The Way We Are by Tanya Eavenson

Today’s the last day of our Christmas promotion. I have one more author to introduce to you. I hope some of these titles and blurbs stirred your interest and can help you check off a gift on your list. The Way We Are by Tanya Eavenson is two books in one–two romantic suspense novels in one volume. To take read the first pages, click here.

To Gain a Bodyguard – Book One

Undercover ICE agent Madi Reynolds has spent years infiltrating a human-trafficking ring, but when her life is threatened, she is forced to walk away and advised to leave the country. Undeterred, she continues her plan to attend her brother’s Christmas wedding, with her partner assigned as her bodyguard. But after seeing Brice care for her niece, she finds it’s more than her life that needs protecting. Is there really any defense for the heart?

War Veteran and ICE agent Brice Johnson has been defending his country and American lives for as long as he can remember. Now, he faces the biggest assignment of his life–protect the woman he loves. He’s never been one to run from a fight, but when an old flame butts in expecting a second chance with Madi, and crippling visions of war call out to him, he begins to wonder if surrender is an option after all

To Gain a Bodyguard – Book Two

Undercover ICE agent, Brice Johnson, fell in love with his partner, but the fight to control his PTSD drove him to leave her and his assignment.

Deep undercover, ICE agent Madi Reynolds’ identity is blown, and she is involved in a hit-and-run meant to kill. Lucky to be alive after her vehicle was forced off the mountain, she finds herself in a wheelchair and facing an unknown future.

Even though the men responsible were tracked down and brought to justice, Brice’s gut tells him Madi is still not safe. Details of the investigation aren’t adding up. In secret, Brice moves to Helen, Georgia, across the street from Madi. But how long can he stay in the shadows when seeing her struggle day in and day out bombards him with memories of their happier days.

Unable to forgive himself for Madi’s accident, Brice vows to protect her, but is it enough? Is he enough?

A Christmas Blessing by Judith McNees

Featuring A Christmas Blessing by Judith McNees today, if you’re looking for a Hallmark movie in book form. Click here for a sneak peek inside. Be sure to check out the other books in Judith’s Tranquil Shores series. And the guest blog Judith wrote for me back in September about how the natural beauty of her native Michigan provides the settings for her stories.

Can two opposites look past appearances to see each other’s hearts?

Lauren Blessing has a problem. All the men she dates turn out to be jerks. When the latest in a string of bad relationships ends, she takes a break from dating for a while. After all, she has everything she needs to be happy…right?

Parker Johnson has a problem of his own. He can’t seem to shake his feelings for his high school crush. When she winds up suddenly single a week before Christmas, her friends do what they can to get them together. But how can he make her fall for him if he can barely speak to her?

As they spend time together, will Parker open up enough to show Lauren who he is inside? Will Lauren allow God to help her let go of what she wants to get what she needs?

Back cover of A Christmas Blessing

Happy 1st Birthday and Giveaway!

Today marks the first anniversary of the publication of my first novel, A Shadow on the Snow. To celebrate, I’m throwing a happy 1st birthday and giveaway party. To enter, go to the sidebar and sign up for my newsletter. When you receive my first newsletter that day, reply to me with your favorite Christmas story and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

First prize is pictured–a signed copy of A Shadow on the Snow; a signed copy of Christmas fiction off the beaten path, which contains “A Rose from the Ashes”, the Christmas mystery short story that kicked off my Rae Riley mystery series; a signed copy of From the Lake to the River, which contains my very first published mystery short story, “Debt to Pay”; and an ornament from the Buckeye State, where all my mysteries are set.

Three runners-up will win one book of their choice. U.S. residents only. You must enter by 5 p.m. EST on Dec. 10. I will announce the winners through a special announcement to my newsletter subscribers that evening.

If you haven’t read “A Rose from the Ashes” or A Shadow on the Snow, you can read the first pages of both stories below.

I’d love for you to join the celebration!

From “A Rose from the Ashes”

Glancing left and right, I crunched across the frozen weeds to the abandoned children’s home. I could not afford to be spotted now. If only I could take a few seconds and snap some pictures. The light from the early December sunset was perfect. Gashes of blood-red light seeped through the clotted clouds, creating an ominous background for the gray stone building that was rumored to be the scene of a murder.

At the back wall of the home, I slung the strap for my camera across my chest and climbed through an opening that once held a window. I dropped to the bare ground, my long, dark gold braid catching on a loose nail in the sill. I disentangled myself and crossed the dirt floor. The fire had burned the wooden floor away. And the roof and the whole interior. The four stone walls loomed above me like a medieval fortress as the sunset’s rays spotlighted sections of the garbage-strewn floor.

I knelt by a large fireplace, straining to detect any sound of psychics, ghost hunters, or thrill-seeking high school kids who had come to catch sight of the ghost of Bella Rydell.

Nothing but a few caws from crows and sighs as gusts of wind sailed through the empty window frames.

A lonely place. Very lonely, stuck on twenty acres of unused county land.

Shaking off a shiver, I unzipped my down vest and removed the two roses. I laid them on the rusty iron grate of the fireplace.

These would start everyone in the county talking again.

I retraced my path to the window opening, hoisted myself onto the sill, then sat suspended, my right leg swaying.

What was that?

Scrutinizing the naked trees, black against the dimming sun, I held my breath.

Wind. Just wind, rattling the dried-up weeds. No people.

Exhaling, I landed on the brittle grass and ran into the woods. As I approached my battered, black truck, I took a few pictures. If someone spotted me, I could say, with halfway honesty, I was out here capturing the sunset. 

An hour later, in my one-room apartment over Mrs. Blaney’s garage, I warmed my hands around a mug of tea and stared at three wrinkled envelopes.

Jason Carlisle. Walter R. Malinowski IV. Terence O’Neil.

Those names on the envelopes were burned into my brain.

I set down my mug, picked up my phone, and scrolled through photos until I found my favorite. My mom and I stood on a beach in North Carolina. She was in front since she didn’t even come to my shoulder. Her brown hair had grown back long enough to mousse and brush back, and her cheeks had filled out so the bones didn’t look razor sharp. I touched her beaming smile. 

Mom, I will do what you want. I promised. But I’ve got to do it my own way.

Since I’d placed the first pair of roses in the grate on Halloween night, I’d gotten to know the men attached to the names a little better.

But I still didn’t know which one was my father.

Or which one tried to murder my mother twenty years ago.Or if my father and her attacker were one and the same

From A Shadow on the Snow

Chapter 1

I’M NOT FOOLED, RAE. YOU’RE JUST LIKE YOUR MOTHER. 

I stared at the sheet of copier paper in my hand as the note fluttered in a gust of January wind. 

Really? It had only taken three weeks for someone to hate me and my mom enough to leave an anonymous insult? 

Turning over the envelope, I saw my address was written in the same marker,

same all-caps style. It was postmarked. I must have missed it when I grabbed my

mail last night. 

Shivering on the miniscule landing to my apartment, I blew out a sigh, which formed a little cloud in the freezing air. At least the idiot hadn’t crept up to my mailbox in the dead of night. I shivered again, and it wasn’t from another gust. 

People could hold a grudge in Marlin County, Ohio. I’d learned that in the last three weeks since I discovered Mal was my dad and announced Bella Rydell was my mother. The strained smiles, cold stares, conversations that didn’t get much past “hello” and “I’m fine.” Mom had made a lot of enemies, but that was twenty years ago. I’d told everyone who asked the story of how she’d been saved and changed her life. Well, most of it. 

I shoved the piece of paper back in the envelope, tossed it inside my apartment, and locked the door behind me. 

Holding my tripod and a roll of leftover bulletin board paper in one hand, I clutched the strap of my backpack with the other and climbed down the icy steps to the pad in front of the garage. Picking my way across Mrs. Blaney’s snow-covered lawn, I pulled the keys to my ancient truck from the pocket of my down vest. The Rust Bucket sat by the curb, draped in a thin layer of snow that couldn’t disguise its demolition derby appearance. 

After ten cranks of the key, the engine caught. I grabbed the gear shift, and it didn’t move. Not a millimeter. I hit the steering wheel. Not this morning. Why this morning? 

I fished my phone out of the other vest pocket and checked the time. If I walked fast and ran where it was safe on the slick pavement, I’d still make it to the library on time. Although Mal had shown me how, I still couldn’t unjam the gears without someone helping. 

Grabbing my backpack, and leaving the paper and tripod behind, I slammed out of the truck. Some snow fell off. I wouldn’t have been surprised if both bumpers had too.

Avoiding the slick sidewalk, I ran along the edges of the yards, heading

uphill to Main Street. In Marlin County, if you weren’t going uphill, you were going downhill, sort of a scaled down version of the West Virginia county Mom and I had lived in when I was in middle school. 

The sun shone ice white in a clear sky so blue it looked like an illustration in a hyper-cheerful picture book. But despite the sun’s dazzling appearance, not an ounce of warmth made it to the hilly streets. I pulled my scarf over my mouth and nose and held my arms tight against my sides. Maybe I should have taken Mal up on his offer to buy me a proper winter coat. 

I zipped my vest to my chin. I hadn’t spent the past seven months figuring out who my father was and if he had tried to murder my mom when she was pregnant with me so I could live off of him. I was nineteen. I’d been on my own pretty much since Mom’s last round with cancer. If I froze to the bone because my jean jacket and vest only kept me warm above fifty degrees, fine with me. Nobody in Marlin County was going to accuse me of being a manipulator. That’s what a lot of people thought the daughter of Bella Rydell would be like. 

Whoever sent the note thought manipulation was an inherited trait. 

My left boot hit a slippery spot. I flung out my arms, steadying myself. With my camera only wrapped in a towel in my backpack, I didn’t want to fall. Avoiding broken bones was a good idea too. 

At the top of the hill, I passed the sandstone courthouse, decorated in icicles like a giant wedding cake, glittering in the piercing sunlight. No time for a photo shoot, although if I could capture the way the icicles glistened, it could look like an ice castle in a fairy tale without any filters or photo editing. 

I crossed Main Street, striped with white streaks of salt, followed Woodward Avenue down along the side of the library, and turned into the parking lot. 

Jill Cerda, second-in-command and my boss when the library director wasn’t working, tromped over to the employees’ entrance through piles of snow, her unzipped coat flapping in the wind, her fine, graying hair dancing around her face. The cold must not have bothered her. She had plenty of insulation—at least 200 pounds packed onto a body that was a lot shorter than my five-eleven. 

I assembled my professional smile, friendly but not too familiar. “Morning.” 

The slight tilt of her head might have been a nod back. Jill punched in the code on the security keypad and sauntered inside. I hurried in as fast as I could without running her over. Lowering my scarf, I drew in a deep breath of unfrozen air, and my lungs appreciated it. 

Jill glanced at her phone. “Leandra is late.” 

“She’s not working today, ma’am. Leandra and Devon switched morning shifts, and Devon won’t get here until after her girls head to school.” 

“I wasn’t informed of the switch.” Jill made a scolding noise with her tongue. “Did they clear it with Barb?” 

“I’m sure they did, ma’am.” I took off my hat and fluffed my tangle of dark gold hair. 

“That means you’re opening alone.” Jill aimed a finger at me. “You can’t goof off. Keep your mind on your work.” 

A protest came to my lips, but I clamped them shut. Better to say nothing and get away from her. 

In silence, we walked down the hall to the employees’ kitchen, flipping on lights along the way. Three weeks ago, she wouldn’t have spoken to me like that. Since she’d found out who my mom was, she hadn’t had a nice word for me. 

I hung up my coat on a rack, changed from boots to loafers, and put my lunch in the fridge. From my backpack, I took out two books on photography I had to return. I placed my backpack inside an empty cupboard. Leaving it by the coat rack seemed a certain way to get my camera broken. 

When I entered the two-story lobby, the brilliant sunshine pouring through the tall, narrow windows that faced Main Street almost made the overhead lighting unnecessary. The harsh ceiling fixtures lit the room in a consistent, ugly glare, killing the homey atmosphere the fireplace, overstuffed chairs, and couch gave to the stacks and racks of books, magazines, and newspapers. But I switched them on as part of opening procedures and smiled when they made almost no difference. 

Behind the checkout desk, I turned on the computers and pushed the bin with items patrons had dropped off overnight from the slot in the front wall. As I bent over, my hair tried to blind me, and I lifted it up and back. So, it was going to be one of those days when my hair was out to get me. Unless I braided it or secured it somehow, I could never be sure it wouldn’t turn on me. 

I lifted a mass of books and DVDs from the bin. Could Jill have sent the anonymous note? It didn’t seem like something a person in her fifties would do. She would have been in her thirties when Mom lived here and preyed on any guy with a decent bank account. Had Mom had an affair with Jill’s husband? But the unsigned note indicated someone afraid of revealing his or her true feelings. Jill had no problem showing me how much she disliked me. 

I had almost finished scanning in the materials when Devon Majors and her two daughters, bundled to their eyes, rushed past the windows. I got the keys from the drawer, went to the inner doors, unlocked them, crossed the tiny room with the mat —what was the special name for this little room?—and opened the outer doors. 

Devon waved to Liberty and Serenity as they trudged down Main Street. She ducked inside and tugged off her knit hat. The sides of her long, dark brown hair were pulled back in a series of braids, revealing the studs that lined the edges of her ears and a glimpse of the vivid feathered serpent tattooed on the back of her neck, while the rest of her hair poured over her shoulders like molasses. 

“Rae.” Jill’s heavy voice dropped from the balcony overlooking the lobby. “Have you pulled the items for the hold shelf?” 

“Just about to print the list.” I hurried behind the desk. 

“You haven’t even printed it?” Jill sounded outraged, like I’d let the toddlers in Storytime make a collage with broken glass. 

“Rae’s working alone this morning.” Devon looked up to Jill, shrugging out her red parka. “I just got here.” 

“I know that.” She planted meaty hands on the black metal railing. “I’m not sure the library can afford to have you come in after your daughters go to school, Devon. Perhaps you’ll have to stick to the regular schedule like the rest of us.” 

A fire leaped into Devon’s forest green eyes. She might have been more than half a foot shorter than I was, but she never looked small, especially when she was mad. 

She glared up at Jill. “Don’t you think—” 

“Here’s the list.” I waved the sheets. “We’ll get the items pulled and set aside in no time, ma’am.” 

“You’d better.” Jill disappeared into the shelves of nonfiction adult books, the floorboards creaking under her footsteps. 

Devon tossed a braid behind her shoulder. “I owe you. I was about to tell Jill what I thought of her, and I can’t afford to lose my job.” 

One of the million things I liked about Devon was that she didn’t filter her words or her feelings. I also liked that although she was thirty- two, she treated me like a friend, not a kid. The only real friend I’d made in the county before I discovered who my father was and that I had about 6,000 relatives. 

“I can’t afford for you to lose your job either.” I handed her half of the list. “You’re one of the few people around here who doesn’t care that I’m the daughter of Bella Rydell.” 

“Don’t let Jill, or anybody else, get you down.” She glanced at the sheets. “Everyone will get used to the truth about you, and most of them won’t care. But that’s one of the problems of living in a small town or a rural county like Marlin. There’s not a lot of new blood moving in. It gives people time to hold on to old wrongs.” 

 “Mom and I usually lived in small towns. It was cheaper and safer than the city. But it was hard getting accepted.” 

“Wellesville is better than most in that area. I wasn’t sure how people would react to two little girls who were half Native American in a county that’s ninety percent white. When Shayne and I were traveling around the country, we never knew when someone would take offense to his non- white bread looks. But, except for a few losers, no one has made any nasty comments. The kids at school think it’s cool.” 

Devon stepped closer and added, “Give it time, Rae. It’ll get better.” 

I rolled the hem of my sweater. “I don’t like how people treat Mal because of me. Even people at church. I don’t want to cause him trouble.” “Your dad knew what a storm he’d stir up if he acknowledged you. He’s an adult. He can take it.”

I hoped she was right. I prayed she was right. Since early Christmas morning,

when Mal and I figured out he was the only one who could be my dad out of the three men my mother had told me were possible candidates, getting to know him and his family had gone better than anything I had imagined. 

My stomach tensing, I swallowed hard. 

I didn’t want to mess things up now. 

Melody’s Song by Kathleen E. Friesen

Check out the back cover blurb of Melody’s Song by Kathleen E. Friesen, a novel of contemporary women’s Christian fiction, and then read the first few pages below.

After the tragic death of her husband, timid Melody Jamison moves to the city of Saskatoon in search of a peaceful life, an escape from the nightmares that haunt her, and the safe return of her son, Will.

However, Will is determined to prove he doesn’t need anyone, and God isn’t even a blip on his radar. Trouble seems to follow him, but he’s strong enough to deal with anything. At least that’s what he wants to believe.

Melody keeps praying, even though she’d not sure God hears her. With her faith as fragile as yesterday’s dream, she is shaken when dying friend Rose Martens predicts that God will use her to bless their neighborhood. As Melody gets to know her new neighbors, she finds herself on a faith journey through demonic attacks, domestic violence, and the revelation of a secret that could destroy everything she’s gained.

****

Whap! The old screen door slammed and echoed through the nearly empty farmhouse. Melody Jamison startled and bumped her head in the cavernous refrigerator she’d been cleaning. She struggled to her feet as her daughter Faith rushed into the kitchen, her hair a white-gold banner streaming behind her. 

“Mom? Oh, there you are. Sorry we’re late, but Jessica decided to nap an extra hour, and then she filled her diaper at the last minute, and… Are you okay?” 

Melody tossed her cleaning cloth into the sink, feeling much older than her forty-four years. She leaned against the blue-tiled counter and rolled her aching shoulders. 

“I think so.” She sighed, shoulders dropping. “I knew this move would be hard, leaving this old farm…saying goodbye…but it’s even harder than I’d expected.” 

Her eyes welled up and she wiped them with the frayed hem of Tom’s old denim shirt. “I just can’t help feeling as though I’ve failed your father. You know how he loved this place. And after four generations of Jamisons…” 

Faith circled slowly, looking like a sad ballerina as her chin quivered at the barrenness of what used to be their home. Then she crossed the room and wrapped Melody in a hug. “Yeah, I know.” 

Her daughter pulled back but didn’t let go. “But you are doing the right thing. I still wish you were moving to a better part of the city, but at least you’ll be in Saskatoon. I’ve been worried about you being out here all alone, working yourself into the ground. I couldn’t bear to lose you, too. Dad would never expect you to run the farm by yourself.” She paused. “You do know that, right?” She pressed her cheek to her mother’s. “And we prayed about this, remember?” 

Faith stepped back, peered into her mother’s eyes. Melody looked away—too late. “You look exhausted. How long has it been since you’ve slept?” 

Melody didn’t want to answer. Nightmares had haunted her days and devoured her nights ever since Tom’s death, but she wasn’t about to admit it to her daughter. She leaned into the hug and rested her head on Faith’s slender shoulder.

Home Where She Belongs by Penny Frost McGinnis

Welcome to the holiday season! I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled theme, which is all about endings this month, and taking time to highlight the books of writer friends. If you’re looking to buy Christian fiction as gifts, the posts this week will give you ideas on how to wrap up a great story for a gift. First up is Home Where She Belongs by Penny Frost McGinnis, a fellow author with Mt. Zion Ridge Press. Here’s the back cover blurb for her debut novel.

Tired of being a pawn for her father and an emotional punching bag for her ex-boyfriend, Sadie Stewart escapes to Abbott Island where she spent summers with her grandparents. Would the love and faith she learned from them be enough to fuel her new life? She wants to believe God’s promises, yet broken trust holds her back. 

Joel Grayson left the island long enough to train at the Police Academy. The community trusts him, even though he’s failed. When he finds Sadie at her grandparents’ cottages, his heart skips a beat. He’d love to get to know her again, but no one needs to share the hurt he harbors. 

When Sadie discovers someone is sabotaging her future, she seeks Joel’s help. As they are drawn together, will Joel let down his guard and let her in? Will Sadie trust the man who loves her and the Father Who cares?

To get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what inspiration Penny used to pen (Sorry. Had to do it) her “small-town romance with a dash of mystery and the promise of hope”, click here to visit her post. Penny also wrote a guest blog for me about using nature in our writing.

What’s the best book you’ve received as a Christmas gift?

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