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FIRST WILD CARD TOURS: Scream by Mike Dellosso

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

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Scream

Realms (March 3, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Mike now lives in Hanover, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Jen, and their three daughters. He is a regular columnist for AVirtuousWoman.org, was a newspaper correspondent/columnist for over three years, has published several articles for The Candle of Prayer inspirational booklets, and has edited and contributed to numerous Christian-themed Web sites and e-newsletters. Mike is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers association, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, the Relief Writer’s Network, and FaithWriters, and plans to join International Thriller Writers once published. He received his BA degree in sports exercise and medicine from Messiah College and his MBS degree in theology from Master’s Graduate School of Divinity.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Realms (March 3, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1599794691
ISBN-13: 978-1599794693

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Chapter 1

?

Mark Stone could still smell the grease on
his hands.

No matter how hard he scrubbed or what fancy soap he used, the residue remained, stained into the creases of his fingers and caked under his fingernails. In a way, though, it was comforting. At least something in his life was still predictable. He gripped the steering wheel of his classic Mustang with both hands and willed his eyes to stay open. The hum of rubber on asphalt was almost hypnotic. It had been a long day at the shop, and he was ready to go home, soak in a hot shower until he puckered like a raisin, and get cozy with his pillow.

Outside, the headlights cut a swath of pale yellow light through the dense autumn darkness. Stars dotted the night like glitter on black felt. A pocked moon dangled low in the sky in front of him, a cratered carrot on the end of an unseen string, leading him home, home to the comfort of his bed.

His cell phone chimed the theme from The Dukes of Hazzard. Mark turned down the radio and flipped open the phone. It was Jeff Beaverson. “Jeffrey.”

“Hey, buddy. How goes it?”

Mark glanced at the dashboard clock—10:10. “Kinda late for you, isn’t it?”

Jeff laughed. “You know me too well. I was at my parents’ house installing a new hot water heater, and it took longer than I thought it would. I’m heading home now. Gonna walk in the door and drop myself right into bed. You in the car?”

“On my way home.”

“Boy, you’re putting in some late hours.”

“Yeah, business is good right now. Keeps my mind off…stuff. You know.”

“I know, buddy. I’ve been thinking about you. Thought I’d check in and make sure we’re still on for tomorrow.”

Tomorrow. Saturday. He and Jeff were scheduled to meet for breakfast at The Victory.

On the radio, John Mellencamp was belting out “Small Town.”

“Yeah. Seven o’clock. You still…kay with…at?”

“Sure. Where are you? You’re breakin’ up.”

“Mill Road. Down…oopers Hollow…lasts a…ittle.”

Mark paused and tapped his hand to the beat of the music. Jeff’s voice boomed into his ear. “Am I back? Can you hear me now?”

“Yeah, I can hear you fine now,” Mark said with a laugh.

Jeff snorted into the phone. “I always lose my bars along that stretch. Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you…”

Jeff’s voice was suddenly drowned by a hideous screaming. Not just one voice, but a multitude of voices mingling and colliding, merging and blending in a cacophony of wails and groans, grunts and cries. A million mouths weeping and howling in bone-crunching pain. Agony. As if their skin was being peeled off inch by inch and their burning anguish was somehow captured on audio. It rose in volume, lasted maybe five, six seconds, then stopped just as abruptly as it had started.

Mark clicked off the radio and pressed the phone tighter against his ear. Goose bumps crawled over his arms. “Jeff? You OK, man?”

There was a pause, then, “Yeah. Yes. I’m fine. What the blazes was that? Did you hear it?”

Mark massaged the steering wheel with his left hand. “Yeah, I heard it. Sounded like something out of some horror movie.” Or hell. Weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Weird.”

“Maybe our signals got tangled with something else. Weird is right. Anyway, I’ve been wanting to ask you—and we can talk more about it tomorrow if you want—how are you and Cheryl doing?”

Mark clenched his jaw, pressing his molars together. Cheryl. Don’t make me go there, Jeff. It’s too soon. “I don’t know. I think it’s over.”

“Over?”

Over. Finished. Kaput. I blew it, and now I have to live with it. “Nothing official yet. But she pretty much made it clear she doesn’t want anything to do with me.”

Jeff paused and sighed into the phone. “Man, I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do?”

Mark slowed the Mustang around a hairpin turn. He didn’t want to talk about this now. He wasn’t ready. And besides, it was late, and he was tired. “No. I don’t even think there’s anything more I can do. Can we talk about it in the morning?”

“Absolutely. I just…wait. Hang on a sec. What’s this guy—”

The sound of screeching tires filled the receiver. Rubber howling against asphalt. Then a low earthy rumble…Jeff grunting…crunching metal and shattering glass.

Mark leaned heavy on the brake, and the Mustang fishtailed to a stop. The engine growled impatiently. “Jeff? You there?”

Nothing. Not even static. His pulse throbbed in his ears.

Mark dialed Jeff’s number. Four rings. “Hello, this is Jeff.” Voice mail. Great. “You know what to do.” A woman’s voice came on. “To leave a voice message, press one or wait for the tone. To—”

Mark’s thumb skidded over the keypad, dialing 911.

?

Sheriff Wiley Hickock sidestepped down the steep embankment, sweeping the light from his flashlight to and fro in a short arc. Up above, a couple of firefighters were winding a hose; two others were stripping out of their gear. Lights flashed in an even rhythm, illuminating the area in a slow strobe of red and white. Red, red, white; red, red, white. The pungent smell of melted rubber and burnt flesh permeated the air. Three towers holding four floodlights each lit up the area like a baseball stadium during a night game.

When he reached the bottom, Hickock surveyed the ball of twisted, smoldering metal that had once been a Honda Civic before it bulldozed ten feet of oak saplings and wrapped around the scarred trunk of a mature walnut tree. Tongues of smoke curled from the misshapen steel and licked at the leaves of the walnut. A large swath of ground had been dug up, exposing the dark, rich soil.

Deputy Jessica Foreman headed toward him. Her dark russet hair looked like it had been hastily pulled back in a loose ponytail. Her uniform was wrinkled, a road map of creases. Her hands were sheathed in blackened latex gloves.

Wiley frowned as she approached. “Sorry to get you out here on your day off, Jess. Thanks for helping out, though.”

Jess tugged off the latex gloves and swept a rebellious lock of hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear. “Do what’s gotta be done, right?”

Wiley squinted and ran a finger over his mustache. “That’s what they say. When did fire and EMS get here?” There were still some firefighters milling around the wreckage, poking at it with their axes. Two paramedics were standing off to the right, talking and laughing.

“’Bout twenty minutes ago. Didn’t take long to douse the fire.” She glanced at the paramedics. “No need for those guys. Did you notice the skid marks on the road?”

Wiley nodded, keeping his eyes on what barely resembled a car. The driver was still in there. He could see his rigid, charred body still smoldering. Mouth open in a frozen scream. Lips peeled back. Back arched. Fingers curled around the steering wheel. He’d seen it only once before—a burned body. It was revolting, and yet there was something about it that held his gaze, as if the burnt stiff had reached out with those bony, black fingers and grabbed his eyeballs—Look at me!

He shut his eyes tight, trying to push the memory of the other burnt corpse from his mind. He knew it would never leave, though. It was seared there by some psycho-something branding iron.

Wiley opened his eyes and blinked twice. Concentrate. “Yup. Two sets of ’em. But only one car. I don’t like it. Loose ends. What’s your take?”

Jess shrugged and nodded toward the wreck. “Got run off the road by a drunk or sleeper, lost control, and met Mr. Tree.”

“You sound fairly certain. Got a witness?”

Jess turned and pointed over her shoulder. “Almost. See that guy over there?”

Wiley looked up the embankment and saw a thirty-something average joe in a faded gray T-shirt and grease-stained jeans leaning against a classic Mustang, hair disheveled, arms crossed, shoulders slumped, eyes blank. “Yeah. Who’s he?”

“He was on the phone with—” She jerked her thumb toward the wreck and the stiff. “Said he heard the accident happen and called it in. Got here before anyone else, but the car was already a torch. Name’s Stone. Mark. Said our friend here said something like ‘What’s this guy doin’?’ then he heard the wheels lock up and busting up stuff, then nothing.”

Wiley eyed Stone again. In the light of the cruiser’s strobes, his eyes looked like two lifeless chunks of coal. His mouth was a thin line, jaw firm.

Wiley turned his attention back to the Civic. “Anything else?”

“No. Not yet anyway.”

They both stood quietly, studying the remains of the car, until a man’s high-pitched voice from their right broke the silence. “Sheriff.”

Wiley turned to see Harold Carpenter, volunteer fire chief, high-stepping through the tall grass, his chubby jowls jiggling like Jell-O with each movement. With his sagging cheeks, underbite, and heavy bloodshot eyes, the man looked like a bulldog.

Carpenter stopped in front of Wiley, flushed and out of breath. “Sheriff. What’d ya think?”

Wiley didn’t even look at him. He kept his eyes on the corpse sitting behind the wheel. “Just got here, Harry. Don’t think much yet.”

Carpenter shoved a singed, brown leather wallet at Wiley. “Here’s the driver’s wallet. One of my guys retrieved it from the…uh…back pocket.”

Wiley took the wallet and handed it to Jess. Opening it, she slipped out the driver’s license. It was singed around the top edge. “Jeffrey David Beaverson.”

“Did you run the plates yet?” Wiley asked.

Jess nodded. “Sure did. Same Beaverson.”

?

It was a perfect day for a funeral. If such a thing existed.

The sky was a thick slab of slate suspended over the small town of Quarry, Maryland, coloring everything in drab hues of gray. A dense mist hung in the air, a blanket of moisture, covering the region in a damp clamminess. The air was cool but not cold, and there was no wind whatsoever.

Mark Stone walked from his car to the grave site, his black loafers sinking into the soft ground. With the exception of their little cluster of about twenty people, the cemetery was empty. Still and quiet. Eerie, Mark thought. For acres, granite headstones protruded from the ground like stained teeth, each memorializing somebody’s loved one, lost forever. In the distance, maybe a hundred yards away, stood a mausoleum, a concrete angel perched on the roof above the doorway. Mark shuddered at the thought of a body lying inside. Dead and cold.

Mark looked to his right then to his left. The other mourners—friends and family of the Beaversons—were climbing out of their cars and making their way across the wet grass, shoulders slumped, heads bowed low. Men held black umbrellas against their shoulders; women held white tissues to their noses. A few trees dotted the landscape, their twisted, half-barren branches reaching into the gray sky as if begging for even a glimmer of life. But there was no life in a place like this. Only death.

Mark swallowed the lump that had become a permanent fixture in his throat and ran a sleeve across his eyes.

The reverend (Mahoney, was it?) stood beside the black, polished casket, faced Wendy Beaverson, and opened a little black book. He cleared his throat and began reading, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes…”

Mark looked across the casket at Wendy. Her red, swollen eyes leaked tears that coursed down her cheeks in long rivulets. Her honey-colored hair was pulled back in a tight bun, accentuating the sharp angles of her face. She wore a black knee-length overcoat buttoned to the collar. In her left arm sat little Gracie, clinging to her mommy’s neck.

Poor kid. She’ll never remember her daddy. He was a great guy, sweetheart.

Wendy’s right arm was draped over Sara’s shoulder. The eldest daughter, just five, leaned against Wendy’s hip, her head fitting perfectly in the dip of her mother’s waist.

A sob rose in Mark’s throat, and he struggled to keep it under control. Death was a beastly thing. Showed no mercy at all. A daddy torn from his family; children left confused and empty; wife suddenly bearing the burden of raising two daughters by herself, no one to share joys and heartbreaks with. What a crock.

Reverend Mahoney continued talking, his monotone voice a fitting backdrop to the dismal atmosphere. “And so, as we bury Jeffrey today, it is true to say we bury one of us. We bury him in a cemetery…”

Cheryl had an arm around Wendy’s shoulders, holding her tight. She always was the caring type. A real Mother Teresa. Mark wiped at his eyes again and watched his wife comfort his best friend’s wife. Widow.

“…I have never yet heard anyone say there is a different heaven for each faith…”

A splinter of guilt stabbed at Mark’s heart, and he was suddenly glad he and Cheryl had not yet had kids. He’d hurt her enough. Ripped her heart out and tossed it in the garbage like last week’s leftovers.

—It’s over, Mark. Done.

—Cher—Cheryl, wait…I—

—No! Wait? Wait for what? Wait for what, Mark? Your apology?

—Cheryl, please don’t go—

—Shut up! You think saying you’re sorry can make up for what you…what you did to me? To us?

He would have never been able to bear knowing he’d not only betrayed Cheryl but betrayed a son or daughter, or both, as well. Hurting Cheryl was enough. More than enough. Seeing her now, he could barely stand to be in his own skin. If only. That’s what he’d told himself a million times since she’d found out. If only this. If only that.

“…we are all the same before God…”

Life was full of if onlys, wasn’t it? But the kick in the gut is that those if onlys become a phantom, a haunting, relentless ghost that clings to the soul like a parasite, slowly sucking the life from its host. But there’s not a thing to be done about it. No one can change the past. What’s done is done. Live with it.

Mahoney was still droning, “…we take nothing with us when we die…”

Cheryl looked up, and her gaze met Mark’s. A knot twisted his stomach at the sight of her hollow eyes. They were once so brilliant, so alive, so…blue. The color of a Caribbean surf on a cloudless day. From somewhere deep in his noodle (that’s what Cheryl would say) a memory surfaced. Mark didn’t want it to surface, not now. Save it for some lonely time when he was parked on the sofa in front of the TV with a microwave dinner on a little folding tray.

The memory: sitting on a blanket in the park, Cheryl by his side, her head on his shoulder, a cool breeze playing with her hair, bringing the scent of her shampoo so close he could almost smell it now. Cheryl tilts her face toward his.

—What d’ya know, babycakes?

—I know I love you.

—Really? Forever and ever, cross your heart and hope to die?

—Forever and ever. Cross my heart and hope to die.

But now those eyes were dull, muted by the pain of betrayal and the ache of death. Her face was drawn and pale, thinner than the last time he saw her.

I’m sorry, Cheryl. So sorry.

He wanted to scream the words, run to her and drop to his knees, but she would never forgive him. She held his stare for mere seconds, her eyes piercing his with a loneliness that he’d brought on.

Cheryl. Baby. Babycakes. I’m sorry.

“…So as we bury Jeffrey, we bury one of us…”

Mark shifted his weight, clasped his hands behind his back, and lowered his head, letting the mist cool the back of his neck.

When Mahoney finally finished, the mourners slowly cleared, whispering to each other. “Isn’t it a shame.” “What a horrible tragedy.” “The poor woman. Two little girls with no daddy, but didn’t they look precious.”

Back to life as they know it. Life goes on. For some.

Wendy approached the casket and rested her hand on the glossy surface. She whispered something Mark couldn’t quite make out. Little Gracie turned her head to look at the box that held her daddy, and Sara choked out a sob, her tender mouth twisting into a broken frown.

As Wendy passed Mark, she rested her hand on his forearm and squeezed. She didn’t say anything, but her eyes said it all: Thanks for coming.

Mark forced a smile and nodded.

Cheryl followed Wendy. As she passed in front of Mark, he took her arm in his hand. “Cheryl, I—”

“Don’t, Mark,” she said, her voice strained with grief. She looked at the ground and her chin quivered. “Don’t.”

Mark let his hand fall to his side and let his wife walk out of his life. Again.

Ten minutes later he was sitting behind the wheel of his Mustang, tiny raindrops pattering on the windshield. The mourners were mostly gone now, heading to the Beaversons’ home for the wake. He didn’t want to go but knew he had to at least make an appearance?.?.?.?for Wendy. His mind wasn’t on the wake, wasn’t even on the funeral. It was on the screams. They were as fresh in his mind today as when he’d first heard them a week ago.

He’d raced to Cooper’s Hollow after dialing 911. The first thing he saw was the gyrating orange glow of the fire on the horizon, retching a pillar of smoke as black as new charcoal into the night sky. The next thing he saw was Jeff’s Civic engulfed in angry flames and Jeff pinned behind the steering wheel, bloated and stiff. The sound of the fire was like a locomotive. The smell of burning fuel and flesh was hot in his lungs.

The rest of the night was a black blur, a nightmare that would surface piece by piece until the whole ghastly affair played itself out like some cut-’em-up horror movie in his head. And he would be forced to watch, eyelids taped open and head held in place. The last thing he remembered was arriving home, falling into bed, and dreaming of Jeff’s blackened corpse writhing in anguish as flames licked at his flesh and wrapped his body in hell’s chains.

Mark ran his hands over his face, feeling the bristles of his morning stubble, a reminder that he hadn’t shaved. He could still hear the screams, awful sounds, like thousands, no, millions, of voices lifted in agony, a chorus of misery and anguish. Every time the sounds of the outside world died and silence crept in like a demon, the screams were there, echoing through his head, filling his ears with the sound of the tortured. If it was nothing more than tangled signals like Jeff had suggested, where was the signal coming from? Hell, that’s where.

He shut his eyes and pressed both palms to his forehead. Maybe the wake would take his mind off things.

?

Judge sat in an old brown metal desk chair in the center of a basement room, elbows resting on the armrests, fingertips lightly pressed together, forming a tent in front of his face. A gray metal desk sat against one wall, its surface covered with photo clippings and notebook paper scrawled with notes. To the left of the desk stood a metal bookshelf, empty except for one stack of spiral notebooks and manila file folders. To the right of the bookshelf stood a gray, metal, four-drawer locking file cabinet.

Everything was metal. Firm. Dependable. Solid.

Fire resistant.

In the center of the room, a single 60-watt bulb dangled from the ceiling, casting sharp shadows on the walls.

All four walls were covered with a collage of photos. A closer look would reveal that all the pictures were of four women in particular. One for each wall.

His four victims.

No, not victims. No way. They weren’t victims. She was a victim. Katie was. They were perpetrators. Guilty and getting exactly what they deserved. Justice.

He stood, walked over to the wall behind the desk, and stared at a photo of a brown-haired woman in a miniskirt and halter top. Amber. He knew everything about her. Probably more than she knew about herself.

She got off work every night at ten. Took exactly thirty-seven seconds to walk the forty-five yards to her car. Drove a late model Chevy Cavalier that she bought from Prairie View Pre-Owned Cars eight months ago. License plate: LUV ME. Drove the five miles to her second-floor apartment in just under ten minutes, depending on traffic flow and traffic light patterns. She was thirty-one, five-six, hazel eyes, and drop-dead gorgeous.

Drop dead, gorgeous.

She was lovely, though, wasn’t she?

But it wasn’t about love. No way. Not even about desire or lust or hunger. He wasn’t a pervert like some. Sure, he liked to look as much as the next guy, but when it came down to business, it wasn’t about the needs of the flesh. It was about justice. And he was the judge and the jury.

That’s why he called himself Judge.

She was guilty. They were all guilty.

He smiled and stroked the tuft of hair below his lower lip. He’d heard somewhere that it was called a soul patch. A fitting name. His soul needed to be patched.

He then smoothed his mustache with his left hand and gently stroked the photo with his right.

Justice would be served tonight. His heart beat a little faster at the thought, and his stomach fluttered. This is what he was born to do. Be an agent of justice. An enforcer of right.

An image flashed through his mind. A young girl, thirteen. Katie. She was innocent, and they killed her.

And he did nothing. Cowering like a frightened kitten, fighting the urge to vomit, struggling to find oxygen, he did nothing but watch in paralyzed horror.

Well, no more.

He glanced at his watch—8:27—and tapped a picture of Amber. “Soon.”

The plan was ready, everything down to the last detail. Details were good. He would carefully execute the plan, documenting everything.

Tonight. Justice.

It’s gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight.

?

Amber Mann slipped off her apron and hung it on a brass hook on the wall. She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, stood on her toes, and looked at herself in the small mirror that someone had hung a little too high for the averaged-height waitress.

“You outta here, hon?” Marge, her co-waitress for the evening, emerged from one of the bathroom stalls and went to wash her hands.

Amber smoothed her eyeliner, puckered her lips, and applied a thin layer of lip gloss. “Yup.” She glanced at the clock on the wall—the one with Bertha’s Diner in fancy script painted across the face. Someone had given it to Bertha for the diner’s twentieth anniversary. She didn’t particularly care for the style, so she’d banished it to the lady’s room. 9:57. “Three minutes and I’m punching out. I need every minute I can get.”

Marge chuckled and tilted her head to the side. “You goin’ out tonight?”

Amber shot her a sideways look and a devilish grin. “What’s it to ya, mommy dearest?” She quickly unbuttoned her uniform shirt, slipped it off, and replaced it with a black tank top with thin shoulder straps. Yanking her pants off, she pulled on a black miniskirt that barely covered her fanny. She then slid her feet into a pair of black pumps.

“Well, if you ain’t, you sure look good for just sittin’ ’round your ’partment.”

Amber laughed. “Yeah, I’m going out. Over to Bruno’s, see what kind of action is happening tonight.”

Marge put her hands on her hips and gave her a motherly look. “Well, be careful. Bruno’s ain’t the safest place for a girl lookin’ like you to be goin’. Lotsa tough guys tryin’ to impress the girls there.”

Amber stuffed her uniform in a pink duffle bag. She grinned wide. “Don’t worry about me, mommy. I can handle myself around the boys.”

“You doin’ anything special this weekend?” Marge said, drying her hands with a paper towel.

“Tomorrow I’m going over to my sister’s to spend some time with my nephew. You should see him; he’s so adorable. I just can’t get enough of him. How ’bout you? Got any big plans?”

Marge humphed. “Yeah, right. All Jim wants to do is sit around and watch football. The old goat. I’ll keep myself busy ’round the house, though.”

Amber looked at the clock again. “Hey, it’s time. Gotta run, Marge. Love ya, girl.” She pulled on a red coat and gave Marge a loose hug.

“Love ya, hon.”

They left the bathroom, and Amber headed for the back door. As she pushed through the door she heard Marge call out one more time, “You be careful now.”

She let the door close and breathed in a chestful of cool autumn air. Bruno’s should be hoppin’ tonight. And Mitch would be there. She could almost feel his thick arms around her waist as they danced, her head on his chest, breathing in his masculine scent. They would stay like that for hours, bodies intertwined, moving in unison to the steady rhythm of the music, then go back to his place. It was perfect, heaven on earth if there ever was one.

She strode across the parking lot toward her car, heels clicking on the asphalt, echoing in the stillness of the evening. She hadn’t told Marge about Mitch. He was a tattoo artist, had his own shop downtown. Mommy Marge would never approve. She watched over Amber like a mother hen, closer than her own mom did. Amber could just imagine what old Marge would say if she ever found—

She started and took a quick step to her left. A man was suddenly there, walking beside her, step for step. “Oh, hey. You scared me.”

The man stopped and faced her. “Amber Mann?”

She stopped too. One hand rested on her duffle bag, the other hung loosely at her side. Somewhere in the distance, a few blocks away, a car horn honked. “Yes. Is something wrong?”

“Can I ask you a few questions?”

Amber brushed some hair off her face and tucked it behind her ear. She noticed her hand was suddenly shaking. “Uh, sure. Is something wrong?”

“No, ma’am. Nothing’s wrong. Just need to ask you a few questions. It’s about Mitch Young.”

Mitch. Amber felt her stomach twist into a knot, like someone had gut-punched her. She knew what she had with Mitch wouldn’t last. It couldn’t. Her life didn’t work that way. “Um.” She bit on a fingernail, not sure if she wanted to answer questions, not sure she wanted to know Mitch’s secrets. “I guess.”

“Let’s walk to your car,” he said.

“Oh, OK.” She turned and headed toward her Cavalier. She was within feet of the car when something exploded in the back of her head.

?

It was nearly half an hour later by the time Judge dragged Amber to the barn. He’d had to knock her several times to subdue her enough to get the ether over her mouth and nose. She was quite the feisty one. It was too messy, though, too sloppy. During the time it took, someone could have driven by or come out of the diner. But she was the first. Now he knew; he’d have to be more careful with the others.

He gripped her by the wrists and pulled her into a corner where a bed of straw had been prepared. Outside the barn, the dogs were barking like maniacs, over and over, nonstop. Judge kicked hard against the barn wall. “Quit your bawling! Or I’ll roast you!” The racket ceased for maybe five, six seconds—long enough to notice the sound of crickets in the distance—then resumed in a flurry of yelps and coughs.

Removing a pocketknife, he flipped it open and cut the duct tape from Amber’s wrists and ankles. Just a precaution during the long ride over. He didn’t need her coming to and throwing a hissy fit in the backseat while he was driving. Safety first.

She moaned and tried to roll over, but a grimace twisted her face and she relaxed again, letting out a strained sigh. He could see two goose eggs on her head but knew there were more. He’d walloped her at least three times.

“Sleep tight, beautiful,” he said, squatting beside her. “You’re gonna have one killer headache when you wake up.”

The dogs continued their onslaught, like an old smoker trying to clear fluid from his lungs. Judge stood and kicked the boards again. “Shut up!”

Placing his hands on his hips, he looked around the barn. Enough light from the full moon was seeping through the cracks between the wall planks to dust the spacious interior with soft blue light. Straw, strewn across the floor like a loosely woven carpet, glistened under each moon ray. It was actually a very pleasant evening. What a shame to have to ruin it for little miss LUV ME here.

He stared at her for a moment, taking in her graceful, feminine form. She lay on her side, hand resting on her head, long legs slightly crossed. She was a fine specimen, indeed. But it wasn’t about that, he reminded himself. It was about justice and justice only. Nothing more, nothing less. Don’t personalize it.

But still, he couldn’t deny the fact that she was beautiful. Maybe just a peek under that skirt. She would never know—

No! It’s not like that. I’m not a monster.

He went outside, walked around to the back of the barn, and stopped in front of two metal dog kennels. Stooping to unlock them, he said, “Now boys, you keep good watch over our guest. And don’t stray too far. She’s gonna get lonely, you hear?”

?

Amber rolled onto her back and lifted both hands to her forehead. Her whole skull throbbed, felt like it would explode any second. She peeled her eyes open and noticed the first rays of light filtering through rough-planked walls, dust swirling in the air. Something crunched beneath her. Where was she? What happened last night? Her mind spun. She winced and ran a hand gently over her head. Where did she get these lumps? So tender. She moaned and tried to push herself to a sitting position, but her body felt like it was filled with lead, and her muscles refused to cooperate. Finally, she settled on scooting herself back and propping up on the mound of straw.

Straw? Wait a minute. She was on a bed of straw. She looked around again. Wooden planks rose vertically on either side of her about fifteen feet into the air, held together by wooden beams. A few slanted bars of sunlight slipped past the gaps in the planks and dotted the floor with golden light. Straw was scattered over the worn flooring.

Amber’s mind was slowly beginning to piece things together. Straw. Wood. Beams. She was in a barn. For the first time since regaining consciousness, she drew in a long breath. Yes, definitely a barn. The musty, earthy odor of straw and rotting hay and who-knows-how-old animal dung was unmistakable.

She looked around. The barn was obviously abandoned. There were no stacks of bales, no tools, no tractors, and as she listened, no rustle of animals. As far as she could tell, she was the only occupant. She leaned to her left and pressed her face against a gap between two wall planks. Outside the barn, the ground sloped away toward what looked like an overgrown pasture. On the other side of the field, maybe a quarter mile away, stood a line of trees that stretched as far as she could see to the left and right. North and south. The sun peeked out just over the treetops, and beyond that, fingers of pink light reached into the pale blue sky.

A jolt of panic, like a thousand-volt shock, buzzed through her nerves.

Where was she? How did she get here? And how did her head get so banged up? The questions stood like giant bullies, refusing to leave until answered. Like her dad. An image of him towering over her, thick arms crossed, forehead wrinkled, asking over and over again “How many bales today?” flashed through her mind. How many bales? She was only nine. She just wanted to do a nine-year-old’s worth of chores and go play. But he made her work and work and work. And if she didn’t make her quota? Well, well, “You’re not goin’ anywhere, missy, until you finish your chores.” He’d corner her and fire questions at her, quizzing her on mundane farm facts—how many square feet in an acre, how many acres in a square mile, how many quarts in a peck and pecks in a bushel—and wouldn’t let her eat or sleep until she answered every one correctly. The bully.

But this time she had an answer, one that made her shiver. She’d been kidnapped. Taken against her will. Abducted. Apparently beaten and?.?.?.?she didn’t even want to think about what else. Instinctively, she tugged at her skirt, wishing she’d worn pants.

Slowly, like a TV station slowly picking up the signal from a rotary antenna, her memory faded in. She left work last night and a man approached her in the parking lot. She remembered his face, lean and angular, mustache and patch of hair under his bottom lip. But that was all. Just his face. He’d asked her a question, she knew that. But what the question was, was yet another question. Unanswered.

And what about Liz? She was supposed to visit Liz and Christopher today. Surely they’d miss her and report it, right? They’d have cops looking for her before the day was over. Or maybe not. Maybe Liz would just assume something came up, something more important. But if Liz didn’t report it, surely Mitch would. She was supposed to meet him last night. Mitch. He must have been worried sick when she didn’t show. That settled it in her mind. By the end of the day, there would be a massive search effort underway. There had to be. Somebody would miss her.

She pulled her knees up and looked out between the planks again. Suddenly, a furry, toothy face appeared only inches away, mouth curled into a snarl. A dog! Then another face appeared. Two dogs! Dobermans. Outside the barn. The dogs began clawing at the planks, snarling and growling. Amber tried to push herself away from the wall, but her hand slipped on the straw, and she tumbled to her side. A jolt of pain shot up her neck and pounded in her head, and she let out a scream.

“I see you’re awake,” a voice said from one of the far corners. A man’s voice.

Amber started and sat up straight, her head scolding her for the sudden movement. She searched the far corners of the barn and noticed a man standing in one. He was wearing jeans and tanned leather work boots. The rest of his body was hidden in the shadows.

“Good morning,” he said. His voice was in no way cheerful but not altogether sinister either. The voice from last night. This was the man she’d met in the parking lot. And no doubt the man who gave her the killer headache and brought her here.

Amber tried to push farther back against the wall, but she was already pressed against it. She tugged again at her skirt. “Who are you?”

The man shifted his weight and crossed one leg over the other. “No need to bother with names here. Let’s not make this personal. You can just call me Judge. There’s a gallon of water and bag of apples to your right. That should hold you over for now.”

The dogs to Amber’s left began chewing at the wooden planks, snarling, their tongues flitting in and out of their mouths. Amber shot them a wary look.

“Don’t worry about them,” the man said. “They can’t get in. They’re to keep you from getting out. Don’t even think about making a run for it. We’re miles from nowhere, and the dogs are very hungry. Do you know what it’s like to be eaten alive? Meat pulled from your bones while you’re still kicking and screaming? No, of course you don’t. And trust me, you don’t want to find out.”

Amber covered her mouth with her hand and choked back a sob. Her eyes burned with tears, and a lump the size of one of those apples had lodged in her throat. Fear had wrapped its bony fingers around her neck and tightened its grip. “What—what are you gonna do with me? Why am I here? What do you want?”

The man chuckled and uncrossed his legs. “Soon enough, my dear. You’ll get answers to all your questions soon enough. You’ll be getting some company too. I don’t want you getting lonely all the way out here. The dogs are good for some things, but they’re lousy conversationalists.”

There was a long moment of silence, and though she couldn’t see them, masked by the shadow as they were, she could feel his eyes on her. And it made her skin crawl.

Finally, he walked to a cutout door in the middle of the larger, rolling barn door, opened it, and paused, still obscured by a slanting shadow. “Until later, Amber.” And then he was gone. She heard a lock slide into place and something large and heavy thud against the door at the bottom.

To her left, the Dobermans continued their gnawing and chewing.

?

It was almost three o’clock in the afternoon when Mark finally took a break to eat lunch. After the funeral yesterday he’d gone to the wake and numbly stood in a corner of the den in Jeff’s home (the same den where he’d spent countless hours playing poker, shooting pool, and rooting for the Washington Redskins) nursing his iced tea and watching Cheryl mingle with their friends. Correction, her friends. After she left him and the news became public, their friends suddenly wanted nothing to do with him. Jeff and Wendy were the only ones who had remained loyal. The rest had proven to be fair-weather friends—the worst kind.

He’d spent less than an hour at the wake, returned home, fell onto the sofa, clicked on the flat screen, and zoned out. How long he sat there or what he watched he had no idea. But it was late, wee-hours-of-the-morning late, by the time exhaustion finally overtook him. When he’d had enough, he trudged into the bedroom, the one he used to share with his wife, and collapsed on the bed, falling quickly asleep still wearing his dress clothes.

This morning he’d debated whether to go into work or not. It was, after all, Saturday. He could stay home and play zombie all day, regretting how his life had turned out, regretting every poor decision he’d ever made, regretting there was nothing he could have done to save Jeff. Or he could go to the garage, lose himself in some engine or transmission, and hopefully keep his mind off the hopelessness of life and retain his sanity for another day.

The prospect of sanity finally won.

Mark sat in a gray swivel chair in his cubicle-sized office and opened his cooler. Ham sandwich, barbecue chips, and an apple. He wasn’t hungry, but he unwrapped the sandwich and took a large bite anyway.

Jeff’s death was a shock, of course, and Mark’s heart ached for Wendy and the girls. Every time he pictured the girls in their pretty dresses standing beside that casket, a lump rose in his throat, and his eyes burned with tears. But one thing that kept hammering in his mind like a hyperactive woodpecker was the phone call he had with Jeff just before the accident. There was that awful scream that had interrupted the conversation. What was it? Where did it come from?

Mark took a long swig of Diet Pepsi, wiped the condensation from his hand, and took another bite of his sandwich. In the main shop area, his boom box belted out some guy singing.

“…you had a bad day…”

Mark grunted. That pretty much summed it up. How ’bout bad life?

His mind went back to the scream. At the time he’d thought nothing of it. Just some interference in the cell phone signal or something. But now, for some reason he couldn’t explain, he wasn’t so sure. But what was it? It was the first time he’d ever heard such a thing, and it just so happened to occur on the same night—only minutes before—Jeff got in a bizarre car accident and died? Not just died, burned to death. Weird. Very weird.

He reached for a chip and flipped it into his mouth just as the phone on his desk rang.

Mark quickly chewed the chip, took a gulp of Diet Pepsi, and answered the phone on the third ring. “Stone Service Center.”

“Mark, it’s Jerry down at Detweiler’s. How’s it going?”

Crappy, Jerry, but thanks for asking. That’s what he wanted to say, but he had no desire to talk about Jeff’s death yet. Play it safe. “’Bout half. What, you working Saturdays now too?”

Jerry chuckled. “When business is good you do what it takes to keep it that way.”

“You got a point there.”

“Hey, I have that fuel injector you ordered. For the ’99 Cavalier. You—”

Screams cut off Jerry’s voice like a guillotine. The screams. The same ones Mark had heard before—before Jeff died. Hideous, tortuous wails and groans. An image of thousands, maybe millions, of twisted faces, distorted with pain, flashed through his mind and his blood ran cold, as if someone had jammed an IV of ice water into his vein. Goose bumps freckled his skin, and his neck and jaw tingled. His throat suddenly tightened, and he found it hard to breathe.

Like last time, it lasted maybe five seconds then ceased abruptly.

“Mark? Mark, you still there?” Jerry was talking to him, but Mark’s mind was not registering it as actual words spoken to him. They were off in the distance somewhere. “Hello?”

“Uh, yeah, Jerry, I’m still here.” He had to force the words out past his restricting trachea.

“Did you hear that?”

Mark closed his eyes, willing his muscles to relax. He took a deep breath. “Yeah, I heard it.”

“What was it? Sounded like screaming.”

Like hell itself. “I know. I don’t know what it was.”

Jerry snorted into the phone. “Crazy. Anyway, I’ll run the injector over to you right now.”

Mark still wasn’t thinking clearly. He was still hearing the screams ringing in his ears. “O-OK. No, wait! Jerry. Wait.”

“I’m waiting. What is it?”

“Are you calling from a landline?”

“You mean a regular phone? Yeah. Why?”

A thought had suddenly occurred to Mark, and it made his heart thump. He was on a landline too. There was no way the screams were some kind of interference, signals crossing with something else. “Um, nothing. Just wondering. You don’t have to bring the injector out here. I’ll come get it.”

There was a pause, and Mark could hear paper rustling in the background. “No, I’ll drop it off. I have a couple other parts to deliver, and you’re on the way.”

Panic seized Mark. He gripped the phone tighter with a sweaty palm, tried to sound calm. This was crazy! “Jerry, really, I insist. I need to get out of the shop for a little. Cabin fever thing, you know? I’ve been putting in some long hours, and I’m getting stir-crazy. I’m leaving right now. I’ll be over in ten minutes. Don’t go anywhere, OK?”

“But—”

“Jerry, please.” He knew his voice was rising, and he knew Jerry probably thought he’d completely lost his grip on reality, but he didn’t care anymore. He pressed his molars together then relaxed them. “Don’t go anywhere. I’m coming right over. OK?”

“OK, OK. I’ll wait for you. Don’t be too long. I got things to do, you know.”

Mark blew out a breath and loosened his grip on the receiver. “Thanks. See ya in a few.”

“OK. A few.”

?

Mark raced down Broadway in his 1973 Ford Mustang, slowing only for the dips in the road at each intersection. Pineville was a small town, hokey even, and anywhere one wanted to go in any direction was no more than a ten-minute drive—going the posted speed limits. But Mark wasn’t anywhere near the posted limit.

His mind raced too. He’d heard it again, hadn’t he? Were the screams real? Of course they were. He’d heard them with his own ears. Weeping and gnashing of teeth. And Jerry heard them too. So did Jeff. They were real, all right. Too real. Made his skin itch just thinking about it.

Crazy. That’s all Mark could make of it. And his bizarre reaction. Just because Jeff died shortly after the screams didn’t mean Jerry was in immediate danger. Or any danger at all, for that matter.

Crazy. Jerry had to think he was half out of his mind. Maybe he was.

But what if he wasn’t? What if there really was something to the screams? What if Jerry’s life really was in jeopardy? He couldn’t afford to be wrong. Jerry couldn’t afford it. No, he’d done the right thing. Jerry was safer just staying put and waiting for Mark to pick up the injector.

At the intersection of Broadway and Clayton, Mark slowed the ’Stang just enough to keep rubber on asphalt and took the ninety-degree turn at a tire-screaming speed. An elderly man working in his garden jerked his head up and around and yelled an obscenity, flailing his arms wildly.

Up ahead, Detweiler’s sat on the corner of Clayton and Monroe. Mark pressed the accelerator; the engine rumbled, tachometer climbed steadily. Just before the entrance to Detweiler’s parking lot, he stomped on the brake and jerked the steering wheel hard to the right. The car bounced into the parking lot and came to a stop.

Mark jumped out of the car and ran for the front door. His pulse was pounding out a steady rhythm in his ears, and the adrenaline rush had left him nearly out of breath. He was lucky to make it here without getting pulled over.

Swinging open the glass door, he stepped inside and called for Jerry. When no answer came, he looked around and noticed the store was empty. No customers in the aisles. No Jerry behind the counter.

C’mon, Jerry. Don’t tell me you left anyway.

Mark peered out the storefront window and saw Jerry’s tan Chevy S-10 sitting in the parking lot, Detweiler’s Auto Parts emblazoned across the door panel.

“Jerry!” He listened and approached the counter. “Hey, Jerry. It’s Mark. You here?”

No answer.

“Hello? Jerry?”

Still no answer.

Mark leaned over the counter and nearly choked on his own saliva. There, behind the counter, lying prone on the cement floor, was Jerry Detweiler.

Mark rushed around the counter and rolled the large man over. Jerry’s empty eyes, like two blank TV screens, bulged toward the ceiling, mouth open, a trickle of blood curling around his nostril. Mark pressed his fingers against Jerry’s carotid but felt nothing. No life-giving blood pumping through the artery. No steady pulse throbbing under his fingertips. A groan escaped from somewhere deep in Mark’s chest, and he clenched his jaw tight, cursing under his breath.

Jerry was dead. But it couldn’t have happened more than five minutes ago. Mark had just talked to him, and the drive here only took seven minutes tops. He reached for the phone on the counter and punched in 911. Then, with phone jammed between his ear and shoulder, he placed both hands on Jerry’s barrel chest, one on top of the other, and started compressing.

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First Wild Card Tours: Outlaw Martial by Al and JoAnna Lacy

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

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Outlaw Martial

Multnomah Books (January 6, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Al Lacy has been an evangelist for over 30 years, and he combines his love of the Old West with his passion for the Gospel in Christian fiction. Previously writing under pseudonyms Morgan Hill, Bill Reno, and Hank Mitchum, Al published 47 novels in the general market. Now Al writes under his own name.

JoAnna Lacy, Al’s wife and longtime collaborator, is a retired nurse. The Lacys have been married over forty years and live in the Colorado Rockies.

With over 3 million books in print, Al and JoAnna Lacy are co-authors of the popular Kane Legacy series, as well as the Frontier Doctor, Orphan Train, Mail Order Bride, Shadow of Liberty, and Hannah of Fort Bridger series. The Lacys have been married over forty years and live in western Colorado.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Books (January 6, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601420544
ISBN-13: 978-1601420541

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

At sunrise on Monday morning, May 2, 1887, fifty-year-old Dan Haddock awakened in the bedroom of the apartment above his furniture store in Denver, Colorado.

Dan rubbed his eyes, rolled over in the bed, and glanced at the large window, which was on the east wall of the room. The eastern horizon was rose-flushed and golden. Above the glowing rim of the sun, the intense purity of the blue sky was a sight to see. “What a beautiful world You made, Lord,” he said in an appreciative whisper.

The owner of Haddock’s Furniture Store rubbed his eyes again, and this time when he opened them, his line of sight settled on a ten-by twelve-inch framed picture that sat on the nearby dresser. Suddenly, as he focused on the face of the lovely woman in the photograph, Dan was overcome with emotion. His eyes filled with tears as he stared with infinite tenderness at the face.

He swallowed hard. “Oh, Rebecca, darlin’. I miss you terribly!”

Suddenly his mind was filled with precious memories.

Dan thought of the day he first met Rebecca Jardine when they both attended a tent revival in Jefferson City, Missouri, in June of 1856; he was nineteen and she a year younger. When the evangelist who preached the meeting finished a powerful gospel sermon, both had walked the aisle and had received the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. Both were baptized in the church that had sponsored the tent revival and attended the services whenever the doors of the church were open. They began seeing each other on a regular basis and soon fell in love. They were married in October of that same year, after he turned twenty and Rebecca nineteen.

Dan thought of when they moved to Denver in July of 1871 and opened the furniture store. They very much loved their new church in Denver and enjoyed serving the Lord.

His mind then went to March of 1885, when his dear wife came down with a serious case of pneumonia and, despite the excellent care she received from the doctors and nurses, died in April at Denver’s Mile High Hospital.

Heavy of heart and missing Rebecca so very much, Dan sat up in bed and lifted his Bible from the nightstand. Needing comfort, he turned to Revelation 21:4 and read about the future of the saved people in heaven’s holy city, the New Jerusalem: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

Tears spilled down Dan’s cheeks, and he sniffled. “Oh, Rebecca, sweetheart, when you and I are together in heaven, God’s going to wipe away all our tears. There won’t be any more crying—” He choked and brushed the tears from his cheeks. “There won’t be any more crying, darling, because there’ll be no more death, no more sorrow, and no more pain.”

Dan drew a shaky breath. “Oh, dear Lord, I’ll be so glad when Rebecca and I are together again. Of course, Lord Jesus, when I first get to heaven, I want to see You, look into Your eyes, and thank You in person for dying on the cross for me and for saving me that day at the tent revival… Then I want to see my dear Rebecca and hold her in my arms again.”

This time Dan used the bed sheet to dry the tears from his eyes and face, then rose from the bed and made it up. After shaving and grooming himself and dressing in one of his business suits, he went to the kitchen and cooked breakfast.

At eight thirty, Dan descended the stairs and entered his furniture store through its rear door. He had swept the store clean after closing late Saturday afternoon, and as he made his way toward the front door, he smiled as he looked around and admired the tidiness.

When he reached the large front windows, he lifted the shades and waved at a man and his wife who were walking along the boardwalk toward their clothing store. They smiled and waved back. Dan then flipped the Closed sign on the door window to Open and unlocked the door. He was ready for the new business day.

Just as he was turning away from the door, he noticed a young man ride up on a white horse and pull rein at the hitching post. His face looked vaguely familiar, but Dan couldn’t think of where he might have seen him before. He was probably going to do business in one of the other stores.

As Dan walked toward the counter, he smiled. “Thank You, Lord, for helping Haddock’s Furniture Store do so well since Rebecca and I opened it here almost sixteen years ago.”

His smile faded as Dan thought of Rebecca again. He missed her so very much. However, as he walked behind the counter, he reminded himself that whenever it was the Lord’s time to take him to heaven, he would be with Rebecca again…and this time forever.

Dan then bent down to get into the safe below the counter. He glanced at the .45-caliber revolver that was on top of the safe as a security measure, then quickly turned the dial, working the correct combination. When the dial gave off its satisfying click, he opened the safe’s door and lifted out a bag of currency. He took a specific amount of money from the bag and placed it by denomination in the various sections of the cash register’s drawer. He placed the rest of the money back in the safe, closed the door, and spun the dial.

Just then the front door opened, and Dan looked up to see the vaguely familiar young man step into the store with a fierce look in his eyes. Dan’s eyes immediately took in the revolver in the man’s hand as he closed the door behind himself.

Fear gripped Dan’s heart, black and cold. He recognized the man now. He was an outlaw named Hank Kelner. Dan had seen his face several times on Wanted posters on the big board in front of chief United States marshal John Brockman’s office at the federal building in the center of downtown Denver. Dan’s blood froze.

The look in the outlaw’s eyes was even more piercing as he rushed up to the counter, pointing his gun at Dan. He spoke harshly, through his teeth. “I’ve been watchin’ you through the window, mister! I saw you put that money in the drawer, and I know you have more down there behind the counter. I want it all. Give it to me now, or I’ll kill you!”

Dan’s chest was tight, and he could only breathe shallowly, but anger welled up inside him. He leaned down as if reaching for the other cash but instead grabbed his .45-caliber revolver. As he raised the gun, Kelner fired first. The roar of Kelner’s weapon thundered throughout the store. The bullet struck Dan in the chest, and he collapsed behind the counter.

Kelner hurried around the counter to the safe. As he gripped the handle, he knew immediately that it was locked. Realizing that someone on the street might have heard the shot and called for the law, Kelner opened the cash register drawer, grabbed the money there, stuffed it in his pockets, and dashed out the door. He swung into the saddle on his white horse and galloped away.

Three men on the boardwalk about a half block away had heard what they thought was a gunshot in one of the store buildings along the street. When they saw the man rush out of Haddock’s, swing into the saddle, and gallop away, they agreed the gunshot must have come from Dan Haddock’s store.

As people on the street gawked, Cal Hardy, Rupert Blomgren, and Roscoe Nelson dashed down the boardwalk and hurried into the furniture store.

Once inside, they looked around. Seeing no one, Cal Hardy called out, “Dan! Dan! Are you in here?”

A slight groan sounded from behind the counter. Rupert and Roscoe followed Cal as he rushed in that direction. They saw Dan lying on his back, the chest of his suit coat wet with blood. He was gasping for breath.

Dropping to his knees beside the wounded man, Cal examined the wound as the other two crouched on the opposite side of the bleeding store owner. “Dan, what happened? Did that guy who ran out of your store rob you?”

Dan nodded slowly. Hardly able to speak, he said, “Yeah. When…I tried to stop…him, he shot me. He’s a…well-known outlaw. Name’s… Hank Kelner.”

“Oh yeah!” Cal said. “I remember seeing Kelner’s picture on the Wanted board several times.” He looked at Roscoe and Rupert. “We’ve got to get Dan to the hospital.”

The wounded man’s eyes were closed, and his jaw and mouth were set in angles that indicated the pain he was experiencing.

All three men stood, and Cal bent down over Dan’s head. “I’ll lift his shoulders. Each of you take hold of one of his legs. It’ll be easier carrying him to the hospital this way.”

They nodded and bent down to place their arms under Dan’s legs.

As Cal was adjusting his grip, he noticed Dan open his eyes and look upward, focusing on the ceiling. His down turned mouth slowly curved into a smile.

“Wh-what’s he looking at?” Rupert looked up at the ceiling.

“And what’s he smiling at?” Roscoe also lifted his eyes to the ceiling.

Cal licked his lips, glanced overhead, then looked back down at Dan Haddock.

Dan shifted his gaze to Cal. His smile widened, and he said in a weak voice, “I’m going to be with Rebecca shortly. My…my…Savior is calling me.” He closed his eyes and went limp. His head slumped to one side as he let out his last breath.

Cal bit his lower lip as he placed the palm of his right hand against the side of Dan’s neck, feeling for a pulse. He held it there for several seconds. Tears welled up in his eyes as he looked at his friends. “He’s— he’s gone.”

Rupert Blomgren and Roscoe Nelson were also Christians, both of them belonging to a solid Bible-believing church in Littleton, one of Denver’s suburbs. Both men also had tears in their eyes.

After a long moment of silence, Cal said, “Since I belong to the same church as Dan, I’ll go tell Pastor Robert Bayless what has happened. I—I know it will bless his heart to hear about Dan’s smile just before he died, that he said his Savior was calling him and that he would be with Rebecca shortly.”

Both men nodded, blinking back tears.

“I know Pastor Bayless will preach the funeral service, of course,” Cal said. “And he will see to it that one of the undertakers picks up the body and prepares it for burial.”

Rupert said, “Roscoe and I will go to Chief Brockman’s office and tell him what happened.”

“Let’s go.” Cal headed toward the front door of the store. He flipped over the Open sign so the Closed side showed through the window. “Let’s leave the door unlocked so the undertaker can come in to get the body.”

Breaking into a run, Cal Hardy covered the three and a half blocks from Haddock’s Furniture Store to Denver’s First Baptist Church in a matter of minutes. He hurried to the rear of the church building, where there was an outside door to the pastor’s office, and knocked on the door.

He could hear footsteps from inside the office, and the door swung open. He was greeted by a smile from Pastor Robert Bayless, who was in his early fifties, his dark brown hair beginning to show some silver. “Hello, Cal. What can I do for you?”

Cal cleared his throat. “Pastor, I have some bad news for you. May I come in?”

The pastor’s features pinched. “Why, of course. Please come in.”

At the Denver jail, chief U.S. marshal John Brockman was sitting at a table in a small room with Norman Yanek, whom he had just led to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior. Brockman had personally pursued and caught the thirty-year-old Yanek after he’d robbed Littleton National Bank the previous week.

Yanek had faced trial in Denver, and Judge Ralph Dexter had sentenced him to ten years in the Colorado State Penitentiary at Cañon City. Brockman was all set to personally take him there the next day.

In his early forties, the chief U.S. marshal stood six feet five inches tall, a strikingly handsome man with short black hair and a well trimmed matching mustache over a square jaw. His right cheekbone sported a pair of identical white-ridged scars. It appeared to Yanek that Brockman’s eyes were pools of gray that sometimes seemed to look straight through him. Brockman was slender in the hips, yet had broad shoulders and very muscular arms that showed off his light gray uniform with its shiny gold, shield-shaped badge. His lawman’s look was completed by a low-slung, tied-down Colt .45 in a black-belted holster, the handle grips of which were bone white.

John Brockman smiled. “Norman, I’m so glad that you listened to the gospel and opened your heart to the Lord Jesus.”

Yanek was still holding on to the Bible Brockman had brought with him. He matched John’s smile. “Sir, I very much appreciate you caring enough about this wicked sinner to show him how to be saved.”

“Norman, I want you to keep that Bible. Take it with you to prison, and study it every day.”

Yanek’s eyebrows arched. “Really? You’re giving it to me?”

“Yes.”

Tears misted the prisoner’s eyes. “Sir, thank you for your kindness and generosity. I promise I’ll study this book every day.”

At that moment, the door of the small room opened, and Sheriff Walt Carter stepped in with one of Brockman’s deputies, Roland Jensen, at his side.

As they walked toward the table, the sheriff said, “Chief Brockman, Deputy Jensen has some bad news for you.”

Brockman frowned and stood, towering over the sheriff and the deputy U.S. marshal. “What is it, Roland?”

Roland told the chief about Rupert Blomgren and Roscoe Nelson coming to the chief ’s office with the bad news that Dan Haddock had been robbed and killed just over half an hour ago by outlaw Hank Kelner.

Brockman’s heart lurched in his chest. His face paled, and his eyes widened. He was obviously jolted to hear about his dear Christian friend, and it showed more as the ridges of his twin jagged scars turned even whiter and tears filmed his eyes.

Deputy Jensen then told Chief Brockman that Cal Hardy was with them at the furniture store after Dan was killed and where Cal had gone afterward.

Brockman nodded. “I’m glad Cal informed Pastor Bayless. Now how do we know Hank Kelner was the one who robbed and killed Dan?”

“There’s no doubt,” Jensen responded. “Rupert and Roscoe said that before Dan died he told them and Cal that it was Kelner. He had seen Kelner’s picture on the Wanted posters in front of your office.”

“All right.” Brockman nodded again. “Now what about Kelner?”

“Some people on the street saw him as he galloped away from the furniture store. They told Rupert and Roscoe that he was on a white horse, wearing a red jacket and a low-crowned black hat. Apparently he galloped eastward on Colfax Avenue and no doubt was headed out of town.”

Brockman rubbed his angular chin. “Well, Kelner is from Kansas City. I’d bet he’s heading home.”

“Mm-hmm,” Jensen said. “I’d say that’s where he’s going, all right. He must figure he has pulled enough holdups in Colorado to do him for a while.”

“Tell you what, Roland,” the chief said. “As you know, I was going to take Norman Yanek here to the Cañon City prison tomorrow.”

The deputy laughed. “But you’re thinking of going after Hank Kelner now and want me to take Norman to Cañon City.”

Brockman grinned. “You’re pretty smart. Remind me to get you a pay raise.”

Sheriff Walt Carter chuckled. “Let me know if that happens, Roland.”

The deputy chuckled as well. “Oh, I will, Sheriff !” Then in a more serious tone he said, “Chief Brockman, I’ll tell the other deputies what has happened and that you’ll be pursuing Kelner. How soon are you going after him?”

“Just as soon as I can get to the hospital and tell my wife where I’m heading.”

“I figured you wouldn’t let any grass grow under your feet. Yanek and I will leave early in the morning.”

“Fine,” Brockman said.

“I hope you catch Kelner real quick,” Roland said.

“I’ll do my best.”

The sheriff and the deputy U.S. marshal left the room as Chief Brockman looked down at Norman Yanek. “I often take prisoners I’ve arrested to the Cañon City prison. I’m sure there will be more, so I’ll see you soon.”

Norman rose to his feet and picked up the Bible with his left hand. “Chief Brockman, thank you again for leading me to the Lord and for giving me this Bible. I’ll look forward to seeing you next time you’re at the prison.” He extended his right hand.

Brockman reached out and gripped it tightly. “It’s been my pleasure, Norman. I’ll look forward to seeing you too.” He headed toward the door. “I’ll have to lock this door, you understand. One of the sheriff’s deputies will be coming soon to take you back to your cell.”

Norman smiled and nodded.

“And if for some reason we don’t see each other here on earth again, I’m glad to say that I’ll meet you in heaven.” With that Brockman stepped into the hall, closed the door, and locked it. He dashed outside, mounted his big black horse, and galloped a few blocks to Denver’s Mile High Hospital. After dismounting and tying the reins to a hitching post, he hurried inside.

Making his way down the central hall, John entered the surgical ward and drew up to the main desk. The attendant at the desk looked up and smiled. “Hello, Chief Brockman. I imagine you’re wanting to see Breanna?”

“Yes, Millie. Is she available?”

“Well, as one of our leading nurses, she stays awfully busy, but you happened to come in at the right time. She just finished assisting Dr. Stockwell with an appendectomy, and she’s in the nurses’ washroom cleaning up. I’ll go tell her you’re here.”

“I’d appreciate that.”

Millie hurried from the desk and entered a door a short distance down the hall. In less than two minutes, she returned and told him that his wife would be out shortly. John thanked her, then moved down the hall and positioned himself close to the door.

A few seconds later, the door swung open and Breanna appeared in her white nurse’s uniform, smiling warmly as she moved toward John. “Millie told me you wanted to see me, darling.”

“Yes.” He smiled down at his blond, blue-eyed wife with love in his eyes. “Let’s move to a more private spot. I have to leave town right away, and I want to tell you about it.”

John took Breanna by the hand, and they walked down the hall.

“Don’t tell me. Let me guess. You’re about to chase after some outlaw to bring him to justice.”

“You guessed right, sweetheart. You’ve heard me talk about Hank Kelner.”

“Yes. His picture has been on your Wanted board for some time. I remember looking at it once or twice.”

“Well, he robbed Dan Haddock at his furniture store a little while ago and shot him.” John clasped Breanna’s hands. “Dan’s dead.”

Her body stiffened in shock. “Oh, John! This is terrible!”

“For sure. I’m going after Kelner immediately.”

Breanna nodded. “You’re going after him alone, like you do most of the time?”

“Yes.”

Breanna took hold of John’s upper arms. “I know that you feel you must chase down this Kelner outlaw personally, darling, but can’t you take at least one of your deputies with you?”

“Right now all of my deputies are working on other assignments. Those in the office have important paperwork to do.”

Breanna’s eyes brimmed with concern.

John smiled. “Don’t you worry now, my love. I’ll be just fine. I know how you pray for my safety and success whenever I’m trailing outlaws. You just keep it up. That cold-blooded killer took the life of a good friend of ours. I’m going to make sure he pays for it.”

Breanna squeezed his arms. “I know you need to do this, John. I’ll be praying for you as always. Come back as soon as you can.”

“You know I will, sweetheart.” He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her soundly. “Tell Paul and Ginny that I love them.”

Breanna smiled up at him. “I’ll do that, darling. I’ll walk you out to Blackie.”

They made their way outside, and John kissed her again, telling her how very much he loved her. Breanna returned the sentiment. Then his big black horse whinnied at Breanna as John mounted up. She patted his neck. “Take care of him, Blackie!”

As Blackie nodded and whinnied again, John told Breanna one more time that he loved her, and she watched horse and rider gallop away. “Go with God, my love.”

When John and Blackie disappeared, Breanna turned and walked back into the hospital with a resigned smile, knowing she had placed her husband in God’s care. There were patients who needed her expertise.

As Chief John Brockman rode out of Denver on Colfax Avenue and onto the Colorado plains, he peered eastward toward the Kansas-Colorado border. “Lord, please let me catch Hank Kelner before he kills someone else.”

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FIRST Wild Card Tours: Raising Godly Children in an Ungodly World by Ken Ham and Steve Ham

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

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Raising Godly Children in an Ungodly World

New Leaf Publishing Group/Master Books (September 2, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ken Ham is the founder and executive director of Answers in Genesis in the USA and one of the most sought-after Christian speakers in North America. He is also the author or co-author of many books, including The Lie: Evolution, The Genesis Solution, Genesis and the Decay of the Nations, What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs?, A is for Adam, D is for Dinosaur, Creation Evangelism for the New Millennium (now called Why Won’t They Listen?), and One Blood: The Biblical Answer to Racism.

Visit the author’s website.

Steve Ham, brother of Ken Ham and the youngest of six Ham children, is the founder and director of Growth Point Financial Ministries, an Australian charitable organization. Steve is married to his wife, Trisha, and is the father of two. He is also coauthor of Answers for Life.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: New Leaf Publishing Group/Master Books (September 2, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0890515425
ISBN-13: 978-0890515426

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

dead men

do tell tales

with Ken Ham

. . . the righteous shall be in

everlasting remembrance

(Ps. 112:6; NKJV).

legacy (l?g´e-s?) n. Something handed down, by one who has gone before in the past, and left to those in the present and future.

There is a saying, one that we have gathered from the legends of the Wild West, which says “Dead men tell no tales.” The saying implies that the knowledge and influence of the deceased goes with them to the grave, never to be heard from again. I find that not to be the case! Dead men do tell tales. If you ever take a walk around the small English town of Bedford, as I have, you will quickly see what I mean.

Bedford was the hometown of John Bunyan, author of the still very popular Pilgrim’s Progress, now in its 400th year of printing.1 The day I walked around the town, I saw reminders of John Bunyan everywhere — the site of the jail where he spent many years imprisoned, the site of the house in which he was raised, his statue in the town square, the church he preached at in later life with a museum of many of his personal items, and the church where he was baptized in 1628. Bedford even has a pub called “Pilgrim’s Progress Pub!” (I’m sure John Bunyan would love to know he had a pub named after his famous book!)

Something really hit me as I walked around Bedford. As I thought about the life of John Bunyan and how he was persecuted and jailed for preaching the Word of God, I wondered about what happened to those responsible for his persecution and jailing. There was no mention of any of Bunyan’s enemies in Bedford. In fact, in the large graveyard of the church where Bunyan rang the church bell as a child, I saw many very old gravestones. It is certainly possible that some of these gravestones stand on the graves of Bunyan’s persecutors. However, these gravestones were so eroded that the names had disappeared. Whoever these people were, their memory has all but gone. As I looked at these nameless gravestones, Proverbs 10:7 came to mind:

The memory of the righteous is blessed, But the name of the wicked will rot.

Certainly, this is the case in Bedford. The man who stood for the authority of the Word of God is remembered. The memory of those who opposed Bunyan has disappeared into oblivion. Bunyan and his books (particularly Pilgrim’s Progress) live on in the memories of people all over the world and in the printed pages that still come off the printing presses today. Yes, “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.”

A very similar type of situation exists in the town of Worms, Germany. My wife, Mally, and I walked around this town, finding many memorials to the memory of Martin Luther, the great reformer who started the Reformation in 1517.2 There were various statues, plaques, and other markers that told the story of Martin Luther. I even had the awesome opportunity to stand at the very place where it is believed Luther stood when he was purported to have uttered these now famous words:

Here I stand [on Scripture]. I can do no other.

God help me! Amen.

I must admit, tingles went down my spine as I stood there and contemplated the life of a man who started a movement that has affected the world for the Lord to this day.

Again, I didn’t see any memorials to all of those who opposed Luther. They aren’t remembered in Worms; the memory of those who persecuted him is all but lost. Luther — the man who stood for the authority of the Word of God — is remembered, and his legacy continues to have great impact on the world today . . . even among those who don’t know his name. The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance; but unfortunately, the unrighteous can still make an everlasting impact as they forge legacies of an entirely different kind.

If you walk the streets of Shrewsbury, England, you will find memorials to another man of great influence — memorials quite similar to those left for Bunyan and Luther. There is a statue outside his school and a sign outside of the home of his birth, noting the date of February 12, 1809. This is the birthdate of Charles Darwin, who at the age of 50 would publish On the Origin of Species. Throughout the town a similar pride is felt and is reflected in the names of many locations: Darwin Gardens, Darwin Terrace, Darwin Street, and Darwin Shopping Center.

There are similarities in the memorials to these three men, but the legacies they left behind could not be more different. Darwin proposed that “life” can be explained without God. By concluding that a supposed link between ape and man meant that there is no God (as detailed in his subsequent book, The Descent of Man), his ideas left humanity to decide right or wrong on their own, to write their own rules and do their own thing, following whatever seems best in their own eyes.

The implications of Darwin’s legacy are far-reaching. He paved the way for moral relativism, and fueled racism (claiming that blacks, aborigines, and others are inferior, less-evolved races.) His ideas have also fueled the abortion industry, leading to the conclusion that an unborn child is nothing more than a lump of cells (or just an animal) and that a woman has the right to kill it if she so chooses. The ideas of Darwin even paved the way for Hitler, who used them to justify the extermination of those he considered less than ideal — resulting in the mass murder of millions of Jews, gypsies, and others. His ideas have contributed to the erosion of the family, educational institutions, the decay of the legal system, and have led to great compromise in the Church.

To see evolutionary measures and

tribal morality being applied rigorously

to the affairs of a great modern nation

we must turn again to Germany of 1942.

We see Hitler devoutly convinced that

evolution provides the only real

basis for a national policy.3

One of the students involved in the Columbine (Colorado) school shootings wore a T-shirt with “natural selection” written on it. The more students are told they are just animals, and have evolved by natural processes — the more they will begin to act consistently with this view of origins. As generations are trained to believe there is no God, thus no absolute authority, then there is no basis for determining right and wrong — moral relativism will pervade the culture.

The late Dr. Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan wrote an article that appeared in Parade Magazine, April 22, 1990, using the fraudulent idea of emybronic recapitulation popularized by Ernst Haeckel (the false idea that when an embryo develops in its mother’s womb it goes through a fish stage, etc., reflecting its evolutionary history, until it becomes human) to justify abortion. They claimed the embryo wasn’t really human until about the sixth month.

I’ve heard of girls who were told by an abortion clinic that what was in their womb was in the fish stage of evolution, thus they could abort it. A false view of origins leads to terrible consequences.

For example, families are breaking apart due to evolutionary views of unborn children as nothing but animals, and subsequent abortions that result. School shootings such as those at Columbine High School are prevalent among secular schools, because students view other students as animals. The ideas of Darwin are having an effect throughout the culture.

This is the Darwinian legacy: A false idea that has led to the destruction of the authority of the Word of God in our modern age. He popularized a philosophy that has convinced others that the Bible is not true, that everything is the result of random natural process, and that we are little more than animals; free to decide as we are bidden to decide.

Two signs outside of the Shrewsbury Unitarian Church speak for themselves. The first proudly proclaims:

Charles Darwin worshiped here

when he was young.

The second church sign, permanently etched as a motto to be seen by all who pass by, gives a clear indication of the legacy behind which the legacy of Darwin emerged:

No one has the only truth, this we believe.

Not a Question of “If”

Luther, Bunyan, and Darwin; these three men left two entirely different kinds of legacy. Each legacy continues to impact the world in different ways. Let there be no doubt: A legacy is a very, very powerful thing. Let there be no doubt about this either: You too will leave a legacy. Truly, it’s not a question of if you will leave a legacy, it is only a matter of what kind. Long after your body is laid to rest, the impact of your life will continue to spread throughout your community and your world. Never forget that your legacy will be felt most strongly by those closest to you: your family.

Your family desperately needs you to stand up and lead, because the world is drawing them in all the wrong directions. Statistics indicate that around 90 percent4 of the children from church homes attend public schools in America. Sadly, statistics indicate that seven out of ten of such students will walk away from the church after their senior high years.5

America is said to have been the greatest Christian nation on earth. This country has the world’s greatest number of Christian bookshops, Christian radio stations, churches, seminaries, and Christian and Bible colleges. It is inundated with all of the best Christian resources available, yet America is becoming less Christian every day . . . and many Christian parents are heartbroken to see their children move toward the world and away from the church.

Dads and moms are crying out for answers, and teachers are becoming increasingly concerned by the rebellious attitudes, lack of politeness, and vanishing Christian morals they see, even in “church kids.” Barna Research found that only nine percent of teens who call themselves “born-again Christians” believe in absolute moral truth.6 Family breakups, even among those calling themselves Christian, are startlingly common.7

What are the problems? What are the solutions? Are there answers that will deal with the heart of the problems and provide real solutions? Christian and secular books about the family and raising children abound, yet the questions continue. How should children be raised in today’s world? How can a family produce godly offspring dedicated to the Lord? What methods of discipline should be used in bringing up children? Should Christian children be kept in public schools to witness to others, or is Christian or home schooling a necessity? How can Christianity be made relevant to the younger generations?

The list of questions goes on and on, and the Christian family of today is deeply struggling to find answers. I believe there are answers — but I want to warn you that they may challenge your comfort zone, and they may go contrary to what is “acceptable” in your community. The answers may be labeled as “offensive” to those who are more worried about political correctness than righteousness.

Before you can even begin to search out and apply the answers, an even more fundamental question must be answered:

What kind of legacy do you intend to leave?

What type of memorials might be

left in your remembrance?

Can I humbly suggest that you can leave a memorial that can affect the world as Luther and Bunyan did? Many of you reading this might be saying, “Give me a break! They were great and now very famous men. They deserve such memorials, but I’ll never have statues or other memorials built in my memory. I’m not going to be famous like them.”

I disagree with that kind of thinking. You have no idea how God might choose to use you or your children or your children’s children. You must understand that God’s Word gives us the foundation from which we can do our best to build the right structure in our families. God’s Word (not your own wisdom or strength) is the basis of a godly legacy. The Bible alone is living and active, and able to divide and judge correctly, and its principles can lead to astounding results.

If you are going to leave a legacy like Bunyan or Luther, you are going to have to decide to go against the flow, because the flow of the world today is leading to decay, death, and even hell. Each of us has a personal choice to make regarding the future of our family. Will we lead into a legacy of life and freedom based on the Word of God, or will we lead our families into a legacy of relativism and death, as did Darwin?

The question is not rhetorical, but immensely practical, affecting everything that you might do and everything you might be. The type of legacy you choose will most likely have great impact on your community, your world, and, most graphically, your family. Which will it be? Will you lead your family into a legacy of truth, life, and freedom based on the Word of God, or will you lead your family into a legacy of relativism, bondage, and death, as did Darwin? It’s a decision each one of us must make. I know, I had to do it myself and it was a critical decision in my ongoing journey for truth and answers.

When I started high school, I eagerly looked forward to my science lessons. However, I was perplexed when the teacher taught that humans evolved from “ape-men,” and that animals had evolved over millions of years. My textbooks laid out what claimed to be convincing proof that we progressed from molecules to man without any outside influence. I was further taught ideas on how the universe had formed — but they all involved naturalistic processes. God wasn’t involved at all. They claimed that everything somehow exploded out of nothing all by itself, and they made it all sound so “scientific.” Everything I was taught about the origin of matter, life, and man conflicted with what my parents had taught me from the Bible. How was I to resolve this?

I sat down with my father and asked him to help me sort this out. Sadly, at that time there were no books or other resources that we were aware of that dealt with the creation/evolution issue. Certainly, none were readily available to us in Australia at that time. (When I look at all the resources available today, I often think back to this time in my life and realize how blessed people are today.)

From a scientific perspective, my father could not refute the supposed ape-men fossils, or the billions of years of evolution, or the supposed “big-bang” history of the universe. He wasn’t a scientist and he didn’t understand where these ideas had come from. Although my father had lots of answers in many areas where secular ideas contradicted Scripture, in this area of origins, he just didn’t have a defense — he didn’t even know where to start.

I completed high school, rejecting molecules-to-man evolution as a philosophy, but I didn’t have any solid scientific answers to defend my position. I was concerned about this, but my father’s words kept ringing in my ears:

Even if we can’t find an answer to explain why

the secular idea is wrong, we need to continue

to search and wait for the answer.

During my college years while studying for my science degree, I was bombarded with evolutionary ideas in biology, geology, and other subject areas. I still had no scientific response to what I was being taught, so I just lived with the dilemma — though I recognized that sooner or later I had to sort this out in some way. As I studied, however, I did observe that my textbooks and professors did not have convincing evidence for Darwinian evolution or the supposed billions of years for the age of the earth. I recognized there were numerous assumptions behind the various interpretations of fossil bones and the supposed long ages attributed to them, but I really wanted some answers.

Somehow, a little booklet that dealt with the creation/evolution issue from a biblical perspective came into my possession. As I read through this booklet, one particular section stood out from all the others. The author stated that from a biblical perspective, there could not have been death and bloodshed of animals and man before sin, since this would destroy the foundations of the gospel. As I thought about this something really hit me between the eyes: A Christian can’t consistently accept the idea of an earth that is billions of years old (with its supposed millions of years of layers of fossils that we know contain evidence of cancer and other diseases in bones), and accept the statements concerning sin and death in the Bible. Over the years, we have certainly developed such arguments to a much more sophisticated level, but the respect I had for the authority of the Word as instilled in me by my father caused me to recognize the vital importance of this death issue.

This small booklet gave me a number of biblical arguments about why Christians can’t accept molecules-to-man evolution and the Bible’s record of origins at the same time. For example, Darwinian evolution teaches man evolved from ape-like ancestors, but the Bible teaches Adam was created from dust and Eve was created from his side. Thus, there is no way one can consistently reconcile the Genesis account of the creation of man (if one takes it at face value) with the Darwinian account. These explanations sustained me for some time.

As the years progressed, the Lord confirmed in my thinking that it was important to wait for answers, just as my father had trained me. I learned to continue in heartfelt faith, based on what God said in His Word, in spite of a lack of understanding. Passages from Job have helped me considerably in dealing with secular ideas and secular interpretations of evidence when they conflict with what the Word of God says:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding (Job 38:4).

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:1–6; NKJV).

God aggressively quizzes Job through chapters 38 to 42, asking him questions about various animals and other aspects of the earth and universe that Job cannot possibly answer. “Job, were you there when I made the earth? Do you know this? What about this, Job? Do you understand that? How much do you know about this?” At the end of God’s inquisition, Job falls down in dust and ashes, basically saying, “I give up Lord — compared to You I know nothing.”

Psalm 147:5 reminds us that “Great is our Lord, and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.” It is absolutely impossible that we should understand everything . . . yet God does, and for the time being, He has given us all the answers we need for a big-picture understanding of life and the universe in His holy and perfect Bible.

My father’s words echoed the truth of the Job passages. To this day, I often remember one of the things my father taught me: If the Bible can’t be trusted in one area, how can it be trusted anywhere else? Dad clearly understood the importance of not compromising God’s Word with man’s fallible ideas . . . and he taught me to do the same. Looking back on this time, I can’t help but think of Proverbs 2:3–6:

Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, And find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding (NKJV).

So, as I prayed for answers, I held to my faith in a vacuum of scientific evidence. Still, I felt the conflict between what I thought was “science” and my faith. (I found out later that there is a big difference between “observational science” which we all agree with, and “historical science” which involves the scientist’s beliefs about the past.) I really wanted to honor God’s Word and find the answers that would validate what I believed to be true. I needed some scientific answers to sort this out; but where would I find them? While I didn’t know it at the time, God was working in a special way to provide them for me.

God heard my earnest prayers. In 1974, during my post-graduate year, I mentioned the creation/evolution issue and my dilemma to a friend. He told me about a book that had been published in America which gave lots of scientific answers concerning geology and Noah’s flood. Where would I obtain such a book? I traveled into the city of Brisbane to visit the only Christian bookstore I was aware of. It was on the second floor of an old building — not very easy to find. When I described this book on the Flood to the woman looking after the store, she immediately went and found a copy of The Genesis Flood by Morris and Whitcomb. (I still have this first major creation book that began my creation library.)

As I read the book, I found so many answers to questions about dating methods, rock layers, fossils, and many other aspects of the creation/evolution issue. I was so excited! They were answers that made sense and clearly showed that observational science confirmed the Bible’s account of creation and the Flood. (Even though some of the arguments in this book are now out of date, subsequent research built on this publication has only reinforced the overwhelming evidence that confirms the Bible’s account of history in Genesis.) My eyes were opened and I began to understand the nature of the scientific arguments concerning the origins issue for the first time. I clearly remember smiling and thinking, Once again my father’s stand on the Scripture has been vindicated — and once again God’s infallible Word has judged the pretense of the evolutionists and the compromise of liberal theologians.

Almost 30 years later, while visiting a particular tourist attraction in Brisbane, an elderly lady recognized me and approached me. As we talked, I realized that she and her husband had owned the Christian bookstore where I purchased The Genesis Flood. I explained to her that this was the first major creation book I had obtained, and that it was an integral part of my journey through life. I shared with her that the Lord used that one book to begin a creation ministry in Australia, then Answers in Genesis in the United States, and now many other parts of the world.

She became very excited and told me that her husband had had a real interest in science, the Bible, and the creation/evolution issue. He had such a burden that he made sure he had a copy of The Genesis Flood in his bookshop after he found out about it. That book was there on the shelf waiting for me to purchase it.

Soon, I took the book to my father saying, “Dad, I’ve found many answers to the creation/evolution issue! Observational science does confirm the Genesis account!” To this day, I can still picture that smile on his face as he flipped through the pages. He so loved the Word of God and was so thrilled to have adequate answers to uphold God’s Word in Genesis. If my father had compromised his stand on the Word before he had the evidence to confirm its authority, I don’t believe I would be writing this book or be involved in active ministry today. Thankfully, my father’s faith held, and he chose to act on it. In the process, he began a legacy of worldwide influence that neither of us dreamed possible — not from a no-name bunch of outback Australians at least!

****

In a public cemetery in the city of Brisbane, Australia, stands a particular gravestone. The marker is not outstanding in any sense; it is not in any prominent place, nor do tourists gather at this spot. Throughout the city of Brisbane there are neither statues nor memorials in memory of the man whose body rests below the marker.

As one among the thousands of other gravestones, this marker is not easy to find. Unless you were specifically looking for it, there would be no reason to even think about searching for it, or to think it should be noteworthy from all the others, but it is noteworthy to me — even more than those of Luther and Bunyan. The words on this gravestone are few and simple:

In loving memory of HAM, Mervyn Alfred

who passed into the presence of the Lord on 9th June, 1995

Aged 66 years

“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”

Forever Loved

No signs, no statues, no museum. Our dad, together with our precious and godly mother, will be remembered by memorials of a different kind . . . memorials that will stand into eternity, long after the plaques and portraits of others have fallen. Mum and Dad produced six living memorials in their children, and we, in turn, are now creating a godly inheritance to leave to our children. By the grace of God it will be a godly legacy that will teach and remind people for generations to come about the authority of the Word of God and the saving mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A rag-tag bunch we are, dented and tainted by our own sin. We all have our struggles and battles with the old nature, but we praise the Lord for the godly parents to whom we were entrusted to be trained for our ministries in this world and the next.

Understanding the sovereignty of God, I know I would not be in this ministry if it wasn’t for the upbringing my parents gave me. They set the example as dedicated and humble Christians who intentionally sought to raise a godly family that would evangelize the lost in an ungodly world. The Answers in Genesis ministry is itself a memorial to my parents and the legacy they began in our lives and in our world.

Please understand that you too will leave a legacy to the generations to follow. They may not build memorials to you and it’s unlikely that they will place signs outside of the place of your birth . . . but what you leave behind will forever impact the hearts and souls of those in your family and beyond. You will leave a legacy; the only question is what kind of legacy will it be. May you recognize from this day forward one certain thing: The foundation of a legacy worth leaving is made up of a faith in God, and a trust in His Holy Word. All we have to build will either stand or fall on this foundation.

Consider this question: What will your children say about you when you die? When your days are done, what kind of legacy will live on in those you touched? Most importantly, will the Lord say “Well done, good and faithful servant”? (Matt. 25:21;NKJV).

Key thoughts from this chapter:

1. Everyone leaves a legacy. The only question is what kind of legacy it will be.

2. A godly legacy is built on the authority and sufficiency of the Bible.

3. A godly legacy begins with a decision, and may require waiting for answers to certain questions.

4. Leaving a legacy is a big deal. Our children, grandchildren, and the world will be eternally impacted by it.

Questions to consider:

1. Has your community been more influenced by legacies like Bunyan’s and Luther’s, or have the people around you been more influenced by legacies like the one left by Darwin?

2. What type of legacy did you inherit from your family?

3. Have you ever made a firm decision to leave a godly legacy for your family and your world? If not, please consider doing so now. Your decision will make an eternal difference.

Resources and tools:

John C. Whitcomb Jr., and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1961).

Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993).

Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2004).

Brian Edwards, Nothing but the Truth (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2006).

Endnotes

1. The Pilgrim’s Progress was published in 1678.

2. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

3. Arthur Keith, Evolution and Ethics (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947), p. 28.

4. Daniel J. Smithwick, “Teachers, Curriculum, Control: A ‘World’ of Difference in Public and Private Schools,” Nehemiah Institute, Inc., Lexington, KY, 1999, p. 11.

5. T.C. Pinckney, “We Are Losing Our Children,” Remarks to Southern Baptists Convention Executive Committee, September 18, 2001.

George Barna, Real Teens (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2001), p. 136, states: “If we apply a ‘correction factor’ to these responses, we would estimate that about one out of three [nearly 30%] teenagers is likely to attend a Christian church after they leave home.”

Barna Research Online, “Teenagers Embrace Religion but Are Not Excited About Christianity,” January 10, 2000, www.barna.org/cgi-bin/PagePressRelease.asp?PressReleaseID=45&Reference=D – states: “When asked to estimate the likelihood that they will continue to participate in church life once they are living on their own, levels dip precipitously to only about one of every three teens.”

6. Barna Research Online, “The Year’s Most Intriguing Findings, from Barna Research Studies,” December 12, 2000, www.barna.org/cgibin/PagePressRelease.asp?PressReleaseID=77&Reference=E&Key=moral%20truth.

7. Barna Research Online, “The Year’s Most Intriguing Findings, from Barna Research Studies,’ December 12, 2000, www.barna.org/cgi-bin/PagePressRelease.asp?PressReleaseID=77&Reference=E&Key=divorce. “Born-again adults are more likely to experience a divorce than are non-born again adults (27% vs. 24%).”

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FIRST (Fiction in Rather Short Takes) Wild Card Tours: Last Mango in Texas by Ray Blackston

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

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Last Mango in Texas

FaithWords (March 13, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ray Blackston of Greenville, South Carolina, worked as a buyer and a broker for eleven years before cashing in his modest 401k and leaving his corporate cubicle to write full time. He serves on the missions committee of his church, has traveled to rural Ecuador on a summer missions program, and coaches his seven-year-old nephew, Action Jackson, in T-Ball.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (March 13, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446579610
ISBN-13: 978-0446579612

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Please press the Open Book Widget to read the first chapter.

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FIRST ( Fiction in Rather Short Takes) Shame Lifter: Replacing Your Fears and Tears with Forgiveness, Truth, and Hope by Marilyn Hontz

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

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Shame Lifter: Replacing Your Fears and Tears with Forgiveness, Truth, and Hope

Tyndale House Publishers (February 5, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Marilyn Hontz is a popular conference speaker and has been a guest on Focus on the Family’s daily radio broadcast. Marilyn is active at Central Wesleyan Church in Holland, Michigan, where her husband, Paul, is senior pastor. She and Paul have five children.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (February 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414318960
ISBN-13: 978-1414318967

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

INTRODUCTION

The Seeds of Shame

Shame is a prevailing sense of worthlessness that leads to the false belief I am what I am. I cannot change. I am hopeless.

—Robert S. McGee, The Search for Significance

A vague feeling of uneasiness had been nagging at me all summer. I had been asked to speak at a fund-raising event for a Christian conference center, but even after I’d prepared my talk, the discomfort remained. The committee was hoping my talk would inspire people to give financially to their camp. I felt that pressure, but there was something else too.

Not only was I feeling nervous about speaking, I was already dreading how I would feel after I spoke. I knew that as soon as I finished, negative voices would bombard me; not from the audience; no, much worse—negative declarations from my very own self. Why did I say that? Oh, why didn’t I remember to say this? I hope the committee wasn’t disappointed. They probably didn’t reach their fund-raising goal because I wasn’t good enough to inspire the audience to give. I was all too familiar with these kinds of berating thoughts. They would continue long after the speaking event until I had buried myself under a pile of self-loathing verbal garbage.

Actually, this critical self-talk was nothing new. When I first started speaking to groups, I tried to explain it away as adrenaline letdown. It was true to a degree; adrenaline always goes way up when you stand before a crowd of people. It’s also true that it can come crashing down afterward.

Yet I suspected something else was wrong, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I knew that even if I heard only positive feedback from the audience, the inner pain would not go away. For some reason, I didn’t think I could ever measure up to what I thought an audience wanted from me. But I also wondered if I would ever measure up to whom I thought I should be.

The speaking event arrived on a sunny Michigan day in August. The spacious dining room was filled to capacity with women seated at round tables, each brightened by floral centerpieces taken from late summer gardens. The numerous large windows gave a panoramic view of the serene waters of Lake Michigan. A deep calmness prevailed on the surface of the big lake. It was a calmness I longed for.

Several of my friends had driven a distance to hear me speak, but even their supportive presence did not still my apprehension. After we were seated, servers set beautifully arranged salads and baskets of warm, fragrant rolls before us. I was hungry but couldn’t eat. It was then I realized I was surrounded by happy, chattering women who had no clue of my inward turmoil. Outwardly I appeared confident and totally put together. Just like the lake, my surface appeared calm and peaceful.

I watched the clock as the women ate. The program was running longer than expected. I’m going to be late getting up to speak, I bemoaned quietly to myself. I knew the lady sitting next to me was getting ready to take off for a trip to Florida the minute I was through speaking—she had made that perfectly clear. “My husband is already waiting in the car for me,” she had informed me. I felt pressure and very responsible that she be able to leave on time.

Finally I was introduced, and the emcee mentioned I would be speaking on “Learning to Listen for God throughout Your Day.” As I walked to the podium I thought, How strange: here I am talking about God’s voice, yet my own thoughts seem to drown out His voice after I finish speaking at events. I knew as soon as I was done I would internally hear these kinds of things: Marilyn, you forgot to mention a certain illustration. Or, Why did you tell the audience about that?

Even as I spoke, I kept remembering that a man was waiting in his car for his wife to get out of the luncheon so they could leave for Florida. You’d better hurry up, Marilyn! You don’t want to keep someone waiting. Don’t be a bother. I finally concluded my talk and noted that I was only a couple of minutes over the time limit. Good, I thought, now that woman can get out to her car and leave for Florida.

As I walked back from the podium to my seat and sat down, unexpected applause erupted from the women. The emcee quickly grabbed the microphone. “Thank you, Marilyn, for sharing with us today; you’ve given us some things to think about. It was very meaningful.” I stood up again to speak with the women who lined up near my table to talk to me. One by one, the women graciously affirmed my talk. I was a bit overwhelmed, as I was not feeling comfortable or worthy of their compliments.

Something happened, however, that was forever to change the direction of my life and the way I viewed myself. The very last woman in line said, “Thank you for your teaching today. That was the best presentation on listening for God I have heard, and I’ve heard several messages on that subject.”

I didn’t know what to say. I knew I was supposed to say thank you, but it would seem too prideful if I just said that. So as I looked at the floor I said, “Thank you,” and then added, “It was nothing.” At that point, the woman gently took hold of my arm. Her touch immediately made me jerk up my head and look into her blue eyes.

“Did you hear what I just said?”

“Yes,” I replied rather sheepishly.

“Well,” she continued, “I mean my compliments when I give them. Marilyn, do you know what your response reveals to me?”

I shook my head no as I waited for her to continue.

“Your response tells me that you live with a shame-based perspective of life.”

Shame. I don’t remember anything else she said or, for that matter, what anybody else said that afternoon. The word shame lodged in my throat like a vitamin pill that was stuck for lack of enough water.

Shame. I thought about that word as I made the hour-long trip home.

Shame. Was it true? Did I have a shame-based perspective of life? Driving home from that luncheon, I tried to sort through the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt, as I understood it, meant “I have done something wrong, and I feel terrible about it.” I knew I had not done anything wrong at the speaking event, yet I still felt awful.

I then went on a deep soul-searching journey, asking God if shame existed in my life because of a breach between Him and me. God, is there anything I need to make right with You? Did I do something wrong? Nothing came to mind. Silence.

Hey, can’t shame be a good thing? I asked myself. If used appropriately, couldn’t shame reveal something that needs to be corrected? Maybe it was okay that I had this “shame-based perspective of life,” whatever that meant.

At that point I didn’t understand the difference between guilt and shame. I had often heard people use the two words interchangeably. Guilt nails you on what you have done; shame, on the other hand, hits at the core of a person—who you are. Guilt says, “You made a mistake.” Shame says, “You are the mistake.” I wasn’t dealing with something I had done wrong at the luncheon (guilt). I was battling my own thoughts: I am not a good speaker; I am not adequate (shame). Healthy guilt has an element of hope attached—an error has been revealed, yet you are hopeful that a positive change will take place as you address your shortcoming. Shame often leaves you feeling helpless—after all, it tells you that something at the very core of your being is defective.

Just as I did not understand the distinction between guilt and shame, I did not realize that there are two kinds of shame. The first, healthy shame, prompts you to correct—or prevent—sinful behavior. Good shame reveals that you are not perfect and that you are not God. Healthy shame reminds you that you have limits and that you will make mistakes. It can act like the warning light on your car’s dashboard that reads “Maintenance Required.” It can help alert you that something is wrong under

your hood. So you stop, pay attention to the warning, deal with it, and move on.

For example, when I was six, I started taking accordion lessons. Not long after, my teacher explained that I would be expected to play “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” from memory at my first recital. For some reason (probably because of the title of the song), I procrastinated and hadn’t memorized the piece by the time the recital rolled around. Not surprisingly, when I got up to play, I messed up big time. I kept playing the same measure over and over until finally I just stopped playing. There was dead silence. I was very embarrassed. I knew I was supposed to have had that piece memorized, but I had not done it. Thankfully, neither my parents nor my piano teacher berated me after the recital. In fact, my teacher even gave me a little prize at the end of the evening! Still, the good shame I felt pushed me to be sure I worked hard before my next recital.

While my illustration of good shame was from a silly example of childhood, I am concerned about a lack of good shame in our culture. The number of babies born outside of marriage, marital affairs, and cheating—whether on tax forms or in the classroom—are all increasing. Unfortunately our culture has a growing tolerance toward these practices. Thousands of years ago the prophet Jeremiah gave a sad commentary on his culture: “They have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush” ( Jeremiah 6:15). We are losing our ability to blush as well. Healthy shame ought to lead us toward repentance and restoration, healing and forgiveness. Good shame, then, does have its place.

What I’m talking about in this book, however, is another type of shame. It’s an unhealthy, destructive form that author John Bradshaw calls toxic: “Toxic shame gives you a sense of worthlessness, a sense of failing and falling short as a human being.”

The results of toxic shame are serious and long lasting. “People affected by it judge themselves, rather than judging their actions. If they make a mistake or do something wrong, they judge themselves as bad, rather than judging their actions as imperfect. They live in terror of unexpected exposure—of others seeing them as they see themselves.”

These were the vague feelings of inner torment I experienced not only every time I got through speaking but in other situations as well. Unfortunately, toxic shame lingers and eventually becomes a part of who you are and what you do and don’t do. It paralyzes you so you don’t think you can move on.

When I returned home from the luncheon that day, I ran upstairs to the solitude of my bedroom and fell on my face before the Lord. “Please, God, show me if there is shame in my life.” Instantly a painful memory surfaced—one I had never shared with anyone except, in part, with my husband.

An unpleasant memory from when I was five; a memory I had buried but couldn’t forget. It was a secret I had carefully hidden behind a heavy door in my heart for many years. I was still pushing against that door with all my weight to keep it closed.

God came that afternoon, so to speak, and slowly pulled me away from that closet door and gently took me into His arms. I was so tired of trying to keep it closed. I didn’t want that door opened, but I couldn’t bear putting my weight against it any longer.

He was reassuring and tender as He held me and spoke very clearly to my heart.

Marilyn, it is hard for you to receive compliments. You do not feel like you are ever good enough. You act as though you are “affirmationdeficient”; no amount of affirmation fills you up. You are afraid you’ll be abandoned. You feel overly responsible for other people.

At that precise moment, I knew—my outlook on life was shame-based. Toxic shame was the reason for my continual vague feelings of uneasiness and inadequacy. The Lord began to reveal to me the secret stash of shame I had carried for many years. He invited me to remove the tinted glasses of shame that blurred and darkened my vision of whom He had called me to be. Gently, the Lord helped me crack open the door of a carefully covered secret memory I did not want to deal with. . . .

Can you relate? Do you ever have a vague, bogged-down feeling that something is wrong with you? Do you ever feel that while you’ve been told God loves you, He certainly must love others more than you? Do you sense that you can’t measure up to what people or God want from you? Do fears torment you and keep you from being a confident person?

Perhaps you feel a rush of anger whenever you feel put down so you lash out at the person closest to you. Or you might down an entire half gallon of ice cream after listening to your boss go on and on about how you should improve your time-management skills. Maybe you berate yourself for minor mishaps. Say you accidentally back into a neighbor’s mailbox. Even after paying to have it replaced, you continue to feel bad about it and indulge in self-berating thoughts. Why wasn’t I paying more attention when I backed out of the driveway? How could I have been so dumb? And every time you drive by that now-repaired mailbox you wonder how you could have been so brainless to make such an obvious mistake. By way of contrast, people who do not view life through the lens of toxic shame may back into a neighbor’s mailbox and while they feel bad, they can fix the mailbox and then move on. They do not continue to degrade themselves.

Toxic shame can take an outward event (like hearing a critical comment or backing into a mailbox) and turn it inward. It causes you to focus on yourself in a negative way. Instead of recognizing that you accidentally hit a mailbox, toxic shame can make you believe that you are a mailbox hitter and always will be. If you make a mistake while presenting a workshop for your company or church, you tell yourself, I’m not a good presenter. I’ll never be able to speak again. You believe the internal message and refuse to give another presentation—even though you are very capable.

Shame is bound up in who we are and not so much with what we do. Author Stephen Seamands writes, “Shame, though it may be triggered by something we have said or done, is about our being.”3

Many avenues lead to this destructive kind of shame. If you struggle with it, you may have had parents who were shut down emotionally and could not affirm you as a child. You may have been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused. Perhaps you experienced an extremely humiliating and embarrassing situation and were teased about it. Or someone made fun of your body and to this day you can still hear their hurtful comments. These types of experiences breed shame. When this type of

shame is stuffed deep inside rather than addressed, it becomes internalized.

Once this toxic shame is internalized, it runs on autopilot. It can be triggered without anyone doing anything to you. Your own thoughts set it off! This toxic shame expresses itself as inner torment. Continual negative self-talk can be a dead giveaway that toxic shame is present in your soul.

Just as shame has many sources, it also manifests itself in different ways. Some people will try to dull the pain through addictions or eating disorders. Others will fly into uncontrollable rage over the smallest slight. Some will sink into depression and withdraw from others. Then there will be those who are so afraid of making a mistake that they fall into the pit of perfectionism.

Sadly, “some studies have determined that shame can be a key factor in suicide attempts.”4

If you struggle with feelings of inadequacy, perhaps, like me, you were not aware of or able to identify the root of these problems as shame. Until now! Dear reader, I long for you to recognize unhealthy, toxic shame in your life. Why? Shame seeks to paralyze you. Shame shuts down your insides. Shame cuts you off from truly giving to and receiving from others. But there is good news. Once you are aware of shame, you can reverse the atrophy. There is a cure! Perhaps you don’t struggle with shame but know someone who seems in bondage to an addiction or seeks to live as a perfectionist or is at an emotional standstill in life. Now, maybe, their struggle has a name—toxic shame.

The story that follows shows how shame can take root early in life and then, if left alone, grows effortlessly and stubbornly as a weed. Like a weed, it grows inconspicuously at first until later, when it stands taller than the life around it. In my own life, this harvest of shame produced bitterness and negative self-talk. Its most beguiling fruit, however, was that of lies—internal lies. Shame set me up to believe lies about myself—lies from the enemy of my soul. It can do the same to you.

If you or someone you love is struggling with shame, I hope my story serves as a helpful illustration. Obviously, your circumstances will be different than mine. Your shame may have very different roots, and it may not produce the perfectionism or inadequacy that mine did. Yet I suspect that the fear, anger, and disappointment we often feel inside is similar.

This is also a story of what I’ve learned about pulling out the root of shame and allowing forgiveness, truth, grace, and hope to grow in its place. In fact, I’ve included “How about You?” questions and action steps, called “Shame Lifters,” at the end of each chapter to enable you to identify the ways shame shows up in your life and then take steps to resolve it. Even if you decide not to do the questions and Shame Lifters, I encourage you to at least read through them since other illustrations of shame and hope are scattered through them.

If you’re not battling shame personally, these exercises may enable you to be a shame lifter and foster healing in a friend’s or family member’s life. In addition, turn to the appendixes on pages 189–197, which will help you recognize whether shame is a problem for you or someone you know.

While writing my story was often painful, my hope is that you will see some aspect of your story in mine and then draw even closer to the God who longs to be your ultimate Shame Lifter.

ONE

Fears and Tears

Human beings are born with just two basic fears. One is the fear of loud noises. The other is the fear of falling. All other fears must be learned.

—Ronald Rood, American naturalist

Fear took hold early in my life. It clung to me like maple syrup sticks to your hands after you eat pancakes. I tried over and over again to wash away the fear with my tears, but it didn’t work.

“You’re always crying. Quit being a crybaby,” my father would often say impatiently. “What is the matter with you, anyway?”

I was dubbed “Crybaby” early on and lived up to my title. I found the more I cried, however, the more my father distanced himself from me both physically and emotionally. Crying never really achieved what I had hoped for, but I couldn’t stop myself.

One night when I was four years old, I awoke in my bed and was immediately consumed with a fear of the darkness. I went to my parents’ room, stood by their bed, and cried. Nothing they said calmed my fears. “Marilyn, go back to bed,” my dad said more than once. Finally, he threw back the covers on his side of the bed and started toward me. I felt a firm grip on my upper arm. My dad pulled me down the hallway to our bathroom and snapped on the light. He shoved me toward the sink. The cream tile counter with its dark brown, spotted markings came sharply into focus. The ribbed, frosted windows on either side of the sink glowed from an outdoor light that cast distorted, prism-like patterns on the counter.

“If you are going to keep crying, I’ll give you something to really cry about,” my dad said. As he pushed my head over the sink, he grabbed a bar of soap and shoved it in my mouth. Over and over he washed my mouth out with the soap. The biting taste repelled me, and I cried harder than ever. I do not remember what happened next, but I do remember this: I was very frightened of my father. Just as the frosted bathroom windows contorted the outside light that was reflected onto the bathroom counter, so my father’s actions that night distorted my view of him even more.

I knew deep down my father probably loved me. After all, didn’t all daddies love their children? But I didn’t feel close to him. In spite of my fear of him, however, something in me longed to please him, and I desperately wanted his approval.

My dad faced huge pressures during my early years. He was a pastor and was gone from home a lot. At the time he washed my mouth out with soap, he was planting a new independent church without receiving an income. He was also working in the early morning hours at our local post office to provide for my mom, older brother, and me as best he could on his meager income.

About this time my parents decided that taking a vacation to visit relatives in Michigan would provide a break from all the stress of church planting. I was five and my brother was thirteen the summer we took that trip from our home in Southern California to Battle Creek, Michigan. By the time we neared the desert town of Barstow, California, I was crying. There were no seat belt laws in that day, so I stood up in the car and leaned over the front seat.

“I want to ride up front,” I announced through my tears.

“No, Marilyn,” my dad said. “You need to sit back down in your seat.”

“But I want to sit up by Mommy,” I explained.

“No,” was his firm response.

I melted into more tears. My crying continued until the car abruptly stopped on the right shoulder of the road. At that point my crying abruptly stopped as well. What was happening? I wondered. The next thing I knew, my dad had gotten out of the car, walked around to my side, and opened the door.

“Get out!” he ordered.

I hesitantly got out and stepped onto a very deserted desert road. My dad reached in the car and pulled out my little suitcase and set it on the road next to me. He then walked back to his car door, got in, slammed the door, and drove off. I watched in utter disbelief as I saw our car getting smaller and smaller on the road until I could no longer see it. I wailed uncontrollably. I was so frightened! I truly felt like he would never come back and get me. I don’t know how long I was left there, but I was certain there was no hope of seeing my family again. Sometime later my dad returned for me.

Thankfully, I don’t remember any other cars passing by, and I was probably not left there for long. Still, the memory lingers. My dad may have come back for me physically, but emotionally he had left me alongside that desert road.

A new level of fear began to grow in me, and I would wake up crying in the night for my mother even more often. While I could not express it at that time, what I was feeling was fear of abandonment. What will happen to me if I get left again?

My fears continued to increase after our trip and into the fall when I started kindergarten. I was so fearful of getting left again that my mother needed to reassure me over and over again that my dad would remember to pick me up from kindergarten. (My mother didn’t have a driver’s license.) It was at that point I developed my biggest fear of all—that my mother would die and leave me. She was my stabilizer in life, and I clung to her as much as possible.

Shame, mixed with fear, was beginning to send down new and stubborn roots into the soil of my very being. I felt shamed for being called crybaby and a fraidy cat by family members and others. Shame had the incredible power of taking those two phrases and weaving them into the fabric of my life. I believed and internalized those phrases until they became me. Instead of “shame on you,” I picked up the mantle of shame and it became “shame on me.”

Something was making me cry. I was carrying a deep, dark secret. It left me fearful, overly sensitive, and worried. Also, the fear of being left alone followed me just like my shadow did.

What was the matter? I couldn’t talk about it. So I cried instead. It seemed the more I cried, however, the less it helped; but still I couldn’t quit. Tears were somewhat like a comfortable addiction—crying felt good and temporarily relieved some of my anxiety, but it never quenched my soul pain.

My kindergarten teacher observed my tears as well. She informed my mother that I was fearful, lacked confidence, and cried easily. I overheard her tell my mom this as I sat nearby playing on the rug in her classroom during a parent-teacher conference. Later I asked my mom what the teacher meant by her words about me.

“Well, honey, your teacher said you are capable of doing the schoolwork, but many times you don’t think you can. You need to have the confidence to go ahead and try.”

Could I tell my mom at that point about my fears? Could I tell her that because she couldn’t pick me up from school, I was extremely afraid my dad would forget to pick me up after kindergarten? No, that sounded silly.

Could I tell her that my teacher frightened me when she yelled at the class and how I thought she wasn’t very kind? Could I tell her about a girl in my class named Donna, who accidentally wet her pants during school? The teacher made an example out of her. First she announced to the class what

Donna had done. Then she made a pair of panties out of paper towels and tape and held it up for the class to view. Donna was red faced, and I was humiliated for her. I didn’t ask why Donna wasn’t at school the next day or any other day after that. I felt her embarrassment. I knew why she never returned to school.

Could I also tell my mother about that secret thing that had happened to me months earlier, which had frightened me more than anything else? No! I decided not to share the fear that was troubling and paralyzing me. I didn’t want anyone to find out my secret. It would be safer that way. And so I cried and rocked myself to sleep each night. Those were the only ways I knew how to cope with my growing fears. My tears were simply voicing the unspoken fearful words of my fettered and cheerless heart.

HOW ABOUT YOU?

1. Can you identify with having an emotionally distant parent? If so, how has that impacted your life?

2. Do you remember ever being shamed as a child? If so, how would you complete the following sentence:

I felt shamed when I ______________________________.

3. Psalm 39:12 (NLT) says, “Hear my prayer, O LORD! Listen to my cries for help! Don’t ignore my tears.” (By the way, ongoing tears may be an indicator that something more is going on inside.) How do you typically express your hurt? How might you bring your shame or disappointment to God?

4. Have you ever felt hindered by hurtful, destructive words or names that were said over you as a small child? What were some of them?

5. Do you now have freedom from those words, or do they still have their paralyzing grip on you today? Explain.

6. Are you dealing with any past or current fears? In what way?

7. In Isaiah 41:13 (NLT) God promises, “I hold you by your right hand—I, the LORD your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.” What hope does this passage offer you?

? ? SHAME Lifters ? ?

? Identify a secret that you have been holding on to or an ache that just doesn’t go away.

? Why do you want to keep this secret hidden? Why do you think the ache persists?

? Identify a person you could safely confide in. Pray for the courage and wisdom to bring this secret or hidden ache out into the light.

Dear heavenly Father,

Thank You for listening to my cries when I call out in the “darkness” of my soul to You. You cry with me and take note of my tears (Psalm 55:17; 56:8).

Thank You that You do not leave me by the side of the road in my daily struggles. You are there for me. You are emotionally and spiritually connected to me! Even if I don’t recognize Your presence, You do not leave me—nor are You ever in the process of leaving me (Hebrews 13:5).You will not, nor cannot, leave me as an orphan (John 14:18). Over and over You speak peace to my heart and say, “Do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13).

Thank You that Your name for me is “beloved.” Your words never wound to destroy me. You speak only healing words of conviction, comfort, and encouragement. You value me and treat me with dignity.

Heavenly Father, You love me with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3)—the kind of love I know so little about, but desire to experience more. Thank You! In the name of Jesus, Amen.

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FIRST(Fiction in Rather Short Takes) Wild Card Tours:Married Strangers by Dwan Abrams

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

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Married Strangers

Urban Books (December 1, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dwan Abrams is a full-time novelist, freelance editor, publisher and speaker. She’s the best-selling author of Married Strangers, Divorcing the Devil, Only True Love Waits, The Scream Within, and Favor (a short story appearing in The Midnight Clear anthology). She’s also the founder, publisher and editorial director of Nevaeh Publishing, a small press independent publishing house.

Visit the author’s website and blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Urban Books (December 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601629753
ISBN-13: 978-1601629753

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Rayna

Rayna’s eyes welled with tears as feelings of loneliness and disappointment overtook her emotions. All of the romance and passion she envisioned would occur during her honeymoon didn’t happen. She imagined that this would have been one of the happiest times of her life. Instead, she was miserable. She had already felt a sense of cognitive dissonance, better known as “buyer’s remorse,” after her new husband, Bryce, had promised to take her on an exotic vacation in Cancun. Yeah right! she thought. Here they were, two weeks before Christmas, in a log cabin at Forrest Hills Mountain Resort in Dahlonega, Georgia. It was a five day package that Bryce’s best friend, Fox, had given them for a wedding present. A friend whose nickname came as a result of not so savory sales tactics, Fox earned the nickname because, according to Bryce, he was slicker than a snake oil salesman. Rayna found it strange that Bryce would refer to his friend in such a derogatory manner. It vexed her spirit, and she immediately remembered Proverbs 27:19: A mirror reflects a man’s face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses.

Now Rayna faced a deeper problem, the dislike of her honeymoon location. Besides the fact that Rayna was not the outdoorsy type, hiking and horseback riding never appealed to her. She and Bryce had discussed at length where they would spend their honeymoon… on the beach. Rayna’s fondest memories are of her vacationing in the Bahamas, Hawaii, and different beaches in Florida. There was something about the tranquil waters that made her feel at peace; almost as if she was communing with God.

Bryce had promised her they’d go to Mexico. At the last minute, he told her that he was unable to get the time off from work. He worked as a field reporter, and although he could have gotten a few days off, it wouldn’t have been long enough. She was disappointed. Her heart was set on an exotic locale, not somewhere with frost on the trees and snow on the ground. She wondered whether she was catching a glimpse of what her life with Bryce would be like. Broken promises. Even with advance notice, he still wasn’t able to come through for their honeymoon. The only person she blamed was herself for not getting to know her husband better before marrying him. As far as Rayna was concerned, a year of knowing Bryce hadn’t been nearly enough time. Trying to deal with her regret seemed overwhelming at times.

Rayna considered herself to be spiritually intuitive. But this time, she ignored the signs. A couple of weeks before getting married, Rayna had a disturbing dream about her wedding day. In the dream, her wedding day was a fiasco. She couldn’t remember all of the details, but one thing was clear—her feelings throughout the dream were unpleasant. At one point she said, “I’m marrying the wrong man.” Having awoken with beads of sweat on her forehead, Rayna dismissed the dream as a case of wedding jitters.

Even though the log cabin was nice—hot tub, double showers, and fireplace—the problem was Bryce.

“Good morning, Mrs. Henderson,” Bryce said as he kissed Rayna on the cheek.

“Morning.” She stretched her arms over her head.

The way Bryce said, “Mrs. Henderson,” sent shivers up her spine. To her, he sounded so macho at times. She found that whole “I’m Tarzan, you Jane” thing sexy.

“You hungry?” he asked.

She looked at the clock sitting on the wooden nightstand next to the canopy bed. The LED display read 9:00 a.m. in red digits.

“We need to hurry up before they stop serving breakfast,” she said.

Rayna wanted to escape out of bed and get dressed before Bryce touched her, again. His passionate desires seemed to be insatiable. Once, she asked him whether he had an implant or took drugs, because even after making love, Bryce’s physical disposition remained the same. Of course, he denied it. Most women would love to have a man who could last for hours. For Rayna, it didn’t take all that. Not if he knew what he’s doing. Unfortunately, Bryce wouldn’t know how to satisfy her if she were an air traffic controller directing him from the lighthouse. She remembered hearing that sex comprised only two percent of a relationship, if it’s good. But when it’s not-so-good, it’s about ninety-eight percent, she thought. Having an ungratifying sex life made it difficult for her to appreciate the good things about Bryce. Like the way he’d rub her feet whenever they sat next to each other on the couch, or the way he’d give her an all over body massage.

“Let’s take communion first,” Bryce suggested, revealing a devilish grin.

Communion was Bryce’s way of asking for physical intimacy, and she thought it was sweet. He had this good guy, bad boy routine down to a science. Rayna looked over at him and immediately became turned on. Her husband was hot. Brad Pitt and George Clooney had nothing on Bryce. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and his smooth, hairless chest was toned and muscular. She noticed that his abs workout was working, because the lining of a six-pack was visible. She thought he was sexy. Too bad he can’t deliver.

“Not right now,” she grumbled.

It amazed Rayna how her husband could have so much going on—good looks, a body like a Greek Adonis, sex appeal, a smile that could light up a room, yet he didn’t know how to straighten her hair and curl her toes, so to speak. It’s not like she hadn’t expressed her dissatisfaction to Bryce. He knew full well that she was frustrated; yet he wouldn’t do anything to change it. Every time she wanted to try something new or different, he called her sadistic. Her feelings were crushed. More than anything, she wanted to please him, and in the process, get pleased. His inflexibility made Rayna feel less desirable and unappreciated.

She got out of the king-sized bed, walked across the hardwood floor, and went into the double showers. Thankfully, the water running down her face camouflaged the tears streaming down her cheeks. Rayna felt as if she had made a terrible mistake by marrying Bryce. After they consummated their marriage a couple of nights ago, she went into the bathroom and cried. How could two people be so physically incompatible? she thought. She had never heard of such a thing, especially not with married couples. She wondered what she had done to deserve such an unfulfilling union. Silently, she prayed.

Lord, forgive me for my sins. Please help me deal with this marriage. Whatever sin is blocking me from being a good wife, I ask that you remove it. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

As she exited the shower and wrapped her body in a towel, Bryce entered the bathroom. He embraced Rayna, and she melted. Her desire to be close to him was overwhelming; then the thought of being disappointed crept in and immediately turned her off. Not because she didn’t love him, because she did. It was more because of his indifferent attitude. When they made love, she sensed that his thoughts were elsewhere. He wouldn’t look at her, and that bothered her. She wondered whether it was because he was white, and she was black. Then she quickly dismissed that notion because Bryce didn’t seem to have a racist bone in his body. His expectation of going all the way at the slightest hint of affection made her hesitant to hug or kiss him. She couldn’t even rub her hand along her leg without him getting turned on.

Freeing herself from his toned arms, she looked at his disappointed face and said, “I saved you some hot water. I’m going to get dressed.”

She went back into the bedroom. Since it was cold outside, she slipped into a cashmere sweater, jeans and boots. Her hair was styled in a short, curled “do” like the actress Halle Berry.

Several minutes later, Bryce came from out of the shower. “You look nice,” Bryce complimented as he dried off, and changed into a gray mock neck sweater, jeans and Timberlands.

“Thanks. So do you.”

They put on their coats and gloves and left the cabin. Rayna noticed there was frost on the surrounding trees. They walked to the couples-only “Secret Garden” dining room, which happened to be a few feet away.

The hostess, dressed in a sweater and jeans, said, “Are you on your honeymoon?”

“Yes,” Bryce replied, smiling. “How could you tell?”

Rayna felt like saying, “Because we’re in the couples-only dining room,” but she refrained. In Bryce’s defense, they could’ve been dating and vacationing together, she reasoned.

“You have that glow about you,” the hostess replied.

Bryce looked at Rayna lovingly, and grabbed her gloved hand.

“It’s a buffet,” the hostess explained, smiling. “Seat yourself wherever you like.”

Thank goodness, Rayna thought. Every time they went out to eat, Bryce always asked the waiter or waitress, “What do you recommend?” It used to bother Rayna, so she asked him why he did that. He told her that it eliminated the guesswork. “Who better to tell you about the food than the people who work at the restaurant?” Bryce replied. She understood, but never adopted that philosophy. She enjoyed scanning the selections. When she would narrow her choices down to two entrées, then she would ask the waiter or waitress for their opinion. Her indecisiveness tended to bother Bryce, but she didn’t care.

They sat at a table surrounded by large, panoramic windows. They took off their coats and gloves and placed them on an empty chair.

“Can I get you something to drink?” the hostess asked.

“Two hot teas with sugar and lemon,” Bryce replied.

“And an orange juice,” Rayna added.

After the hostess took their drink orders, they got up and each fixed themselves a plate. The food looked scrumptious and fresh. Rayna had the cheese grits, scrambled eggs and bacon. Bryce filled his plate with French toast and sausage links.

They went back to their table, and Bryce led them in prayer.

“Father, thank you for this food and fellowship. I pray that this meal is nourishing to our minds and bodies. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

She mixed her eggs with the grits and crumpled bacon on top. Then she stared out the window. Trees for as far as the eyes could see… acres and acres of secluded woodlands. Her thoughts drifted to the first time she and Bryce met.

They were standing in line at the cafe in the Barnes & Noble off Cobb Parkway in Atlanta. After striking up a general conversation, Bryce paid for her latte. He seemed intelligent, not to mention handsome, with that sandy blond hair and green eyes. So when he asked for her phone number, she gave it to him.

Rayna went home immediately afterward. Within twenty minutes, her phone rang. It was Bryce, asking her to go out with him.

“When can I see you, again?” Bryce asked.

“How about tomorrow night?” she responded in a flirtatious tone.

“Great.” He sounded excited. “Where would you like to go?”

“Pizza Hut,” she laughed.

“Pizza Hut?” She could tell by the influx in his voice that he had expected her to name some fancy restaurant.

“Yes.”

Besides the fact that Pizza Hut was her favorite pizza establishment, she didn’t want Bryce to feel as though she were trying to take advantage of him. When they met, he was dressed in a suit. Not a cheap suit either. Rayna checked his shoes and Bryce wore black Kenneth Cole. He seemed to be doing pretty well. Even still, Rayna had wanted to get to know him personally. At the time, she was not impressed by the fact that by all appearances, he could have taken her to an expensive restaurant.

The following day, he picked Rayna up at her apartment in a rental car and took her to Pizza Hut. While at the restaurant, he explained to her that he actually lived in Chicago and was in Atlanta on business. He worked as a field reporter and was chronicling a news story. He also wrote a newspaper column. His profession seemed exciting to Rayna, because she had written numerous poems and short stories. One day, she planned to write a full-length book. Speaking with a real life reporter/writer fascinated her. As he told Rayna about his travels and how he became a writer, she hung on his every word.

“I have always been fascinated by the written word,” Bryce explained. “You know, it’s funny how I became a columnist,” he chuckled. “A friend of mine used to write a column for Chicago Tribune. She got a promotion and recommended me for her old job.”

“Wow! That was a major blessing.” Rayna smiled.

“I know,” he laughed. “Especially since I had just graduated from college.”

Rayna was not surprised to hear about Bryce’s accomplishments. He seemed so eloquent, well- spoken, cultured, and poised. When they arrived at the restaurant, they talked incessantly. She felt as though she were in a therapy session, because he was so easy to talk to.

“Where are you from?” Bryce asked, looking at her.

“I grew up in Orlando, but my parents and I moved to Georgia about…” she rolled her eyes upward, “ten years ago.” She took a bite of pepperoni pizza.

“Tell me about your family.”

She held up her index finger while she chewed the pizza. After she swallowed, she said, “I’m an only child. My mom’s a pharmacist, and my dad’s a neurologist. What about your family?”

“I have two older brothers and two younger sisters. I’m the middle child. I spent a great deal of my childhood being raised by my grandmother.”

“What happened to your parents?”

He sipped a glass of soda, or “pop” as he called it. “My dad died of a heart-attack when I was five, and I don’t have a good relationship with my mother.”

Curious. Rayna was taken aback. What kind of guy doesn’t get along with his mother? she wondered.

“My brothers and sisters have the same father, and I have my own father,” he explained. “As you can imagine, I was the black sheep.”

“You’re the middle child, yet you have a different dad?” she said more of a statement than a question, trying to make sure she understood him correctly.

“Yes. My mom was married, but she had an affair. I’m the result.” He stared at a scratch in the wooden table before taking a sip of his sparkly drink.

Rayna cleared her throat, not really knowing what to say. His candor surprised her.

He looked at her and sucked in his cheeks as if he were sucking a lemon. “My mom’s marriage suffered because of it, but they stayed together and had my twin sisters.”

“Then why did you have to stay with your grandmother?” She tilted her head to the side.

He looked her in the eye and said seriously, “Because my stepdad didn’t treat me the same as the other kids. He was harder on me. My mom figured that with me out of the house, the family could be put back together.”

“That’s terrible.” She furrowed her brow.

She felt sorry for him. Rayna hadn’t expected to learn such personal information about him on their first date. In a strange way, seeing him in such a vulnerable state attracted her to Bryce. She had finally met a man who was in touch with his feelings and knew how to convey them. Something in his almond shaped eyes expressed sadness. She could tell that his hurt ran deep. He was so nice that she wanted to help him.

Bryce squeezed Rayna’s hand, which was resting on top of the table, and said, “What were you thinking about?”

Rayna had been so deep in thought that she hadn’t even realized that the hostess had placed their drinks on the table.

“How do you know I was thinking?” she answered, smiling. “I could’ve been admiring the scenery.”

“You might’ve started out doing that, but I can tell by the way your eyes shifted downward and to the right that you were remembering something.”

He’s so analytical, she thought. He pays attention to everything. That’s what she gets for hooking up with a brain-iac.

“I was thinking about us,” she admitted. “I can’t believe that after six months of being engaged, we’re finally married.”

Rayna’s decision to marry Bryce was an easy one. He proposed to her three months after they met. They had been talking on the phone every day, several times per day. Maintaining a long distance relationship wasn’t easy. She missed him terribly and wanted companionship. She was twenty years old and a sophomore at Mercer University. Bryce was three years her senior. They were deeply in love.

“Rayna,” he said, interrupting her thoughts once again. “I love you so much,” he grinned sheepishly, licking his pink lips.

“I love you, too.” She gave a faint smile.

“You don’t understand. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anybody, including my own mother. I don’t know what I’d ever do without you, Rayna,” Bryce declared.

Somehow, hearing Bryce say he loved her more than his mother disturbed her, because although she loved him, she didn’t think it could be compared to the love she has for her parents. Never had she met anyone who could make her remotely think that she loved them more than either one of her parents. She couldn’t even imagine. Then again, she thought, Bryce’s relationship with his mother was strained. So was it really far-fetched for him to love someone more than her?

Even though she believed him wholeheartedly, Rayna wasn’t sure how to respond to his statement. The first time Bryce ever told Rayna that he loved her was one week after they met. It caught her completely off guard. She found it peculiar, because she thought it was too soon for them to exchange those three little words that carry a whole lot of weight. She didn’t say it back to him, because she didn’t take saying, “I love you” lightly.

Marrying Bryce seemed to make logical sense to Rayna. He was an avid reader, had an incredible vocabulary, and was well-versed in many different things. And she couldn’t deny the obvious. Bryce was fine and saved. And in Rayna’s opinion, that was definitely a plus. Not to mention that he’s a visionary and ambitious. One of the things Rayna admired about him was the fact that he knew a little about a wide array of subjects. He was able to discuss anything with anyone ranging from jazz music to the Greek classics to the Bible. And her parents loved him. Before deciding to commit, Rayna had a conversation with her Aunt Sylvia, which persuaded Rayna to marry Bryce.

Aunt Sylvia and Rayna had a close-knit relationship. She was Rayna’s mother’s younger sister, in her forties, and has never been married. Based on what she had told her aunt, like the way Bryce would call throughout the day, or send flowers, or take Rayna to nice restaurants, Sylvia was convinced that Bryce loved Rayna. What tilted the scale in Bryce’s favor was when Aunt Sylvia said, “Girl, what are you dragging your feet for? Do you know how hard it is to find a man who wants to get married?”

Rayna was glad when the hostess returned and asked, “How’s the food?”

“Fine,” she replied. That way, she didn’t have to acknowledge Bryce’s declaration.

He bit into his French toast. “Delicious.”

Rayna picked up her cloth napkin and wiped the powdered sugar off Bryce’s full lips. His lips don’t look like the average white boy. Not Mick Jagger, but luscious and sexy. He smiled a dimpled smile. She could tell he appreciated the gesture. They finished their breakfast and walked back to their cabin, glove in glove. As they breathed the cold, crisp air, smoke formed every time they exhaled.

Back in the cabin, Bryce started a fire in the gas log fireplace. They took off their shoes, wrapped themselves in a colorful quilt, and cuddled in front of the blazing fire. It was quite romantic. Rayna closed her eyes, listened to the crackling noises being emitted from the fireplace, and imagined that Bryce would ravish her body and leave her feeling satisfied. Fantasizing and praying helped her get through the remaining three days of her honeymoon. Thankfully, she had her fantasies.

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