Friday, May 24, 2013

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 authors are:
             Jennifer AlLee
                          and the book:

Whitaker House (May 1, 2013)

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

Veteran authors Jennifer AlLee and Lisa Karon Richardson have combined their considerable skills to create the action-packed historical romance series, Charm & Deceit, for Whitaker House.

Jennifer AlLee is the bestselling author of The Love of His Brother (2007) for Five Star Publishers, and for Abington Press: The Pastor's Wife (2010), The Mother Road (April 2012), and A Wild Goose Chase Christmas (November 2012). She’s also published a number of short stories, devotions and plays. Jennifer is a passionate participant in her church’s drama ministry. She lives with her family in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Visit the author's website.

Lisa Karon Richardson has led a life of adventure — from serving as a missionary in the Seychelles and Gabon to returning to the U.S. to raise a family—and she imparts her stories with similarly action-packed plot lines. She’s the author of Impressed by Love (2012) for Barbour Publishing’s Colonial Courtships anthology, The Magistrate’s Folly, and Midnight Clear, part of a 2013 holiday anthology, also from Barbour. Lisa lives with her husband and children in Ohio.
Visit the author's website.


Grant Diamond is a professional gambler on the run from his past. When he comes across a wagon wreck, the chance to escape his pursuers is too good a gamble to pass up, so he assumes the identity of the dead wagon driver. His plan takes an unexpected turn, though, when heiress Lily Rose mistakes him for the missionary she had asked to come to Eureka, California to work with the local Wiyot Indians. Seeing Eureka as a promising place to lay low, Grant plays along. Before he knows it, he’s bluffing his way through sermons and building a school. But with a Pinkerton on his trail and a rancher rousing fresh hatred against the Indians, Grant fears the new life he’s built may soon crumple like a house of cards.

Genre: Historical Christian Romance

Product Details:
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (May 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603747427
ISBN-13: 978-1603747424


April 1861

Eureka, California

“They’re dying, Hodge!” Lily burst through the door of the general store. “I don’t know what’s wro—oomph.” She jerked to a stop as her hoopskirt caught in the door. Again.

A handful of choice phrases leaped to mind, but she settled for inarticulate grumbling as she reached back with one hand to wrench the flexible metallic hoops free. As she staggered forward, her skirts belled out, knocking over a display of stacked baking soda tins. She stooped to prevent the cans from rolling willy-nilly across the floor, only to have the back of her skirt swing in the opposite direction and make contact with something solid.

Hodge wiped his hands on his apron as he hurried around from behind the counter. “Just leave it, Miss Lily.”

Lily straightened, shifting the cumbersome flowerpot she held in the crook of one arm. With her free hand, she swept the loose tendrils of hair from her eyes and tucked them behind her ear. “You really need to widen that door.”

Hodge cocked his head and planted his hands on his hips. “You really need to wear skirts that don’t endanger life and limb.”

Lily narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth to correct him, but she snapped it shut again when she noticed a man leaning against the counter. His dark hair stood up in spiky patches, as if he’d run his fingers through it repeatedly since removing his hat. His craggy complexion was saved from severity by the quirk of a dimple at the corner of his mouth and the glint of humor in his green eyes.

With a barely perceptible nod, Lily turned away from the stranger’s amused glance and squared her shoulders. She wasn’t above arguing with Hodge, but she couldn’t afford to antagonize him right now. She needed his help.

She thrust the flowerpot she carried at the shopkeeper. A feathery purple peony drooped listlessly over the side, its leaves marred by irregular black spots. “Can you tell me what’s wrong with this thing?”

Hodge plucked off one of the saddest-looking leaves and rubbed it between his fingers, then lifted it to his nose and sniffed. “You’ve got blight.” He tossed the leaf back into the pot.

“Blight?” That sounded bad. And pervasive. Whatever it was hadn’t afflicted just this particular plant. Half the peonies in the greenhouse looked the same. Mama was going to have a fit when she got back from San Francisco. “What did I do?”

“Don’t flatter yourself. It’s caused by a fungus.”

“Oh.” That was some small consolation. “Is there any cure?”

“Sure, there is.”

Lily tamped down her irritation, forcing a smile instead. Getting information out of Hodge was more tedious than pulling weeds from the garden. “And what might that cure be?”

“Steep a handful of elder leaves in hot water with some Castile soap, then rub it on the leaves.”

“Castile soap?”

“Yep. I’ve got some in the back.” Hodge held up his hand, halting her attempt to follow him. “Oh no, you don’t. You’ll leave another trail of destruction in your wake.”

Lily sniffed and raised her chin. Hodge didn’t know the first thing about fashion. Granted, she hadn’t quite gotten the hang of these hoops yet. But, when she did, the whole town would be impressed with her grace and style. And Mama would finally be happy.

With great care, she glided across the room, mindful not to knock over anything else. No use proving Hodge’s point. She halted at the counter and picked up a seed catalog. Maybe Mama need never know. Lily could order replacement seeds, or bulbs, or whatever these plants came from. Only, how long did they take to grow?

The black-clad stranger stood only a few feet away, studying a sheaf of paper in his hands. For some reason, his dimple showed. Lily made a pointed flip of the catalog page. If he thought she’d come over here to speak with him, he was sorely mistaken.

“You’ll need root cuttings to plant peonies.” The stranger turned his head and offered her a roguish smile.

Lily nodded once. They hadn’t been introduced, but a lady wasn’t rude without reason.

“I don’t think they’ll carry them in that catalog, though.”

“Where might I get some?” The question crossed her lips before she could frame it in her mind. Her hand jerked to her mouth, as if she could catch her words and snatch them back before they reached his ears.

“Special dealers, horticultural friends, botanical gardens.” The words rolled effortlessly off his tongue.

Lily blinked. He looked so…rough. What did this sort of man know about frivolities like flower gardens?

He pushed away from the counter and turned to face her fully, giving her an accurate picture of just how tall he was. At eye level with her was his neck, which, she now noticed, was encircled by a clerical collar. Her jaw dropped a notch. A clergyman? Mindful of Mama’s opinions on good breeding, she pressed her lips together again, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from that stark white square.

Hodge bustled back in from the storage room. “Here you go, Miss Lily. Had to open a new crate.” He held out a bar wrapped in paper.

“Thank you.” Lily accepted it, then glanced at the stranger again. The way he looked at her made it feel as if the room were ten degrees warmer. Resisting the urge to press her palms against her cheeks, she fumbled with the clasp of her reticule. “How much do I owe you, Hodge?”

“A dime’ll do it.”

The preacher put on his hat, tipped it at her, and headed outside.

Lily found the coin and handed it over without bothering to quibble about the outrageous price.

“See you were talkin’ to Reverend Crew. He’s fresh from out East. Sent by some missionary society, think he said.”

Lily’s head jerked up. “Missiona—oh, no!” Snatching up her flowerpot and bar of soap, she whirled around and strode toward the door, heedless of the destruction she wrought in her pursuit of the stranger.


The smell hit him first. Pinkerton Detective Carter Forbes covered his mouth and nose with his handkerchief. His trusty mare, Friday, hesitated, and he patted her neck. “It’s okay, girl. Whatever caused this should be long gone by now.”

She whickered softly in response, then moved forward with cautious, delicate steps, her muscles bunched and ready to gallop if necessary.

Around the next bend in the trail was a covered wagon toppled on its side. Carter scanned the area. The horses that had been hitched to it were nowhere in sight. Enormous redwoods stood like sentinels protecting the smaller denizens of the forest. One wagon wheel had caught against a tree. Leaves covered the chassis and littered the torn canvas. Nothing moved.

Senses jangling, Carter dismounted and looped Friday’s reins over a nearby tree limb. The birds overhead ceased their chattering, and even the breeze stilled, as if the whole forest held its breath in anticipation. The rustle of his footsteps through dry leaves sounded remarkably loud in the hush. His fingers grazed the butt of his pistol.

He twitched aside the flap of the canvas. The stench redoubled nearly knocked him off his feet. He staggered back, letting the fabric fall closed again. Gagging, he sucked in a gulp of relatively pure air, but the foulness refused to be purged from his lungs. Over and over he inhaled, pressing his nose against his shirtsleeve in a futile attempt to mask the disgusting odor. At last, he clamped one hand over his mouth and, with the other, wrenched the canvas away with a terrible rip.

The dead man lay on his back. Carter swore under his breath. Why did he always give in to his infernal curiosity? A prudent man would’ve ridden on by. Minded his own business. But not Carter Forbes. Oh, no; he had to see. The quality made him a good Pinkerton, but it could be downright inconvenient.

He squatted and moved closer to the man. The scurry of tiny, clawed feet against the wood made him flinch. The corpse had lain exposed to the elements and scavengers long enough to make identifying the fellow impossible. Carter shook his head. The poor man hadn’t had anyone on hand to mourn his loss.

Sighing, he backed away. The least he could do was dig the man a decent grave. A shovel was still tied to the outside of the wagon. He grabbed it and began digging. The rhythmic thump of the blade biting into the earth sounded a primitive lament.

By how much would this set him back? He had made up a lot of time by riding hard. Still, Diamond probably had almost a day on him.

At last, the hole was large enough. Panting, Carter put aside the shovel and scrabbled out of the pit. He removed his coat and vest and slung them over Friday’s accommodating back. Now for the worst of it.

He ducked inside the wagon again. He couldn’t bring himself to touch the body’s decaying limbs, so he grabbed a fistful of pant fabric and another of jacket. The corpse was heavier than he’d expected it to be as he dragged it to the edge of the makeshift grave.

Lord, keep me from such an end. Carter rolled the corpse over so that it lay facedown. A small round hole penetrated the back of the jacket at about the level of the heart. The area around the hole was stained with blood, but death must have been nigh instantaneous.


He stood and pushed his hat back from his forehead. Why hadn’t he passed on by when he’d had the chance? Blast. Maybe God was punishing him for leaving his sister alone for so long.

He maneuvered the body so that it was face-up again and then methodically searched the pockets. He needed to figure out who the victim was. Then he would ride to the nearest town and turn the matter over to the local sheriff.

When he reached his hand inside the inner breast pocket of the jacket, his fingers found something hard. He plucked out the item—a locket on a gold chain. Could it be? He opened the tiny silver clasp to reveal the serious-eyed gaze of a striking young woman.

Triumph tasted bitter—too tangled up with the scent of death. Could it be that he’d finally found Grand Diamond, the infamous murderer?

His search intensified, as though the evidence might begin to vanish if he wasted any time. He turned up a pocketknife, a handkerchief, a twist of string, a pencil stub, and a thin packet of letters. No gun. Carter frowned. A man wanted for murder wasn’t likely to travel unarmed. Whoever had killed him had probably stolen his weapon.

Carter sat down on an overturned bucket and took up the packet of letters. He pulled on the end of the faded satin ribbon that bound them together. The pages were fragile and scarred with soft, fuzzy creases, as if they’d been folded and unfolded with great frequency.

Grant, my love, I will wait for you in the conservatory at midnight.

More confirmation that the dead man was Diamond. After three years of near misses, Carter finally had his man. Now he could collect his bonus, return to Emily, and get her started on her new treatments.

Yet he didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment. His fingers caressed the worn paper. These letters would be enough proof for anybody. But it was wrong—all wrong. The body was damp, as if it had been out when it had rained two days ago. The letters weren’t. They were almost entirely dry.

And the body was too far decomposed to have been dead only a day or two. This man must have been killed at least a week ago.

Carter pinched the bridge of his nose. He’d been after Diamond for so long, and he wanted nothing more than to close the case and go home. But he couldn’t. Not yet. There was more to this thing than met the eye, and Carter had to see it through, no matter where it led.

My Review - Diamond in the Rough

Diamond In the Rough (Charm and Deciet, #1)Diamond In the Rough by Jennifer AlLee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH was a great start to the Charm & Deceit series by Jennifer Allee and Lisa Karon Richardson.

Grant Diamond, professional gambler, has been known to take advantage of every opportunity.  So, when he finds a dead clergyman along the roadside, it’s the perfect chance for him to assume a new identity.  His goal – buy some time and put some distance between him and Carter Forbes, the Pinkerton agent that has been chasing him for a murder he didn’t commit.  When he finds out his arrival in Eureka was expected, and Lily Rose has great expectations for the work he is going to do while there, Grant realizes disappearing is not going to be as easy as he thought.

Lily Rose is excited that Reverend Hubert Crew has finally arrived.  She can’t wait for him to tell the Wiyot Indians of Jesus and build a schoolhouse for the Wiyot kids.  But everyone in Eureka does not share her charity towards the Indians, and her mother clearly does not agree with Lily’s unorthodox behaviors.  But Lily’s interest in the Wiyot Indians cannot be squelched nor can her growing feelings for Rev. Crew. 

Pinkerton, Carter Forbes has his suspicions about Rev. Crew.  And until he can prove his uncertainties one way or another, he decides to stay in Eureka and keep an eye on Crew.  Soon he is working alongside Crew helping him and Lily with the building project and wondering if he misjudged the preacher.  Rev. Crew becomes the least of Forbes’ worries when hostilities over the Wiyot’s reaches fever pitch. 

DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH was an enjoyable, fast paced read, filled with characters you immediately connected with.  Lily was a spitfire and Grant Diamond had just the right balance between swagger and vulnerability.  Forbes was a bloodhound determined to bring in his man even though he questioned if he was barking up the wrong tree.  I look forward to the next installment in the Charm and Deceit series.

Book provided for review purposes.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

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: 
                     Meg Mims
and the book:

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (March 20, 2013)

***Special thanks to Meg Mims for sending me a review copy.***


Meg Mims is an award-winning author and artist. She writes blended genres – historical, western, adventure, romance, suspense and mystery. Her first book, Double Crossing, won the 2012 Spur Award for Best First Novel from Western Writers of America and  was named a Finalist in the Best Books of 2012 from USA Book News for Fiction: Western. Double or Nothing is the sequel. Meg has also written two contemporary romances, The Key to Love and Santa Paws -- which reached the Amazon Kindle Bestseller list.

Visit the author's website.


A mysterious explosion. A man framed for murder. A strong woman determined to prove his innocence.

October, 1869: Lily Granville, heiress to a considerable fortune, rebels against her uncle’s strict rules. Ace Diamond, determined to win Lily, invests in a dynamite factory but his success fails to impress her guardian. An explosion in San Francisco, mere hours before Lily elopes with Ace to avoid a forced marriage, sets off a chain of consequences. When Ace is framed for murder before their wedding night, Lily must find proof to save him from a hangman’s noose. Will she become a widow before a true wife?

Product Details:
List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 258 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (March 20, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1483901629
ISBN-13: 978-1483901626


‘Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father is also merciful… forgive,

and ye shall be forgiven.’ Luke 6:36-37

Chapter One

1869, California

I jumped at a screeching whistle. Men swarmed over the distant slope like bees over a wax honeycomb in a mad scramble. “Good heavens. What is that about?”

Uncle Harrison pulled me out of harm’s way. “Just watch. They’re almost ready to begin the hydraulic mining,” he said and pulled his hat down to avoid the hot sun. “You’ll see. This is far better than panning for gold in a creek bed.”

“I can already see how destructive it is, given the run-off,” I said, eyeing the rivulets of dried mud that marked each treeless incline. “I’ve read about how the farmers can’t irrigate their fields and orchards due to the gravel and silt filling the rivers—”

Water suddenly gushed from two hydraulic nozzles in a wide, powerful stream. The men’s bulging arm muscles strained their shirts, their faces purple with the effort to control the water. I turned my gaze to the ravaged earth. Mud washed down into the wooden sluices, where other men worked at various points to spray quicksilver along the wide stretch. Others worked at a frantic pace to keep the earthy silt moving.

An older man with a grizzled goatee and worn overalls held out a canteen. “Have a sip while you’re waiting, miss,” he said. “A body gets mighty thirsty out here.”

“Thank you so much.”

I sipped the cold, refreshing ginger-flavored liquid that eased my parched throat. Dirt from the canteen streaked my gloves. Not that it mattered. At least the spatters of fresh mud wouldn’t show much on my black mourning costume and riding boots. Two days of rain earlier in the week had not helped.

The kind man offered the canteen to Uncle Harrison, who brushed it aside with a curt shake of his head. Steaming, I bit back an apology. The man had already headed back to his position near the sluices.

Bored of watching the ongoing work, I wandered over to several horses that stood patient in the sun and patted their noses. A tooled leather saddle sat atop one gelding’s glossy brown hide, and the silver-studded bridle looked just as rich. The horse gave a low whicker in greeting. If only I’d pocketed a few carrots or sugar lumps from breakfast.

“You’re a beauty. I wish I could ride you for a bit.”

The gelding’s ears dipped forward. One of the men left the knot of others in a huff. His dusty open coat swung around him as he stalked, spurs jingling, and closed the distance. He passed by me with a mere tip of his wide-brimmed hat and untied the reins. The horse pawed a bit while the man mounted, jittery, sensing his foul mood. I noted his scowl. Was he upset that I’d dared touch his property? A scruffy beard and thick black mustache hid his mouth. He rode off, keeping the gelding’s gait easy, down the gully toward the Early Bird’s entrance.

“Who was that?” I asked a miner.

The worker wiped sweat from his forehead with a sleeve. “Senor Alvarez? He’s got a burr under his blanket as usual. Pay him no mind, miss.”

I rubbed the remaining horse’s flank and glanced around the mining site. My uncle continued to chat with the foreman close to the shack near the head of the sluices. Another section of the wooden troughs was raised from the ground further north at a different bank of earth. My curiosity increased. I walked to the sluice and stared down at the filth in the bottom. No glints of gold flecked the bits of rock and slag. I had no idea what quicksilver looked like either. This whole business seemed crazy, although Uncle Harrison disagreed.

In the distance, pines smudged the lower half of the Sierra’s tiny white-capped peaks. To the west, gray clouds threatened the pale blue sky. No doubt rain would soak everything again by morning. My uncle had mentioned how winter was wetter here than back home in Chicago, or even St. Louis. I hadn’t known what to expect for autumn in California. Now that it was close to October, the stands of golden aspen on a ridge high above sported various shades of green, gold and hues of orange.

Homesickness overwhelmed me. I longed to see the brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow oaks, the thick forest of elms and birches behind my father’s house in Evanston. To ride along the shoreline of Lake Michigan’s navy waters, and watch the snow falling fast on a chilly winter’s day. I wouldn’t even mind listening to Adele Mason’s endless chatter about the latest dinner parties she attended with her many beaus.

It seemed like an eternity since I’d crossed two thousand miles of prairie and mountains on the Union and Central Pacific railroad. Donner Lake had resembled a sapphire jewel nestled among pristine snow fields. Perhaps it was frozen already.

I shivered, remembering the darkness of Summit Tunnel. It also brought back the delicious memory of feeling safe, nestled in Ace’s strong arms. Feeling the sudden shock when his tongue sought my own…

“Miss? It’s dangerous standin’ that close to the sluice. Over yonder is best.”

Guilt flooded my heart. Nodding to the man, I twisted around and glanced in the direction he indicated. My uncle remained at the shack. “Will they ever stop talking business?”

“Doubt it.” The miner was the same one who’d offered me water earlier. He carried a roll of canvas slung over a shoulder. Shrugging, he swiped his muddy goatee and cheek against his burden’s nubby surface. “Reckon they’ll yammer on for a while more.”

“Thank you. I’ll be careful.”

“Sure thing, miss.”

He passed by and handed the canvas to a pair of men. They unrolled it and laid the fabric inside the wooden sluice. I walked across the shifting ground, trying to avoid the worst of the mud’s damp patches. One claimed my uncle’s shoe when we arrived that morning. I fought hard not to laugh aloud, watching Uncle Harrison hop about on one foot, so comical with his blustery red face. At last a worker retrieved his shoe, mud up to his elbow, half his face coated as well. My uncle had not thanked the man for the rescue, either.

On higher ground, two workers held long snaking hoses that spurted water at the high bank. Two others sprayed quicksilver over the sluice. It didn’t look like anything but dirty water. I sighed. This entire trip had been a waste of time. Uncle Harrison resented the questions I’d peppered the foreman with and ignored my opinions on how the operation damaged the countryside. Why had he suggested I tag along in the first place?

I should have stayed back in Sacramento. My sketchbook drawings needed work. I had yet to finish anything I’d glimpsed during the journey on the train. Etta had brought all my watercolor supplies from Evanston, and most of my books too.

But I didn’t want to read or paint. A deep melancholy robbed me of energy. Nightmares haunted my sleep, of the deep ravine and the lizard I’d caught, of the sandy slope I climbed on Mt. Diablo, desperate to escape my father’s killer. Of being trapped, with no way out, and facing death, and of seeing that shocked surprise… and hearing the gunshot.

Self-defense, as Ace claimed. My uncle and the sheriff agreed.

Poor Ace. He’d felt bad afterward, forced into a cowardly deed. I had never shot anything except a badger with Father’s Navy revolver. Missed, too. But I’d tried to protect my darling pet lizard’s clutch of eggs in the garden back home. The thought of shooting a human being turned my stomach. I suppose stabbing someone wasn’t any less of a sin. Heavy guilt weighed on me. Had it been self-defense? I shuddered at the memory.

As Mother used to say, it was ‘water under the bridge.’ Nothing I might say or do now would change the past. But I’d rather avoid making such a horrible choice again.

Instead I trudged toward the shack. The foreman held a large piece of blueprint paper between his hands while my uncle pointed at various sections. Two other men argued with them, their heated words carrying over the whooshing of hoses and creaks and jolts of skeleton wagons over the rutted ground. Most of their argument was peppered with technical jargon that didn’t make any sense. Even Chinese sounded more familiar.

“We haven’t made enough headway,” said a man in a tailored suit, whose gold watch chain glinted in the sun. “I say we dig out the ridge all the way.”

“You take that ridge down any more than we have and we’ll never get equipment to the furthest point of the claim, over here,” my uncle said and prodded the map. “That was Alvarez’s advice. He knows this land better than you, Williamson.”

“I agree, it’s too dangerous,” the foreman said.

 “I’m the engineer! Are you implying I don’t know my business?”

“I’m saying it’s stupid to undermine that ridge. You’re being a stubborn coot.”

“You’re a fine one to call me stubborn—”

Good heavens. I reversed direction and headed back toward the sluice. They were sure to argue for another few hours. I wanted to ride that horse, even if it meant hiking my skirts to my knees and baring my ankles. The poor animal looked like it a good run, or at least a trot over the rough ground. I had to do something productive or I’d go mad.

Steering around the same boggy patch of mud, I cut close to the sluice. A blood-curdling yell halted everyone. I whirled to see the entire bank of earth, a huge avalanche of mud, rocks and two large trees root-first, rushing straight for me. Someone grabbed me by the waist from behind. I found myself sprawling head-first in the wooden trough. Other men shouted. The mine whistle screeched in my ears, so loud my head throbbed.

Spitting mud and gravel, I struggled to my knees. The tidal wave of mud and rocks hit the trough, rocking me backwards, and then pushed it off its moorings. I screamed when the miner was swept off his feet. Reaching out, I grabbed for his hand—he lost his grip and vanished. A large boulder slammed into the trough and almost tipped me off my perch. I fought to keep my grip on the wooden edge. At last the massive mudslide halted.

Somehow I found myself staring up at a huge tree trunk that hovered over my head. The thing teetered in the wind. Terrified it would crush me, I held my breath. Several workers waded waist deep into the mud and threaded ropes over the tree’s boughs. Two dozen men scampered from all directions, pulling and tugging, until the huge trunk slid backwards a few inches.

“Hold still, miss! We’ll get you to safety quick as a wink.”

“There’s a man buried somewhere! Please try to save him first!”

The crew, grunting and panting, lugged the tree out of harm’s way. Two other men lifted me off the wooden sluice’s remnants. The younger one carried me up the slope toward the shack and set me on my feet. I sagged like a limp rag doll into Uncle Harrison’s arms. White-faced with shock, he stripped off my gloves and chafed my hands.

“Are you all right, Lily? Say something!”

“That worker was buried alive. He saved my life—”

“Hush. They’ll find him.”

Together we watched the workers dig and scrabble with bare hands at the massive runoff. Horrified, my body shaking, I prayed hard that they’d find him before it was too late. My uncle pushed me onto a camp stool. Once he thrust a clean handkerchief into my hands, he forced a drink down my throat from his silver flask. The brandy burned its way to my stomach. I almost retched, but it calmed my jangled nerves. Uncle Harrison wiped my face and neck before he departed. Shivering, wet and muddy, I glanced down at the cotton cloth in my hand. Brown grime stained it along with streaks of pale pink. Blood.

I mopped my neck again, aware now of the stinging pain below my earlobe, and scraped away tiny bits of gravel. My uncle had left his flask. I tipped it against a clean spot on the handkerchief and dabbed my flesh. That burned as well.

A worker pushed me back onto the stool when I stood. “Better rest, miss. You look ready to faint, and we ain’t got any clean clothes for you.”

“Have they found that poor man yet?”

“They will. One way or another,” he said, his tone mournful. “This ain’t the first accident we’ve had at the Early Bird.”

Mortified, I clenched a fist. “How many others have been hurt? Or killed?”

“I better not say.”

He stalked toward the crowd, who continued to clear rocks and a second tree trunk from the muddy runoff. I heard a shout. Five men jumped to assist a sixth who called for help. They lifted a prone figure between them. My heart quailed at the sight of a huge splinter of wood protruding from the man’s blood-soaked shirt. I turned away, tears blurring my vision. I could have suffered the same fate if not for his courage.

The poor soul. He’d been so kind, offering a drink of ginger water, even warning me away from the sluice. He’d given his life to save mine. How could something like this happen? And he had not been the only victim to this destructive mining practice.

Numb, I staggered to my feet and hunted down the foreman. “What was the man’s name, the one who died? Please tell me. Does he have any family?”

“Hank Matthews.” The worker swiped mud from his bearded cheek. “Wife and three kids from what little I know.”

I marched off to find my uncle, ignoring the itching from my stiff clothing. He was busy consulting with the engineer and three other men, supervisors no doubt, given their clean clothes. Uncle Harrison turned to me at last.

“We must send money to Mr. Matthews’ family,” I said, “for the funeral, and to care for his wife and children—”

“We will discuss the matter later.”

“I insist that we support his family! It’s the least we can do. He saved my life, you must see that—ow.” He’d snared my arm and pulled me aside, his voice lowering.

“We cannot support every family of all the men who’ve suffered accidents,” Uncle Harrison said. “They knew the risks. They chose to work at the Early Bird.”


“Enough, Lily. I said we’ll discuss it later.”

He marched me back over the rough terrain to the small camp. Someone brought a real chair and placed it inside the “store,” a crude canvas tent shelter. Two wooden barrels covered with a plank served as a counter. Fifty pound burlap bags of flour, coffee beans, sugar, salt and dried navy beans covered the shelves, along with tins of pepper and saleratus. Another man brought a wooden bucket of clean water. I washed my face, hands and neck, weeping in silence over Hank Matthews’ death. He’d died in a horrible fashion. How many others had suffered similar fates or life-threatening injuries?

At last my uncle arrived to fetch me. I stood, exhausted, still filthy and depressed. “I’d like to find out where Mrs. Matthews lives—”

“That’s not important now. This landslide will set back production for a few weeks,” he said, “but that can’t be helped. Forget what happened, Lily.”

“I cannot forget what happened! I won’t forget.”

Uncle Harrison shrugged. “Suit yourself. It’s time to return home.”

Furious, I followed him toward the coach we’d hired in Folsom earlier that morning. My stiff skirts and jacket rustled with every move. I refused his help and climbed inside on my own. For the past month, my uncle refused to listen to reports in the newspapers about farmers who complained how their orchards and soil were ruined by silt and gravel from the hydraulic mining runoff. The Early Bird was only one of over a hundred or more sites in the high hills surrounding Sacramento. Now I’d seen the truth of the destruction first hand. Somehow I had to get through to Uncle Harrison. To him, this tragedy meant nothing.

I had to take matters into my own hands.


Etta flung the door wide. “Miss! What in the world happened—”

“A bath, please, as fast as you can prepare it.”

I pushed past her into the house. The ride to Folsom had been bad enough, along with the short trip to the railhead at Roseville. Uncle Harrison gave in when I rejected his offer to find a hotel and have my dress sponged. I’d borne the scrutiny of several late night passengers on the train to Sacramento with wounded pride, and in extreme discomfort. My skin crawled, my muscles ached to the point of agony. I wanted to scream with impatience.

Once upstairs in my bedroom, I stripped every bit of clothing off with a weary sigh and tied a wrapper around my waist. My whole head itched, as if plastered in place. I pulled several hairpins out and dislodged a hunk of dried mud. Ugh.

Etta knocked. “I’ve heated water. Let me have your clothes, miss.”

“There’s no use salvaging them.”

“Now, Miss Lily. Your uncle explained everything, and it’s not your fault what happened.” She bent to gather the filthy clothes. “I’ll get you something to eat.”

“Hot tea, with milk and sugar, thank you. I’m exhausted. I need to sleep.”

“You received a letter, miss. I left it on the dressing table.”

“I’ll read it tomorrow.”

Etta held out a small bowl with creamed paste. “Your favorite type—lavender, honey and a bit of oatmeal. Cover your face and hands with that, and I’ll mix some fresh beeswax with rose hips and almond oil when you’re done.”

I sank into the hot bath water in the screened alcove. Once I scrubbed all over, Etta washed my hair and brought fresh water to rinse all the dirt out. She poured a mixture of rose-scented mineral oil and massaged it into my curls. The room’s cold air sent shivers up my spine. I slipped into my nightdress, slathered my face and hands with cream and crawled into bed. It seemed the minute my head hit the feather pillow, I woke to tugging on my scalp. Etta sat beside me, comb in hand. Mid-morning sunlight streamed into the room.

“I’m sorry, Miss Lily. I couldn’t see all the tangles in your hair last night,” she said. “You’ll never grow it long again if I have to cut snarls out.”

Flexing my sore limbs, ignoring the pain, I yawned wide. “I don’t care—” Yawning again, I hunched down while she tugged and pulled. “Go ahead and cut it short.”

“That’s silly. Your future husband wouldn’t appreciate that.”

“I will never have a husband.”

“Didn’t Mr. Mason marry that young lady you met on the train?”

“Yes, Kate Kimball.” I hadn’t been surprised at that news when the telegram from San Francisco arrived last week. “She’s better suited to be his wife than I ever was.”

“That doesn’t mean you won’t find a suitable young man to marry.”

I didn’t bother to answer. Etta clucked to herself and left the room. I rolled onto my back, yawning again, too tired to rise. Disappointment lingered inside me when I recalled Kate and Charles’ news. They hadn’t asked me to witness their vows or invited me to a small celebration. Not that I’d expected them to host a lavish wedding. But I had lost the chance to share in their happiness. Perhaps they assumed I wouldn’t leave Sacramento, being in mourning for Father. They were wrong. Wearing black wouldn’t have stopped me. Friendship and loyalty meant far more than the customs of the day.

California wasn’t as exciting as I’d expected. I hadn’t made friends in the neighborhood. Most women here were either elderly or married with children, none my age. Uncle Harrison often missed meals, and only returned home to sleep. Thank goodness Etta had arrived from Evanston to keep me company.

I stretched, working out the soreness in my shoulders, back and limbs. Boredom had driven me to visit the mine yesterday. Now boredom struck again, harder than ever. Kate would be cooking breakfast for her new husband right now. To think a few months ago, Charles had wanted me to marry him and fund his mission trip to China. I snatched up the letter that Etta  brought last night and slit the envelope with a hairpin. Kate’s scrawled handwriting covered every inch of the paper, both sides. Father had often written letters to Mother during the War like this, the inked words smeared a little, and difficult to decipher.

Padding barefoot over the rug, I curled up on the window seat. Thick gray fog shrouded the city streets below, and a scent of mildewing leaves invaded the room. A horse-drawn milk wagon clopped over the cobblestones and halted, its outline faint. The driver scurried toward the porch with a wire rack of bottles. He walked back with the empties and vanished. At last I turned my attention to Kate’s letter.

Dearest Lily, I hope you are well…we are so happy, even though we haven’t a penny to our name. At first we had to accept the kindness of strangers, staying two days here and another elsewhere. But our ministry has grown here in San Francisco. We hope to build a permanent church in Rock Canyon. The poor come to us, and bring whatever they can to share a meal every Wednesday and Sunday. That’s when Charles preaches the Word. He is winning souls to the Lord’s work every day…

Charles? Preaching, when he never had the courage to speak to Father back in Evanston! Had he changed that much? To think I might have slept on the floor in a stranger’s house next to a husband—but no. My inheritance would have guaranteed a hotel room, a house, and passage to wherever Charles wanted to serve as a missionary. But that door had closed. I was thankful, too, because Kate proved a better choice for him.

She’d made no mention of Ace Diamond. What was he doing now?

I let out a long breath. He’d taken the three thousand dollars my uncle had given him and vanished. Had he forgotten me? Gone back east on the railroad to buy a ranch somewhere? I had no idea. I’d been curious enough to send Etta when she first arrived in Sacramento, inquiring at every hotel, steamer and ticket clerk for the Central Pacific. She failed to learn anything about the young Texan. That hurt far more than I expected.

Our last conversation in the Vallejo hotel hallway was clear in my memory. Ace’s fury, the gleam in his odd mismatched eyes—one blue, one blue-green—matched his determination to win me. But my uncle’s insults had been too much to bear.

Ever since, I’d engaged in daily shouting matches with Uncle Harrison over acting as my  guardian. He proved to be a dictator of my clothing and behavior, disregarded my opinion on the Early Bird mine or about social events, parties and dinners he insisted I attend. My resentment grew over being treated like a child. I cherished independence from a young age, since my parents had fostered that. Father had indulged me further after Mother’s death. Uncle Harrison wasn’t aware of that, however, and his iron-fisted control irritated me.

I sighed aloud and stretched once more. My black skirt and jacket were ruined after the trip to the Early Bird. I’d have to order new mourning attire or else give up my intention to observe the custom. Father would no doubt laugh if he stood here. He’d shake a finger and remind me about his wish to dandle a grandchild on his knee.

The only way to fulfill that was to marry. One man had sparked my interest, yet he was gone. I yearned to hear Ace’s drawl, see his face and that boyish grin again. I missed him. We’d spent so much time together on the train, and several pleasant hours on Mt. Diablo waiting for my uncle’s return with the sheriff. My heart quickened at the memory of sharing his hot kisses. And I hadn’t protested when his warm hands roamed my neck and shoulders. Or the sly way he’d tugged a few buttons free on my shirtwaist to kiss my bare skin. Along the curve of my bosom above my corset cover, and then…

Etta’s loud rap at the door scared me witless. She carried in a tray with a silver urn, cups and saucers plus a covered dish. “So you found the letter from San Francisco?”

“Yes. From Kate.”

“There’s another this morning. I hope you’re hungry. You missed dinner last night. Captain Granville told me about that poor man yesterday, who saved your life.”

“He did?” Surprised, I glanced up at Etta. She looked wary.

“He’s not keen on sending them any money like you suggested, miss.”

“I don’t understand. He was always generous in the past—”

“To you, maybe, because you’re family.”

I let out another long breath. As if a little money would help that family anyway. No amount could substitute for a man’s life. My resentment increased. I rubbed my forehead and temples, wishing my headache away. The delicious scent of coffee and bacon wafted over me.

“Where’s this other letter?”

Etta poured two cups of coffee and handed me one. “I didn’t recognize the handwriting on the envelope.” She drew it from her apron pocket.

I studied the spidery writing and then used the same hairpin to open the thin envelope. “Hmm. Mrs. Wycliffe says she wrote every word that Aunt Sylvia dictated. It’s postmarked from Sacramento, but I thought she was in a San Francisco hospital.”

“Could be your uncle brought her here to recover.” Etta perched on a chair. “What does it say, miss? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Of course not.”

I crunched a rasher of bacon, ate the still warm eggs and then wiped my hands on a linen napkin. What did Aunt Sylvia want? She’d warned Uncle Harrison about Ace being a gambler. She’d cursed me, Ace, Uncle Harrison, and every one of the men who rescued her from the ravine that day at Mt. Diablo—worse than a miner—while they carried her on a makeshift litter to the buckboard wagon. Aunt Sylvia hadn’t stopped cursing on the journey back to Vallejo. She deserved every bit of such rough treatment for what I’d suffered at her hands.

After I flattened the letter, I started reading aloud. “‘The doctors say I have little time to live.’ That’s doubtful, I bet. ‘Gangrene has taken one leg, and another infection is spreading fast. Come and visit before it is too late. We have much to discuss.’”

“Gangrene is bad, Miss Lily. My father suffered terrible from that before he died. They cut off his leg that summer, but it spread past that point. Maybe you ought to go.”

“What could we possibly have to talk about? She hates me.”

“True enough,” Etta said bitterly, “but she is family. Remember that.”

“Father never wanted me to speak her name.”

“The colonel’s gone to his reward, miss, and is resting in peace. Along with your mother, God rest her soul.”

I didn’t reply to that, scanning the rest of the letter to myself. The words on the page blurred—words that cut me deep. Words my aunt knew would summon me to her deathbed. My mother’s favorite Scripture verse from Luke, and one word stood out.


My Review - Double or Nothing by Meg Mims

 3 out of 5 stars

DOUBLE OR NOTHING was an enjoyable read set in the rugged West.  

A spirited and rebellious Lily Granville is not at all pleased with her Uncle Harrison and his heavy handed ways.  When she finds out he has all but arranged for her future marriage, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  Her love for Ace Diamond is undeniable and she intends on making it official once and for all.  But, Lily’s joy is short lived.  When police burst into their hotel room on their wedding night and whisk Ace away-accusing him of setting an explosion-Lily is left to her own resources to prove he had nothing to do with it.  

DOUBLE OR NOTHING had good pacing, and rich characters.  Ms. Mims kept the reader guessing by introducing side characters that were more than they seemed.  DOUBLE OR NOTHING was a sequel to DOUBLE CROSSING, a novel I haven’t read.  But DOUBLE OR NOTHING did just fine standing on its alone.

Book provided for review purposes.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

When a Secret Kills Lynette Eason

When a Secret Kills
Lynette Eason

In the spine-tingling conclusion to her explosive Deadly Reunion series, Lynette Eason once again treats readers to a tale of secrets that need to be told and dangers that need to be faced. 

Investigative reporter Jillian Carter knows it’s time to put the past to rest. She’s tired of looking over her shoulder, letting a killer go free. She’s no longer the scared kid who changed her name and disappeared. Now, no matter what the cost, Jillian must do what she is trained to do—ferret out the truth and expose it. Senator Frank Hoffman committed murder ten years ago—and Jillian watched it happen.

Didn’t she?

Not even the enigmatic and attractive Colton Brady, her ex-boyfriend and nephew of the killer, will be able to make her leave this alone. Get ready for a ride that will make you afraid to be home alone.

Lynette Eason is the bestselling author of several romantic suspense novels, including When the Smoke Clears, When a Heart Stops, and the Women of Justice series. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. She has a master’s degree in education from Converse College and she lives in South Carolina. Find out more at

My Review - When A Secret Kills

5 out  of 5 stars

Though I hate to see the Deadly Reunions series come to an end, WHEN A SECRET KILLS made for a great finale.  

Jillian Carter fled her hometown after her high school graduation because of what she mistakenly witnessed.  With a new identity, Jillian becomes an investigative reporter and starts a new life.  When a car bomb meant for her kills a friend, she realizes she’s been found.  Instead of running, she decides to go home and set the record straight.  It is ten years later and Jillian’s decided she no longer wants to run.  The person who is after her needs to be punished for his crime.  But, witnessing a murder is not the only secret Jillian has hidden for ten years.  

Going back home not only endangers herself, but anyone who tries to help Jillian.  Colton Brady, her high school sweetheart, now police detective, comes to her aid.  But that only makes things more difficult.  The secrets from her past will devastate him, that is, if he even believes her.  Focusing on her goal of exposing a murderer and putting those she loves out of danger, she must find the evidence she needs to prove her adversaries guilt before he eliminates her.

WHEN A SECRET KILLS was fast-paced drama at its best!  From the first chapter to the end, non-stop drama fills pages that can’t be turned fast enough.  Jillian is on a quest to set the record straight.  Colton is determined to prove her wrong.  And both of them do everything they can to deny their feelings for each other.  Of course, every good suspense book has twists and turns that scramble the thoughts of the reader.  And though I was able to spot the killer before the grand finale, Ms. Eason did a great job of causing doubt in the reader’s minds.  A great read, that was over way to fast.  I can’t wait to see what Lynette Eason will come up with next.   

Book provided for review purposes.

Available May 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.