Pepperoni Pizza Pinching Chimps Blitz

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Children’s Book, Middle Grade
Date Published: October 2019
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A Mystery unfolds when pizza delivery boys along with their pizzas keep disappearing, mostly pepperoni pizzas.
Keah is puzzled by strange noises that happen around the apartment building where she lives.
With the help of her friends, Keah is determined to find out why these things are happening before her family get back from the cruise.
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Excerpt
Chapter 1
Bang, bang, bang!
        The knock on the front door made Keah jolt awake. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes she stretched and yawned.
        “Who is it?” she shouted as she stretched again.
        “Pizza!” The voice from the other side of the door shouted back.
        “I didn’t order any pizza,” Keah replied.
        Walking over to the front door, she picked up a small stool and placed it by the entrance before stepping on it. She pushed her eye up to the spy hole. Her dad had assumed that everyone was going to grow six-foot-tall when he had the spy hole fitted, but for Keah, who was struggling to reach five foot two, a stool was the only option.
Keah could see a mass of curly black hair with a red cap perched on top. A boy about her age, sixteen, moved away from the door and turned to face Keah’s front door. He stood awkwardly, holding a stack of pizza boxes.
        “Someone at this address did, Miss. Someone has to pay for all these pizzas. My boss is gonna be livid if I take them back.”
        “I didn’t order any pizzas. Go away. I’m calling the police.” Keah stepped away from the door.
        That’s when she heard that noise. The sound that grated through every bone in her body. It was the noise that made her spine tingle like fingernails running down a blackboard. A thought rushed through her head: Is that two pieces of metal scraping together? She shuddered and took a deep breath.
        Looking back through the spy hole, she watched the boy look around quickly, then turn and head back down the hallway, shaking his head. She heard him talking loudly and cursing to himself as he shoved the boxes back into the pizza warmers. His boss was going to be so annoyed. He had just walked past Mrs. Joy’s front door—Mrs. Joy was Keah’s neighbour—when he stopped and turned. Walking back to Mrs. Joy’s front door, the pizza delivery boy spoke to someone, but Keah couldn’t quite see who.
        Keah thought she saw dark shadows enter the hallway and move around the pizza delivery boy. But she couldn’t quite see who it was before the hall light switched off. Keah desperately wanted to go out into the hallway and turn on the light just to see who the boy was speaking to, but instead, she stepped off the stool and slid down the door onto the floor.
        Taking a deep breath, she crawled over to the coffee table, grabbed her iPhone and then edged her way back to the door. Even with her ear pressed against the door, she heard nothing but silence. Pressing her phone to wake, she opened her keypad. Slowly she pressed the button 000. She then placed her phone on the carpet next to her. What if Mrs. Joy had visitors, and they had ordered the pizzas? How stupid would I look? She thought to herself as she rested her head against the door and yawned. What a weird smell. I feel so tired. Keah thought before she finally closed her eyes.
        Bang, bang, bang!
        The vibrations from the banging on the door awoke her with a start. The light was now streaming in through the window, and the traffic sounded noisy. She felt the door vibrate against her back as the knock came again. Realizing she must have fallen asleep by the front door, Keah crawled into her bedroom, crouched at the side of her bed and listened. She heard people outside in the hallway. Someone banged on her neighbour’s door. Mrs. Joy is getting a lot of visitors lately, she thought.
She showered quickly and got ready for school. Slightly hesitant, she opened the front door and stepped out into the hallway. A tall policeman stepped in front of her.
        “Oh,” she announced, quite startled. “What’s going on?”
        “Morning, Miss. Do you live in this apartment?” The policeman had a broad Australian accent. Keah stepped back. She turned and glanced at the door before nodding dumbly.
        “Why didn’t you answer your door when I knocked earlier?” The policeman leered at Keah, making her stomach turn.
        “Got ID?” Keah said, avoiding eye contact.
        The policeman fumbled inside his tunic and eventually pulled out a wallet and showed her his identification card. By now, he had been joined by another man. This one was not in uniform but in a dark grey suit.
        “Morning, Miss. Got a name? I’m Detective Sergeant Paul Grimes.” He whipped out his ID before she could even think of asking.
        “Keah. Keah Madelia.”
        Keah had stepped back again and was now squished up tight against her own front door.
        “Where are your parents, Keah? You don’t live here alone, do you? You off to school?” The DS bombarded her with questions, and all she could do was shake her head.
        “Well?” DS Paul Grimes said.
        The uniformed policeman started to look around the hallway as if he was losing interest in Keah.
        “My-my parents are cruising around New Zealand, somewhere. I’m on my own till they get back. I am old enough. I’m sixteen—well, I’ll be sixteen in a few weeks!”
        “Are you off to school?” DS Grimes asked again. “Which one?”
        “Yeah. St. Luke’s, at the corner of Holden Street,” Keah replied. Looking up at the DS, she asked him what all the police were doing in her building.
        “Don’t suppose you’d let my young officer here just poke his nose inside, would you? Only a pizza delivery boy went missing last night, and we believe this was his last delivery before he disappeared.”
Keah’s eyes widened, and her heart quickened. I saw him—I saw him talking to someone at Mrs. Joy’s front door. Keah wanted to scream at the detective, but instead she looked at her front door again then back at DS Grimes.
        “I’m late for school, and I didn’t order any pizza, perhaps Mrs. Joy did,” she declared boldly, pushing her key in the lock and letting the door swing wide open. “Knock ya self out.”
        Keah watched two policemen step out of Mr. & Mrs. Guey’s flat before she stepped back inside hers.
        She saw the uniformed policeman pull a pair of white disposable gloves from his pocket and watched as he rummaged around in the kitchen bin. Satisfied nothing was exciting in the waste bin, the policeman walked into Keah’s room, emerging a few moments later. Glad I tidied up after showering this morning. That could have been embarrassing, Keah thought. DS Grimes emerged from her parent’s bedroom. Her sister’s door was wide open. Mia would not be happy if she found out they’d touched her doll collection, which sat the whole length of one wall.
        “Did you hear anything last night, Keah? About 9 o’clock?” DS Grimes enquired softly.
Keah was already shaking her head from side to side and looking toward the window.
        “No, nothing, sorry. I-I um, I fell asleep quite early last night.”
        The DS reached into his inside pocket and pulled out what looked like a business card. He held it out to Keah.
        “Well, if you do recall anything, please call me. No matter how silly or small you may think it is, I would still like to hear about it. Okay?”
DS Paul Grimes pushed the card into Keah’s hand and left. The other policeman quietly followed, not even looking at Keah as he walked past her. Keah studied the card. Her older sister was around his age and single.
        And he is cute for a cop. Maybe a bit grumpy for Erin, Keah reasoned with herself.
        She slipped the card into her school bag before throwing it over her shoulder. Slamming the door behind her, Keah rushed past the policemen in the hall and skipped down the stairs into the street. She didn’t look back or slow down until she’d reached her school three kilometers away.
Her best friend Abby was waiting for her at the gate as usual. A total contrast to Keah’s fair complexion and strawberry blonde hair, Abby had olive skin and dark hair that matched her equally dark eyes.
Keah turned and scoured the street before entering the school. She linked her arm through Abby’s as they walked the long driveway to the school building.
        “Did you hear what happened last night?” Abby asked.
        Keah shook her head from side to side as if she hadn’t heard and glanced at Abby.
        “Another pizza boy disappeared. That’s four now,” Abby said, quite anxious.
        “Oh yeah, that—apparently it happened in our building. The boy delivered pizza to someone in our building then vanished,” Keah tried to act nonchalant but didn’t dare look at Abby again, in case she saw the guilt in her eyes.
        Keah knew she had been acting strange since her parents left for the cruise and that she should have gone to help that boy last night, but she hadn’t.
        “Oh, Keah! Did you see him? Did you order pizza? No—you wouldn’t—I know that, but Keah, how dreadful,” Abby cried as she let go of Keah’s arm and swung around to face her. “Have you told the police? Are you alright?”
        Keah nodded. She looked fine, but her stomach was knotted, and she felt shaky.
        No one had been there when Keah was woken up at 2am by the dreadful screams. She felt as if she was going mad with the scratching from the inside of her wardrobe. It came from the ceiling, from under the floor. She felt tired but didn’t want to tell anyone in case they thought it was because she was on her own and couldn’t cope. Although she often spoke to her neighbours, neither had commented on the noises to Keah. The sounds started two days after her parents left with her six-year-old sister Mia. She now wished she had gone with them, but it was too late. At the time her exams were more important. Plus, the excitement of staying home all on her own for three weeks was more than she dared wish for.
        Keah had planned get-togethers at her place and even a massive party. She had run the party idea through her mum because she knew someone would tell her parents. So, she told her it would be very low key and if her mum had wanted her oldest sister Erin, who lived way over at Happy Valley, to come and supervise, that was cool. At the time Keah had felt that she was old enough to cope with a few friends on her own. Now, she was not so sure.
About the Author

Tracey C Ayres writes action-packed mysteries which are fun and exciting for young readers. Most of her books have heroines rather than hero’s, for no particular reason, and her characters are intrepid, quick-witted and smart, and sometimes they are even fearless. Because Tracey believes when we lose ourselves in a story, our imagination should hold no barriers.
Best known for her book Gularian Islands (the one with the blinking dragon eye on Youtube) which received an incredible five stars LitPik review.
Tracey was born in England where she grew up with two older sisters and three younger brothers. Studied childcare, social work and psychology and wrote for a local newspaper but now loves her current job the best and that is writing stories for young children.
Living in Australia with her husband, daughters, grandchildren and a menagerie of pets she loves to find a shady tree and lose herself in her adventures while writing.
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The Wrath of Leviathan TOUR

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BetterWorld, Book 2
Science Fiction (Cyberpunk) / Thriller
Date Published: September 1, 2018
Publisher: See Sharp Press
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In Wrath of Leviathan, the second book of the BetterWorld trilogy, Waylee faces life in prison for daring to expose MediaCorp’s schemes to control the world. Exiled in São Paulo, her sister Kiyoko and their hacker friends continue the fight, seeking to end the conglomerate’s stranglehold on virtual reality, information, and politics. But MediaCorp and their government allies may quash the rebellion before it takes off. And unknown to Kiyoko and her friends, a team of ruthless mercenaries is after them and is closing in fast.

EXCERPT

This excerpt from The Wrath of Leviathan is from Gabriel’s point of view, and set in a Japanese neighborhood in São Paulo, Brazil. Gabriel is a former Brazilian special forces sergeant who works for a private security company now. He’s been assigned as Pel and Charles’s bodyguard. He and Kiyoko are at their neighborhood’s weekly street fair when they receive an emergency message from Pel that they are under attack.

Gabriel bolted for the apartment building. He dodged around people, trying to get through the crowds. 

They didn’t always move as expected. He bumped into a man his age, who spilled a half-full plastic cup of beer. 

“Filho da puta!” The man hurled down his cup and swung a fist.

No time for this. Gabriel grabbed the man’s arm, twisted, and threw him to the ground. He took off again.

I can’t believe this is actually happening, he thought. And timed while he was away—it had to be deliberate. He tried calling Pel while running. “DG, call Pel,” he commanded his augmented reality glasses. 

No answer. He shoved his way through a food line blocking the street. More curses thrown his way. “Police! Out of the way!” he shouted.

Seemed to work, even without having a badge. 

He kept running, the rows of overhanging white lanterns marking his progress. “DG, call SSG emergency dispatch.” His company had set up procedures in case of trouble he couldn’t handle himself. 

The connect icon flashed. “Serviços de Segurança Globais,” a woman’s voice said. “Please state the nature of your emergency.”

“Da Silva. Condition Red. I need backup in Liberdade immediately. You have the address. Unknown number of assailants attempting to kill or kidnap Demopoulos and Lee. Need a helicopter team.”

He turned onto Rua dos Estudantes, their street. No tented stalls, but it was still crowded with pedestrians. Only a few more blocks, though. 

“Helicopter?” the woman asked.

He abandoned the crowded sidewalk for the street. “Yes, Condition Red. Possible kidnappers, probable head start. Hurry, I am alone!” 

Gabriel kept running. He dodged between groups of people bound for the fair. With luck, the SSG helicopter would arrive from their Congonhas base in fifteen minutes. They always kept at least one on rapid response, and it was only an eight kilometer flight. 

He called the state military police, Águias da Cidade, next. 

No answer. What was the problem? And no police visible. Where was that Inspector De Barros when they needed him? 

Gabriel approached their six-story apartment building and zoomed in on his data glasses. Nothing unusual. No smoke, no noise, people walking up and down the sidewalks as if it were any other day. 

Two white cargo vans were parked on the street, one next to their building and another three spaces up. Also not unusual, except for the tattooed girls standing next to them and glancing back and forth. Both wore dark data glasses with wraparound mikes, unzipped leather jackets, and bulging cargo pants. The closer one was young, with cinnamon skin and black hair tucked under a red bandanna. The further one was older with dark skin and long purple box braids.

Were they armed? His data glasses couldn’t identify Bandanna Girl, but Purple Hair had a long record, including an arrest for illegal firearms. The two women stared at him and tapped their data glasses.

Gabriel turned away and pretended to look at building numbers. “DG,” he whispered, “display feed from Pel 2SQ1BZ23.” Pel’s emergency activation streamed his security camera feeds to a Comnet site that Gabriel and SSG headquarters could access.

Swiping a finger along the right arm of his data glasses, Gabriel panned through the camera feeds. Five were out. Still transmitting but no picture. 

But the hallway camera showed people emerging from Pel and Charles’s apartment. The door was off its hinges and smudged black. Seven people exited, four of them carrying Pel and Charles, who looked unconscious. The intruders wore street clothes, not uniforms, wore gloves, and were masked as telenovela stars. Three moved slowly and stiffly. They entered the stairwell through a shattered door frame. 

Shit. They’re already leaving. It would take them a while to get downstairs, though. 

Gabriel was outnumbered at least nine to one. But all he had to do was delay them until reinforcements arrived from SSG and the police. Should he pin them in the stairwell? Or take out their transport?

I’ll go for the transport. Gabriel strode toward the closest van, which had no windows in the back. 

The tattooed women stared at him, then reached into their jackets.

Gabriel whipped out his pistols. In his right hand, a Glock semi-auto with dampened recoil and a full clip of hollow-point. In his left, a long-barreled needlegun with a big magazine of guided flechettes with explosive heads. Both guns had laser targeting systems integrated with his data glasses and able to adjust for range and wind. 

Purple Hair drew a polymer submachine gun. Bandanna Girl, who was less than ten feet away now, pulled out a sawed-off shotgun.

Holy shit. Gabriel’s arms acted on reflex. He swung the needlegun toward the greater danger, the girl with the shotgun, red crosshairs in his augmented vision sweeping toward her chest. He flipped the switch to full auto. At the same time, he swung the Glock toward Purple Hair. He pulled both triggers.

Neither gun had much recoil but they made plenty of noise. Just as Bandanna Girl leveled her shotgun, half a magazine of explosive flechettes ripped into her torso and exploded in a spray of red. He hit Purple Hair too. She staggered backward.

Bandanna Girl dropped to the sidewalk, blood gushing out of her jacket. 

Wide eyed, Purple Hair shot back, spraying bullets in his direction. Plinks sounded against parked cars and thwacks against concrete.

Gabriel felt a sharp pain in his upper right arm. He fired the Glock at Purple Hair again and dashed behind the nearby van. 

People screamed and ran. On the sidewalk to his right, a middle-aged Japanese woman lay on her back, bleeding from the stomach. On the street, a school-age girl grasped her forearm and wailed. A lanky teenage boy tried to pull her away. A familiar image flashed into his mind, a dead girl in the Tropical Breeze dining hall, blood soaking the carpet around her. 

Gabriel glanced at his arm. It burned like fire and blood dripped from his torn shirt sleeve, but it wasn’t bad enough to worry about yet. 

The bystanders would most likely survive. “Everyone get out of here!” he yelled. 

He glanced around the side of the van. Purple Hair was gone, either retreating or reloading. Bandanna Girl lay in a spreading pool of blood, motionless.

“Gabriel!” Kiyoko’s voice. He turned.

Kiyoko was running toward him in her pink kimono. Her eyes were wide. 

I thought she was staying put. Gabriel waved his arm. Pain. Wrong arm. “Get out of here!” he yelled in English. “Take cover!”

She nodded and veered toward the minimarket where they did most of their shopping.

Gabriel peered around the van again. Purple Hair was waiting for him. He snapped back behind cover. 

Purple Hair fired her machine gun again. More plinks and thuds and screams. 

Kiyoko was in that direction! His heart seized. He whipped his head around and saw her just outside the grocer’s. Unharmed but exposed. Someone had pulled down the corrugated metal shutter door that graced every store in the neighborhood.

Kiyoko banged on the shutter door. “Let me in! Me deixe entrar!” She followed with something in Japanese.

“Take cover damn it!” Gabriel shouted.

She ducked behind an old Camry hybrid next to the market. Safe for now.

Gabriel looked around the other side of the van. Someone shot at him with a pistol. The bullet whizzed by his ear. 

It was the driver, leaning out the window. A girl, light skinned with long dark hair. 

Gabriel holstered his Glock and tried the back door of the van. The handle was unlocked. Made sense, they were expecting passengers. He whipped the door open, needlegun in his left hand. 

The girl turned around, face rigid with surprise. Too late. Crosshair on her head, Gabriel fired a short burst. 

Her head exploded, blood and bone fragments and brains splattering the windshield. Gabriel almost gagged but emptied the rest of the magazine into the console. Plastic and metal fragments flew everywhere. The dashboard lights went out.

One van down. He could take out the tires of the other. He couldn’t see them from this vantage, though; he’d have to cross the street. “DG, call SSG emergency dispatch.” 

“Serviços de Segurança Globais,” the dispatcher began. 

He interrupted her. “I need that backup.”

“On its way.”

“Patch me through.”

“Pistario here.” 

First good news. Nicolas Pistario was an old comrade from the special forces, team leader, damn capable. SSG didn’t have ranks like the military and although Nicolas supervised more people, he and Gabriel were equivalent in the field. 

“Da Silva. Eight to ten assailants, heavily armed. Two white cargo vans. I took out one, will try to get the other.”

“Copy that. We are loading, and airborne soon.”

They hadn’t even left the base yet, and then they’d need another few minutes to get here. “Couldn’t get through to police,” Gabriel said. “Can you give it a try?”

“Copy that. Will pass it to dispatch.”

Da Silva clicked off. He slapped another magazine in the needlegun. 

More shop owners closed their shutters. Lots of people would be calling the police. And nearby patrols would hear the gunshots and radio headquarters. For a shootout, they’d bring armored vehicles, maybe helicopters.

Gabriel crouched, ready to dash across the street. Wish I had a smoke grenade. He glanced around the left side of the van. 

An automatic rifle fired at him. He ducked back behind the van. The shooter was another teenage girl, standing in the street with an AK-47. She was bronze-skinned, with blonde-streaked hair tied in a bun. Not the type you’d expect to carry an AK-47. What’s with this gang?

An icon of Kiyoko’s face popped up. “Are you safe?” Her voice trembled.

“Yes. Stay behind cover. Don’t stick your head out.”

“Please don’t die,” she said.

“I won’t.” He tapped his glasses arm, terminating the connection. If I try to cross the road, I’m dead. If I stay here, they might get away.

Someone peered from the glass front doors of the apartment building, just ahead and to his right. “DG zoom,” he commanded. 

It was a man wearing a Tony Santos mask, everyone’s favorite telenovela billionaire. Holding a matte-gray submachine gun. He peered out the door but made no move to exit. 

What was he waiting for? 

The side entrance. If Gabriel were running their gang, he’d send some men out the side to flank him. He’d be surrounded. And dead. 

Gabriel abandoned his position and ran back up the street toward the plaza, keeping the van between him and the machine gunners. He glanced into the side street between the apartments and the building with the grocery store, seeing two masked men with pistols. They saw him too and fired. 

(scene continues…)

About the Author

T. C. Weber has pursued writing and music since childhood, and learned filmmaking and screenwriting in college, along with a little bit of physics. Trapped at home during the “Snowmageddon” of 2010, he transformed those interests into novel writing. His first published book, Sleep State Interrupt, was a Compton Crook Finalist for best debut speculative fiction novel. By day, Mr. Weber works as an ecologist and has had a number of scientific papers and book chapters published. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland with his wife Karen. He enjoys traveling and has visited all seven continents.

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The Legacy Series: Book One Blitz

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Drama
Date Published: February 18, 2020
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Brandyn (Brandy) Harris, a lonely, abused, and terminally ill twelve-year-old boy builds his private virtual world outside the knowledge of his strict and abusive parents. Denied the ability to interact with other kids in his everyday life, Brandy finds refuge within the confines of the Internet in his early stages, where it appealed primarily to the outcasts, and a close group of virtual teen friends.
The Legacy offers a unique, unparalleled glimpse into the mind of abused children while this abuse is taking place amid the hysteria surrounding the Satanic Ritual Abuse Panic of the early 1990s. An outstanding page-turner, it gives you an unprecedented, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience, through first-hand, day-to-day accounts as they occur, a real-world of childhood desperation and painful secrets, a world-known by millions of children, but never openly shared with adults.
You’ll feel Brandy’s feelings, cry his tears and laugh with him on the good days as you’ll journey through the candid and honest secrets of an abusive childhood, as Brandy’s correspondences are written by kids, for kids. Thus, you’ll learn the truths kids only tell their friends, outside the inherent inhibitions derived from adult interference.
This book is the first volume in an epic book series based on real events and the writings and correspondences of a terminally ill young boy who is also enduring a life of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
About the Author

Brandyn Cross is a multi-media artist, as an accomplished writer, recording artist, songwriter, filmmaker, and actor. 

Brandyn is the writer/producer of the major live event Jackie Evancho & Friends: We are Hope, which was also filmed for television broadcast as multiple concert specials. 
As a singer/songwriter Brandyn scored the international top 10 hits Dear Mr. Jesus and If Money Talks (It Ain’t on Speakin’ Terms With Me), and the top10 music video I Will Always Love You. He won BEST SONG at the prestigious Utah Film Festival & Awards for his composition and recording of Love Again, as featured in the television series Proper Manors.
As an actor and filmmaker, Brandyn has worked on numerous projects such as Unicorn City and The Wayshower, as well as Alienate and Being Charlie with Rob Reiner. He is presently in post-production on his feature directorial debut with the dark Emo drama, The Legacy.
Among his body of written work is the Feature Film The Legacy, currently in post-production and the recently completed Gary Coleman biography, As if I Never Existed, with Gary’s widow Shannon Price. Brandyn has optioned and produced multiple feature screenplays and has written over 100 episodes for various TV series and specials. Brandyn is presently releasing the first volumes in an epic book series, The Legacy.
Brandyn started exploring his creative gifts following a serious industrial accident that turned him into a wheelchair-bound amputee in addition to already being “high functioning” autistic. Determined to show the world that even severe obstacles can be overcome, Brandyn began developing his innate creative abilities, studying and honing his craft, until ultimately turning this ambition into a professional reality. Today, he continues this mission in earnest. 
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The Lady is Trouble Blitz

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League of Lords, Book 1
Historical Romance
Date Published: February 18, 2020
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In the first in Tracy Sumner’s sizzling League of Lords historical series, mysticism in Victorian England is the setting for a captivating love affair . . .
He’s a viscount with a dark past who yearns for the one woman he can’t have. She’s rebellious, spurned by society and determined to change his mind.
What’s a defiant woman to do when the man she’s meant for doesn’t believe in love?
After three years of waiting for Julian Alexander to realize they are destined to be together, Lady Piper Scott takes matters into her own hands. Because her gift as a healer has never done anything but distance her from the most principled man in England. A meaningless diversion as a medium, all done to gain a certain wandering viscount’s attention, backfires. As most endeavors have for a woman known in the ton as Scandalous Scott.
What’s a reluctant viscount to do when the woman he can’t have becomes the woman he can’t live without?
Julian Alexander, Lord Beauchamp, battled his way from the lowliest slum to assume his title. He carries not only a turbulent past, but a mystical psychic gift that separates him from society. Honorable to his core, he is committed to protecting a community of outcasts with abilities like his own. He has no time, no place, for love. Or repeatedly rescuing the most outrageous, beguiling woman he’s ever known. Even if she needs his protection most—and he desires her above all others.
Seduction, intrigue and desire lead to an explosive passion…
Julian vowed to shield Piper from the deadly foes seeking to possess her powerful gift. Although he needs her help in controlling his own, the mix could be deadly. Soon what was once a simple agreement to work together becomes enchantingly complex as they surrender to a timeless love…
Praise for Tracy Sumner’s novels:
“Delicious and amusing…witty dialogue, sparkling humor and a snappy narrative. A must read!” —The Best Reviews
“Terrific dialogue…and hot loves scenes. If you haven’t read Tracy Sumner before, Tides of Passion is a good place to start.” —All About Romance
“A powerful relationship novel that explores the heartache and triumph of love.” —Romantic Times
“The battle of the sexes heats up the pages of this fun and fresh romance by talented new writer Tracy Sumner.” —New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs
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 Excerpt
 There is nothing stable in the world; uproar’s your only music. John Keats
Chapter One
London, 1865
Allowing the lady to lure him into her carriage had been a brilliant idea.
Julian Alexander stared at a spider crack in the ceiling of his Mayfair town home and wondered when he might start to believe it. He could presume encountering a former lover outside Hatchards on an otherwise lonely evening was a fortuitous event if there weren’t the niggling—familiar—pinch of regret the moment his cock settled.
A faint sense of having erred, gone off the path and into a twilight woodland where one could be easily lost.
As lost as he’d felt stepping into her dimly lit carriage.
Julian watched Marianne wrap herself in his silk dressing gown, her chatter lulling him into a state of satiated distraction. Only the first and third word of each sentence filtering through, he found the conversation definitively complete. Earl, garden, tryst, scandal. Titles and the men who held them occupied her undivided interest. Each day spent investigating a riddle that had no solution.
Was not, in fact, worth the attention she devoted to it.
In all fairness, Julian could not judge.
His mystical gift separated him from a normal existence and made the world he’d been born into at times unrecognizable. Out of a sense of duty, he played the part of the gentleman for
the solitary purpose of propping up the viscountcy, adhering to society’s rules while struggling to preserve his secrets and the secrets of those he protected. Of course, he tendered his title when it benefited himself or the League. But a barony would have profited as well and knocked him down a notch, perhaps enough to slip beneath the waves and be carried from view.
He closed his eyes and let the waves crash over him.
Then Marianne mucked it up by kicking the door to the past wide open.
He rose to his elbow, knocking the counterpane aside. Dragging his hand through his hair, he asked, “Repeat that, will you?” Alarm vibrated through his belly, like swimming in the sea and realizing a massive wave crested behind you. No, it couldn’t be. “Come again?”
Marianne’s gaze settled where the sheet hung low on his hips. “So, you were listening.” She reached to touch, a stroke on air. Licked her lips in the event he didn’t register her appreciation. “Jules, with you, I never know.”
He slid high in the bed, suppressing his annoyance. Jules. He’d asked her to refrain from calling him that. Too. Many. Memories. “Marianne, the clairvoyant?”
Her smile grew luminous, her delight underscoring the scant attention he offered. Without trying to be a disdainful cad, it seemed he was precisely that. “Oh, darling, it was the most farcical evening! Ashcroft arranged for a fortune teller to entertain, and you know him. For a duke, he pushes the boundaries of propriety while always staying within the limit.” She leaned in, clutching the lapels of his dressing gown to her bosom. “I heard there was absinthe served to the men. Why, the festivities were enough to make a stuffed bird laugh!”
Julian hummed low in his throat and rose from the bed. He didn’t know but could imagine. Hell’s teeth, he thought and reached for his clothes, which lay in a tidy pile next to the chiffonier. Taken off without haste, neatly folded.
He frowned. How little had he wanted this encounter?
“I didn’t glean any outrageous tidbit about my future. Though I tried.” She lifted a delicate shoulder beneath silk. “More the delight just being there.”
He buttoned his shirt, slipped his braces over his shoulders. “You mentioned the woman had an unusual accent.”
Marianne crossed the room, slippers striking the floor in an eager rhythm. “It was dark, too dark to see anything. Very mysterious. Madame wore a veil, and there was candlelight. The ideal setting. Although Ashcroft seemed oddly anxious the entire evening, adding nothing to our merriment.” At Julian’s impatient look, she rushed on, “Madame’s accent came out on one word. She sounded almost…” She twirled her hand in a languid circle, finger pointed toward the plaster ceiling rose. “Ad-ver-tise-ment. That’s what she called the sheet she handed me. She sounded, can you imagine, American? Would that not be a vulgar surprise?” She laughed it away, swept beneath the Aubusson at her feet. “Although I’m sure I misheard. Doubtless, an upstart trying to hide cockney.”
Julian’s fingers twitched, missing a button on his waistcoat. He moved too forcefully across the room as she took a stumbling step back. “Where is it?” He drew a breath laced with the scent of Marianne’s perfume and the acrid aroma rolling in the open window. Soot, sewage. That damned river. Christ, he hated London. “The advertisement.” He extended his hand, controlling the tremor that wanted to travel from his fingers to his heart.
Could. Not. Be. Piper was tucked away in Gloucestershire. Under armed guard. Protected. Safe. Their enemies had been searching for her since she’d arrived from New York all those years ago. But they wouldn’t look in Gloucestershire. She knew this. He’d cautioned her more times than he could count. Had been advising her for years, it seemed.
Marianne regarded him through eyes the color of fresh cow dung. “Why, darling, I fear I’ve not seen you react…to anything. Appetites fed but the heart untouched.” She waved away her discomfiture and a statement she likely wished she’d kept to herself. Turning in a crimson whirl, she moved to rifle through the reticule sitting atop the chaise lounge, one just the shade of emerald eyes Julian had tried with little success to forget. “Lucky for you, I saved it. As proof, I experienced such an evening. Who would believe otherwise?”
Julian flexed his fingers, preparing for the transmission. His gift didn’t marry well with a lack of sleep. Touching an object and being pulled into the otherworld of someone who had touched it previously was brutal enough. Stepping into that world when exhausted was reckless and allowed the experience to control him.
Maybe it wasn’t Piper, and this endeavor would be nothing more than supernatural experimentation. He’d sent Finn to visit her last month. Or had it been May? A headache moved to the base of his skull. Lifting his hand to his brow, he pressed hard.
Blast it, had they not visited since the spring?
Marianne thrust the advertisement at him, and he hesitated. Taking time to notice she’d only secured an ear bob, and it dangled there without a partner, bouncing as she did. Her lips canted, though he’d bet a half-sovereign the smile would disappear if she fathomed the source of his reluctance. If she had any idea who he truly was and how his gift of sight forever separated them, she would run screaming into the misty night. “If you’re interested, Julian, and I’m shocked you are, Madame DuPre is doing a reading tonight. The address is listed.”
His breath seized. Madame DuPre. The name conjured forgotten summers of youth. Running through fields of grass so tall the blades hit his thigh; swimming in shallow lakes on moonlit nights; climbing trees until he was breathless surveying all that fell below. Laughter and
foolishness—even love by some arcane definition—on a scale he and Piper could no longer afford.
Julian huffed a sigh and grabbed the sheet before he could think better of it. Or stop himself, which he would not, because it appeared Piper had jumped off another goddamn ledge.
And he was her rescuer. Her caretaker.
Her warden.
 
I’m going to throttle her, was all he managed as he crushed the foolscap in his hand and stepped into the otherworld.
Shadow and candlelight bathed the room. The curious combination of burnt ashes, spice, and lilac. Piper was settled over a desk, her gown as golden as the Kingcup scattered along Harbingdon’s riverbank each spring. Moonlight carved a path along the floor and Julian followed the dazzling footpath of silvery blue. The walls surrounding her were covered in tattered wallpaper, peeling at the ceiling and seams. The furniture was scuffed, the rug threadbare. The dwelling was nothing like Finn’s description of the modest but opulent manor in Gloucestershire.
His heart thumped desperately against his breastbone. She was more vivid than any model he’d ever painted, and he had tried to recreate her, a thousand strokes of brush to canvas.
Her vibrancy eluded him.
Stumbling back, he tried to step out of the trance. It was a problem lately that he had trouble doing so. The otherworld had a voracious claim on him. Through eyes drawn to slits, he observed Marianne’s lips moving, but he was too entrenched in another space and time to respond.
Too entrenched in her.
Independent of his gift, Piper Scott had a stronger hold over him than any woman could ever hope to have.
Muttering a harsh oath, he dropped the advertisement like it burnt his skin and the image of Piper spiraled away, water down a drain. Forcing him from the room with the tattered wallpaper and the girl he’d sworn to protect with his life but never touch again to preserve hers.
The woman for whom he hungered.
Dear God, Piper, what have you done?
He was through the door and into the hallway before another breath had passed, ducking as a vase accompanied Marianne’s shriek of rage.
#
About the Author

Tracy’s story telling career began when she picked up a copy of LaVyrle Spencer’s Vows on a college beach trip. A couple of degrees (BA, Journalism-MA, Media Arts) and a thousand romance novels later, she decided to try her hand at writing a southern version of the perfect love story. With a great deal of luck and more than a bit of perseverance, she sold her first novel to Kensington Publishing.
Tracy has been awarded the National Reader’s Choice, HOLT Medallion, the Write Touch and the Beacon – with finalist nominations in the HOLT Medallion, Heart of Romance, Rising Stars and Reader’s Choice. Her books have been translated into German, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish.
She lives in the south, but after spending a few years in NYC, considers herself a New Yorker at heart. She loves hearing from readers about why she tends to pit her hero and heroine against each other or that great novel she simply must read.

 
 
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Amber Waves of Grace cover
Contemporary Romance
Date Published: February 2020
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
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After her father’s accident, Corrie Lancaster moves back to the family farm just in time to help with the harvest. With a bumper crop of wheat waiting, the farm’s only hired hand quits, leaving Corrie with no choice but to accept the help of her old boyfriend’s older brother, Aaron Tuttle. It seems like the perfect plan until Corrie realizes ex-flame Luke isn’t over her. But even with Luke’s apologies and attempts to rekindle their romance, Corrie can’t forget his past betrayal.
Between harvesting, keeping tabs on her younger siblings, and watching her parents’ marriage crumble, Corrie leans on Aaron for emotional support. Wading through jealousy was never on Corrie’s to-do list, but as she navigates the choppy waters, she finds herself falling for Aaron’s good looks and charming wit.
Just when Corrie thinks she has everything under control, a stranger seeking shelter comes to the farm, and an old nemesis returns for revenge. As destructive forces align against her, Corrie must decide which man’s love will bring her back to life and restore her faith in herself, her family, and her purpose.
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Excerpt
Perchedhigh in her Peterbilt semitruck, Corrie Lancaster winced as the leather seat sucked at her tanned arms. She swiped at the sweat dripping down her nose. Didn’t matter. She loved harvest time. Consistent and efficient. Just what she liked.
Enclosed in the cab cocoon, she waited out the cloud of dust and chaff spewed out by the back end of the combine as it inched across the wheat field. She counted down the seconds until the last of the dust storm passed, then she opened the door and hopped down from the sweltering cab. Even a hot day felt like a fresh breeze after being trapped like that. Filling her nostrils with the smell of wheat and dirt, she shuffled through the stubble and knelt. With deft fingers, she moved aside the chaff and scoured the ground for wheat kernels.
Seeing only two, she exhaled. The old girl kept chugging along. If the 9600 John Deere combine could keep doing that for the next two thousand acres, they’d be set. With the years of drought and bad grain prices, the piggy bank had squealed its last a long time ago. A good harvest was the only hope for reviving it.
Corrie straightened, brushed her hands on her jeans, and readjusted her dark aviators as her gaze darted over the field she’d planted and cared for. Ambling to the semi to wait for the next load, she groaned when a familiar rusty-orange Ford F-350 tore into the field, wheels spitting up chaff in their wake. George, her hired man, slammed the door, the pickup shuddering with the force.
“Here we go again,” she mumbled, posting herself next to her semi, careful not to touch the black paint molten in the sun’s heat, and waited for the large oaf to close the distance. “George, what’s the rush?”
His tongue darted out and licked his chapped and peeling lips. His licentious gaze raked her while still communicating disdain. Quite a trick for someone with mush for brains. She hugged her arms around her chest.
“The rush?” George spat. “Rush is I quit.”
Her arms fell to her sides. “What?”
“You heard me.”
Corrie balled her hands into fists and kept herself from planting them in George’s overfed face. “You can’t quit.”
“I ain’t about to work for no woman for minimum wage. Especially a woman like you.”
 
Bright? Diligent? Caring and responsible? Words he probably didn’t know.
She narrowed her eyes. “Fine. Quit.”
“Or you could do what any reasonable woman would do. Sell the farm. To me.”
Corrie snapped her mouth shut on a nasty swear word. “When pigs fly.” She clambered up the semi steps and slammed the door.
Hot humid air and her heavy breathing filled the cab as George sped from the field, truck tires making a permanent rut. Corrie pawed at the window knob until the coolest breeze a ninety-five-degree day could muster blew through. Laying her head back against the headrest, she closed her eyes and, for the first time, longed to be back in Sioux Falls and ached for a juicy story to unfold to the readers of the Argus Leader. Impossible of course. Her family needed her.
“Corrie?”
She jumped in the seat and banged her knees on the steering wheel. She couldn’t remember praying for patience, but she made a mental note to remind God she didn’t need any more for a while.
“Nathan! You scared the living daylights out of me.” She quirked an eyebrow. His fifteen-year-old face resembled a Cheshire cat’s. “Did you scare me on purpose?”
“No.” Tinges of crimson crawled up his neck. “I swear on my ability to drive, I didn’t mean to.” His blue eyes radiated innocence, but he’d made her look like a fool before.
“If I even get a hint, a breath of a hint, that you did it on purpose, I’ll take Old Bertie away for two days.”
“How am I supposed to practice driving if you take the truck away?”
“You shouldn’t have sworn by it, then, should you?” She reached out and ruffled Nathan’s hair. Ignoring his scowl, she asked, “Why are you here, anyway? I thought you had a grain bin to clean.”
“The auger’s broken, and I couldn’t get ahold of George to fix it. I thought he’d be here with you.”
“George quit.” And all she wanted to do was find ways to exact revenge upon him. Ex-lax in his morning coffee? Too messy. A new mouse infestation in his pickup? Too mousy. “Losing” his last paycheck—
 “Corrie? Are you there?” Nathan waved a hand in front of her face.
“What?”
“What do you want me to do?”
Go find the loser and run him over. No. That wouldn’t help. He would be only slightly less useful dead. “I’ll figure something out. Did you finish the rest of your chores?”
“Yeah. I was just about to finish cleaning out the grain bin when the stupid auger broke. Can I still go to the lake with my friends?”
His large boots thumped on the running board. Just this morning, he’d complained they were getting tight on him.
“Yeah, you can go.” Before he could hop down, she grabbed his arm. “Double-check with Mom and make sure you’re home by five to relieve Nikki. She’s been in that combine since eight.”
He beamed at her and walked away with a lanky stride caused by a six-foot frame and an arm span to match.
She hollered, “Why didn’t you just call over the radio?”
“Broken,” he yelled over his shoulder before he slammed the door to the old red manual pickup he’d learned to drive.
Rage exploded from deep inside. With a scream, Corrie scrunched up an empty Pepsi can, and pretending it was George’s head, she chucked it out of the truck cab. For all his horrible qualities, George had worked hard. And he didn’t earn minimum wage. He earned a dollar an hour more.
An approaching tractor’s purr drew her attention. Her cousin Joey bounced up and down as the John Deere inched closer. He lined the grain cart up to the semi and began dumping golden wheat kernels into the trailer. After several minutes, he pulled away and headed down the rough field to await another combine hopper.
She started the truck and drummed her fingers while it aired up. When the red light signified the truck was ready, she shifted into first, exited the field, and began the twenty-mile drive into Sandy. Metallica screamed through the truck’s speakers, and she bobbed her head to the vicious beat.
They would have to hire another person. A person crazy enough to work for a dollar an hour more than minimum wage.
* * * *
A full moon illuminated the well-kept Lancaster farmyard as Corrie pulled into the driveway. She hauled herself out of the pickup, every muscle in her body threatening mutiny.
“Well, Old Bertie, you did well today. I hope Nathan’s treating you right.” Giving a tap to the pickup’s hood, she chuckled. “I’ll have to remind him you’re three hundred thousand miles old.”
Trusting that Nathan had fed the dog, she rattled the doorknob on the barn to check the lock and trudged to the large two-story colonial-style farmhouse. Its brick façade with white windows and a red front door welcomed her home. She scratched the panicked idea of going back to Sioux Falls. As much as she enjoyed the city, she needed the country and its peaceful quiet and its meandering back roads.
She inhaled the cool summer air bursting with the scent of her mother’s pansies planted snugly in terra-cotta pots. She sank into a white wicker rocking chair. A plane’s red lights blinked in the starlit night, and a shooting star soared into the black abyss.
Nearer, farm equipment not being used in the field hunkered down in the tree belt, far past the reach of the single farm light on the barn roof. Most of it would have to wait until spring to be brought out and put to use. Corrie shook her head. Although perhaps idiotic and slightly neurotic, she couldn’t help feeling as if the planting equipment stewed in jealousy and dejection for most of the year. Maybe her parents had read her too many Corey Combine books. Apparently, they had thought she would be a boy and had chosen the name before she drew her first breath. Surprised but not beaten, her parents had ditched the spelling and kept the name. With a grunt, she heaved herself out of the rocking chair and tiptoed into the dark house. Nikki, Nathan, and her mother would have gone to bed hours ago.
One person, however, would still be up. After kicking off her shoes, Corrie walked into the living room. The fresh scent of furniture polish spoke of her mother’s Friday cleaning. The television glow illuminated vacuum tracks in the plush white carpeting. A solitary figure sat in a brown leather recliner.
“Hey, Dad.” She stooped and kissed the top of his head, noticing for the first time the lines and wrinkles edging his eyes, signs of aging he’d always hidden.
Jake responded with a slurred variation of her name and a wobbling smile. She muted the game show. He’d never liked game shows, and now the Game Show Network was the only thing on when he was in the house. The no-nonsense man she’d known all her life had died when a semitrailer slammed into his truck one icy December evening.
As she did every night, she sat by his slippered feet and told him about her day. The damage hadn’t touched the part of his brain that loved and lived off farming. Every day convinced her even more that his love of the land was nurtured not in his head but in his heart. Nothing could kill that.
“George quit today.” Corrie saved the worst news for last. Her father’s eyes met hers and reflected the anger he couldn’t formulate with words. Then a sliver of worry crept around the anger in his eyes. Wanting to reel the words back in and swallow them, she sighed. “Don’t worry, Dad. I’ll take care of it. I’ll find someone to replace George.”
The worry and anger didn’t leave his eyes. With a sigh, she got off the floor and laid her hands on his once broad shoulders. “Don’t stay up too late. Morning comes early on the Lancaster farm.” She pressed a kiss to his forehead and left him watching Deal or No Deal. He would be up for hours.
* * * *
Corriegroaned into her pillow and hid from the protruding fingers of sunlight soaking through her window shades. If only she could cover her head with her comforter and fall back into her wonderful dream about Middle Earth and hobbits, but she couldn’t afford the luxury. Not with a truck full of grain to take to the elevator. Not if she wanted to beat the line so she could get back and service the combine. Nikki could take care of the other morning chores, but the combine was Corrie’s baby. Nobody greased it except her.
Bacon and eggs sizzled as she entered the bright kitchen. The west wall, full of floor-to-ceiling windows, faced her mother’s garden. As a child, Corrie had loathed weeding and watering the garden. Now, a day in the garden would be a nice reprieve.
“Good morning, dear.” Corrie’s mother, Cynthia, greeted her with a smile.
“Good morning.” Corrie took the proffered tongs and flipped the bacon, careful to avoid the splattering grease. “How’s Dad this morning?”
“Fine.” Cynthia no longer cried when she talked about her husband. A steely reserve now crept into her eyes and flared whenever Jake was mentioned.
Corrie took the hint to shut up. After transferring the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, she set the table. She watched closely as Cynthia stirred the scrambled eggs with a little more force than necessary. Corrie stopped herself from chewing on her bottom lip, a. A bad habit carried over from toddlerhood. She wanted to ask her mom about her dad, needed advice about the future of the farm, of them, but all was cut short when a herd of stampeding feet echoed down the stairs.
“You two make enough noise to scare the dead,” Corrie scolded as Nikki and Nathan scooted around the corner.
“We’re just hungry. That’s all.” Nathan nipped a piece of bacon. “Where’s Dad?”
Before Corrie could intercept the question, Cynthia spun around with a spatula covered in scrambled eggs and whipped the air with it. “Eat. Now.”
Nathan ducked his head. “Sorry. I just wanted…” Corrie’s hand squeezed his shoulder, stopping his comment.
Cynthia threw the spatula into the pan of eggs, tossed a potholder on the table, and slapped the pan down, egg shrapnel exploding over the table. She left the kitchen, and when the master bedroom door slammed shut, Nikki and Nathan jumped in their seats.
Several minutes of awkward silence, thicker than bacon grease, permeated the kitchen. The cheery yellow of the walls and crystal-clear glass of the white cupboard doors did nothing to stop the shadow of doubt lurking in every corner. No one mentioned the unspeakable but not improbable event they most feared.
Nikki exhaled. “Do you think they will… you know… get a divorce?”
Corrie shushed her and grabbed the salt and pepper. She no longer had an appetite, but it would be a while before a meal came her way. Forcing herself to swallow, she glanced at Nathan as he scraped at his full plate. “You need to eat, Nathan.”
“I’m not hungry.” He scooted back his chair and stalked out of the house. Nathan ran across the farmyard and into the barn, where he would most likely find solace in the soft fur of his miniature Australian shepherd, Bacon.
After the barn door slammed, Nikki turned back to her food. “So, do you think Mom will want a divorce?”
Corrie winced at the pain radiating from her seventeen-year-old sister’s eyes, the same glacier blue of their father’s. Nikki twirled her curly blond hair around her index finger, warming Corrie’s heart for a moment with memories of holding her baby sister, mesmerized by the tiny index finger creating equally tiny curls. Her chest swelled as she surveyed her sister, a combination of dirt and the most delicate of wildflowers struggling to soak in the last raindrops.
“I don’t know. I really don’t.” Corrie finished her orange juice. “I can’t imagine what Mom is going through right now. I don’t think I want to.” She started cleaning up. “We need to keep praying.”
“It’s not working.” Nikki swirled the rest of her scrambled eggs around on her plate.
Corrie abandoned her task of clearing off the table and sank beside her sister. “I know things are hard right now. Trust me, I feel the weight of all this. Sometimes, we can’t see where God wants us to go. And sometimes, instead of smoothing the mountain for us, he gives us the tools to climb that mountain, and only from there can we see the beauty and majesty of his plan.”
Nikki laid her head on Corrie’s shoulder. “I’ll keep trying. I’m just really tired.”
“Me too.” Corrie pressed a kiss to Nikki’s hair. “Tomorrow is Sunday. We can rest then. Until then, we’ve got work to do. I’ll take the truck into the elevator and meet you at the field later.” She headed for the door. “Don’t forget to pack a lunch. I don’t want to have to go to the café again.”
Nikki rolled her eyes. “One time and I’m branded for life.”
“Forget again, and I’ll brand ‘lunch’ on your forehead,” Corrie teased. She laughed at Nikki’s pouty face and rushed across the yard.
Nathan was busy gassing up Old Bertie and making sure the fuel tank on the back of it was full of diesel. Corrie slipped into the passenger side and waited until he finished turning off the tank.
He ambled over to the passenger door, opened it, and blinked in surprise. “You’re going to let me drive?”
She chuckled. “Don’t expect this every day.”
He sprinted around the front of the pickup, hopped in, and started the old girl up. Stomping on the clutch, he slammed the stick into low gear then let off the clutch while easing the gas pedal down. Old Bertie responded with a grunt and spasm but obeyed with jerking movements.
“Okay. Now let the clutch fully out. Good. Give her a little gas. You’re choking her. Okay. Now ease in the clutch again and shift to first.”
He complied, and soon the pickup was soaring down the road toward the field. She glanced at his profile and wondered when he’d grown up on her. Gone was the scrawny boy who cried every time he came across a dead bird or a hurt farm cat.
“Nathan?”
“Yeah.”
“Are you okay? You know, with what’s been going on and stuff?” Good grief. As a reporter, I should be able to ask a better question.But this wasn’t some stranger or some big news-breaking story. This was her brother, and his soft heart was breaking.
His pronounced Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. “I guess.”
“It’s just this morning you seemed… I don’t know…” The countryside whizzed by in a blur of color.
“I just miss Dad. I want him to be him again. You know?”
She nodded and bit the inside of her cheek to keep her tears in check. “Yeah. I do. But Dad will always be your dad. You have to know that. He still loves you, loves us, but he can’t show it like he used to. You have to have faith and believe he will get better. You never know. He might play football with you again or take you fishing.”
Nathan shrugged. “Sure. Maybe.”
In other words, conversation over. From the time he’d learned to walk, Nathan had been Dad’s sidekick. Now Jake hardly noticed his son.
Nathan brought the pickup to a jerking halt in the field, and she stepped out. “I’ve got to take this truckload in.” She poked her head through the open passenger window. “We’ll be okay.” Before he could reply, she jumped in the semi, started it, and after it aired up, drove into town.
After twenty miles of rolling cropland and pasture, she crested the hill into Sandy, South Dakota, a small town nestled against the Sandy River. At this time of year, it was more of a creek, but a river it would always be to the residents who’d grown up around its banks. She downshifted in the truck’s descent. Judging from the myriad trucks and cars, Corrie guessed Mabel must have cheese buttons as the café special. Corrie’s stomach rumbled. She could almost taste the cheese-and-onion mixture tucked deliciously in dough and cooked in cream.
The knife of memory slid and cut its way into her mind as she passed the VFW dance hall where she’d won her first dancing competition. Her father had been her dance partner for the waltz.
She blinked her stinging eyes. Amazing how one phone call could change a life forever. Like a tornado, it sucked her up, spun her around, and spit her out. If only he’d stayed home that snowy night nine months ago. He would be the one harvesting. He would be the one shouldering the farm’s responsibility.
Coming to the end of town, she turned right at the only stop sign on Main, pulled up behind a mile-long line of trucks, and inched up off the highway and onto the elevator’s graveled property.
“Good morning, Corrie.”
She beamed at the old man who hopped on the truck’s running board and stuck his head in her truck cab. “Good morning, Baxter.”
A proud working octogenarian, Baxter tipped his stained and dusty DeKalb seed cap. Upon close inspection, his crinkly face mirrored his life—full of happiness with a dash of adventure and a few sprinkles of sadness and loss. She loved to hear his stories even though she knew most of them by heart.
“You’re looking good.” He patted her arm with a veiny, rough hand.
Without a doubt, her wrinkle-free skin had grown new fissures over the past nine months, and baggy, dark circles sat like bloated toads under her eyes. No matter how many promises different shampoo brands boasted, her hair had lost its luster and hung limp in a ponytail every day. “You’re much too kind. But thank you. It’s nice to hear.”
“How are things holding up on the Lancaster farm, dearie?”
“Not so well.” She could never pretend with the old man. He was far too wise and knew far too much. “George quit yesterday.”
Baxter took off his cap and slapped it against his thigh. Dust flew. “That good for nothing…” He slammed his hat on his bald head. “That rat! Sorry to hear it, Corrie. If you need anything, please let me know.” He peered at her with wizened eyes. “I mean it, young lady. All you have to do is ask.” Someone inside the main building called for Baxter. With an apologetic pat on her head, he hopped off and ran to the weigh house.
“Spry old man,” she muttered as she shifted the truck from neutral into first gear for her turn on the scales. The red light turned green, and she eased onto the scales. She waited until the mechanical arm swung over from the weigh house and sucked grain into its proboscis and into the building. The red light flickered green, and she drove through the obstacle course of trucks and grain bins to the correct dumping site. She watched in her side mirror as elevator employees swarmed the truck’s hoppers like worker bees. Eventually, they signaled her to leave, and she waited in line again. Several smaller farm trucks waited ahead of her to go back on the scale. Ten minutes later, she stopped the truck on the scale until Baxter came out with her ticket telling her the bushels and moisture of the load she’d just dumped.
“Here you go, little miss. See you again soon for the same song and dance.”
Corrie laughed. “Save me a spot.” She glanced at her ticket before veering onto the highway. After doing some quick math, she gave a whoop. Eighty bushels an acre. “Praise the Lord!” That number was exactly what she needed to hear.
All day, she trucked back and forth between the quarter of land they were combining and the elevator. With all that time to think, she couldn’t figure out where she would get the extra help she needed. At eighty bushels an acre of wheat, she really needed extra help.
About the Author

Jessica Berg, a child of the Dakotas and the prairie, grew up amongst hard-working men and women and learned at an early age to “put some effort into it.” Following that wise adage, she has put effort into teaching high school English for over a decade, being a mother to four children (she finds herself surprised at this number too), basking in the love of her husband of more than fifteen years and losing herself in the imaginary worlds she creates.
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