The MacGregor Legacy - For Love or Loyalty

1760 Scotland - To atone for her father's evil, Lauren Campbell agrees to help Malcolm MacGregor. By the time she realizes she's the bargaining price to free Malcolm's mother from indentured servitude, it's too late.

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.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wild Card Book Tour - "Follow the Heart: A Great Exhibition Novel" by Kaye Dacus

#christianfiction, #christianromance




and the book:


B&H Books


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 Kaye Dacus is the author of humorous, hope-filled contemporary and historical romances with Barbour Publishing, Harvest House Publishers, and B&H Publishing. She holds a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, is a former Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers, and currently serves as President of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers. Kaye lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is a full-time academic advisor and part-time college composition instructor for a local university. To find out more about Kaye and her books, please visit her online at kayedacus.com.




SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Set during the Industrial Revolution and the Great Exhibition of 1851, Follow the Heart is a “sitting-room romance” with the feel of a Regency-era novel but the fashions and technological advances of the mid-Victorian age. 

Kate and Christopher Dearing’s lives turn upside down when their father loses everything in a railroad land speculation. The siblings are shipped off to their mother’s brother in England with one edict: marry money. At twenty-seven years old, Kate has the stigma of being passed over by eligible men many times—and that was before she had no dowry. 

Christopher would like nothing better than to make his own way in the world; and with a law degree and expertise in the burgeoning railroad industry, he was primed to do just that—in America. Though their uncle tries to ensure Kate and Christopher find matrimonial prospects only among the highest echelon of British society, their attentions stray to a gardener and a governess. While Christopher has options that would enable him to lay his affections where he chooses, he cannot let the burden of their family’s finances crush his sister. Trying to push her feelings for the handsome—but not wealthy— gardener aside, Kate’s prospects brighten when a wealthy viscount shows interest in her. But is marrying for the financial security of her family the right thing to do, when her heart is telling her she’s making a mistake?


Product Details:
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: B&H Books (May 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1433677202
ISBN-13: 978-1433677205




AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



SS Baltic
Off the Coast of England
February 9, 1851

You should come back down to the saloon, where it’s warm.”

Kate did not turn from the vista of gray, choppy water in front of her at her brother’s voice. The last fourteen days seemed as nothing to Christopher—a lark, an adventure, not the exile Kate knew it to be.

An exile that came with an edict: Find someone wealthy to marry.

“I do not see the point in sitting in the grand saloon, pretending as though everything is fine when I know it is not. I have no talent at pretense.” Kate wrapped her thick woolen shawl closer about her head and shoulders at a gust of icy wind. “If any of those other passengers knew we were being sent to England as poor relations, they would shun us.”

Just as everyone in Philadelphia had. Word of Graham Dearing’s financial misfortune spread like last summer’s great fire that consumed the Vine Street Wharf—quickly and with almost as much destructive force. Kate and Christopher’s stepmother had been too embarrassed to come down to the train station to see them off to New York two weeks ago—too afraid she would see someone she recognized on the street and not be acknowledged. Only Father had come with them to New York to say good-bye. And to remind Kate why she was being sent to her mother’s brother: to find and marry a fortune that would save their family. The memory of their argument on the platform before she joined Christopher to board the ship burned through her like the coal that powered them closer to her destiny.

“What’s wrong with enjoying the trappings of money while we can?” Christopher sidled up beside her and leaned his forearms against the top railing. “Besides, from Uncle Anthony’s letter, it doesn’t sound like he plans to treat us any differently than his own children, just because we’re ‘poor relations,’ as you put it.”

“But they’ll know. Sir Anthony and his daughters and whatever house staff they have—they’ll know that we’re completely dependent upon their charity. It will be written in their eyes every time they look at us. Every time we sit down at a meal with them. Every time they take us to a ball or party. We will be creating additional expense for them.” Kate trembled, not just from the cold.

“You had no problem with our creating additional expense for Father when we lived at home. Why start worrying about it now?”

Kate finally turned to look—to gape—at her brother. Certainly he was younger than she, but only by three years. However, he was a qualified lawyer, a man full-grown at twenty-four years old. How could he speak so juvenile? Did he not realize what Father and Maud had done to afford to send them abroad? Had he not noticed the missing paintings, carpets, and silver—sold so Father could afford their passage? Kate had a suspicion that much of their stepmother’s heirloom jewelry had met the same fate. Not to mention Father’s sacrifice of pride in begging his first wife’s brother, the baronet Sir Anthony Buchanan, to take them in.

Christopher’s light-brown eyes twinkled and danced. “Come on, Kate. I’ve heard that wealthy men can be plucked up on every corner in England, so you’ve nothing to worry about. They will take one look at you and be lining up at Uncle Anthony’s door to court you.”

Heat flared in her cheeks. “You can stop that nonsensical flattery right now, Christopher Dearing. It will get you nowhere.” But she couldn’t stop the smile that forced its way through her worry.

“It got me exactly what I wanted.” He put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze, then turned and forced her to walk back toward the stairs leading down to the grand saloon on the deck below. “We will be docking in a few hours, and you’ve been sulking the entire voyage. I insist you come below and enjoy yourself, just for a little while. Or pretend, on my account.”

Tiny snowflakes floated down and landed on Kate’s shawl and the mittened hand holding it to her chin. “Oh, all right. I will come. But only to get warm before we dock.”

It took her eyes several moments to adjust to the darkness of the stairwell. Reaching the grand saloon, Kate slowed and waited for Christopher to regain her side. Though not yet noon, the candles in the hanging lamps and wall sconces had been lit against the gloomy gray skies outside. The large, etched-glass columns in the middle of the room, which connected to the skylights above, brought in little light to reflect from the mirrors lining the walls between the doors to the sleeping cabins.

Several younger men, playing cards in the corner near the foot of the stairs, called out to Christopher, entreating him to come join the game.

He waved them off with a laugh and then offered Kate his arm. “Come, there are a few people who would like to speak to you.”

At the opposite end of the long room, partially hidden by one of the glass pillars from the card players near the stairs, sat a group of middle-aged women and a few men. The rest of the men, she assumed, were in the smoking room.

“Ah, here is your beloved sister, Mr. Dearing.” An older lady patted the seat of the settee beside her. “Do, come sit, Miss Dearing.” Mrs. Headington’s clipped British accent made Kate more nervous than she usually felt before strangers. That, and learning the woman had been governess to their cousins many years ago. Mrs. Headington was so particular and exacting, Kate worried she and Christopher would disappoint their extended family at every turn.

Kate removed her mittens and shawl and perched on the edge of the sofa. “Thank you, Mrs. Headington.”

“We were just speaking of the Great Exhibition.” The plump former governess waved a fan in front of her flushed, moist face, her more-than-ample bosom heaving against her straining bodice with each breath.

“The Great Exhibition?” Kate folded the shawl and set it on her lap, where she rested her still-cold hands on it.

“Oh, Kate, I’ve told you all about it. Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition. It’s to be the largest display of industry and arts from all over the world.” Christopher’s eyes took on the same gleam as when he talked about laws governing the railroads. “Imagine—delegations are coming from as far as India, Algiers, and Australia and bringing displays of their industry and manufacturing, their artwork. Some are even bringing wild animals.”

He lost the dreamy expression for a moment. “And I have heard there will be agricultural exhibits, Kate. You may find some exotic plants for the garden.”

She smiled at the memory of her garden, her favorite place in the world—but melancholy and reality struck down the moment of joy. She might never see her garden again. For either she would marry some wealthy Englishman and stay in England for the rest of her life, or Father would be forced to sell the house.

Talk continued around her, rumors of fantastical exhibits and inventions supposedly coming to this great world’s fair, which would open in just under three months.

What would she be doing by then? What about Father and Maud and the girls? She shook her head, trying to stave off the unwanted visions of her father, stepmother, and little sisters begging on the streets of Philadelphia.

The steward entered the saloon and called everyone to follow him in to luncheon. Christopher offered Kate his hand. When she gained her feet, he bent over, placing his mouth close to her ear, as if to place a kiss on her cheek.

“I know what you’re thinking about. Don’t let it get you down. Everything will be all right. You’ll see.” He tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow and led her through the steward’s pantry, where the beautiful silver trays and chargers displayed there winked in the candlelight, mocking her with their opulence.

Mrs. Headington invited them to sit at her table for the meal, and Kate sank gratefully into the chair Christopher held for her. Though her brother knew almost all of the hundred or so first-class passengers traveling with them, Kate had kept to herself most of the voyage, unable to laugh and flirt and pretend the way Christopher could.

“You appear sad, Miss Dearing.” Mrs. Headington gave Kate a knowing look. “Is it a young man you have left back home who occupies your thoughts?”

Kate latched on to the question. “I had—have a suitor, ma’am. He courted me for over a year. I believed he would propose before . . . before Christopher and I left for England. But alas, he did not.”

Christopher’s jaw slackened, and Kate felt a kindling of amusement at his astonishment over her ability to spin the story in such a manner. Perhaps she did share some of his abilities, buried deep within.

“I do not know what the fellow could have been thinking, allowing a woman like you to slip away with no firm commitment. Does he realize how easily he could lose you to one of our fine English gentlemen?”

If only Mrs. Headington knew what Devlin Montgomery knew.

“If the blighter is not man enough to propose before you left, you should consider yourself free to accept other suitors, Miss Dearing. Though you must allow me to caution you against those wicked men who want nothing more than to ruin virtuous young women like you.” Mrs. Headington raised her teacup in emphatic punctuation to her warning, though speculation filled her gaze. “There are plenty of lords who will look beyond the lack of a title when it comes to a pretty face, so long as she has a substantial dowry.”

Kate hoped one of them would also look beyond the lack of a dowry. Rather than let Mrs. Headington’s unintentional disparagement send her back into the doldrums she’d been in since that awful discovery on New Year’s Eve, Kate continued smiling and trying to engage in conversation with Mrs. Headington and the other travelers who joined them at the marble-topped table.

It would do her no good to show up on England’s shores dour-faced and hung all around with melancholy. She had little enough to work with as it was—being too tall, with average looks, and angular features. Oddly enough, for Kate, the Old World meant a new life. Here, where no one knew her, where no one could recount the names of the men who had courted her and then decided not to marry her, she could forget the past, forget her failure to find a husband. In England, she could become Katharine Dearing, the woman who could not only carry on a conversation about botany or politics with any man, but who could dance and flirt as well.

For ten years, since her debut at seventeen, she’d turned her nose up at the young women who simpered and giggled and flattered all the young men. Well, most of those young women were now married with families of their own.

She glanced around the table and studied the interactions between married couples and among the few unmarried young women and men. Could she remake herself in the image of the debutante across from her with the blonde ringlets, whose coy, soft eyes and sweet smiles drew the men’s attention like bees to nectar?

To her right, Mrs. Headington argued with Christopher about the politics surrounding the Great Exhibition and the worry of many that Prince Albert would bankrupt the country with the lavish display of agriculture and industry.

Kate Dearing would have joined in the conversation of politics. Katharine Dearing, however, turned to the balding, middle-aged man on her left. “What part of England are you from, Mr. Fitch?”

She lowered her chin and blinked a few times, trying to imitate the blonde’s batting eyelashes. The man beside her almost choked on his wine before setting down the goblet to answer, obviously no more accustomed to being flirted with than Kate was to flirting.

Dowry or no dowry, she must and would find a wealthy husband. And as her stepmother was so fond of saying, practice makes perfect.

~

Andrew Lawton drew his coat collar higher around the lower part of his face and pulled his hat down, wishing it would cover his ears, exposed as they were to the frigid winter air. Beyond the inn’s small front porch, snow blew and swirled on the indecisive wind—first toward, then away; left, then right. White dust skittered this way and that on the cobblestone street.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, longing for spring and the orderliness and discipline he would bring to the gardens at Wakesdown Manor. He had the plans all laid out on paper and was prepared to begin construction of the new gardens so they would be ready to burst into bloom when warm weather arrived. But instead, he was in Liverpool. And on a Sunday, no less.

Who would choose to travel by steamship in the middle of winter?

He’d only just managed to get away from Mr. Paxton and the Crystal Palace in time to catch the train from London to Liverpool yesterday. Eleven hours on an unforgiving wooden seat in the unheated third-class car—not wanting to part with his hard-earned wages in order to ride in the warmth and comfort of second class or the luxury of first—followed by a night on a lumpy bed in a freezing inn had done his back and his temper no favors.

Rather than go to the expense of a hiring a cab for the mile walk back to the train station, Andrew adjusted his collar again, hooked the handle of his valise over his left wrist, stuffed his gloved hands into his coat pockets, and leaned into the swirling wind with a brisk pace. The inn’s distance from the station had made it economically attractive for the overnight stay—half the cost of those within a block or two of both the train station and the Mersey River ports, where everything and everyone came in and out of Liverpool.

By the time he reached his destination, the swirling white dust had turned to hard, pelting ice. According to the timetable written on the board in the ticket office, the Baltic had docked ten minutes ago, shortly after one o’clock.

If he caught the two o’clock train, he would arrive in Oxford near eleven tonight. He desperately wanted to sleep in his own bed after so many nights away. He purchased three first-class tickets, as per his employer’s instructions, tucked them into his waistcoat pocket, then went to the telegraph office and wired Sir Anthony so he would know to be expecting his guests to arrive tonight.

Back out on the platform, he noticed the ferry from the steamship had landed at the far end. Passengers disembarked while crew unloaded baggage through a lower-deck portal.

He scanned the passengers coming toward him, looking for a young man and young woman traveling together. Americans. That was all Andrew knew. Dismissing several older people and a couple of women traveling alone, Andrew released his breath in frustration.

“You look lost, young man.” A woman in a dress too tight and juvenile for her ample form and age stopped in front of him.

Andrew doffed his round-crowned bowler hat—and the woman frowned at it a moment. If Andrew had known he would be making this side trip when he left Wakesdown, he would have packed his top hat, since the more serviceable bowler served to emphasize his working-class roots.

“Good afternoon, ma’am.” Andrew tucked the hat under his elbow. “I am supposed to be meeting a Mr. and Miss Dearing. You do not, perhaps—”

“Christopher and Kate. Of course I met them. It is hard not to get to know all the other passengers on a two-week voyage.”

Andrew inclined his head in relief. “Would you mind pointing them out to me?”

“No, not at all.” She squinted at the ferry. “Yes, there they are. Good-looking fellow in the indigo coat. The young woman is, alas, much plainer than her brother.” The woman leaned closer and dropped her voice. “And if what I heard in Philadelphia is true, their father, wicked man, just lost all his considerable fortune in a railway speculation that failed. Poor dear. Only way she would have caught a husband at her age and with her lack of beauty would have been with a substantial dowry.”

Andrew scanned the passengers coming off the boat. There—a young man in a dark blue overcoat. But that could not be Christopher Dearing. For the woman beside the man in the blue coat was anything but plain. Not beautiful like Sir Anthony’s daughters—but far from plain. A straw-brimmed bonnet hid her hair, but her brown cloak and shawl emphasized her bright blue eyes, even from this distance.

“Now, if you will excuse me, I must arrange my travel to London.”

Andrew gave the older woman a slight bow, then stepped forward to meet the Dearings.

Andrew stepped into the man’s path. “Are you Mr. Dearing?”

A smile replaced the look of consternation. He stuck out his gloved hand, which Andrew shook in greeting.

“Christopher Dearing.” He pulled the arm of the young woman in the brown cloak, who’d stopped a full pace behind him. “And this is my sister, Kate—I mean, Katharine.”

Katharine gave a slight curtsy, red tingeing her cheeks.

“Andrew Lawton.” He inclined his head, then dragged his gaze from the woman—whose face was, perhaps, a bit too square for her to be considered truly handsome—back to her brother. “Sir Anthony sends his apologies for not coming to meet you personally. But his youngest daughter fell ill two days ago, and he did not want to leave her.” He glanced back at Katharine Dearing, to keep her from feeling excluded from the apology.

Concern flooded her striking blue eyes. “I hope it isn’t a grave illness.”

Andrew reminded himself that Miss Dearing was Sir Anthony’s niece and, therefore, no one who should garner his interest in any capacity other than as one of the masters—fortune or no. “When last Sir Anthony wired, he did not believe it to be more than a fever due to the wet winter we are having and Miss Florence’s insistence on riding every day no matter what the weather.”

“I am sorry she’s ill, but it is good to know it isn’t dire.” Katharine looked as if she wanted to say more, but at the last moment lost her nerve.

“So . . . did I hear you correctly?” Christopher asked. “The name is pronounced Antony and not Anthony?”

“Yes, Mr. Dearing, you heard correctly.”

Miss Dearing transferred a tapestry bag from one hand to the other.

“May I take that for you, miss?” Andrew pushed his hat back down on his head and reached for her bag.

“Oh, you don’t—” But she let the protest die and handed him the bag with a sudden doe-eyed smile. “Why, thank you, Mr. Lawton. We arranged with the steward to have our trunks transferred directly to the Oxford train. The schedule they had aboard ship indicated there is one that leaves at two o’clock.”

“Yes, that is our train.”

Katharine looked up at her brother. “We should get our tickets now so that we are ready when it’s time to board.”

“No need.” Andrew shifted her bag to his left hand, along with his own, and patted the waistcoat pocket through his frock and overcoat. “I have already taken care of the tickets. The train arrived just moments ago, so we can go find a compartment.” He motioned with his free hand for Christopher and Katharine to join him, and he led them down the platform.

“My, but you have already thought of everything, haven’t you?” Katharine’s flirtatious expression seemed odd, like a daisy growing from a rosebush.

And the look of confusion on her brother’s face only added to Andrew’s. Surely she realized from his humble attire he wasn’t anyone who could offer her the wealth she apparently needed in a husband. So why would she overtly flirt with him?

“How long a trip is it from here to Oxford?” Christopher asked.

“Almost nine hours, so long as the tracks are clear.” Andrew looked past the roof of the station. Snow mixed with the icy precipitation from half an hour before, and it looked to start piling up quickly. Hopefully, traveling south and inland from here would mean away from the snow.

He found a compartment in the first-class car, set his and Katharine’s valises on the seat, and turned to assist her in. She thanked him profusely. Once she was settled, he and Christopher lifted the small valises onto the shelf over the seat opposite Katharine, and then sat, facing her.

Katharine wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulders and arms. Christopher leaned over and opened the grate of the small heater and stoked the glowing red coal. “I’d hoped maybe to see one of those new heaters I’ve been reading about—where steam heat is pumped from the fire in the locomotive throughout the cars in the train.”

“Have you an interest in the railway, Mr. Dearing?” Though he had no desire to make the sister feel left out of the conversation, Andrew was in great danger of allowing himself to stare at her now that she was in such close proximity. Upon second thought, the squareness of her jaw did not detract from but added to the symmetry of her face. And above all else, Andrew appreciated symmetry.

“Yes—my apprenticeship was with a firm that specializes in railway law. It’s fascinating to see how, in a matter of just ten or twenty years, the railroad has changed our way of life.” Christopher stretched his lanky frame into a position of repose, obviously accustomed to the comforts of first-class accommodations.

“I was twenty years old when the railroad came to Derby—my home—in the year ’40. It has quite changed the way of life for everyone there.” Andrew removed his hat and gloves and set them on the seat beside him.

Christopher’s eyes—brown, rather than blue like his sister’s—flashed with curiosity. “Really? I hardly remember when the first railroad opened in Philadelphia in 1832.”

“That’s because you were not quite six years old when it came.” Katharine’s soft voice reminded them of her presence—as if Andrew needed reminding. “I remember it well. Father took us to the parade and to see the locomotive take off. It was the first time we were all happy since Mother and Emma died.” Katharine’s focus drifted far away along with her voice.

Andrew stared at her. In the space of mere minutes, she had changed entirely. No longer did she seem a vapid flirt, but a woman one might like to converse with.

Katharine’s eyes came back into focus. “I do apologize. I didn’t mean to cast a melancholy pall over the conversation.” The strangely foreign flirtatious smile reappeared. “What is it that you do for Sir Anthony, Mr. Lawton? You must hold quite the position of importance for him to have sent you to meet us and escort us to Wakesdown.” Her long eyelashes fluttered as she blinked rapidly a few times.

“I am a landscape architect. I am redesigning all of the gardens and parks on Sir Anthony’s estate.”

At the mention of gardens, something miraculous happened. A warmth, a genuine curiosity, overtook Katharine Dearing’s blue eyes. Ah, there was the rose pushing the daisy out of its way.

“You’ve done it now.” Christopher sighed dramatically. “One mention of gardening, and Kate will talk your ears off about plants and flowers and weeds and soil and sun and shade.”

Katharine gave a gasp of indignation, but quickly covered it with the flirtatious smile again. “I am certain I do not know what you mean, Christopher. I would never think to importune Mr. Lawton in such a manner.” She crossed her arms and turned to gaze out the window.

The train lurched and chugged and slowly made its way from the station.

Andrew couldn’t tell if Katharine was truly angry at her brother or not, but he determined a change of subject might be in order. “Will you continue to read the law, Mr. Dearing?”

Christopher nodded. “I brought some books with me to study, yes. And I expect I’ll pick up many more on the British legal system while I’m here.”

Andrew opened his mouth to ask if Christopher were joking with him—but then pressed his lips together. Perhaps they had a different term in America for the pursuit of education in the legal system other than read. “Will you seek out a lawyer to apprentice with?”

“If Uncle Anthony doesn’t mind, I might do that just to keep myself busy.”

Katharine made a sharp sound in the back of her throat.

“Oh, right, I’m supposed to call him Sir Anthony until he gives us permission to call him uncle.” Christopher grinned at Andrew. “Though really, in this modern era, why anyone would stand on such formality is beyond me.”

Under the wide brim of her bonnet, Katharine rubbed her forehead with her fingertips, now freed from the mittens she’d worn earlier. Upon first seeing the Dearings, he’d assumed Christopher the older and Katharine the younger—from the way Katharine hovered behind her brother when they first met. Now, however, from Katharine’s memory of something that happened almost nineteen years ago, she was obviously the older sibling. And if Christopher had been six years old in 1832, that meant he was now around five-and-twenty. Meaning Katharine must be in her late twenties, if not already Andrew’s age of thirty.

That was what the woman he’d met at the station meant by “at her age.” Andrew was not certain how things were done in America, but here in England, Miss Dearing would be considered well past the prime marriageable age. And if the rumors that woman heard in Philadelphia were true, without a substantial dowry, Katharine had no chance of marrying well.

For the first time in his life, Andrew felt true pity for another person. The last thing he’d promised his mother before she died of lung rot was that he would not end up like her—condemned to live out her days in the poorhouse. He’d worked hard to get where he was today, and he would do whatever it took to continue bettering himself and his condition.

He thanked God he had not been born a woman.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

God's Promise Through the Rainbow (See Beautiful Photo)


Genesis 9:14-16
(NKJV)
#rainbow

"It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”




Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wild Card Book Tour - "Mountain Homecoming" by Sandra Robbins




and the book:

Harvest House Publishers
#christianfiction, #christianroance


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sandra Robbins and her husband live in the small college town in Tennessee where she grew up. They count their four children and five grandchildren as the greatest blessings in their lives. Her published books include stories in historical romance and romantic suspense. When not writing or spending time with her family, Sandra enjoys reading, collecting flow blue china, and playing the piano.

Visit the author's website.




SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In the second book in the Smoky Mountain Dreams series, acclaimed author Sandra Robbins spins a tender tale of God's faithfulness throughout the generations.

Rani Martin, Simon and Anna's only daughter, is a beautiful and spirited young woman living deep in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. She has plenty of ideas about the man she'll marry someday, but none of them could have prepared her for the return of Matthew Jackson.

Matthew left Cades Cove as a child after his father's death. Now he's come back to build a new life for himself, and it's his dearest wish that Rani be a part of that life. But the people of the Cove won't let him forget the sins of his father, and Matthew can't forget the darkness of his own past.

Is there a place for Matthew in the Cove? And can the light of Rani's love overcome his pain?




Product Details:
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736948864
ISBN-13: 978-0736948869


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Cades Cove, Tennessee
June, 1914

Rani Martin stared through the cabin window at the Smoky
Mountains rising above the valley she loved. Usually the sight of the foggy mists curling around the hills made her happy. But try as she might, she couldn’t find anything to cheer her up today.

There had to be something that would take away the misery gnawing in the pit of her stomach. Poppa always told her she could do anything she set her mind to, but she didn’t know how she could be happy about losing the best friend any girl could ever have.

After today, there would be no reason for her to visit this cabin. Tomorrow Josie Ferguson and her husband, Ted, would load their belongings in their wagon, take their baby, and do what many of their friends and neighbors had already done—move out of Cades Cove. Josie, the one she’d shared secrets with all her life, would be gone, and Rani would be left behind with only memories of her best friend since childhood.

She didn’t understand what any of the folks who’d left the Cove were thinking. How could they leave the most beautiful place on God’s good earth?

It was springtime, the best time of year in the Cove. The winter snow had melted and the mountain laurel was in bloom. It wouldn’t be long before rhododendrons dotted the mountainsides and azaleas reappeared on Gregory’s Bald. This year, however, Josie wouldn’t be with her to share the wonder of the Cove coming back to life after a hard winter.

To Rani the prospect of living anywhere except the mountain valley where she’d been born scared her. She’d had an opportunity to see what existed in the outside world when she spent a year attending school while living with Uncle Charles in Maryville. It had been enough to convince her that life wasn’t nearly as good anywhere else as it was in the Cove. But others didn’t share her thoughts, and they’d left. And now Josie was going too.

With a sigh she turned back to the task she’d abandoned moments ago, helping pack up the kitchen utensils. Her throat constricted as she pulled the cake plate she and her mother had given Josie from the kitchen cupboard. She wrapped her fingers around the pierced handles and stared down at the hand-painted red and yellow roses on the delicate china dish. She’d thought it the most beautiful plate she’d ever seen when she first spied it at the store in Pigeon Forge.

Tears filled her eyes, and she loosened her grip with one hand so she could trace the gold band on the fluted rim. “I can’t believe it’s been three years since your wedding.”

Josie Ferguson bit down on her lip and nodded. “Ted’s always said this was his favorite of all our wedding gifts. It reminds him of the molasses cake your mother let him and his sister help make the day George was born.”

“I’ve heard Mama tell that story so many times. But she has one about every baby she’s helped deliver.”

“She’s been a blessing to the women she’s helped birth their babies. Everybody loves Anna Martin.” Josie’s eyes grew wide. “And of course your father too. I don’t think I can ever love another pastor like I do your pa. I’ve listened to him on Sundays ever since I can remember.”

“But you won’t be there anymore.” Rani set the plate down on the table and glanced at the baskets and tubs scattered across the kitchen floor. Pots, pans, and cooking utensils protruded above their sides. The tears she’d been holding back poured down her face, and she covered her eyes with her fingers. “First my brother decides to spend the summer at Uncle Robert’s farm in Strawberry Plains instead of coming home from school, then my cousin Annie gets married and moves to Townsend. Now you’re going too. What will I do with all of you gone? I’m going to feel so alone.”

“No, you won’t.”

Rani dug her fists into her eyes to stop the tears and gritted her teeth. “Why couldn’t Stephen have come home when school was out at Milligan College instead of spending the summer on Uncle Robert’s farm?”

Josie propped her hands on her hips and tilted her head to one side. “You know why.”

“Yeah,” Rani sighed. “He didn’t want to hear Poppa talk to him all summer about following in his footsteps. I don’t know why Poppa can’t see that Stephen doesn’t feel led to preach even though he agreed to that year at Milligan College. He wants to go to medical school. Of course that’s what Mama wants too. I’m glad they don’t have that problem with me. I don’t want to live anywhere but right here in Cades Cove…even if I am going to be alone.”

Josie rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Like I said, you won’t be alone. You’ll have your ma and pa, and Stephen will be here for a visit in July.” Josie wrapped her arms around Rani’s shoulders and hugged her close. “I’m the one who’s going to be alone. I won’t know anybody over at Townsend. You know Ted never has taken to farming, and there’s nothing else for him in the Cove. His new job pays real good. They’re going to furnish us a house too.”

Rani drew back in shock and gaped at Josie. “House? Have you seen what that high and mighty Little River Logging Company calls houses? I went with Poppa to Townsend last month, and I couldn’t believe what the workers were living in. They call them setoff houses because they bring them in on railroad cars and set them off on the hillsides or even right next to the railroad. They’re nothing more than one-room shacks with tar paper roofs. When the lumber company gets through cutting all the trees in one place, they load the houses onto a train and ship them to the next spot for their workers.”

Josie’s lip trembled, and her forehead wrinkled. “I know.” Her voice was almost a whisper. “But what can I do, Rani? Ted is my husband. We have to go where he can find work.”

Rani gazed past Josie to the cradle in the next room. “I can’t stand to think about you living in one of those things, especially now since you have a baby. Can’t you convince Ted to stay in Cades Cove? This is the only life you know.”

Josie pulled the corner of her apron up and wiped her eyes. She took a deep breath. “We’ll be fine. I’ll come back to visit, and you can come to Townsend to see me.”

Rani snorted and shook her head. “No thanks. I have no desire to share a one-room setoff house with you and your husband, not to mention your baby. I can’t believe Ted would be so disloyal to the Cove to go work for a company that’s trying to destroy our mountains.”

“Are you accusing my husband of turning his back on his friends?” Josie’s eyes flared and grew dark with anger.

Rani had seen that look before and realized she’d gone too far. She really needed to follow her mother’s advice and not be so outspoken about the company she thought was using the Smokies as a quick way to make money. Her opinion of Little River Lumber differed from that of many who’d left to work for the logging company. Now she had sounded like she believed Ted to be a traitor to his friends.

She reached out and grasped Josie’s arm. “I’m sorry, Josie. I didn’t mean to criticize Ted. It’s just that I’ve been so upset over what Little River’s doing to our mountains. Colonel Townsend has bought 86,000 acres of forest land all the way from Tuckaleechee to Clingman’s Dome. I don’t care if he does own the company, he’s a foolish man. They’re cutting every tree in their path. If somebody doesn’t stop them, the Smokies will end up as barren hillsides.”

Josie waved her hand in dismissal. “As usual, you’re being overly dramatic. That’s not going to happen. Like I said before, they pay well, and we need the money. End of discussion.”

Rani opened her mouth to respond, but the set of Josie’s jaw told her it would be useless. With a sigh, she picked up the cake plate from the table and handed it to Josie. “I hope you’ll think of me every time you use this.”

Josie took the plate and clasped it in her hands like she held a priceless treasure. For the first time Rani caught a glimpse of fear in Josie’s eyes, and the truth struck her. Josie didn’t want to leave Cades Cove, but she had no choice.

“I will,” Josie whispered. “I wanted this to be the last thing I packed. After all, you’re my best friend.”

Rani burst into tears and threw her arms around Josie. “We’re more than best friends. I think of you as the sister I never had. ”

“Me too.” Josie pulled back and wiped at the corner of her eyes. “But you know we could really be sisters.”

Josie’s words shattered the mood of moments ago and swept all the sadness from Rani’s mind. She took a step backward and wagged her finger in Josie’s direction. “Oh no. Don’t start that again.”

“Why not? George is crazy about you. All he talks about is how he wants to marry you, and you won’t give him any encouragement. If you married him, we’d be family. Sisters-in-law.”

Rani couldn’t believe they were having this conversation again. “I’ve told you at least a hundred times that George is a good friend, but I don’t love him. Even if I did, I don’t think I’d marry him.”

A skeptical expression crossed Josie’s face. “What’s the matter? Isn’t he good looking enough for you?”

Rani’s mouth gaped open at the ridiculous suggestion. “Oh, Josie, you know I would never think that. The truth is George is the youngest child in his family, and he’s spoiled rotten. If he doesn’t get his way, he sulks for days. I wouldn’t want a husband that I have to coddle and give in to all the time.”

Josie dropped her gaze to the cake plate she held and wrapped a burlap sack around it before she tucked it in the side of one of the baskets. “I have to admit you’re right. As a matter of fact, Ted told me George had an awful argument with his pa the other night. It seems he’s upset because he’s going to be left behind in the Cove after we leave.”

Rani held up her hands in exasperation. “You see what I mean. George can only see what he wants. He doesn’t realize what a great opportunity he has to work with his father on one of the best farms in the Cove.”

“But, Rani, you know he’s in love with you. That ought to be enough to make him a good husband.”

“Maybe it would be for somebody else, but not for me. I’m just eighteen years old. I have plenty of time to think about getting married. When I do, it’s going to be because I love a man so much my heart aches when I’m away from him.”

Josie turned to Rani and propped her hands on her hips. “Yeah, you’ve always had those romantic ideas. I think it must come from all those stories about how hard it was for your pa to get your mother to marry him.” She leaned closer to Rani. “Well, for those of us who don’t have a great love like that happen in our lives, we have to settle for the next best thing. It’s not like there’s a lot of men to choose from in the Cove. Being married to George is better than ending up an old maid.”

Rani flinched at Josie’s words. She remembered how Josie had cried four years ago when Charlie Simmons left the Cove, bound for California. At the time she’d thought it was because he was Ted’s friend. Now she wasn’t so sure. “Is that what you did, Josie? You settled for the next best thing?”

Josie’s face drained of color, and she put her hand to her throat. “Rani, I didn’t mean…”

“What’s goin’ on in here?”

At the sound of her husband’s voice at the back door Josie’s body stiffened, and she glanced over her shoulder. Rani’s heart lurched at the lack of expression on Josie’s face. She might very well have been looking at a stranger who’d come to her door instead of her husband. “I need to check on the baby,” she said, and hurried from the kitchen.

Ted Ferguson frowned and gazed after his wife as she hurried into the next room. His eyes darkened, and the look in his eyes told Rani he longed for something he would never have from Josie. After a moment he took a deep breath and smiled at her. “You two havin’ another one of your friendly arguments?”

Rani forced a laugh from her throat and wiped her eyes. “No argument. We’re just a little emotional over the two of you leaving the Cove. It seems all my friends are taking off for different places. My family may be the only one left before long.”

Ted shook his head. “Naw, you won’t be. They’ll have to drag my pa out of the Cove to get him to leave. He says he intends to be buried at the church he’s gone to all his life.”

“That’s what my pa says too.” Rani picked up the empty basket sitting on the table. “I left you some fried chicken and a fresh loaf of bread that Mama sent. She thought you might get hungry on your way to Townsend tomorrow.”

“She always thinks about other folks. Tell her I’m mighty obliged, and I hope I see her soon.”

“I will.”

Ted followed Rani into the next room where Josie was holding her son. No one spoke for a moment, then Josie swallowed and handed the baby to Ted. “Take care of Jimmy a minute while I walk Rani out.”

As Rani stepped onto the front porch, she glanced down at her dog lying next to the door. She snapped her fingers, and he jumped to his feet. He shook his shaggy body, wagged his tail, and awaited her command. It was so easy to communicate with animals. Give them love, feed them well, and reward them for good behavior, and they’d do anything you asked. Too bad people weren’t like that.

Josie had a husband who did all that for her, but today Rani had discovered the secret Josie had kept so well hidden—she would never be able to return Ted’s love. Rani didn’t want to end up like that.

With a sigh, she reached down and stroked her dog’s head. “Good boy, Scout. You did what I said. Now let’s go home.”

With Scout at her heels, she and Josie walked to the road that ran in front of the cabin. As they neared the edge of the yard, Rani turned to Josie. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’m going to miss you too. We’re leaving early in the morning. So I guess I won’t see you again. I hope you will come visit me in Townsend. We’ll make room.”

Rani nodded. “We’ll see. You take care of yourself. And Ted and little Jimmy too.”

Josie smiled, but Rani could see the tears she was fighting to control. “Goodbye, Rani.”

Rani started to speak, but the words froze in her throat. She pressed her lips together and hugged her friend before she turned and started the long walk home. Scout trotted along beside her, and she didn’t look back. She wanted to, but she didn’t think she could stand the sight of Josie watching her walk away.

She glanced down at the dog and smiled. “Well, Scout, it’s a two-mile walk home. Do you think you can make it?”

The dog stared up at her and yelped a reply without breaking his stride.

“I think I can too.”

She didn’t mind walking. It had always been her way of getting around the Cove, and it gave her time to think. Today she had a lot to mull over. Her discovery about Josie’s feelings that she had settled for the next best thing still bothered her. She’d never imagined that Josie might have been in love with someone else.

Now that she thought back to four years ago, she remembered Josie seeming happy all summer. At the time, all she would say was that she’d had her first kiss and was in love. Rani thought it had to be Ted because he had been in love with Josie for years. But it must have been Charlie Simmons, and things hadn’t worked out. And soon after Charlie’s departure from the Cove, Josie had agreed to marry Ted after putting him off for so long.

Today she had learned the truth. Josie had settled for something—someone—she didn’t want. How could she have done that? She must have thought she was doing the right thing, but she’d been wrong. And she was wrong about something else. Being an old maid wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to a woman. To Rani’s way of thinking, being married to someone you didn’t love was far worse.

She squared her shoulders, clenched her fists at her side, and looked down at Scout. “I promise you, Scout, I will never settle for second best, even if it means I never get married.”







From the moment he rode into Cades Cove a peace like he hadn’t experienced in years came over Matthew Jackson. He pulled his horse to a stop and breathed in the sweet scent of mountain laurel drifting on the air. It smelled like home. He was back where his heart had remained.

Had it really been twenty years since he left the Cove? He closed his eyes and tried to recall every memory of the days following the death of his drunkard father. Even now the thought of the life he, his mother, and his little brother had endured made the old anger he’d tried to bury resurface. With his father drunk most of the time, survival had been hard. But his mother had seen to it that there was always food on the table. Then their lives had taken a turn for the worse when a tavern brawl had ended with his father lying dead of a gunshot wound.

Matthew had been almost ten years old at the time, but overnight he became the man of the family. He’d turned to a newcomer in the Cove, Anna Prentiss. Of course she was Anna Martin now. But to him she’d always be the angel who’d found a place for his family to live and had seen they were taken care of.

He even remembered the last words he’d spoken to her the day they left the Cove. She stood beside the wagon loaded with his family’s few belongings, and he’d said, “I’ll be back here someday.” And now, thanks to the money he’d saved working for the Little River Company, he had returned with the deed to his old homestead in his pocket.

But would the people of the Cove welcome the return of Luke Jackson’s son? His father had been a troublemaker and a bully, not to mention an abuser of his wife and children. The sturdy mountain folks didn’t have time for a man who didn’t take care of his family. As his mother used to say, people have long memories, and he was sure they could recall every one of his father’s misdeeds. Now he was about to see if those memories had labeled him a ne’er-do-well like his father.

He could count on one hand the folks who would welcome him back. Simon and Anna Martin. Granny Lawson. They were the ones who made his childhood bearable, and he could hardly wait to see them. But first things first. He had to go to the place where he was born and fulfill a promise he’d made to his dying mother fifteen years ago.

He’d leaned close to her frail, fever-ridden body to catch her last words spoken in that familiar mountain twang: “When you git back to the Cove, see if    ’n my mountain laurel bush is still there, the one yore pa planted for me when we was first married.”

After all the heartache his father had put her through, she still held to the memory of the early days of her marriage when she’d been so happy. Even now the thought of how her eyes had sparkled for a moment, reliving a happier time, made him feel as if a hammer had crushed his heart. His mother and little Eli, his brother. Gone too soon.

He cleared his throat and swiped at his eyes. No need to think about those things now. This was homecoming day, but it was different from what he’d dreamed about when he was a boy. He’d come back alone.

Straightening in the saddle, he spurred the horse forward and concentrated on the road twisting through the valley he loved. All around him were the sights and sounds he’d longed for, but he focused on getting home and seeing the place he’d left twenty years ago.

When he pulled the horse to a halt at what had once been the cabin where he’d lived, his heart dropped to the pit of his stomach. It was worse than he’d expected. The skeleton of a cabin sat near the tulip poplar tree he’d climbed as a boy—bigger now than he remembered. The house’s roof had long ago succumbed to the forces of nature and had caved in. A few timbers marked the spot where it had once been. Weeds grew across what had once been a yard.

Even in its best days the cabin hadn’t been much, but it could have been if his father had concentrated on making a life for his family instead of spending his time in a drunken stupor. The old hatred welled up in his heart, and he whispered the plea he’d prayed every day since he could remember. “God, don’t let me be like him. Make me a better man.”

The promise he’d made his mother flashed into his mind, and he climbed down from the horse and tied the reins to a sapling. Taking a deep breath to slow his racing heart, he headed around the side of the house. Had the mountain laurel plant survived the years?

His gaze drifted to his feet, and a warning flickered in his head. The weeds along what used to be a path had been trampled. Someone else had passed this way not long ago.

With hesitant steps, he inched forward. The knee-high weeds swished against his legs. He caught sight of his mother’s plant that now towered higher than his head, and he stopped in amazement. It wasn’t the bloom-covered bush that made his breath catch in his throat. It was a young woman who appeared unaware of his presence. With her arms outstretched and her face turned up to the sun, she whirled in circles in front of the mountain laurel bush while saying something in a language he didn’t understand.

Her bare feet hammered the hardened earth around the plant in a pounding rhythm. Pink blooms from the mountain laurel bush ringed the top of her head and several more protruded from the mass of black hair that reached below her shoulders.

She moved with the grace and elegance of a queen, and he thought he had never seen anyone more beautiful. He tried to speak, to alert her she wasn’t alone, but he felt as if he had come under her spell and had been forbidden to move.

Suddenly the air crackled with frantic barking, and a dog emerged from the other side of the bush. His hackles raised, he positioned himself between Matthew and the girl. She jerked to a stop and stared at him, wide-eyed. The dog snarled and inched forward.

Her dark eyes narrowed, and with one snap of her fingers she quieted the dog. She didn’t move, and her arched eyebrow told him his company wasn’t welcomed. “Stay back, mister, or I’ll sic my dog on you.”

He glanced down at the dog, whose body still bristled as if he was ready to attack. “I don’t mean you any harm, miss.”

“Then why did you sneak up on me?”

He shook his head. “I didn’t. I stopped when I heard your voice. What were you saying?”

“Just some words I learned from a Cherokee woman.” She frowned and glanced past him. “Are you alone?”

“I am. I just rode into the Cove from Townsend.”

Her body stiffened, and her lips curled into a sneer. “Townsend? Are you with the Little River Company?”

“I have been.”

“It figures.” She spit the words at him as if they were distasteful. “We get a lot of Little River workers checking out the Cove. You people are always searching for another stand of timber to cut down, aren’t you?” She bent down, grabbed her discarded shoes, and slipped them on her feet. Then with her arms rigid at her sides and her fists clenched, she took a step toward him. “Well, you can go back and tell your bosses we don’t sell our land and our trees to outsiders who want to clear cut their way through the Smokies.”

The defiant look in her eyes shot daggers at him, and they felt as if they poked deep holes in his heart. This girl’s words echoed the fierce pride shared by all the Cove residents for this valley, his valley, the place he called home. He wanted to tell her he agreed with her, that all he wanted was to live again among the people he remembered. Instead, other words emerged from his lips. “I worked for their railroad, not the logging company.”

She shook her head, and one of the blooms tumbled to the ground. Her eyes widened, and she glanced up as if she’d forgotten she wore a crown of flowers. A flush covered her cheeks, and she yanked the blossoms from her thick hair. “They’re the same to me. Maybe you didn’t cut our trees, but you carried them away.”

Matthew swallowed hard. There was something so familiar about this girl. Her brown eyes, dark complexion, and the high cheekbones reminded him of someone. It wasn’t possible he could have met her before. She probably hadn’t even been born when he had left the Cove. But still, there was something. He took a step closer, and the dog growled. With a smile he stopped and held up his hands. “I’m not coming closer.”

“Good.” She sniffed and snapped her fingers again. “Let’s go, Scout. It’s time we got home.”

He didn’t move as she strode past him, her head held high and her dog at her side. He turned and watched her disappear around the side of what had once been his home. Her straight back and determined stride reminded him of the spirited mountain women he’d known. They attacked the harsh life in the Cove and planted the seed of unyielding loyalty to the land in their children. Just like his mother had done with him.

Someone had instilled that same devotion in this girl. He hoped he’d get to meet the person who had done that, for he had just encountered the fierce mountain pride that had ruled his life. And it thrived in the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.