend writing conferences in person. It builds name recognition in the industry.

Please note I am NOT advocating that you harass editors and agents, but network with them as you would with other authors. Be positive and encouraging when you leave comments. Ask questions that relate to the topic of discussion--not every discussion is a lead back to your book. Learn their likes and dislikes. This will give you a better idea of what kind of books to pitch to them at writing conferences and how to write your query letters to appeal to them as individuals. 

For example, their submission guidelines may say that they accept historical Christian fiction, but one editor may have a heart for Regencies while another may really prefer early 19th century. How will you know this? By networking with them, being a friend, and paying attention. Would you invite a friend to go golfing if you know that person really prefers ice skating? Of course not. 

People are people regardless of their titles and roles. Keep this in mind when networking with agents and editors. They will appreciate your professionalism and courteous manners more than anything.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

CFBA Blog Tour - "The Sweetest Thing" by Elizabeth Musser

#christianfiction
 
The
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Sweetest Thing
• Bethany House
by
Elizabeth Musser


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Elizabeth Musser, an Atlanta native, studied English and French literature at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She had the opportunity to spend a semester in Aix-en-Provence, France. During her Senior year at Vanderbilt, she attended a five-day missions conference for students and discovered an amazing thing: God had missionaries in France, and she felt God calling her there. After graduation, she spent eight months training for the mission field in Chicago, Illinois and then two years serving in a tiny Protestant church in Eastern France where she met her future husband.

Elizabeth lives in southern France with her husband and their two sons. She finds her roles as a mother, wife, author and missionary filled with challenges and chances to see God’s hand at work daily in her life. Inspiration for her novels come both from her experiences growing up in Atlanta, as well as through the people she meets in France. Many conversations within her novels are inspired from real-life conversations with skeptics and seekers alike.

Her acclaimed novel, The Swan House, was a Book Sense bestseller list in the Southeast and was selected as one of the top Christian books for 2001 by Amazon's editors. Searching for Eternity is her sixth novel.


ABOUT THE BOOK:

Compelling Southern Novel Explores Atlanta Society in the 1930s.

The Singleton family’s fortunes seem unaffected by the Great Depression, and Perri—along with the other girls at Atlanta’s elite Washington Seminary—lives a life of tea dances with college boys and matinees at the cinema. When tragedy strikes, Perri is confronted with a world far different from the one she has always known.

At the insistence of her parents, Mary ‘Dobbs’ Dillard, the daughter of an itinerant preacher, is sent from inner-city Chicago to live with her aunt and attend Washington Seminary. Dobbs, passionate, fiercely individualistic and deeply religious, enters Washington Seminary as a bull in a china shop and shocks the girls with her frank talk about poverty and her stories of revival on the road. Her arrival intersects at the point of Perri’s ultimate crisis, and the tragedy forges an unlikely friendship.

The Sweetest Thing tells the story of two remarkable young women—opposites in every way—fighting for the same goal: surviving tumultuous change. Just as the Great Depression collides disastrously with Perri's well-ordered life, friendship blossoms--a friendship that will be tested by jealousy, betrayal, and family secrets...

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Sweetest Thing, go HERE.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Highland Blessings Won a Holt Medallion Award

GREAT NEWS! I'm pleased to announce that Highland Blessings won the Best First Book Category in the Holt Medallion Awards of Merit & also finaled in the top 5 in the Long Inspirational Category!
 Super congratulation to all the winners! Here's a link to the listing: 
http://www.virginiaromancewriters.com/Contests/holtwinners.html

Adapting to Writing Under Contract

Two years ago I attended a private Abingdon Press author retreat in PA. I was contracted for my debut novel, Highland Blessings, but not yet contracted for any other books. I was surrounded by first-time authors like myself and other experienced authors who were multi-published, meaning three or more published books. It was a weekend of spiritual awakening and lots of growth. I didn't know it then, but many things from that weekend would last with me until this day.


I was talking to one of the authors who had as many as 30 books in print. I was telling her how hard it was to spend a whole year writing a book and wait until it's finished before submitting it anywhere. She looked at me and said, "You're contracted now. You need to be working on as many proposals as possible and concentrate on submitting them. Don't wait until you're finished with any of them." 

While I knew this to be something multi-published authors could do, I didn't think it was something I could do without having several books in print with a sales record. Her piece of advice turned out to be the best thing I've followed and now I'm sharing it with you.

One of the reasons I hesitated to send in an unfinished proposal is that I had a full-time job and it scared me to commit to something with a deadline, knowing my available time would be limited to working on it. My deadlines would still be the same as a novelist who wrote full-time. I took the plunge anyway and I followed her advice.


The next four books and two novellas were all contracted on proposal. This meant I had a concept or a synopsis in mind, but the books still needed to be written, the characters created, the research conducted, the plot worked out--everything.


Writing under contract does bring a new set of pressures that I didn't experience before. These new circumstances are requiring me to re-prioritize my time, be flexible, set goals, and plan, plan, plan.


Here are a few examples of what has changed and how I've adapted:
1) Set Flexible Priorities  - Before I could work on whatever I chose as the muse hit me. If I wanted to work on a medieval for a few months and set my Regency aside, I could. Now I must work on the books with the upcoming contract due first. I must continue to promote my debut novel and build my platform while working on my upcoming contracts. Still, even promotion must take a back seat to meeting my writing deadlines. For this reason, I must constantly evaluate my goals, my progress and adjust my daily activities accordingly.

2) Set a Flexible Writing Schedule - Before if I was on a roll with a manuscript, I wouldn't let up until the momentum slowed down or I finished. Now my flexibility must be as durable and stretchable as elastic. This year I had a macro edit deadline on Highland Sanctuary due May 1st, the complete novella for Heart's Inheritance due June 1st, and the complete novella on New Garden's Hope due July 1st. Between Feb and March I wrote as much as possible on the first novella. In the middle of it, I received my macro edits. I had to stop writing the novella, switch gears to a different time period, setting, country, characters and plot and go full-swing in the other direction.

After I turned in my macro edits I went right back to finishing the novella. When I started working on the second novella, I received proof edits on the other one. These are due June 21st. I have one more chapter to write on this novella, then I'll set it to the side. Work on my proofs for the other novel and then go back to the novella and incorporate edits. See what I mean about flexibility? And yes, I still work a full-time job. 

3) Goals Must Be Set - Without my goals, I would lose sight of where I'm going, what I'm doing, and I'd probably lose myself in all the busy-ness of everything. I look at my work schedule, family time, other commitments and I cut what is possible. Hubby is now doing a lot of the house work and is now helping me with marketing and promotion. I know how many words I can realistically write each day. Based on my due date, I set a realistic word count goal for the week and I do my best to stick with it. I have short-term weekly goals, and long-term monthly goals. If I receive more edits or proofs from one of my editors, goals and priorities will shift as needed, thus the flexibility.

4) Plan, Plan, Plan - I'm a flexible planner. What I mean by this is I will set a plan, but it isn't the only plan. If the first plan falls through, I have Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D. It's the only way I can function. It's how I received my 4-year B.A. degree in only 3 short years. Even though I'm a planner, I'm well aware of life's little unexpected curve balls. Most of the time I'm prepared and can bounce back with one of my back-up plans. My hubby and everyone who knows me well, accuse me of analyzing everything. I can't help it.


Life is won inch-by-inch, by never giving up, and keeping my eyes on the light of God every step of the way.


Promotion must continue in spite of my full-time job and my writing and researching. Therefore, I set aside time each day for Twitter, Facebook, emails, and blogging. You will not catch me watching TV or playing games. I just don't have the time. I reserve all my down time for my family and much needed rest. It may seem like I'm not accomplishing much on social media and with blogging, but I'm moving inch-by-inch, and just like pennies, they all add up over time. 

For those of you waiting to be contracted and others who are already contracted and trying to navigate your way through, I hope this post gives you some ideas and encouragement. 

If you have other thoughts that would be helpful, please share.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

CFBA Blog Tour - "The Lady of Bolton Hill" by Elizabeth Camden

#christianfiction
The
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Lady of Bolton Hill
Bethany House
by
Elizabeth Camden


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

A research librarian and associate professor, Elizabeth Camden has a master’s in history from the University of Virginia and a master’s in library science from Indiana University. She has published several articles for academic publications and is the author of four nonfiction history books. Her ongoing fascination with history and love of literature have led her to write inspirational fiction. Elizabeth lives with her husband in central Florida.



 

ABOUT THE BOOK:


Female journalists are rare in 1879, but American-born Clara Endicott has finally made a name for herself with her provocative articles championing London's poor. When the backlash from her work forces a return home to Baltimore, Clara finds herself face-to-face with a childhood sweetheart who is no longer the impoverished factory worker she once knew. In her absence, Daniel Tremain has become a powerful industry giant and Clara finds him as enigmatic as ever.

When Clara Endicott and Daniel Tremain's worlds collide after twelve years apart, the spark that was once between them immediately reignites into a romance neither of them thought possible.

But time has changed them both.

Daniel is an industrial titan with powerful enemies. Clara is an idealistic journalist determined to defend underprivileged workers.

Can they withstand the cost of their convictions while their hearts, and lives, hang in the balance?

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Lady of Bolton Hill, go HERE.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Behold All Things Are New

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation: old things have passed away; behold all things have become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17)

We may have a past, but we don't have to live in it. The things you've done, the hurts other people have caused you, all of that stuff can go. You are a NEW person in Christ. You've made it through to the other side. Learn what you can from it and move on. Let it go.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Managing the Personal Connection with Readers

Sometimes writers feel overwhelmed as we try to respond to every comment on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, our Blogs, and other social media. In addition to these "public" forums we have private messages flowing through these platforms as well as emails from our websites and blogs. We don't want to neglect anyone or appear unapproachable, but we have to find a way to manage it at a level that is realistic without raising our stress levels.

Here are a few tips I've learned that might be helpful to you:

1) When responding to comments, group people together who may have left a similar comment where the same response would be appropriate to all of them. List their names if you want and then answer their question or thank them for what they've taken the time to say.

2) Reserve a more personal direct response for those questions or comments that may be more unique. 

3) It's okay to thank everyone on a thread with one comment. There have been times I've had as many as 30-40 comments on Facebook. I couldn't personally respond to all of them and when my birthday rolled around I had over 250 birthday wishes. I appreciate each and everyone, but it is impossible for me to respond on a personal level, and I think readers and friends realize that. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to do this. 

4) Feel free to use the "Like" button on FB. It's a wonderful feature! That way people know you saw their comment, took note of it, and you like it. You don't have to stop and comment back on every comment unless you want to and have time to do this.

5) If you want to take your time and really respond to an email on a personal level, send them a quick email letting them know you got their email, but you want to respond in-depth when you have more time. That way they aren't left wondering if you got it or it went into spam, if you're going to respond, etc. I do this with prayer requests in particular. Sometimes I need time to think about the prayer request and pray about it before I respond. I want to make sure I get direction from God on what I'm going to say or what Scripture He might want me to share. 

Personal Book Signings, Workshops and Conferences
If you'd really like to connect with an author whether you're a reader or a fellow author, if that individual is making an effort to be anywhere near your town, this is the perfect opportunity to connect with them on a personal level. There is still value in face-to-face relationships. It may take a little extra time out of both your schedules, and some gas money in driving, but you never know what God might have in store for you both. I've made some awesome friends with readers and other authors that I would have never felt that same connection through online Social Media. You can't put a price tag on those friendships.
What are some ways you're managing you're growing online platform? And please, share some of your personal face-to-face connections as well.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Charleston, Here I Come! A Researching I will Go!

I haven't been posting about history on Fridays since I've been in the writing and editing mode these days. I haven't had a chance to do much research, but that is about to change. I have two more deadlines to meet on June 21st and July 1st. As soon as I turn in proofread edits on Highland Sanctuary and the manuscript for New Garden's Hope, I'll be shifting my attention to the first book in the MacGregor Quest series. 

That means before I can start writing, I have to complete some research. The Forbidden Conquest is set in 1760 and follows a family from Scotland to the Carolinas, specifically the Charleston port. I have lots planned for Malcolm MacGregor and Lauren Campbell. I've been looking forward to writing this story for over a year. 

While I love the transition period between the Medieval and Renaissance periods when Highland Blessings and Highland Sanctuary was set, I'm looking forward to the colonial period when more vocabulary was in use. I'll be able to write to my heart's content and not worry so much about word usage. Most of the words I tend to want use came into existence between 1550-1650. I feel like I'm sliding into home base and someone is yelling over my shoulder, "Safe!"

During my upcoming trip to Charleston, I'm scheduling a private tour with one of their historians, specifically covering the time period and plot thread I'll be writing. I hope to return with lots of photos I can share with you and some interesting research that will launch me into the story. If only I could take a similar research trip to Scotland...

What has been your most interesting research or enlightening trip?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Wild Card Book Tour - "Pompeii: City on Fire" by T.L. Higley

Releasing today! #christianfiction

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

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


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

B&H Books; Original edition (June 1, 2011)
***Special thanks to T.L. Higley for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tracy started her first novel at the age of eight and has been hooked on writing ever since. After earning a B.A. in English Literature at Rowan University, she spent ten years writing drama presentations for church ministry before beginning to write fiction. A lifelong interest in history and mythology has led Tracy to extensive research into ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome and Persia, and shaped her desire to shine the light of the gospel into the cultures of the past.

She has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Italy, researching her novels and falling into adventures.


Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

A city shadowed by a roiling volcano
A young politician running from his destiny
A Jewish slave girl with a desperate plan
Are any of them safe from harm?

Pleasure-seeking Romans find the seaside town of Pompeii the perfect getaway. But when the rich patrician Cato escapes Rome, intent on a life of leisure, he is unprepared for the hostility he encounters. In the same place, but at the opposite end of society, Ariella has disguised herself as a young boy to be sold into a gladiator troupe. Survival is her only ambition.
But evil creeps through the streets of Pompeii, and neither Ariella’s secret nor Cato’s evasion is immune to it. Political corruption, religious persecution, and family peril threaten to destroy them, even before an ominous mountain in the distance spews its fire.

As Vesuvius churns with deadly intent, Cato and Ariella must bridge their differences to save the lives of those they love—before fiery ash buries Pompeii, turning the city into a lost world.


Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: B&H Books; Original edition (June 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1433668572
ISBN-13: 978-1433668579

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Prologue
Jerusalem

August 9, 70 AD

Ariella shoved through the clogged street, defying the mob of frantic citizens. Men, women, and children crowded the alleys, senseless in their panic to flee the city. They carried all they could, packed into pouches slung across their chests and clutched in sweaty hands. Soldiers ran with them, as though they had all joined a macabre stadium footrace, with participants who clubbed and slashed at each other to get ahead. Beside her, one of the district’s tax collectors tripped and fumbled a latched wooden box. It cracked against the cobbled street and spilled its meager hoard of gold. The tax collector was dead before he hit the ground, and the Roman soldier pulled his sword from the man’s gut only to scrabble for the coins.

Ariella turned her head from the gore, but felt little pity for the tax man, cheated of life by the Romans for whom he had betrayed his people. Still, concern flickered in her chest at the sudden violence in the street.

Something has happened.

The city had been under siege for months. Three days ago her mother announced that the sacrifices in the Temple had ceased. But today, today was something new. Perhaps three days of sins not atoned for had brought the wrath of the Holy One down on them all.

Unlike those who ran the streets with her, Ariella’s destination was neither Temple nor countryside. She returned to her home—if the dim tenement could be called such—from another useless excursion to secure food.

At sixteen and as eldest child, it fell on her to search the famished city for a scrap of dried beef to feed her brother, perhaps a thimbleful of milk for the baby, crumbs for her father whose eyes had gone glassy and whose skin was now the color of the clay pots he once turned on the wheel.

But there was no food to be found. Titus, the emperor’s son, had arrived in the spring with his army of eighty thousand and his siege wall served well its double function—the people were trapped and they were starving.

Not even such a wall could prevent news from seeping through its cracks, however. From Caesarea, word escaped of twenty thousand Jews slaughtered in a day. Fifty thousand killed in Alexandria. Ten thousand met the sword in Gamla. Such numbers were incomprehensible.

Here in Jerusalem, the bodies thrown outside the city were too numerous to count, piled high in rotting mounds, as though the city itself were defiled and would forever be unclean.

Yet we are not all dead. Ariella’s hands curled into tense fists as she rounded the last corner. She would cling to life as long as she had strength, and like her untiring mother, she would hold tight to that elusive thread for each member of her family.

She pushed against the rough wood of the door and slipped out of the rush of the street. The home’s tomb-like interior had the peculiar smell of starvation. In the corner, her baby sister whimpered as if in response to Ariella’s entrance. Micah met her at the door, his sunken eyes fixed on her and his lips slightly open, as though anticipating the food she might have brought. Or perhaps he simply lacked the strength to close his jaw. She shook her head and Micah turned away, hiding his disappointment as all boys of eleven do when they are threatened by tears.

Her father did not speak from his mat on the floor. Ariella scooped the listless baby Hannah into her arms and gave her a finger to suck. Small consolation.

“Where is Mother?” She scanned the room, then looked to Micah. A low groan from her father set her heart pounding. “Where is she, Micah? Where has Mother gone?”

Micah sniffed and glanced at the door. “To the Temple. She has gone to the Temple.”

Ariella growled and pushed Hannah into her brother’s arms. “She is going to get herself killed, and then where will we be?”

She bent to her father’s side. The man had been strong once. Ariella could barely remember. She touched the cool skin of his arm. “I will bring her back, Father. I promise.” Her father’s eyes sought her own, searching for reassurance. The hunger seemed to have stolen his voice. How long until it took his mind?

She turned on Micah, grabbed his shoulder. “Do not let anyone inside. The streets--” She looked to the door. “The streets are full of madness.”

He nodded, still cradling Hannah.

She kissed the baby. “Take care of them, Micah.” And then she left to retrieve her mother, whose political fervor often outpaced her common sense.

The mid-summer sun had dropped in the sky, an orange disc hazy and indistinct behind rising smoke. The city burns. She smelled it, sensed it, felt it somehow on her skin as she joined the flow toward the temple – a heat of destruction that threatened to consume them all.

Her family enjoyed the privilege of living in the shadow of the Temple Mount. A privilege that today only put them closer to folly. She twisted through the crazed mob, darted around wagons and pushcarts laden with family treasures, swatted at those who shoved against her. Already, only halfway there, her heart struck against her chest and her breathing shallowed, the weakness of slow starvation.

She reached the steps to the south of the Temple platform and was swept upward with the masses. Why were so many running to the Temple? Why had her mother?

And then she heard it. A sound that was part shrieking anger, part mournful lament, a screaming funeral dirge for the city and its people. She reached the top of the steps, pushed through the Huldah Gate, dashed under the colonnade into the Court of the Gentiles, and drew up short. The crowd pressed against her back, flowed around her and surged onward, but Ariella could not move.

The Temple is on fire.

The next moments blurred. She felt herself running, running toward the Temple as if she alone could avert this monstrous evil. Joining others who must have shared her delusion. She saw Roman legionaries club women and children, voices raised in a war cry. The yells of zealot rebels and the shrieks of those impaled by swords returned like an echo. The dead began to accumulate. Soldiers climbed heaps of bodies to chase those who fled. She tasted ashes and blood in the air, breathed the stench of burning flesh, and still some pushed forward.

She fought the smoke and blood, climbed the steps and entered the Court of Women. All around her, peaceful citizens were butchered where they stood. Ahead, a current of blood ran down the curved steps before the brass Nicanor Gate. The bodies of those who had been murdered at the top slipped to the bottom.

Ariella swayed on her feet at the carnage. That her mother was one of these dead she had no doubt. Elana’s outspoken defiance of Rome had earned her a reputation among her people, one that matched the meaning of her given name, torch.

She could go no farther. The entire Temple structure flamed now, from the Court of Israel to the Holy of Holies, its beauty and riches and sanctity defiled, raped by the Romans who even now risked their own flesh to steal its treasures.

A groan at her feet drew her attention, and she saw as if from a great distance that indeed her mother lay there, a bloody slash against her chest and a vicious purpling around her eyes. She lifted a hand, claw-like, to Ariella, who bent to kneel beside her and clasp her fingers.

Ariella had no words. What use to say good-bye, when they would all be in the same place soon?

Strange, she was very cold. With the flames so near and so fierce, still her fingers felt numb as she wrapped them around her mother’s hand.

Elana whispered only “Never forget…” before she was gone, and Ariella nodded because it was the expected thing to do. She studied her mother’s face, the eyes open and unseeing, and felt nothing. Was that right? Should she feel something?

After awhile she thought perhaps she should go home. She tried to stand, slipped in some blood that had pooled on the marble beneath her, and tried again.

The noise seemed far off now, though she could see the faces of citizens, mouths gaping as though they screamed in agony, and soldiers, feral lips drawn back over their teeth. But the sounds had somehow receded.

She weaved through the upright who still lived, stepped over the prone who had already passed, and drifted back to her house. Behind her, the Temple Mount was enveloped in flames, boiling over from its base, though there seemed to be even more blood than flames.

The stupor that had fallen over her at the Temple seemed to slough away as she traveled the streets. From open doorways she heard an occasional wail, but largely it was quiet. Too quiet. As thouh a river of violence had washed down the street while she’d been gone and swept away all that lived.

Her own street was not so peaceful. From end to end it burned.

She searched the crowd for her father, Micah, the baby. Grabbed hollow-eyed friends and wailing neighbors. One old woman shook her head and pointed a withered hand to the end of the burning street. “Only Micah.” She coughed. “Only he escaped.”

Micah. She called his name, but the word choked in her throat. Where would he have fled?

They had whispered together, one unseasonably warm night a few months ago on their roof, of running away from Jerusalem. Child’s talk, but now… Would he have tried to leave the city, to make it two hours south to family in Bethlehem?

Minutes later, she stumbled toward the Lower City. The Dung Gate would lead her south, to the valley of Hinnom and onward to Bethlehem. If she could escape.

Too many joined her. They would never be allowed to pass. She climbed crumbling steps to the rim of the city wall. Would she see a thread of refugees weaving out of Jerusalem, beyond the gates?

There was a procession of Jews, yes. But not on foot, fleeing to safety. On crosses, writhing in death throes. An endless line of them, crucified in absurd positions for the Romans’ entertainment, until they had run out of crosses, no doubt. Ariella gripped the wall. She would have retched had there been anything in her stomach.

She considered throwing herself from the wall. Was it high enough to guarantee her death? She would not want to die slowly on the ground, listening to the crucified.

The decision was made for her. From behind, a Roman soldier grabbed both her arms, laughing. She waited for the air in her face, for the spin of a freefall in her belly, that feeling she loved when her father rode the donkey cart too fast over the crest of a hill.

Instead, the soldier spun her to face him, shoved her to the stone floor, and fumbled at her tunic.

No, she was not going to die like that.

She exploded into a flailing of arms and legs, kicks and screams. She used her fingernails, used her teeth, used her knees.

From behind her head another soldier called. “That one’s a fighter, eh, Marcus?”

The soldier on top of her grunted.

“Better save her for the general. He wants the strong ones to sell off, you know.”

Ariella realized in that moment that since the siege began months ago, she had believed she would meet her death in the City of God. But as Jerusalem died without her, something far worse loomed in her future.

Life in the slave market of Rome.





Chapter 1

Rome

Nine years later

Night fell too soon, bringing its dark celebrations to the house of Valerius.

Ariella lingered at the fishpond in the center of the dusky atrium, slipping stale crusts to the hungry scorpion fish one tiny piece at a time. The brown and white striped creature snapped at its prey with precision, the venomous spines along its back bristling.

The fish food ran out. There was no delaying the inevitable.

Let the debauchery begin.

Nine years a slave in this household, nine annual tributes to Dionysius. The Greek god, embraced by the Romans and renamed Bacchus, apparently demanded every sort of drunken vice performed in his honor. And Valerius would not disappoint the god.

Indeed, Valerius flaunted his association with the mystery sect, though its practice was frowned upon by the government and disdained by most citizens.

Ariella inhaled, trying to draw strength from the deadly fish her master kept as a pet. For we are both kept as such, aren’t we? The scorpion fish’s body swayed like a piece of debris, its disguise needless in its solitary enclosure.

Within an hour Valerius’s guests poured into the town house, sloshed up most of the wine she’d placed on low tables in the triclinium, and progressed to partaking of the extract of opium poppies, tended in red-tinged fields beyond the city. The sweet, pungent smoke hung like a smothering wool toga above their heads.

A traveling guild of actors somersaulted into the room, their lewd songs and costumes an affront to decency and a delight to the guests. Ariella lowered her eyes, embarrassment still finding her even after all she had endured, and cleared the toppled cups and soiled plates. She passed Valerius, sprawled on a gold-cushioned couch, and he rubbed a hand over her calf. Her muscles twitched like the flank of a horse irritated by a fly.

Her master’s high-pitched laugh floated above the general noise of the intoxicated. Ariella winced. Valerius performed tonight for his honored guest, another politician from the south somewhere.

“Perhaps we shall make a man of you yet, Maius.” Valerius waved his slender fingers at the larger man. “I shall take you out into the city and declare to all that you are one of us.”

The politician, Maius, reddened. Ariella leaned over him to refill his cup. Clearly, he was here to humor Valerius but not align himself with the vile man.

When the actors had twirled their final dance and claimed applause, the herd of guests took their revelry to the streets. Valerius dragged Ariella through the door, always his special companion this night. Her breath caught in her throat. It was not the streets she feared. It was what would come after.

Mother, why could I not be strong like you?

The insanity built to a crescendo as they wound their torch-lit way toward the Via Appia, where the procession would climax. The Bacchanalians howled and pushed and tripped, their vacant eyes and laughing mouths like the painted frescoes of her nightmares. Hair disheveled, carrying blazing torches, they danced along the stones, uttered crazed predictions and contorted their bodies impossibly. Back in Jerusalem, her father would have said they had the demons in them. Here in Rome, Ariella rarely thought of such things.

It was enough to survive.

They passed a cluster of slaves, big men, most of them, herded into a circle amidst a few flaming torches. Strange time of day for a slave auction. Ariella met the eyes of a few, but their shared circumstance did not give them connection.

Snatches of speech reached her. A gladiator troupe. A lanista, the trainer for the troupe, called out numbers, making new purchases. A memory of home flashed, the day she had been sold to Valerius’s household manager. She had thought herself fortunate then, when so many others were sold off to entertain in the arena. Foolish child.

The unruly procession passed the men bound for death and Ariella’s gaze flitted through them. Did they feel the violent shortness of their lives press down on them? Before her stretched nothing but endless misery. Was their lot not preferable?

A muscled slave with the yellow hair of the west shifted and she glimpsed a face beyond him. Her blood turned to ice, then fire.

Micah?

She yanked away from Valerius’s sweaty grip. Stood on her toes to peer into the men.

Valerius pulled away from the raucous group, wrapped a thin arm around her waist, and brought his too-red lips to her ear. “Not growing shy after all these years, are we?” His baby-sweet voice sickened her.

She leaned away. Caught another look at the boy.

Turn your head. Look this way!

Valerius tugged her toward the road, but her feet had grown roots. I must be sure.

But then he turned, the boy about to be a gladiator, and she saw that it could not be Micah. He was too young, older than she remembered her brother but not old enough to be him. Though the resemblance was so strong perhaps he was a distant cousin, she knew he was not her brother. In fact, the boy looked more like her than Micah. If she were to cut her hair, she could pass for his twin.

She let Valerius pull her back to the procession, but the moment had shaken her. Memories she had thought dead turned out to be only buried, and their resurrection was a knife-blade of pain.

She sleepwalked through the rest of the procession, until their drunken steps took them to the caves on the Via Appia, dark spots on the grassy mounds along the road where greater abuses could be carried out without reprisals.

Valerius and his guest, Maius, were arguing.

Ariella forced her attention to the men, leaving off thoughts of Micah and home. It did not pay to be ignorant of Valerius’s moods.

“And you would sully the position you’ve been given by your dissolution!” Maius’s upper lip beaded with sweat and he poked a finger into Valerius’s chest.

Valerius swiped at the meaty finger. “At least I am not a coward! Running home to pretend to be something I am not.”

“You think me a coward? Then you are a fool. I know how to hold on to power. Yours will wash away like so much spilled wine.”

Valerius cackled. “Power? Ah yes, you are a mighty man down there in your holiday town by the sea. I daresay you couldn’t put a sword to a thief if he threatened your family!”

Ariella took a step backward. Valerius misjudged Maius, she could see. The man’s eyes held a coldness that only came of cruelty.

Before Valerius could react, Maius had unsheathed a small dagger from his belt. He grabbed for a nearby slave, one of Valerius’s special boys, wrapped a meaty arm around his forehead, and in one quick move, sliced the slave’s neck. He let the boy fall. Valerius screeched.

“There.” Maius tossed the dagger at the smaller senator’s feet and glared. “I owe you for one slave. But perhaps now you will keep your pretty mouth shut!”

“What have you done?” Valerius bent to the boy and clutched at his bloody tunic. “Not Julius! Not this one!”

The moon had risen while they marched, and now it shone down on them all, most of the guests taken with their own lustful pursuits and senseless to the drama between the two men. Ariella traced the path of moonlight down to her feet, to the glint of iron in the dirt. Maius’s dagger.

She had not held a weapon for many years. Without thought she bent and retrieved it. Held it to her side, against the loose fabric of her robe.

She could not say when the idea first planted itself in her mind. Perhaps it had been back in the city when she had seen the boy who was not Micah. Perhaps it only sprang to life at this moment. Regardless, she knew what she would do.

She would not return to Valerius’s house. Not participate once more, behind closed doors, in the mystery rites that had stolen her soul. Her nine years of torture had come to an end.

No one called out, no one pursued. She simply slipped away, into the weedy fields along the Via Appia, back to the city, the dagger hidden under her robe. She unwrapped the fabric sash at her waist and wound it around her hair. A few quiet questions and she found the yard where the newly-purchased gladiators awaited their assignment. A little flirtation with the loutish guard at the gate, enough to convince him that she was one of the many Roman women obsessed with the fighters, and he let her in with a wicked grin.

She found the boy within moments. His eyes widened as though she were his first opponent. She pulled him to the shadows, to the catcalls of his fellow fighters.

The dagger was steady in her hand and sharp enough to slice through large hanks of hair. The boy watched, wide-eyed, as she disrobed in front of him, modesty ignored.

He was young enough to easily convince.

Within minutes she had donned his leathers and taken his place on the ground with the other fighters. The boy stumbled across the yard, awkward in his new robes and headscarf.

It was done.

Elana would be proud.