Saturday, July 25, 2009

First Look - Deadly Intent

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Deadly Intent

Steeple Hill (July 14, 2009)


Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Originally from
Hawaii, she worked as a biologist for 9 years, but now she writes full time. She is a staff worker for her San Jose church youth group and leads a worship team for Sunday service. She also runs the Story Sensei fiction critique service, which specializes in book doctoring.

On her blog, she gives away Christian novels, and she ponders
frivolous things like dumb dogs (namely, hers), coffee-geek husbands (no resemblance to her own...), the writing journey, Asiana, and anything else that comes to mind.

Visit the author's

Product Details:

List Price: $5.50
Mass Market Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Steeple Hill (July 14, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0373443471
ISBN-13: 978-0373443475


Chapter One

The man who walked into Naomi's father's day spa was striking enough to start a female riot.

Dark eyes swept the room, which happened to be filled with the Sonoma spa's staff at that moment. She felt his gaze glance over her like a tingling breeze. Naomi recognized him instantly. Dr. Devon Knightley.

For a wild moment, she thought, He's come to see me. And her heart twirled in a riotous dance.

But only for a moment. Sure, they'd talked amiably— actually, more than amiably—at the last Zoe International fund-raising dinner, but after an entire evening sitting next to her, he hadn't asked for her phone number, hadn't asked for any contact information at all. Wasn't that a clear sign he wasn't interested?

She quashed the memory and stepped forward in her official capacity as the spa owner's daughter and acting manager. "Dr. Knightley. Welcome."

He clasped her hand with one tanned so brown that it seemed to bring the heat of the July sun into the airy, air-conditioned entranceway. "Miss Naomi Grant." His voice had more than a shot of surprise, as did his looks as he took in her pale blue linen top and capris, the same uniform as the gaggle of spa staff members gathered behind her. "It's been a few months since I've seen you."

He still held her hand. She loved the feel of his palm— cool and warm at the same time, strong the way a surgeon's should be.

No, she had to stop this. Devon and his family were hard-core atheists, and nothing good would come out of giving in to her attraction. "What brings you here?"

"I need to speak to Jessica Ortiz."

An involuntary spasm seized her throat. Of course. Glamorous client Jessica Ortiz or plain massage therapist Naomi Grant—no comparison, really.

But something in his tone didn't quite have the velvety sheen of a lover. He sounded almost… dangerous. And danger didn't belong in the spa. Their first priority was to protect the privacy of the guests.

"Er… Ms. Ortiz?" Naomi glanced at Sarah, one of the receptionists, whose brow wrinkled as she studied her computer monitor behind the receptionists' desk. Naomi knew she was stalling—she didn't need to look because she'd checked Ms. Ortiz into the elite Tamarind Lounge almost two hours before.

Naomi's aunt Becca also stood at the receptionists' desk, stepping aside from her spa hostess duties to allow Naomi to handle Dr. Knightley, but Aunt Becca's eyes had a sharp look that conveyed her message clearly to Naomi: the clients' privacy and wishes come first.

Naomi cleared her throat. "Are you her physician?"

Dr. Knightley frowned down at her, but she kept her air of calm friendliness. He grimaced and looked away. "Er… no."

Naomi blinked. He could have lied, but he hadn't. "If you'll wait here, I can see if Ms. Ortiz is available to come out here to see you." If Jessica declined to come out, Naomi didn't want to think what Devon's reaction would be.

His eyes grew stormier. "Couldn't you just let me walk in back to see her?"

"I'm sorry, but we can't allow nonfamily members into the back rooms. And men are not allowed in the women's lounges." Especially the secluded Tamarind Lounge, reserved only for Tamarind members who paid the exorbitant membership fee.

"Naomi, surely you can make an exception for me?" He suddenly flashed a smile more blinding than her receptionist's new engagement ring.

His switching tactics—from threatening to charming— annoyed her more than his argumentative attitude. She crossed her arms. "I'm afraid not." She had to glance away to harden herself against the power of that smile.

"You don't understand. It's important that I see her, and it won't take long." He leaned closer, using his height to intimidate.

He had picked the wrong woman to irritate. Maybe her frustrated attraction made her exceptionally determined to thwart him. Her jaw clenched and she couldn't help narrowing her eyes. "Joy Luck Life Spa has many high-profile clients. If we let anyone into our elite lounges, we'd lose our sterling reputation for privacy and discretion."

"You don't understand how important this is—"

"Dr. Knightley, so nice to see you again." Aunt Becca stepped forward and inserted herself between the good doctor and Naomi's line of vision. She held out a thin hand, which Devon automatically took. "Why don't I set you up in the Chervil Lounge while Naomi looks for Ms. Ortiz?"

Aunt Becca whirled around faster than a tornado. Her eyes promised trouble if Naomi didn't comply. "Naomi."

Aunt Becca's taking charge of the conversation seemed to drive home the point that although Dad had left Naomi in charge of the spa while he recovered from his stroke, she still had a long way to go toward learning good customer relations. Part of her wanted to be belligerent toward Devon just to prove she was in the right, but the other part of her wilted at her failure as a good manager.

She walked into the back rooms and paused outside the door to the Tamarind Lounge, consciously relaxing her face. Deep breath in. Gently open the door.

Softly pitched conversation drifted into silence. Two pairs of eyes flickered over her from the crimson silk chaise lounges in the far corner of the luxuriant room, but neither of them belonged to Jessica Ortiz. Vanilla spice wafted around her as she headed toward the two women, trying to glide calmly, as the daughter of the spa owner should.

"Good morning, ladies. I apologize for the intrusion."

"Is it already time for my facial?" The elderly woman gathered her Egyptian cotton robe around her and prepared to stand.

"No, not yet, Ms. Cormorand. I've come to ask if either of you have seen Ms. Ortiz."

An inscrutable look passed between them. What had Jessica done to offend these clients in only the couple of hours she'd been at the spa? Jessica seemed to be causing the spa more and more trouble recently.

The other woman finally answered, "No, she left about a half hour ago for her massage. I thought she was with you."

Naomi cleared her throat to hide her start. Jessica's appointment was at eleven, in fifteen minutes, not now.

"Yes, doesn't she always ask for you when she comes?" Ms. Cormorand blinked faded blue eyes at her.

Naomi shoved aside a brief frisson of unease. Jessica should be easy to find. "Which massage therapist called for her?"

"Oh, I don't know." Ms. Cormorand waved a pudgy hand beringed with rubies and diamonds. "Someone in a blue uniform."

Only one of almost a hundred staff workers at the spa.

"Thank you, ladies. Ms. Cormorand, Haley will call you for your facial in fifteen minutes." Naomi inclined her head and left the room, trying to let the sounds of running water from the fountain in the corner calm her growing sense of unease.

Where could Jessica have gone? And an even juicier question: Why did Devon Knightley need to speak to her?

She peeked into the larger Rosemary lounge, which was for the use of spa clients who were not Tamarind members. Several women chatted in small groups, but no Jessica Ortiz. Naomi hadn't really expected Jessica to forgo the more comfortable elite lounge, but the only other option was checking each of the treatment rooms individually.

She headed into the back area where the therapy rooms were located, navigating the hallway scattered with teak and bamboo furniture, each sporting East Asian cushions and throws, artfully arranged by Aunt Becca. Had Jessica switched to a different massage therapist? And had someone forgotten to tell Naomi in the excitement of Sarah's new engagement?

As she moved down the hallway, she started noticing a strange, harsh scent suffusing the mingled smells of san-dalwood and vanilla. Not quite as harsh as chemicals, but not a familiar aromatherapy fragrance, a slightly discordant counterpoint to the spa's relaxing perfume.

She knew that smell, but couldn't place it. And it didn't conjure up pleasant associations. She started to hurry.

She first looked into the women's restroom, her steps echoing against the Italian tile. No sound of running water, but she peeked into the shower area. A few women were in the rooms with the claw-foot bathtubs, and a couple more in the whirlpool room, but no Jessica. No one using the toilets.

The mirrored makeup area had a handful of women, but again no Jessica. Naomi smiled at the clients to hide her disappointment and growing anxiety as she entered. She noticed some towels on the floor, a vase of orchids a little askew, and some lotions out of place on the marble counter running the length of the room, so she tidied up as if she had intended to do so, although the staff assigned to restroom duty typically kept things spic and span.

She peeked into the sauna. A rather loud ring of laughing women, but no Jessica.

Back out in the central fountain area, the harsh smell seemed stronger, but she couldn't pinpoint where it came from. Had a sewage pipe burst? No, it wasn't that sort of smell. It didn't smell rotten, just… had an edge to it.

She entered the locker area, although the Joy Luck Life Spa "lockers" were all carved teakwood cabinets, individually locked with keys. The smell jumped tenfold. Naomi scoured the room. Maybe it came from a client's locker? No. Maybe the dirty laundry hamper?


She flipped open the basketweave lid.

And screamed.


Chapter Two

The scream pierced Devon's eardrums. Beside him, Becca Itoh started. The heavy wooden double doors she'd just opened, leading to the men's lounge, clunked closed again as she turned and headed back down the corridor they'd walked.

"Where—?" He kept up with her, but not easily—for a woman in her fifties, she could book it.

"The women's lounge area." She pointed ahead as she hustled closer. "Those mahogany double doors at the end."

Devon sprinted ahead and yanked open the doors. "Stay behind me."

Becca ignored him, thrusting ahead and shouting, "Naomi!" as they entered a large circular entry area with more corridors leading from it. "Naomi!"

A door to their right burst open and Naomi Grant spilled into the entry room. "Aunt Becca!" Her face was the same shade as the cream-colored walls. "There's blood in the women's locker room.”

“Blood?” Becca reached for her as Devon pushed past her into the room she’d just exited.

Despite the urgency, he couldn’t help but be awed by the fountain in the center of a vast chamber with a veined-tile floor. Scrollwork signs on the walls pointed to “sauna” and “whirlpool” and “locker room.” Luckily, no women appeared. He veered right.

He almost wasn’t sure he’d actually arrived in the right place, but the carpeted room lined with teakwood locking cabinets was in line with the luxurious entry hall of what he realized was the women’s bathroom.

The metallic smell of blood reached him. He followed his nose to the basket hamper in the corner, filled with bloody towels. It reminded him of the discarded gauzes from his orthopedic surgeries, bright red and a lot more than the average person saw.

This was not good.

He returned to the two women. Naomi’s hands were visibly shaking, although her voice remained low and calm. “And I couldn’t find Ms. Ortiz.”

Jessica’s name still caused the reflexive crunching of his jaw. But he’d never wanted any harm to come to her—she wasn’t a bad person, they had just clashed too much on personal matters. And now she was missing, and there was an immense amount of blood in the bathroom. Devon’s heart beat in a light staccato against his throat. She had to be okay.

“Where else have you looked?” He scanned the other corridors leading from the fountain entryway. He’d need guidance or he’d get lost in this labyrinth.

“I haven’t checked the therapy rooms yet.” Naomi nodded toward the larger central corridor, which ended at another set of double doors.

He headed toward them when Becca reached out to grab his arm in a bony but strong grip. “You can’t just barge into private sessions.”

“Why not?” He turned to face the two women. “There’s blood in your bathroom and Jessica Ortiz is missing.”

Naomi’s light brown eyes skewered him. “Do you really think it’s wise to cause a panic?”

“And I suppose you have another option?”

“Sessions don’t last more than an hour or ninety minutes. We’ll wait for those to finish—if Jessica’s just in one of those, there’s nothing to worry about. In the meantime, we’ll check all the empty session rooms,” Naomi said.

Becca turned to leave and said over her shoulder, “I’ll check on the schedule at the receptionists’ desk to find out which rooms have clients and when the sessions end. I’ll call you on your cell.”

Naomi turned down a corridor in the opposite direction, this one lined with bamboo tables draped with shimmery, lavender-colored fabric so light that it swayed as they moved past.

It reminded Devon of the papery silks he’d seen in Thailand, giving the spa a soothing and very Asian atmosphere. His heartbeat slowed. Jessica was probably fine and had accidentally taken someone else’s session in her artless, friendly way. She’d emerge from a facial or a manicure in a few minutes and wonder what all the fuss was about.

A group of three therapists turned a corner. They spied Naomi and immediately stopped chatting amongst themselves, although not fearfully—more out of respect that the boss was suddenly in front of them.

“Girls, have you seen Ms. Ortiz?” Naomi’s smile seemed perfectly natural and warm—inviting a rapport with her staff, yet not too cozy. If Devon hadn’t noticed her fingers plucking at the linen fabric of her pants, he wouldn’t have known how anxious she was.

Two of them shook their heads, but the tall blond woman to his left nodded and pointed directly across the corridor. “I saw her talking to Ms. Fischer about an hour ago before Ms. Fischer went in for her manicure.”

His heartbeat picked up. “An hour ago?”

The blonde eyed him with a hard look, but a quick glance at Naomi seemed to allay her suspicions. He had the impression that if her boss hadn’t been by his side, he’d have been thrown out, even if it took all three women to do it.

Naomi was shaking her head. “Ms. Cormorand saw her leave the Tamarind lounge only thirty minutes ago.”

His hopes popped and fizzled.

The blonde jerked her head at the nearby door. “Ms. Fischer is almost done in room thirty-five if you want to talk to her anyway.”

“That’s a good idea. Thanks, Betsy.”

Betsy nodded, and the silent trio headed down the corridor and around the corner.

Copyright © 2009 by Camy Tang

Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.

Things I loved:

* I could not figure out who was behind the murders and other near mishaps (I hate when I've got it figured out halfway through the book)
* I loved the underlying message to pave your own path, to not just follow blindly what your parents or someone else wants for you or has told you
* I loved the setting in Sonoma
* Devon was not a stuck on himself doctor, even though he was quite well known
* I enjoyed the scene where Naomi is asking her father where God is and he doesn't just give her a pat or canned answer. He gave what he had. And what he had was a wonderful verse.
* The peek into what dealing with the rich and famous entails (I'll just add this: I'll pass! LOL)

This was a good read. Can't wait for the next one!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Paint and sin

I spent days and days cleaning before my mom and sister got here for their visit. We even did some long overdue painting. Long overdue would mean about 3 years overdue. Now that it's done, can I tell you how much painting reminds me of dealing with sin? Yep. It sure does.

See, it all started with the living and dining room. We were just going to paint in there. No new color, just the same one. It's flat paint so if you try to clean it, it just comes off, leaving you with bare, unpainted walls. No thanks! So we painted.

Then we saw that the dirt on the foyer wall was really obvious now that the adjacent living and dining room walls were freshly painted and clean. So we felt we had to do the foyer. Of course, once we did that, the kitchen walls looked bad. So we did the kitchen.

And we thought we'd be done...except that the foyer walls also made the stairway walls look trashy. So...yes, you guessed it...we continued to paint. And we did this until every room was painted.

When we were done it all looked so nice and new, like we had never had dirty little hand prints on the wall. And that's when it hit me. If we start dealing with one area of sin in our life and we allow God to really clean us up in regards to that one issue, it's great. The problem (or great thing) is that our pleasure at God winning a battle for us in that area is tempered by the sudden realization that there's still this one other issue that we need His help with. And once we're doing good there, we realize that there's that other issue over there, hiding out behind the guilt and shame.

Just like my husband and I could not paint just the one wall, it's hard to just ask God to deal with one thing and say "Okay, I'm good. I'm done now." Even if we do, we'll keep looking at that clean area next to the the unclean one and it will bother us to action. And you know what? I like that.

So I say today, "God, paint on. Remodel! Have at it!" Will you join me?

As always be blessed! I'm off to help my mom reclean all the things I already cleaned before she got here. LOL

Thursday, July 16, 2009

And the winner is....

The winner of my little Suave® giveaway (courtesy of the folks at Suave®) is scrunnermom- Susan! Congrats! I hope you enjoy the bath and body products! I know I have!

I have another giveaway that I'll do next week. I'd like to do it tomorrow BUT my mom, sister, brother, niece and cousin's daughter are all coming for a week long visit. Well actually mom will be here for three weeks. Everyone else is staying just a week. And since my mom has a cleaning issue (interpret this as OCD), I have a lot of cleaning to do. Oh and I am supposed to be getting ready for She Speaks Speakers/Writers/Women's Ministry Conference at the end of the month, Yeah. I'm just a tiny bit stressed!

I'll be back tomorrow with a post about our painting escapades!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Shower Goodness

Have you ever gotten out of the shower and felt pampered and beautiful? I have. And it was with the help of some new Suave® Naturals body wash and moisturizing products.

Yes, Suave® . Usually that name speaks value to me. But the body washes I've been using speak the word luxurious to me!

The first time I used the Apricot Exfoliating Body Wash, which is infused with apricot and coconut extracts. YUM! I followed with a wonderful moisturizing lotion...Suave® Cocoa Butter with Shea Moisturizer. My skin felt FABulous.

I wanted to test another combination, you know, to be sure it wasn't a one time fluke LOL. Enter the Wild Cherry Blossom Indulgent Body Wash, which is infused with cherry blossom extracts and Vitamin E. I followed that with the Advanced Therapy Moisturizer. The result: Excellent!

If the body washes only smelled good, they would not be worth talking about! But they also feel great and truly moisturize and pamper you. I can't say enough about the lotions. I have very dry skin. Dry African-American skin turns white, like ash. Can I just tell you that I haven't had one ashy day since I started using these Suave products. So any lotion that can hold its own with my elbows, hands and knees is a keeper.

These products have even been endorsed by Holly Robinson Peete. See a few of her tips on pampering below :)

I want you to be able to share in my excitement about these products. So here's the deal.

Use this sweepstakes link to enter for weekly prizes from Suave® . The beauty of this sweepstakes is that you get to create a registry of prizes that you can win instantly. will be automatically entered to win the ultimate at home shower for you and your friends. Now that is pampering at its best! There's still a few weeks left so hurry on over and then come back for the second way I want to share. Go on! Click here and I'll be here waiting for you when you're done registering.

Are you back?


Now I happen to have a Suave® Ocean Breeze Refreshing Body Wash infused with mineral rich sea algae extract, a Suave® Naturals Wild Cherry Blossom Indulgent Body Wash and a Suave® Advanced Therapy Moisturizer available for one lucky reader. It will come complete with the tips sheet from Holly. Just leave me a comment with your email address letting me know what you look for in bath and body products. Winner will be drawn the old fashioned "names in a hat" way next Tuesday.

While you're waiting to win...enjoy one of Holly Robinson Peete's tips for summer pampering.

Trade in your daily shower for a relaxing bath that’s fit for a queen! Transform your bathroom into a private sanctuary by lighting an aromatherapy-inspired candle and playing your favorite tunes. Be sure to use Suave® Naturals Lavender Vanilla Calming Body Wash. The soothing scent of lavender will calm your senses and transport your mind to a tranquil oasis.

Shower yourself beautiful by hosting an at-home spa day. Invite girlfriends over for manicures and pedicures and paint fingers and toes summer-inspired shades of sorbet. Once nails are dry, generously apply a moisturizing body lotion to keep hands and feet soft and smooth all summer long.

Good Tips from Holly. Well I can't wait to see who's going to win my little giveaway. And if you happen to win the sweepstakes, let me know!

As always, be blessed...and pampered!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Freedom and the 4th

Happy 4th of July everyone! On this day we celebrate our independence as a country. That's an important thing. And wonderful to celebrate and reflect on the freedom we have.

As I was reflecting on that, a small, but critically important message came to me. I have to share it with you.

On today, as we think about freedom and independence, I ask you to consider another kind of freedom and independence. Consider, if you do not have it already, achieving freedom in Christ and the cross. Consider independence from the penalty of sin.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. ~ John 8:36 (NIV)

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 6:23 (NIV)

If you don't know Him (Christ), get to know Him and let Him give you the ultimate freedom and independence. You'll never be sorry. And it will make your next 4th that much sweeter when you realize you are a citizen not just of the free United States, but a citizen with a reservation in heaven (your name is written in the Book of Life).

Nothing impure will enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. ~ Revelation 21:27 (NIV)

Happy Independence Day!

As always, be blessed! (And saved!)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

First Tour - Critical Care

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Critical Care (Mercy Hospital Series #1)

Tyndale House Publishers (May 6, 2009)


CANDACE CALVERT is a writer and ER nurse who believes that love, laughter, and faith are the very best medicines of all. After an equestrian accident broke her neck, she shared the inspirational account of her accident and recovery in Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul, and her writing career was launched. Born in Northern California and the mother of two, Candace lives in the hill country of Texas.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (May 6, 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1414325436

ISBN-13: 978-1414325439


Don’t die, little girl.

Dr. Logan Caldwell pressed the heel of his hand against Amy Hester’s chest, taking over heart compressions in a last attempt to save the child’s life. Her small sternum hollowed and recoiled under his palm at a rate of one hundred times per minute, the best he could do to mimic her natural heartbeat. A respiratory therapist forced air into her lungs.

Don’t die. Logan glanced up at the ER resuscitation clock, ticking on without mercy. Twenty-seven minutes since they’d begun the code. No heartbeat. Not once. Time to quit but . . .

He turned to his charge nurse, Erin Quinn, very aware of the insistent wail of sirens in the distance. “Last dose of epi?”

“Three minutes ago.”

“Give another.” Logan halted compressions, his motionless hand easily spanning the width of the two-year-old’s chest. He watched until satisfied with the proficiency of the therapist’s ventilations, then turned back to the cardiac monitor and frowned. Asystole—flatline. Flogging this young heart with atropine and repeated doses of epinephrine wasn’t going to do it. A pacemaker, pointless. She’d been deprived of oxygen far too long before rescue.

Logan pushed his palm into Amy’s sternum again and gritted his teeth against images of a terrified little girl hiding in a toy cupboard as her day care burned in a suffocating cloud of smoke, amid the chaos of two dozen other burned and panicking children.

“Epi’s on board,” Erin reported, sweeping an errant strand of coppery hair away from her face. She pressed two fingers against the child’s arm to locate the brachial pulse and raised her gaze to the doctor’s. “You’re generating a good pulse with compressions, but . . .”

But she’s dead. With reluctance, Logan lifted his hand from the child’s chest. He studied the monitor display and then nodded at the blonde nurse standing beside the crash cart. “Run me rhythm strips in three leads, Sarah.” After he drew in a slow breath of air still acrid with the residue of smoke, he glanced down at Amy Hester, her cheeks unnaturally rosy from the effects of carbon monoxide, glossy brown curls splayed against the starched hospital linen. Dainty purple flower earrings. Blue eyes, glazed and half-lidded. Tiny chin. And lips—pink as a Valentine cupid—pursed around the rigid breathing tube, as if it were a straw in a snack-time juice box. Picture-perfect . . . and gone.

He signaled for the ventilations to stop and checked the code clock again. “Time of death—9:47.”

There was a long stretch of silence, and Logan used it to make his exit, turning his back to avoid another glance at the child on the gurney . . . and the expressions on the faces of his team. No good came from dwelling on tragedy. He knew that too well. Best to move on with what he had to do. He’d almost reached the doorway when Erin caught his arm.

“We’ve put Amy’s parents and grandmother in the quiet room the way you asked,” she confirmed, her green eyes conveying empathy for him as well. “I can send Sarah with you, if—”

“No. I’ll handle it myself,” Logan said, cutting her off. His tone was brusquer than he’d intended, but he just wanted this over with. “We need Sarah here.” He tensed at a child’s shrill cry in the trauma room beyond, followed by the squawk of the base station radio announcing an ambulance. “There are at least five more kids coming in from the propane explosion. We’ll need extra staff to do more than pass out boxes of Kleenex. I want nurses who know what they’re doing. Get them for me.”


Why am I here?

Claire Avery winced as a child’s painful cry echoed up the Sierra Mercy emergency department corridor and blended with the wail of sirens. Almost an hour after the Little Nugget Day Care explosion, ambulances still raced in. Fire. Burns. Like my brother. No, please, I can’t be part of this again.

She leaned against the cool corridor wall, her mouth dry and thoughts stuttering. Being called to the ER was a mistake. Had to be. The message to meet the director of nursing didn’t make sense. Claire hadn’t done critical care nursing since Kevin’s death. Couldn’t. She wiped a clammy palm on her freshly pressed lab coat and stepped away from the wall to peer down the corridor into the ER. Then jumped, heart pounding, at the thud of heavy footfalls directly behind her.

She whirled to catch a glimpse of a man barreling toward her with his gaze on the ambulance entrance some dozen yards away. He looked a few years older than she was, maybe thirty-five, tall and wide shouldered, with curly dark hair and faded blue scrubs. He leveled a forbidding scowl at Claire like a weapon and slowed to a jog before stopping a few paces from her.

“What are you doing?” he asked, grabbing his stethoscope before it could slide from his neck.

“I’m . . . waiting,” Claire explained, awkwardly defensive. “I was paged to the ER.”

“Good. Then don’t just stand there holding up the wall. Let’s go. The charge nurse will show you where to start.”

“But I—,” she choked, her confusion complete.

“But what?” He glanced toward sounds at the ambulance bay and then back at her.

Claire cleared her throat. “I don’t know why I’m here.”

He shook his head, his low groan sounding far too much like a smothered curse. “If that question’s existential, I don’t have time for it. But if you’re here to work, follow me. Erin Quinn will tell you everything you need to know.” He pointed toward a crew of paramedics racing through the ambulance doors with a stretcher. A toddler, his tiny, terrified face raw and blistered behind an oxygen mask, sat bolt upright partially covered by a layer of sterile sheets. “See that boy? That’s why I’m here. So either help me or get out of the way.” He turned and began jogging.

Speechless, Claire stared at the man’s retreating back and the nightmarish scene beyond: burned child, hustling medics, a flurry of scrubs, and a hysterically screaming parent. Help or get out of the way? What was she supposed to do with that ultimatum? And what gave this rude man the right to issue it?

Then, with a rush of relief, Claire spotted the Jamaican nursing director striding toward her. This awful mistake was about to be cleared up.

“I’m sorry for the delay,” Merlene Hibbert said, her molasses-rich voice breathless. “As you can imagine, there have been many things to attend to.” She slid her tortoiseshell glasses low on her nose, squinting down the corridor. “I see you already met our Dr. Caldwell.”

Claire’s eyes widened. Logan Caldwell? Sierra Mercy Hospital’s ER director?

Merlene sighed. “I’d planned to introduce you myself. I hope he wasn’t . . . difficult.”

“No, not exactly,” she hedged, refusing to imagine a reason she’d need an introduction. “But I think there’s been a mistake. He thought I’d been sent down here to work in the ER.” Tell me he’s mistaken.

“Of course. A natural mistake. He’s expecting two more agency nurses.”

Claire’s knees nearly buckled with relief. “Thank goodness. They need help. I can see that from here.” She glanced at the ER, where patients on gurneys overflowed into the hallway. A nurse’s aide held a sobbing woman in her arms, her face etched with fatigue. Styrofoam coffee cups, discarded cardboard splints, and scraps of cut-away clothing littered the floor. All the while, the distant cries of that poor child continued relentlessly.

“Yes, they do,” Merlene agreed. “And that’s exactly why I called you.”

“But I’ve been at Sierra Mercy only a few months, and my hours are promised to the education department—to train the students, write policies, and demonstrate new equipment.” Claire floundered ahead as if grasping for a life preserver. “I’ve interviewed to replace Renee Baxter as clinical educator. And I haven’t done any critical care nursing in two years, so working in the ER would be out of the—”

“That’s not why you’re here,” Merlene said. Her dark eyes pinned Claire like a butterfly specimen on corkboard. “I need you to assess my staff to see how they’re coping emotionally. I don’t have to tell you this has been one miserable morning.” She studied Claire’s face and then raised her brows. “You listed that in your résumé. That you’ve been recently trained in Critical Incident Stress Management?”

CISM? Oh no. She’d forgotten. Why on earth had she included that? “Yes, I’m certified, but . . .” How could she explain? Merlene had no clue that Claire’s entire future—maybe even her sanity—depended on never setting foot in an ER again. It was the only answer to the single prayer she’d clung to since her firefighter brother’s death in a Sacramento trauma room two years ago. Being helpless to save him left her with crippling doubts, sleep-stealing nightmares, and . . . She’d mapped her future out meticulously. The move to Placerville, a new hospital, a new career path, no going back. Everything depended on her plan.

Claire brushed away a long strand of her dark hair and forced herself to stand tall, squaring her shoulders. “I understand what you’re asking. But you should know that I haven’t done any disaster counseling beyond classroom practice. I’m familiar with the principles, but . . .” What could she possibly offer these people? “Wouldn’t the chaplain be a better choice?”

“He’s going to be delayed for several hours. Erin Quinn’s my strongest charge nurse, so if she tells me her ER team is at risk, I believe it. They received six children from that explosion at the day care. Four are in serious condition, and a two-year-old died.” Merlene touched the amber and silver cross resting at the neckline of her uniform. She continued, frowning. “Dr. Caldwell’s working them ragged. An agency nurse threatened to walk out. Security’s got their hands full with the media. . . . You’re all I can offer them right now.”

Claire’s heart pounded in her throat. With every fiber of her being, she wanted to sprint into the northern California sunshine; fill her lungs with mountain air; cleanse away the suffocating scents of fear, pain, and death; keep on running and not look back. It would be so easy. Except that these were fellow nurses in that ER; she’d walked in their shoes. More than most people, Claire understood the awful toll this work could take. The staff needed help. How could she refuse? She took a breath and let it out slowly. “Okay. I’ll do it.”

“Good.” Relief flooded into Merlene’s eyes. She handed Claire a dog-eared sheaf of papers. “Here’s our hospital policy for staff support interventions. Probably nothing new there.” She gestured toward her office a few yards away. “Why don’t you sit down and review it for a few minutes before you go in? You can report to me later after I make my rounds.”

Before Claire could respond, the ambulance bay doors slammed open at the far end of the corridor. There was an answering thunder of footsteps, rubber-soled shoes squeaking across the faded vinyl flooring.

Logan Caldwell reappeared, shoving past a clutch of reporters to direct incoming paramedics. He raked his fingers through his hair and bellowed orders. “Faster! Get that stretcher moving. Give me something to work with, guys. And you—yeah, you, buddy—get the camera out of my face! Who let you in here?” The ER director whirled, stethoscope swinging across his broad chest, to shout at a tall nurse who’d appeared at the entrance to the ER. “Where are those extra nurses, Erin? Call the evening crew in early; a double shift won’t kill anyone. We’re working a disaster case here. Get me some decent staff!”

Claire gritted her teeth. Though she still hadn’t officially met him, there was no doubt in her mind that Logan Caldwell deserved his notorious reputation. Dr. McSnarly. The nickname fit like a surgical glove. Thank heaven she didn’t have to actually work with him—the man looked like he ate chaos for breakfast.

Claire turned to Merlene. “I’ll do the best I can,” she said, then drew a self-protective line. “But only for today. Just until the chaplain comes.”

“Of course. Very short-term.” Merlene began walking away, then stopped to glance over her shoulder. “Oh, a word of caution: Dr. Caldwell hates the idea of counseling. I’d watch my back if I were you.”

Claire hesitated outside the doors to the emergency department. She’d reviewed the summary of steps for an initial critical stress intervention and was as ready as she’d ever be. Considering she’d never done any peer counseling before. I’m a fraud. Why am I here?

She shut her eyes for a moment, hearing the din of the department beyond. It had been stupid to put the CISM training on her résumé. She’d taken the course last fall and participated reluctantly in the mock crisis situations, mostly because it would look impressive on her application for the clinical educator position. But afterward Claire knew that she could never volunteer as a peer counselor. Never. It felt too personal, too painful.

Healing the healers, they called it, the basis for the work of volunteer teams that waded into horror zones after events like 9/11, the killer tsunami in Indonesia, and the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And a Sacramento, California, trauma room after a warehouse fire that killed seven firefighters.

Claire fought the memories. Yes, the counseling teams made sure that caregivers took care of themselves too, assessing them for burnout and signs of post-traumatic stress. Like difficulty making decisions, sleeplessness, nightmares, and relationship failures. Claire knew the symptoms only too well. She’d struggled with most of them herself these past two years, exactly the reason she’d run away from that Sacramento hospital—after refusing its offer of stress counseling—and never looked back.

But here she was at another ER door, peeking inside through a narrow panel of bulletproof glass. And now she was responsible for helping these people deal with everything she was trying so hard to forget and expected to offer the kind of counseling she’d never accepted herself. Beyond ironic—impossible and completely at odds with her plan.

Claire raised her palm and pushed the door inward.

Heal my heart and move me forward. She’d prayed it every single day.

So why was her life slamming into reverse?

The essence of Sierra Mercy ER hit Claire’s senses like an assault. Sounds: anxious chatter, a burst from the overhead PA speakers, beeping of electronic monitors, inconsolable crying, and painful screams. Smells: nervous perspiration, stale coffee, surgical soap, bandaging adhesive, the scorched scent of sterile surgical packs . . . and of burned hair and flesh.

No, no. Claire’s stomach lurched as she clutched her briefcase like a shield and scanned the crowded room for the charge nurse. Find Erin Quinn. Concentrate on that.

She took a slow breath and walked farther into the room, searching among the eddy of staff in multicolored scrubs—technicians, nurses, and registration clerks. She forced herself to note the glassed-in code room, a small central nurses’ station and its large dry-erase assignment board, the semicircular arrangement of curtained exam cubicles with wall-mounted equipment at the head of each gurney, and the huge surgical exam lights overhead.

Claire tried to avoid the anxious faces of the family members huddled close to the tiny victims. Because she knew intimately how much they were suffering. No, much worse than that. I feel it. I still feel it.

When she’d agreed to do this for Merlene, she’d hoped this smaller ER—miles from the Sacramento trauma center and two years later—would be somehow different, but nothing had changed. Especially how it made Claire feel, the same way it had in those weeks after Kevin’s death. Unsure of herself for the first time in her nursing career, she’d been antsy, queasy, and clammy with doubt. Dreading the wail of approaching sirens and jumping at each squawk of the emergency radio. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t shake the irrational certainty that the very next ambulance stretcher would be carrying someone she loved, someone she’d be unable to save, and . . .

A cry in the distance made Claire turn. Her breath caught as the young charge nurse opened a curtain shielding a gurney.

A child, maybe three years old, rested upright in a nest of blue sterile sheets, tufts of his wispy blond hair blackened at the tips—some missing in spots—reddened scalp glistening with blisters. One eye had swollen closed, and his nose was skewed a little to one side by the clear plastic tape securing a bandage to his cheek. The other blue eye blinked slowly as if mesmerized by the drip chamber of the IV setup taped to his arm. An oxygen cannula stretched across his puffy, tear-streaked face.

Beside him, a stainless steel basin, bottles of sterile saline, and stacks of gauze squares sat assembled on a draped table. Burn care: control pain, cool the burn to stop it from going deeper, monitor for dehydration, and prevent tetanus and infection. All the bases covered. Unless the burns are horrific and complicated, like Kevin’s. Unless there is profound shock, heart failure, and . . . No, don’t think of it.

Claire exhaled, watching as Erin Quinn pressed the button on a blood pressure monitor and efficiently readjusted the finger probe measuring the child’s lung status. She made a note on a chart and moved back to the bedside as the child stirred and cried out.


“Mom’s getting a bandage on her leg, Jamie, remember?” she explained gently, then caught sight of Claire and acknowledged her with a wave. She called to another nurse across the room. “Sarah, can you finish the ointment on Jamie’s scalp? watch him for few minutes?” After giving a brief report to the petite blonde nurse, she crossed to where Claire stood.

“Good, you found me,” Erin said, noting Claire’s name badge and offering a firm handshake. Strands of coppery hair had escaped from her ponytail, and her blue scrubs were splotched with snowy white burn ointment. She nodded as Claire glanced once more at the injured boy. “Second-degree burns. No explosion trauma, otherwise he’d be on a chopper ride to Sacramento. But Jamie’s got asthma, and the smoke stirred things up. So . . .”

“He needs close observation,” Claire finished. “I understand.”

Erin smiled. “Hey, I really appreciate your coming here. We’ve had a horrible shift, and my staff are workhorses, but the Hester child was a real heartbreaker. We worked a long time to save her, but it didn’t happen. And only last weekend we had the first drowning of the season. Junior high boy fishing on the river. Overall my crew seems to be coping fairly well, but today might be that last straw, you know? So I have a couple of issues I’d like to discuss with you. I can spare about ten minutes to fill you in. Will that be enough to get you started?”

“Yes . . . okay.” Claire tried to recall the details of her review. How much could she offer here? One person couldn’t do more than a brief assessment and let the staff know more assistance was available. At least she’d found the self-help pamphlets. “But first I should tell you that I left a message for the hospital social worker because if an actual debriefing is needed, then a mental health professional is required. That’s policy.” She swallowed, hoping she sounded more confident than she felt. “The debriefing should be done tomorrow or the next day.”

“What?” Erin shot her a look that clearly implied Claire was the one who needed mental help. “Tomorrow? I called you here because we need help now. Didn’t Merlene tell you that?” She pressed her fist to her lips. “Look, I’ve had a lab tech faint, the media’s harassing family members in the waiting room, and an agency nurse threatened to walk out. Walk out, when I’m short-staffed already! I’m sorry if I seem testy, but I’m responsible for the quality of nursing care here. My team needs help, and I’ll do everything it takes to make that happen. Merlene told me you were a trained peer counselor. Aren’t you?”

She hated herself. Erin Quinn was right. Claire needed to do whatever she could for these people. Somehow. She reached into her briefcase and grabbed a sheaf of glossy pamphlets. “Yes, I’ve been trained. And I can start an initial assessment, get things going in the process. I promise I’ll do as much as I can to help, and . . .” Her voice faltered as heavy footsteps came to a stop behind her. She fought an unnerving sense of déjà vu and impending doom.

“Help?” A man’s voice, thick with sarcasm, prodded her back like the devil’s pitchfork.

Claire turned, several pamphlets slipping from her fingers.

It was time to officially meet the newest threat to her plan, Dr. Logan Caldwell.

Great Read! I'll simply list a few things I liked about this book:

  • The characters were not perfect. They were flawed human beings with real struggles and real questions about their faith. I could relate to them.
  • The relationships between them were totally believable
  • The way Logan's faith developed was great. It wasn't the pat, girlfriend leads guy to God that a lot of books have. It was surprising the way his "harvest" occured, much like real life.
  • The writing was captivating. I couldn't put the book down.
  • Enough things were left "unwrapped up" (I know, I know, I made that word up) that I'm already in need of the second book! But I didn't feel cheated because enough things were "wrapped up" to tide me over :)

Hurry and get this one. Another great read!