Saving Grace by Lesley Ann McDaniel – Book Promo

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

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 27, 2013)
***Special thanks to Lesley Ann McDaniel for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

LESLEY ANN MCDANIEL is a lifelong lover of words, and theatre. While earning a degree in acting, she fell in love with theatrical costuming, and pursued that as a career while nurturing her passion for writing on the side. Through God’s guidance, she has shifted her focus to honing her skills as a writer of women’s fiction. She is a member of the Northwest Christian Writers Association and of a wonderful critique group. A native Montanan and a Big Sky girl at heart, Lesley now resides in the Seattle area.

Visit the author’s website.


SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

What happens when a New York City opera singer flees to a small town in Montana to escape a stalker? Tracy Fontaine is about to find out.

When an obsessive fan forces Tracy to change her name to Grace Addison and go into hiding, the last thing she wants is to get to know the locals. Now, not one but two men have worked their way into her daily routine, much to the chagrin of jealous local girl Sophia, who insists on prying into Grace’s past and stirring up deadly trouble.

Will Grace find love in Madison Falls…or will her stalker find her?

Madison Falls. Home of faith, love, peach pie…and a dollop of danger.

Product Details:
List Price: $14.99
Series: Madison Falls
Paperback: 278 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 27, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1491056908
ISBN-13: 978-1491056905

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Warm air prickled the back of Grace’s neck. The porch creaked under her feet as she stole a glance over her shoulder at the dark street. Nothing.
“…excited to have you here ….”
The real estate agent’s lilting voice hummed in Grace’s ear. She turned, marveling not only at the whiteness of the agent’s slacks, but at the boldness of that fashion choice for a woman whose figure resembled that of a snowman.
“…cab ride even longer than your flight.”
Something pinged against the wooden planks. Grace jolted, dizzied by days of wakefulness. The agent dipped down gracefully as her plump fingers extended.
Just a dropped key.
“I know you’ll fall in love with this adorable house. The pictures on our website don’t do it justice.”
Her chipper tone set Grace’s tired nerves on edge. Why couldn’t the woman move a little faster? Casting a wary eye down the shadowy street, Grace eased the strap of her computer bag off the tense spot on her shoulder. Her over-worked adrenal glands pulsed as the agent—what was her name…Cookie? No. Spritz. Spritz Cole, that was it. As Spritz righted herself and lifted the rescued key toward the mahogany Craftsman door.
“Of course,” Spritz lobbed her an encouraging smile. “Most people want to actually see a house first before signing the papers. You must be anxious to start out fresh.”
“Yes.” Grace coerced a steady tone. “This place just felt right.”
An air of confidence spread over Spritz’s carefully made-up face. “You won’t be disappointed.” She clicked the key, and the deadbolt gave an obliging swoosh. Pushing the door open, she took a theatrical step back. “Welcome home.”
Grace’s heart made a thump that could have come from the score to a Hitchcock movie. She peered in. Her lungs filled with paint-infused air as she took a careful step across the doorsill and into the foyer.
She blinked away welling emotion, plunking her suitcase down on the polished wood floor of the vacant bungalow. Her chest ached as she perused the living room, which looked bigger than her entire studio apartment back home. Its white walls stared at her like a vast canvas.
“Well?” Spritz’s voice glistened with just enough gusto to instill consumer confidence without falling into phoniness.
Grace forced a step further into the house which now bore her name on the title—or rather her chosen name. She found it impossible to whip up much enthusiasm when all she really wanted was her life back. “It’s…adorable. Just like you said.”
The door ka-thunked shut, sending Grace’s heart into her throat.
Spritz let out a pleased breath. “You were smart to snap it up. Houses like this don’t come on the market very often. Why, folks in Madison Falls tend to stay put till they die.”
Grace shot her a fretful glance. Was she being funny or merely factual?
Apparently oblivious to Grace’s unease, Spritz breezed into the living room. “Let me just give you a quick tour.”
Exhaustion jabbed at Grace like a maestro’s baton. “No, you don’t have to—”
“You’ve come all this way,” Spritz cajoled. “I can’t just abandon you at the door. I don’t mind at all.”
Too weary to argue, Grace ran a jittery hand through her hair. Startled once again by the shortness of her cut, she flinched. “Alright then.”
As Spritz took center stage with a clearing of her throat, Grace backed up just enough to secure the deadbolt. She forced attentiveness, though frankly her only architectural concern was the structure’s ability to keep danger at bay.
Spritz stepped seamlessly into tour guide mode. “The key feature of this cozy room is of course the striking Craftsman brick fireplace.” She recited the painstakingly penned text of her own website.
Feeling like a reluctant audience to a friend’s baby-picture-slideshow, Grace swallowed her protest and stepped into the living room.
“…loads of light from this generous picture window.” Spritz pulled a cord, sending the front blinds clattering upward.
Grace shrank back, feeling the same vulnerability as she did whenever someone burst into her dressing room unannounced. The darkness outside chilled her. Why hadn’t she planned for a day-lit arrival?
“…cut glass…original to the house.” Spritz dropped the cord. Her arm extended toward the smaller windows above the built-in bookcases which flanked the fireplace.
Keeping a polite focus on her guide, Grace slid toward the picture window. She felt for the cold metal of the latch, breathing easier at its firmness. She gave the cord to the blinds a quick yank then twisted the wand to smooth the slats.
“…1920’s charm.” Spritz clasped her hands in front of her, clearly moved by her own narrative of the home’s features. A well-rehearsed pause, then a twirl toward the dining room.
Forcing her tired eyes to stay focused, Grace pulled shut the blinds on the smaller windows. 1920’s charm, indeed. Feigning cheerful interest, she crossed under the wide arch which separated this room from the next.
Spritz drew her arm with a flourish in the direction of a built-in china hutch. “This room is perfect for entertaining.”
Grace huffed at the suggestion that she would actually invite people over. Spritz’s eyes narrowed.
“I…I…” Grace stuttered, dismayed that fatigue had wiped out her ability to self-censor. “I just never had my own dining room before. I didn’t know I needed one.”
Spritz’s face lit like a make-up mirror. “Our neighborhood progressive dinner is coming up. I’ll be sure to add you to the circuit.”
Grace shivered, giving in to a long blink. Just what she needed. An invitation to the biggest event of the Mayberry social season.
Spritz swung open a double-hinged door, taking a calculated step through it as she spoke. “I just love the charm of this vintage style kitchen.”
Grace cast a polite look through the doorway. Vintage style? Was that real estate lingo for badly-in-need-of-an-update?
“Cute.” Too bad she couldn’t cook. All those years of dorm food and take-out had made that skill superfluous. At least she knew how to make coffee.
Thoughts of a comforting beverage warmed her momentarily, then vanished as her inaugural step into the kitchen almost sent her plummeting.
Spritz let out a yelp, catching her by the elbow. “Sweetie! Are you okay?”
Her heart racing, Grace clutched Spritz’s arm as her feet surfed for solid flooring. “I… I’m fine. Thanks.” She let go, testing the tiles using the care of a person treading through a minefield. One tile near the door had a definite trampoline-like quality. Funny that hadn’t made the web site’s list of fancy features.
Spritz gave the floor a healthy stomp with the heel of her Easy Spirit pump. “I really had no idea there was a problem here.” She patted Grace’s bicep. “Not to worry. We’ve got a wonderful handyman in town who’ll fix it for a song.”
Grace’s stomach fluttered. The last thing she needed was some strange man in her house expecting her to sing. “I’m sure I can take care of it myself.”
“Oh, a DIY girl, huh?” She looked impressed. “Why not let Sam handle this, and put your energy into the fun projects?”
With a decisive nod, Spritz stepped over the aberrant flooring to the rectangle of a hallway. Grace followed, anxious to finish the tour and get on with her plan. All she needed was to be left alone, to let down her guard at last, and fall into a deep sleep.
“Storage closet. Linen closet. Basement.” Spritz flung open each door in turn. “The floor is original to the house, but it’s been refinished. Let me show you the back bedroom.” She disappeared, rattling off facts as if her audience still needed convincing.
Grace’s body followed her eyes to the cracked-open bathroom door. A golden trail of light across the floor taunted her. Flashes of that last moment before her life had changed for good. She looked intently at the light—an eerie implication that someone else had recently been in the house. Be strong. What other choice did she have?
She reached out. A light touch to the crystal doorknob. Good grief, it’s only a bathroom. Wouldn’t be practical to avoid it indefinitely.
Shoving the heavy door with one hand while instinctively clenching the other, her own breath threatened to choke her.
The bathtub held a dead body.
No! Reflexively, her hands shielded her eyes. Then through parted fingers, she forced a second look. It was just a bathtub. Clean, white…and empty.
It had been more than two years now, but the image of the blood splattered porcelain still haunted her.
“Don’t you just love the claw foot tub?”
Grace sucked in a sharp breath, jolted by the perky voice from behind. She shook off the memory. Why couldn’t the place just have a shower, like her apartment?
“Let’s take a look at the front bedroom,” Spritz chirped with an air of unruffled confidence. She stepped into the room to her left, flicking a switch to illuminate it.
Grace followed, heavy with fatigue. She hovered in the doorway of the big white box that would be her bedroom, piqued by Spritz’s unnecessary perkiness.
Spritz beamed with professional pride. “The bedrooms are the same square footage, so it really depends on which view you prefer.”
Grace heaved an anxious sigh. She had already decided she’d sleep in this room. Best to keep track of the world out front—as if anything would happen in a town this size. Yawning, she lifted her wrist slightly, shocked at the hour—nearly eleven. One o’clock in the morning back home. Her eyelids felt like they had stage weights in them.
“Where’s my head?” Spritz crossed toward her, hands outstretched. “You flew all the way from Seattle, then had that long cab ride from Missoula. You must be dead on your feet.”
Grace’s stomach pitched at the ill-chosen words, but she coerced a smile. Spritz had shown such kindness without even knowing how much Grace had needed it. She allowed the realtor to enclose both her hands in a solid, warm grasp.
“I’ll see myself out.” Spritz gave Grace’s hands an extra squeeze. “You just call if you need anything.” She turned for the door, speaking over her shoulder as she walked. “Or stop by my office. It’s on Main, right across from the park. You can’t miss it.”
Grace chuckled to herself. As if finding anything in this town would require the use of MapQuest.
Grateful for her long-awaited solitude, she bolted the door after Spritz’s exit and lowered the blinds over its small cut glass pane. Talk about impractical. Why would anyone want a window in their front door?
Looking around the quiet house, she surrendered to a welcome yawn. She hadn’t been this tired in a very long time. All she needed was a refreshing night’s sleep to plan her next step for surviving this ordeal.
She dragged her feet back to the bedroom and stopped. Looking down at the hard wood of the floor, she let out a throaty moan. Where had her head been? She had always prided herself on her ability to think things through down to the minutest detail. How could she have neglected to arrange for a bed?
She sat down with a thud and buried her face in her hands, not knowing if she would burst out in laughter or sobs.
“Good grief, Grace Addison.” A quiet laugh escorted her words. “Or whatever your name is. Get your act together, would you?”
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Sanctuary by Pauline Creeden – Blog Tour

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sanctuarySanctuary by Pauline Creeden

“Left Behind for the Hunger Games Generation”
In a heart-racing thriller described as Falling Skies meets The Walking Dead, Jennie struggles to find a safe place for what’s left of her family. But it seems as though there is no place sacred, no place secure. First the aliens attacked the sun, making it dimmer, weaker, and half what it used to be. Then they attacked the water supply, killing one-third of Earth’s population with a bitter contaminate. And when they unleash a new terror on humankind, the victims will wish for death, but will not find it…When the world shatters to pieces around her, will Jennie find the strength she needs to keep going?

 

Amazon * Barnes & Noble

 

Praise for Sanctuary
“Pauline Creeden managed to mix more genres into one book than I could possibly imagine. The overall concept, aliens attacking the earth, is straight out of Science Fiction, but then you throw in a few zombies and post-apocalyptic fiction with how the dead/sick humans are acting. Overall, the entire story was charged with the adrenaline and thrills of a suspense/thriller novel, but the mood was terrifyingly eerie like a Horror story. There was almost too much sensory information for my primitive human brain to handle. Still, all of these genres combined made for one unique and fascinating story. This kind of book is of the same flavor as The Hunger Games with its originality, which I really appreciated.” – Katelyn Hensel for Readers’ Favorite

“Sanctuary is a fast-paced Christian fantasy thriller that is original and quite entertaining. The story revolves around Jennie and her family, Pastor Billy and his wife, and two brothers who are polar opposites of each other. Each chapter is presented in the point of view of Jennie, Brad or Hugh (the brothers), which gives Pauline Creeden’s Sanctuary, a multidimensional feel. The three different story-lines merge into a full-fledged fantasy/horror novel that never sags or lets up on the action. While there are Christian themes present in Sanctuary, and Jennie’s faith is an important part of who she is, I, a non-Christian, did not feel I was being preached to or proselytized. I recommend Pauline Creeden’s Sanctuary — it’s well-written and a lot of fun to read.” – Jack Magnus for Readers Favorite

 

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PaulineAuthor Pauline Creeden

In simple language, Pauline Creeden creates worlds that are both familiar and strange, often pulling the veil between dimensions. She becomes the main character in each of her stories, and because she has ADD, she will get bored if she pretends to be one person for too long.

Pauline is a horse trainer from Virginia, but writing is her therapy.

Armored Hearts, her joint effort with author Melissa Turner Lee, has been a #1 Bestseller in Christian Fantasy and been awarded the Crowned Heart for Excellence by InDtale Magazine. Her debut novel, Sanctuary has already been nominated for two awards in YA Science Fiction.

One of Pauline’s short stories has won the CCW Short Story contest. Other short stories have been published in Fear & Trembling Magazine, Obsidian River and Avenir Eclectia. An urban fantasy short will appear in The Book of Sylvari: An Anthology of Elves from Port Yonder Press, and a vampire short will appear in Monsters! from Diminished Media Group.

 

Website * Twitter * Goodreads * Pinterest * Facebook

Blog Tour Giveaway
$25 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash
Ends 11/30/13

Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and sponsored by the authors. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

 

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A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

Why on earth did I write a Christian novel that has both aliens and zombies in it?

When I was a teen/young adult and my faith was wavering at best, there were several movies out with the likely design to shake faith even more. End of the world movies were in their hay day. Alien invasion was another big one. And I couldn’t help but wonder. If something like this actually happened, would anyone be able to maintain their faith?

And now today, Zombies are on the rise.

Could aliens be reconciled with the Bible? Zombies? This is the purpose of Sanctuary.

Because of its poetic nature, the book of Revelation lends itself to a plethora of interpretation. I am not saying that my book is the only true possibility, but it could be one. Could not demons be misinterpreted as alien life forms? Might not Satan use this mirage to his advantage to explain the bitter water or the blotting out of the sun, moon, and stars? And then there’s Revelation 9:6 – “And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.”

Zombies?

If anyone reading this book at least opens themselves up to the fact that yes, a biblical interpretation could resolve the problems between faith and an apocalyptic reality, then Sanctuary has completed its purpose.

EXCERPT:

When Jennie reached the back door, she saw them. Four large dog-like creatures with pinched faces like bulldogs and lion-like manes. They snarled, and one of them leapt at the window on the top half of the door when it saw her. Jennie jumped back and fell hard on the cold tile floor. The bottle of painkiller bounced across the kitchen tiles. The creature slammed against the window a second time, cracking it. She blinked hard. Her heart sunk, and the hairs on her arms stood on end. A horrendous gargling howl rent the air, causing a shiver down her spine. She held her breath and waited for the creature to slam into the door again.

“What on earth?” she whispered to herself.

When the third attempt never came, she scrambled toward the door. Blinking hard, she used the door knob to help herself stand. Out the cracked window, her mother was still out of sight, but the last of the dogs headed across the field behind her backyard.

“MOM?” Jennie called out.

The rumbling faded, and the vibrations in her chest receded with the dogs. She pulled open the door and rushed onto their back deck. “Mom, where are you?”

When she reached the banister, she looked over the side. Her mom lay sprawled with one hand on the lattice. Blood gushed from Mom’s leg and her opposite arm. Jennie’s ears rang and flooded with every beat of her heart.

Jennie didn’t know how she got to the second floor of her house, but she found herself shaking her sleeping father. How had he slept through the rumbling? “Outside, it’s Mom…”

Her father leapt from the bed. Mickey, her little brother, lay asleep and undisturbed. Dad ran down the stairs and outside in his flannel pajama bottoms and white t-shirt. He scooped Mom up to his chest and carried her inside. Blood stained his shirt in crimson.

“Jennie, call 911!” Her father had said it at least three times before it finally registered in her brain.

She pulled the cell phone from her pocket, but it refused to connect. With a groan, she grabbed the cordless from the wall receiver, glad her heart stopped pounding in her head so she could hear.

“All operators are busy at this time,” a mechanical voice deadpanned, “Please stay on the line, and the next available operator will take your call.”

“They have me on hold, Dad. Should I hang up and try again?” She held the phone in both hands away from her face.

“No, just stay on the line.” Her father lifted the shredded jeans from Mom’s leg. “It looks like a shark bite. What on earth happened?”

Jennie took in the damage through tear-filled eyes. A huge chunk was taken from her mother’s calf, exposing the fibrous tendons that covered the bone in her leg. A bloodstain grew on the beige couch. Was she going to die? Panic rose up.

“What happened, Jennie?”

“I…I…They looked like lions, or dogs, or something. The rumbling shook the whole house…I tried to go outside to get Mom, but—” A sob blocked her throat.

Her father grabbed a throw pillow and held it against the leg. Mom’s exposed forearm laid across her chest in much the same condition as her calf.

“Grab me the duct tape.”

Jennie suddenly remembered the phone, put it back to her ear, and headed to the hall closet. She reached for the shelf above the jackets and grabbed the junk basket next to the toolbox.

“Please stay on the line. An operator will be with you shortly.”

She shoved the phone in the crook of her neck and fished through the box. Half the contents dropped around her feet. Who cares? When her fingers wrapped around the silver duct tape, a short-lived relief sent prickles down her arms. But the urgency gripped her chest in less than a heart beat, and she threw the junk basket on the ground with the rest of the items.

“Hurry, Jennie!” her father called from the living room. “And turn on the TV. Maybe they’ll have something about what’s going on.”

She handed her father the tape and turned toward the TV. The mechanical voice on the phone came through again, followed by more easy listening.

When she clicked on the TV, the shouting and wailing began before the picture warmed up on the screen. A sideways picture of New York City broke through, with the shaky voice of the newscaster voicing over.

“What we are watching now – I can’t believe it – is live footage of Times Square,” the newscaster’s voice paused for a deep breath. “We’ve lost our man on the scene and his camera man to what appears to be some kind of new alien creature. Just a short half-hour ago, the doors to the ship that hovered above Central Park opened and these dog-like creatures flooded out.”

Jennie couldn’t pull her eyes from the screen. She straightened and dropped the phone on the hardwood. The battery popped out and skidded across the floor.

The Little Girl Who Wanted a Tail by Mykah Montgomery – Book Promo

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

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

XLIBRIS (September 20, 2012))
***Special thanks to Mykah Montgomery for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mykah Montgomery is the CEO of Mylaan Entertainment. She is an author, songwriter, producer, actress, filmmaker, and member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. She currently resides in Oakland, CA.

She carries forward a family tradition of artistic innovation, as the granddaughter of renowned jazz pianist and vibraphonist Buddy Montgomery, and grandniece of legendary jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery and bassist Monk.

Formally with the girls group Emage, she recorded an album with PolyGram / Mercury Records In addition, she has recorded or shared the stage with Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, The Backstreet Boys, Blacksheep, and Buddy Montgomery. Mykah’s musical compositions received rave reviews in the UK and Japan, which peaked at #7 in just 2 weeks after its release. Her executive produced debut album, ME & U, can be found on ITunes, Amazon.com, or mylaanent.com.

Mykah has written two Christian themed books, the first, I Am Because She Was, is being made into a movie. The second, “The Little Girl Who Wanted A Tail, coupled with its theme song, “DIFFERENT”, was inspired by her lovely daughter Mylaan.

She loves hearing from her readers at mylaanent@yahoo.com or mykah@mylaanent.com.

Song available @ http://mylaanent.com/product/different/ iTunes and Amazon.com

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Sometimes kids feel like they can’t be real, and who they are inside, they often try to hide it. This was true for a little girl named Millicent, who learned that being different, is alright. As a matter of fact, the only things that make us the same are our differences.

With bullying and mean behavior running rampant in our communities, it is important that our children are taught a code of conduct that promotes love, acceptance, and respect for themselves and others.

Product Details:
List Price: $21.99
Paperback: 28 pages
Publisher: XLIBRIS (September 20, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1479716685
ISBN-13: 978-1479716685:

AND NOW…THE FIRST PAGES (Click on pictures to enlarge):

Sun Shine Down: A Memoir by Gillian Marchenko – Book Promo

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

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

T S Poetry Press (August 18, 2013)
***Special thanks to Gillian Marchenko for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Gillian Marchenko lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and four daughters. Her writing has appeared in Literary Mama, MomSense Magazine, Chicago Parent, Thriving Family, Today’s Christian Woman, and Gifted for Leadership. A speaker, and active on Facebook, Twitter, and her website, Gillian says the world is full of people who seem to have it all together. She speaks for the rest of us.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Sun Shine Down. A memoir.

What if?

What if you dreamed of having a beautiful child, and in your mind you saw the life you’d share with that child. First steps, little league (or ballet). Maybe the child would play piano or make you proud on the Honor Roll. There’d be eventual graduations, college, even marriage and grandchildren. You might dream it out that far. Or not. Every parent has hopes. No parents wish for pain—their own, or a child’s.

Then you had a premature delivery in a foreign country. And the words swirling around you said a different kind of “what if.” What if something was wrong? The dream was at risk—or so it seemed. Would you be ready for that? Could you make peace? Or would it take you down?

These are the questions author Gillian Marchenko faced as she woke up after an emergency C-section in Ukraine. Only her newborn child could answer them, in time. But first she had to find a way to hear more than the words “Down syndrome.”

Product Details:
List Price: $15.00
Paperback: 136 pages
Publisher: T S Poetry Press (August 18, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0989854205
ISBN-13: 978-0989854207

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

~ 1 ~

I woke up just before seven the morning of April 5, 2006, in a surgical recovery room in a hospital in Kiev, Ukraine. Sluggish, I scanned the room, unable to take in my surroundings. A thin white sheet covered my body. I shivered. A metal table housed a tiny television in the corner of the room. The bare walls were a pale shade of blue gray.

Did Sergei leave? Lifting my hand, I placed it on my breastbone and slid it toward my navel. My mid-section felt numb. Pushing down, it was as if I tapped another person’s toneless stomach. White gauze held my empty abdomen tight. I had been eight months pregnant.

Five hours earlier, I stood naked in a warm shower, my blond hair tucked into a flimsy paper cap. A delivery nurse crouched in front of my middle. “Krasata,” she hummed in Russian, smiling, telling me I was beautiful, while methodically shaving me.

I couldn’t see the nurse’s face over the bulge of my stomach. Her brown hair bobbed in and out of sight as she talked. I imagined her gold tooth sparkling as her mouth moved. In Russian, “krasata” means beautiful as in, “you are a beauty.” My skin was now translucent, stretched to its limit. I looked like ET’s pregnant cousin, wide-eyed from fear, hair thinned.

“Tebye nada peesat?” the nurse asked as she cleaned off the razor. I nodded – yes, I have to pee, and then I squatted, awkward, as my bladder emptied. I hadn’t peed in front of someone since kindergarten, when I used to make my best friend, Carol Peruski, go to the bathroom with me. The yellow stream swirled around and around the shower floor before sliding down the drain. I wanted to be back home in Michigan, tucked away in an American hospital. I wanted to understand everything being said to me.

*

I had hugged my daughters goodbye that morning, expecting to return in a few hours. Elaina, five and a half years old, had a habit of patting my tummy hello and goodbye. Zoya, eighteen months younger, stood on her tiptoes and aligned her lips with my belly button for a kiss. They hurried our goodbye. They had big plans to make a fort underneath the dining room table with their beloved Ukrainian nanny, Lena.

Our “stalinka”—the historical apartment in Kiev where we’d been living for the last three years, since we’d moved from Chicago to Sergei’s native Ukraine to help start and grow churches—showed few signs of a baby coming. A pack of diapers and some second-hand clothes were piled in the corner. A stroller stood in the hallway by the front door next to a line of shoes. We needed more supplies: ointment and shampoo and bottles. Infant clothes needed laundering. There wasn’t a place for the baby to sleep.

After saying goodbye to the kids, I’d inhaled in an attempt to flatten my protruding belly, needing at least two buttons of my coat to fasten. Giving up, I grabbed a scarf hanging on a hook near the front door and looped it around my neck to keep the Ukrainian winter air at bay. There were three weeks left until my due date. A simple pregnancy check-up coaxed me out the door with a promise of some much-needed time with my husband.

We’d sat in the car a few minutes, waiting for the engine to warm and for the frost to break up on the windshield. I could see my breath. “Let’s swing by that American restaurant on the river after your appointment,” Sergei suggested.

“You’re on!” I said. “And I know what I am going to order: Eggs Benedict. I am going to eat it all, too. It’s not like I can get any bigger than this, right?”

“You look beautiful,” Sergei said.

At the appointment, I lay on a long brown bed and watched the obstetrician measure my stomach with the kind of measuring tape my mother used to make our clothes when we were kids. The doctor measured once.

“Hmm.”

“Shto shto?” I asked in Russian. What? What do you see? Is something wrong?

Upon hearing my question, Sergei, who sat on the other side of the room, stood up and walked over to us.

“Shto takoye?” Is there a problem? Sergei asked.

“What? Oh no. Not a problem. I want to measure Gillian’s belly one more time.” The doctor positioned her right hand on the examination table next to my side and extended the tape across my abdomen. She hunched to ensure the right start and stop point on the tape and then held it out in front of her, stretching it wide.

“Your stomach hasn’t grown in two weeks.”

A sound like that of a police siren erupted inside my head, sending icy adrenaline shooting through me. Our baby wasn’t growing? Our baby wasn’t growing.

Sergei stood to the right of the doctor. He took hold of my hand and looked at me with that same steady gaze I’d noticed when we first met. When Sergei looked at a person, his eyes were unwavering, showing his confidence. At first that intimidated me but in our years together, it had become a great comfort. He heard what the doctor said and knew her words would worry me. He was with me and present, just as he had been for the last seven years.

The baby had measured small at checkups earlier in my pregnancy but the doctor had never been concerned about it. At one point the baby measured three weeks behind her due date in size and development. At that time, the doctor reassured me that I had nothing to worry about. “She is growing which is the main thing,” she’d said, winking. The doctor, jolly and round, acted like a female version of Kris Cringle. “There’s no problem. Either we miscalculated the due date or you have a petite little girl in there,” she’d explained as she turned her attention to Elaina and Zoya who happened to be with us at that appointment. “Now, girls, are you excited about the baby? And how do you like living in Ukraine?”

“Sergei, please tell her we are concerned.” I’d wanted reassurance. To calm me, the doctor had ordered several ultrasounds and non-stress tests. Each time, the tests had shown the baby staying still. “Ona speet.” She’s sleeping, was all she’d say.

Today she said, “Here’s what we are going to do, Gillian. We’re going to admit you to the hospital overnight. I suspect the baby needs extra vitamins and nutrients. That should get her back on track.”

“Should we worry? Is it something else?” I glared at Sergei the way wives do when they want their husbands to telepathically understand they should jump in with questions and concerns of their own.

“No! Don’t worry!” the jolly doctor smiled at us.

Instead of heading off to breakfast as planned, we went directly to the hospital. By noon I sat gowned in a room on the fourth floor. A nurse hooked a monitor to my belly to follow the baby’s heartbeats. I watched the squiggly green lines on the black screen dip low as my stomach tightened with each Braxton Hick’s contraction. Something is wrong. I know it.

We were assigned a new doctor, tall and tan with a wide smile. His fuzzy, brown hair was gone in the back of his head. He wore glasses. He looked the part of the new Ukrainian, the guy who achieved success somehow during economic instability. The first two buttons of his crisp white shirt were open revealing a heavy chain that shimmered around his neck. Two huge, gold rings covered his knuckles. He was excited to have an American patient because he was learning English.

He introduced himself to Sergei first, in Russian, and shook hands with him. Then he peeked at me. “Hello, there. I see you having a baby? That’s great. I…um…ugh… I am happy to be of assisting of you today here in Ukraine. I am fond of America. And, um…, I am tried to work on my English.”

The new doctor continued to sputter and pause as he talked to me, searching for the right words to say in English. I would answer him in Russian, to let him know I could, and then wait for him to find his next English word.

I had studied Russian with a private tutor three times a week, two to three hours a session, for three and a half years. The day I met Tatiana Nikolayevna, my Russian teacher, I was nervous. She was a mountain of a woman with bleached blond hair. Her high cheekbones and pointed nose gave her a diplomatic air. She walked with a limp, suggesting she’d suffered a hip dislocation at some point in her life. One moment she’d give me an icy glare, then seconds later an approving smile would spread across her face.

For years I’d trudged along, immersing myself in basic conversation, memorization and grammar study. I cried at some point in every session. Tatiana was firm, but kind. In the beginning, I likened Russian to a blurry photograph. I knew something was there, but I could not make out the picture. It was humiliating and exhausting to try to speak a foreign language. Then one day the picture started to come into focus. I heard actual words, sentences, and eventually full conversations. I became an avid eavesdropper. My time deaf and mute in Ukraine came to an end. I had survived basic Russian language acquisition.

*

Outwardly I kept my cool at the hospital. But inside, I yelled at everyone who walked through the door. Check me and go away! Let me lie here and worry in peace. I’m not in the mood to teach English as a second language.

After meeting the new doctor and helping me settle into the room, Sergei left the hospital to go home and check on Elaina and Zoya, and arrange the rest of the day’s schedule. About an hour after he left, I realized I would need a few things to stay overnight. I called him on the cell but got voicemail. “Hi, it’s me. Hope the kids are okay. Listen, since I’m going to be here for the night, can you grab a few things for me while you’re home? I need a change of clothes, my contact case, and maybe a book to read. Thanks. Love you.” After I hung up, I lay back on the hospital bed and focused on the clock on the opposite wall. There was nothing to do but wait. My hands were shaking.

Sergei got back to the hospital around four o’clock. Occasionally, the English-learning doctor came in, checked the monitor, and listened to my stomach with a stethoscope. Sergei asked questions. “How’s the baby doing? Do we know if the glucose and extra vitamins are helping yet?” We discovered that one phrase the doctor knew well in both English and Russian was “wait and see.” He would not outright answer our questions. “Wait and see,” he’d say, already turning to leave.

By nine o’clock, our American colleagues started to call. Julie, the mother hen of our ex-pat group, called first. Her husband James was our team leader, and they had been living in Ukraine for over ten years.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I called Lydia to tell her about you and the baby.” Lydia was another American working with us. Before moving to Ukraine, she was a postnatal nurse at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

“That’s fine, Julie,” I muttered, my frustration breaking through. I wasn’t mad at Julie. I was mad that I was stuck in the hospital. I was mad that we were told over and over again to wait and see.

Julie continued, “And we are coming to the hospital. Once our sitter gets here, James and I will pick up Lydia and we’ll be on our way.”

As soon as I hung up, the phone rang again. Lydia’s voice, strong but soft, filled my ear with questions and greetings.

The threat of tears tightened my throat and I could only manage a whisper, “The baby hasn’t grown at all since the last visit to the doctor two weeks ago. I have an IV in right now, and I’m receiving glucose and other vitamins. The doctor says this will help bulk the baby up and get her back on track.” Sergei sat in the corner of the hospital room, pretending to be interested in a newspaper he’d picked up in the hospital lobby.

“Whenever I feel a contraction, the green squiggly line on the monitor drops low,” I said. I expected a response from Lydia. Instead, silence. For a second, I wondered if the phone lost its connection.

“Gillian, I will be there in a half hour. The next time your doctor comes in the room, you need to demand an emergency c-section. I don’t want to scare you, but in the States your baby would have already been delivered. She is not doing well. She’s in trouble. Listen to me; you have to talk to your doctor.” I tightened my grip on the phone. Sergei stood up, came over and sat down on my bed. “What’s wrong?” he mouthed. I shook my head and turned to the window.

“Okay, Lydia. We’ll tell him.” I hung up the phone and started to cry. Sergei leaned in and took me in his arms.

“Lydia said it sounds like the baby is in extreme distress. She said we need to demand a c-section.”

Always pragmatic, Sergei wondered out loud, “How can we know she is right? She isn’t even here. The doctor said the baby needs some extra help.” I moved out of Sergei’s arms so I could look him in the eye.
“Lydia said if we were in the States, the baby would have already been delivered.” I felt a sob rise and my body began shaking. “Sergei, please find the doctor.”

My husband agreed and went to get the doctor. I was alone. I knew it. I’d known for weeks that something was wrong. I should have spoken up more. Oh God, please let the baby live. I want to go home. I did not trust the doctors in this hospital. I wanted my mother. A few minutes later, Sergei came back to the room with the English-learning doctor who had his usual broad smile.

“Umm, your husband said that you are worried that the baby be born?”

“Yes. I have an American friend who is a nurse. I talked to her on the phone and she said that with the baby’s heart beat dropping so low, I would have already had a caesarean section if we were in the States. I’m worried. We need to talk about delivering the baby.”

I stared at this man who was dressed in white pants and a white, button-down shirt with a lazy stethoscope draped around his neck. He was a doctor. I wasn’t sure of the schooling process in Ukraine, but in America he would have completed close to a decade of education in order to qualify for this job. Shouldn’t he know? Didn’t he know?

“The baby is stabilizing with the IV. It hasn’t been enough time. I think we should wait and see. She needs more time.” The doctor glanced from my face and Sergei’s to see if his words registered. Sergei spouted back in Russian.

They talked a few more minutes and then the doctor smiled at both of us and left. The clock next to my hospital bed read eleven o’clock at night. The baby had been receiving fluids since noon. I studied the monitor next to my head. The baby’s heart rate still dropped once in a while.

“He doesn’t know what he’s doing!” I snapped at Sergei.

“I know this is hard, but he’s a doctor. He’s your doctor. We should listen to him. And I’m not saying this lightly. That’s my baby too in there. I’m worried. But Lydia isn’t here and the doctor is, and I think we should listen to him.”

Julie, James and Lydia arrived within the hour. They were upbeat, commenting on the nice hospital room, cracking jokes and squinting at me through the room’s bright lights. All three tried to act like it was the most natural thing in the world to hang out in a Ukrainian hospital room at midnight. I loved them for it.

A nurse located the English-learning doctor. When he came into the room, Lydia stepped forward and introduced herself. She went on to tell him what she told me on the phone. As she spoke, she kept taking steps closer to him. Soon, she stood right in front of his face. The doctor no longer smiled. “Doctor, this baby needs a cesarean section right away!” James and Julie hung back on the other side of the room. Sergei got up from the bed and stood next to Lydia.

“We are going to wait and see if the IV helps,” the doctor declared. Lydia persisted, eyeing my husband for language assistance and nodding incessantly as her words poured in a mixture of English and Russian. Her stern face and tone of voice pleaded with the doctor to take action.

I could tell by the projection of her voice that Lydia meant business. Here was one of my people, not only a colleague and a friend, but an American medical professional weighing in on the fate of my child.

After hearing more from Lydia, Sergei took her side. “We need to see if anything else is going on with the baby. My wife is frightened. We don’t want to wait and see anymore.” Sergei squared his deep blue eyes on the doctor.

“All right. I guess we can take a closer look at the baby through an ultrasound.”

“Spaseebo,” Sergei said. Thank you. “Spaseebo,” Julie, James, and Lydia all chimed in.

“Nyezashto,” the doctor replied. Don’t mention it. His expression was blank when he left the room.

*

Twenty minutes later I concentrated on Sergei’s face, as a coiled cord smeared icy liquid over my midsection. Doctors and nurses huddled around the ultrasound screen, whispering to one another in Russian. The technician tapped on my stretched skin, seeking the baby’s beating heart beneath it. As my abdomen tightened again, the small huddle of Ukrainian professionals all gasped at the monitor.

“Sergei, ask them what they see.”

Sergei cleared his throat. “Izveneete pozshalusta. Shto takoye?” Excuse me, please. What is wrong? Our doctor turned around from the group and faced us. Oh no, here we go. Sergei took my hand in his.

“The baby’s heart beat goes too low with the contractions. We need to do a caesarean section right away.”

*

Back in my room, shaved and ready for surgery, I perched on the end of the high hospital bed and studied the imperfections on the tan walls. Sergei had gone downstairs to sign papers to allow the surgery. James, Julie and Lydia had gone to search for the nearest waiting room. All of a sudden I felt the need to take everything in. I wanted to remember every detail. A well-polished wooden desk with a matching chair stood against the wall in front of me. Cream-colored curtains with deep pleats framed the window. My stocking feet dangled above the alabaster tile floor. They seemed disconnected from my body.

I thought about Elaina and Zoya sleeping in their Estonian-made bunk beds back at the apartment. Sergei and I searched all over Kiev before purchasing the pale, hardwood beds. Thick cotton blankets were probably tucked up under the girls’ chins. I imagined their Babushka, Sergei’s mother, asleep in the next room, ready to provide a drink of water or a trip to the toilet. I wished I had kissed them goodnight.

I heard footsteps in the hall. The doctor stuck his head through the doorway. “Gotova?” No time for English now.

I nodded—ready.

Dark Biology by Bonnie Doran – Book Promo

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

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Harbourlight Books (October 25, 2013)

***Special thanks to Jennifer Taylor for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Bonnie Doran’s debut novel, Dark Biology, released October 25th as a science fiction thriller from Harbourlight of Pelican Book Group. Prior to delving into fiction, she wrote and sold over 60 devotionals. She is represented by Steve Hutson of WordWise Media. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys reading (mostly science fiction), cooking, Sudoku puzzles, and hanging out with other writers, sci-fi fans, and Mad Scientists. She has a reputation of telling groan-producing puns and volunteers at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. She’s been married 29 years to an electrical engineer and Mad Scientist who owns a 2,300-pound electromagnet and plays with lasers for a living.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Renowned vaccinologist “Hildi” Hildebrandt has set her sights on beating her brother to a Nobel Prize, and the opportunity to conduct experiments on the International Space Station might just provide the means to obtain that goal.

Chet Hildebrandt should have had that opportunity. But now he’ll teach a lesson to them all: his hot-shot astronaut sister, his philandering hypocritical father, and the CDC for not properly appreciating his work. One vial of a virus purloined from the CDC labs and released at his father’s marriage seminar should do the trick, without hurting anybody. After all, it’s only a mild influenza strain…Or is it?

Product Details:
List Price: $15.99
Paperback: 342 pages
Publisher: Harbourlight Books (October 25, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1611162777
ISBN-13: 978-1611162776

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Infection Minus Ten Months

Hildi’s nose itched.

She ignored it. While she waited for her lab partner to emerge from the airlock, she checked the seals of her blue biocontainment suit again. Good habits could save her life.

Hildi pulled a coiled yellow air hose suspended from the ceiling and plugged it into a socket near her waist. The deflated suit expanded as air roared past her face. The familiar ballooning sensation saddened her for a moment. She’d miss her work here.

Then she grinned. She’d be wearing a pressure suit in her new job and performing similar cutting-edge work in an even stranger environment.

Her practiced eyes appraised Biosafety Level 4, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most dangerous lab. Everything “down and cold.” But an adjoining room held liquid-nitrogen freezers filled with hot agents, the deadliest diseases known to man. Francine stepped from the airlock. Hildi’s college friend had never worked in Level 4, but she moved with confidence. Hildi stared into Francine’s faceplate and noted her calm expression. She’d do fine.

Hildi maneuvered past the stainless-steel tables dominating the room. She pulled two-inch test tubes, a push-button micropipette, and other tools from drawers and placed them in the biosafety cabinet, a glorified box with a fume hood and clear front that rested on the work counter. She detached her hose, inhaling the reserved air in her suit.

Humming to herself, she walked into the adjoining room and attached her suit to another hose. Every time Hildi moved in the lab, she repeated the procedure, a necessary inconvenience if she wanted to continue breathing.

She punched a code into the lock of one of the stainless-steel freezers and extracted a vial of the latest X virus that may or may not have killed John Doe.

Returning to the biosafety hood, she slipped her yellow-gloved hands under the clear protective shield, a sneeze guard at a toxic salad bar. She withdrew a tiny sample of the unknown and released it into one of the tubes. After Hildi repeated the protocol many times, she keyed the information into the computer.

Hildi glanced at Francine just as she straightened from a hunched position over a microscope. Francine turned, her movements jerky like a marionette’s. Her suit’s chest zipper gaped, exposing her blue scrubs underneath. She seemed to shrink as her biosuit deflated.

Hildi froze.

“I’ve got a problem here!” Francine yelled, her voice quavering. The rush of air in their ears turned conversations in Level 4 into a shouting match. Francine fumbled for the zipper with trembling fingers.

Hildi’s heart skipped several beats then she zipped the suit shut in one smooth motion. “Zippers get worn. They can pop open.”

Francine’s white-rimmed, dark-chocolate eyes returned to normal. “How bad was that?” Her voice still quavered.

“Your suit had positive pressure the whole time. A hot agent couldn’t get in. You OK?”

Francine gave a nervous chuckle. “Sure gave me the jumpy jitters.” She turned back to the scope.

Hildi released the breath she’d been holding. Risk was part of the job. Zippers failed. Gloves failed. Usually it wasn’t life threatening.

She placed the rack of tubes in the incubator cabinet, maintainedat the ominous temperature of warm blood, and then returned the original sample of hot agent to the freezer. Her mood descended into a gray chasm. She already missed the challenge of Level 4. But she had a job offer that would take her research to a whole new level. She could smell that Nobel Prize. Her brother Chet would never catch up to her now.

Hildi exhaled a heavy sigh that fogged her faceplate. “Done,” she yelled. “Finally I can get out of here and scratch my nose.”

“Thought you’d be used to it after three years.”

“Never. Right now it’s driving me nuts.”

Francine chuckled and headed for the airlock.

Hildi followed. She inhaled the chemical smell as the decontamination shower sprayed disinfectant over her suit. The two of them scrambled out of their blue suits as soon as they reached the changing room. Hildi scratched her tingling nose with ferocity.

Francine grinned at her and walked to the regular showers which contained detergent for washing and a bath of ultraviolet light.

Hildi hung her short suit next to Francine’s long one. She reached up to caress a sleeve of the guardian that protected her against infection. “Thanks for keeping me safe. I’ll be back.”

Hildi stripped and marched naked to the shower. No modesty in this job. Afterward, she tugged on jeans and a mauve T-shirt.

Her lab partner’s perfect complexion glistened as she toweled off. Hildi’s pale skin and red curls contrasted with Francine’s coffee coloring and corn-rowed black hair. Not exactly twins separated at birth.

“When do you get in to Houston?” Francine pulled on black leggings and a flowered tunic then grabbed her tiny purse.

“Around four.” Hildi grimaced. “Rush hour. My favorite time.” She longed for the feel of the afternoon sun on her face, but she wouldn’t enjoy it today.

“I’m surprised Director Hunt gave you such a long leave of absence.”

“It’s a fantastic opportunity.” Her spirits bounced like an acrobat on a trampoline. “But it’s not like I won’t be working.” She grunted as she wrenched her holds-anything-and-hides-everything handbag from her locker.

Francine smiled. “You know, I might just lock you in one of the labs until after your flight leaves.”

Hildi laughed. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“Don’t try me. I’m missing you already.” Francine hugged her. “I can’t believe you’ll be gone for a whole year.”

Hildi swallowed to keep her voice from cracking. “I will be back for visits, you know.”

“You’d better be.”

They walked through another airlock into a corridor and less-lethal safety levels. The burning, moist smell of giant autoclaves bid a pungent farewell.

“You just don’t want to work with Chet.” Hildi baited her friend.

“Don’t rub it in.” Francine lowered her voice. “Did you hear? Your brother’s in big trouble.” Francine sounded like she relished the thought.

Hildi groaned. “What did he do this time?”

“Chet worked on that new anthrax sample from England without authorization. Director Hunt turned three shades of purple.”

“Hunt’s a bit paranoid about the paperwork, that’s all.”

Francine shook her head. “Your brother has an attitude.”

“I know.” Hildi frowned. “It’s hard to work in the same building with him when he avoids me like—well—the plague.”

“He’s done a good job at alienating everyone around here, so don’t feel special.”

They drove directly to the airport in Francine’s tired green Altima. The Atlanta traffic, abysmal at any time of the day, choked Hildi with exhaust fumes. She turned up the AC. “Sure you don’t mind caring for my cat?”

“Whiskers will be just fine.”

Francine pulled up to departures, opened the trunk, and hefted the bulky suitcases. “What do you have in here, moon rocks?”

Hildi grabbed her carry-on. They chatted until a security officer ordered, “Clear the lane, please.”

Hildi fished in her purse for a tissue and gave Francine one more tight hug. “Thanks for everything.”

“Vaya con Dios.”

Hildi wheeled her suitcases to the nearest door, her stomach fluttering as if she’d just won the lottery. Maybe she had.

****

Hildi deplaned in Houston after an unremarkable flight. She heaved her suitcases onto their wheels and stepped outside. A tanned man in a polo shirt and jeans held a sign. Dr. Hildebra. Someone hadn’t quite fit her name on the cardboard. Situation normal.

“Evangeline?” He smiled.

“Please call me Hildi.”

“Larry Gomez.”

Hildi stifled a gasp and flung her star-struck feelings aside as she wiped sweaty palms on her jeans. Larry’s exploits in space were the stuff of legend. She shook his hand.

He loaded her luggage into the trunk of his silver Jaguar convertible. More diesel exhaust assaulted Hildi as they headed south on I-45. She’d expected oil fields and cowboy hats when she first came here but instead found apartments, shopping centers, and malls. Same humidity as Atlanta, same traffic. He chatterednonstop.

Hildi interrupted. “So tell me about the rest of the team.”

“You’ll like them. Jasper Reingold and Frank Schotenheimer.”

Hildi nearly jolted out of her seat. “Frank?” If she’d known, would she have volunteered for this assignment?

In a heartbeat.

Larry’s face held a puzzled frown. “You know him?”

She hesitated. How had Larry missed knowing about her relationship with Frank? Would it jeopardize her chance to work in space? No way to hide it now. “We were engaged.”

“Well, things are about to get interesting.” Larry’s mouth quirked. “The director moved him up from a later mission when our pilot shattered his leg yesterday.”

She stared at the scenery. Frank? On her team? Scenes flashed in her mind. Their first kiss that had warmed her to her toes. Her growing suspicions. The night she confronted him about his gotta-work-late excuses, and he confessed his affairs. Trampled dreams.

Lord, I could use a little help here.

Larry must have sensed her mood. He didn’t say a word for the rest of the trip.

An hour later, they pulled up to the employee entrance of a sprawling facility, the salty tang of the Gulf of Mexico perceptible even this far from the ocean. Shimmers of heat rose from the pavement. After the security guard examined their badges, he beamed. “Dr. Hildebrandt? Welcome. Let me page Dan Stockton for you. He asked me to notify him when you arrived.”

Hildi’s mind whirled. First Frank and now Dan? Last time they’d talked, Dan had been training in Alabama. Probably his idea of a romantic surprise. She tried to submerge a surfacing smile. She wanted to jump into his arms when Dan arrived. Instead, she forced herself into neutral pose. He wore a periwinkle silk shirt with coordinating tie. Always a tie, as if he could never relax.Larry whispered in Hildi’s ear. “Now you know why he’s earned the nickname Dandy Dan.”

“Hildi.” Dan stepped toward her with an eager grin, glanced at Larry, and stopped in mid-stride.

“You know him, too?” Larry’s glance bounced back and forth between them like a hyperactive tennis ball.

Dan hesitated. “Uh, yes. We’ve met.” An uncomfortable silence descended. Hildi stared at the polished floor, counting the squares. She didn’t want to tell the mission commander about another relationship, especially when she couldn’t explain it herself. An on-again, off-again, long-distance relationship that was going nowhere.Larry cleared his throat and turned to Hildi. “Another fiancé? Have we ever been engaged?”

Hildi laughed, relieved he didn’t ask any more questions.

Dan smiled. “Would you rather go to your quarters first or eat?”

Her stomach rumbled in response.

“Perry’s Steakhouse?” Larry still eyed them with suspicion.

“Yes, sir.” Dan spread his arms and planted his feet on the emblem emblazoned on the floor, like a barker at the circus. “Welcome to the Johnson Space Center and phase two of astronaut training.”