Sunday, June 29, 2008



It's June 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!




and her book:



Zondervan (May 1, 2008)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

In sixth grade, Melody Carlson helped start a school newspaper called The BuccaNews (her school’s mascot was a Buccaneer...arrr!). As editor of this paper, she wrote most of the material herself, creating goofy phony bylines to hide the fact that the school newspaper was mostly a "one man" show.

Visit the Melody's website to see all of her wonderful and various book titles.

Don't miss the second book in this series: Stealing Bradford (Carter House Girls, Book 2)

And one of her latest, A Mile in My Flip-Flops will be featured on FIRST Blog Alliance on July 1st!

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714885
ISBN-13: 978-0310714880



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“Desiree,” called Inez as she knocked on the other side of the closed bedroom door. “Mrs. Carter wants to see you downstairs.”

“The name is DJ.”

“I’m sorry, but your grandmother has instructed me to call you Desiree.”

DJ opened the door and looked down on the short and slightly overweight middle-aged housekeeper. “And I have instructed you to call me DJ.”

Inez’s dark eyes twinkled as she gave her a sly grin. “Yes, but it’s your grandmother who pays my salary, Desiree. I take orders from Mrs. Carter. And she wants to see you downstairs in her office, pronto.”

DJ grabbed her favorite Yankees ball cap and shoved it onto her head, pulling her scraggly looking blonde ponytail through the hole in the back of it.

“You’re wearing that?” asked Inez with a frown. “You know what your grandmother says about — -”

“Look,” said DJ. “My grandmother might pay you to take orders from her, but I’m a free agent. Got that?”

Inez chuckled. “I got that. But you’re the one who’ll be getting it before too long, Desiree.”

“DJ,” she growled as she tromped loudly down the curving staircase. Why had she let Dad talk her into living with her grandmother for her last two years of high school? She’d only been here since last spring, late into the school year, but long enough to know that it was nearly unbearable. Boarding school would be better than this. At least she’d have a little privacy there and no one constantly riding her — -telling her how to act, walk, look, and think. She wished there were some way, short of running away (which would be totally stupid), out of this uncomfortable arrangement.

“There you are,” said Grandmother when DJ walked into the office. Her grandmother frowned at her ball cap and then pasted what appeared to be a very forced smile onto her collagen-injected lips. “I want you to meet a new resident.” She made a graceful hand movement, motioning to where an attractive and somewhat familiar-looking Latina woman was sitting next to a fashionably dressed girl who seemed to be about DJ’s age, but could probably pass for older. The girl was beautiful. Even with the scowl creasing her forehead, it was obvious that this girl was stunning. Her skin was darker than her mother’s, latte-colored and creamy. Her long black hair curled softly around her face. She had high cheekbones and dramatic eyes.

DJ noticed her grandmother smiling her approval on this unhappy-looking girl. But the girl looked oblivious as she fiddled with the gold chain of what looked like an expensive designer bag. Not that DJ was an expert when it came to fashion. The woman stood politely, extending her hand to DJ.

“I’d like to present my granddaughter, Desiree Lane.” Grandmother turned back to DJ now, the approval evaporating from her expression. “Desiree, this is Ms. Perez and her daughter Taylor.”

DJ shook the woman’s hand and mumbled, “Nice to meet you.” But the unfriendly daughter just sat in the leather chair, one long leg elegantly crossed over the other, as she totally ignored everyone in the room.

Grandmother continued speaking to DJ, although DJ suspected this little speech was for Taylor’s mother. “Ms. Perez and I first met when my magazine featured her for her illustrious music career. Her face graced our cover numerous times over the years. Perhaps you’ve heard of Eva Perez.”

The woman smiled. “Or perhaps not,” she said in a voice that was as smooth as honey. “According to my daughter, kids in your age group don’t comprise even a minuscule part of my fan base.”

DJ smiled at the woman now. “Actually, I have heard of you, Ms. Perez. My mom used to play your CDs. She was a serious Latin jazz fan.”

“Was?” She frowned. “I hope her taste in music hasn’t changed. I need all the fans I can get these days.”

Grandmother cleared her throat. “Desiree’s mother — -my daughter — -was killed in a car accident about a year ago.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

DJ sort of nodded. She never knew how to react when -people said they were sorry about the loss of her mother. It wasn’t as if it were their fault.

“Desiree,” said Grandmother, “Would you mind giving Taylor a tour of the house while I go over some business details with her mother?”

“No problem.”

Grandmother’s recently Botoxed forehead creased ever so slightly, and DJ knew that, once again, she had either said the wrong thing, used bad grammar, or was slumping like a “bag of potatoes.” Nothing she did ever seemed right when it came to her grandmother. “And after the tour, perhaps you could show Taylor to her room.”

“Which room?” asked DJ, feeling concerned. Sure, Taylor might be a perfectly nice person, even if a little snobbish, but DJ was not ready for a roommate just yet.

“The blue room, please. Inez has already taken some of Taylor’s bags up for her. Thank you, Desiree.”

Feeling dismissed as well as disapproved of, DJ led their reluctant new resident out to the foyer. “Well, you’ve probably already seen this.” DJ waved her arm toward the elegant front entrance with its carved double doors and shining marble floor and Persian rug. She motioned toward the ornate oak staircase. “And that’s where the bedrooms are, but we can see that later.” She walked through to the dining room. “This is where we chow down.” She pointed to the swinging doors. “The kitchen’s back there, but the cook, Clara, can be a little witchy about trespassers.” DJ snickered. “Besides, my grandmother does not want her girls to spend much time in the kitchen anyway.”

“Like that’s going to be a problem,” said Taylor, the first words she’d spoken since meeting DJ.

“Huh?” said DJ.

“I don’t imagine anyone is going to be exactly pigging out around here. I mean aren’t we all supposed to become famous models or something?” asked Taylor as she examined a perfectly manicured thumbnail.

DJ frowned. “Well, my grandmother did edit one of the biggest fashion magazines in the world, but I don’t think that means we’re all going to become famous models. I know I’m not.”

Taylor peered curiously at her. “Why not? You’ve got the height, the build, and you’re not half bad looking . . . well, other than the fact that you obviously have absolutely no style.” She sort of laughed, but not with genuine humor. “But then you’ve got your grandmother to straighten that out for you.”

DJ just shook her head. “I think my grandmother will give up on me pretty soon. Especially when the others get here. She’ll have girls with more promise to set her sights on.” At least that was what DJ was hoping.

“Has anyone else arrived?”

“Not yet.” DJ continued the tour. “This is the library.” She paused to allow Taylor to look inside the room and then moved on. “And that’s the sunroom, or observatory, as Grandmother calls it.” She laughed. “Hearing her talk about this house sometimes reminds me of playing Clue.”

“What?”

“You know, the murder game, like where Colonel Mustard kills Mrs. Peacock with a wrench in the observatory.”

“Oh, I never played that.”

“Right . . .” Then DJ showed Taylor the large living room, the most modern space in the house. Grandmother had put this room together shortly after deciding to take on her crazy venture. Above the fireplace hung a large flat-screen TV, which was connected to a state-of-the-art DVD and sound system. This was encircled by some comfortable pieces of leather furniture, pillows, and throws.

“Not bad,” admitted Taylor.

“Welcome back to the twenty-first century.”

“Do you have wireless here?”

“Yeah. I told Grandmother it was a necessity for school.”

“Good.”

“This house has been in our family for a long time,” said DJ as she led Taylor up the stairs. “But no one has lived here for the past twenty years. My grandmother had it restored after she retired a -couple of years ago.” DJ didn’t add that her grandmother had been forced to retire due to her age (a carefully guarded and mysterious number) or that this new business venture, boarding teen “debutantes,” was to help supplement her retirement income. Those were strict family secrets and, despite DJ’s angst in living here, she did have a sense of family loyalty — -at least for the time being. She wasn’t sure if she could control herself indefinitely.

DJ stopped at the second-floor landing. “The bedrooms are on this floor, and the third floor has a ballroom that would be perfect for volleyball, although Grandmother has made it clear that it’s not that kind of ballroom.” She led Taylor down the hall. “My bedroom is here,” she pointed to the closed door. “And yours is right next door.” She opened the door. “The blue room.”

Taylor looked into the pale blue room and shook her head in a dismal way. “And is it true that I have to share this room with a perfect stranger?”

“Well, I don’t know how perfect she’ll be.”

“Funny.” Taylor rolled her eyes as she opened a door to one of the walk-in closets opposite the beds.

“I try.”

“It’s not as big as I expected.”

“It’s bigger than it looks,” said DJ as she walked into the room and then pointed to a small alcove that led to the bathroom.

“Do I get any say in who becomes my roommate?”

“I guess you can take that up with my grandmother.”

Taylor tossed her purse onto the bed closest to the bathroom and then kicked off her metallic-toned sandals. “These shoes might be Marc Jacobs, but they’re killing me.”

“So, you’re really into this?” asked DJ. “The whole fashion thing?”

Taylor sat down on the bed, rubbing a foot. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good.”

DJ felt the need to bite her tongue. Taylor was her grandmother’s first official paying customer to arrive and participate in this crazy scheme. Far be it from DJ to rock Grandmother’s boat. At least not just yet.

“Well, thanks for the tour,” said Taylor in a bored voice. Then she went over to where a set of expensive-looking luggage was stacked in a corner. “Don’t the servants around here know how to put things away properly?”

“Properly?” DJ shrugged.

Taylor picked up the top bag and laid it down on the bench at the foot of one of the beds and opened it.

“Don’t you want to go down and tell your mom good-bye?” asked DJ as she moved toward the door.

Taylor laughed in a mean way. “And make her think she’s doing me a favor by dumping me here? Not on your life.”

“Here are some more bags for Miss Mitchell,” said Inez as she lugged two large suitcases into the room, setting them by the door.

“Put them over there,” commanded Taylor, pointing to the bench at the foot of the other bed. “And don’t pile them on top of each other. This happens to be Louis Vuitton, you know.”

DJ saw Inez make a face behind Taylor’s back. But the truth was DJ didn’t blame her. Inez might be a housekeeper, but she didn’t deserve to be treated like a slave. Suddenly, DJ felt guilty for snapping at Inez earlier today. She smiled now, and Inez looked surprised and a little suspicious. Then DJ grabbed the largest bag, hoisted it onto the bench with a loud grunt, and Taylor turned around and gave her a dark scowl.

“Thank you,” she snapped.

“Later,” said DJ as she exited the room with Inez on her heels.

“Mrs. Carter wants to see you downstairs, Desiree,” announced Inez when they were out on the landing.

“Again?” complained DJ. “What for?”

“Another girl just arrived. Your grandmother wants you to give her a tour too.”

“What am I now?” asked DJ. “The official tour guide?”

“That sounds about right.” Inez gave her a smirk.

DJ wasn’t sure if she could stomach another fashion diva with an attitude problem, but on the other hand, she didn’t want to risk another etiquette lecture from her grandmother either. Once again, she clomped down the stairs and made her appearance in the office, suppressing the urge to bow and say, “At your ser-vice, Madam.”

“Eliza,” gushed Grandmother, “This is my granddaughter, Desiree Lane. And Desiree, I’d like you to meet Eliza Wilton.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Desiree.”

DJ nodded. She could tell by how formal her grandmother was acting that Eliza Wilton must be someone really important — -meaning extraordinarily wealthy — -even more so than the Mitchells. And that’s when she remembered her grandmother going on about “the Wilton fortune” this morning at breakfast. Of course, that must be Eliza’s family.

“Nice to meet ya, Eliza,” DJ said in a purposely casual tone. This girl was pretty too, but not like Taylor’s dark and dramatic beauty. Eliza was a tall, slender, impeccably dressed, blue-eyed blonde. She wasn’t exactly a Paris Hilton clone — -and she didn’t have a little dog as far as DJ could see — -but there was a similarity, except that Eliza’s face was a little softer looking, a little sweeter, but then looks could be deceiving.

DJ wondered if the Botox was starting to wear off, as her grandmother studied her with a furrowed brow, probably comparing her to Miss Perfect Eliza. Naturally, DJ would not measure up.

“Eliza is from Louisville,” said Grandmother. “Her parents are presently residing in France, where her father just purchased a vineyard. But Eliza’s grandmother and I are old friends. We went to college together. When she heard about what I was doing up here in Connecticut, she encouraged her daughter to send dear Eliza our way.”

“Lucky Eliza,” said DJ in a droll tone.

Eliza actually giggled. Then Grandmother cleared her throat. “Desiree will give you a tour of the house,” she said. “And she’ll show you to your room.”

“Which is . . . ?” asked DJ.

“The rose room.”

Of course, thought DJ as she led Eliza from the office. Next to her grandmother’s suite, the rose room was probably the best room in the house. Naturally, someone as important as Eliza would be entitled to that. Not that DJ had wanted it. And perhaps her grandmother had actually offered it to her last month. DJ couldn’t remember. But she had never been a flowery sort of girl, and she knew the rose wallpaper in there would’ve been giving her a serious migraine by now. Besides she liked her sunny yellow bedroom and, in her opinion, it had the best view in the house. On a clear day, you could actually glimpse a sliver of the Atlantic Ocean from her small bathroom window.

DJ started to do a repeat of her earlier tour, even using the same lines, until she realized that Eliza was actually interested.

“How old is this house?”

“Just over a hundred years,” DJ told her. “It was built in 1891.”

“It has a nice feel to it.”

DJ considered this. “Yeah, I kinda thought that too, after I got used to it. To be honest, it seemed pretty big to me at first. But then you’re probably used to big houses.”

“I suppose. Not that I’m particularly fond of mansions.”

“Why aren’t you with your parents?” asked DJ. “In France?”

“They’re concerned about things like politics and security,” said Eliza as they exited the library. “In fact, they almost refused to let me come here.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I think they felt I was safer in boarding school. If our grandmothers hadn’t been such good friends, I’m sure they never would’ve agreed.”

“So, you’re happy to be here?” DJ studied Eliza’s expression.

“Sure, aren’t you?”

DJ frowned. “I don’t know . . . I guess.”

“I think it’ll be fun to go to a real high school, to just live like a normal girl, with other normal girls.”

DJ tried not to look too shocked. “You think this is normal?”

Eliza laughed. “I guess I don’t really know what normal is, but it’s more normal that what I’m used to.”

“But what about the whole fashion thing?” asked DJ. “I mean you must know about my grandmother’s plans to turn us all into little debutantes. Are you into all that?”

“That’s nothing new. Remember, I’m from the south. My family is obsessed with turning me into a lady. That was one of the other reasons my parents agreed to this. I think they see the Carter House as some sort of finishing school.”

Or some sort of reformatory school, thought DJ. Although she didn’t say it out loud. Not yet, anyway.


Friday, May 30, 2008



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

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







Today's Wild Card author is:


and her book:


A Passion Most Pure
Revell (January 1, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Julie Lessman is a debut author who has already garnered writing acclaim, including ten Romance Writers of America awards. She resides in Missouri with her husband and their golden retriever, and has two grown children and a daughter-in-law. Her first book in the Daughters of Boston series, A Passion Most Pure, was released January 2008, to be followed by the second in September 2008, A Passion Redeemed, and the third in May 2009, A Passion Denied (working title).

You can visit Julie at her Web site.

Product Details

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Revell (January 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0800732111
ISBN-13: 978-0800732110


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


“To the man who pleases him,

God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,

but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to

hand it over to the one who pleases God.

This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

– Ecclesiastes 2:26




Chapter One

Boston, Massachusetts, Late Summer, 1916

Sisters are overrated, she decided. Not all of them, of course, only the beautiful ones who never let you forget it. Faith O’Connor stood on tiptoe behind the side porch, squinting through her mother’s prized lilac bush. The sound of summer locusts vibrated in her ears as she gasped, inches from where her sister, Charity, stood in the arms of––

“Collin, someone might hear us,” Charity whispered.

“Not if we don’t talk.” Collin’s index finger stroked the cleft of her sister’s chin.

Faith’s body went numb. The locusts crescendoed to a frenzy in her brain. She wanted to sink into the fresh-mown lawn, but her feet rooted to the ground as firmly as the bush that hid her from view.

Three years had done nothing to diminish his effect on her. He was grinning, studying her sister through heavy lids, obviously relaxed as he leaned against the wall of their wraparound porch. His serge morning coat was draped casually over the railing. The rolled sleeves of his starched, white shirt displayed muscled arms snug around Charity’s waist. Faith knew all too well his clear, gray eyes held a maddening twinkle, and she heard the low rumble of his laughter when he pulled her sister close.

“Collin, nooooo …” Charity’s voice seemed to ripple with pleasure as her finger traced a suspender cinched to his striped trousers.

“Charity, yes,” he whispered, closing his eyes as he bent to kiss her.

Faith stopped breathing while his lips wandered the nape of her sister’s neck.

Charity attempted a token struggle before appearing to melt against his broad chest. She closed her eyes and lifted her mouth to his, her head dropping back with the ease of oiled hinges.

Faith rolled her eyes.

Without warning, Collin straightened. A strand from his slicked-back hair tumbled across his forehead while he held her sister at arm’s length. His expression was stern, but there was mischief in his eyes. "You know, Charity, your ploy doesn’t work.” His brows lifted in playful reprimand, making him appear far older than his twenty-one years. He adjusted the wide, pleated collar of her pink gabardine blouse. “You are a beautiful girl, Charity O’Connor. And I’m quite sure your doe-eyed teasing is most effective with the schoolboys that buzz around.” His fingers gently tugged at a strand of her honey-colored hair before tucking it behind her ear. “But not with me.” He lifted her chin to look up at him. The corners of his lips twitched. “I suggest you save your protest for them and this for me …"

His dimples deepened when his lips eased into that dangerous smile that always made Faith go weak in the knees. In one fluid turn, he backed her sister against the wall, hands firm on her shoulders as his mouth took hers. Then, in a flutter of Faith’s heart, he released her.

On cue, Charity produced a perfect pout, stamping her foot so hard it caused her black hobble skirt to flair at her ankles. Collin laughed out loud. He kissed her on the nose, grabbed his coat and started down the steps.

"Collin McGuire, you are so arrogant!" Charity whispered, her voice hissing as if through clenched teeth.

"And you, Charity O'Connor, are so vain––a perfect match, wouldn't you say?" He headed for the gate, whistling. Charity stormed inside and slammed the door. Collin chuckled and strolled toward the sidewalk.

Faith crept to the lilac hedge at the front of the house and peeked through its foliage. A stray ball from a rowdy game of kickball rolled into the street. Collin darted after it just as a black Model T puttered by, blaring its horn. He jumped from its path, palming the ball with one hand. In a blink of an eye, he was swarmed by little boys, their laughter pealing through the air as Collin wrestled with one after another.

All at once he turned and loped to a massive oak where tiny, towheaded Theodore Schmidt sat propped against the gnarled tree, crutches by his side. Raucous cheers pierced the air when Collin tossed his coat on the ground and bent to carefully hoist Theo astride his broad shoulders. The little boy squealed with delight. A grin split Collin’s handsome face. He gripped Theo’s frail legs against his chest and sauntered toward home plate. Scrubbing his palms on Theo’s faded, brown knickers, Collin dug his heels in the dirt and positioned himself. The pitcher grinned and rolled the ball. The air was thick with silence. Even the locusts seemed to hush as the ball wheeled in slow motion. Faith held her breath.

Collin’s first kick sailed the ball five houses away. Champion and child went flying, the back tail of Theo’s white shirt flapping in the breeze as Collin rounded the bases. They crossed home plate to a roar of cheers and whistles and all colors of beanies fluttering in the air like confetti. Theo’s scrawny arms flapped about, his tiny face as flushed as Collin’s when the two finally huffed to a stop.

Faith exhaled. Everybody’s hero, then and now.

Collin set the child back against the tree. He squatted to speak to him briefly before tousling his hair. Rising, he snatched his coat from the ground and slung it over his shoulder. The boys groaned and begged for more, but Collin only waved and continued down the street, finally disappearing from view.

Faith pressed a shaky palm to her stomach. She closed her eyes and leaned against the

porch trellis. A perfectly wonderful Saturday gone to the dogs! All she had wanted when she slipped out the back door was to escape to her favorite hideaway in the park. To write poetry and prayers to her heart’s content in the warm, September sun. But no! Once again, her sister had managed to strike, foiling her plans for a blissful afternoon of writing and reverie. Her eyes popped open and she kicked at a hickory nut, sending it pinging off her mother’s copper watering can.

It was bad enough Charity attracted the attention of every male within a ten-mile radius. Did she also have to be the younger sister? It was nothing short of humiliating! Faith plunked her hands on her hips and looked up. “Really, Lord, she’s sixteen to my eighteen and fends off men like a mare swishing flies. Was that really necessary?” She waved her hand, palm up, toward the infamous porch. “And now this? Now him?”

Faith jerked her blanket from the ground and slapped it over her shoulder. Retrieving her journal and prayer book, she thrashed through the bushes. She glanced at the side porch, leering at the very spot he held her sister only moments before. The impact hit and tears pricked her eyes. She swatted at something caught in her hair. A twig with a heart-shaped leaf plummeted to the ground, in perfect synchronization with her mood.

Her sister had it all––beauty, beaus and now the affections of Collin McGuire. Where was the justice? In Faith’s world of daydreams, he had been hers first, smitten on the very day Margaret Mary O’Leary had shoved her against the schoolyard fence. Helplessly she had hung, the crippled runt of the fifth-grade class, pinned by bulbous arms for the crime of refusing to turn over her mother’s fresh-baked pumpkin bread.

“Drop her, Margaret Mary,” the young Collin had said with authority.

The pudgy hands released their grip. “Cripple!” Margaret Mary’s hateful slur had hissed in Faith’s ears as she plopped to the ground, the steel braces on her thin legs clanking as she fell. The girl’s sneer dissolved into a smile when she gazed up at Collin, her ample cheeks puffing into small, pink balloons. “Sorry!” she said in a shy voice. With a duck of her head, she wobbled off, leaving Faith in a heap. Bits of bread, now dusted with dirt, clumped through Faith’s fingers as she stared up in awe. It had been the first time she ever laid eyes on him. Never again would her little-girl heart beat the same. He was tall and languid with an easy smile—Robin Hood, defending the weak.

“D’she hurt you?” he had asked, extending his arm.

The gentleness in his eyes stilled her. Shaking her head, she opened her hand to reveal a mangled piece of bread. Without thinking, she tried to blow off the dirt, misting it with saliva. “I don’t suppose you want some?”

The grin would be branded in her brain forever.

“That’s okay, Little Bit,” he said with a sparkle in his eye, “I’ll just help myself to some of Margaret Mary’s.”

Her mind jolted back to the present. Faith blinked at the lonely porch and sniffed. Jutting her chin in the air, she flipped a russet strand of hair from her eyes. “I refuse to entertain notions of Collin McGuire,” she vowed. Her lips pressed into a tight line. It’s just a crying shame Mother hadn’t found them first!

As if shocked at her thought, the sun crept behind a billow of clouds, washing her in cool shadows. She crossed her arms and glowered at the sky. “Yes, I know, I’m supposed to be taking every thought captive. But it’s not all that easy, you know.”

A curl from her half-hearted chignon fluttered into her face. She reached to yank the comb from her hair, shaking her head until the wild mane tumbled down her back. Hiking her brown gingham skirt to her knees, she ignored the curious stares of children and raced down Donovan Street.

She was almost oblivious to the faint limp in her stride, the only mark of her childhood bout with polio. Some of the children still laughed at the halting way she walked and ran, but Faith didn’t care. If anything, it only made her chin lift higher and her smile brighter. That slight hitch in her gait––that precious, wonderful gimp––was daily proof she had escaped paralysis or worse. She needed no reminding that countless children had perished in the Massachusetts polio epidemic of 1907, her own twin sister among them. She shuddered at the memory while her pace slowed. God had heard the prayers of her parents––or at least half. She alone had survived. And more than survived––she’d never need braces again.

Masking her somber mood with a smile, she waved and called to neighbors, flitting by the perfectly groomed three-decker homes that so typified the Southie neighborhood of Boston. She hurried beneath a canopy of trees where mothers chatted and toddlers played peek-a-boo around their petticoats. A tiny terrier yipped and danced in circles, coaxing a grin to her lips, while little girls played hopscotch on cobblestone streets dappled with sunlight.

In the tranquil scene, Faith saw no hint of impending troubles, no telltale evidence of “The Great War” raging in a far-off land across the sea. But the qualms of concern were there all the same. Insidious, filtering into their lives like a patchy gloom descending at will––in hushed conversations over back fences or in distracted stares and wrinkled brows. The question was always the same: Would America go to war? One by one, the neutrality of European countries toppled like dominoes. Romania, who had entered the war with the Allies, was quickly overrun by German forces. Now, within mere days, Italy had declared war on Germany as well, sucked into the vortex of hate. Would America be next to enter World War I? Faith shivered at the thought and then gasped when she nearly collided with a freckled boy darting out of Hammond’s confectionary.

“Sorry, miss,” he muttered, clutching a box of Cracker Jacks against plaid knickers.

“No, it’s my fault.” She rumpled his hair. He smiled shyly, breaking through her somber mood. Flashing a gap-toothed grin, he flew off to join his friends. Faith laughed and rounded the corner, sprinting into O’Reilly Park. She breathed in the clean, crisp air thick with the scent of honeysuckle. Exhaling, she felt the tension drift from her body.

Oh, how she loved this neighborhood! This was home, her haven, her own little place of belonging. She loved everything about it, from the dirty-faced urchins lost in their games of stickball, to the revelry of neighborhood pubs whose music floated on the night breeze into the wee hours of the morning. This was the soul of Irish Boston, this south end of the city, a glorious piece of St. Patrick's Isle in the very heart of America. And to Faith, not unlike a large Irish family––brash, bustling and brimming with life.

Out of breath, she choked to a stop at a wall of overgrown forsythia bushes that sheltered her from view. Emptying her arms, she snapped the blanket in the air and positioned it perfectly, smoothing the wrinkles before tossing her journal and prayer book to the edge. She kicked off her shoes and flopped belly down, popping a pencil between her teeth. Thoughts of Collin McGuire suddenly blinked in her brain like a dozen fireflies on a summer night. Her teeth sank into the soft wood of the pencil. She tasted lead and spit.

No! I don’t want to think of him. Not anymore. And especially not with her. Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed the fluttering pages of her prayer book, conspicuous as it lay open at the edge of the blanket. Her chest heaved a sigh. “I’ve gone and done it again, haven’t I?” She glanced up, her lips quirking into a shaky smile. “People always seem so taken with my green eyes, but I don’t suppose ‘green with envy’ is too appealing, is it? I’ll get this right, I promise. In the meantime, please forgive me?” She breathed in deeply, taking air like a parched person gulping cool water. Her final prayer drifted out on a quiet sigh. “And yes, Lord, please bless my sister.”

She reached for her journal and flipped it open, staring hard at a page she’d penned months ago. Her vision suddenly blurred and she blinked, a tear plunking on the paper. Collin. She traced his name with her finger. It swam before her in a pool of ink.

Dreams. Silly, adolescent dreams, that’s all they were. She had no patience for dreamers. Not anymore. After years of pining over something she could never have, she chose to embrace the cold comfort of reality instead. No more daydreams of his smile, no more journal entries with his name, no more prayers for the impossible. She would not allow it.

She flipped the page over and closed her eyes, but it only produced a flood of memories. Memories of a gangly high school freshman, notebook in hand and heat in her cheeks, trembling on the threshold of the St. Mary’s Gazette. She could still see him looking up from the table, pencil in hand and another wedged behind his ear. He had stared, assessing her over a stack of books.

“Uh, Mm … Mrs. Mallory said … well, I … I m-mean she said that I was to be on the p-paper so I—”

Recognition dawned. His eyes softened and crinkled at the corners just a smitch before that slow smile eased across his lips. “Little Bit! So, you’re the young Emily Dickinson Mrs. Mallory’s been going on about. Well, I am impressed—we’ve never had a freshman on the staff before. Mrs. Mallory told me to take you under my wing.” He pushed pencil and paper across the table and grinned. “Better take notes.”

And, oh … she had! In the year they’d been friends, she’d taken note of that perilous smile whenever he was teasing or the fire in his eyes when somebody missed a deadline. She adored that obstinate strand of dark hair that tumbled over his forehead when he argued a point. And she loved the way his voice turned thick at the mere mention of his father. His love for his father had been fierce. He’d often spoken of the day they would finally work side by side in his father’s tiny printing business. McGuire & Son––just the sound of the words had caused Collin to tear up.

The death of his father a week before graduation had been a shock. Collin never showed up to claim his diploma. Someone said he’d found a job at the steel mill on the east side of town. Occasionally rumors would surface. About how much he’d changed. How wild he’d become. The endless string of hearts he always managed to break. Almost as if his passion and kindness had calcified. Hard and cold, like the steel he forged by day.

Faith dropped back on the blanket, her body still. She squeezed her eyes shut. Despite the warmth of the sun, her day was completely and utterly overcast. How dare her sister be so familiar with the likes of Collin McGuire? How dare he be so forward with her, in broad daylight, and right under their mother's nose? Faith was disgusted, angry and embarrassed, all at the same time. And never more jealous in all her life.

***

With coat slung over his shoulder and a stride in his step, Collin whistled his way to the corner of Baker and Brae. Slowing, he turned onto his street, keenly aware his whistling had faded. The bounce in his gait slowed to sludge as he neared the ramshackle flat he shared with his mother. At the base of the steps, he glanced up, his stomach muscles tensing as they usually did when he came home.

Home. The very word had become an obscenity. This house hadn’t been a home since his father’s last breath over three years ago. She’d made certain of that. Collin sighed, mounting the steep, cracked steps littered with flowering weeds. Sidestepping scattered pieces from a child’s erector set, his eyes flitted to his mother’s window. The crooked, yellowed shade was still down. Good. Maybe he could slip in and out.

He turned the knob quietly and eased himself into the front room, holding his breath as he closed the door. The click of the lock reverberated in his ears.

“It’s a real shame you don’t bother to dress that nicely for the good Lord.”

Collin spun around, his heart pounding. He forced a smile to his lips. “Mother! I thought you might be in bed with one of your headaches. I didn’t want to wake you.”

“I’m sure you didn’t.” Katherine McGuire stood in the doorway of her bedroom with arms folded across her chest, a faded blue dressing gown wrapped tightly around her regal frame. Her lips pressed into a thin line, as if a smile would violate the cool anger emanating from her steel-gray eyes.

When his mother did smile at him, an uncommon thing in itself, it was easy to see why his father had fallen hopelessly in love with her. At forty-one, she was still a striking woman. Rich, dark hair with a hint of gray only served to heighten the impact of the penetrating eyes now focused on him. Before she had married his father, she had been a belle of society. The air of refinement bred in her was evident as she stood straight and tall. She lifted her chin to assess him through disapproving eyes.

“She’s too good for the likes of you, you know.”

He stared back at her, a tic jerking in his cheek. Every muscle and sinew were poised to strike. He clamped his jaw, biting back the bitter retort that weighted his tongue. No, he would not allow her to win. Ever. He tossed his coat on the hook by the door and turned, a stiff smile on his face. “She doesn’t care, Mother. She’s in love.”

“Her father will. It’s not likely he’ll want a pauper courting his daughter.”

Collin shook his head and laughed, the sound of it hollow. He avoided her eyes as he headed to his room at the back of the flat. “I won’t be a pauper forever,” he called over his shoulder. “I’ve got plans.”

“So did your father. And you saw where they took him.”

Collin stopped, his back rigid and his eyes stinging with pent-up fury. He clenched and unclenched his fists. How had a man as good and kind as his father allowed her to control him? His mouth hardened. It didn’t matter. She would never control him. Not in his emotions, nor in his life. He exhaled slowly, continuing down the shadowy hall. “Have a good day, Mother,” he said. And closing his bedroom door behind him, he shut her out with a quiet click of the lock.

***

“But, Mother, it’s not fair! Why can’t Faith do it?” Charity demanded, wielding a stalk of celery in one hand and a paring knife in the other.

Marcy O’Connor didn’t have to look up from the cake she was frosting to know she had a fight on her hands. Usually she enjoyed this time of day, when the coolness of evening settled in and her children huddled in the warmth of the kitchen near the wood-burning stove. Tonight, five-year-old Katie sat Indian-style, force-feeding her bear from an imaginary teacup while her brother, Steven, a mature eight years old, practiced writing vocabulary words on a slate. On the rug in front of the fire sprawled twelve-year-old Elizabeth, a faraway look in her eyes as she lost herself in a favorite book. Marcy set the finished cake aside and reached for the warm milk and yeast. She poured it into a bowl of flour and began rolling up the sleeves of her blouse.

"I don't understand why Faith can't do it. She doesn't have anything else to do." Charity turned back to the sink to assault the celery with the knife.

"But, Mother, you know I'm reading to Mrs. Gerson Saturday evening or I’d be happy to stay with the children." Faith's tone sounded cautious as she appeared to devote full attention to chopping carrots for the stew. In unison, both girls looked up at their mother.

Marcy couldn't remember when she had felt so tired. Her eyes burned with fatigue as she kneaded the dough for the bread she was preparing. With the back of her hand, she pushed at a wisp of hair, a stray from the chignon twisted at the nape of her neck, feeling every bit of her forty years. She eyed her daughters with a tenuous smile, her mind flitting to a time when she’d been as young. A girl with golden hair and summer-blue eyes who’d won the heart of Patrick Brendan O'Connor and become his “Irish rose.” Marcy sighed. Well, tonight, the “rose” was pale, wilted, and definitely not up to a thorny confrontation between her two daughters.

She paused, her hands crusted with dough. "Tell me, Charity, why is it so important you’re free on this Saturday night, in particular?" Marcy didn’t miss the slight blush that crept into Charity's cheeks, nor the look on Faith’s face as she stopped to watch her sister’s response, cutlery poised mid-air.

"Well, there's a dance social at St. Agatha's. I was hoping to go, that's all."

Marcy resumed kneading the dough with considerably more vigor than before. “And with whom will you be going, may I ask?"

"Well … there's a group of us, you see …"

"Mmmm. Would a certain Collin McGuire be among them?" Marcy's fingers were flying.

Charity’s blush was full hue, blotching her face with a lovely shade of rose. "Well, yes … I think so … perhaps … of course, I'm not definitely sure …"

A thin cloud of flour escaped into the air as Marcy slapped the dough from her hands. "Charity, we've been over this before. Neither your father nor I are comfortable with you seeing that McGuire boy. He's too old."

"But he's only three years older than Faith,” Charity pleaded.

"Yes, and that's too old for you. And too old for your sister when it comes to the likes of him. Absolutely not. Your father will never allow it."

"But why, Mother? Mrs. McGuire is a good woman—"

"Yes, she's a good woman, who, I'm afraid, has let her son get the best of her. Ever since his father died, that boy has been nothing but trouble. He's fast, Charity, out for himself and willing to hurt anyone in the bargain. You can't possibly see or understand that now because you're only sixteen. But mark my words, your father and I are saving you a lot of heartbreak."

Marcy dabbed her forehead with the side of her sleeve while Faith scooped up carrots and plopped them into the boiling cauldron of stew. The kitchen was heating up, both from the fire of the stove and Charity’s seething glare.

"It's because of Faith, isn't it?" Charity demanded, slamming her fist on the table.

"Charity Katherine O'Connor!" Marcy whirled around, her tone scathing.

"It's true! You don't want me entertaining beaus because poor, little Faith sits home like a bump on a log and couldn't get a suitor if she advertised in The Boston Herald!"

Faith’s mouth gaped open and color seeped from her face. Her knuckles clenched white on the carrot she stabbed in the air. "I could have more beaus, too, if I flirted like one of the cheap girls at Brannigan’s!”

"Faith Mary O'Connor!” Marcy’s tone suggested sacrilege, her fingers twitching in the dough. The kitchen was deathly quiet except for the rolling boil of the stew. Katie began to whine, and Elizabeth bundled her in her arms, calming her with a gentle shush.

Charity leaned forward. Her lips curled in contempt. "You couldn't get beaus if you lined ‘em up and paid ‘em!"

"At least I wouldn't pay them with favors on the side porch …"

Marcy flinched as if slapped. "What?” she breathed. She turned toward Faith whose hand flew to her mouth in a gasp at the shock of her own words. Charity’s face was as white as the flour on Marcy’s hands. “With whom?” Marcy whispered.

“Collin McGuire,” Faith said, her voice barely audible.

It might as well have been an explosion. Marcy gasped. “Is this true, Charity? Look at me! Is this true?"

Charity's watery gaze met her mother's and she nodded, tears trickling her cheeks.

Marcy barely moved a muscle. "Faith, take the children upstairs."

Faith was silent as she picked Katie up to carry her from the room. Elizabeth followed with Steven behind. Charity was sobbing. Without a word, Marcy walked to the sink to wash the dough from her hands, then returned to her daughter's side, wrapping her arms around her. At her touch, Charity crumpled into her embrace like a wounded child. Marcy stroked her hair, waiting for the sobs to subside. When they did, she lifted Charity's quivering chin and looked in the eyes of the daughter-child who so wanted to be a woman.

"Charity, I love you. But that love charges me with responsibility for your well-being and happiness. I know you can’t understand this now, nor do you want to, but you must trust us. Collin McGuire is not the boy for you. He’s trouble, Charity. Behind that rakish smile and Irish charm is a young man whose only thought is for himself. I've seen you smile and flirt with a number of young lads, and I suppose with most young men, that's innocent enough. But not with him. It's stoking a fire that could seriously burn you. Now tell me what happened on the porch."

Charity sniffed, wiped her nose with her sleeve and straightened her shoulders. "He … he wants me to go to the social and he … Mother, it was only a kiss!"

"Yes, and I'm only your mother. Charity, I love you very much, but you’ll not be going to the social this Saturday nor anywhere else for the next month. You will come straight home after school each day and complete your studies. And you will have the chore of doing the supper dishes for four weeks." Marcy's tone softened. "But only because I love you."

Charity’s eyes glinted as she spun on her heel and headed for the door. "I could certainly do with a little less love, Mother," she hissed.

Marcy couldn't help but smile to herself. She had been sixteen once.

***

The door flew open and a blast of cool air surged in. Faith braced herself. Charity stood, wild-eyed, hands fisted at her sides. “I hate you!” she screamed. She slammed the door hard and leaned against it, her chest heaving from the effort. "I will never forgive you for what you did. You are a wicked, evil person, and I hope you die an old maid!" She lunged and knocked Faith flat on the bed, yanking a fistful of hair.

“Ow!” Faith hollered, pain unleashing her fury. She kneed Charity in the stomach and

rolled her over, pinning her to the bed. "Stop it, Charity––I mean it! I never meant to tell Mother anything, and you know it. But you were so mean and hateful, it just popped out.” Her breath came in ragged gasps. “Look, I don't want to fight with you."

Charity scowled. "Fine way to prove it. I still don't know if I'm going to forgive you. You've gone and ruined everything with Collin. It’s going to be twice as difficult to see him now." She tugged her arms free and pushed her away.

In slow motion, Faith sat on the bed, incredulous her sister would even entertain the thought of defying their mother. "But you're not supposed to. Not now, not ever––that's the whole point Mother's been making. Don't you understand that?"

"Yes, I understand that," Charity mimicked. "My head knows it, but I’m afraid my heart’s having a bit of a problem." She stood up from the bed and smiled. "But you don’t quite get it either, do you, Faith? I love him. It's as simple as that. Mother may forbid me from seeing him, but she can't forbid me from loving him." Charity posed in the mirror, then hugged herself and whirled around, her golden hair spinning about her like a fallen halo.

Faith’s jaw dropped. "You can't love him! You’re sixteen, and he’s twenty-one. You don't even know him!"

"Oh, yes, I do,” she breathed, “and he’s wonderful!” She gave Faith a sly smile. “You know the studying I've been doing at the library? Well, I've been studying all right––my favorite subject in the whole world."

Faith’s facial muscles slacked into shock, prompting a peal of laughter from her sister. Charity plopped on the bed and grabbed her hand. "Oh, Faith, he's amazing! He's funny and bright, and all I know is I'm happier than I've ever been.”

"You didn't look so happy on the porch this afternoon." Faith snatched her hand away.

A flicker of annoyance flashed on Charity's face and then disappeared into a sheepish grin. "Yes, I know, he can be maddening at times. It’s part of his charm, I suppose. But I can handle him." Charity stood and reached for the hairbrush. She began stroking her hair in a trancelike motion.

"You didn't appear to be the one doing the handling …"

The brushing stopped. Slowly Charity turned, all smiles diminished. "I know what I'm doing, and I'll thank you to stay out of it. I love him. That's all there is to it." Charity tossed the brush on the bed and turned to leave, but not before bestowing one final smile. "I trust you, Faith. We’re sisters. And sisters love each other, right?"

Faith gritted her teeth. The Bible she read to Mrs. Gerson every Saturday night claimed "love never fails." She certainly hoped not.
Senior Pictures!







Dragonlight



It is June FIRST, time for the FIRST Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!





The feature author is:



and her book:


DragonLight
WaterBrook Press (June 17, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Donita K. Paul is a retired teacher and award-winning author of seven novels, including DragonSpell, DragonQuest, DragonKnight, and DragonFire. When not writing, she is often engaged in mentoring writers of all ages. Donita lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado where she is learning to paint–walls and furniture! Visit her website at www.dragonkeeper.us.

The Books of the DragonKeeper Series:

DragonSpell
DragonQuest
DragonKnight
DragonFire
DragonLight

Visit her website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Castle Passages

Kale wrinkled her nose at the dank air drifting up from the stone staircase. Below, utter darkness created a formidable barrier.

Toopka stood close to her knee. Sparks skittered across the doneel child’s furry hand where she clasped the flowing, soft material of Kale’s wizard robe. Kale frowned down at her ward. The little doneel spent too much time attached to her skirts to be captivated by the light show. Instead, Toopka glowered into the forbidding corridor. “What’s down
there?”

Kale sighed. “I’m not sure.”

“Is it the dungeon?”

“I don’t think we have a dungeon.”

Toopka furrowed her brow in confusion. “Don’t you know? It’s your castle.”

“A castle built by committee.” Kale’s face grimaced at the memory of weeks of creative chaos. She put her hand on Toopka’s soft head.

The doneel dragged her gaze away from the stairway, tilted her head back, and frowned at her guardian. “What’s ‘by committee’?”

“You remember, don’t you? It was just five years ago.”

“I remember the wizards coming and the pretty tents in the meadow.” Toopka pursed her lips. “And shouting. I remember shouting.” “They were shouting because no one was listening. Twenty-one wizards came for the castle raising. Each had their own idea about what we needed. So they each constructed their fragment of the castle structure according to their whims.”

Toopka giggled.

“I don’t think it’s funny. The chunks of castle were erected, juxtaposed with the others, but not as a whole unit. I thank Wulder that at least my parents had some sense. My mother and father connected the tads, bits, and smidgens together with steps and short halls. When nothing else would work, they formed gateways from one portion to another.”

The little doneel laughed out loud and hid her face in Kale’s silky wizard’s robe. Miniature lightning flashes enveloped Toopka’s head and cascaded down her neck, over her back, and onto the floor like a waterfall of sparks.

Kale cut off the flow of energy and placed a hand on the doneel’s shoulder. “Surely you remember this, Toopka.”

She looked up, her face growing serious. “I was very young then.”

Kale narrowed her eyes and examined the child’s innocent face. “As long as I have known you, you’ve appeared to be the same age. Are you ever going to grow up?”

Toopka shrugged, then the typical smile of a doneel spread across her face. Her thin black lips stretched, almost reaching from ear to ear. “I’m growing up as fast as I can, but I don’t think I’m the one in charge. If I were in charge, I would be big enough to have my own dragon, instead of searching for yours.”

The statement pulled Kale back to her original purpose. No doubt she had been manipulated yet again by the tiny doneel, but dropping the subject of Toopka’s age for the time being seemed prudent.

Kale rubbed the top of Toopka’s head. The shorter fur between her ears felt softer than the hair on the child’s arms. Kale always found it soothing to stroke Toopka’s head, and the doneel liked it as well.

Kale let her hand fall to her side and pursued their mission. “Gally and Mince have been missing for a day and a half. We must find them. Taylaminkadot said she heard an odd noise when she came down to the storeroom.” Kale squared her shoulders and took a step down into the dark, dank stairwell. “Gally and Mince may be down here, and they may be in trouble.”

“How can you know who’s missing?” Toopka tugged on Kale’s robe, letting loose a spray of sparkles. “You have hundreds of minor dragons in the castle and more big dragons in the fields.”

“I know.” Kale put her hand in front of her, and a globe of light appeared, resting on her palm. “I’m a Dragon Keeper. I know when any of my dragons have missed a meal or two.” She stepped through the doorway.

Toopka tugged on Kale’s gown. “May I have a light too?”

“Of course.” She handed the globe to the doneel. The light flickered. Kale tapped it, and the glow steadied. She produced another light to sit in her own hand and proceeded down the steps.

Toopka followed, clutching the sparkling cloth of Kale’s robe in one hand and the light in the other. “I think we should take a dozen guards with us.”

“I don’t think there’s anything scary down here, Toopka. After all, as you reminded me, this is our castle, and we certainly haven’t invited anything nasty to live with us.”

“It’s the things that come uninvited that worry me.”

“All right. Just a moment.” Kale turned to face the archway at the top of the stairs, a few steps up from where they stood.

She reached with her mind to the nearest band of minor dragons. Soon chittering dragon voices, a rainbow vision of soft, flapping, leathery wings, and a ripple of excitement swept through her senses. She heard Artross, the leader of this watch, call for his band to mind their manners, listen to orders, and calm themselves.

Kale smiled her greeting as they entered the stairway and circled above her. She turned to Toopka, pleased with her solution, but Toopka scowled. Obviously, the doneel was not impressed with the arrival of a courageous escort.

Kale opened her mouth to inform Toopka that a watch of dragons provides sentries, scouts, and fighters. And Bardon had seen to their training. But the doneel child knew this.

Each watch formed without a Dragon Keeper’s instigation. Usually eleven to fifteen minor dragons developed camaraderie, and a leader emerged. A social structure developed within each watch. Kale marveled at the process. Even though she didn’t always understand the choices, she did nothing to alter the natural way of establishing the hierarchy and respectfully worked with what was in place.

Artross, a milky white dragon who glowed in the dark, had caught Kale’s affections. She sent a warm greeting to the serious-minded leader and received a curt acknowledgment. The straight-laced young dragon with his tiny, mottled white body tickled her. Although they didn’t look alike in the least, Artross’s behavior reminded Kale of her husband’s personality.

Kale nodded at Toopka and winked. “Now we have defenders.”

“I think,” said the doneel, letting go of Kale’s robe and stepping down a stair, “it would be better if they were bigger and carried swords.”

Kale smiled as one of the younger dragons landed on her shoulder. He pushed his violet head against her chin, rubbing with soft scales circling between small bumps that looked like stunted horns. Toopka skipped ahead with the other minor dragons flying just above her head.

“Hello, Crain,” said Kale, using a fingertip to stroke his pink belly. She’d been at his hatching a week before. The little dragon chirred his contentment. “With your love of learning, I’m surprised you’re not in the library with Librettowit.”

A scene emerged in Kale’s mind from the small dragon’s thoughts. She hid a smile. “I’m sorry you got thrown out, but you must not bring your snacks into Librettowit’s reading rooms. A tumanhofer usually likes a morsel of food to tide him over, but not when the treat threatens to smudge the pages of his precious books.” She felt the small beast shudder at the memory of the librarian’s angry voice. “It’s all right, Crain. He’ll forgive you and let you come back into his bookish sanctum. And he’ll delight in helping you find all sorts of wonderful facts.”

Toopka came scurrying back. She’d deserted her lead position in the company of intrepid dragons. The tiny doneel dodged behind Kale and once more clutched the sparkling robe. Kale shifted her attention to a commotion ahead and sought out the thoughts of the leader Artross. “What’s wrong?” asked Kale, but her answer came as she tuned in to the leader of the dragon watch.

Artross trilled orders to his subordinates. Kale saw the enemy through the eyes of this friend.

An anvilhead snake slid over the stone floor of a room stacked high with large kegs. His long black body stretched out from a nook between two barrels. With the tail of the serpent hidden, she had no way of knowing its size. These reptiles’ heads outweighed their bodies. The muscled section behind the base of the jaws could be as much as six inches wide. But the length of the snake could be from three feet to thirty.

Kale shuddered but took another step down the passage.

Artross looked around the room and spotted another section of ropelike body against the opposite wall. Kegs hid most of the snake.

Kale grimaced. Another snake? Or the end of the one threatening my dragons?

The viper’s heavy head advanced, and the distant portion moved with the same speed.

One snake.

“Toopka, stay here,” she ordered and ran down the remaining steps. She tossed the globe from her right hand to her left and pulled her sword from its hiding place beneath her robe. Nothing appeared to be in her hand, but Kale felt the leather-bound hilt secure in her grip. The old sword had been given to her by her mother, and Kale knew
how to use the invisible blade with deadly precision.

“Don’t let him get away,” she called as she increased her speed through the narrow corridor.

The wizard robe dissolved as she rushed to join her guard. Her long dress of azure and plum reformed itself into leggings and a tunic. The color drained away and returned as a pink that would rival a stunning sunset. When she reached the cold, dark room, she cast her globe into the air. Floating in the middle of the room, it tripled in size and gave off a brighter light.

The dragons circled above the snake, spitting their caustic saliva with great accuracy. Kale’s skin crawled at the sight of the coiling reptile. More and more of the serpentine body emerged from the shadowy protection of the stacked kegs. Obviously, the snake did not fear these intruders.

Even covered with splotches of brightly colored spit, the creature looked like the loathsome killer it was. Kale’s two missing dragons could have been dinner for the serpent. She searched the room with the talent Wulder had bestowed upon her and concluded the little ones still lived.

The reptile hissed at her, raised its massive head, and swayed in a threatening posture. The creature slithered toward her, propelled by the elongated body still on the floor. Just out of reach of Kale’s sword, the beast stopped, pulled its head back for the strike, and let out a slow, menacing hiss. The snake lunged, and Kale swung her invisible weapon. The severed head sailed across the room and slammed against the stone wall.

Kale eyed the writhing body for a moment. “You won’t be eating any more small animals.” She turned her attention to the missing dragons and pointed her sword hand at a barrel at the top of one stack. “There. Gally and Mince are in that keg.”

Several dragons landed on the wooden staves, and a brown dragon examined the cask to determine how best to open it. Toopka ran into the room and over to the barrel. “I’ll help.”

Kale tilted her head. “There is also a nest of snake eggs.” She consulted the dragon most likely to know facts about anvilhead vipers. Crain landed on her shoulder and poured out all he knew in a combination of chittering and thoughts.

The odd reptiles preferred eating young farm animals, grain, and feed. They did nothing to combat the population of rats, insects, and vermin. No farmer allowed the snakes on his property if he could help it. “Find the nest,” Kale ordered. “Destroy them all.”

The watch of dragons took flight again, zooming into lightrockilluminated passages leading off from this central room. Kale waited until a small group raised an alarm. Four minor dragons had found the nest.

She plunged down a dim passage, sending a plume of light ahead and calling for the dispersed dragons to join her. Eleven came from the other corridors, and nine flew in a V formation in front of her. Gally and Mince landed on her shoulders.

“You’re all right. I’m so glad.”

They scooted next to her neck, shivering. From their minds she deciphered the details of their ordeal. A game of hide-and-seek had led them into the depths of the castle. When the snake surprised them, they’d flown under the off-center lid of the barrel. As Mince dove into the narrow opening, he knocked the top just enough for it to rattle down into place. This successfully kept the serpent out, but also trapped them within.

Kale offered sympathy, and they cuddled against her, rubbing their heads on her chin as she whisked through the underground tunnel in pursuit of the other dragons.

Numerous rooms jutted off the main hallway, each stacked with boxes, crates, barrels, and huge burlap bags. Kale had no idea this vast amount of storage lay beneath the castle. Taylaminkadot, their efficient housekeeper and wife to Librettowit, probably had a tally sheet listing each item. Kale and the dragons passed rooms that contained fewer and fewer supplies until the stores dwindled to nothing.

How long does this hallway continue on? She slowed to creep along and tiptoed over the stone floor, noticing the rougher texture under her feet. Approaching a corner, she detected the four minor dragons destroying the snake’s nest in the next room. Her escort of flying dragons veered off into the room, and she followed. The small dragons swooped over the nest, grabbed an egg, then flew to the beamed roof of the storage room. They hurled the eggs to the floor, and most broke open on contact. Some had more rubbery shells, a sign that they would soon hatch. The minor dragons attacked these eggs with tooth and claw. Once each shell gave way, the content was pulled out and examined. No
hatchling snake survived.

The smell alone halted Kale in her tracks and sent her back a pace. She screwed up her face, but no amount of pinching her nose muscles cut off the odor of raw eggs and the bodies of unborn snakes. She produced a square of moonbeam material from her pocket and covered the lower half of her face. The properties of the handkerchief filtered the unpleasant aroma.

Her gaze fell on the scene of annihilation. Usually, Kale found infant animals to be endearing, attractive in a gangly way. But the small snake bodies looked more like huge blackened worms than babies.

Toopka raced up behind her and came to a skidding stop when she reached the doorway. “Ew!” She buried her face in the hem of Kale’s tunic, then peeked out with her nose still covered.

The minor dragons continued to destroy the huge nest. Kale estimated over a hundred snake eggs must have been deposited in the old shallow basket. The woven edges sagged where the weight of the female snake had broken the reeds. Kale shuddered at the thought of all those snakes hatching and occupying the lowest level of the castle, her home. The urge to be above ground, in the light, and with her loved ones compelled her out of the room.

Good work, she commended the dragons as she backed into the passage. Artross, be sure that no egg is left unshattered.

She received his assurance, thanked him, then turned about and ran. She must find Bardon.

“Wait for me!” Toopka called. Her tiny, booted feet pounded the stone floor in a frantic effort to catch up.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008



It is April FIRST--no foolin'--, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!




The special feature author is:

and his book:


Ryann Watters and the King's Sword
Creation House (May 2008)

Illustrated by: Corey Wolfe



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eric J. Reinhold is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. The former Naval officer writes extensively for a variety of national financial publications in his position as a Certified Financial Planner® and President of Academy Wealth Management. His passion for writing a youth fantasy novel was fueled by nightly impromptu storytelling to his children and actively serving in the middle and high school programs at First Baptist Sweetwater Church in Longwood, Florida.

Visit him at his website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The
Angel’s Visitation



It first appeared as a gentle glow, almost like a child’s night-light. Heavy shadows filled the room as the boy lay face up, covers tucked neatly under his arms. A slight smile on his face hinted that he was in the midst of a pleasant dream.

Ryann Watters, who had just celebrated his twelfth birthday, rolled lazily onto his side, his blond hair matted into the pillow, unaware of the glow as it began to intensify. Shadows searched for hiding places throughout the room as the glow transformed from a pale yellow hue to brilliant white.

Ryann’s eyelids fluttered briefly and then flickered at the glare reflecting off his pale blue bedroom walls. Drowsily, he turned toward the light expecting to see one of his parents coming in to check on him. “What’s going on?” his voice cracked as he reached up to rub the crusty sleep from his eyes.

***

Under a pale half-moon, Drake Dunfellow’s house looked just like any other. A closer inspection, however, would reveal its failing condition. Water oaks lining the side of the curved driveway hunched over haggardly, like old men struggling on canes. The lawn, which should have been a lively green for early spring, was withered and sandy. A few patches of grass were sprinkled here and there. Rust lines streaked down the one jagged peak atop the tin-roof house. The flimsy clapboard sides were outlined by fading white trim speckled with dried paint curls. Hanging baskets containing a variety of plants and weeds all struggling to stay alive shared the crowded front porch with two mildew-covered rocking chairs. Inside, magazines and newspaper clippings both old and new were carelessly strewn about. Encrusted dishes from the previous day’s meals battled each other for space in the bulging kitchen sink. In the garage, away from the usual living areas, was a boy’s room. Dull paneling outlined the bedroom, while equally dreary brown linoleum covered the floor. The bedroom must have been an afterthought because not much consideration had been given to the details. A bookcase cut from rough planks sat atop an old garage sale dresser.

Moonlight pressing through the dust-covered metal blinds tried to provide a sense of peacefulness. Instead it revealed bristly red hair atop a young boy’s head poking out from beneath a mushy feather pillow. His heavy breathing provided the only movement in the quiet room. Tiny droplets of perspiration lined his brow as he began jerking about under the thin cotton sheets.

Starting at the edge of the window, the blackness spread downward, transforming all traces of light to an oily dinginess. Drake was slowly surrounded and remained the only thing not saturated in the darkness. Bolting upright to a stiff-seated attention, Drake’s bloodshot eyes darted back and forth. He stared into the black nothingness shuddering and aware that the only thing visible in the room was his bed.

“Who . . . who’s there?” Drake cried out, puzzled by the hollow sound that didn’t seem to travel beyond the edge of his mattress. Beads of sweat trickled down his neck, connecting his numerous freckled dots. He strained, slightly tilting his head, ears perked. There was no reply.

***

Neatly manicured streets wandered through the Watters’s sleepy, rolling neighborhood. If someone had been walking along in the wee morning hours of March 15, they would have noticed the brilliant white light peeking out from around Ryann’s shade. Below his second-story window the normally darkened bed of pink, red, and white impatiens was lit up as in the noonday sun.

Ryann was fully awake now and quite positive that the dazzling aura facing him from in front of his window was not the hall light from his parents entering the bedroom. Golden hues flowed out of the whiteness, showering itself on everything in the room. It reminded Ryann of sprinkles of pixie dust in some of his favorite childhood books. His blue eyes grew wide trying to capture the unbelievable event unfolding before him.

“Fear not, Ryann,” a confident, yet kind, voice began. “I have come to do the bidding of one much greater than I and who you have found favor with.”

Rapid pulses in his chest gripped Ryann as he struggled to understand what was happening. Instinctively he grasped his navy blue bed sheets and pulled them up so that only his eyes and the top of his head peeked out from his self-made cocoon. Squinting to reduce the brilliance before him, Ryann stared into the light, trying to detect a form while questions scrambled around his mind. What had the voice meant by “finding favor,” and who had sent him? As Ryann struggled to work this out, the center of the whiteness began to take the shape of a man. Human in appearance, he looked powerful, but there was a calmness about his face, like that of an experienced commander before going into battle. Ryann recalled hearing about angels in his Sunday school class at church. He wondered if this could be one.

“Ryann, thou have found favor with the One who sent me. You will be given much and much will be required of you.”

Still shaking, Ryann was fairly certain he was safe. “S-s-s . . . sir, are you an angel?”

“You have perceived correctly.” “And . . . I’ve been chosen by someone . . . for something?” Ryann asked.

“The One who knows you better than you know yourself,” the angel answered.

Ryann knew he must be talking about God, but what could God possibly want with him?

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Thou must search out and put on the full armor of God so that you can take a stand against the devil’s schemes. For your struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

“The devil? Forces of evil? I’m just a kid,” Ryann said. “What could I possibly have to do with all of this? You’ve got to be making a mistake.”

“There are no mistakes with God. Thou have heard of David?”

“You mean the David from David and Goliath?” Ryann asked.

The angel nodded. “He was also a boy chosen by God to accomplish great things. God chooses to show His power by using the powerless.”

Ryann tried to comprehend the magnitude of what this mighty being was saying to him. Realizing he was still sitting in his bed, covers bunched around him, he pulled them aside and swung his feet out, never taking his eyes off the angel. Landing firmly on the carpet, Ryann’s wobbly knees barely supported him, the bed acting as a wall between him and the angel.

“Who are you?”

“I am Gabriel and have come to give you insight and understanding.”

“Wow!” Ryann couldn’t believe this was the same angel who had appeared to Joseph and Mary in the Christmas story he heard every December. The lines of excitement on his face drooped as he fidgeted, thinking about the angel’s words. “I don’t want to . . . seem . . . ungrateful,” Ryann hesitated, “but . . . is there any way you can . . . ask someone else?”

“Only you have been given this trial, Ryann, yet you shall not be alone.”

“Who will help me?”

“As the young shepherd boy David spoke, ‘The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and He delivers them. For He commands His angels to guard you in all your ways.’” Gabriel’s twinkling gaze rose as he stretched his arms heavenward, “And these will assist you along the way.”

Beckoning Ryann from behind the bed, the angel glided effortlessly forward to greet him. Walking to within a foot of Gabriel, Ryann bowed humbly, basking in the radiant glow that emanated all around him. Reaching out, the angel grasped Ryann’s left hand firmly and slipped a gold ring, topped by a clear bubble-like stone, onto his finger. Before he could inspect it, the angel took his other hand and placed a long metal pole in it. Ryann’s hand slid easily up and down the smooth metal finish. Its shape and size were similar to a pool cue. Bone-white buttons protruded from just below where he gripped the staff. They were numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Mesmerized by the gifts that begged for more attention and questions, Ryann hardly noticed Gabriel loop a long leather cord through his arm and around his neck. From it a curved ivory horn hung loosely below his waist, resting on his hip.

As Gabriel finished and backed away, Ryann continued marveling at each of the gifts. Reaching down to inspect the horn, he ran his hands along its smooth, yet pitted surface, until he reached the small gold-tipped opening. He wondered how old the horn was and if it had been used before.

“What do I do with these? How do I use them?”

“It is not for me to reveal,” answered the angel calmly. “You shall find out in due time.”

“But what do I do now?”

“Thou must seek the King’s sword.”

“How? What King? Where do I look?” Ryann blurted out, panicking as questions continued to pop into his head.

“The Spirit will lead you, and the ring will open the way,” the angel replied as he began floating backwards, the light peeling away with him.

“Wait, wait! Don’t leave—I don’t know enough—where do I go now?”

“Remember,” Gabriel’s clear voice began to fade, “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that you may be thoroughly equipped for all good works.”

Clutching the mysterious heavenly gifts he had been given, Ryann collapsed in a heap on his bed, body and mind drained from his supernatural encounter. He drifted into a welcomed sleep.

***

It seemed Drake’s bedroom no longer existed. Only his bed remained, an island floating in a sea of darkness that completely surrounded him. His eyes bulged, darting about for anything that would give him a hint of what was going on. A cool draft drifted down his neck, chilling him despite the safety of his covers. Caught between reality and a nightmare, he let loose a scream that normally would have been heard throughout the house and beyond, but now was absorbed into the heavy darkness enveloping him.

“Who’s there?” he said again. He pinched himself to see if he was dreaming.

With a loud swoooooooosh, huge wings shot out of the darkness surrounding his bed. Drake dove for the safety of his covers.

A thunderous, commanding voice ordered, “Come out from hiding and stand up!”

Drake hesitated, knuckles tense and white as they curled tightly around the edges of his blanket.

“Now!” the voice thundered.

Jerking his covers off, Drake scurried to the edge of the bed, lost his balance, and awkwardly fell face-first onto the cool floor. Petrified at what he might see, yet too scared to disobey, he raised his head slightly. Half expecting some hideous beast, Drake was surprised at what he was facing. The black-winged warrior towering over him was imposing enough to paralyze anyone with fear, but his face was what captivated Drake. Instead of a hideous three-eyed ghoul with fangs, like Drake imagined, he stared into one of the most ruggedly handsome faces he had ever seen. Drake froze, mesmerized.

“Sit up and listen closely, human,” the dark angel began, closing his wings in an effortless swish. Lowering his voice, he spoke in a precise, but less threatening tone. “I have chosen you to carry out my wishes.”

Drake raised himself to a clumsy crouch. The face he looked intently into was perfect in almost every way, except for a long thin scar that traveled from his left ear to his jaw. He was convinced now that this wasn’t a monster trying to devour him.

“Why me?”

The angel’s scar became more noticeable when he smiled at Drake. “I have been here before with great success and have reason to believe you will serve me well.”

“What do you want me to do?” Drake blurted.

“The one who seeks to bind me must be stopped!”

Drake stumbled backwards, putting a hand on the floor to keep from falling. Swallowing hard, he could feel the black, penetrating eyes staring deep into his.

“You are the one,” the creature said confidently.

No one had ever chosen Drake for anything, yet this powerful being wanted him. He didn’t know if he could trust the dark angel or not, but the chance for power excited Drake. “How do I do it?”

The dark angel continued to smile, sensing the blackness in Drake’s heart spreading murkily throughout his body.

“I will be your eyes and ears, a guide to lead you in the right direction, and,” he hesitated, “I will give you these.”

The dark-winged angel stretched out his hand, his index finger pointing toward the empty floor in front of him. Immediately three items appeared before Drake’s eyes. He blinked again. They were still there. Drake’s hand shot out in a blur to grab the closest item.

“Stop!”

Drake froze, and then cowered, his eyes shifting back to the booming voice as he slowly retracted his hand. His eyes darted back and forth between the three items and the dark angel in the awkward silence.

“You move when I tell you to move. Now . . . kneel before me, child of the earth, while I make you ready for your task.”

Still hunched-over, Drake pitched forward onto his knees with his head bowed, eyes glancing upward in anticipation.

“My first gift to you is a cloak of darkness. It will provide you with cover at night. You and the night shall become one.”

Drake reached out his hands to receive the cloak. It felt smooth and slippery. Looking intently at it, the cloak seemed several feet thick, as if it was projecting darkness.

“My second gift to you is a ring of suggestion. With it you will have the ability to project persuasive thoughts to those who are weak-willed or in the midst of indecision.” Powerful hands with long curled fingers took hold of Drake’s hand, spreading an icy chill from the tip of his fingers to his wrist. As the creature slipped the black band onto his finger, Drake briefly noticed a red blotch on the top. His hand felt stiff, then the numbness traveled up his arm and throughout his body. Chattering clicks from his own teeth broke the silence as he awaited the angel’s next words. “Lastly, I provide you with a bow and arrows of fire. These arrows were formed in the lake of fire and will deliver physical and mental anguish to those they touch.”

“Thank you . . . uhh . . . what should I call you?” Drake asked.

“I am one of the stars that fell from heaven. My master is Shandago and I am his chief messenger. You may call me Lord Ekron.”

“Thank you, Lord Ekron, for these gifts. I may be young, but I’ll do as you ask to the best of my ability.”

“It is expected. Also, these items I have given to you are not for use in this world. When the time is right, you will find a passage into another land. There you will put these gifts to work.”

The darkness in the room began to rush toward Lord Ekron, as if he were absorbing it, except he wasn’t getting bigger—only darker. Drake kept staring at him, trying not to blink, so he wouldn’t miss anything. Despite his efforts, the dark angel began to fade, and Drake found himself peering into the darkness at the blank wall. When he was sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him and enough time passed so that he felt safe to move, he stood up.

Drake would have thought this was all a bad dream, but the items he held in his hand were proof that it was real. He ran his hands through the dense blackness of the slick cloak, wondering how he might use it. Drake was anxious to try the bow and arrows as well. He didn’t dare pull the arrows out of their quiver right now, but decided that he would have to buy a regular bow and quiver of arrows as soon as possible so that he could begin practicing. Looking down at his hand, he examined the unusual ring he now wore. The entire band was a glossy black, except for the unusual red marking on the top, which resembled a flying dragon.

Not much had gone right for Drake during the first thirteen years of his life. “Now things are going to be different,” he thought. The smile inching across his face looked evil. He knew with Lord Ekron at his side no one would be able to tell him what to do.


BUY THE BOOK AT WWW.RYANNWATTERS.COM/


Monday, April 14, 2008