GUEST POST & INTERVIEW: Author Sarah MacTavish

Firebrand Book Club!

by Sarah MacTavish

Summer is in full swing! For a Texan like me, that means spending my days hiding from the heat indoors, and my evenings in the pool after the sun goes down (I burn like crazy). But I’m also a librarian, so it also means Summer Reading–busy days hosting fun (indoor) events for the community, helping swarms of kids and teens find books to read, handing out prizes…

Which inspired me this year to do something fun for my book, Firebrand. I’m currently hard at work editing the sequel, which should be out before the end of the year. So to get ready it’s release, I decided to host an online Summer Book Club during the month of July, with weekly live chats and giveaways as we read (or reread) Firebrand together.

Here’s a little more about the novel:

Firebrand is the first of a 4-part series about two abolitionist teenagers, Saoirse and Westleigh, as they survive one of the darkest chapters of American history, the Civil War. In the first book they find themselves struggling through the summer of 1860, trying to fight against the evils of slavery while also keeping their families safe, but they quickly realize they might not be able to do both. The story is told in two alternating perspectives: Saoirse Callahan, an Irish girl living in north Texas, and Westleigh Kavanagh, the son of a Pennsylvania sheriff.

All you have to do to participate in the book club is visit my website (http://www.sarahmactavish.com/book-club/) and sign up for my monthly newsletter, where you’ll get exclusive downloads, updates on upcoming novels, and be eligible for prizes in my drawings!

Then join me in July online every Sunday afternoon as we talk about the chapters for the week.

In preparation for this, I’m also releasing three short prologues each week that lead up to the events of Firebrand. You can find the first two for free on my website now (http://www.sarahmactavish.com/short-stories/).

That’s about it! You can find more details on my website. I hope you join me!

Thank you, Sarah! Both for the informative post and for being on the blog today. You know I love Historicals and I love how history inspires authors. Can you share the more historically significant events behind your story?

There was an event in Texas history called the Fires of 1860, or the Texas Troubles, that is the background for Saoirse’s part of the story. There was a series of mysterious fires that burned across most of the counties around modern day Dallas and Fort Worth that sparked rumors of an abolitionist-led slave uprising.

Today, historians think the fires were the result of a combination of volatile matches, Texas summer heat, and a drought. But at the time (just months after John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry), most white southerners feared an insurrection, so North Texans created vigilante committees to interrogate (or worse) suspected abolitionists.

By the presidential election in November, over 100 people were killed, others run out of town, but there was never any actual evidence of a plot found. So Saoirse’s part of the story centers around trying to uncover the truth of what’s really going on.

Westleigh, on the other hand, is up against the Fugitive Slave Law, which required lawmen even in free states to aid in the capture of people who’ve escaped slavery, or face fine and/or imprisonment. When Westleigh finds out the man staying in their house is actually on the run, he has to keep it a secret from his father, the sheriff, and soon finds out he’s in way over his head.

Wow! So intriguing! What was the specific inspiration for Firebrand?

My mother. When I was young she gave me the idea of writing about an abolitionist boy from the South that runs away to fight for the Union Army in the Civil War. It was immediately interesting to me–a character that goes against the way he was raised to fight for what is right. That idea grew to include a girl from the north who disguises herself to fight as a soldier. Eventually the two characters swapped places, and I realized I wanted to start the story before the war, to give a better picture of why they both become soldiers.

Now I’m really hooked! I know we authors are always looking to the next thing…that imagination is always going… Do you have current projects you’re working on? Care to share?

Yes! As I said, I’m working on the sequel to Firebrand right now, Paladin. This will pick up at the beginning of the Civil War, when Saoirse, Westleigh, and their friends enlist in the Union Army. You can check out the book cover and description here! (http://www.sarahmactavish.com/books/paladin/)

Firebrand

In the summer of 1860, when slavery ruled the heart of America, two young abolitionists discover how dangerous it can be to believe in freedom for all.

Saoirse Callahan’s family is broken. Hunger forced them out of Ireland and they still struggle to survive in their new home, where scorching Texas droughts threaten their small farm. Then, on one blazing Sunday afternoon, a series of mysterious fires devastates the region. Whispered rumors of a slave rebellion soon flame into a statewide panic. Vigilantes scour the countryside for arsonists, targeting foreigners and slaves in a bloodthirsty witch-hunt. Saoirse is determined to find out how the fires really started, but the more questions she asks, the more she puts her family and friends in danger. And the truth may be more than she can handle.

Meanwhile, safe in Pennsylvania, Westleigh Kavanagh can call himself an abolitionist with little fear. But when he realizes his father’s new boarder is actually a runaway slave, he must keep the wanted man’s identity a secret. Because Westleigh’s father is the sheriff, and bound by law to help capture fugitives, whether he believes in slavery or not. Westleigh wants to protect his father from the truth, but the longer he lies, the greater chance they will all be caught. Then Westleigh makes his own discovery—an old forbidden journal that holds secrets of his father’s past. Secrets that lead to the Callahans. Secrets that, if unraveled, could destroy both families.

Enjoy an Excerpt

My cousin sank into the armchair and wilted, limbs sprawled. “There were fires in Denton yesterday afternoon,” he said hoarsely. “Dallas, too. Pilot Point. Corsicana…”

“All on the same day? But–”

“They figured ours started at the general store. Sam thinks it was those new matches everybody got in.”

“Just the matches?” I sighed in relief. “That’s welcome news.”

“It would be, if that was the word being whispered ‘round town–” he stopped to cough up more smoke. Then his head started to droop.

“Well? What are they saying?” I kicked his foot. “Jack!”

He lifted his red eyes. “Arson.”

Buy Link

Amazon

More About the Author

Sarah MacTavish is a small-town Texan with “Yankee” roots, and a heart that belongs to Ireland. In addition to being a writer she is also a teen librarian, incurable Star Wars nerd, and proud Hufflepuff. Her first historical novel, Firebrand, was described as “a moving, expertly written, and entertaining work of Young Adult fiction” by Self-Publishing Review. Connect with her online and get the latest updates about the Firebrand series at sarahmactavish.com

Connect with Sarah and her work

Website: sarahmactavish.com

Instagram: @sarahmactavish

Twitter: @sarahmactavish

Facebook.com/authorsarahmactavish

OVERCOMING GOOD CHOICES: Is there a best option?

We all make choices. Every day. Many times a day. To get out of bed, to shower, what to wear (a BIG decision for some), what to eat for breakfast, and the list goes on. Some of these decisions are so easy they don’t really feel like options any more. We do them automatically. The better choice seems obvious.

Choosing between staying in bed and getting out of bed, for example (if you are not sick or struggling in some other way), seems like a bad choice (or an unhealthy choice) versus a good, healthier choice. It’s pretty easy. (Although if you haven’t gotten adequate sleep, it may not always be so easy 🙂 )

Likewise, moderate choices in life about your schedule, for example, may come easily too. Do I say yes to this huge thing that will take up a lot of my time and doesn’t fit in with my goals? Or turn it down? Now, that’s relatively simple to see that you might should turn that down. The people pleaser in some of you is saying…yeah, right! I know. I’ve been there. It’s sooo hard to say ‘no’. But it is necessary. Let’s take this a step further.

What if the choice is between two good things? A pastor asks you to serve in a ministry at your church. That is an awesome thing. Nothing wrong at all with that. BUT…has God called you to it? Yes, we are generally called to serve. But we are not called to burn ourselves out. God equips and calls us to specific things. As I’ve said before, right now, I feel He has led me to focus on my family, my writing, and the moms ministry I am a part of. So, this request to be a part of another ministry is not a bad decision, but it may not be my best choice.

What if, for instance, God is nudging someone else? If you step into that role, that person will not have the chance to step up. They may end up feeling their help is not necessary and never step up.

And imagine what adding something to your already overwhelmed schedule will do? It may end up hurting your other calling, even if what you are doing is good. The things you have been called to may suffer for it. You are just one person. And can only do so much.

So this choice between good and good is actually a choice between good and BETTER. Maybe, even, you could say good and BEST.

If you have a full schedule, like me. And struggle to people please, you may need to remember that every time you say “yes” to something, you are saying “no” to something else already on your plate. So, saying yes to that added opportunity, means saying “no” to one of those three areas – my family (maybe dinner around the table, devotion time with my kids, etc), my writing (making a deadline, having the time to market, etc), or this moms ministry (I end up staying up all hours of the night finishing a talk for the meeting, I am rushing last minute to get a newsletter done, I drop the ball on my leadership team, etc).

Is it worth it?

When these opportunities present themselves, it’s all about perspective and wisdom.

I no longer answer with “yes.”  Or even “no.” I say “let me pray about it and check my calendar.” Then I weigh the time commitment and pray, seeking God’s will for my involvement. Then I can answer confidently. If they need an answer that second, it has to be “no.” Because I cannot know, but I DO know that my schedule is pretty tight as it is.

What about you? Is your schedule crammed as it is? Are there things you need to pare down? Say “no” to?

GIVEAWAY & GUEST POST: Author Leanne W. Smith

Up and Down Goes the Heart

by Leanne W. Smith

In April I flew to Chicago for a conference. April is a busy month for educators, and this conference took place during the highest peak of my work season. I was tired when I left, and tired when I came home.

Down goes the heart.

Still…perhaps due to the difference in routine tasks—an opportunity to step off the normal hamster wheel of my world—I returned refreshed, with a heart fuller of thought than normal.

And up again.

I flew Southwest on a Wednesday. The day before, a woman got on a routine flight like mine and didn’t live to reach her destination. I may never sit peaceably in a window seat again.

Down. 

After Ubering to the hotel, I realized Hamilton was playing down the street. So on Thursday between academic sessions I bought a prized remaining ticket.

It is heralded as a great musical for a reason. The writer in me was moved and thrilled by the story, the lighting, the music, the acting.

I walked away wanting to be a braver writer; believing once again in the power of words and stories well told.

And up.

Friday, on the flight home, I finished reading The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. Another kind of story—heart-breaking and beautiful.

And down.

While I grieved the atrocities of her first-hand account of war and its wide swath of horror, I marveled at the faith and obedience of her family…the ways they loved, and the shafts of light God sent them.

And up again.

I returned to my own house more appreciative of the comfort and sanctity of home, to find my gloriously uneventful life as I had left it—to French-press coffee on Saturday morning in my easy chair, Stan reading the Wall Street Journal beside me, its front page filled with another story of abuse.

Down.

A familiar walk through the neighborhood. The azaleas in bloom and my hostas peaking through the soil. Worship on Sunday with people I love.

Up.

Then learning of another shooting in a public place.

Some weeks the heart volleys up and down more than others. In seeking to end this week on an upswing, here’s a short snippet from The Hiding Place, in case your heart benefits from the power of words and story as much as mine does.

Once—I must have been ten or eleven—I asked Father about a poem we had read at school the winter before. One line had described “a young man whose face was not shadowed by sexsin.” I had been far too shy to ask the teacher what it meant, and Mama had blushed scarlet when I consulted her. In those days just after the turn of the century, sex was never discussed, even at home.

So the line had stuck in my head. “Sex,” I was pretty sure, meant whether you were a girl or boy, and “sin” made Tante Jans very angry, but what the two together meant I could not imagine.

And so seated next to my father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, “Father, what is sexsin?”

He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.

“Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said.

I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.

“It’s too heavy,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”

And I was satisfied. More than satisfied—wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions—for now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.

From The Hiding Place: The triumphant True Story of Corrie ten Boom 

Interview Questions

Leanne, thank you so much for those words. I love that reminder in the excerpt from The Hiding Place. But let’s get back to you and your works. What does your research process look like?

When I was working on my first novel, Leaving Independence, my youngest daughter and I traveled to Missouri. The largest overland trails research library is in Independence. We walked through an old cemetery, and a kind gentleman with a booming voice drove us around town in a prairie schooner with his mules. This time, my oldest daughter and I went to Colorado. We rode The Georgetown Loop through the Rockies, visited museums and a mining town, and I could see Hoke charging up over a hillside.

Wow! What a great way to get into the setting! Did you always want to be a writer?

Yes, for as long as I can remember. Two summers in college I worked for my county’s election commission. When new folks moved to town and registered to vote in those days, they often came by the office. I sat at the front counter and filled out the forms. One day when I asked a man, “Profession?” he said, “Writer.” My pen paused mid-air. It was by far the coolest answer anyone had ever given. I think that’s the moment it dawned on me there were real people who wrote for a living; it wasn’t simply the stuff of my dreams.

Tell us something about your newest release that is NOT in the blurb.

Finishing my first book was like having a first child. I thought, “There will never be a creative high to top this.” But finishing Contradiction was even more thrilling! The day I wrote the final scene I felt like David must have felt when he danced with abandon in the streets. I stayed in my living room, but my joy was no less thick.

Do you have any current projects you’re working on? Care to share?

Yes! Five: three historicals, a contemporary, and an adaptation. I really need to focus.

Thank you again, Leanne, for being on the blog and for sharing a bit more about your process and your work. Now, I’ll turn it over to my readers so they can jump into your newest release!

A Contradiction to His Pride

*This novel is set to debut June 12, 2018*

From the moment James met Corrine as they traveled the Oregon Trail, in Smith’s best-selling debut novel Leaving Independence, he couldn’t resist trying to win the sharp-mouthed beauty’s affections.

Now, as the core group of pioneers in Colonel Dotson’s wagon train begins to settle in Baker City, Oregon and build homesteads, James is restless to make his fortune so he can stake his own claim and win Corrine’s hand with honor.

But when James takes Corrine on an outing designed to impress her, things go tragically wrong. James foils a bank robbery and unwittingly sets a series of events into motion that shatter Corrine’s heart and now threaten her life, along with his and her older brother Charlie’s.

Soon there are several folks heading back down the trail—James, Charlie, Corrine, Harry and Tam Sims, the Baker City Sheriff, a newspaperman, a notorious criminal family, and Hoke Mathews—all set to collide in a final showdown in a Colorado mining town as outlaw Duke Walden seeks to make James pay for his heroic actions.

Enjoy an Excerpt

PROLOGUE

A cold wind rustled the leaves of the evergreens west of Baker City, building like the crescendo of a symphony. When the wind unfurled and swept into town, it lifted the top layer of a twenty-inch snow that had fallen the day before, sending icy sprays swirling over several residents who rushed to stand in the drifts and on the boardwalk following the gunshots.

James Parker wanted to give Corrine Baldwyn a day to remember him by, not a day to curse his name.

Now, as she thrashed while he tried to hold her, the blood from her hands raking stains over the sleeves of his coat, James squeezed his eyes shut against the wind, the ice, the snow and the slaughter, and wondered if she could ever forgive him.

Buy Link (for Pre-order)

Amazon

More About the Author

Leanne W. Smith is the author of Leaving Independence, On a Dark & Snowy Night (short story), and A Contradiction to His Pride.

In the 90s she wrote a family humor column for two Middle Tennessee weeklies called “My Two Cents.” These days she writes historical fiction novels and serves on the faculty of Lipscomb University’s College of Business.​​

Leanne and her husband, Stan, have two daughters and a son-in-law who make the world a more beautiful place through their art, design, photography, songwriting and mandolin-playing. Visit Smith’s website at www.leannewsmith.com.

Connect with Leanne and Her Books

Website: www.leannewsmith.com

Find her Social Media links are available on the website.

Giveaway

For a chance to win a free paperback copy of Leanne W. Smith’s newest book, A Contradiction to His Pride, enter below. (Only valid for continental United States.) Please follow the directions on the Rafflecopter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you’re on Goodreads, enter there by June 30th for a chance to win one of 12 free copies: https://bit.ly/2sxOjoy

OVERCOMING MY SCHEDULE: My 3-Fold Purpose

Ever felt overwhelmed by your schedule?

Had too many things on the “To Do” list than you could possible do that day? Orthat week?

Do you know all too well the intense stress of having too many things to do right now and nothing can be put off?

Brothers, sisters, we can commiserate together! You are in good company. These questions are solid YES’s for me. I have hunted and searched and tried numerous ways to hone and tune my schedule to make the most out of the time I have. I’ve even blogged about.

I have talked about “finding your purpose/goal/calling and take everything else out of your schedule”…

Now, that is all-star advice. Because, even though that other stuff may be good, it can be excess, clutter, things that would be, again, good, but not necessarily good for you at this time.

So, what’s the problem? Seems I found the answer: find my calling/purpose/goal and focus on that, letting the other things slide by.

And I have. My family (my role as mom/wife), my writing career (writing/marketing/editing/etc), and the moms’ ministry I help coordinate. These are the things God is calling me to right now in life. These are the things that fill my schedule and take priority. The other stuff…gets a harder look…realizing that if I say “yes”, I do so to the detriment of one of these things or to myself.

Here’s the problem…I tend to be a people pleaser. Yep. I said it. It’s not a bad thing. Having a servant heart is a very good thing. It is a gift. The challenge is taking responsibility over that heart. Because you were made for service, yes, but for service in some areas, not in all. You were not intended to wear to the bone, sacrificing your called areas, for the sake of service.

I recently finished Lysa TerKeurst’s book “The Best Yes“…and that book was soooo freeing! It spoke directly to where I was struggling–as a people pleaser; as a woman who has grown up in the church hearing how we are to serve, serve, serve; as a person who is just overwhelmed.

See, as TerKeurst presents, when you keep saying “yes” to things you aren’t called to, even for the sake of service, you may miss out on God’s specific calling on your life. To say “yes” to this thing, means to say “no” to other things. We all have the same 24 hours in each day. And we choose how we spend those hours.

And I, for one, would prefer to spend my life pursuing my calling, my purpose, than bowing to an insane schedule that is idealistic, yes, but also frankly unrealistic.

So, friends, let us evaluate where our heart is. Where our time is. And how we want to spend our days. Let’s be proactive, not reactive. (Placing things on our schedule, rather than adding things at the random requests of others.)

My default answer to a request now is “I’ll have to check my schedule and get back to you.” If they push for an answer now, the answer has to be “no”. I can no longer give of myself blindly.

There is a cost for every “yes”. I’ll say that again–there is a cost for every “yes”.

Count it.

GIVEAWAY & INTERVIEW: Author Cindy Ervin Huff

Hello, readers! I hope you are all well and enjoying the summer weather…even if it is a little hot and a bit stormy at times. Seems like the right time to curl up with a good book to me. At the beach, in the mountains, on the back porch, at the pool…wherever! ESPECIALLY if it’s raining. Nothing better than a cozy house with a blanket, a coffee (insert “tea” if you’d prefer), and a good book.

My guest today is here to introduce us to her newest release which promises to be such a book. Romance, internal struggles, connection, overcoming…sounds like a good read to me! But I’m getting ahead of myself…and her. Let me let her share…

Welcome, Cindy! And thanks for joining us today. First, can you tell us a little about New Duet?

Aurora, Illinois

The idea for this novel came to me while I was part of a church’s worship team. A what if moment. What if the worship leader dropped dead. I have the greatest respect for that worship leader, so the idea was nothing personal. Several years earlier a missionary had dropped dead during an elders’ meeting due to an aneurysm. That idea germinated into the story line of an abused widow starting over in a new town. (Why not make it my town Aurora, Illinois) and meeting a wounded warrior who was adjusting to life minus a leg and aided by his service dog. Each need to start over and come to understand themselves and grow in faith.

I’m in a military town and come from a military family (my grandfather was a career military man) and there is hardly a family in the area who is not touched by the army in some way. The concept of your novel definitely speaks to me. What was the inspiration for New Duet?

The emotional issues Isabella and Dan struggle with are the same as some of my friends and family. My oldest son works hard to keep his PTSD under control. It is not as violent as the media portrays it. But depression and panic attacks are often a part. The issues of domestic violence are common, sadly, even in the church.

Wow. So you write from a place of deep knowledge. The media definitely doesn’t do the best job portraying many mental illnesses. I am still in recovery from postpartum depression (experienced after each of my three children). It’s not exactly what the media portrays either. What they show is usually postpartum psychosis. Not quite the same.

Did you always want to be a writer? If not, what did you want to be when you were a child?

I did. But I also wanted to be an actress. I think writing novels is a great way to create characters too.

So true. Brandilyn Collins writes books about developing characters utilizing what she learned pursuing theater. It’s an interesting concept. One I wouldn’t have thought of.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

When my 8th grade teacher entered my short story in a writing contest. I didn’t win or even place, but the die was cast.

I imagine so! It only takes a taste, doesn’t it? But, as you know, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine…there are things we don’t like as much. What part of the writing process do you dread?

Editing.

Truth. Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer?

Keep writing every day. It doesn’t have to be good writing just consistent. Keep a notebook in your purse and others around your house so you can jot down ideas. And read, read, read in the genre you want to write in and craft books. Attend conferences and network, network, network. What I learned there was priceless. And the critique groups I’m in has grown my writing by leaps and bounds.

Well said. I noticed that you founded a Word Weavers group. I have recently discovered that these exist. I hope to become part of a nearby group soon or start my own! I am currently in a critique group, but I like what Word Weavers has to offer.

What are you currently reading?

A novella collection The Cowboys of Summer. I just finished Backcountry Brides Romance Collection, these help me focus on correcting stuff in my own novella that has a deadline this August.

I LOVE those Barbour novella collections! They are great for a great quick read or getting yourself in a setting (i.e. I was writing in a ranch setting and grabbed the “Cowboy Bride Collection” – not for research, but to put me in that mood.)

What kind of music, if any, do you listen to when you write?

I prefer quiet or instrumental only, otherwise I tend to sing along.

I’m the same way 🙂 Instrumental only. Or it’s a one-woman Sara show.

Do you have a favorite time of day to write? What about a favorite place?

Early morning. I take my laptop to wherever the quietest place is at the time. I’ve had to write all different times when on deadline.

One of those questions that everyone is curious about is: How long does it take you to write a book?

Let’s see. I wrote my Historical romance, Secrets and Charades in five months, but did rewrites for years. I wrote the first draft of New Duet in two months and spent another year (not daily) in rewrites. My historical novella took four weeks to write. I’ll need another few weeks to edit before submitting. That’s 20,000 words compared to 80,000.

Great! Well, Cindy, thanks again for being on my blog. For sharing about your novel and your process. Do not fear, dear readers, we will certainly dive more deeply into New Duet below. AND Cindy has a GIVEAWAY offer below as well. So, without further ado, I’ll let you check it all out:

New Duet

Isabella Melinda Wilson has been squeezed into the music ministry model of her controlling husband’s making. Before she can leave him, he leaves her a guilt-ridden widow. Her mother-in-law is no comfort and presses the guilt button at every turn. Isabella flees to her sister’s home in search of her own identity and a new beginning.

Dan Sweeney has one goal. Be as normal as possible. After losing a leg, some fingers and his self-worth, he needs his service dog Brutus to help keep his PTSD at bay. Career-less and clueless about the future, he struggles to put his life back together.

Isabella isn’t looking for a new relationship and Dan feels unworthy of one. Can these two broken people heal into one whole love?

Enjoy an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Isabella Melinda Marklin scurried ahead of her husband Ron. She reached the driver’s side door of the red Dodge Durango first. Ron closed the gap between. His breath brushing across the top of her head. “I’m driving.”

She faced him feeling for the handle and pulling the door open.

Anger flashed in his dark brown eyes. Melinda stood her ground.

“You have one of your migraines. “I’ll drive.” She climbed in before he could grab her arm.

“Fine.” Ron moved to the passenger’s side, slammed the door, and leaned back on the gray leather head rest. “It’s so bright.” His forearm covered his face.

“Here’s your sunglasses.” Melinda took them from the visor before gazing into the rearview mirror. The gravel driveway flowed beneath the tires. Her chest tightened with the gears shift into drive.

Ron adjusted the sunglasses. “Can you drive a little faster?”

“No.” A tremble escaped her lips. White knuckles gripped the steering wheel. Fear wrestled her confident tone. “We’ve got time.”

“You’d better be right.” Ron massaged his temples with his index fingers. “If we’re late it’s all on you.”

Typical.

Everything always seemed on her lately. Always her fault, always her problem. Blame had been the morning focus.

“What’d you do with my socks?”

“Why haven’t you folded the laundry?”

“Did you break the iron? I wouldn’t hand off this shirt to the homeless”

“You forgot to charge my phone again.”

His harsh words produced her own headache which found solace in a bottle of pain reliever.

The silent treatment a welcome change. Sweet worship music streamed into the car comforting her soul relaxing her thoughts. Peace flowed from the melody. She turned the wheel and panic assailed her. Her wrist was bare. I left my witnessing bracelet on the bathroom sink. The colorful beads used to share the gospel. Oh, how she hated it. He gets so mad when I forget it. Please, please don’t notice. Another reminder of her failure in the ministry.

“Turn off the radio. The music’s killing my head.”

“Maybe we should return home and you can rest.”

Ron raised his head, lifted his sunglasses, and glared. “And give you another excuse. Six Sundays, Melinda, six times sitting in the pews and not helping with worship. Well, my migraine will not be your seventh excuse.”

Melinda’s knuckles ached on the steering wheel. Tight lips held back tears. Arriving at church in the middle of an argument would make things worse later. God forbid anyone would see them arguing. That would be my fault too. She hated being in ministry, on the worship team and under a magnifying glass in this congregation. If I don’t get away soon, I’ll go insane. God forgive me.

Ron made no mention of the headache once they arrived at the church. His spotless dress shirt and neat pressed Dockers (no thanks to her imperfect ironing ability) added to his confident air. His look had changed over the past few years from casual jeans and collar-length hair to short moussed hair and black dress shoes.

Ron wanted her to get a make-over. The CDs sales had switched her husband’s focus. When they first married, Ron asked her to grow her hair out. “Sweetheart, the Scripture says long hair is a woman’s glory.” Now a file folder of acceptable hairstyles created by the church secretary lay in the bottom of her underwear drawer.

Maybe I should bleach my hair and spike it, wear my bra outside my blouse if he is so interested in a professional image. The bitter taste of her thoughts convicted her. Father, I seek your peace again. Please be with Ron when he shares his new song and don’t let my attitude hamper what you’re going to do here today.

“Blessing.” Ron hugged each member of the worship team in turn. “How’s the new baby, Mark.” Ron’s smile never giving time for a response before he continued.

“Angelina, nice dress.”

He seemed to have pushed through the headache, making Melinda wonder if it was all an act to keep her in line.

“Melinda, sweetheart, go tell Graham to watch for my cues.”

Mister sweetie pie is back. I swear… Every Sunday Ron used the same syrupy tone to issue the same instructions.

“Graham, you know.” Melinda tried on a sincere smile.

The sound tech took a sip of his coffee and grinned. “Yeah, yeah.”

Melinda headed back to the front of the auditorium muttering. “The mics worked. Why doesn’t he tell Graham himself? Another irritating thing to add to my I-Hate-My-Life List.” Her face warmed as people filled the pews. Fake smile in place. Wave at a few friends. Don’t dare stop during the warm up to chat.

Once the worship team prayed together she gained composure. Ron was presenting his newest song, “I Am Your Bond Servant”. The worship team had worked hard to get it right. Graham was recording it to add to Ron’s growing collection of songs for his latest CD. Next month would be his first live concert.

She’d told Ron she was done. He’d laughed. “Sugar, you know you love it as much as I do.” Then he’d squeezed her arm. The bruise covered by her sleeve.

Today would be her last performance. His last critique of her performance, her last time to pretend she cared.

Melinda took her place left of Trevor, the bass player with Angelina and Griffin the other backup singers. She preferred not being center stage. The service started with announcements and prayer. God’s presence filled the stage when worship began. “I Am Your Bond Servant” was the last song in the set before the pastor’s sermon. Ron, for once had given equal parts to all three singers as well as special orchestration for all the instruments. Her husband, in great form. He seemed connected with the Lord in a way Melinda hadn’t seen in years. The crescendo before the last line seemed to lift everyone’s hearts to God.

Ron finished the song, lifted his hand in praise and crumbled to the floor, knocking music stands and microphones in all directions. The clatter echoed through the sound system reverberating off the walls.

****

Melinda stood dazed, hands shook at her side, and legs rooted in place.

Trevor started CPR. Andrew, the guitarist, called 911.

Ron’s vacant eyes stared heavenward.

Clamminess covered her skin.

The congregation erupted in screams, weeping, and concerts of prayer all over the sanctuary.

Her heart reached out to Ron, but her body betrayed her.

The paramedics entered the sanctuary in a slow-motion run. Before they reached the stage, blackness enveloped her.

The coolness of the stage floor greeted dulled senses. Muffled words. Gentle arms held her.

“Melinda.” Maureen, her mother-in-law, hovered. “He’s dead, dear. What are we going to do?”

Her blunt announcement rambled through Melinda’s numb brain. He’s dead. Who’s dead? Ron’s dead.

“Oh God! Oh God!” Her shrieks joined the congregation’s. Guilt shrouded her. Relief mixed with guilt ate at her, and the packed suitcase in the trunk of her car.

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More About the Author

Cindy Ervin Huff received the Editor’s Choice Award for her debut novel Secrets and Charades, published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Secrets & Charades placed third in the Maxwell Awards.

Over the past forty years her by-line has appeared in numerous publications. Her latest release a Contemporary Romance New Duet is set in Aurora, Illinois. Healing Hearts, part of The Cowboys novella collection is slated for release in August 2019.

Cindy is the founding member of the Aurora Illinois chapter of Word Weavers and a member of ACFW. Her blog Jubilee Writer offers writing encouragement to all newbies, especially those starting later in life. www.jubileewriter.wordpress.com

Visit Cindy on her Facebook www.facebook.com/cindyehuff or follow her on twitter @CindyErvinHuff.

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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/author.huff11/about/?ref=page_internal and www.facebook.com/cindyehuff,

Twitter: @CindyErvinHuff,

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/8029703-cindy-huff

Blog: www.jubileewriter.wordpress.com

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Cindy-Huff/e/B01N9UAOZA/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

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