Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Heartbreak Trail May Trivia Contest

Head over to the Contests and Giveaways page to enter this month's Trivia Contest for Heartbreak Trail. Good luck. It's harder than the one for Thick as Thieves. Contest ends May 31.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Terrible Secret Chapter 14

To start reading this story go HERE.

Chapter 14

“Andi, why don’t you find someplace more comfortable to take a nap?” Justin suggested.  “There’s a couch in the outer office that might suit you, you know.”
“Uh-huh,” she agreed but didn’t move.
“Come on, sleepyhead.” Justin started around the desk. “There’s a small settee in the waiting room. You’ll be much more comfortable—”  
The sudden, tremendous crack of shattering glass caught Justin and Andi off guard. Andi’s head snapped up, and she turned toward the window. It was gone. In its place, a fist-sized rock had crashed to the ground a few feet away.
Andi jumped up. “What’s that?” Her heart skipped. Some schoolboys would sure be in trouble for this!

“I don’t know,” came Justin’s puzzled reply. He took a step toward the stone and narrowly missed being hit when another, larger item came flying through the hole in the window.
“Justin!” Andi gulped, frightened, “What’s going on?”
This new object was no rock. It was a funny-shaped tied-up bundle of dark tubes. And it was rolling closer to them. Then Andi heard it. A sharp fizzing sound. Her eyes grew wide. “Justin, it’s—”
“Dynamite!” Justin shouted. He reached out and gave the deadly bundle a hard kick across the room, away from the door—their only exit. He yanked Andi’s arm and sprinted for the doorway. “Let’s get out of here!”
But even as her brother pulled her along, Andi knew they wouldn’t make it to safety in time. Justin found a corner closest to the exit and shoved Andi to the ground just as the dynamite went off.
Andi felt her ears explode at the blast. All breath left her body. She groaned just as the world came down on top of her. First Justin, then everything else.
Then everything went mercifully dark.
“Beautiful!” Sandy whispered to his companion. They scurried off down a side street. “Ain’t never seen one timed to perfection like that.”
“Yep.” Gordon grinned. “There ain’t no way anyone had time to escape that blast. The boss’ll be happy.” He noticed a huge crowd beginning to form. “Come on. Let’s make ourselves scarce.”
The searchers found them quickly enough. Chad and Mitch, along with Elizabeth and Melinda, had just arrived in town when the explosion went off. It didn’t take them long to discover from where it had originated. The brothers joined those who were digging through the ruins of Justin’s office while Elizabeth and Melinda stood outside, barely breathing as they waited for news.
“It’ll be all right, Mother,” Melinda said, trying to sound certain. “Maybe it was empty, after all. Maybe Justin’s down at the courthouse already and—”
“He was inside,” Elizabeth said calmly. “And so was your sister.” She stood there numbly, watching the men make their way through the rubble, preparing herself to accept the unacceptable.
My firstborn and my baby are probably both dead.

A sudden shout of discovery brought Elizabeth out from her dismal thoughts. She took off running towards her son’s office, Melinda close behind. When she arrived at the scene, Chad and Mitch were in the forefront, carefully removing the plaster and boards that covered the two figures.
Elizabeth sucked in a shocked breath. It was worse than she imagined. She couldn’t keep her tears back at the destruction all around them. “Chad!” she whispered. “Are they—“ She broke off, unable to continue.
“We don’t know yet, Mother,” Mitch answered, lifting a heavy plank which had fallen dangerously close to the still figures. He laid it aside and joined Chad.
For a moment, nobody moved.
Justin and Andi were sorry sights. They lay still as death.
“Can they be moved?” Elizabeth whispered. Of course they must be! They couldn’t be left lying in the rubble!
Chad nodded. “I think so. We have to get them out of here.”
The two brothers lifted Justin and laid him carefully onto a makeshift litter, which had appeared seemingly from nowhere.
Then Chad reached out and gathered his small sister into his arms. “Oh, dear God, let her be all right,” he whispered. Then he handed Andi to their mother
Elizabeth sat down in the middle of the rubble and cradled Andi’s still form in her arms. Tears flowed down her face, and her lips moved silently in a desperate prayer for her child’s life.
Dr. Weaver arrived just then. He wasted no time on niceties. Instead, he made a brief examination of Justin and looked up. “He’s alive, Elizabeth, but just barely. And I don’t know for how long. The concussion from the explosion knocked him out. It’s difficult to tell what other damage has been done until he regains consciousness.” He paused. “If he regains consciousness.”
The doctor squatted down beside Elizabeth and Andi. “By protecting his sister, it looks like Justin took the brunt of the flying pieces of glass, wood, and plaster. It could have hit him anywhere—including his head.”
He shook his head sadly. “We’ll just have to wait and see. For now I suggest we get them both back to the ranch and comfortable in their own beds.”
Elizabeth accepted the news with a slight nod. “Of course.” Then she whispered, “What are his chances, Jim?”
“I really can’t say right now, Elizabeth. I’m sorry. It’s bad.”
“I understand.” She looked down at Andi, who lay unmoving in her arms. Her face was scratched and bruised, her hair filled with flying chips of plaster and wood splinters. Other than that, there was no sign of injury.
But that didn’t mean she hadn’t been injured on the inside.
“Let me look at her,” Dr. Weaver said. He examined Andi then sighed. “She must have had some protection from Justin, but how much difference that will make in the long run is beyond me. I am truly at a loss here. There are no visible signs of serious injury, but being caught in an explosion is serious enough. There could be internal bleeding that I’ll never find. Like I said, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
He stood up and turned to the crowd of curious, shocked townsfolk. “Thank you for all your help. Now, we’ll just let these people take their sick ones on home.”

A couple of men picked up the litter and started for the wagon Mitch had brought. Elizabeth passed Andi over to Chad, who took her gently and passed her up to Mitch in the wagon.
Curious by-standers watched with obvious horror as the Carter family made their way out of town. Elizabeth acknowledged their words of comfort and sympathy automatically, without really knowing who had spoken.
It was a quiet, somber ride home. Melinda sat beside Justin, begging him softly to wake up. He didn’t move. Her tears flowed freely, and she wiped them away as quickly as they came.
Halfway home, Andi groaned. Her eyes fluttered open. Where am I?
Just above, Mother was staring at her. Her cheeks were wet with tears. Mother weeping? Why? What—
Waves of pain made Andi cry out. She hurt all over. The jouncing, bumping wagon didn’t help matters much. “M-mother?” Andi whispered painfully. She tried to pull herself up so she could see what was going on.
“Hush, Andrea,” Elizabeth soothed her. “Lie back. We’re almost home.”
“What happened?” Andi asked, confused. Everything hurt!
“You and Justin had an accident.”
“An accident?”
“There was an explosion.”
“Where? At school?”
Elizabeth frowned at her daughter’s confused speech. “No, Andrea. In Justin’s office.”
Silence fell. A dark, heavy blanket of silent terror that wrapped itself around Andi and threatened to smother her. Her heart slammed against the inside of her chest. Her head throbbed.
The crash. The broken window. The . . . dynamite!
Andi’s hand reached out. She clutched her mother’s sleeve. “They tried to kill us, didn’t they?”
Of course they had! Mr. Henderson and his gang of ruffians. All because they’d found out she’d told her family. Tears gushed. No, no, no!
“They did not succeed, sweetheart,” Elizabeth said softly. “You’re safe now. You’re going to be fine.”
Andi shook her head. She would never be safe. Or fine. Never again. Neither would—
Her head snapped up. “What about Justin? He pushed me—hard—into the corner. I remember that much. It hurt. Then . . . nothing.”
“Justin’s alive,” her mother assured her, “but he hasn’t regained consciousness yet.”
Andi started crying. “It’s because I told. I know it is.” She wouldn’t say another word. She just held onto her mother and cried softly the rest of the way home.

Elizabeth rolled over in bed and gazed at her daughter with a worried expression. Whatever had happened was not going to go away in a few days. Andrea had refused to sleep in her own bed. She wanted to be with her mother, and no one could dissuade her.
Right now, for a wonder, she was asleep, but it was not the sleep of a child at rest. Andi tossed and turned, cried out occasionally, and made it impossible for Elizabeth to get any sleep at all.
With a sigh, Elizabeth gave up trying to sleep and rose from her bed. She wrapped a housecoat around her and padded down the dimly lit hallway to check on her oldest son.
Her heart skipped a beat. It had been two days, and Justin had not yet regained consciousness. Dr. Weaver was not sure how long he would stay that way. She shuddered and slipped into Justin’s room.
“Mother, what are you doing up?” Chad was sitting up with Justin and gave her a disapproving look. “I told you I’d sit up the rest of the night. Go back to bed. You need some sleep.”
Elizabeth managed a weak smile. “That’s impossible. Andrea is spending a most restless night, and I haven’t fallen asleep yet. I thought I would come in and see if there has been any change.”
“Not yet, but don’t give up hope,” Chad said. He looked worn out. “Doc Weaver says he could some out of it any—”
Suddenly, a low, agonized moan came from the bed.
“Justin!” Elizabeth rushed to her son’s bedside and took his hand. “Justin,” she repeated, urging him to consciousness.
Justin slowly opened his eyes and peered into his mother’s worried face. “Mother,” he whispered. His words came slowly, slurred. “Where’s Andi? Is she all right?” His eyes slid back and forth. He tried to lift his head, but he fell back with a moan. “It happened so quickly.”
Elizabeth patted his hand. “Yes, Justin. Andrea’s going to be fine. A few bruises, minor scratches, but you took the brunt of the blast.”
Justin managed a weak smile. “That was my intention.” He let out a long, slow breath and seemed to relax. “It was worth it, so long as she’s all right. This was all my fault. I shouldn’t have pressed her into testifying. I should have insisted she stay on the ranch until the trial was over.” His eyes looked haunted. “She could have been killed. I never should have—”
“Justin,” Elizabeth admonished. “Don’t do this to yourself. Try to rest. Don’t worry about anything. Your sister is resting. She’ll recover. Nothing’s broken.”
Justin shook his head. His voice grew stronger. He was wide awake now and clearly beating himself up over what had happened. “She’ll recover physically. But what about emotionally? She’s been terrorized for two weeks. Then, when she trusts me to take care of her, what happens? I nearly get her killed.”
He closed his eyes and let out a disgusted breath. “A fine older brother I’ve turned out to be—more concerned about my client than my little sister.” With his good hand, he squeezed Elizabeth’s arm. “Tell her I’m sorry, Mother. Sorry for letting her down. Sorry for not protecting her better.”
Justin’s voice trailed off. With a soft sigh, he fell back to sleep. 
 I hate to tell you this, fans, but that's all I have. You have come to the end of this "Lost Story." It will continue to stay lost unless you all give me ideas on where it can go and how this whole thing can be solved. In other words, what happens next? 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pen Pals

I get shivers whenever I read posts like the one at this link below. Emily posted her experiences with all of the friends she has met through Andi's blog. Wow, I had no idea so many godly relationships have been budding through the years because of a fictional character (Newsflash: Andrea Carter is a fictional character).  PEN PALS

I have received emails off and on from fans (who are now grown and moving on) who have connected with other fans . . . one even from England who connected with someone here in the States and eventually met face to face.

Some met on the Chat Box (which makes me glad that I never canceled it, although it sometimes gives me grief, i.e. it stops working, etc.) But I see many of you enjoy chatting in a safe place with other internet friends).

I'm humbled beyond belief that I had any part in this. You might know the old song Pass It On. "It only takes a spark to get a fire going . . ." Indeed, I feel like a spark of true friendship that could last an eternity has been lit because of a fictional character. God works in so many ways to bring us joy. Thanks, Emily, for sharing that post on your blog. And you younger fans, keep connecting with each other. You too can enjoy lasting, godly friendships.

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Slice of Life - 11

       I don’t have time to do it very often, what with trying to figure out how to run a house (and also sneaking off to ride Shasta and keep up on my lassoing skills), but the other day I felt extra tired and coming down with the sniffles.
       So I brewed myself some tea, something Mother taught me how to make long ago, and started flipping through past journal entries. (This journal is my third one. Who would have ever guessed I would become such a writer of personal thoughts and events!)
       Anyway, my stuffy nose was making me grumpy and out of sorts, but I came across this old entry and started giggling. Pretty soon my nose was running, and my eyes were running, and then I was laughing so hard I began to cough. Here it is:

March 1, 1886
I’ve only got three months left to teach Riley how to dance. I mean, honestly! You’d think I was asking him to break a dozen broncs rather than learn a few steps so we can have a wedding waltz.
Waltzing with your brothers is fine (and I’m sure Justin will claim the first one after the ceremony in lieu of what Father would have done if he were alive), mostly so I don’t have to dance with rascals like Johnny Wilson, but I intend to have my new husband take me around the floor one time!
And I won’t have him making a fool of himself—or of me.

March 5, 1886
       Today was the day. And what a day! This Saturday started out about as perfect as any day could start. Riley got the afternoon off (after I sweet-talked Chad into giving it to him). I planned a nice picnic up in the meadow. A nice, flat area. Little did Riley know what I was really planning . . .
       The food softened Riley up, but he turned downright stubborn when I suggested that he’d better learn to waltz so he can dance at our wedding in three months. “Uh-uh! I’d rather break both legs and hobble down the aisle than trip over your feet and end up looking like a fool,” he said.
       “I won’t dance with only my brothers on my wedding day!” I yelled back.
       It was quite a stand-off. I jammed my hands on my hips. He jammed his hands on his hips, and we glared at each other.
       “It’s expected,” I said, softening my voice.
Getting stubborn never worked well for me in the past. And Chad always says you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. “We’re not getting married in a tiny church in town with some cake and coffee afterwards. It’s a Circle C extravaganza.” 
        I sighed. Neither Riley nor I had fancied a fancy wedding. I’d just as soon ride off to Yosemite and get married on the way. But Mother is set on sending her youngest daughter to the altar in a fine way, and my brothers and sisters agree. Outnumbered! I’m stuck.
       So is Riley.
       “You only need to learn one dance,” I promised. “One waltz. It’s easy. Take me around to the ‘Blue Danube,’ or another piece at waltz timing, and I promise you needn’t learn anything else.” I gave him a saucy look. “After that, your bride will dance with all the envious young bachelors. You can drink coffee and talk to the old ladies.”
       Riley gave me a dark look, but I could tell that the wagon wheels were spinning inside his head. And he didn’t like where that wagon might be headed.
       “It’s really expected?” he finally growled.
       I nodded. Sadly, this was all too true. I can’t cook very well, but I sure do know how to dance—every step ever invented: waltz, polka, quadrille, blah, blah, blah. I reckon when your family is invited to the Governor’s Ball in Sacramento every Christmas, you really do learn to dance well.
       Riley scrunched up his face. It was clear he didn’t want a dozen rascally young men dancing with his new bride. Ah-ha! I had him at last.
       That settled, he gave in. I expected a waltz would not take more than ten minutes to learn. I hummed the “Blue Danube” as loudly as I could and showed him the steps. Then I showed him again. And again.
       The fourth time, he wrenched backward. I went flying. Down we both went. My face turned ten shades of red. “What kind of step was that?” I staggered to my feet. This was not going well at all.
       Riley apologized, and we started over. Honestly, how hard is a box-step waltz, for goodness’ sake? “One-two-three, one-two-three. One—”
       On “one,” Riley stomped on top of my left foot. It hurt. A lot. Good thing we both had our working boots on, or I’m sure my foot would have been broke. “Good grief, Riley!” I stormed. “Are you trying to cripple me?”
       He started laughing. “I’m never going to get it, Andi.”
       “Oh, yes you are.”

April 15, 1886
       Riley is never going to get it. Never. He’s too afraid of hurting me. He should be afraid. My right foot has uncountable bruises. He has tripped and fallen more times than you can shake a stick at. He is a clever young man. He can most likely teach a colt to dance and bow and count, but he can’t teach himself.
       I have despaired of teaching him anything. I give up. No more dancing lessons. I’m sick to death of the “Blue Danube.” I hear it in my sleep.

May 26, 1886, 8am
       It’s my birthday. Eighteen years old! In another month I’ll be Mrs. Riley Prescott. But I shall not be dancing at my wedding. Not for all the gold in California. 

May 26, 1886, 4pm
       Riley presented me with the very best gift I could ever receive for my birthday. (Well, maybe the second-best gift. A new saddle would have been most welcome, but oh, well.) He took my hand and led me to the barn. I figured a new saddle was soon to make an appearance.
       But no. The entry area inside had been swept clean. “What are we doing here?” I had to ask.
       “I’m presenting you with your birthday present, soon-to-be-wife.” He said it with a glint in his eye. 
        Hmmm . . . I was instantly on my guard.
       “Shall I close my eyes?” I finally asked. At this point, even a new saddle blanket would have been a welcome present.
       Riley shook his head. Then, before I could take a breath, he bowed and asked, “May I have this next waltz, m’lady?”
       “Not very funny,” I said. Just what I didn’t need on my birthday was a bruised foot.
       “I’ll take that as a yes.” He started loudly humming the “Blue Danube Waltz” and nearly swung me off my feet.
       I was shocked. Every step was rhythm perfect. He led me around inside the small barn area, humming the entire song (he knew it well by now). When he finally finished, he released me, bowed again, and rose. A grin nearly split his face.
       I couldn’t breathe. “H-how . . . how did you learn to waltz?”
       He cocked his head, and his face started to turn red. “Well, Andi, when I realized how much it meant to you that we should dance a wedding waltz, well”—he shrugged—“I decided I’d best get me another dancing instructor. One whose toes I couldn’t bruise quite so easily.”
       I was stumped.
       Riley folded his arms across his chest. “Chad taught me.”
       My mouth dropped open. “Chad? And . . . and . . . you?”
       Visions of those secret dancing lessons swirled around in my head. Oh, I would give a strongbox full of gold to have been a fly on the wall during those sessions. 
       A gush of laughter escaped from my throat. I couldn’t hold it back.
       Riley’s hand clapped over my mouth. He leaned close to my ear and whispered, “If you ever let on to a soul—especially to Chad, I’ll . . . I’ll . . .”
       I tore his hand away and burst into laughter, shaking my head. “I won’t. I promise. Because not only you would come after me, but Chad too. It will be our secret.”
      Riley danced divinely at our wedding. Someday, I know he and Chad will be willing to share the secret of Riley’s dancing success. But probably not for a long, long time. And now, my tea is cold and I need a handkerchief, but I’ve had a lovely afternoon rereading this old entry.  


Friday, May 19, 2017

Photo Friday: ONE MORE TIME

I am totally sick and tired of thinking about covers for that last book, Andi Far from Home.

No more voting. I got brave and asked my editor which of the two ideas he liked best: the beach cover or the San Francisco cover. He said the SF cover because it shows it's a historical book right away. So, that is what I will send in. However, I worked hard to make a Victorian hat (well, as close as I could get) to make it look more old fashioned. So, this is the cover concept idea I will send in to my marketing manager.

Below is the cover flat, and then below that is a fun picture we took. It made me think of the silly things Aunt Rebecca might make Andi put up with during her stay in San Francisco.

Photos in the 1800s were never in color. 

This is how we like to see pictures in our Kodak color world!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Terrible Secret Chapter 13

To read this story from the beginning go to CHAPTER 1.

Chapter 13

“Good morning, Russ,” Justin greeted the sheriff early the next morning.
“Morning, Justin. What brings you to my humble office so early? I’d think you’d be over at your own office cramming for the trail today.” He motioned Justin through the door, and nodded at Andi. “‘Morning, Andi.”
“Hi,” Andi replied, scooting through the door as quickly as she could. She really, really hoped none of Henderson’s men had seen her going into the sheriff’s office.
If they saw me, I’m dead, she thought dismally. Shivers skittered up her spine.
“I’d like to see my client,” Justin said.
“Of course.” The sheriff pulled a set of keys down from a hook and indicated that they should follow him. He headed down the short hallway where the cells were located. “Zeke’s been mighty quiet these past few days. I think he senses there’s not much of a chance, what with him being found with the gun an’ all.”
“Hmmm,” Justin commented neutrally.
“It’s a real shame he can’t recover his memory, even partially. Might’ve helped, I suppose. You think?”
“Maybe,” Justin replied, glancing back. “You coming, Andi?”
Andi nodded and caught up.
“Wake up,  Zeke,” Russ called out. “Your lawyer’s here.” He turned to Justin as he unlocked  Zeke’s cell. “Just yell when you’re finished.”
“Thanks.” He and Andi entered the cell. “Hello,  Zeke. How are you doing?”

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Slice of Life - 10

I just realized today that I haven’t recorded many entries in here from when Riley and I were courting. Perhaps that’s because it seems like we never formally got to that stage. I mean, we did, but it seemed to still be the friendship we had before, just closer.
However, there is one incident I want to record. It happened one day not long after the incident with Joaquin Murrieta and his gang.
Riley and I had officially started courting, but that didn’t seem to change much. The only difference was that, every once in a while, he’d bring me flowers. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. Wildflowers never last long. I got this bright idea to press them between book pages using newspapers. A few turned out real pretty, but the rest sort of just grew brown and crackly and fell to pieces.
I am better with animals than I am with plants. But it was a sweet thought, and I did my best.
I think Chad got into the whole courting idea, and he liked to put Riley and me together for almost every assignment.
Well, on this particular day as I made my way down to the corral, Riley greeted me with a smile and told me we both had the day off.
What? Chad gave Riley and me the day off? And it wasn’t even a holiday. He must have been feeling very generous for some reason. I was bursting with curiosity, but something told me not to ask any questions.
Riley had Shasta and Dakota saddled, and he held out Shasta’s reins toward me. “Come on, let’s ride.”
Now I couldn’t hold back the question. Self-control never has never been my strong suit. “Riley, where are we going?”
He grinned and shook his head. “You’ll see.”
We mounted up, and I followed him out onto the range. It was still early in the day. The sun hadn’t risen to its zenith yet, making the ride pleasant and not sweltering.
For a little while we rode in silence, and then Riley changed direction. The slightly rolling hills gave away to high meadow. It didn’t look familiar. The wildflowers that seemed to grow everywhere grew in even more abundance here. Fields of yellow and lavender stretched out as far as eye could see, ending only with the stark upwards rise of the mountains.
About half way through the fields, Riley stopped and dismounted. I did the same. Leading Dakota, he made his way over to some rocks that sat in the midst of the meadow.
I joined him, while the horses nibbled at the flowers. “Riley, what are we doing here?”

He shrugged, an easy smile caressing his lips. “I thought it might be nice to just spend the time out here, talking and such. It seems most of the time we’re together we’re riding the ranch and working our tails off. Never any time to slow down and just chat.”
He had a point. I settled down on the rocks, tossing my hat off and letting the sun bathe my face. “It’s beautiful up here.”
Riley nodded. He picked some of the flowers that grew around our feet and began twisting them together. Then silence easily settled between us. This was something I loved about being with Riley. There was never such thing as an uncomfortable silence.
Suddenly, Riley turned to me and out of the blue, said “Andi, if you ever have kids, how many would you want?”
I laughed. “How did you get onto the train of thought?”
He turned his attention back to the flowers in his hand. “I guess my thoughts are like a train yard with five different trains running in different directions.”
Well, that still sounded pretty orderly. My thoughts tended to have about twenty different ideas, all colliding with each other. “I reckon I haven’t thought seriously about it. Maybe . . .”
I trailed off, and he finished for me. “Maybe half a dozen or so?”
I nodded. “That sounds just fine with me.” Mother and Father had six children, but poor Riley was an only child. Maybe he wished he’d had brothers or sisters.
We stayed there for a while longer, talking about all sorts of things. When the sun reached the halfway point, Riley stood. “Well, we’d better head back and get something for lunch.”
Before I could follow, he reached over and took the flowers he had been playing with while we talked. Now, I could see what he had been doing. A crown of sunshine with purple highlights was braided together. It looked like what I imagined a royal crown to be like.
He set it gently on my head, and then stepped back. “There. A crown fit for a queen. My queen.”
I reached up and touched the soft flowers. “Thank you. But . . .” I grinned. “My hat will smash them.”
With a bow, he reached over the picked up my discarded hat. “Easily fixed, my lady.” He set my hat on top of his and stepped back. “Now you can wear your crown, and I will keep the rest of our headgear safe.”
I laughed, and he joined me. It wasn’t often we got away to talk, and I liked it. I supposed it’s what others might call romantic, but I never thought of it that way. We were friends, good friends, just talking about the future—our future.
We mounted and rode back to the ranch. It was a simple morning, but one of my favorite memories of the time we were courting. Riley knew I didn’t like fancy dinners or visits to the theatre.
And the fact that he knew me best and wanted to please me meant more than words can ever say.