Edna in the Desert by Maddy Lederman – Youth Fiction With a Timely Message

For all those who need to unplug from our high tech world, Clash of the Titles presents a novel about reconnecting with those dearest to us, about turning off the cellphone and living in reality. Although written from the perspective of a new teen, Edna in the Desert applies to all ages.
 

About Edna in the Desert:

Edna is a precocious trouble-maker wreaking havoc at her Beverly Hills school. Her therapist advocates medication, but her parents come up with an alternative cure: Edna will spend the summer in the desert with her grandparents. Their remote cabin is cut off from cell phone service, Internet and television. Edna’s determined to rebel until she meets an older local boy and falls in love for the first time. How can she get to know him from the edge of nowhere?

PURCHASE:

What readers have to say:
*  “Maddy Lederman is a 21 st Century Judy Blume”
* “The author displays literary maturity in her subtle, nuanced and patient treatment of Edna’s movement from self-centered to other-centered.I recommend this book to all – not just the YA group & I hope to read other books from this author.”
* “Loved this book, brought up so many things I think about in terms of kids, technology and our materialistic society.”

About the author: 

Maddy Lederman’s writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The Sun Runner, a magazine about California deserts. Maddy has an MFA in Acting from Brooklyn College. After school she discovered what it’s like to wait around at auditions all day, and so she did not pursue an acting career. Edna In The Desert is Maddy’s first novel.

Q&A with Maddy:

What has drawn you to writing for the YA market?

I wanted to write a warm, amusing story about how a modern teenager would react to being totally unplugged. Some of my friends’ kids don’t even look up from their phones to say hello, and I wonder where this is taking our culture. My character, Edna, is thirteen, so the YA market was naturally drawn to my book, but I wasn’t drawn to a particular market. I’ve found that adults enjoy Edna In the Desert as much as teens.

What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?

I’ve done many quirky things, a lot of them in the desert! I took a “sound bath” at The Integratron. I hiked up a mountain in 110 degrees on a first date and eventually married the guy. My job in film and TV creates endless quirky opportunities, for example, covering Adam West, TV’s Batman, in creamed corn. We met years later in Palm Springs and laughed about it.

How can readers find you on the Internet?

On Facebook and my website, MaddyLederman.com.

Visit Clash of the Titles for the latest in Christian fiction!

*taken from Amazon reviews

Shannon Ethridge’s TO KNOW YOU giveaway and Facebook Party!

Cover Rating:

 

Blurb:
 
Julia Whittaker’s rocky past yielded two daughters, both given up for adoption as
infants. Now she must find them to try to save her son.
 
Julia and Matt Whittaker’s son has beaten the odds for thirteen years only to have the odds—and his liver—crash precipitously. The only hope for his survival is a “living liver” transplant, but the transplant list is long and Dillon’s time is short. His two older half-sisters, born eighteen months apart to two different fathers, offer his only hope for survival.
 
But can Julia ask a young woman—someone she surrendered to strangers long ago and has never spoken with—to make such a sacrifice to save a brother she’s never known? Can she muster the courage to journey back into a shame-filled season of her life, face her choices and their consequences, and find any hope of healing?
 
And what if she discovers in her own daughters’ lives that a history of foolish choices threatens to repeat itself? Julia knows she’s probably embarking on a fool’s errand—searching for the daughters she abandoned only now that she needs something from them. But love compels Julia to take this journey. Can grace and forgiveness compel her daughters to join her?
 
You can purchase it here: Amazon * Barnes and Noble * BAM * CBD * Deeper Shopping

 
 
 Shannon Ethridge is a best-selling author, speaker, and certified life coach with a master’s degree in counseling/human relations from Liberty University. She has spoken to college students and adults since 1989 and is the author of 19 books, including the million-copy best-selling series, Every Woman’s Battle. She is a frequent guest on TV and radio programs and mentors aspiring writers and speakers through her BLAST Program (Building Leaders, Authors, Speakers & Teachers.)
You can find Shannon here: Website * Goodreads * Facebook * Twitter
 Kathryn Mackel is a best-selling author and acclaimed screenwriter for Disney and Fox. She was on the screenwriting team for Left Behind: The Movie and Frank Peretti’s Hangman’s Curse. She is the acclaimed author of The Surrogate, The Departed, and The Hidden and resides in Boston, Massachusetts, with her husband.


You can find Kathryn here: Website * Goodreads
 
 
 

~My Review~

 
Julia Whittaker was no stranger heartbreak. After two failed relationships that ended with giving up two daughters for adoption, she didn’t think her heart could break anymore than it had in the past. But now her son Dillon was dying. Dillon was diagnosed with Biliary Artresia Liver disease at birth. Now at the age of thirteen he needed a new liver and he needed it soon. Having ruled out ever possible donor, Julia and her husband Matt knew their only hope were the two daughters she gave up at birth. Julia embarks on a journey to save her son but it ends up being so much more.
Destiny Conners has been living with Luke for awhile and things were going great until Luke let God into his life. When Luke started changing Destiny refused to accept it. She wasn’t only pushing Luke away but God as well. What had a God ever done for her? When Her biological mother showed up on her doorstep asking her to be tested and save her step-brother’s life she knew she would be faced with some hard decisions. Her only request was to meet her real father and her step-sister, Chloe.
Chloe Deschene felt trapped. Her whole life was planned for her by her husband. Jack was methodical. He lived his life by schedules and time tables. They even made love on a schedule. Chloe wanted passion in her marriage and to be able to do what God was calling her to do. She was bored with the way her life was going and when Julia and Destiny appeared out of nowhere, she jumped at the chance to get away from her life.
Three women, who are perfect strangers, embark on a journey together not knowing where it will lead or how it will end. But the bond they form is strong enough to weather any storm. Will they find their miracles or will their hearts be broken?
In my last review I said the book was my best read of the entire year. I can honestly say To Know You is fighting hard for that number one position. I am mostly a romance junkie but in this book romance takes a back seat. “A back seat to what?”, you might ask. My only response is “to everything good”. This story is about family and healing and forgiveness and discovery and, yes, miracles. It’s about strong bonds and sacrifices. It’s about putting someone else’s needs before your own. It’s about seeing God in the midst of your troubles. There is so much about this book that I absolutely loved. The way Julia insisted on supporting Destiny when she needed her even though she knew her son was only a few hours from dying. The way she cared for Chloe during a crisis just the way a mother would. The way Julia’s husband Matt supported her throughout the entire story. And, most of all, the way her son Dillon smiled in the face of death. His part of the story really tore at my heart. I shed many tears during the course of this book but I love that. I love a book that has the ability to make me look into my heart and ask what I would do in that same situation. I guarantee you will love this book but make sure you have plenty of Kleenex handy while reading it. If I could give it more than five stars I would. Very highly recommended!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher for my honest review. The opinions expressed are mine and mine alone. I received no monetary compensation.
 

My Rating: 5 Stars *****

 

*Tweetables*

 
 
 
 

Q & A: I ask the question and you answer with your own personal thoughts! 🙂

Destiny and Chloe faced a very difficult decision. Be tested and, if compatible, give there step-brother Dillon part of their live. That’s a very life-altering selfless act. If faced with a similar situation what do you think your decision would be and why?

Shannon Ethridge is celebrating the release of  To Know You (co-written by Kathryn Mackel), by giving away a $100 gift certificate to Lisa Leonard Designs and a personal coaching session, as well as throwing a Facebook Author Chat Party!

toknowyou-rafflecopter

One winner will receive:

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on November 19th. Winner will be announced at the “To Know You” Facebook Author Chat Party on the 19th. Connect with Shannon and friends for an encouraging evening of fun chat, book club discussion, giveaways, and a chance to win a PERSONAL COACHING SESSION WITH SHANNON!


So grab your copy of To Know You and join Shannon on the evening of November 19th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book, don’t let that stop you from coming!)
 

  Don’t miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by clicking JOIN at the event page. Spread the word — tell your friends about the giveaway and party via FACEBOOK or TWITTER or Pinterest and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on 11/19!

 

$50 Amazon GF Giveaway! Unstoppable by S.R. Johannes Book Blast!

 

Unstoppable

Unstoppable by S.R. Johannes

After everything that has happened, Grace goes to the Everglades to live with her grandmother, Birdee. Even though she is now home-schooled by her bird-obsessed grandmother, the move gives Grace time to relax. She learns to scuba dive and starts boating with old man Rex, Birdee’s casual friend/boyfriend.

One day while out in the marshes of the Everglades, Grace rescues an abused Florida panther, currently on the endangered list. The more she dives into the animal’s horrific condition, the more she ventures into the underground world of the roadside zoos that run rampant in Florida with a total disregard for the law. Eventually, she stumbles upon one large roadside zoo filled with a variety of endangered and illegal animals.

Before she can gather evidence and report her findings to the authorities, she is kidnapped by the ruthless owner and dragged deep into the Everglades for a hunting challenge. Only this time, Grace is the prey.

During a sick game of cat and mouse, Grace is offered one chance at survival. With a one-hour head start and very little supplies, time and skill are now all that stands between the hunter and the hunted.

 

 

sr johannesAuthor S.R. Johannes

S.R. Johannes is the award-winning author of the Amazon bestselling thriller series, The Nature of Grace. Johannes is currently repped by Lara Perkins at ABLA. For foreign rights on the Nature of Grace series, contact Jennifer Custer at AM Heath (London).

S.R. Johannes is the YA advisor of ALLi and a winner of the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Awards (Young Adult category) as well as a Silver medalist (2nd place) in the IPPY awards for YA Fiction. She was also nominated for 2012 Georgia Author of the Year (Young Adult category), a Finalist in The Kindle Book Review’s Best Young Adult of 2012, and a YA Finalist in the US Book News Best Book of 2012.

After earning an MBA and working in corporate America doing marketing for over 15 years, S.R. Johannes traded in her expensive suits, high heels, and corporate lingo for a family, flip-flops, and her love of writing. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her dog, English-accented husband, and the huge imaginations of their little prince and princess, which she hopes- someday- will change the world.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest | Newsletter | Bilan Inc

Book Blast Giveaway
$50 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash
Ends 12/5/13

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 http://iamareader.com and sponsored by the authors. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

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Sierra by Taylor Dean – Book Blast

 

Sierra 99 cents

 

 

sierra cover

Sierra by Taylor Dean

Have you ever been lost in the woods?

Alyssa Fontaine’s life, loved ones—everything familiar and dear—are brutally taken from her.

Taken captive by two men, she endures a horrific nightmare. A new life is forced upon her and even a new name.

Just when it appears that no hope is in sight, she is saved by an unlikely twist of fate. Trapped in the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains, life will open its arms to her again and she will embrace it. She will find love such as she never knew existed.

Sierra is a heart-wrenching story of the power of the human spirit to survive amidst impossible circumstances and severe losses. It is a story of survival . . . and hope.

 

Smashwords amazon blog 

 

 

Excerpt from Sierra:

This is one of my favorite scenes in Sierra. It’s a pivotal moment, wherein Alyssa’s life can change for the better–or for the worse. After facing extreme cruelty, she is faced with utter kindness. I love the marked difference between her experiences. ~Taylor Dean

“Please sit,” he whispered. Her eyes were drawing him in. She didn’t seem to be scared of him, she seemed to know he wanted to help her. First, he filled a glass with water and held it to her lips. She drank thirstily, but then shook her head negatively when he wanted her to finish all of it. At the sink, he filled a small plastic tub with warm water, grabbed shampoo, and went back to Alyssa. The kitchen sink doubled as his bathroom sink. He had all he needed to clean her up, including a small first aid kit. He knelt in front of her. Once again, he gently touched her chin and lifted her face to his. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears. She had the biggest brown eyes he’d ever seen.

“Just relax and let me take care of you, Alyssa,” he whispered softly.

She responded with a slight nod. Sitting in the kitchen chair, he had her slowly lean her head back till it was resting just above the tub. He gently began to wash her hair, first getting it wet and then massaging the shampoo into her scalp. She winced when he touched the spot where dried blood matted her hair, so he was extra gentle there. Her long hair was tangled and filled with dirt and bits of dried leaves. It took some time to get it clean and several refills of warm water in the tub as he rinsed. Alyssa closed her eyes and relaxed for probably the first time in days. He worked conditioner into the long locks and then had her sit up as he gently combed through it, removing all of the snarls. He then parted the hair where the wound on the scalp was located and took a look at the gash. It was angry and red, and it needed stitches, but would have to wait till he could retrieve his medical supplies from the supply room. He disinfected it with alcohol and moved on.

He again knelt in front of Alyssa. Her eyes opened and stared deeply into his, desperately trying to communicate without words. A lone tear fell, drizzling down her cheek. He brushed it away with his fingertips. This was harder than he thought. He knew this was the first gentle touch she’d felt in days. The abuse she had suffered was obvious to him as he noticed her many bruises. He grabbed his kitchen stool and sat before her. Using a washcloth, he began to wipe her face clean. As he worked, their eyes met and held. Ever so gently he wiped the dirt and grime away from days spent outdoors. And with it he wiped away tears and pain.

“Please help me,” Alyssa whispered.

Alex stole a glance at Pa and Adam. Pa’s eyes were closed and a soft snore emanated from him. Adam was wide awake, his shotgun pointed at Alex, but he stared into the fire sullenly. Alex leaned forward to grab the tube of anti-biotic ointment on the table. With his lips to her ear as he brushed past, he whispered, “Everything’s going to be all right, Alyssa. I won’t let them take you, I promise.”

Alex then applied the salve to the small cuts on her face and lips. Each and every one of his ministrations clearly brought relief to her. Every time Alex looked her in the eyes, she met him with eyes that spoke volumes. He refilled the tub and washed her arms and hands and then took his time cleaning her fingernails, occasionally massaging her hand as he looked into her eyes. He also applied cortisone cream to her numerous mosquito bites. Next, he decided to tend to her neck and wrists. He cringed inside at the raw, bloody skin underneath the ropes. The first thing he’d wanted to do was cut the ropes, but he didn’t want to push his luck. However, now it was time. He went to the kitchen counter and unsheathed a kitchen knife. The sound of the knife being unsheathed brought Adam to his feet immediately.

Shotgun aimed at Alex, he yelled, “Put it down, Doc.”

Alex faced him without flinching. “I’m cutting the ropes. They’ve rubbed her skin raw and it’s going to get infected,” he said with steel in his voice. “You can have the knife when I’m done.”

Pa awoke from his snooze in the commotion. “Sit down, Adam. Doc’s right. Let ‘em fix her up,” he growled.

Adam continued to stand, anxiously waiting while Alex cut the rope on her neck and freed Alyssa from her leash. He then cut the other ropes and freed her wrists. She closed her eyes and Alex could see the relief on her face. He wondered just how long she had been bound. He handed the knife to Adam roughly and stared him in the face. “Satisfied?”

“Won’t do any good, I’ll just be puttin’ the ropes back on ya know,” Adam taunted.

Not if I have anything to say about it, thought Alex.

 

Book Trailer

 

 

Praise for Sierra:

Every now and then you come across a novel that profoundly takes your breath away, and Sierra is that novel.
-Kathleen of Jersey Girl Book Reviews

Riveting from beginning to end. Be prepared to read straight through.
-Sherry of Fundinmental Book Reviews

I thought I had read romances before, and books like “Jane Eyre” and “A Tale of Two Cities,” I had always considered the peaks of romantic literature. Let me say this. This is the most romantic book I have ever read in my 38 years on this planet!
-Ruth of My Devotional Thoughts

What I like most about Sierra was how Taylor lulls you in the beginning, then she shreds the peaceful scene to pieces. It happens so fast you barely have time to comprehend what is going to happen. Just like in real life.
-Laura of FUONLYKNEW Book Reviews

 

TaylorAuthor Taylor Dean

Taylor Dean lives in Texas and is the mother of four grown children. Upon finding herself with an empty nest, she began to write the stories that were always wandering around in her head, quickly finding that she had a passion for writing, specifically romance. Whether it’s paranormal, contemporary, or suspense—you’ll find all sub-genres of romance in her line-up.

 

Social Media Website Social Media Facebook Social Media Twitter Social Media Goodreads 

BookBlast Giveaway

$50 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash

Ends 11/22/13

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 http://iamareader.com and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

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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.”