Friday, November 30, 2012

Love Is ........

Flashback Friday

The Perfect Rose by Felicia Rogers

Abandoned by his wife and left to raise a child alone, Caleb Reed falls short of the ideal work-from-home dad. He needs a woman to help him, in every sense of the word. At the suggestion of a friend, Caleb agrees to hire Ariel Lauren on a trial basis.

As an orphan, Ariel has more issues than just how to make it on her own. Yes, she needs the money that Caleb offers her, but more than anything she finds she desires his love. One calamity after another befalls her and jeopardizes her new job and her chance at having a family. But through it all, Caleb is by her side, his gruff exterior threatening to melt in the face of their shared attraction. Will they decide to continue life alone or will the magic of Valentine's Day bring them together?

Chapter One

She should be here any moment. Mabel had said ten o’clock
and assured Caleb the lady was never late. Now here he sat, sipping
hot coffee and watching Joshua make snow angels in the yard. His
mind relaxed and drifted to his earlier conversation with Mabel.

“You need help with that boy.”

“I know I do. But not just anyone will work. Joshua is

“Yes, Caleb. I know all about his intelligence. And the lady I
have in mind is perfect for him. Besides, she needs you as much as
you need her.”

“Tell me about her. Why would she be willing to work for

Since Kelly, his wife, had left him almost six years ago, Mabel
a nosy friend from church, had been hounding him to find a
housekeeper for his home. ‘A woman’s touch, that’s what it’s
missing’—was her favorite thing to say. Her intentions good, Mabel
was an old biddy to some but like a second mother to others.

When Mabel mentioned Ariel to him, Caleb knew she had his
best interest at heart. She explained that Ariel worked with children
in the church nursery and that she was different. When he pushed
for more information, Mabel would only say it would be good for
Ariel to be around Joshua during his birthday.

Now he waited, in the freezing cold, on a woman he’d never
seen and knew nothing about. Caleb Reed, ex-fitness trainer, turned
writer was going to depend on a stranger to clean his home, cook
meals, and care for his child. All the things Kelly should have done.
But he wasn’t going down that road again.

Caleb sighed as depression threatened to hit again when
Joshua ran toward him with a huge grin. He fell into Caleb’s lap,
hugged him, and galloped off inside.

The door banged shut and Caleb heard a car pulling into the
driveway. Looking toward the driveway he realized, he’d formed
assumptions about Ariel based on Mabel’s descriptions and they’d
all been wrong. He’d thought she was sending him a little old lady,
or perhaps a Mary Poppins character. But his expectations hadn’t
been the girl stepping out of the small sedan.

First of all, Ariel looked to be around twenty-five and around
five foot seven in height with a slender frame. Light brown hair
cascaded down her back in soft waves. She wore jeans and a sweat
shirt that read, “Bona Fide Jesus Freak”. Her hands were stuffed in
her pockets, as she approached the porch. A smile spread evenly
across her face. When her sunglasses were removed, he saw a
sparkle of emerald green eyes.

Whistling low under his breath, he stood. Caleb was going to
have to have a talk with Mabel. Was she trying to find him a
housekeeper or a model? This young, wisp of a thing reminded him
of a rare specimen, a rose in a garden that begged for a passerby to
stop and smell it. With her beauty, the party scene was probably
more her thing. There was no way this girl was going to want to stay
at home and just play house.

Holding out her hand, she spoke, “Hello. My name is Ariel
Lauren. Mabel sent me.”

Caleb felt goose bumps tingle down his spine at the sound of
her voice.

Ariel held an air of authority in her squared shoulders. She
gazed at him, with a smile on her lips. Confidence exuded from her
tone, but when Caleb looked deeper into the green depths of her
eyes, he thought he saw a hidden sadness.

A sudden urge to delve into her feelings and decipher what
had caused such a look on her youthful face overcame him, but
instead Caleb offered his hand in a formal greeting, enveloping her
small, soft hand in his larger one. “Hello. I’m Caleb Reed. It’s nice
to meet you. Mabel’s told me a lot about you.”

“It’s nice to meet you as well, Mr. Reed. I hope everything
Mabel said was good.”

“Of course it was. You know Mabel. Oh, please call me Caleb.
Mr. Reed makes me seem so old,” he answered, with a light hearted

“Okay,” she said, shyness overcoming her.

The feeling of camaraderie passed and silence descended.
Caleb was on the verge of talking, when she spoke again, “Mabel
told me you needed someone to help around the house and to watch
your son for a few months?”

“I do.”

“How much do you pay?”

Direct and to the point, that was good. “I’ve taken the liberty
of writing down a figure.” Caleb handed her a slip of paper. Ariel’s
eyes rounded as her jaw went slack. He wasn’t sure from her
reaction if she thought it was too little or too much. “Is there a
problem with the figure?”

“No, no problem,” she stuttered, still glancing down at the
numbers. “When can I start?” she said, stiffening her spine and
adjusting her purse on her shoulder.

“Well, I thought I might take a few days to check your
references, if you don’t mind.”

“No, of course not. I understand.”

“Do you have a resume?”

“A resume?”

Judging from her frown, he figured the answer was no. “Yes.
Do you have a list of your previous places of employment? Is there
anyone who can vouch for you and your skills?”

Ariel’s head fell, her eyes facing downward. She looked
around at the neighborhood, her brows furrowed as lines of worry
appeared upon her face. After a few moments, she lifted her head
with renewed optimism and smiled. “I don’t have a resume
prepared. I’m sorry. I had the impression from Mabel this was more
of an informal position. But what about a trial run? I’ll work free for
a week. If you’re unsatisfied, then you can release me, no questions

Caleb’s first instinct was to flat out refuse her offer, but
something about her called to him. What was her story? There was
no denying it; there was a story. Mabel was a sneaky one, no doubt
about it. And she had a reason for recommending Ariel. Caleb hated
to admit it, but he was curious.

He found himself agreeing to her terms. He nodded. “One

“One week,” she agreed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Love Is..............

Three Truths and a Lie with Iris

*I LOVE MOVIES, especially action flicks, and without a doubt I have to say that James Bond movies are my all time favourites – of course Sean Connery was the best of all of them!

*When I was on a flight to Australia we had one last stop over in Adelaide. Sitting in the transit lounge I was sick, tired and emotional as I had left Germany for good, when I noticed the guys opposite me in the really awkward bright green/yellow jackets. Made my stomach roll even more. One of the guys came over and asked whether I was ok and offered me a drink. I gratefully denied. Finally arriving in Melbourne and in my husband-to-be’s arms, the guy came  past me and wished me all the best. My husband’s jaw dropped instantly explaining it was Paul Reiffel, a then famous cricket player.

*While living in London I got to shake hands with Princess Diana when she attended the Premier of “Silence of the Lambs”.

*A fortune teller had told me that I would end up living in a place where “everything is up-side-down”. J

Iris Blobel
Presenter @


Friday, November 23, 2012

Flashback Friday

Chapter One

June, 2000

My elbow whacked Chris’s forehead for the fourth time during practice. He grunted and caught me before I hit the ice. Though I’d skated over half of my nineteen years, I’d never had so many collisions. Of course, until a year ago, I’d never skated with a partner.
I cringed and touched Chris’s sweaty brow. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He raked his hand through his thick dark hair. “A little head trauma never hurt anyone.”
I laughed wearily and arched my neck, stretching the sore muscles. The cold air wasn’t helping to loosen them. Looking up, my eyes honed in on the red, white, and blue banner above the rink:
Emily Butler and Christopher Grayden–2000 National Silver Medalists
Only four months had passed since Chris and I placed second at our first national championship, but it seemed like a lifetime. The triple twist, the high-flying element we needed to learn before next season, continued to elude me. If we don’t master this move, we’ll never compete with the top teams in the world.
I grasped Chris’s hand. “Let’s try it again.”
We took matching determined strokes across the ice, and the burst of wind cooled my face and loosened damp tendrils from my long ponytail. With a quick motion, Chris squeezed my hips and launched me into the air. I wound myself tight and spun but fell into Chris’s waiting arms before finishing three revolutions. A sigh heaved my shoulders.
Sergei glided toward us around the other practicing skaters. Our coach was often mistaken for one of us because of his youth. He nodded and regarded us with his deep blue eyes. “The rotation is getting faster. Focus on what you did right today. I see a lot of improvement.”
I relaxed into a smile. Before I’d started working with Sergei, I’d heard many horror stories about Russian coaches. Sergei demanded discipline and maximum effort, but his energy stayed positive, and he provided constant encouragement.
Chris and I left the ice and sat on the short set of wooden bleachers. My ankles thanked me as I untied my skate laces and gave them space to breathe.
“I guess it’s an improvement I didn’t give you another black eye,” I said.
Chris poked his swollen freckled cheek. “I kinda like my shiner. Makes me look tough.” He grinned, displaying his dimples.
“You’re going to need more than that to make you look tough,” I teased as I walked away.
Inside the locker room, the musty scent of sweat and metal contrasted with the cool freshness of the ice. After stowing my skates in my locker and slipping on a pair of sneakers, I pulled a fitted T-shirt over my leotard and winced as I bumped the fresh bruises on my arms. If people only knew how much pain went into chasing the Olympic dream . . .
I needed to talk to Sergei before his next lesson, and I found him in the rink’s upstairs lounge, which overlooked the ice. He was holding a cup of coffee and talking to a couple of the skating moms. As usual, they sat captivated, totally engrossed in his words, and I couldn’t blame them. When I’d met Sergei, I stammered through our introduction, spellbound by his captivating eyes and gleaming smile. His personable manner had quickly put me at ease, though, and I’d gotten past staring at his good looks. Important, obviously, if I wanted to get any work done on the ice.
As Sergei spoke to the moms, I remembered I had to phone my own mother. She expected a daily call once I’d moved from Boston to Cape Cod a year ago. I lingered near the water cooler and read the announcements stapled to the bulletin board until Sergei finished his conversation and moved toward the stairs.
“Sergei, do you have a minute?”
“Sure.” He glanced at his sport watch. “I have about ten. What’s up?”
“I was thinking of doing some coaching in the afternoons like I used to in Boston. Just a few kids, but I wanted to see what you thought.” I toyed with my silver cross and chain. “If it might be too much to take on right now.”
He took a long sip of coffee and gave me a pensive look. “I might have a better idea. Walk with me.”
I followed him down the narrow steps to the rink, and he set his paper cup on the boards. Skaters swooshed past us, creating a chilly breeze.
“Would you be interested in helping me with one of my novice teams?” Sergei asked. “Teaching them the pair elements would reinforce everything you’ve learned.”
I bobbed my head with vigor at his show of confidence. “That sounds like a great idea.”
He spread his hands apart. “Don’t I always have all the answers?”
“Yes, Oh Great and All-Knowing Coach.” I performed a playful bow.
“I’ve never had an assistant before. Maybe you should call me ‘Mister Petrov’ when we work together.” He lifted his cup to his mouth, a hint of a smile on his lips.
“You’re joking, right?”
His eyes widened with innocence. “Why would I be joking?”
“You’re only six years older than me.” I laughed and started for the weight room, and Sergei chuckled behind me. “I’m not calling you ‘Mister.’”

Within a week, I began assisting Sergei with his newest and youngest team of twelve-year-old Courtney and fourteen-year-old Mark. They were struggling with their double loop throw jump, so I acted as Sergei’s partner to demonstrate the technique. The kids stood next to the boards while Sergei’s strong hands grasped my hips and vaulted me across the ice. A double felt light and easy compared to the triples I normally did.
Courtney and Mark studied us attentively and tried the throw on their own. Attempt after attempt, Courtney failed to land on a clean edge. Her pink cheeks deepened to crimson as she huffed with frustration.
“It’s alright.” Sergei patted her shoulder. “Mark, she needs a little more height. Make sure you’ve got your weight balanced on the takeoff.”
“Courtney, also try pulling in tighter and quicker.” I brought my arms sharply against my chest.
Our students worked on the element each afternoon, some days having more success than others, but Sergei never lost patience. Watching him handle Courtney and Mark’s roller coaster of emotions with gentle authority gave me a new level of respect for him. He knew just how to reassure the kids and light up their eyes with understanding.
After Courtney and Mark’s sessions, I often stopped at the Starbucks near the rink on my way home. I learned Sergei was a frequent patron, too, and every time we ran into each other, our conversations grew longer.
One afternoon, we finally gravitated to one of the tiny tables and had been sitting there over half an hour. Sergei had gone to the counter for a refill, and when he rejoined me, he caught me softly singing Sting’s “Fields of Gold” along with the piped-in radio.
“Are you a Sting fan?” he asked, stirring a packet of sugar into his black coffee.
“Huge.” I sipped my latte. “Are you?”
“I have all his CDs. ‘Fields of Gold’ is one of my favorite songs.”
I leaned forward and rested my elbows on the small table. “Did you know he’s having a concert up in Mansfield next weekend? None of my friends want to go. They said his music is for old people.” I frowned.
Sergei laughed. “Yeah, I don’t know anyone interested in going either.”
“I wonder if there are tickets left. Maybe we could go together.”
He stared at me over his cup, and I shifted backward in my seat. I hoped he didn’t think I was suggesting anything like a date. The U.S. Figure Skating Federation wouldn’t approve of a coach and student dating.
I hastily added, “You know, since no one else wants to go . . . and we don’t know when he’ll have another show here.”
Sergei nodded and his mouth gradually opened into a smile. “Yeah, we should go. The last concert I went to was about five years ago, right after I moved to Virginia from Moscow. It was Dave Matthews Band. I hadn’t heard of them, but some people at the rink invited me.”
“Ahh, I love them. I’ve never seen them live.”
“They were great. Turned me into a big fan.” He tapped his fingers on his cup. “But what I remember most about that night was the taxi ride home. I didn’t have a car, and I lived way outside the city. The taxi driver didn’t speak good English and neither did I at the time. I fell asleep, and when he woke me up, I had no idea where we were. He’d misunderstood me and taken me to a town twenty miles from where I lived.”
I burst into laughter. “Oh, no!”
“When he finally got me home, I didn’t have enough cash to pay the ridiculous fare, and we got in an argument about whose fault it was he took me to the wrong place.” He chuckled and shook his head. “I gave him all the money I had and left him outside my apartment, cursing me out.”
Giggles echoed in my throat. “That’s crazy. Well, the good news is we can drive ourselves to Mansfield. Speaking of which, I should get home and check on the tickets.” I snagged my car keys from my purse. “If I find some, I’ll go ahead and order them.”
“Let me know later how much I owe you.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t curse you out if you don’t pay me right away.” I smiled, and Sergei laughed.
With my keys in one hand and my coffee in the other, I stood and aimed for the door. “I’ll call you when I get them!”
Typical summertime traffic slowed my drive home. I loved the beauty of the Cape during summer with the hydrangeas in bloom and the deep orange sunsets, but I missed the peacefulness of winter on the island. After crawling bumper to bumper on Route Six from South Dennis to Hyannis, I finally arrived at my parents’ vacation townhouse, which had become my year-round home.
In the sun-splashed living room, my roommate, Aubrey, was hunched over one of her ice dance costumes, needle and thread in hand.
“What happened to your dress?” I dropped down beside her on the beige chenille couch.
She pushed a few stray blond hairs out of her eyes and squinted at the pink fabric. “Some stones fell off last time I wore it.”
I picked up my laptop from the coffee table and drummed my fingers while it booted up. With a few clicks, I landed on
Aubrey glanced at the screen. “What are you buying tickets for?”
“Sting’s concert in Mansfield. Turns out Sergei is as big a fan as I am.”
Her perfectly-shaped eyebrows curved upward. “You’re going on a road trip with Sergei?”
“Mansfield is an hour away. I don’t call that a road trip.”
She straightened the short skirt of the costume and examined the shimmering silver stones around the hem. “You two seem pretty chummy these days,” she said with a sidelong glance.
I shrugged. “We like to talk when we get coffee. No big deal.”
“It’s a big deal when you start going out at night together. Coaches aren’t supposed to be that friendly with their students. Especially not young, hot coaches.”
My face warmed, and I focused on the computer screen. “We work together and have a few common interests. It’s nothing more.”
“I’m just trying to look out for you, Em. You need to be careful.”
My fingers paused on the keyboard. Aubrey was the same age as me, but her dating history could fill a book three times the size of mine. She’d been breaking hearts since I’d met her at thirteen. Our gap in boyfriend experience sometimes led her to treat me like a little sister.
“Sergei and I have a professional relationship. You don’t need to worry.”
She didn’t look convinced, but she didn’t press the issue. I turned back to the computer and concentrated on selecting two seats for the concert, ignoring the tiny voice in my head that echoed Aubrey’s warning.

A rumble of thunder rolled in the distance, and both Sergei and I looked skyward. Fast moving clouds hid the moon. A roof covered half the amphitheater but not our seats in the farthest reaches of the venue. Sting had finished his first set, and I was regretting not bringing my rain slicker.
Sergei rose from the long bench. “Do you want a soda or anything?”
“I’ll take a bottle of water.” I reached into my jeans pocket for the cash I’d stashed.
He waved away the money. “I’ve got it.”
I smiled as I watched his long legs take him down the packed aisle. I hadn’t been on a date in so long that I’d forgotten how nice it was having a guy do the little things like fight the crowd for concessions and . . . Wait a second. I shook my head. This isn’t a date, remember? Just because Sergei opened his car door for me and wiped the dirt off my seat at the amphitheater didn’t mean our outing was anything more than friendly. He was being polite.
The smell of popcorn wafted past me as people returned from the concession stand and climbed into our row. Sergei came back with two bottles of water and handed me one.
“This is definitely the best concert I’ve been to,” he said.
“I saw U2 a few years ago in Boston, and they blew me away.” I paused, and Sergei raised an eyebrow. “But so far, this is even better.”
A lone raindrop plopped on my nose, and my eyes drifted to the sky again. “I think we’re about to get drenched.”
A few more drops fell, and Sergei said, “If it gets too bad, we can leave if you want.”
“No way. I don’t wanna miss any of the show. Unless you’re afraid you’re going to melt?” I bit my bottom lip to stifle a smile.
He laughed. “No, I can handle it.”
The drops soon increased to a steady drizzle and pelted us on and off through the rest of the show. I sang along to every song while the rain coated my lips. Next to me, Sergei patted his leg in time to the beat of each tune, and every now and then, his arm bumped mine. His skin felt warm despite being wet, and with each touch my arm tingled.
By the time Sting finished his second encore, my navy T-shirt clung to me and my hair was soaked, but I was too awed by the music to care. I peeked at Sergei, and his short golden brown hair had darkened from the rain, making his blue eyes stand out even more. We moved with the thick crowd to the parking lot and had just hopped into Sergei’s SUV when the drizzle became a downpour.
“We got out of there right in time,” I said.
“You mean you wouldn’t want to sit outside in this? What, afraid you would melt, Emily?”
I laughed. “Oh, I could’ve handled it.”
The windshield wipers slapped back and forth, drowning out the classic rock on the radio. Sergei turned on the heater and drove slowly until we reached the interstate and pointed south to the Cape.
“I’m so glad we came,” he said. “He sounded amazing live.”
I combed my fingers through my hair, unknotting the long, damp waves. “I know. I’d see him again in a heartbeat.”
“Next time he comes, we’ll have to get tickets early so we can be closer to the stage.” He shot me a smile. “And out of the rain.”
“Definitely.” I returned his smile.
A shiver sped down my spine at the thought of spending another evening with Sergei. I didn’t know if I was still on a high from the concert, but being in the dark car with him was heightening all my senses. I’d always thought he was attractive, but only now did I notice how his smile softened the sharp angles of his face, how sexy my name sounded in his Russian accent, how his T-shirt hugged his lean yet muscular chest.
I gulped and set my eyes on the highway in front of us. You need to put those thoughts out of your mind right now.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Three Truths and a Lie with Meg Mims

Award-winning author and artist Meg Mims is a late bloomer, first published in 1997 in a children's magazine. See if you can figure out her fib :)

Meg is not very good at math, but loves Soduku puzzles.
Meg loves flowers, both annuals and perennials. 

Meg works in watercolor, acrylic and pen/ink media.
Meg grows vegetables, from tomatoes to watermelon and pumpkins


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Two Contests with Rocking Prizes

Beginning Nov. 15th until Dec. 15 we will have a picture competition! Who can come up with the most creative way during the holidays to say, "I LOVE ASTRAEA PRESS"? Most unique wins a Kindle Fire! Pass this along to everyone you know! Pictures must be emailed to and posted on the Astraea Press Facebook page!

Contest 2 :) When you find yourself surfing the net and you happen to come across ANY Astraea Press title being advertised....grab a screen shot and email it to Winners will be chosen at random from all entries. Contest ends December 1. Fun easy way to win AP swag and stuff :)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Flashback Friday

The day Anna Hampton's husband, Zach, was killed was the day she lost her faith. Ranger Daniel Cochran represents everything she doesn't like. Not only is he a lawman, but he's a God-fearing man like Zach. His faith might work for him, but the only thing Anna saw it do was get her husband killed. The Ranger’s presence grows more and more welcome, especially when danger lurks around every corner, and Anna is caught in the middle

Chapter One
Strawberry Junction, Texas
April 1875

Thunder rumbled in the distance, and Anna rushed her
children inside, managing to tie the leather thong to hold the door
closed before the deluge began.

Lightning slashed the sky, illuminating the kitchen and six-­‐‑
year-­‐‑old Beth’s wide eyes. Zach used to read to their daughter
when a storm scared her like this.

Tears stabbed the backs of her eyes, and Anna pressed one
hand against her stomach. “It’s okay, Beth. It’s just a storm.” The
words would do little to soothe her daughter. Nothing much had

Anna stifled the thought. Now wasn’t the time to drag up
memories that were best left where they were. “Sam, would you
light the lantern, please?”

Sam, looking much older than his eight years, nodded and
headed to the fireplace to retrieve the matches. “Mama, since we
can’t play outside, maybe we could play charades.”

The offer was made as much for Beth’s benefit as his own.

Sam knew how the ravages of nature terrified his sister. No matter
how many times Zach had tried to comfort her, explain to her the
reason for the storms, nothing mattered except the sound of his
voice during those dark times.

“Well, that certainly sounds like fun. Beth,” she touched the
top of her daughter’s blonde head, “do you want to help me set the

Blue eyes as big as wagon wheels, Beth looked up at her and
bobbed her head. She didn’t stray too far from Anna’s side on the
short walk into the small kitchen, and, once there, she dug one
hand into Anna’s skirts and held on.

The wind kicked up a notch, and the weather beaten rocking
chair on the front porch creaked eerily. Beth whimpered and buried
her face into the dark blue muslin.

Fighting back the tears that never seemed to really go away,
she knelt and took her daughter into her arms. “What did daddy
tell you about thunderstorms, Elizabeth?”

Sam finished lighting the lantern and joined them in the
kitchen, answering for his sister. “That they were just God’s way of
cleaning things up a bit. The air gets dusty, and sometimes, a good
rain is needed. Besides that, farmers depend upon the rain.” He
recited the words as though reading from a schoolbook.

Anna favored him with a smile. “Thank you, Sam.” She
indicated the plates still stacked up beside the sink with a jerk of
her head. “Would you please set the table for me?”

Sam shuffled toward the sink and scooped up the plates,
stopping at the stove to take a quick sniff of the stew bubbling in
the old cast iron pot. “Sure smells good, Ma. Pa always did like a
good stew on nights like this.”

Beth’s arms crept around Anna’s neck and held on. As her
small body began to shake, Anna sighed. Tonight, she would sit up
with her daughter to keep the nightmares at bay, stroke her hair,
and tell her everything would be all right.

And in her heart, she was lying. She didn’t know everything
was going to be all right, and, perhaps, in her heart, she didn’t
really believe it would.

She’d lost her husband, and the children had lost their
father. How could anything be all right again?


The first drop of rain plopped against the rim of his hat
quickly followed by several more until Daniel found himself
caught in the middle of a gully-­‐‑washer. Thunder growled so loudly
he couldn'ʹt hear himself think, and he spurred his horse into a
faster trot.

“Come on, Sonny. Let'ʹs get out of this weather.”

The stallion snorted and responded to the request for speed,
shaking his glistening black head back and forth.

“Yeah, I know. I'ʹll make sure you'ʹre bedded down where it'ʹs
good and warm tonight. Looks like this storm'ʹs going to last a
while.” He tipped his face toward the darkened sky and got a
mouthful of rainwater.

Shouts up ahead drew his attention, and he reined Sonny in.
The horse whinnied and pulled to one side, bringing Daniel
alongside a man in a long black overcoat. “What'ʹs going on?”

“Water'ʹs up over the bridge. Can'ʹt pass through here!”

Daniel flicked his gaze ahead briefly, never quite taking his
eyes off the man in his path. He didn'ʹt need his instincts to tell him
the fellow was up to no good, but he thanked the Lord for them
anyway. He just happened to know there was no bridge ahead
since he'ʹd studied the map thoroughly before ever leaving Austin.
“Is that so?”

The man nodded his head and pointed his finger off the
road. “I'ʹve got a barn you'ʹre welcome to take shelter in for the
night. Looks like we'ʹre in for a bad one. News in town is the rain'ʹs
gonna be around for a while.”

“I appreciate your kind offer, friend, but I'ʹm afraid I'ʹm going
to have to take my chances. I'ʹm expected in town.”

The man shifted, giving Daniel a glance of a holster tied to
his thigh. “Don’t think you want to do that, Mister.” The threat was
obvious, though the man'ʹs voice was shaky.

“Why don'ʹt you tell me exactly what it is you want since I
know there'ʹs not a bridge anywhere in this town?” The man'ʹs hand
flew to his holster, but Daniel was faster and leveled his Colt at the
man'ʹs forehead. “Now, I'ʹll ask you again. What do you want?”
Both hands went up in the air. “N-­‐‑nothing much! I-­‐‑I was wife is expectin'ʹ, and there hadn'ʹt been much work
around these parts lately. Don'ʹt got a lot of money.”

Daniel shifted in the saddle as the rain slipped between his
coat and his shirt, creating a wet trail down his spine. “And how is
your ending up in jail going to help your wife?”

“Aww, now, there ain'ʹt no call to get the law involved.”

Sliding his coat to one side, Daniel gave the fellow a good
look at the gold star inside the circle pinned to his chest. “The law'ʹs
already involved. I'ʹm a Texas Ranger.” He jerked his head toward
the man'ʹs gun. “That got any bullets in it?”

Sheepishly, the man shook his head and held it up for
inspection. “I ain'ʹt never been a good shot, so my wife always hides
the bullets.”

Daniel repressed a smile. He couldn'ʹt blame a man for trying
to feed his family, but the law was the law. He'ʹd sworn to uphold
it. Of course, there was always room for leniency when no harm
had been done. “What'ʹs your name?”

“Roy...Roy Eckers. My wife and I have a place a little ways
up the road from here. Just a small piece of farmland, but we hadn'ʹt
had a good rain long enough to grow any crop.”

“Well, it seems like you got a good one now.” Cupping both
hands around the pommel, he pinned Roy with a steely gaze. “I tell
you what I'ʹm going to do. You give me that gun of yours and get
yourself back on up to your house, and we'ʹll forget this ever
happened. But if I ever see you with another gun, I'ʹll have to arrest
you. Understood?”

Roy slipped and slid over the mud in his desperate haste to
get the gun into Daniel'ʹs hand. “Thank you, Mr. Lawman. I
'ʹpreciate that so much. Wife'ʹs due any day now. You'ʹre absolutely
right. My being behind bars wouldn'ʹt do her any good.”

Daniel nodded. “And first thing tomorrow morning, Mr.
Eckers, you come to the sheriff'ʹs office to see me. I might have a job
for you that'ʹll give you some breathing room until you can build
your crop back up.”

Sweeping his hat from his head, Roy stared up at him as the
rain drenched his face. “You gonna give me a job after I tried to rob

With a smile, Daniel spurred Sonny on. “I'ʹll see you
tomorrow morning then, Roy.”


Strawberry Junction—a small town where everyone knew
everyone, and they liked it that way. The Mayor had already
warned Daniel that intruders weren'ʹt always welcome, especially
one who'ʹd come to take the dearly departed sheriff'ʹs place.

Reining Sonny in next to only hotel in town, he dismounted
and secured the straps of leather to keep the stallion in place. “I'ʹll
be right back out to get you, Sonny. Just need to get settled in is
all.” He unhitched his saddle bag and slung it over one shoulder.

He climbed the steps into Miss Sally'ʹs Boarding House and
hesitated at the door, realizing three sets of identical eyes peered
out at him through the glistening window. He favored the three
young girls with a smile that sent them all ducking. Grinning, he
opened the door.

A portly woman with dimpled cheeks and bright red hair
secured in a bun bustled forward, wiping her hands on a white
apron tied loosely around her waist. “You must be Ranger
Cochran. I'ʹm Sally Henderson. The mayor said you'ʹd be coming in
this evening. What terrible weather to be ridin'ʹ in. You’re probably
chilled to the bone. I'ʹve already told my husband to bring up some
hot water for a bath for you, and you can hang your clothes up to
dry in front of the fireplace.”

Without pausing to give him time to speak, she hurried
toward the stairs. “Your room'ʹs the first one on the right. Not
much, but it'ʹs clean and well kept. My girls and I take care of that.
And speaking of my girls, here they are.” She turned toward the
three young ladies he'ʹd seen at the window, resting her hand on
each head in turn as she introduced them.

“This is Jane, Jenny, and June. My husband and I were a
shocked as could be when the doctor told us we had three of 'ʹem.
Still haven'ʹt quite figured that out yet, but we'ʹve been blessed.”
Daniel couldn'ʹt stop smiling as the woman rattled on.

Though a bit on the talkative side, she was a breath of fresh air
compared to the men he'ʹd been traveling with for the past month
or so. They'ʹd all pretty much kept to themselves, their mission to
stay alert, stay alive, and protect the law-­‐‑abiding citizens of Texas.
Not too much time was spent socializing.

Mrs. Henderson puffed her way up the stairs, pausing at the
second landing to catch her breath. “Water closet'ʹs at the end of the
hallway. Right now, you'ʹre our only customer so you'ʹll have it all
to yourself. My family and I share one down stairs. Breakfast is at
seven sharp, but,” she threw a cheerful smile over her shoulder, “I
don'ʹt mind keeping you a plate warm if you'ʹve a mind to sleep in.
Sheriff Hampton didn'ʹt usually get into the office until eight-­‐‑thirty
or so 'ʹcause he liked to walk his kids to school and spend some time
talking with the townsfolk.”

She finally reached the first door and turned the knob. “Well,
come on in then and make yourself to home. Don'ʹt know how
familiar you are with Strawberry Junction, but the telegraph office
is across the street in case you need to be checking in with anyone.”
Face flushed, she turned to stare at him. “You don'ʹt talk much, do

A full-­‐‑fledged grin spread over his face. “I can usually hold
my own in a conversation.” He didn'ʹt add that this hadn'ʹt exactly
been a conversation as much as a recital. He doubted it would be
news to this exuberant woman. It was obvious she had her hands
full running a hotel and raising three daughters. Probably not a
whole lot of time for getting to know folks, especially if they were
just coming through.

Sally harumphed and pointed toward the bed as if he needed
help finding it. “There'ʹs the bed. The wash basin'ʹs over there next
to the window, and there'ʹs a razor strap hanging next to the vanity.
My husband, Nate, will check on you to see if you need anything a
woman ought not be knowing about.”

Daniel realized for the first time he hadn'ʹt removed his hat.
“Begging your pardon, ma'ʹam.” He lifted the broad-­‐‑rimmed hat
and removed it from his tousled hair. “I don'ʹt usually forget my

She beamed at him. “It'ʹs quite all right, Ranger Cochran.
Why don'ʹt you go ahead and get yourself situated, and I'ʹll fix you a
plate of beans and cornbread? We ate about an hour ago, but they
should still be warm.”

“That sounds just fine.”

The woman turned to leave, paused at the door. “Ranger, I
do feel like it'ʹs my Christian duty to tell you the hurt in this town
runs deep. Sheriff Hampton wasn'ʹt just a lawman; he was one of
us, a member of the town and our family. So don'ʹt be too surprised
if you get a cold shoulder now and then.” She lifted one of her own
shoulders sheepishly. “We all tend to stick together here.”

“And I find that a commendable trait, Mrs. Henderson.” He
ran one hand through his hair and eyed the bed. His body
exhausted, he couldn'ʹt wait to crawl beneath the sheets and get a
good night'ʹs rest before tackling his new duties. “I'ʹd be beholden to
you if you could show me where the livery is. I need to get my
horse stabled for the night.”

“That big black stallion out front was yours?”
Alarm raced through Daniel'ʹs veins. “Was?” He strode
toward the window overlooking the street. Sonny was nowhere in

“No need to be all concerned. My husband done took him to
the livery for you, got him all settled down, I'ʹm sure. He'ʹs like that
for all of our customers. Figured you'ʹd driven too far to go back out
into that rain now.”

Sally Henderson stepped out into the hallway. “You just
holler if you need something, Ranger.” She paused. “And
regardless of what anyone says, I'ʹm glad you'ʹre here. Some things
just ain'ʹt been right in this town, and I suspect it'ʹs high-­‐‑time we got
ourselves another lawman.”

Daniel thanked her for her overabundance of information
and the promise of a hot meal then he fell on the bed the second the
door closed.


Anna breathed in the deep, rain-­‐‑rinsed air, swinging the
basket of eggs lightly as she walked into town. The previous night'ʹs
cleansing rain had left the air smelling fresh, lifting her spirits. The
sunshine warmed the bonnet covering her head, and for the first
time in a long time, she actually felt a bit more positive. Which was
exactly why she'ʹd left her chores behind today.

She needed this walk. It was a chance to clear her head, sell
some eggs to Mr. Baker at the mercantile, and hopefully, find a job.
That was the determination she'ʹd come to during her restless night.
She needed a job. Something to occupy her time. Sure Zach'ʹs
stipend helped them enough to keep food on the table and clothes
on their back, and the cabin was paid for, but the extra money
would come in handy. And it would keep her from thinking too
much. Remembering too much.

The familiar bustle of the town beckoned her, and she held
one hand against her bonnet to hold it in place as a gust of wind
whipped her skirts around her legs. She greeted several ladies she
hadn'ʹt seen in a while and wasn'ʹt surprised to see them whispering
as she walked by.

She didn'ʹt come to town much, preferring to send Sam to get
what they needed from the store. That way, she didn'ʹt have to see
the pity on the faces of the people who'ʹd once been her neighbors.
Even visiting Mrs. Waverly, who was like a grandmother to her,
was too close to town for her own liking. But today, well, today,
was just going to be different.

The bell over the door leading into the mercantile tinkled,
and the scents of cinnamon and licorice wafted toward her,
reminding her of happier times. For a moment, her mind drifted
back. Images of Zach bursting into the house holding a bag of
licorice high over his head while Sam and Beth tried to reach it
made her grip the door know so tightly her knuckles whitened.
“Mrs. Hampton! It'ʹs so good to see you again.” Madeline
Baker rushed out from behind the merchant counter, extending her
hands. “Why, I haven'ʹt seen you since...” The words stilled, and the
woman winced. “I'ʹm so sorry.”

Anna managed a stiff nod. Your husband'ʹs funeral. That was
what Mrs. Baker had intended to say. A knot formed in the pit of
her stomach, and suddenly, this didn'ʹt seem like a good idea after
all. The images wouldn'ʹt go away, and for a second, she swore she
heard Zach'ʹs voice, that gentle rumble telling her everything was
going to be all right.

Feeling light-­‐‑headed, she stumbled back. The older woman
reached out to catch her. “Perhaps you should sit down.” Genuine
worry creased Mrs. Baker'ʹs forehead. She'ʹd always been a caring
woman, one of the first to welcome Anna to Strawberry Junction.
Anna opened her mouth to reply, but a wave of nausea
welled in the pit of her stomach. She clutched one hand over her
abdomen. “I-­‐‑'ʹll have to excuse me, Mrs. Baker. I'ʹm not feeling
very well.” She rushed out of the store and into the street, the blood
draining from her face. Leaning against a post, she gulped in deep
breaths of air.

“Ma'ʹam? Are you all right?”

The deep voice startled her, and she jumped. The basket of
eggs dropped from her fingers, but a black-­‐‑gloved hand shot out,
catching it before it could make contact with the planks. “I-­‐‑I'ʹm
fine.” She closed her hand around the handle, careful to avoid
touching the man'ʹs hand. “Thank you.”

“Are you sure? You look mighty pale.”

Was she fine? No, anything but. She'ʹd tried. Had really
believed she’d convinced herself this time would be different, but
everywhere she looked, everything she heard, smelled, touched,
reminded her of Zach. She couldn'ʹt do this. Maybe it was time to
move. She'ʹd heard a lot of good things about Corpus Christi. Surely
the children would like living so close to the coast.

“Ma'ʹam?” Leather brushed her wrist, just the slightest touch,
like the kiss of a butterfly'ʹs wing, but Anna recoiled. He
immediately withdrew his hand. “My apologies. I didn'ʹt mean to
startle you.”

“Y-­‐‑you didn'ʹt. I just…” She broke off, the ability to explain
fading as quickly as her courage.

“Would you like me to see you home?”

Anna finally tipped her head back to see the face behind the
voice, and the knot in her stomach began to dissipate. The man was
strikingly handsome, dark hair, green eyes, and just enough of a
beard to look like he hadn'ʹt shaved in a couple of days. Broad
shoulders and a kind smile—a man her daddy would have called
“the trustin'ʹ kind”.

Realizing, she was staring, she dropped her gaze. The sun
glinted off metal, immediately drawing her attention to the star
pinned to his vest. Her defenses went up.

Snagging the basket free from his grasp, she inclined her
head. “As I said, I'ʹm fine. Thank you for catching my basket.” She
quickly turned to leave, knowing it was rude, but desperately
needing to get away before the tears began.

It had been the star. Though it was different from the one
Zach had worn, it was still the sign of a lawman, and the
knowledge was enough to erase any other thought from her mind.


Daniel watched her hurry away, his shoulder resting against
the same post. He'ʹd seen something in the woman'ʹs eyes. Was it
pain? Fear? Had he scared her? And if so, how?

“Oh, you'ʹll have to excuse her, Mr. Cochran. That'ʹs Mrs.
Hampton—the sheriff'ʹs wife, and since she lost her husband not
quite a year ago, she'ʹs not been herself.” Mrs. Baker was quick to

His lips curved into a smile. Though a pleasant and
charitable woman, Mrs. Baker had quickly identified herself as the
town gossip, or the purveyor of information as she'ʹd called herself.
In just one hour, he'ʹd learned that the saloon had recently
closed down, though no one had really learned why, the new
Reverend was single and obviously looking for a bride, a man his
age should have already been married by now, and Mrs. Baker'ʹs
daughter just happened to be of marrying age. Oh, and he could
have fresh coffee beans on the house just like she'ʹd done for Sheriff

With her ongoing stream of information, Madeline Baker
eclipsed Sally Henderson'ʹs exuberance.

“I'ʹm sorry to hear that, Mrs. Baker. I'ʹll be sure to pass along
my condolences when I see her at church Sunday.”

Mrs. Baker laid a plump hand on his arm. “Oh, the poor
thing doesn'ʹt come to church anymore. I imagine she'ʹs just hurting
too much inside right now.” She paused, pursed her lips. “Did you
say church? You attend church?”

Daniel tipped his hat. “Yes, Ma’am. Every Sunday.”

She clasped one hand to her heart. “I’m so thankful the Lord
done sent us another God-­‐‑fearing man, especially,” she paused for
effect, “a single one. Lots of pretty girls around here needing a
good man.”

Chuckling, Daniel stepped off the wooden sidewalk. “You
have a good day, Mrs. Baker, and I'ʹll be sure to pick up some of
those beans first thing tomorrow morning.”

“See that you do.”

He didn'ʹt have any doubt the woman would deliver them if
he didn'ʹt show up. With a grin, he crossed the street and pushed
open the door to the late sheriff'ʹs office.

Though the interim sheriff had maintained the law, he
hadn'ʹt been as efficient about order. The top of the desk was a
mess, and cobwebs lurked in every corner. Dust layered at least an
inch think on top of every available surface, and the floor looked
like it hadn'ʹt been swept in, well, he didn'ʹt know how long.

Well, no time like the present to get busy. He cast a swift
glance at the overhead clock. Closing in on ten o'ʹclock and no sigh
of Roy Eckers. Reckon he'ʹd have to make a trip out to the man'ʹs
house this evening if he didn'ʹt bother to show.

The door banged open against the wall, and Roy shuffled in,
his hat in his hands and an apologetic look on his face. “Sorry 'ʹbout
that, Ranger.”

“The door or for being late?” Daniel took in the man'ʹs
bedraggled appearance and figured he'ʹd spent a soggy night in the
barn. No doubt he and Mrs. Eckers differed on the manner in
which he should procure money.

Roy lifted one shoulder in a half-­‐‑hearted shrug. “Both, I

Daniel couldn'ʹt resist smiling. “We'ʹll just forget about it

Scratching the balding spot on the top of his head, Roy
squinted. “I ain'ʹt got you figured out yet, Ranger.”

He'ʹd heard that one before. “Well, when you do, you can let
me know what you decide. Until then, how about grabbing a
broom and—”

Roy recoiled as though he'ʹd been snake bit. “You mean you
want me to sweep?”

“What'ʹs wrong with sweeping?”

“That'ʹs woman'ʹs work!”

Daniel sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose with the
side of his hand. “Not today it isn'ʹt. You need a job. I'ʹve got one to
offer you.” He walked across the dusty floor and snatched the
broom from the corner. Extending it, he waited patiently for Roy to
take it. “Well?”

Roy eyed the broom and the door. “You'ʹll pay a fair wage?”

“A dollar a day.”

His eyes lit up. “Well, that'ʹs more than fair, I'ʹd say.” Roy
snatched the broom and hurried over to the back of the room,
beginning to sweep with long, gutsy strokes.

Daniel continued to grin as he turned back to the desk. Now,
it was time for him to get to work, and he doubted it was going to
be pleasant…for anyone in Strawberry Junction.


“Mama, did you know we got a new sheriff in town?” Sam
stuck his fork in a piece of chicken, scooting it around his plate.
That must have been the man with the star. It hadn’t looked
like an ordinary sheriff’s badge, but he’d definitely been a lawman.
Anna’s blood chilled at the thought. “Did you hear that at school?”
“Yes’m,” Beth chimed in. “Becky said Mrs. Baker said he
came riding into town last night and that he’s going to be staying at
the boarding house for a while.”

“And he'ʹs not married.” Sam chewed a mouthful of mashed
potatoes while Anna choked on a swallow of coffee.

“What? What does that have to do with anything?” Already
the blood flowed to her face, heating her cheeks.

One thin shoulder lifting in a shrug, Sam took particular
interest in his biscuit. “Mrs. Baker said he might be looking for a
wife while he’s here. She said men need wives, and women need

Beth bobbed her head in agreement. “That’s what she said,
Mama, and she also said her daughter was gonna be at church
Sunday.” She brushed the crumbs off of her mouth with the back of
her hand before wrinkling her nose. “Mrs. Baker wants the new
sheriff to court her daughter.”

“But she said he was looking at you.” Sam studied her with
eyes all-­‐‑too-­‐‑knowing for a boy his age.

Anna shoved her chair back so abruptly, wood scraped on
wood in a loud screech of protest. Pushing herself to her feet, she
carried her barely empty plate to the rough-­‐‑hewn corner table.
“Well, that’s neither here nor there. Now, let’s finish up.”

Sam’s fork clinked against the tin plate several times,
drawing Anna’s gaze to his face. He looked deep in thought, as
though he were trying to work up the nerve to say something else.
Anna’s stomach knotted. Sam picked up on things any
ordinary eight-­‐‑year-­‐‑old probably wouldn’t. Maybe it was because
of Zach’s death, but either way, her son didn’t miss much, which
was why his next words shouldn’t have surprised her.

“What if he wanted to court you, Mama?”

She was surprised anyway. “Me?” Her hands fisted in her
skirts. “That’s ridiculous. Now finish your dinner.”

Sam poked at another piece of chicken. “Why’s it
ridiculous? You’re pretty, and you ain’t too old to court.”

Her temples beginning to throb, Anna rounded the table and
scooted Beth closer to her plate. “We don’t need to have this
discussion, Sam. There won’t be any courting here.”

Beth’s lower lip wobbled. “You think you’ll ever court again,

Kneeling in between her children, Anna wrapped her son in
a hug with one arm and Beth with the other. “I don’t know. To be
honest, it’s not really something I think about. But I’ll tell you what
I do think about—” When both sets of eyes were trained on her
face, she continued, “The two of you. You’re what matters most to
me in this world, and my greatest desire is to raise you both to be
strong, kind, and loving adults. If I do that, then I’ll know I’ve lived
a good life. Now, finish your dinner.”

Anna straightened and summoned a smile. “And once your
homework is done, I'ʹll read you a story.” She tried to inject
excitement into her voice, and her efforts were rewarded with
matching smiles from her children.

Feeling a small measure of relief, she got to her feet. Leaving
her kids at the table, she hurried into her bedroom, closed the door,
and tried to cry quietly.

There was no way to explain to her children the depth of
pain she endured at even the thought of courting. She couldn’t
imagine loving another man the way she’d loved Zach—the way
she still loved him.


“Ranger Cochran! Ranger Cochran!” Sweating profusely, the
rotund mayor of Strawberry Junction pushed his way into the
sheriff'ʹs office, using a handkerchief to mop his forehead. “We got

Daniel was on his feet and around the desk before the mayor
could say anything else. “What is it?”

“There'ʹs a rumor going about town that one of the Barnaby
boys done robbed a bank in Porter Hills, and he'ʹs headed this way
loaded for bear. He'ʹs a mean one, Ranger. Left town a year or so
back, said he was going to Gold Country to find his fortune.”

As the man continued to ramble, Daniel secured his holster
and settled his hat atop his head. Tuning out the sound of the
mayor'ʹs concern, he closed his eyes and said a quick prayer.

“Ranger?” Roy danced nervously from foot to foot.

“You...uh...need someone to come with you...uh...deputy-­‐‑like?”
Daniel placed a hand on the man'ʹs shoulder before lifting his
coat free from the hook next to the door. “I appreciate it, Roy, but I
think I'ʹd better assess the situation first. Lead the way, Mayor.”
“You got awful quiet back there, Ranger. Are you nervous?”

The shakiness of the mayor'ʹs voice told of his own anxiety.

Daniel smiled. “Well, I always have a healthy dose of
wariness when I confront anyone with a loaded gun, but
remembering that I'ʹm not the one in control always helps to calm
my nerves.”

Mayor Rawlins trotted along beside him. “Not the one in
control? What do you mean you'ʹre not the one in control?” The
man'ʹs voice had risen by an octave. “If you'ʹre not, who is? I was
assured you were the perfect man for this job. Did the Rangers
make a mistake in sending you?”

Spurs clinking, Daniel came to a stop and faced the man,
looking him square in the eye as his father had taught him. “I
didn'ʹt mean to scare you, Mayor. I only meant that God'ʹs in

Rawlins blinked once, twice, and finally breathed a sigh of
relief. “Oh. Well, good grief. Why didn'ʹt you just say so? I know
that, but right now, we need a man with a gun.” As the words
slipped past his fleshy lips, a shot rang out.