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Month: July 2020

Interview with DiAnn Mills and a Giveaway!

Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I am thrilled to have my friend, DiAnn Mills, as my guest. DiAnn and I met years ago as we served together on the Faith-Hope-Love chapter of the Romance Writers of America, and I completely fell in love with her passion for writing stories that take her readers on an adventure! Our paths have crossed many times, and we always make sure to take time for a coffee or a meal, so that we can fellowship together and support each other. I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did — and read on to see how you can enter to win a copy of her book Where Tomorrow Leads!

Tell us a little bit about yourself. First of all, I believe my readers should Expect an Adventure. If I fail to send them on an unpredictable journey with twists and turns, then I haven’t done my job. I live in Houston, Texas, and I love heat and humidity. My writing began in 1996 when my husband challenged me to stop talking about writing a book and just do it. He encouraged me to quit my job and give myself a year to get anything published. And if it did, succeed, I wouldn’t need to return to my day job. I took him up on that challenge. My first book released in 1998, and I’ve been writing since then. But a huge changed happened in 2017 … now, my husband works for me. Originally, I wrote historical and contemporary romance. My reading habits were romantic suspense, and that became my writing genre. I believe in giving back to the writing community in the way of encouragement, prayer, teaching, mentoring, and editing. I also direct the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference with Edie Melson. We also are the directors for the Mountainside retreats.

Tell us about your current release. Heather Lawrence’s long-awaited vacation to Salzburg wasn’t supposed to go like this. Mere hours into the transatlantic flight, the Houston FBI agent is awakened when passengers begin exhibiting horrific symptoms of an unknown infection. As the virus quickly spreads and dozens of passengers fall ill, Heather fears she’s witnessing an epidemic similar to ones her estranged husband studies for a living but this airborne contagion may have been deliberately released.

While Heather remains quarantined with other survivors, she works with her FBI colleagues to identify the person behind this attack. The prime suspect? Dr. Chad Lawrence, an expert in his field . . . and Heather’s husband. The Lawrences’ marriage has been on the rocks since Chad announced his career took precedence over his wife and future family and moved out.

As more victims fall prey days after the initial outbreak, time’s running out to hunt down the killer, one who may be closer to the victims than anyone ever expected.

I had this idea 3 years before the coronavirus attacked our world. But it required so much research until facts and the right people entered my path.
My mission then and now is to show a story that weaves hope, reality, and the sacrificial work of first responders when a deadly virus spreads through innocent people.

If you knew ahead of time your book would benefit only one person on their spiritual journey, would you still write it? Yes! I never know who or how many people will read my story. I believe God gives me the idea, so the reader may only be me.

Do you feel pressured to compromise your standards in order to reach a larger audience or be more successful? Not at all. I’m a storyteller, and my faith is shown in how a Christian character reacts and responds to the world. I don’t write sex, cursing, or violence for violence sake, because I write what I read: strong stories that are unpredictable and show character growth and change while reaching for a goal.

Fiction is not a platform to evangelize those who aren’t followers of Jesus. The faith aspect is not an engine additive. Unrealistic and predictable characters, preachy content, and verbiage only a Christian understands can be condescending to any reader. The practice lowers the importance of a writer’s first priority: entertaining the reader. The Christian novel is different because of the writer’s belief system. Good overcomes evil. Writers can give examples without trampling on the feet of unbelievers.

How do you push past the fear of your writing being average and be bold enough to sell it to a publisher(or agent or audience if you self publish)? Lots and lots of prayer! But I believe the fear is healthy. It keeps me relying on God instead of myself. The same fear that existed during writing book one stills stalks me.

What is your inspiration for writing? First: to entertain readers. Second: to inspire readers to be better people. Third: to encourage readers wherever they are in life. We live in a dangerous and unpredictable world. I want to show how God works through a character or characters to overcome evil for good.

What do you do when you hit a roadblock and have NO idea what to write? I go back to the beginning of the book and start reading. I also review my characterization sketch, research, and notes. At times, I consult a trusted writer friend. By the time I get to my troubled spot, I’m ready to write again.

I assume when you start a book, you pretty much have the plot laid out. Do you ever change your mind later on in the book, and go in a different direction? No! I don’t have the plot laid out. I’m an organic writer, which means everything rises from character. I will have an idea of what will happen, but it’s all discovery from what works best with the character(s).

Here is where you can find DiAnn online:

Website https://diannmills.com/

Blog https://diannmills.com/articles/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/diannmills

Twitter https://twitter.com/diannmills

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/diannmillsauthor/

Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/diannmills/

BookBub https://www.bookbub.com/authors/diann-mills

YouTube https://www.youtube.com/user/diannmills

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/81639.DiAnn_Mills

Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/diannmills/

DiAnn is giving away a copy of her book Where Tomorrow Leads to a reader! See below how to enter to win:a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Interview with Terri Wangard and a Giveaway!

Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I am so happy to have award-winning historical romance author Terri Wangard as my guest! Terri’s new release sounds SO GOOD! I am also fascinated by the story of Lusitania — and to have a history major with a master’s in library science write a book about it makes me think that it will reveal so much information I didn’t know before! Read on to see how you can enter to win a copy!

Tell us a little bit about yourself. I grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, during the Lombardi Glory Years. My first Girl Scout badge was the Writer. These days I write mostly historical fiction, and won the 2013 Writers on the Storm contest and 2013 First Impressions, as well as being a 2012 Genesis finalist. I have a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in library science. Classic Boating Magazine, a family business since 1984, is my day job.

Tell us about your current release. The Lusitania has always fascinated me, more so than the Titanic. Since I started writing, I’ve wanted to write a Lusitania story. Here is the blurb for Roll Back the Clouds:

A dream come true becomes a nightmare. Geoff and Rosaleen Bonnard embark on a once-in-a-lifetime voyage to England aboard the fabled Lusitania in 1915. Europe is embroiled in war, but the authorities insist the conflict shouldn’t affect a passenger liner.

Then, a German submarine hurtles a torpedo into the grand ship. Rosaleen makes it into a lifeboat, but Geoff is missing. She searches the morgues in Queenstown, heartsick at recognizing so many of her fellow travelers. Alive, but suffering a devastating back injury, Geoff is found in a Cork hospital.

While waiting for him to recover, Rosaleen is thrilled to meet her mother’s family, but a dark cloud hovers over her. The battered faces of dead babies haunt her. She sinks into depression, exasperated by Geoff’s new interest in religion. Her once happy life seems out of reach.

Will joy ever be theirs again?

What’s the first major news headline that you can remember and what do you remember? I think it was Robert Kennedy’s assassination. We were at a motel, and my parents were talking about it. In my vague memory, I can see them looking at a newspaper.

Who was your first Screen/Musical Crush? Donny Osmond

What inspired you to start writing, or did you always want to write? I wrote stories as a Girl Scout, since I received the Writer badge. I didn’t expect to write books though, until I read some stories that seemed to be written by formula. The names and settings were changed, but otherwise they were all the same. That prompted me to try writing my own book.

What is your preferred method of writing? I write on computer, but if I have an hour in the evening and an idea is percolating, I’ll write in a notebook.

How did you make the initial step into writing your first novel. What were some of your major roadblocks and how did you overcome them? I first wrote a book in the early 2000s. I sent it to a publisher. It took them a year to say No Thanks. I set aside my writing for a few years. Then, in 2008, I read Debbie Macomber’s Twenty Wishes, about women fulfilling their wishes. That made me decide to write again. I bought the laptop I still use today and wrote Friend & Enemies, the first of five novels, so far.

Who were some of your favorite authors as a child? I loved the Flicka, Ricka, Dicka series by Maj Lindman.

Do you write your books for your own enjoyment or more for what you think people would want to read? I write what I would like to read, and hope others do too.

Here is where you can find Terri online:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorTerriWangard

Twitter: @terriwangard

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/terriwangard

Instagram:  @terriwangard

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/terriwangard/

Website: http://www.terriwangard.com

Terri is giving away an ebook copy of Roll Back the Clouds to a reader! See below how to enter to win:a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Monday Morning Coffee and Chat 07/20/20 – New Project!

Hello! Welcome to Monday Morning Coffee and Chat! Today I’m talking about finishing a project, signing a contract, and starting a new project.

Preorder Alexandra’s Appeal for the September 29, 2020 release here.

What’s Hallee drinking? Hallee’s Brew! Try it today! http://www.halleebridgeman.com/hallees-brew/

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Interview with LoRee Peery and a Giveaway!

Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I’m so happy to have LoRee Peery as my guest. I thoroughly enjoyed this interview, her voice as she answered questions, and know that Touches of Time is definitely getting added to my “to read” pile. LoRee is giving away a copy of her current release –read on to see how you can enter to win a copy!

Tell us a little bit about yourself. I am a Nebraska country girl, having never lived outside the state. I am who I am by the grace of God: Christian, wife, mother, grandmother and great-, sister, friend, and author. I write fiction that hopefully appeals to adult readers who enjoy stories written from a Christian perspective, focusing on the romance. These include novels and novellas for women and men in the Contemporary, Romance, Historical, Time Travel, and Mystery/Suspense categories. I write of redeeming grace with a sense of place, including the Frivolities Series and the book based on my father’s unsolved homicide, Touches of Time. All are available on Amazon.

Tell us about your current release. Talia Ashby is a perfectionistic data analyst who, on occasion, sees her “fat” self when she looks in the mirror. As a svelte former obese girl, she reunites with her secret teen crush, now a pastor in the church she attends.

Cooper Valiant is dazzled upon meeting a high school friend he doesn’t immediately recognize due to her drastic weight loss. Since his sister had an eating disorder, he’d often felt empathy toward Talia as classmates teased and bullied her. In his pastorate position, he asks her to help girls in the youth group come to grips with body-image.

While working with the girls, Talia’s recollections of youthful hurts stir up past insecurities. She must reassess her spiritual journey, and what bothers her in the present.

Added to the mix are her reawakened emotions toward the man who once came to her rescue. Will their joint journey include a personal relationship?

If you knew ahead of time your book would benefit only one person on their spiritual journey, would you still write it? Without a doubt. I have met very few women who are completely at peace in their skin and with their looks. We can’t argue with the words in Psalm 139:14 where God assures that He made us fearfully and wonderfully. How can we possibly be unsatisfied if God made us? And to think He knows what we’re going to say before we speak boggles my mind.

How did you determine whether to self-publish or seek a traditional publisher? The reason I self-pubbed this story is because I contracted two time travels over two years ago and am waiting for their releases in July and August. I have yet to receive notice of a release date on a third. Don’t get me wrong, I love everything about my publisher and my affiliation with them. The editors and staff can’t be topped, but I felt led to get this story out once it was ready.

Do you have your plotline and character development already laid out before you begin writing a book, or do they develop as you write? A few projects back, I established what I call Beginning a New Romance, #1, 2, and 3. The first is a chronological order that begins with a spark, goes to who the characters are, including the wound that injured them at a young age. I go on to the character charts (#2), create a collage, one sheet for the hero and the heroine. Then I proceed to the tagline, what I call my 40 words, a working blurb, and several questions that get me into pre-writing.

The third is a formatted doc that includes goals and plot points at the top of each chapter so I have something to reach for as I create the scenes, which except for the opening, I rarely depict ahead of time.

Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever had a great writing idea? A pig’s squeal came through from a nearby television I wasn’t watching in a hospital waiting room while my husband was in surgery. I knew my next story would have a pot belly pig as a character. Meet in the Middle was born. Queenie is one of my favorite characters.

I’m always intrigued by how writers get started…did you always have these books inside you and knew that you wanted to write them or did the idea just pop into your head one day and you decided to put pen to paper? This question is fun to answer. It’s all my hubby’s fault.  A lifetime ago in the mid-eighties, we were traveling back from vacation on I-80 in western Nebraska. I slapped a magazine on my lap and spouted, “I could write better than this.” He challenged, “Why don’t you?”

What a journey it has been. I tried greeting cards for Hallmark but that wasn’t meant to be my calling. My first submissions were unedited romances for magazines. I wrote editorials about my father’s unsolved homicide, which led to longer pieces. And then I tried a novel about a woman who went back to her small town to prove her father’s accident was murder. That novel took ten years, good practice, but will never be printed. I learned everything I could and have garnered so many wonderful friendships with other writers.

My first contract came after several rejections with encouragement to resubmit, and I celebrated that release ten years ago this July.

Which of your characters most reflects your personality? Since I used my own journal entries and was pregnant when my father was murdered, both Sarah and her grandmother Lena in Touches of Time reflect who I am.

What do you do when you hit a roadblock and have NO idea what to write? It’s happened, believe me. I once had a file drawer filled with newspaper and magazine clippings that had grabbed my attention. I’ve since culled those and have a writing ideas file on my computer. I’ll have a setting, a mind picture of an opening scene, a premise, or part of backstory when I begin.

A lot of the story forms as I get to know the characters, especially the heart scar that hinders growth. Where they are spiritually carries weight.

I love how the Lord works during this pre-writing/brainstorming period. Each story is different and can take between five days and two weeks to stew. My mind is on the look-out during this time for lines of dialogue, what jumps out during devotion or Bible reading, talking to friends, or even a sermon.

The creative process is unique for each writer. Breaking for tactile things like walking outside touching flowers or pulling weeds, paying attention to the birds and animals that cross my path, working a puzzle, coloring, or sewing (which doesn’t happen much right now). I can’t help but be thankful for the desire to write stories.

And thank you, for allowing me to be a guest today, Hallee.

Here is where you can find LoRee online:

www.loreepeery.com

https://twitter.com/LoreePeery

https://www.facebook.com/LoReePeery

Loree is giving a copy of Repurposed to a reader! See below how to enter to win:a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Excerpt from Alexandra’s Appeal, the Dixon Brothers Series book 3

Click here to pre-order Alexandra’s Appeal, which released on September 29th!

Chapter 1

Only the strict training brought about by her upbringing kept Alexandra Fisher’s mouth from falling open at her father’s suggestion. Well, he called it a suggestion. Alex knew he meant it as an order, no arguments allowed.

“Why do I have to?” Did her voice have a petulant tone to it? Maybe. She felt rather petulant.

Impatience and a spark of disdain flickered in Winston’s green eyes. With an unyielding mouth, he explained, “I do not explain myself to you.” He turned his back on her and resumed his examination of the dusty bottles of wine on the rack in front of him. Alex knew that he had not yet excused her, so she unclenched her fists, stood perfectly still, and waited. She schooled her expression to reflect a countenance of tranquil serenity. Andrew, the head chef, went through his menu for the dinner party tonight and conferred with her father on wines for each course. While two members of Andrew’s staff carried boxes to the dumbwaiter, Winston looked back at Alex. “Are you quite finished with your pout?”

Setting her jaw, she crossed her arms over her chest and tried to interject reason. “Father, it’s not my responsibility to babysit Whitney. Why do I constantly have to be punished alongside her?”

“You think it’s a punishment to go to my property in Tennessee and enjoy the luxury I afford you there?”

If she closed her eyes and tried to get a handle on her patience, he’d see that as a sign of disrespect. She’d consider herself lucky if he didn’t lock her down here until she felt like she’d learned a lesson. Again.

Intentionally lightening her tone, she uncrossed her arms and casually slipped her hands into her pockets. “Father, I appreciate the luxury of my surroundings wherever I am able to enjoy them. However, I am currently preparing for my upcoming contract. When I go places with Whitney, she is very demanding of my time. I think she has a hard time being alone.”

He gestured toward the elevator and she immediately felt a release of tension she hadn’t realized gripped her neck. Clearly, her tone had appeased him enough to prove she didn’t need a lesson. She followed him and gladly stepped in front of him and got into the elevator. Once inside, she added, “I have a lot of work to do.”

“Everything that needs to be done can be handled remotely.”

With typical narcissism, her father assumed she referred only to the work she did for him. Even Whitney would leave her alone to accomplish that. However, she referred to her upcoming contract to photograph the last three months of the Vice President’s presidential campaign. “I have to be ready to leave with the VP on August first.”

Winston did not even spare her a glance as he fielded a communication on his phone. “It puzzles me that you think you have a say in the matter. Today is June fifth. You leave August first. The matter is decided.”

Maybe she should try a different tactic. “Ephraim and I had plans in the city next week. I haven’t seen him since he got back from San Francisco.”

Winston paused and looked up from his phone. “Ephraim Haskins works for me. His time is my time. Pack a bag or purchase a wardrobe there. Whatever. The plane is waiting at the New Haven airport. Leave as soon as your duties as hostess for tonight’s party are adequately fulfilled. End of conversation.”

The doors slid open and he stepped out into the corridor that led to the kitchen. Through the wide doorway, she saw the hustle and bustle of the catering staff preparing for tonight. When she started to follow him, he turned back to her. “Now, Alexandra. You need to get dressed for your duties. Guests arrive in an hour. Go up to your room. It’s not in this direction.”

Without a word, she took a step backward and let the elevator doors slide shut. Even when it began its ascent, she remained stoic. She stepped out onto the third floor and walked down the long hallway, fingertips lightly brushing the railing that looked down three floors to the great hall. She kept her eyes straight ahead, though, and continued to her room. At the fourth door on her right, she stopped and turned the antique handle.

Whitney had not waited for her to return. Her eyes moved over the four-poster bed with the gray cover and white and black pillows, the window seat in black and white stripes. Six more steps, through her dressing room, into her walk-in closet. She crossed the room and pushed aside the ball gowns hanging in the far corner.

Only when she had her back to the wall and the dresses closed around her, when the ever-present cameras no longer captured every movement and facial expression, did she allow herself to release the pent-up rage simmering in her breast. She grabbed her well-used pillow and brought it up to her mouth, releasing a muffled scream.

At twenty-eight, Alexandra “Alex” Fisher had no freedom whatsoever. No liberty to make her own plans, task her own movements, or speak her mind. Instead, she lived at Winston’s pleasure, and throughout her entire life, he’d dominated everything and constantly bent her to his will. She’d learned very early not to make those things that were important to her appear important. In college, he’d denied her a photography or journalism degree, but condescended to allow her to continue to write for her college newspaper, provided she maintained straight A’s.

With her Masters in Business firmly in hand, she’d started working for Winston in his Connecticut offices, but also writing articles on the side. On a trip with him to the Middle East two years ago, she’d taken a picture that the Associated Press had picked up, and that shot had eventually landed her a Pulitzer nomination. By then, she had access to her trust fund and she left working for her father full time to pursue a career as a photojournalist.

That decision had not amused her father, who considered her photography little more than an expensive hobby and a tremendous waste of her time and talent. He threatened to revoke her trust fund, but she struck a deal with him. She’d continue to serve as his hostess for important functions and travel with him as needed in exchange for the freedom to pursue her desired career. He’d agreed, as long as her pursuit never interfered with his needs. He even gave her enough latitude to move from his home in Connecticut into an apartment in Manhattan.

Now she had to deal with her cousin instead of getting notes ready for the upcoming weeks of intensive work on a Presidential campaign. No way would Whitney leave her in peace and just let her work. Whitney, who shirked even the suggestion of responsibility, delighted in disrupting Alex’s life as often as she could.

Feeling more in control of her frustration, Alex pushed herself free of the ball gowns and pulled a suitcase down from a shelf. Opening it in the middle of the floor, she grabbed items and tossed them in, not really caring what she packed. She went through the bathroom door, grabbed soaps, lotions, and other needed toiletries, then tossed those into the suitcase.

She shut it and zipped it, then pulled it into her room. As she lifted the phone, someone tapped on her door while simultaneously pushing the door open. Her cousin Justin walked in with a backpack slung over one shoulder.

With a glare as a greeting, she turned her back on him and responded to the answered call. “Steph, please send someone for my suitcase. Father said the car to the airport is to leave as soon as the event concludes tonight.”

She hung up and glared at Justin. “You realize that opening the door defeats the purpose of knocking in the first place. Suppose I had been changing, as it so happens, I am just about to do?”

Justin shrugged, “You and I used to take baths together, Alex.”

“We were six.”

He shrugged again. “What’s your problem?”

“My problem? Oh, nothing. Except your sister’s attempted elopement is going to ruin our entire summer.”

He set his backpack at his feet and threw himself into the wing-backed chair next to the fireplace. “I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“Looks like you’re getting shipped off with me, though.”

“You understand there is very little difference between our fathers. Your dear uncle Douglas offered me little choice in the matter.”

Knowing he had as much control of his life as she had of hers, Alex relaxed a little and slid into the chair across from him. She drew her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. The cameras would capture every movement, but they didn’t do sound inside the bedrooms. So, she kept her face calm.

Justin had a lean face, perfectly proportioned features, and ice gray eyes. He wore his sandy blond hair trimmed and styled so perfectly that he perpetually looked as if he were about to step out onto a runway or into a magazine photoshoot.

“Maybe we should mutiny.”

He pressed his lips together and glared at her, finally saying, “You wanted to do that when we were twelve. I don’t remember that working out for us.”

She screwed her nose up at him. “Yeah. I remember. At least your father wasn’t as hard on you as mine was on me. I got cameras installed in my room and he grounded me for the rest of winter break. Remember that?”

“You got off easy. I had to report to my dad’s office in the city every day after school.”

If he’d known what she had endured in the twenty hours following her “mutiny,” he would never think he’d gotten off easier than her. She gestured at the door. “How does she get away with it? Breaking all the rules? Doing whatever she wants? It seems rather unbalanced.”

He smiled, but the light did not go to his eyes. “Because, unlike you and I, Whitney doesn’t care what they think, and Grandfather set up her trust before he died, so they don’t have any leverage on her.”

“I don’t want to care,” she mumbled. A sharp rap on her door had her pushing out of the chair. “Enter,” she announced, meeting the maid at the door. “It’s just there,” she said, gesturing at the suitcase. “Thanks.”

“Yes, Miss,” the maid said as she grabbed the handle.

Justin held out his backpack. “Take this, too.”

“Of course, sir,” she said, then snatched it and rushed from the room before they found anything else heavy for her to haul.

“Nevertheless.” Before Justin could say anything else, the door flung open and Whitney made a grand entrance, throwing herself onto Alex’s bed in a sprawl, arms spread wide as if crucified, and stared dramatically toward the ornate ceiling. Her straight black hair spread out like a brunette fan on the bedspread.

“They’re ruining my life!” she wailed.

“Right,” Alex agreed sarcastically. “It had nothing to do with your attempt at marrying a man who only wanted to snag you before you could say the word prenup.”

“I loved him,” she wailed.

Alex shrugged. “I love the Yankees.”

Justin grinned. “Now, Alex, be nice. Puppy love is real if you’re a puppy.”

Whitney bolted upright. “Loved!” she declared. “True love surpasses all things monetary.”

Justin pushed himself to his feet. “Does it? Clearly, your lover agrees with your philosophy. That must be why he scampered away back under the rock he crawled out from under the second Father handed him that check. Right? He didn’t care about all things monetary?”

Alex watched in fascination as Whitney sniffled and snorted but didn’t actually shed any tears, thereby keeping her makeup fresh and streak-free. “You don’t understand! I’ll never love again.”

This pronouncement made Alex snort. “You did say that last time, you know.”

“And the time before that,” Justin reminded with a raised finger.

Whitney struggled with exactly who should endure her ineffectual glare, eventually settling on Alex. “At least you have Ephraim. Your father approves of him. He’d never dare leave you at the altar.”

Thinking of her fiancé and his unflinching allegiance to Winston, she mumbled, “Very true. He wouldn’t dare.”

“Yeah,” Justin subvocalized while pretending to inspect his nails. “That Ephraim is a real mensch.”

Whitney flopped back then rolled over and propped her chin in her hand. Her face showed none of the misery she so loudly exclaimed mere seconds earlier. Her green eyes sparkled with excitement. “Nashville, huh? Wonder what exciting things can be happening down in the land of cowboys and belt buckles.”

Alex tilted her head in her direction. “I’m sure you’ll find out.”

Whitney pushed herself into a sitting position. “I just got a new pair of Melody M. boots! I bet they’ll be perfect.” She rushed to the door. “I need to make sure Verity packs them.”

Justin put a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “She’ll burn out fast. After a week or two, you can probably make an escape.”

Alex pressed her lips together and nodded. Once he left the room, she walked over to her desk and packed her computer bag. She checked and made sure she had her laptop, charger, notebooks, recorder, and a hand-full of pens in varying colors. From her closet, she grabbed her camera bag, confirming that it held backup batteries and spare SD cards. After checking the time, she realized she had just thirty minutes to get ready for tonight.

Calmer, she straightened the bed where Whitney had wrinkled the covers and went into her dressing room to get ready.

Twenty-seven minutes later, she descended the stairs wearing a snug sleeveless black gown made from a shimmery fabric that looked like it rippled when she moved. It fit tight all the way to the slit that came up to her knee. A golden chain bounding her waist matched the gold trim around her neck. She decided to keep her arms bare, keeping her jewelry simple with dangling gold earrings and, of course, her engagement ring. She’d remembered at nearly the last second to put on the two-carat square-cut diamond ring. Ephraim definitely would have noticed its absence.

She stood next to her father and greeted guests. He’d sent her the guest list a week ago, and she’d spent time researching each person, the spouses, the details, so that she could make small talk, know who to pair with whom, what drinks to arrange, and how to seat everyone. By the time the guests arrived, she knew them so well she couldn’t always remember who she’d actually met before.

After making sure the Undersecretary for Political Affairs had a twenty-three-year-old bourbon in his hand, she started back through the room. A momentary sense of relief filled her when she spotted Ephraim. When he looked in her direction, headed his way, he disengaged himself from her Uncle Douglas and met her halfway. Putting a hand on her elbow, he lightly kissed her cheek.

“You look good enough to eat,” he greeted. “That’s quite a dress that’s wearing you.”

She ran a hand down the lapel of his black dinner jacket. He had a lean face, strong chin, and light blue eyes and wore his curly dark hair short and carefully styled. “When did you get here?”

“Only just. Missed the first train by, like, five minutes. Thankfully, your father had a car waiting at the station.”

Ephraim managed one of her father’s brokerage firms in New York. She didn’t annoy him with the minor detail that she had arranged for the car to meet him. “Well, I’m glad to see you. Apparently, this is it for the rest of the summer.”

A surprised look crossed his face. Then he pursed his lips and asked, “Whitney?”

“Yes, indeed.” It took reserves of self-control not to snarl. “We are being banished to the southern climes there to live out our life of exile. Nashville, apparently.”

“Well, at least that’s just one time zone away. It has been worse.”

Remembering the time Winston had sent them off to his villa in Sardinia, Italy, she sighed. “True. I think he believes that sticking her out on the ranch is going to be more of a punishment than an island off the coast of Italy. Who knew the kind of trouble she could generate there?”

“I remember the story.” Ephraim shook his head. “Speaking of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, maybe take her to visit Graceland.”

Alex shook her head. “That’s in Memphis, actually.”

“Ah,” Ephraim nodded as if he already knew that tidbit of trivia.

“Although,” Alex mused. “There is a to-scale reproduction of the Parthenon in Nashville they built in the late 1800s. Maybe I’ll shoot it if the weather’s nice.”

“That could be fun.” He looked around as if checking for eavesdroppers, then bent to put his lips near her ear. “Your cousin needs to be committed.”

Her hand flew to her mouth to contain the laughter. Then she slipped her arm through his and steered him toward the bar. He paused, putting a hand over hers to stop her. “Your father is beckoning for me. Talk to you later.”

Without even looking at her, he disengaged and headed straight to where Winston and Douglas stood talking to a royal family member from some disputed African nation. Feeling abandoned and exposed, she spun quickly and spotted a banker’s wife standing alone near the grand piano. Pushing down the sudden emotions, Alex glided in her direction, hoping the woman would be easy to engage.

***

Jonathan Dixon sat in his idling truck staring at the doorway of the honky-tonk settled in the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee. Though the place looked a little grubby from the outside, he could drive to this bar in less than twenty minutes when starting from the extended-stay hotel his Atlanta team had secured for him. The next closest bar required nearly a forty-five-minute drive, and who had that kind of time?

Jon had arrived in Tennessee nearly two years ago, assigned to a $200 million shopping mall construction project south of greater Nashville. Glancing around the parking lot and identifying several trucks, he assumed that some of the men on his team had already gone inside. He still didn’t know whether he would go inside. So, he let the engine run and stared at the building as if it could give him some indication to assist him with that decision one way or another.

He pressed his fingertips to his temple and closed his eyes. He’d lived in that hotel for two years. For the last six months, he’d stayed sober. Every single day he craved the numbing effects that the over-consumption of alcohol offered, and every day he had managed to exercise that temptation away. But tonight, after seeing the news during dinner, he didn’t feel like fighting it anymore.

Fanatical extremists had attacked a girl’s school in a village near the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. They’d locked the little girls inside the small schoolhouse and set it on fire. They watched it burn and killed any locals who tried to help the girls. In the end, thirty-seven girls, three teachers, and nine villagers died.

When Jon was sixteen, he went on a mission trip to Egypt. While there, he and his brothers had helped build a girls’ school. Unlike the metropolitan areas near Cairo, most women in that particular region could neither read nor even manage more than simple math at best. The school they helped build was the first school in that area that welcomed girls as students in more than five centuries.

Jon thought the school represented hope, that he and his team fought off prejudice and a culture that historically treated women as property, or worse. He’d felt so good about that, so right, so valorous. Two years ago, he’d had the chance to go back to that country to teach and train. While there, he went to visit the school just hours after terrorists had burned it down—just like the one last night. A group had worked to systematically invoke terror and make sure their objections to the education of girls dominated any attempt to enlighten and elevate. Centuries-old sectarian prejudice and hatred aided in the effort.

Jon closed his eyes and started to pray. “God, why? Why God? You hear me? I know I’m not perfect, but I’ve been willing to try to see and do things Your way my whole life. Why can’t you end this hate? You made me with a heart that wants to help those in need, help those who are hurting, help those who never heard the good news that Your Son saved us from all of this. You give me that heart, and then you break it over and over again? Why, God?”

Maybe it wouldn’t have affected Jon so much if he hadn’t built a school; if he hadn’t stood there on that January morning and smelled the unforgettable odor that hung in the air over the still smoldering ruins. They had murdered seventeen little girls in a horrible, inhuman way—all because those girls had wanted to learn—and they had used the school he had helped build as the instrument of their deaths.

What good had it done to build the school in the first place? Did the cost of seventeen lives equal his individual sense of self-righteous accomplishment?

Now, another one, and even more children had died. As far as Jon understood it, this school made eleven of its kind destroyed in the last two years. That amounted to hundreds of girls, and dozens of other people, killed. And all in the name of hate.

To any casual observer, Jon might have looked a little strange just sitting in that truck with the engine running, shaking his head with his eyes closed. Jon didn’t care about that at the moment. “Just tell me this, God. Tell me how to make my heart stop hurting. At least tell me that. Because if you can’t even do that much, then I think I can make it stop. Just tell me what I need to make my heart stop breaking. Amen.”

He opened his eyes, and instantly a happy couple bounded out of the honky-tonk, laughing. The light-haired man had his arm draped casually over the shoulder of the slim brunette at his side. In turn, she had her arm around his waist. They looked well acquainted with walking this way. Jon heard a few words between gales of laughter, something about something someone had said, and how someone else had reacted, and just how funny it all was. He looked at how happy these strangers appeared in their own private little world, in their private little bubble, as they casually headed to a pickup truck to leave for the evening. He almost felt angry toward them for their joy.

“So, that’s what I need?” Jon sneered, thinking of his brother Brad who had recently married the woman he had loved since they were teenagers in high school. Jon had never been in love and could not, at that moment, imagine anyone ever loving him enough to even make it worth his while. “Nice try, God.”

That settled it. Oh, he’d go in tonight. He’d go in and find a corner table and just drink. Drink away the smell of smoke in the air that still clung to the inside of his nostrils. Drink away hatred and ignorance on a level that brought people to commit acts of genocide in the name of their hateful deity. Drink away all the pain and poverty he’d seen in the world in his lifetime, and especially drink away how it damaged his soul every single time he returned to his little world, his little bubble, his life of privilege and materialism.

He killed the engine and hopped out of the truck. He bumped the door with his hip to make it shut all the way and latched. Last week, a backhoe had backed into it. Most of the damage occurred on the passenger’s door, but the frame of the truck had torqued enough to make it not always shut properly. It annoyed him, but he just hadn’t yet bothered to swap it out and send this one to the body shop.

He remembered how the backhoe operator had stared at the truck in complete horror, absolutely certain Jon would not only fire him on the spot, but also ensure the man never had work on any other site anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. The ironic thing is that Jon probably could have done exactly that if he cared to do so.

Jon had his job site superintendent, Walter Gross, write the man up for a safety violation, and that was that. Construction work is a dangerous business, and people, mostly men, get hurt and killed doing it. Safety mattered on the job site and could never be ignored or taken lightly. Having worked construction his entire life, Jon also recognized that accidents happen in all walks of life. Human beings make mistakes. For a first-time infraction, Jon didn’t feel like burning the guy to the ground over a wrinkle in his paint. At the same time, something like that could never happen again.

All things being equal, Jon truly didn’t care how bruised or battered his truck looked on the outside as long as it started every time he got behind the wheel and drove him wherever he needed to go. Tonight, it brought him to this honky-tonk.

Once inside, Jon scanned the crowd. It was early, so he waved at a couple of the guys on his team then found a table in the corner exactly like he’d hoped. It was just far enough away from his crew that they could relax and not sweat the fact the boss had an eye on them. He pulled out the corner chair and tilted his ball cap back on his head. A waitress in a pair of too short denim shorts and a nearly transparent white shirt tied right under her breasts approached him. She wore her red hair in pigtails and had on bright pink lipstick that accented her splash of freckles, exactly the opposite of Jon’s type, if he had a type. “Hello there. What can I get you?”

“You got a local lager on tap?”

“We do.”

“Bring me a pitcher. And keep it full.” He gestured around the bar. “That group there and,” he looked toward the pool table, “that group there as well. On me.”

“You got it, Sugar.” From her reply, Jon assessed her as a lifelong local. In Atlanta, the “Sugar” would have come out as “Honey” or possibly “Hon.” North of here, in Kentucky, a “Darlin ‘” or a “Sweetie” might have stood in for it instead. Here, the Tennessee equivalent of “Customer” was “Sugar.” Jon didn’t think there was a single thing about him that qualified as sugary or sweet.

As the waitress sashayed away with her short-shorts barely containing her backside, he monitored the door, watching people coming and going. About five minutes later, his job site superintendent came up to the table.

“Evening boss,” Walter Gross greeted. He gestured at the chair opposite Jon’s. Jon gave a slight nod of his head and the older man pulled out the chair and straddled it. His white hair was in stark contrast to his dark brown face. “Waitress said you bought a round for us.”

“Hope that’s okay with you, Walt.” Jon straightened his chair when the waitress approached with a pitcher of beer and a stack of plastic glasses. He handed her his credit card. “Thanks. Just put all these boys on my tab tonight. Sound good?”

The waitress headed back to the bar. Jon poured a glass and held it out to Walter, then poured another and leaned his chair back again, resting the glass on the top of his denim-clad thigh.

Walt lifted his glass in a casual toast and took a sip of the straw-colored local brew. “Perfectly okay with me, boss. Much appreciated, in fact.”

Jon shrugged. “You guys have been working hard for a minute or two—more like fighting a fire this week what with one thing after another. Didn’t go unnoticed. Spread the word if you see any more of our guys. I got the tab tonight. Just make sure no one drives home if he doesn’t need to.”

“I’m sure they’ll appreciate it, boss. But I think they’ll appreciate you noticing how hard they’ve been working even more.”

“You’re a good man, Walt. I’ve known that since the day I met you.” Jon scanned the room for more of his people. “I haven’t been in here before.”

Walter took his turn shrugging. “Decent for a local joint. Good place for pool and darts. Waitresses are all pretty nice. Food’s okay. Especially the burgers.”

Jon really wanted Walter to leave. Walter probably wanted nothing more than to leave. Both men knew this situation called for them to stay put and make manly chit-chat until one or the other of them finished a beer, at least. They weren’t going to talk shop, religion, or politics. It seemed unlikely they would talk about guns or fast cars. That left the only remaining topic men discussed with any amount of genuine interest.

A tall, incredibly thin woman with straight black hair walked in. She had on a pair of designer jeans and a silver cowboy-style shirt and carried a designer purse Jon happened to know retailed for at least four figures. His eyes roamed down her body and he noticed the very expensive silver and black Melody M. cowgirl boots. Even with all the black clothing and accessories and brunette hair, she lit up the room. “That one’s certainly looking for attention,” Jon remarked. “Reckon she’s lost?”

Walter turned his head and followed Jon’s gaze. “I hear she’s from that big ranch just outside town. She was in here last night holding court. Watch.” As he spoke, the sable haired beauty slid into a chair at the bar. Immediately, four men surrounded her. She managed to speak to all four, giggle, place an order, and fan herself within a matter of seconds.

“Wow. Those are feminine wiles the likes of which only queen-bee cheerleaders learn early on,” Jon said.

“I’m impressed,” Walt observed without a hint of irony. A few more of their crew made their way into her circle and Walter stood with his beer. “Not to be rude, but I’m going to excuse myself. I need to go over there and collect Ballard. That boy just got paid. He does not need to be near that particular queen-bee right now.” He chugged down the remainder of his beer and headed toward the bar.

While Jon watched, Walter grabbed young Elias Ballard by the back of his neck and pulled him out of the group surrounding the self-appointed raven haired celebrity. Elias scowled but did not go back. Instead, he found himself sitting at a table pouting into a fresh beer. Walter sat next to him, talking to him low and slow with very few gestures.

Finally alone, Jon lifted the frosty cold lager and took a long drink, swallowed three large gulps, then set the nearly empty glass back on the table in front of him. The months of forced sobriety had lowered his resistance and he immediately felt the effects of the mild dose of alcohol as it hit his system. He straightened his chair and filled his glass again, then leaned back into the corner.

He idly wondered if the Israelite slaves in Egypt drank cold beer or hot beer all those hundreds of years ago. It was an established fact that they drank beer, but had their beer been tepid or icy? If they drank it cold, how had they gotten it cold? This train of thought led him to start designing all kinds of primitive cooling systems in his imagination as he continued to drink.

About twenty minutes after the band started covering decades-old country music songs, he watched a couple come through the door. The man stood tall and slender, with dirty blond hair and clothes that made Jon think of the discotheques he had visited in Eastern Europe. The woman had dyed straight blonde hair that brushed against her chin and wore a pair of skin-tight black pants, a loose-fitting white tank top, and a tan sweater that fell off one shoulder. He knew without asking they belonged to the brunette currently holding court on the dance floor.

The couple looked around, and the man pointed toward the band. Together they crossed to the bar. Cory Norman, one of the job site foremen, immediately descended upon the blonde. She was a few steps behind the man, and he kept walking without looking back, his eyes on the woman gyrating in front of the band. Cory had clearly had about two too many and grabbed the woman’s wrist as if he had the right. Jon’s chair found all four feet, and he glided to his own feet shortly after, then casually walked over.

At six-five, Jon usually stood out in a crowd. These men had worked for him for years, knew his father, knew his brothers, and knew his family. The sight of Jon walking toward him, staring right at him, made Cory let go of the woman and take a step back.

“Hey, Cory,” Jon greeted when he reached them and could yell above the sound of the band.

“Hey there, Mr. Dixon.”

Jon jerked his head in the direction of the exit. “Best go on, then. I’m guessing you’ve had enough.”

“Look, Mr. Dixon,” Cory said, waving a finger in his face.

Jon didn’t hesitate to grab the finger and twist it up behind Cory’s back, propelling him toward the door. “I said, get. If you’re drunk enough to be grabbing a lady who doesn’t want to be grabbed, you’ve had one too many. If I weren’t already sure, you thinking you can go wagging your finger in my face sealed it.”

A group of his workmates who had witnessed the exchange got to their feet and rapidly took Cory off Jon’s hands. This allowed Jon the opportunity to turn to the woman. “Awful sorry about that. You okay? He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

She looked up at him with wide, almond-shaped, light green eyes. Even though he’d just rescued her, nothing about her screamed helpless female. Instead, she looked downright furious. “He did not.”

“Okay. That’s good, then.” He left it at that. The last thing he needed tonight was some doe-eyed blonde distracting him from his mission of consuming beer. He went back to his table and settled back into the corner, fresh beer on his knee.

When the blonde appeared beside the table, he raised an eyebrow. Slowly, he once more lowered his chair until all four legs contacted the ground. She just continued to stare at him. Something about her look got under Jon’s skin. He gestured toward the chair Walter had vacated nearly half an hour earlier. “Take a seat?”

“Thank you.” Ignoring the chair opposite him, she sat to his right and faced the dance floor. “I just had three propositions. I thought it might be safer to wait for my cousins here, if you don’t mind.”

He stared at her as she shifted her sweater onto both shoulders and craned her head around. He extended his hand. “Jon.”

She lifted her chin in acknowledgment and placed her fingertips lightly against his calloused palm. “Alex.”

For several minutes, they watched the man argue with the raven-haired woman in the center of the dance floor. “Beer?” Jon offered.

When the woman on the dance floor screeched and went after the man’s face with her fingernails, Alex nodded. “Yes. Yes, I think so.” She helped herself to a fresh glass and expertly poured from the pitcher.

The man dragged the woman toward them, holding both her wrists with one hand. When he arrived at their table, he said, “Let’s go.”

Alex shook her head. “I think you need to be alone with her. I’ll get a cab or something. Besides, I’m not riding in the same car with her screeching and screaming all the way back to the ranch.”

The man gritted his teeth and warned, “Alexandra.”

“Sorry, Cuz. She’s your sister. Not mine. You have fun, now.” She slowly lifted her beer and took a purposefully slow sip.

When the woman started screeching again, the man glared at Alex one more time and continued out of the bar, dragging a fighting, yelling woman behind him. After the door closed behind them, Alex took a long pull of her beer and then looked at Jon. “We’ve been here a week. I really need a break from those two for a little while.”

“Can’t say as I blame you.”

The band announced a ten-minute break, and Jon silently appreciated the sudden relative quiet. It might afford him the ability to talk to someone without yelling if the need arose. He hated yelling. Only mildly curious, he asked, “What’s her story?”

When Alex shrugged, the sweater fell again, revealing a perfectly tan shoulder. “Oh, she’s just kind of a hot mess.” She took a long drink of beer. “Her father sent her out here to hide from the press, if that gives you some idea. So, she just makes a spectacle of herself as much as possible, which kind of defeats the purpose of hiding out. Just bad decisions, really.”

He straightened his chair and leaned his arms on the table. “What about you, Alexandra? What’s your story? You hiding from the press, too?”

She ran her tongue over her teeth and smiled. “Well, Mr. Dixon, I think I’ll just hold my cards close to the vest for a while if it’s all the same to you.”

Jon nodded. “A woman of mystery.” He raised his glass in a mock toast then took a sip. Feeling the tug of attraction and the lack of inhibition that could only come from steady drinking, he tipped his hat further back on his head and grinned. “I like a good mystery, and I’ve been known to be pretty patient in my time. I can wait.”

Click here to pre-order Alexandra’s Appeal, which released on September 29th!

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Monday Morning Coffee and Chat 7/6/20 – My 30-Week Preemie Story

Hello! Welcome to Monday Morning Coffee and Chat! Today I’m talking about my son Scott, who was born at 30 weeks, and the pastor who anointed him with oil and prayed over him in the NICU.

Preorder Alexandra’s Appeal for the September 29, 2020 release here.

What’s Hallee drinking? Hallee’s Brew! Try it today! http://www.halleebridgeman.com/hallees-brew/
Do you want one of those cool cups? Get one here: https://www.halleebridgeman.com/ceramic-coffee-mug/

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