Sunday, February 26, 2012

Protection for Hire by Camy Tang - a review

Protection for Hire by Camy Tang is an action packed, suspense filled romantic novel.  I was kept guessing throughout the book which made it quite enjoyable for me to read since I hate it when I can guess the outcome of the story too early into a book.

Tessa is the heroine in Protection for Hire.  As a young girl she began working for her family business, the Japanese Mafia.  She ends up taking the blame for a murder she didn't commit and spends several years in jail for the crime.  While in prison, she comes to know Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior.  She became determined to lead a different life when she got out of prison.  She soon finds herself acting as a bodyguard protecting an abused women who someone wants dead.  This brings her right back to the life she left behind, only this time she is working on the right side.  This sets the basis for the story of Protection for Hire.

Camy Tang has another winner with her novel Protection for Hire.  If you haven't read any of her books yet you don't know what you are missing.  I would suggest you pick up a copy of Protection for Hire today.  You won't be sorry.

On a 5-Star Scale - 4 1/2 Stars!

*****  I would like to thank Camy Tang and Zondervan Publishers for my review copy.  I received my copy of Protection for Hire for free to read and give my honest review, which I have done. *****

Smiles & Blessings,

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Blue Moon Promise by Colleen Coble - a review

I am a huge fan of Colleen Coble's work.  She writes amazing stories with such believable characters that they seem to walk right off the page into your life.  In fact I usually find myself thinking about the character's long after I have turned the last page.  When I was given the opportunity to review her newest book, Blue Moon Promise, I jumped at the chance.

The story begins in Wabash, Indiana in the year 1877.  Lucy Marsh's father has died in a suspicious accident and she is left with the task of raising her younger brother Jed and younger sister Eileen.  With their resources running out, she finds herself accepting a wedding proposal from an old friend of her father's, Henry Stanton.  But the proposal is not for her to marry Henry but to marry Nate his son in a proxy ceremony.  Lucy and her siblings travel with Henry to their new home in Larson, Texas to find that Lucy's husband is not to happy being married off to someone he doesn't know and without his knowledge.

Before Lucy and her siblings leave Wabash, someone has broken into their home asking "where is it?", this helped Lucy make the decision to accept the proposal.  Unfortunately, whoever was after them in Wabash followed them to Larson, Texas.

Lucy is a strong willed woman who wants to show her new husband that she can be an asset to him and pull her own weight around the ranch.  When she meets Margaret, an old friend of Nate's, Lucy becomes more determined then ever to be a strong rancher's wife.  Nate on the other hand would like her to just tend to womanly things.  This tends to have them butt heads a few times.

Colleen Coble has penned this book with a strong Christian thread woven throughout.  Blue Moon Promise is a sweet story of hope, love and suspense.  I guarantee you an enjoyable read.

On a 5-Star scale Blue Moon Promise is definitely a 5-Star read!

*****  I would like to thank Thomas Nelson Publishers and BookSneeze for my review copy of Blue Moon Promise.  I received my copy for free as part of the book review bloggers program in order to read and give my honest review, which I have done.  I received no other compensation.  *****

Smiles & Blessings,

Monday, February 6, 2012

First Wild Card Tour - Winter Promise by Martha Rogers

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:

Realms (January 3, 2012)

***Special thanks to Jon Wooten of Charisma House for sending me a review copy.***


Martha Rogers is the author of Becoming Lucy; Morning for Dove; Finding Becky; Caroline’s Choice; Not on the Menu, a part of a novella collection with DiAnn Mills, Janice Thompson, and Kathleen Y’Barbo; and River Walk Christmas, a novella collection with Beth Goddard, Lynette Sowell, and Kathleen Y’Barbo. A former schoolteacher and English instructor, she has a master’s degree in education and lives with her husband in Houston, Texas.

Visit the author's website.


A painful past has left Doctor Elliot Jensen uninterested in love.

Until he meets Abigail.

Single, educated, and looking for a new start, Abigail Monroe decides to join her brother and his wife in Portersville, Texas. Near her twenty-fifth birthday and without a suitor, she fears she will become a spinster if she stays in Briar Ridge, Connecticut.

A sprained ankle sends Abigail to the new doctor in town, Elliot Jensen. He is smitten, but tragedy in his past has left him bitter, guilt ridden, and afraid to fall in love again.

When the town’s deputy sheriff rescues Abigail after a robbery, Elliot’s feelings for her get stronger. He is jealous of the attention Abigail is getting, but he fears he can’t compete with the handsome deputy sheriff and his heroic deeds.

Has he waited too long to share his feelings for her? Or will Christmas bring them both the gift they seek?

Set in the late 1800s, the Seasons of the Heart series follows the lives of four women and their families, weaving together their stories of faith, life, and love as they bond in friendship only God could orchestrate.

Product Details:
List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Realms (January 3, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1616384980
ISBN-13: 978-1616384982

My Review:

When I first began reading Winter Promise, I had a difficult time getting involved in the story.  This is largely due to so many characters being introduced so early in the book.  I seemed to get lost and found myself going back to re-read parts so I could know who was who.  Once I got past this hurdle I found Winter Promise to be a very sweet historical romance.

Martha Rogers' characters are well developed and quite memorable.  I found myself rooting for Doc Elliott to get over his past so he could move forward and have a life with Abigail.  I must say I enjoyed the ending very much.

On 5-Star scale = 4 stars.


Porterfield, Texas, 1890

Porterfield, next stop in ten minutes.” The conductor’s announcement sent the butterflies to dancing again in Abigail Monroe’s stomach. Ever since they entered the state of Texas,
her mind had flitted from one thing to the next in a series of images that blurred one into the other. What she remembered from her visit last spring had been enough to give her the
desire to return as a permanent resident.
All around her passengers began gathering their belongings and preparing to leave the train. Mrs. Mabel Newton, who had accompanied her on the trip, adjusted her hat and picked
up her handbag. “Well, your adventure will begin shortly.”
Abigail grinned at the elderly woman. If it had not been for Rachel’s aunt’s desire to come west to visit her daughter, this trip may have been delayed indefinitely. “Thank you so
much for coming with me, Aunt Mabel. You know how Father worried and didn’t want me to travel alone.” Abigail had fallen into calling the woman “Aunt Mabel” due to her close friendship with Rachel.
“And well he should have been. It isn’t safe for a young woman of your standing to be crossing the country by train without an escort.” She tilted her head toward Abigail, and the
feathers on the black hat covering her gray hair quivered with the movement.
Her parents had at first refused to even consider such a move for their only daughter, but as they began to realize that she was almost twenty-two years of age, their objections lessened.
They had been in Porterfield a few months earlier for the wedding of Daniel, Abigail’s brother who came to Porterfield a year ago as the town’s only attorney. Now he served as county attorney and prosecutor. When Mabel Newton had said she wanted to visit her daughter and niece, Father had finally agreed to let Abigail go.
Another factor in her decision to leave Briar Ridge had been Rachel Reed, her very best friend since childhood. Rachel’s husband, Nathan, had taken Daniel’s place as an
attorney for the citizens of Porterfield, and now they too lived in the Texas town. As far as Abigail was concerned, God had orchestrated a great symphony of opportunities, and she had
seized the score to become a part of the music.
“Aunt Mabel, do you think my plan for establishing a library is a sound one? Nathan and Daniel have found a building they think is suitable and will negotiate the purchase
of it if I approve.” “Every town needs a library whether they know it or not. Your brother and Nathan have good judgment, so the place must be about perfect.”
A snicker escaped Abigail’s throat. Daniel had always been her protector, and if the building suited him, it most definitely would suit her. She’d been so angry with him for leaving her
behind in Briar Ridge last year. Of course he thought it was because she’d miss him, but it was really because she’d been jealous of his new adventure.
“I’m sorry things didn’t work out for you and that young Wentworth. He seemed very interested in you when you and Rachel were in Boston.”
Abigail had been interested too at first, but when she realized what all would be expected of her as the wife of a Wentworth, her interest cooled, and so had his. Now she had this new adventure ahead of her.
“It worked out for the best, but life became so dull in Briar Ridge without Rachel or Daniel that I could hardly bear it. I’d grown tired of entertaining with Mother and taking part on church committees. I want to do something on my own for a change.”
“I see. So the fact that Porterfield has an overabundance of single men of all ages didn’t have anything to do with your decision.” Aunt Mabel’s blue eyes sparkled with merriment.
Abigail’s cheeks filled with heat. She truly wasn’t interested in finding a husband anytime soon, even if other people thought so. The train whistle screeched through the early
afternoon air. Abigail clutched her handbag and closed her eyes. Please, Lord. Don’t let this be a mistake. Help me to dothe things I want to do for Porterfield with books and accept
whatever else You have planned for me.
The train stopped with a jolt that sent her forward with
a lurch. She assisted Aunt Mabel with her bag then followed
the older woman down the aisle. Dozens of people lined the
platform waving as the train emptied itself of its load of passengers.
As she stepped from the train car, Abigail scanned
the crowd, and her heart leaped with joy when she spotted
Rachel rushed forward and grabbed Abigail. “Oh, I’m so
glad you’re finally here. I thought the last three months would
never end.” Then she turned to hug her aunt. “I’m glad you’re
here too. With Seth, Sarah, Abigail, and you, I won’t feel at
all lonesome, not that I could the way the Muldoon clan has
taken us in.”
“When I met them at Daniel’s wedding, I knew they would make all of you feel right at home. I’m anxious to talk with Mrs. Sullivan again.” Abigail had been impressed with
the boardinghouse and looked forward to living there.
“You’ll get to see her soon enough. She’s waiting for you and has your room all ready. The Muldoons are having us all for dinner at the ranch tonight.”
That meant a quick study of the members of the Muldoon family would be in order before the trip out there. She hugged Rachel again and noted the glow in her eyes and face. “You
must really be happy here with Nathan.”
Before she could answer, Aunt Mabel stepped back and
eyed Rachel. “My dear, are you in the family way?”
Heat flooded Rachel’s cheeks, and she grinned. “Yes, I am, and so is . . . “ She clapped her hand over her mouth. “Oh, I almost slipped. She wants to tell everyone herself at dinner.”
Abigail ran through the list of possibilities. Kate? Erin? Sarah again? Whoever it was, the baby would be welcomed by many loving aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Arms wrapped around her shoulders from the back, and she craned her neck to see who it could be. “Daniel!” She turned and hugged her brother. “Isn’t this exciting? I’m here at last. We had a delightful train trip, and I can’t wait to see your new house. And where’s Kate?”
“Hey, slow down, little sister. No need to get it all out at once, but to answer your question, Doc Jensen and Elliot had an emergency at the infirmary, so she’s there. She said she’d meet us wherever we were when she finished.”
“I believe Aunt Mabel will be staying with Sarah and Donavan. At least that’s what she plans on. Mrs. Sullivan said she has a room for me at the boardinghouse, so that’s where I’m headed.”
Daniel frowned and peered at her. “But Kate is hoping you’ll live with us.”
“Oh, Daniel, you two are newly married. Besides, I’d rather be closer to town so I can take care of the library.” Kate and Daniel didn’t live far from town, but her staying at the boardinghouse would be less of an intrusion on their new marriage.
They headed toward the cart where the baggage had been unloaded. Aunt Mabel busied herself with telling Rachel all about the trip cross-country. Abigail gazed at the town beyond
the depot. Porterfield, Texas, would be her home now, and it looked just as friendly and nice as it had when she’d been here in the spring. A little more primitive than Briar Ridge, it still
had all the stores and businesses one could need, including a delightful bakery.
Daniel heaved down a trunk and headed to his surrey with it. Abigail walked along beside him and noted how the men stopped to stare. Her cheeks filled with heat. She may as well
be on display in a store window.
“I didn’t realize . . . never mind.” She grinned and hopstepped to keep up with her brother.
He pushed the trunk onto the floor behind the front seat.
“By the way, the building Nathan and I have in mind for you is across the street from the infirmary. It’s where the land offices were until the new courthouse opened. Now it’s vacant, and it’s just about the size you’ll need for the library.”
“I’m sure it will be fine if you and Nathan think so.” She shook her head and giggled as they headed back for more of her things. “I still can’t believe he and Rachel moved away from Connecticut. I always figured that when they did move, it would be to North Carolina, his home.”
Another man had joined the group and helped unload Aunt Mabel’s bags. She recognized him as one of Kate’s older brothers she had met at the wedding. What was his name? Oh, yes, Cory, the lawman and only single male in the Muldoon family, as well as one of the most handsome men Abigail had ever met.
Daniel grabbed her arm and took her over to greet him. “You remember Cory, one of Kate’s brothers.”
Abigail smiled and extended her hand. “I certainly do. You and your brothers were quite the pranksters at the wedding.”
Red tinged Cory’s well-tanned face. His eyes, more green than blue, sparkled with humor. He pushed his white Stetson back on his head, revealing sandy red curls on his forehead, much like her brother’s dark ones. “Guilty as charged, but we had to make up for not doing anything at Erin’s. Didn’t want to play tricks on the reverend.”
Getting to know the Muldoon family would be fun, but getting to know Cory might be even more so. Perhaps she should reconsider her decision not to become involved with any of the eligible young men in Porterfield.
Elliot finished the stitches to close the wound on the balding head of Cyrus Fuller. He’d tripped coming out of the bank and fell, cutting his head on the edge of the boardwalk. Elliot used five stitches to close it. “There, now, Mr. Fuller. You’ll be right as rain. Come back to see me in a few days and let me check on the stitches. Don’t get it wet for a while.”
He pushed back his rolling stool and picked up a bottle. “If you experience any pain, take a few drops of this and it should be all right, but don’t take more than a few drops. Understand?”
The bank teller nodded and took the bottle. “I do, and I won’t take it unless I really need it.” He stood and grasped the edge of the bed for support.
Kate Monroe picked up the tray with the suturing supplies and equipment. “Aunt Mae will make certain you’re comfortable, Mr. Fuller. She’ll take good care of you.”
The man’s face, including his bald head fringed in gray, turned a bright red. “I’m sure she will, but I don’t want her to go to any trouble.”
Kate laughed. “It won’t be any trouble. You know that.”
Elliot turned to put the bandages back in the cabinet to hide his smile. Everyone in town knew Cyrus Fuller was sweet on Aunt Mae, and she didn’t spurn his attention either. This
was one patient he wouldn’t have to worry about.
He walked with Mr. Fuller to the front door of the infirmary just to make sure the man was steady on his feet. At the door Cyrus shook Elliot’s hand. “Can’t thank you enough, Doctor Jensen. You did a fine job, and it hardly hurts at all. Tell your uncle I said hello.” He lifted his hat to set it on his head, felt the stitches, and promptly put his hand down, still holding the hat.
Mr. Fuller took off in the direction of the boardinghouse, a few blocks down the street. Elliot continued to observe the man as he made his way home. Satisfied that he was all right, Elliot turned to walk back inside when he spotted Daniel in a buggy with a young woman beside him. Her golden brown hair peeked from beneath a black hat trimmed with yellow flowers, which matched the yellow dress she wore. She shifted her gaze toward him and locked with his. Something inside Elliot clicked, and a feeling he hadn’t experienced in a long time came over him.
Elliot looked away and forced the emotion back into the deep recesses of his soul. He’d never let those feelings back into his life. They hurt too much.
A voice beside him caused him to blink his eyes and turn. “What did you say?”
Kate stood beside him. “I said that’s Abigail, Daniel’s sister. She was at his wedding, and she’s come to live here in Porterfield. Remember I told you about her coming to set up a
library for the town?”
“I remember.” But he never expected her to be so pretty. He cleared his throat and hurried back into the infirmary. He needed to clean up the room where they’d just worked on Mr.
Fuller, and it would help him forget the girl in yellow.
Kate’s voice followed him. “If you don’t have anything else for me, I’m going to run down to Aunt Mae’s and meet up with Daniel and Abigail. I’ll be there if you need me.”
He waved her out. Kate was a good assistant. He and his uncle had come to depend on her for so many things at the infirmary. Doc should be back shortly, that is if everything went well at the Blalocks’ place. Mrs. Blalock didn’t usually have trouble with her deliveries, and as this was the fifth one, no problems were anticipated today.
Cleaning up didn’t take long, and when he’d finished, Elliot went to the desk to fill out a report for Cyrus Fuller’s medical file. The image of Abigail Monroe swam before his eyes. Porterfield sadly lacked young women of marrying age, so Elliot had no trouble staying away from what social life existed in town. He’d left Ohio with the vow that he’d never become
involved with a young woman again. Everything had been fine until today when that little spark had jumped in his chest.
“I hear Cyrus Fuller had an accident. Get him all taken care of?”
Elliot jumped and dropped his pen. He greeted his uncle. “When did you come in? Yes, he’s fine. How did things go at the Blalocks?”
His uncle grinned and set his bag on the desk. “Just like it should. This little boy decided to take longer than necessary, but he’s good and healthy.” He removed his hat and hung it on
a hook then removed his coat. “I saw Daniel Monroe with a pretty young woman down at Mae’s. Must be his sister from back east.”
“It is. Kate was here to help with Cyrus, and then she left to go meet them.”
“She’s a pretty little thing from what I remember of last spring. It’ll be nice to have a young woman like her around her for a change. You, Cory, and Philip Dawes are about the most
eligible young men in town, and one of you ought to set your sights on her.”
“There’s a lot of men over at the sawmill, and many more on the ranches. That’s why Frank Cahoon and Allen Dawes sent off for those brides. Remember?” So many other men in town would take an interest in Abigail and keep her busy. He’d managed to stay clear of any kind of relationship so far, and that was just the way he wanted it. Never again did he want to feel the pain he’d experienced in Cleveland.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

"Unlocked" by Karen Kingsbury - a review

There is nothing more enjoyable then curling up to read a book by Karen Kingsbury.  I just recently discovered this wonderful author and can't read her books fast enough.  With that said I just finished her book, Unlocked and I have to say that so far this book is my favorite.  I am a HUGE fan of Beauty and the Beast and Unlocked not only has a high school musical of Beauty and the Beast within it but the story itself tends to be similar to the Beauty and the Beast theme...discovering the good within someone who otherwise is different.

Unlocked is the story of Ella, a popular high school senior and Holden a handsome young man locked behind the walls of autism.  At the age of three Ella and Holden were best friends.  Unfortunately, after taking several vaccinations, Holden becomes autistic and Ella's family pulls away from Holden's family because of the autism and the friendships is severed.  But Holden never forgot and in his mind he's always been Ella's friend.

This story is a very sweet story of restoring friendships, love and breaking down the walls of autism.  I didn't know much about autism until reading this book but Ms. Kingsbury opened up my eyes to this condition and how it steals away the lives of not only the victim but the family and friends as well.

In Unlocked, Ella notices Holden's eyes and feels she knows him.  It's not until she looks at an old family photo album that she discovers that Holden was her best friend when she was three years old.  At first she seems intrigued by Holden but she soon finds that music opens Holden up and before long he's singing and speaking.

I'm never one to give a spoiler on any books that I have read so I will not say anything more about this wonderful book.  I will say that it is a story for adults and young adults alike.  In fact, I think it is a book that all young adults should read as it also addresses 'bullying' in high school and how it can take just one student to turn things around.

This is an AWESOME read and I give it 5 stars!

I would like to thank Zondervan for my review copy of Unlocked.  I received my copy for free in order to read and give my honest review, which I have done.

Smiles & Blessings,

Thursday, February 2, 2012

First Wild Card Tour - Ellie's Haven by Sharlene MacLaren

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:

Whitaker House (March 1, 2012)

***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***


“Shar” grew up in western Michigan and graduated from Spring Arbor University. After college she traveled worldwide performing with a music group and then returned home to start teaching school. She married her childhood friend, Cecil MacLaren, with whom she raised two daughters (and now has three grandchildren). After over 30 years as a teacher, Shar asked God for a new mission that would fill her heart with the same kind of passion she’d felt for teaching and raising her family. She found her mission writing Christian romance, and since 2007 has released ten novels that have earned her numerous awards and an ever-increasing base of loyal readers who are comforted, inspired, and entertained by her books.

Visit the author's website.


Ellie Booth is on the run from her bootlegging stepfather whom she’d witnessed murder a man in their home state of Kentucky. Landing in Wabash, Indiana, she seeks a cover identity and hastily marries Gage Cooper, a widower with four children. Ellie quickly falls in love with the Cooper kids, and, not long after, with their father. But tensions mount when Ellie’s stepfather picks up her trail and Gage discovers his new bride hasn’t been entirely honest with him. Filled with colorful historic detail, emotional drama, and lighthearted humor, Ellie’s Haven is the action-packed follow up to Livvie’s Song in MacLaren’s River of Hope Series, set in 1920’s Wabash, Indiana.

Product Details:
List Price: $10.99

Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (March 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603742131
ISBN-13: 978-1603742139

My Thoughts:

A young woman, Ellie, not out of her teens, runs away from a step-father who forced her to do things illegal.  She arrives to find the distant relative she was hoping to stay with has passed away.  A widower (Gage) of four children finds himself at his whits end as he tries to maintain his business and raise his children without a female influence.  His twin boys chase off every nanny he brings into their home.  Ellie is looking to find a new life, a safe haven away from her life in Tennessee and Gage is seeking a wife so she will feel less likely to run away when his kids act up.  This lays the ground work of Ellie's Haven. 

This book was a sweet story of two people committing to a marriage of convenience only to fall in love in the end.  Will past secrets and present dangers tear them apart as their marriage is tested or will they grow closer.  You'll have to read this wonderful new book by Sharlene MacLaren to find out.

On a 5 star scale - 5 stars.  Loved it!

I'd like to thank Whitaker House, Sharlene MacLaren and First Wild Card Tours for my review copy.  I received my copy for free in order to read and give my honest opinion, which I have done.


Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight….

—Psalm 5:4–5

February 1928

Athens, Tennessee

   Nothing wakes a body faster than a barking dog competing with the heated shouts of furious men. Eleanor Booth threw off her heavy quilt and leaped out of bed, pulled her flannel collar up tight around her throat, and raced across the gritty floor to the window. With her fingertips, she rubbed a circle of frost off the pane and peered out into the cold, dark morning, squinting to make out the shadowy figures that appeared to be facing off just feet away from the rotting front porch. An icy chill surged down her spine.

   “I ain’t payin’ you one cent more, Sullivan. You done took me for every last penny.”

   “That’s where you’re wrong, Byron. Your pocket ain’t empty till I say it is, and as long as you keep producin’ hooch, the greenbacks’ll keep rollin’ in. You stop payin’, and I’ll shut you down quicker than a lizard on hot sand.”

   They were at it again—Byron Pruitt, Ellie’s worthless stepfather, and Walter Sullivan, that crooked government agent. Byron’s dog, Curly, didn’t let up his fierce, frenzied barking, which ought to have deterred the dispute but seemed to fuel it instead.

   “Byron,” Ellie’s mama, Rita, pleaded in a panicked tone. “Byron, pay the man so he’ll get off our property.”

   “Shut up, woman, and git back inside! I ain’t payin’ ’im another dime!”

   Ellie snatched her fraying robe from the foot of her bed, slipped it on, and rushed out of the room, toes gone numb from the frozen air wafting up through the floorboards. Tennessee winters didn’t generate much snow, but that didn’t stop the temperatures from plummeting into the single digits.

   She entered the dark, tiny living room and found her mother standing in the open doorway, shoulders hunched, hands clutching the door frame. Her grayish-black hair was mussed every which way, and her tattered flannel nightgown hugged her narrow frame.

   Ellie shot a hasty glance at the potbelly stove in the middle of the room, where nothing but a few embers glowing through the blackened glass. More shivers stampeded down her spine. “What’s goin’ on?” she asked, coming up behind her mama.

   At the sound of her voice, Byron gave a half-turn, and that’s when Ellie spied the sawed-off shotgun in his arms. “Git back to bed, missy,” he groused. “You ain’t needed here.”

   Walt Sullivan had a gun, too—a pistol—but he kept it holstered, one hand hovering over it.

   “Byron, put that gun down before somebody gets hurt,” Ellie said firmly.

   “Yeah, Pruitt. Listen to your purty li’l daughter.”

   “Shut yer tater trap and git off my land, Sullivan.”

   “Not till I get what’s due me.”

   “I done paid you. Now, git!”

   “’Fraid you paid me half.”

   “You keep raisin’ the rates, you dumb ox. How you ’spect me to make any kind o’ livin’?”

   Sullivan chortled. “That ain’t my concern, now, is it? I swear, if you don’t pay up, I’ll come back with my men, and we’ll turn your whole operation into mincemeat by midday.” He made the mistake of taking a step toward Byron, whether to intimidate or to show his authority, Ellie couldn’t say. She knew only that it was a mistake.

   Byron raised his rifle and quickly fired off three shots, each one reaching its intended target. For a brief moment, his eyes glistened in the vanishing moonlight. Then, eyes bulging in an expression of shock, he dropped to the ground like a sack of wet cement.

   Utter mayhem followed. Curly kept barking and ran circles around the fallen body, while her mama shrieked. “Byron! You—you—you’ve shot ’im. Is he dead? Oh, dear God, help us!” And Ellie, to suppress her own sobs, turned away from the body, where red fluid already oozed from mouth and nose. She clutched her stomach to keep from retching right there on the floor.

   “Shut up, just shut up, both o’ you!” Byron roared. “I have to think.” With eyes flaming and nostrils flaring, he turned and started pacing.

   The women kept quiet, save for the occasional gasp of air, and hugged each other. Ellie swallowed down some of the bitter juice churning in her stomach and chanced a peek over Mama’s shoulder.

   Byron paused and crouched over Sullivan’s body, feeling for a pulse. He cut loose a curse. “He’s dead, all right.”

   Ellie’s mama gasped and released her to cover her mouth with her hands. “Oh, mother of all things holy, Byron! What in the world have you done?”

   “Shut up, I told you, ’fore I shoot you, too!” He raised his gun at her.

   On impulse, Ellie leaped between them, her arms raised. “Put that gun down, you fool!” She had to tell herself to breathe.

   The man’s beady eyes stared as if to bore holes through her, but he lowered his weapon. Still, she knew Byron Pruitt had no soul—she’d known since the day she’d met him—and she’d go to the grave wondering why her mama had married him after her father had died. Perhaps, she’d seen him as her only hope of surviving in the hills. Some protector he’d turned out to be, operating an illegal distillery that brought the scum of society straight to their door. If he ever turned a profit, her mama never saw it, for what he didn’t gamble away he paid in bribes to keep the authorities off his back.

   “I gotta get rid o’ this body,” he muttered, sweeping five stubby fingers through his scraggly hair.

   “No,” Ellie said quietly. “We have to call the sheriff.”

   “Are you crazy?” he spat, stepping over the body and walking toward them, his eyes as wild as a rabid dog’s. “We ain’t callin’ no sheriff. I kilt a man, a government man, in cold blood. You think any court o’ law’s gonna let me off the hook?”

   Ellie huddled close to her mama and wrapped a protective arm around her.

   “W-we won’t tell,” Mama said, her whole body quivering. “We promise, Byron.”

   Ellie couldn’t believe her ears. “Mama, how can you say that?”

   Byron’s eyes bulged with madness as he climbed the rickety porch steps and entered the house. The worst kind of cold slithered in the door and tangled around Ellie’s ankles. “Because you two’re in this with me, that’s how she can say it. I’ll tell the cops you both played a part, that you talked me into doin’ it.” He raised the shotgun and poked the barrel into her mama’s chin, lifting it.

   Ellie swallowed hard and stiffened. “Byron, don’t you dare hurt her.”

   Her stepfather was a perpetual terror, always cocking a gun, sharpening a knife, or speaking not-so-veiled threats. It seemed that nothing satisfied him more than creating havoc in their little household. Byron Pruitt was a viperous lunatic, and if it hadn’t been for her beloved mama, Ellie would have left years ago.

   Byron slid the muzzle up Mama’s face and held it at the center of her forehead. “I ain’t lyin’, Eleanor—if you don’t help me bury that body an’ promise to keep yer trap shut ’bout what you saw, I’ll kill yer ma.”

   “You are plumb crazy,” Ellie whispered through her teeth.

   “Don’t believe me?” He cocked the rifle and chortled. “I’ll blow ’er head off right now.”

   Mama whimpered as a lone tear trickled down her trembling cheek.

   Byron redirected the shotgun at the floor and pulled the trigger. A unison scream sounded as Ellie and her mama clutched each other and stepped away from the cloud of dust that rose from the splintered hole in the boards. Outside, Curly barked even louder, and Ellie could hear the chickens fussing in the coop.

   But she heard nothing except the pounding of her own heartbeat when Byron stuck the barrel of his gun in her mama’s temple. “I’ll kill ’er, Eleanor, I swear it. You go to the cops, and she’s as good as dead. And here’s an interestin’ li’l tidbit: you workin’ alongside me at that liquor still makes you my partner in crime.” He laughed, the sound cold and hollow. “Them head beaters don’t look too kindly on us moonshiners, an’ with you bein’ one of us, well, they’re likely to lock you up tighter’n a pickle in a cannin’ jar. Just don’t forget that.”

   She hated that he was right. “Fine. Just put that stupid gun down.”

   He complied, but only after he’d held it in position for what seemed like another minute, an ugly sneer on his face. “Good. I’m glad we’re clear on that.” He pulled the gun strap over his shoulder. “Well, come on, then, both o’ you. We got a body to bury.”

   Hours later, Ellie could barely believe she’d actually dug the grave of Walter Sullivan. Granted, she’d done it with Byron’s rifle aimed at her. Twice she’d emptied her stomach contents into the hole, only to hear the gun cock and Byron tell her to hurry up and finish before somebody came along.

   Now, she watched her mama working at the stove to prepare lunch. In the living room, Byron sat in his rocker next to the fire and cleaned his gun, Ellie knew, to rid it of any traces of telltale gunpowder.

   Ellie moved up beside her mama and touched her shoulder gently. “You’ve been stirrin’ this soup for fifteen minutes, Mama. Why don’t you go sit down a spell? You’re plain tuckered out.”

   “What you two whisperin’ ’bout in there?” Byron barked.

   “Nothin’,” Mama called back. Then, with lowered voice, she sputtered to Ellie, “You can’t stay here. You gotta leave today. I wouldn’t be able to bear it if anythin’ happened to you.”

   “I can’t leave you with that maniac, Mama. He’s insane.”

   “Of course you can, and you will. I’ll be fine. The minute he heads out to the barn, I want you to grab whatever you need and then skedaddle across the field to the Meyers’ house, you hear? Ask Burt to drive you down the mountain. He’ll do it.”

   “What you two blabberin’ about?”

   Byron’s brusque voice in the hallway had Ellie whirling on her heel. “Nothin’, just like Mama said. Go sit down. Your lunch is ready.”

   “Humph. You best not be plannin’ to run off anywheres,” he grumbled before shuffling off to the table. Ellie caught the smell of his breath, and her stomach lurched, though she should have been accustomed to the stench of whiskey by now, considering the hours she’d worked at the still, where the air was saturated with mash. She would always associate the odor with Byron—and his shotgun, which was the only thing that had kept her working there.

   The legs of his chair scraped against the sooty floor as he scooted in closer to the table, his back to them. With an icy chortle, he muttered, “You two don’t got nowheres to go, anyway.”

   Three hours later, Ellie bumped along in the backseat of a Model T driven by Burt Meyer. Mildred, his wife of forty years, sat up front with him. Quiet tears dampened Ellie’s face as Burt maneuvered the automobile, its brakes squealing in protest, down a narrow pass.

   She’d had no more than minutes to throw a few belongings into a little suitcase, hug her mama good-bye, and then sprint along the worn path across the cornfield. Mama had given her strict orders to locate her deceased husband’s aunt in Wabash, Indiana, and not to send word to her for at least a month, and then only through Burt and Mildred. “We can trust them,”  she’d said as she’d helped her pack, Ellie crying all the while. “Don’t tell them where you’re goin’, though, and when you write to me, put the letter inside a small envelope and then tuck that inside a bigger one. Put your return address on the inside letter, never the outside one, you understand? The less information Burt ’n’ Mildred know, the better off they’ll be. They’re good people. I don’t want them gettin’ involved in this mess, other than to drive you to the train station.”

   “You sure you want to leave your ma?” Mildred asked, bringing Ellie’s attention back to the present. The woman turned around and looked her in the eye. “You seem awful broke up ’bout leavin’, honey.”

   Ellie wiped her cheeks and nodded. “I’m nineteen. High time I make my own way.”

   “And get away from that fool stepfather o’ yours,” Burt muttered. “Too bad Rita didn’t leave with you.”

   Mildred glared at her husband. “Now, Burt, that ain’t none of our concern,” she scolded him gruffly. When she was facing front again, Ellie heard her add, “Even if you’re right.” In a louder voice, she said, “We’re goin’ to miss you somethin’ fierce, Eleanor. Always did love it when you came across the field to visit us.”

   “And brought them scrumptious pies with you,” Burt tacked on. “Won’t be the same up on West Peak with you gone.” He glanced back at her and winked. “Where you travelin’ to, if you don’t mind my askin’?”

   “I…I plan to head north, look for a job. Not quite sure just where yet.” She could at least tell them that much.

   Mildred turned around again, her brow wrinkled in concern. “You don’t  got a plan, Eleanor? Why, we cain’t just drop you off if you don’t have no sort o’ arrangements.”

   “Sure you can,” Ellie said, forcing brightness into her tone. She wiped away the last of her tears. “I need to break out o’ my cocoon.”

   “Darlin’, if you want to break out, why don’t you go south? It’s so blamed cold up north.”

   “Daddy has an aunt I’m plannin’ to stay with.” She regretted the disclosure immediately, but it did seem that they deserved an explanation of sorts. They’d always been so kind to Mama and her.

   “Say no more,” Burt spoke up. “Long as you’ll be safe, that’s enough for Mildred and me.”

   “He ain’t a good sort, that Byron Pruitt,” Mildred said, as if she knew that he had something to do with Ellie’s departure.

   Ellie determined to purse her lips for the rest of the trip, lest some hint of the sordid murder slip past them. Best to keep it buried in the deepest parts of her soul.