This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

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.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Highland Sanctuary Just Released on the Nook!

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

#christianfiction, #christianromance

Since so many have asked, Highland Sanctuary just released as an ebook on the Nook. Yesterday it came out on Amazon's Kindle. As always, thank you for your support of historical Christian fiction!  

Get Highland Sanctuary on the Nook!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Highland Sanctuary Just Released on Kindle!

#christianfiction, #christianromance

For those who have been eagerly awaiting the release of Highland Sanctuary as an ebook on Kindle, the wait is over. Yesterday it came out on Amazon's Kindle, here. As for the Nook and other ebook formats, I'm still not seeing it on those platforms, but keep checking. I'm sure it will be available on the Nook very soon!

As always, thank you for your support of historical Christian fiction!  

Highland Sanctuary on Amazon Kindle!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Highland Sanctuary Sale!

Highland Sanctuary - Copies

Word of Inspiration: The Beginning of Wisdom

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Proverbs 1:7)

Too many people covet the knowledge of man's wisdom, especially university degrees and the idea of surrounding one's self with educated individuals. I'm not against education. I have a college degree and I'm thankful for it. What I'm referring to is coveting man's knowledge over common sense and biblical wisdom. 

Our university degrees and certifications is from others--men and women. They challenge us to think and question the world--even to question our faith and belief in things that can't be scientifically proven--a direct contrast to the principle of faith. Only then, does man's education become a danger to our existence in the will of God--we can't be so grounded in reality of this earth--a place of sin--that we lose the ability to believe in something we can't touch or see or sometimes prove or even explain--to simply believe. This is pride, believing that one's ideals are more true over the living creator God who's thinking and word is so high above our comprehension that we don't always understand it. This is why I believe Jesus chose disciples who were common, uneducated men.

Faith is believing in the Word of God--in God--even when we don't understand it or Him. We just believe that what He says is true--just like a child. If we fear that what God says is true--just the tiniest bit as much as a muster seed--it really is the beginning of wisdom. Because this is the deal, if someone is questioning their faith or belief in God, they are seeking proof of His existence. They don't necessarily have proof that he does NOT exist, but in their mind they don't have proof that He DOES exist. 

If they are wrong, they risk eternal damnation in hell. If they are right, then they have nothing to lose--He and His word doesn't exist. So therefore, which risk is common sense--the risk of being wrong and eternal damnation in hell or being wrong and losing nothing? Logic and common sense would dictate that not fearing that the Lord might be real and His word true is a lack of wisdom--foolish.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

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Friday, October 21, 2011

More Winners from Highland Sanctuary Book Launch Contest!

The first batch of winners had 7 days to respond and a few failed to do so. Therefore, we have drawn more winners to replace those who did not respond. The winners listed below will also have 7 days to respond. This will be the last drawing. Those that fail to respond to this drawing in the 7-day time period will forfeit their prize(s). 
Winners were drawn at random. To claim your gift, all winners must respond within 7 days of this announcement by contacting Jennifer at with "Highland Sanctuary Contest" typed in the subject line. I will need your full name and mailing address to mail your gift. 
Those who contact me on a first come, first served basis will have their choice of available prizes. The available prizes left are: 1 participant will receive a tote bag with 5 books, 3 participants will receive their choice of an Amazon or B&N giftcard, and 2 participants will receive a Chick-Fil-A giftcard. The last winner to contact me will be left with whatever gift selection has not been chosen by the others. 
If you contact me and do not get an immediate response, the date and time of your email will be noted and I will respond as soon as I'm able. If you believe your email is lost in spam, you may leave a comment here on this blog post letting me know you have sent me an email to claim your prize.
For those that emailed their responses and didn't want their whole name posted, I've listed only your first name and the first initial of your last name. 

DRUM ROLL, please....

Judy Burgi
Emma Vanderbeck
Robyn (CoolestMommy)
Angela Holland
Lisa Grazano
Aly Logan
Congratulations to all of you and many blessings!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Guestpost: Coping with Asperger's by Sarah

Please welcome Guest Blogger, Sarah.

Most people who meet my daughter tell me how impressed they are with her conversation skills and politeness. They find her to be sweet and friendly and she is … BUT if you met her at the ‘wrong’ time you’d think she was one of the worst behaved children you’ve ever seen. It is not naughtiness or lack of discipline that causes this drastic change in her behaviour; it is Asperger’s Syndrome.

Kezia has only just been diagnosed with Asperger's but the symptoms have been there for six years! Why so long before a diagnosis?  Well, it’s only with hind-sight that I realise there were symptoms so long ago. Initial symptoms were attributed to other causes or simply seen as little quirks, not part of a much bigger picture.

What is Asperger's? The very condensed answer is Asperger's is “high-functioning” autism. ‘Aspies’ are usually of above average intelligence, but have extreme difficulty with social skills.  It is much more than that though. For us it’s lots of little differences, in thought and behaviour, that turn everyday things like school, shopping, or meeting friends into very demanding situations.  A change of plans or simply trying to leave the house can cause a temper tantrum as it’s taking Kezia out of her ‘comfort zone’. She has a very literal understanding of language, so I have to be careful how I word instructions, responses or plans. If I say, “I’ll be there in a minute” but take longer or, “I’m coming” and don’t immediately stop what I’m doing then, in her mind, I lied.  She also requires more time to process information and cannot multi-task.

Kezia barely spoke until nearly 3 years old but then, almost immediately, her speech and vocabulary were well above average. She would get upset that she couldn’t write her name or draw as well as the other children at her nursery could. She’d get quite frustrated and negative about her efforts and just give up. I now see this as the initial signs of her motor skills / co-ordination problems and her mind-set; she has a very negative impression of herself and her abilities. These difficulties and others have become more obvious as Kezia has gotten older and progressed through school.

The temper tantrums of the terrible twos didn’t stop and actually began to increase in frequency, length and strength and the nipping and pushing that is common behaviour in pre-schoolers also increased rather than stopping. Her teachers have often said they were concerned about Kezia’s social skills. Academically there are no concerns, she is above average in most areas.

School has been a nightmare over the last six months as Kezia’s behaviour problems have rapidly increased. She started refusing to do lessons if they involved a change of classroom or if it was an activity she felt she couldn’t do. Nearly every morning is a trial just to get her to school and many days she comes out of school breaking her heart because the situation is so difficult for her.

Patience is a virtue but I’m sorry to say I’ve never considered it to be a strong point of mine. However all the professionals involved have praised me for the way I cope; for my patience, understanding and for being “commendably calm”. I’m not saying this to boast, but in recognition and thankfulness for the Lord’s help. I've prayed consistently for patience, wisdom and strength and, in His mercy, He has answered my prayers and continues to do so, helping me through each new day or situation. I don’t just take a day at a time, it’s often more like hour-by-hour or even minute-by-minute as things can change so fast!

I’m on a very steep learning curve and am always trying to be one step ahead of situations in an effort to spot and diffuse problems before they escalate into total meltdown. It is often physically and emotionally draining, but Kezia is my gift from the Lord (Psa 127:3), and I know He’ll help me be all I need to be to support her. I’ve always been shy and self-conscious but, with the Lord’s help, I’ve attended large meetings of professionals and been able to address them all.  I’ve also attended parent group sessions, led by child psychologists, where we not only had to speak; we had to do role play at every session! I never thought I’d do that, but the Lord gave me confidence to do it and do it well, according to the leaders. When I feel I can’t cope, I take courage and renewed hope from the following scriptures:

“My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9)

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Phil 4:13)

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding.”  (Pro 3:5)

“Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” (Psa 37:5)

About Sarah
Sarah lives in Scotland and is one of my readers who has become a great friend.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guestpost: "The Colors of Grief" by Alice J. Wisler

Please Welcome Guest Blogger, Alice J. Wisler.

When the pediatrician called to tell me that my son had a small blue-celled round tumor in his neck, I was seated on my sofa, my eyes staring at the light blue floral valances and moving to the dark blue wallpaper that bordered the family room.
"Malignant," she said.

The day before Daniel had surgery to remove this growth.  The surgeon was convinced he could drain this large bloated inconvenience that had lodged under his skin in the left side of his neck. Many days before that, doctors were thinking the swelling was due to Cat Scratch Fever, sending samples from his skin to the Center of Disease Control.

No one mentioned cancer.

When I got off the phone I had to do something no mother ever likes to do.  I woke my three-year old son from his nap to take him to the hospital.

Surgeries, chemo, radiation, fevers and vomiting followed over the next eight months. The tumor shrunk; hope shone like the sun over the Carolina coast. We talked of what Daniel would look like once his hair grew back, and whether his newest sibling would be a boy or a girl.

But during Daniel's check up visit to the cancer clinic, a staff infection entered his compromised body.  Seconds after he was rushed to the ER, he coded.  And then again.  His brain didn't receive the oxygen it needed.  His body shut down.

Daniel was not going to live with us much longer; he was on his way to Heaven.

Months ago I thought having to wake a child from a much needed nap was difficult.  Telling my four-year-old son good-bye choked my insides. Burying his ashes in a tiny lamb urn the color of his newborn skin cut my core.

The journey of hope ended.  Bleakness and numbness, followed by anger, consumed my days.  I had no desire to live, but knew my two children ages six and 18 months needed me.  The baby in my womb needed me to live so that she could be born.

With a severed faith in a God who had disappointed me, I woke each day to a repeat of the day before.  There was no respite, no place I could go to get away from the loud noises in my head.

I wrote. In between changing diapers, buying boxes of tissues, and making room on my dining room table for the gifts of floral arrangements, I poured out my pain onto the pages of a journal a nurse gave me.  I wrote, hoping to find a loophole in the past weeks, a way to write my son from demise back to health, to life. 

Writing brought sanity, giving me a place to fling out all my anguish.  While it was not powerful enough to bring my child back to me, it did provide healing.

For months, I felt removed and distant from God. Now I can say that my faith has taken on a new texture, a new color.  I used to think that God would never allow a child to suffer and die, making his parents and family carry on, handicapped in a huge world. Now I know that God allows many sorrows.  Jesus promises that our paths will be rocky and yet, He tells us that we can survive the raging sea of grief because he will be with us.

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33 (NIV).  

"I will never leave you nor forsake you."  Hebrews 13:5 (NIV).

I like to think that these two verses are etched in my heart in a bright blue marker, the same color Daniel used to draw on his sister's wall.

About Alice J. Wisler
Alice was born in Osaka, Japan.  Her parents were Presbyterian missionaries. As a young child, Alice loved to walk down to the local stationer's store to buy notebooks, pencils and scented erasers.  In her room, she created stories.  The desire to be a published famous author has never left her.  Well, two out of three isn't bad. She's the author of Rain Song, How Sweet It Is and Hatteras Girl.

She has four children--Rachel, Daniel, Benjamin and Elizabeth.  Daniel died on 2/2/97 from cancer treatments at the age of four. Since then, Alice founded Daniel's House Publications in her son's memory.  This organization reaches out to others who have also lost a child to death. In 2000 and 2003, Alice compiled recipes and memories of children across the world to publish two memorial cookbooks, Slices of Sunlight and Down the Cereal Aisle

Visit Alice's website at:

Monday, October 17, 2011

Clearing Out the Clutter in Your Twitter Stream

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

There's no denying the fact that Social Media can become overwhelming and very time consuming, but if we take the time to set boundaries, we'll feel a little less overwhelmed. We'll also feel like some of the time we spend on Social Media sites is more productive--especially those of us who are on there to network. 

In this post I'm going to share with you some of my personal Twitter boundaries, which are really my pet-peeves and the reason I unfollow people in an attempt to clean up my twitter stream.

Reasons I Unfollow People
1) Cursing

2) Sex Talk

3) One word tweets that don't mean anything

4) Phrases that don't mean anything

5) Tweeting in a different language other than English. Even if a profile is in English, but the tweets are in Spanish or some other language, I unfollow. It's annoying when I don't know what is being said.

6) Zero tweets, even if you're new, you need to tweet something. It only takes a couple of seconds. Otherwise, I'll assume it's a spam acct and unfollow.

7) No tweets in a month or longer. Some people create accts just to see what Twitter is all about, and then they never use them again or they're sporadic tweeters. I don't like tweeting to no one. 

8) Repeat lines, if an acct has multiple tweets that are all the same, it's spam and I unfollow. 

9) Racial comments, I'm not interested if a person is black, white, hispanic, oriental or poka-dotted. I'm interested in people and souls. I have no tolerance for racial comments or gossip for that matter. 

10) Idolizing celebrities, including repeating tweets to celebrities, begging celebrities to follow back, or only retweeting tweets from celebrities. Someone who does this gives the impression that their focus is in the wrong place. 

11) Bombarding me with political tweets. A few are ok, but if I don't agree with the views being stated, that person risks me turning them off=unfollow. 

12) Tweeting horoscopes, not interested and it goes against my faith. 

13) People who don't have the courtesy to follow back. I don't care how famous and important they think they are, if a person refuses to follow back, I unfollow them. I'm not interested in one-sided conversations. If I really like the content they put out, I still unfollow, but may include them in a list.

What are some of your pet-peeves and unfollow boundaries?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Winners of the Highland Sanctuary Book Launch Contest!

Thank you for participating in this contest to celebrate the release of my new novel, Highland Sanctuary!
Winners were drawn at random.  There were 11 total winners. To claim your gift, all winners must respond within 7 days of this announcement by contacting Jennifer at with "Highland Sanctuary Contest" typed in the subject line. I will need your full name and mailing address to mail your gift. 
Those who contact me on a first come, first served basis will have their choice of available prizes listed on the Contest page of my website/blog. The last winner to contact me will be left with whatever gift selection has not been chosen by the others. If you contact me and do not get an immediate response, the date and time of your email will be noted and I will respond as soon as I'm able. If you believe your email is lost in spam, you may leave a comment here on this blog post letting me know you have sent me an email to claim your prize.
If a winner does not respond by email on the comment section of this blog post in the 7-day time frame, they forfeit their win, and we will announce a new winner, who will also have 7 days to respond. Please read ALL Official Contest Rules here
For those that emailed their responses and didn't what their whole name posted, I've listed only your first name and the first initial of your last name. 

DRUM ROLL, please....

Tina Rice
Debra Marvin
Katie McCurdy
Jessica Kramasz
Michelle Vasquez
Jeannie Campbell
Rebecca S.
Susan Cook
Susan Snodgrass
Beth Bulow
Linda Wagner
Congratulations to all of you and many Highland Blessings to you!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Guestpost: "Do You Understand Me, Son?" by Dee Yoder

Please Welcome Guest Blogger, Dee Yoder.

My son has Asperger’s Syndrome. His is a high-functioning form that has caused him trouble with obsessions, as well as over-sensitivity to light and sound. We spent 3rd - 12th grade homeschooling because his overly stimulated brain had been turning him into a robot—shutting down his responses—in order for him to cope with perceived chaos in the traditional classroom. Needless to say, there were challenges along the way, but he made it to his senior year and is a graduate of the class of 2011. It took prayer and consistent support for all of us to succeed.

Becoming a grown-up is difficult for anyone, but the added challenges of Asperger’s often make this process seem, at times, impossible. Learning to drive has become a year-long progression. Apprehension of unfamiliar experiences often holds him back, causing stress anytime he is asked to drive. But he is slowly learning to adjust to the nuances of handling a machine the size of our minivan. He is coming along, and I have no doubt he will succeed, but it takes time and patience.

Signing up for tests and course work at the local community college has also brought its share of difficulties. His dad and I watched as the admission clerk gave him instructions in rapid-fire succession. His instinct was to look to us for intervention, but we figured he could handle the pressure, so we quietly stepped back from the desk and let him deal with her on his own. 

We saw the confusion and indecision flash across his face from time to time, but we held our positions. Sure enough, he was able to pull himself together and adjust his focus. When our son turned from the desk, clutching the information packet tightly in both hands, I was joyful because he had finished the task on his own. No matter that few of her instructions stuck with him, he had managed an adult decision. 

He did well on his ACTs, but had to retake a math placement test. The second time around, he couldn’t wait to call me as he and his dad traveled home. In his voice I heard pride and recognition of his own abilities as he read me his high scores. I smiled and cried for his victory.

But there have been what I call blank days, too. These are days when, no matter how often I request something from him, or how carefully I word the request, he looks back at me with a blank stare. His brain simply can’t comprehend my appeal. Frustration often rises to the surface then, and I hear myself impatiently asking “Do you understand me, Son?” 

There is triumph and victory in little things, and like all young adults, discouragement, as well. But there is never a day when his dad and I aren’t proud of our son’s accomplishments as we look forward to sharing many more days of discovery with this extraordinary young man!

About Dee Yoder
I am a writer with my Amish novel, The Miting, represented by The Hartline Literary Agency, with Terry Burns, as my agent. I'm currently editing my second novel, The Powerful Odor of Mendacity. I also write short story fiction for the Faithwriters Writing Challenge. My work has been published in The Evangel, Good Tidings, and The Quill magazines. I'm happily married to Arlen, and I enjoy home educating my teen son, Joseph.

Dee's Blog: My Heart's Dee-Light

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Guestpost: "Friendly...To a Fault?" by Joanne Sher

Please Welcome Guest Blogger Joanne Sher.

Friendly. That's often the first word people think of when they talk about my mildly autistic son. He loves to talk to, and visit with, everyone and anyone. He's the kind of kid who says hi to each and every person he passes at the store—and wonders why they don't do the same. On occasion, he'll ask if he can roll down the car window so he can say hi to the people on the street as we zoom by. He loves to give hugs. His favorite part of our church service is when the associate pastor says, “Let's greet one another.” He flies out of the pew and walks to every person he can reach in those few moments, shaking hands with a smile.

It's delightful to watch, but it also makes me sad, and nervous. You see, my son is 10 years old, just entering the 5th grade. His behavior is cute, but it isn't exactly age-appropriate. I know he has eyes rolled at him. I know some kids won't play with him because of how “childish” he is. I know he is too trusting of strangers. I know he doesn't yet have the skills to develop deep friendships. And, perhaps most heartbreaking, I know that he is becoming less and less “blissfully ignorant” of how others see him.

My son has other struggles too—higher-level thinking skills, focus, patience, self-control—but the social issues are the ones that make my heart ache the most. He so wants to be liked. And he has come an extremely long way since he was first diagnosed several years ago. He has learned from his school's incredible special education staff how to make conversation, proper facial expressions for his emotions, and dozens of other things I was never taught – because they came naturally to me.

Though I fear that some day he will “be friendly” to the wrong person, or be taken advantage of because of his naivete, I know that his “childlikeness” can be a huge blessing, both to the people who know him, and the Lord.

A couple years ago, there was a boy who was picking on him, and causing some problems in school. Both of them were taken into the principal's office to talk about exactly what happened. My son, who was not at all at fault, sat with this classmate who was trying to get him in trouble, and asked this “troublemaker” if  he went to church. When he said no, my son invited him to our church. Talk about loving your enemies – and faith like a child.

Every child is a gift from God. Their idiosyncrasies, struggles, and talents are part of what makes each of them unique. God has blessed us with our son, and we are anxious to watch how He uses him, and his disability, to make a difference and bring glory to God.

About Joanne Sher
I was raised in Southern California but am now living in West Michigan with my wonderful husband Marc, and our two kids - Andrew is 10 and Annika is 7. I was raised in the Jewish faith, but have since become a follower of Christ.

I love to write and have had assorted stories published in a handful of magazines and a few Christian writing anthologies. I'm currently working on a non-fiction book about God's workings through my husband's health issues. Tentatively titled Ailing Body, Nourished Soul, the first chapter received honorable mention in's Page Turner First Chapter contest. At the moment, it is being considered by a literary agent.

My other passion is God's Word, which I find can meet my every need, if I'll just do more than read it. God has sustained me and my family through so much, and it is my ministry (among others) to share that sustenance, and God's work, with all who will listen. 

Visit Joanne's website at:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Guestpost: "Shocking News to Authors" by W. Terry Whalin

Before I began working inside a book publishing house, I had written more than 50 nonfiction books, ranging from children’s to adult books. I have never self-published a book and always worked through traditional publishers. However, I was unaware of the financial production numbers for nonfiction books and I found it shocking—and something critical for potential authors to understand. 

The author never sees these figures for their books as the publisher doesn’t reveal them throughout the contract negotiation process. A publisher will produce these financial calculations as simply a part of good business practices.  As an author, understanding this helped me see publishing as a business. Authors have huge amounts of time and emotional investment in their words. When I saw these production numbers, I understood that the publisher, not the author, has the largest out-of-pocket cash investment in a book. 

Inside the publisher, the editor will gather a sales projection about how many copies the sales department believes they can sell of your title the first year. That sales figure will be used to calculate the production costs of ink, paper and binding for various amounts of printing (5,000, 10,000 or 15,000 copies). As the initial print number is raised, the cost per book decreases. 

You may ask, So why not print a large volume each time? The answer is, if the publisher prints a large number of copies, then he has to store those copies in their warehouse (read cost and expense), plus make sure they actually sell those copies within a year’s timeframe. The cost of tying up financial resources in storing and warehousing books that aren’t selling is large. Also, the federal government taxes publishers on each copy in storage. These tax rules have forced publishers to think long and hard about how many copies of each book to print.

Inside my former publisher, we calculated the overall printing details of the book (paperback with general publishing look or hardcover with jacket) and the number of books to print before offering a book contract. In short, publishers pour a great deal of work into their books and financial projections before they call you and offer a nonfiction book contract. Understanding this process helps you see some of the reasons it takes such a long time for an author to receive a publishing contract…

Often the publisher returns to an author with whom they have already published a book. If the publisher takes a second or third book from the same author, they are investing in that author’s career and trying to build that author’s audience and market. If the author’s books are selling well, then the publisher will be eager for another project. Each week, publishers monitor sales numbers on their books to see if particular authors merit another book contract.

Many writers focus only on the creative aspects of writing a book and getting it published, but the executives inside a publishing house are business people who want to sell books and turn a profit at the end of the day. It’s a delicate balance between creating the best possible product and assuring that each product has the best opportunity to sell into the market and reach the target audience.
W. Terry Whalin, a writer and publisher lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. A former acquisitions editor, former magazine editor and former literary agent, Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams. To help writers, he has created 12-lesson online course called Write A Book Proposal. On Thursday, October 13th, Terry is answering your questions about proposal creation and marketing in a free teleseminar at: You will also receive a free 24-page Ebook, Book Proposal Basics. The call will be recorded and you will receive the replay information if you can’t make the live event.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Where Do I Start? So Much Is Happening!

Today, I'll be at Greensboro, NC, Barnes & Noble (Friendly Shopping Ctr). I'm giving away a free basket of goodies from a drawing and signing copies of Highland Sanctuary. Please swing by for a visit! (Oct 8th @ 3-5 pm)
Also today, I'm the featured author on the ACFW Blog talking about Using Real Life Experience in Fiction
Tomorrow (Sunday) is the last day for the Highland Sanctuary Book Launch Contest! Send in your entries now!
On Monday, I'll have W. Terry Whalin as a guest blogger discussing Shocking News to Authors and an upcoming opportunity to join a free telesiminar regarding how to write great proposals.
Don't forget, if you're having trouble finding a copy of Highland Sanctuary at your local book store and you don't want to buy online, ask them to order it. All the major book stores are able to order it for you since it is carried by the major distributors like Ingram, as well as Baker & Taylor.
And finally, in honor of October being National Sensory Awareness & National Downs Syndrome Awareness month, I'm hosting parents who will be guest blogging on their personal experiences with their special needs children. Come read their inspiring story!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Guestpost: "The Gift of a Down's Syndrome Child" by CJ Chase

Please welcome Guest Blogger, CJ Chase

“Me?” My 13-year-old son watched me through gray eyes that tilted up at the corners. He gets that color from his grandfather, but the shape—one of the defining characteristics of Down Syndrome—matches no one else in the family.

That morning, several weeks before Easter, he waited expectantly for my answer. Our small Sunday School class—just him and me—periodically read the communion story from his illustrated Bible, most recently that morning. Now he was asking my permission to join the rest of the church in communion for the first time. Was he ready? He could answer my questions, but was it rote memory or did he understand? We’ve long realized he knows more than he is able to express in words.

Down Syndrome is a chromosomal abnormality that affects physical and mental development. People with DS often suffer from a host of ailments, such as heart problems, respiratory issues, hearing difficulties, poor vision, low thyroid function. But there is good news. Early treatment of the physical symptoms is raising both the life expectancy and the IQs of people with DS.

Chances are you’ve met someone with DS. After all, according to the National Institute of Health, it is the most common single cause of birth defects. Still, I never expected it to happen to me.

Those first few days and weeks of Nathanael’s life passed in a blur of specialists and monitors, oxygen tubes and feeding tubes. Nathanael was discharged from NICU after four weeks, and while his improved health relieved some of our stress, the real work for us was just beginning. His low muscle tone, another side effect of the DS, prevented him from breastfeeding, so I pumped and then fed him via a bottle—the feedings lasting as long as two hours per bottle. In order to prevent a recurrence of his respiratory complications, he couldn’t go out in public. And did I mention we also had an active two-year-old at home?

Recently I asked my older son what it was like to have a brother with special needs. Did he wish for a sibling with whom he could have a “normal” brother relationship? Sure, he admitted, it is hard sometimes. But he also wouldn’t want any other brother in the world. Nathanael has “a gift.”

Indeed. We are all better people for having known Nathanael. Unable to make the same kinds of judgments as the rest of us, Nathanael lives in a slightly different, slightly better world—a world where race, weight, and intellectual abilities don’t matter; where you join in the laughter whether you understand the joke or not; where all you really need to be happy is pizza, chocolate milk, and music.

I’ve long believed Nathanael is closer to God’s heart than the rest of us. Jesus said we are to come to him with the faith and trust of a child. And that is exactly how Nathanael took his first communion—with wonderment and a smile on his face.

About CJ Chase
Winner of the 2010 Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript, C.J. Chase likes to make her characters solve mysteries, wrestle with the difficult issues of life and faith, and fall in love. All wrapped up with a happy ending, of course.

Like a character in one of her novels, C.J. took a circuitous route to her own happy ending as an author. Armed with a degree in statistics, she began a promising career in information technology. But after coworkers discovered she was a member of that rare species--a computer programmer who could also craft a grammatically-correct sentence--she spent more time writing computer manuals than computer code. Leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene, so she decided to take the advice of her ninth grade English teacher and write articles and stories people actually wanted to read.

C.J. lives in the swamps of Southeastern Virginia with her handsome husband, active sons, one kinetic sheltie, and an ever-increasing number of chickens. When she is not writing, you will find her gardening, watching old movies, playing classical piano (badly) or teaching a special needs Sunday School class.

You can visit her cyber-home (which is much cleaner than her house) at

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Interview with Rachel Burkot at Love Inspired, Seeking New Authors

Please welcome Rachel Burkot, editorial assistant for Harlequin’s Love Inspired (LIH) line!  They published Christian fiction through Steeple Hill.

About Rachel
She loves the variety of daily tasks involved in book production—and the opportunity to read on the job! After going through school hiding a book under a desk and getting in trouble for reading during class, Rachel decided that helping authors make their books as strong as possible would be the ideal career. The hopeless romantic in her is still counting her blessings that she found the perfect home at Harlequin. 

      For new authors, could you tell us a little about Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired Historical (LIH) line? Must authors submit through an agent?  
      Our Love Inspired Historical books are engaging stories that take readers back in time for a captivating romance of a different era. Our books span a range of historical settings from all time periods, up to World War II. Story length is between 70-75,000 words. We are actively acquiring authors for all three of our inspirational lines (Love Inspired contemporary romance and Love Inspired Suspense too), but especially for LIH! And no, you do not need an agent to submit.

2.    What time period do you see most in LIH and does this mean you would like to branch out into some other timelines or primarily stick to what you already have based on demand?  
      Rather than by time period, I tend to group our LIH books by genre. We do Westerns, Regencies, Amish, Roman Empire, wartime. We’re open to any time period up to World War II and are always willing to consider something new, as long as the story fits within our guidelines (

3.    A lot has changed in Christian fiction in the last few years. What are some changes at Steeple Hill as a result and what trends are you seeing for the next year?  
      Particularly at Love Inspired, we’re pushing for unpredictability and unique stories.  We’d love to see some different character occupations, as well as fresh plots, new twists and surprising hooks. Keep readers guessing on where the story is heading from page 1. We’re always looking for compelling, can’t-put-it-down books with relatable characters, strong heroines in particular. Definitely check out what we’re excited about right now by getting your hands on those LIH books! In particular, 

      I recommend Hearts in Flight, a July release by new author Patty Smith Hall, featuring a headstrong heroine who flies planes for the Women’s Army Special Pilots. Also, The Aristocrat’s Lady, a September LIH by Mary Moore, another debut author, is a great example of what we’re looking for with unpredictability—because the heroine has a secret that will keep readers turning pages!

4.    If Steeple Hill has rejected a manuscript in the past, but it has been revised, are you willing to take another look at it?  
      Yes. Especially when I give an author detailed revision notes, I’m absolutely expecting them to revise and resubmit.

5.    What are some pet peeves you don’t want to see with submissions?  
      Stories with too much description or back story. Characters who are flat and one-dimensional. Contrived or convenient plot elements. Insufficient conflict keeping the hero and heroine apart. Instead, be creative and original. Stay true to the characters you have created. Concentrate on telling a strong story well. Start with a bang. Grab readers’ attention right away, from the first line. Create relatable, sympathetic characters, especially heroines whom romance readers can identify with. Give them sufficient goals, motivations and conflicts, both internal and external.

6.    Is there anything else you would like to share with authors who may be considering LIH?  
      Since the increase in the LIH line from 2-4 books per month at the beginning of 2010, opportunities abound for writers! We would love to see your submissions, and we welcome both brand-new and previously published authors. We've bought almost 20 new authors for LIH in the last two years, and we’d love to acquire more. Send your submissions to Love Inspired Books at 233 Broadway, Suite 1001, New York, NY 10279.

Rachel, thank you for joining us today! 

Aspiring authors, feel free to leave a comment or ask Rachel any burning questions you might have. Now is your chance!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

This October, Let's Celebrate Our Special Kids!

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

October is National Sensory Awareness Month, as well as National Downs Syndrome Awareness Month. Throughout October, several parents will be sharing their stories of challenges and triumphs right here on my blog. 

These parents have children with sensory issues, Aspergers, Autisum, seizures, ADD and ADHD. The purpose of these blog posts are to bring a sense of community in helping each other understand and share each other's challenges, to inspire and uplift one another, and to let others know they are not alone. 

I'd like to kick off the month by telling you about my daughter, Celina, who was born with a life-threatening seizure disorder where she would stop breathing and need CPR. After three weeks of numerous tests in the neonatal intensive care unit, we requested a transfer to Brenners Children's Hospital at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. It was the beginning of her recovery and healing. 

They were finally able to get Celina's seizures under control with medication, but it was the first of many hospital visits over the next three years. My husband and I would NOT sleep well for the next five years. We were told that Celina may grow out of her seizures and to be aware of signs of delayed development. 

As believers of God's awesome power and healing, we took her to church and had the elders anoint her with oil and pray for her. Celina's doctor took her off her seizure meds at the age of three, and she only had one febrile seizure at the age of five. It was the last!

By this time we were noticing some delayed development, but we didn't know what to do about it. We held Celina back two years in K5 since she was a young five-year-old. The following year they still weren't ready to send her to first grade. I refused to hold her back in K5 a third year. The private Christian school where she was enrolled refused to let her stay. With much prayer, we finally enrolled her in the public school system and it turned out to be the best decision we could have made.

They had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) where Celina would have measurable goals that would be realistic to her abilities and would allow her to learn at her own speed. At this time she was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder and began occupational therapy and received speech therapy from school. At age seven she was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). The public school system's special resource teachers worked with her in ways I would have never considered. Slowly, we began to see improvement. 

We tried a couple of ADD meds, but they didn't work. We were able to keep her off ADD meds until puberty hit. All of a sudden her grades dropped, and she began crying all the time. Fearing a deep depression would set in, we took Celina to her pediatrician. He suggested we try a new med. After a month, her body adjusted and the side affects went away. Her grades came back up, the crying stopped, and it was wonderful having our child back. Celina has now been on this med for three years. It has worked wonders. I thank God that he gives people the technology to develop such things to help people. 

Celina is now 14 and this year she jumped three grade levels in reading. She's on grade level for the first time. Delayed development doesn't mean a child won't achieve their grade level, but that it may only be delayed. The good news WILL happen. 

Parents, don't give up through the challenges or give in to worry. Have faith! For God is in control when we let Him be.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Highland Sanctuary Releases Today! (Read the 1st Chapter)

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

A Sanctuary of Secrets...

Gavin MacKenzie, a chieftain heir who is hired to restore the ancient Castle of Braigh, discovers a hidden village of outcasts who have created their own private sanctuary from the world. Among them is Serena Boyd, a mysterious and
comely lass, who captures Gavin’s heart in spite of harboring a deadly past that could destroy her future.

The villagers happen to be keeping an intriguing secret as well. When a fierce enemy launches an attack against them, greed leads to bitter betrayal. As Gavin prepares a defense, the villagers unite in a bold act of faith, showing how God’s love is more powerful than any human force on earth.

Where to purchase Highland Sanctuary

 USA Bookstores
Barnes & Noble
Christian Book Distributors
Cokesbury Christian Bookstore
LifeWay Christian Bookstores

Australian Bookstores
Angus & Robertson

Canada Bookstores
Amazon (CA)


McNally Robinson Bookstore

UK Bookstores
Amazon (UK)

JS Campus

Highland Sanctuary Video Book Trailer

Read the First Chapter!

Highland Sanctuary

Chapter One

Scotland, 1457
The ordeal over, fragmented tremors still quaked through Evelina Broderwick's body. She gazed down at her new daughter. Now, she'd finally have someone who would truly love her. Tiny fingers curled. Evelina marveled at the wee nails. The other hand tightened into a fist and flew into the bairn’s mouth as she sucked on her knuckles.

“She’s beautiful is she not?” Tears clouded Evelina’s vision, overwhelming her by the magnitude of God’s gift of life.

Gunna, her wet nurse, peered closer at the babe swaddled in a warm blanket. “Aye, she is at that.”

“I believe I shall call her Serena after my Spanish grandmother. The lass has an English da and a Scottish mither—a mixture of noble blood from three countries.”

“Not a verra common name here in the lowlands,” Gunna’s round cheeks swelled in a smile as she nodded in agreement, “but lovely just the same.”
The bedchamber door swung open, casting dim light from the hallway candles. The shadow of a man’s tall frame bounced on the dark pine walls. Evelina tensed as her husband, Devlin Broderwick strode in with his usual frown. A dent marred his forehead. He towered over the bedside.

The midwife followed him and stood at the foot of the bed, folding her hands in front of her. The woman appeared to be in her mid-fifties, personally chosen by Devlin and quite loyal to the Broderwick family. Her dark gaze traveled from Evelina to Gunna and down at the infant.

“I’ve heard the unfortunate news.” Devlin’s sharp tone cut through the room like a blade through a gentle lamb.

Was a lass so terrible? Evelina glanced at the only window on the far right. The shutters were closed, blocking the night sky from view. She would like naught more than to escape the confines of her marriage, even if it meant taking sanctuary behind the walls of a convent for the rest of her days.

Devlin cleared his throat. He wore a black tunic with blooming sleeves narrowing at the cuffs. Black suited his dark moods. His hair hung straight in the shape of an downward bowl. He crossed his arms, taking an authoritative stance. “Fortunately, you’re still young and healthy. You can try again when you’re well enough.”

Evelina stayed her tongue. Over the last eleven months of their marriage, she had come to despise him. She had tried to love him, tried to win his affection, but he had been most impossible to please. No wonder her kinsmen hated the English. He had wounded her feelings more times than she cared to count. She’d begun to resent her parents for arranging this union and forcing her into a lifetime of sorrow.

“I’ll love her.” Evelina held her daughter against her bosom. She stared at the wine-colored blanket covering her bed, tracing a finger along the raised flower pattern stitched into the thick fabric, a gift from Devlin’s mother.

“I’m sure you will.” He pointed at their daughter. “Now lay her down so I can see her.”

Cradling her child’s unsteady head, Evelina lowered Serena onto her back. She unwrapped the white blanket from her squirming body. Devlin leaned close.
The bairn’s rosy glow turned red then deepened to a shade of purple. Serena’s head twisted at the nape, her face almost level with the bed. The child’s eyes glazed over, twitching into the corners, only the whites visible.

“What’s the meaning of this?” Devlin jumped back in alarm.

Though Serena’s entire body had grown stiff, it quivered in spasms. The area around her lips faded to white and the rest of her skin melted from purple to an ashen gray.

“She’s not breathing!” Evelina turned to the midwife. “Do something!”

“I deliver wee bairns. I don’t cast out demons.” The midwife’s fearful eyes met hers.

Evelina gripped her husband’s arm, but he pulled away. “Devlin, please do something. She’s stopped breathing! Save her, please?”

He only stared at the helpless babe with disbelieving eyes.

Evelina reached for her daughter’s seizing body. Not knowing what else to do, Evelina turned the child over on her stomach and patted her back. She willed her babe to breathe. She blew air in Serena’s face, hoping to startle her into breathing. White foam leaked over Serena’s colorless lips. Evelina laid her down and plunged her finger into the tiny mouth, pulling with all her might against the curled tongue. Serena coughed, moaned, and screamed into a blessed cry.

“Oh, thank God!” Evelina collapsed, lowering her head next to Serena and letting silent tears fall in relief. Their wee bairn would live.

Evelina kissed Serena’s round head on a thin layer of soft black hair. Her tiny lungs panted for air as her breathing returned to normal. She touched Serena’s sweet ears, her pug nose, and cheeks now gaining a rosy glow.

“What was that?” Devlin’s voice flayed her nerves and she jumped. He stood with his hands on his hips, staring at the child in disbelief, his dark, condemning eyes narrowed.

“The babe was having some sort of fit,” the midwife said. “I’ve heard of stories like this, but never seen one myself.”

“Yes, I can see that. I want to know why!” Devlin took two menacing steps toward her.

“’Tis unexplained.” She stepped back, tilted her head upon her shoulders, and looked up at him with wide eyes. “No one really knows what it is. Some call it the falling sickness.”

Devlin paced across the chamber, rubbing the back of his head. The soles of his mid-calf leather boots clicked against the hardwood floor. “Why would a child have such a fit? How can ye stop it?”

“I don’t know.” The midwife shook her head and sank against the wall.

His gaze dropped to the bundle in Evelina’s arms. “It’s possessed.” His lips twisted in thought. He paced again. “We’ll call a priest to cast it out.” He paused and shook his head. “No, we can’t do that. How would it look if the Broderwick family produced a demon possessed child?” He shook his head. “I won’t have the family name ruined.” He turned and pointed at the midwife and Gunna. “No one had better speak a word outside this bedchamber. If you do, I’ll make you sorry.”

“I won’t say a word,” the midwife said, shaking her head.

“Yes, my lord,” Gunna said, looking down at her feet.

“She isn’t possessed,” Evelina said, her heart pounding in worry. “She stopped breathing and nearly died.”

Devlin strode toward her. He pressed his fists into the soft feather mattress and leaned foward. “There’s no other explanation.”

“Devlin, ye’re mistaken. She couldn’t catch her breath is all.”

“Then why did she turn her head as if it would disconnect from her body of its own accord? Where did her eyes go? In the back of her head? What was coming from her mouth? Do ye call it somethin’ from God?” He stepped back. “`This isn’t the work of God. I feel it in my soul. Something is wrong. As head of this household it’s my responsibility to take care of it.”

“Our child is not evil.” Evelina moved Serena over her shoulder and patted her bottom.

“I make the final decisions in this house.” Devlin’s dark eyebrows knitted together in an angry line. “She may look normal now, but her body is possessed by somethin’. I’ll not tolerate evil under my own roof. Do you hear me, woman?”

“Devlin, listen to yerself. She’s our child.” Evelina clutched the bundle in her arms, fear rooted in her heart. Was he completely mad?

“I saw the babe turn into a demon with my own eyes. I won’t claim it as mine. I’ve made up my mind. I don’t want it, and I forbid ye to keep it.”

“I won’t give her up!” Evelina moved Serena to the far side of her body away from him. “She’s my bairn, not some animal to cast away.”

“You’re my wife, and you’ll do as I tell you.” He stepped toward her, grabbing for the child.

Evelina refused to relinquish her hold. Their daughter began to cry at their tug of war. He tightened his grip on Evelina’s flesh until she could no longer feel. Fearing Serena would be hurt from their struggle, Evelina relented. He snatched Serena.

“I beg ye, don’t take her away.” Tears clogged Evelina’s voice, choking her.
He strode from the chamber with Serena. The midwife made a “hymph” sound and followed him.

Evelina tried to rise. In her weakened state, she fell to the floor.

“Oh, dearie me!” Gunna cried, hurrying around the bed to help her.

Evelina had forgotten she was still in the room. Frantic hands pulled under Evelina’s arms, trying to lift her as she struggled to her knees.
“Nay! Don’t bother with me. Find out where he’s taking her.” Evelina nudged her.


“Please? Do this one thing for me.” Evelina sniffed back tears. “Go! Make haste before it’s too late.”

“I-I’ll do as ye ask. Don’t ye worry, lass. We’ll save yer bairn.” She fled the chamber, leaving Evelina alone in her anguish.

Evelina dropped her head upon her arms. Her eyelids fluttered shut. “Dear God,” she whispered. “I dedicate Serena to Ye. She isn’t evil. She’s just the way Ye made her. Allow me to be her mither and I’ll teach her Yer ways and raise her to be Yer child.”

The room began to spin. Evelina clutched the bed linens for support. Darkness claimed her vision as the distant sounds of her child crying in another part of the house fell silent. “Please…God,” she whispered, fading to unconsciousness.

Scotland 1477
Gavin MacKenzie and Leith, his brother, led fifty clansmen along the narrow dirt path, two men abreast, their conversation a gentle rhythm above the steady clip-clop of horses. The comfortable late-spring air made it a good day to travel.

Something moved ahead. From this distance it looked like a horse pulling a wagon. The sound of weeping reached his ears and then faded. Had he imagined it? He motioned to the men to be quiet. Their voices dropped to whispers before altogether silencing.

Sholto, his horse, grew restless and sidestepped. Gavin grabbed the reins with both hands. The animal snorted in obvious distress. To calm the beast, Gavin rubbed his mount’s neck until his breathing evened and his gait steadied. Gavin’s red and gray plaid fell over his right shoulder. Shoving it out of his way, he studied the layout of the land, looking for signs of a surprise attack.

They’d travelled for days, leaving the familiar glens and rolling moors with a sheltered forest for the flat peatland surrounding them in Scotland’s northern tip of Caithness. With no place to hide, the element of surprise was not in their favor. The light wind carried the scent of the bog myrtle across the silver lochs and purple heather dotting the land mixing with the salty sea. By this, Gavin knew they must be getting close to Braigh Castle. He was told it stood in alone on the moss-covered rocky cliffs facing the sea—like a sanctuary.

The wagon up ahead moved. Gavin gripped the reins tight and hastened his mount. As he drew closer, a skittish horse flung his tail in vexation, hitched to a heavy laden wagon. The animal neighed and pranced about as much as the load allowed.
More weeping carried from the opposite side of the wagon. Gavin motioned for his men to halt. He nodded toward Leith who dismounted and went to calm the beast. Gavin inched toward the noise.

A woman with a long braid of auburn hair streaked with gray bent over a lass lying on her back. He couldn’t see much of the one lying down, but the weeping one wore a dark blue gown. She patted her unresponsive companion, speaking in a hushed, worried tone.

He cleared his throat, reining in his horse and sliding to the ground.
She gasped and turned a frightened expression toward him.

“What happened?” He nodded toward the unconscious lady lying in a bed of thick grass.

Her moss-green eyes watched him, assessing his character. She wiped at the tears staining her cheeks. “We must have hit somethin’. The wagon nearly tipped over. She fell from her seat and hit her head.”

Gavin bent to his knees, surveying the unmoving lass and felt for a pulse in her neck. It beat steady. Her skin was warm and smooth. She was much younger than her concerned friend. “Have ye checked her head for bleeding?”

“It only happened a moment ago. I first tried to wake her.” Alarm crossed her face as her eyes widened, and she grabbed the girl’s hands between her own. “I do wish she’d wake. ‘Twould put my mind at ease. She’s my daughter…my only child.” Her chin trembled.

“May I?” Gavin gestured toward her daughter. “I’d like to check her head for bleeding or lumps”

“Aye.” She nodded. “Serena took many falls as a child. She was always so free-spirited. But I’ve never known her to be out this long.”

Serena. He liked her name. It was different. Lying here, she looked serene.

Although her skin was pale, he could tell she had spent time in the sun. Her dark lashes curled against her skin. Light freckles lay across the bridge of her nose. He took a deep breath and eased his hands in her black hair. It was thick and free of curls, reminding him of black velvet, though it felt more like smooth satin.

“It’s right here.” He found a bump forming on the right side of her head above her ear. “’Tis only a slight knot. I’m sure she’ll be fine.” Gavin glanced at the full wagon. “There’s little room in yer wagon. Would ye like me to carry her to my horse?”

She graced her knuckles over her daughter’s cheek. “I’m verra thankful for yer assistance. We live in the Village of Braigh about a mile ahead. Would ye mind carrying her there? We were just returning from the town market.”

“We’d be honored,” Gavin said. “We’re on our way to Braigh Castle. Is yer village near the castle?”

“Aye.” A smile brightened her worry-filled eyes. “Only a half a mile further beyond our village, would be my guess.”

Gavin crooked his finger toward his men, singling out Roan. As his friend dismounted, Gavin realized how much his tall frame would benefit them. His long blond hair was tied back at the nape. One thing he and his men lacked over the course of their travel was proper grooming. He hoped their ragged looks and overgrown beards wouldn’t offend or frighten the lasses.

“I’m going to mount my horse, and I need ye to lift her to me as gently as possible.”

“I got ‘er.” Roan said, bending to one knee and slipping an arm beneath her neck and behind her knees.

Once he was settled upon Sholto, Gavin secured the reins and held out his arms. Roan raised her up. Gavin settled her across his lap, hoping she would be comfortable and the ride wouldn’t jar her wounded head too much. It helped that she wore a simple brown gown.

“Careful,” her mother said, wringing her hands.

“Serena will be safe. Would ye prefer to drive the wagon or would ye like for one of my men to take over?” If she was too upset, he didn’t want another mishap to befall them.

She shook her head. Pieces of hair loosened from her braid. “Nay, it helps me to have somethin’ to do. Let me know as soon as she wakes. My name’s Evelina Boyd, and I’m verra thankful for yer help.”

Leith assisted her to better secure the horse to the wagon and checked the condition of the wheels. Once he and Roan were mounted on their horses again, they began a slow pace to match Evelina’s wagon.

The men conversed in quiet tones. A bird flapped its wings above them and sang. A gentle draft kept the air from being too warm. The sun hid behind white clouds and burst out in brightness every once in a while.

Gavin looked down at the bonny lass in his arms, breathing in the feminine scent of heather and juniper. The aroma stirred forgotten memories of another lass he’d tried his best to forget. If she had lived, he’d be a married man by now, mayhap the father of wee bairns. To his bitter disappointment, his life had taken another route, which led him and his brother all over Europe to escape his grief and guilt.

“Could that be a patch of woods down yon in the glen?” Leith rode up beside Gavin and shielded his hand over his eyes.

“Looks like it.” Relieved to be distracted from his thoughts, Gavin looked where his brother gestured. “That must be Braigh Castle.”

Situated on a long, narrow rocky cliff sat a magnificent stone fortress that looked to be king of the sea. A wide tower stood tall above wings that stretched out on each side. “From here, it doesn’t look like it needs to be restored,” Gavin said, admiring the view. “How will we ever be able to improve upon it?”

“Yer here to restore the castle, then?” Evelina rolled the wagon to a stop beside them.

“Aye.” Gavin nodded, careful not to reveal the other reason they were there—to protect the new laird, his castle, and the village. He wondered how much Evelina and Serena knew concerning the truth behind the elder laird’s death.

“The massive keep is at least two centuries auld and Vikings have attacked it on several occasions,” Evelina said.

“Were they ever successful?” Leith asked.

“I don’t think so.” Evelina shook her head. “But I don’t know the whole history.” She glanced at Serena in Gavin’s arms. “Will the restoration take long?”

Gavin shrugged. “We won’t know ‘til we see the damage.”

“Oh.” Her gaze shifted back to the castle as she pondered his words. Her expression tensing as the lines around her eyes and mouth deepened. She cleared her throat. “I suppose that means ye’ll be here for quite a while then?”

“Aye.” He nodded.

A strange silence followed. An eerie forboding crawled up his spine. He couldn’t help sensing she didn’t welcome their presence. He scratched his temple.

“Back in the town of Braighwick people called it the Village of Outcasts,” Leith said. “Why?”

“Ye’ll see soon enough.” The warmth in her eyes faded to a reserved caution as she clicked to her horse and started forward.

As they approached the only patch of woods in the area, Gavin braced himself for what could earn this place the odd name. They crossed into the shade of the birch and hazel trees dotted among the dominant forest of pine. Brown needles cushioned the ground in a blanket of comfort, much like the serenity of snow he loved in winter. The fresh scent surrounding them appealed to Gavin as he breathed in the pine scent.

Small dwellings were scattered throughout the woods, made of stone and packed with peat bothy, straw, heather and moss. The turf roofs contained a simple hole for the smoke that rose from the center where they built their fires. If the inside of these cottages were like the ones that belonged to his father’s tenants at home, most were one room dwellings with a dirt floor. The family slept on one side, while their cattle passed the night on the other. Having grown up in the luxury of his father’s castle, it was hard to imagine enduring conditions such as these as a way of life.

A few people opened their doors to watch them pass. Compassion hit Gavin with a force he had not expected. Their clothes were worn through and tattered in places. Most were barefoot. Filth and grime covered their faces. The Boyds seemed out of place here with their clean clothes and clean appearance. Yet, in spite of these people’s poverty, their eyes glowed with a passionate joy he couldn’t fathom, not the listless melancholy one would expect.

“This is ours.” Evelina stopped in front of one of the rectangle hovels. She secured the reins, set the wagon brake, and climbed down.