Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ripple Effect by Paul McCusker



It's the 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!




and his book:



Zondervan (October 1, 2008)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Paul McCusker is the author of The Mill House, Epiphany, The Faded Flower and several Adventures in Odyssey programs. Winner of the Peabody Award for his radio drama on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for Focus on the Family, he lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and two children.

Product Details

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714362
ISBN-13: 978-0310714361


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“I’m running away,” Elizabeth announced defiantly. She chomped a french fry in half.

Jeff looked up at her. He’d been absentmindedly swirling his straw in his malted milkshake while she complained about her parents, which she had been doing for the past half hour. “You’re what?”

“You weren’t listening, were you?”

“I was too.”

“Then what did I say?” Elizabeth tucked a loose strand of her long brown hair behind her ear so it wouldn’t fall into the puddle of ketchup next to her fries.

“You were complaining about how your mom and dad drive you crazy because your dad embarrassed you last night while you and Melissa Morgan were doing your history homework. And your dad lectured you for twenty minutes about . . . about . . .” He was stumped.

“Chris-tian symbolism in the King Arthur legends,” Elizabeth said.

“Yeah, except that you and Melissa were supposed to be studying the . . . um — ”

“French Revolution.”

“Right, and Melissa finally made up an excuse to go home, and you were embarrassed and mad at your dad — ”

“As usual,” she said and savaged another french fry.

Jeff gave a sigh of relief. Elizabeth’s pop quizzes were a lot tougher than anything they gave him at school. But it was hard for him to listen when she griped about her parents. Not having any parents of his own, Jeff didn’t connect when Elizabeth went on and on about hers.

“Then what did I say?” she asked.

He was mid-suck on his straw and nearly blew the contents back into the glass. “Huh?”

“What did I say after that?”

“You said . . . uh . . .” He coughed, then glanced around the Fawlt Line Diner, hoping for inspiration or a way to change the subject. His eye was dazzled by the endless chrome, beveled mirrors, worn red upholstery, and checkered floor tiles. And it boasted Alice Dempsey, the world’s oldest living waitress, dressed in her paper cap and red-striped uniform with white apron.

She had seen Jeff look up and now hustled over to their booth. She arrived smelling like burnt hamburgers and chewed her gum loudly. “You kids want anything else?”

Rescued, Jeff thought. “No, thank you,” he said.

She cracked an internal bubble on her gum and dropped the check on the edge of the table. “See you tomorrow,” Alice said.

“No, you won’t,” Elizabeth said under her breath. “I won’t be here.”

As she walked off, Alice shot a curious look back at Elizabeth. She was old, but she wasn’t deaf.

“Take it easy,” Jeff said to Elizabeth.

“I’m going to run away,” she said, heavy rebuke in her tone. “If you’d been listening — ”

“Aw, c’mon, Bits — ” Jeff began. He’d called her “Bits” for as long as either of them could remember, all the way back to first grade. “It’s not that bad.”

“You try living with my mom and dad, and tell me it’s not that bad.”

“I know your folks,” Jeff said. “They’re a little quirky, that’s all.”

“Quirky! They’re just plain weird. They’re clueless about life in the real world. Did you know that my dad went to church last Sunday with his shirt on inside out?”

“It happens.”

“And wearing his bedroom slippers?”

Jeff smiled. Yeah, that’s Alan Forde, all right, he thought.

“Don’t you dare smile,” Elizabeth threatened, pointing a french fry at him. “It’s not funny. His slippers are grass stained. Do you know why?”

“Because he does his gardening in his bedroom slippers.”

Elizabeth threw up her hands. “That’s right! He doesn’t care. He doesn’t care how he looks, what -people think of him, or anything! And my mom doesn’t even have the decency to be embarrassed for him. She thinks he’s adorable! They’re weird.”

“They’re just . . . themselves. They’re — ”

Elizabeth threw herself against the back of the red vinyl bench and groaned. “You don’t understand.”

“Sure I do!” Jeff said. “Your parents are no worse than Malcolm.” Malcolm Dubbs was Jeff’s father’s cousin, on the English side of the family, and had been Jeff’s guardian since his parents had died five years ago in a plane crash. As the last adult of the Dubbs family line, he came from England to take over the family fortune and estate. “He’s quirky.”

“But that’s different. Malcolm is nice and sensitive and has that wonderful English accent,” Elizabeth said, nearly swooning. Jeff’s cousin was a heartthrob among some of the girls.

“Don’t get yourself all worked up,” Jeff said.

“My parents just go on and on about things I don’t care about,” she continued. “And if I hear the life-can’t-be-taken-too-seriously-because-it’s-just-a-small-part-of-a-bigger-picture lecture one more time, I’ll go out of my mind.”

Again Jeff restrained his smile. He knew that lecture well. Except his cousin Malcolm summarized the same idea in the phrase “the eternal perspective.” All it meant was that there was a lot more to life than what we can see or experience with our senses. This world is a temporary stop on a journey to a truer, more real reality, he’d say — an eternal reality. “Look, your parents see things differently from most -people. That’s all,” Jeff said, determined not to turn this gripe session into an Olympic event.

“They’re from another planet,” Elizabeth said. “Sometimes I think this whole town is. Haven’t you figured it out yet?”

“I like Fawlt Line,” Jeff said softly, afraid Elizabeth’s complaints might offend some of the other regulars at the diner.

“Everybody’s so . . . so oblivious! Nobody even seems to notice how strange this place is.”

Jeff shrugged. “It’s just a town, Bits. Every town has its quirks.”

“Is that your word of the day?” Elizabeth snapped. “These aren’t just quirks, Jeffrey.”

Jeff rolled his eyes. When she resorted to calling him Jeffrey, there was no reasoning with her. He rubbed the side of his face and absentmindedly pushed his fingers through his wavy black hair.

“What about Helen?” Elizabeth challenged him.

“Which Helen? You mean the volunteer at the information booth in the mall? That Helen?”

“I mean Helen the volunteer at the information booth in the mall who thinks she’s psychic. That’s who I mean.” Elizabeth leaned over the Formica tabletop. Jeff moved her plate of fries and ketchup to one side. “She won’t let you speak until she guesses what you’re going to ask. And she’s never right!”

Jeff shrugged.

“Our only life insurance agent has been dead for six years.”

“Yeah, but — ”

“And there’s Walter Keenan. He’s a professional proofreader for park bench ads! He wanders around, making -people move out of the way so he can do his job.” Her voice was a shrill whisper.

“Ben Hearn only pays him to do that because he feels sorry for him. You know old Walter hasn’t been the same since that shaving accident.”

“But I heard he just got a job doing the same thing at a tattoo parlor!”

“I’m sure tattooists want to make sure their spelling is correct.”

Elizabeth groaned and shook her head. “It’s like Mayberry trapped in the Twilight Zone. I thought you’d understand. I thought you knew how nuts this town is.” Elizabeth locked her gaze onto Jeff’s.

He gazed back at her and, suddenly, the image of her large brown eyes, the faint freckles on her upturned nose, her full lips, made him want to kiss her. He wasn’t sure why — they’d been friends for so long that she’d probably laugh at him if he ever actually did it — but the urge was still there.

“It’s not such a bad place,” he managed to say.

“I’ve had enough of this town,” she said. “Of my parents. Of all the weirdness. I’m fifteen years old and I wanna be a normal kid with normal problems. Are you coming with me or not?”

Jeff cocked an eyebrow. “To where?”

“To wherever I run away to,” she replied. “I’m serious about this, Jeff. I’m getting all my money together and going somewhere normal. We can take your Volkswagen and — ”

“Listen, Bits,” Jeff interrupted, “I know how you feel. But we can’t just run away. Where would we go? What would we do?”

“And who are you all of a sudden: Mr. Responsibility? You never know where you’re going or what you’re doing. You’re our very own Huck Finn.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Not according to Mr. Vidler.”

“Mr. Vidler said that?” Jeff asked defensively, wondering why their English teacher would be talking about him to Elizabeth.

“He says it’s because you don’t have parents, and Malcolm doesn’t care what you do.”

Jeff grunted. He didn’t like the idea of Mr. Vidler discussing him like that. And Malcolm certainly cared a great deal about what he did.

Elizabeth continued. “So why should you care where we go or what we do? Let’s just get out of here.”

“But, Bits, it’s stupid and — ”

“No! I’m not listening to you,” Elizabeth shouted and hit the tabletop with the palms of her hands. Silence washed over the diner like a wave as everyone turned to look.

“Keep it down, will you?” Jeff whispered fiercely.

“Either you go with me, or stay here and rot in this town. It’s up to you.”

Jeff looked away. It was unusual for them to argue. And when they did, it was usually Jeff who gave in. Like now. “I don’t know,” he said quietly.

Elizabeth also softened her tone. “If you’re going, then meet me at the Old Saw Mill by the edge of the river tonight at ten.” She paused, then added, “I’m going whether you come with me or not.”

Personal Review: I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Filled with suspense and mystery, with a bit of science fiction thrown in, this book was an exciting read! I highly recommend it, and I can't wait to read the next book!!

Goodbye Hollywood Nobody - Lisa Samson



It is October 11th, and FIRST is doing a special tour to 'Say Goodbye to Hollywood Nobody'.




Today's feature author is:




and her book:



Goodbye Hollywood Nobody



NavPress Publishing Group (September 15, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lisa Samson is the author of twenty books, including the Christy Award-winning Songbird. Apples of Gold was her first novel for teens

These days, she's working on Quaker Summer, volunteering at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, raising children and trying to be supportive of a husband in seminary. (Trying . . . some days she's downright awful. It's a good thing he's such a fabulous cook!) She can tell you one thing, it's never dull around there.

Other Novels by Lisa:

Hollywood Nobody, Finding Hollywood Nobody, Romancing Hollywood Nobody, Straight Up, Club Sandwich, Songbird, Tiger Lillie, The Church Ladies, Women's Intuition: A Novel, Songbird, The Living End

Visit her at her website.

Product Details

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: NavPress Publishing Group (September 15, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1600062229
ISBN-13: 978-1600062223

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Monday, July 11, 6:30 a.m.

I awaken to a tap on my shoulder and open my eye. My right eye. See, these days it could be one of four people: Charley, Dad, Grampie, or Grammie.

“’Morning, dear!”

Grammie.

Oh well, might as well go for broke. I open the other eye.

“Did you sleep well?”

I shake my head and reach for my cat glasses. “Nope. I kept dreaming about Charley in Scotland.” We sent her off with her new beau, the amazing Anthony Harris, two days ago. “I imagined a road full of sheep chasing her down.”

“That would be silly. They would have to know she hates lamb chops.” Grammie sits on my bed. Yes, my bed. In their fabulous house. In my own wonderful room, complete with reproductions of the Barcelona chair and a platform bed of gleaming sanded mahogany. I burrow further into my white down comforter. I sweat like a pig at night, but I don’t care. A real bed, a bona fide comforter, and four pillows. Feather pillows deep enough to sink the Titanic in.

She pats my shoulder, her bangled wrists emitting the music of wooden jewelry. “Up and at ’em, Scotty. Your dad wants to be on the road by seven thirty.”

“I need a shower.”

“Hop to it then.”

Several minutes later, I revel in the glories of a real shower. Not the crazy little stall we have in the TrailMama, which Dad gassed up last night for our trip to Maine. Our trip to find Babette, my mother. Is she dead or alive? That’s what we’re going to find out.

It’s complicated.

The warm water slides over me from the top of my head on down, and I’ve found the coolest shampoo. It smells like limeade. I kid you not. It’s the greatest stuff ever.

Over breakfast, Grampie sits down with us and goes over the map to make certain Dad knows the best route. My father sits patiently, nodding as words like turnpike, bypass, and scenic route roll like a convoy out of Grampie’s mouth.

Poor Grampie. Dad is just the best at navigation and knows everything about getting from point A to point B, but I think Grampie wants to be a part of it. He hinted at us all going in the Beaver Marquis, their Luxury-with-a-capital-L RV, but Dad pretended not to get it.

Later, Dad said to me, “It’s got to be just us, Scotty. I love my mother and father, but some things just aren’t complete-family affairs.”

“I know. I think you’re right. And if it’s bad . . .”

He nods. “I’d just as soon they not be there while we fall apart.”

Right.

So then, I hop up into our RV, affectionately known as the TrailMama, Dad’s black pickup already hitched behind. (Charley’s kitchen trailer is sitting on a lot in storage at a nearby RV dealership, and good riddance. I’m hoping Charley never needs to use that thing again.) “Want me to drive?”

He laughs.

Yep. I still don’t have my license.

Man. But it’s been such a great month or so at the beach. So, okay, I don’t tan much really, but I do have a nice peachy glow.

I’ll take it.

And Grampie grilled a lot, and Grammie helped me sew a couple of vintage-looking skirts, and I’ve learned the basics of my harp.

I jump into the passenger’s seat, buckle in, and look over at my dad. “You really ready for this?” My heart speeds up. This is the final leg of a very long journey, and what’s at the end of the path will determine the rest of our lives.

He looks into my eyes. “Are you?”

“I don’t know,” I whisper. “But we don’t really have a choice, do we?”

“I can go alone.”

I shake my head. “No, Dad. Whatever we do, whatever happens from here on out, we do it together.”

“Deal.”

P.S. - I'm SO sorry this is so late. I was out of town when it was supposed to be up and I totally forgot about it. Also, there is no review, because I have yet to receive a copy. Hopefully it'll come soon cause I REALLY want to read it!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Single Sashimi by Camy Tang



It is time for the FIRST Blog Tour! On the FIRST day of every month we feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!






The feature author is:



and her book:


Single Sashimi
Zondervan (September 1, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Camy Tang is a FIRST Family Member! She also is a moderator for FIRST Wild Card Tours. She is a loud Asian chick who writes loud Asian chick-lit. She grew up in Hawaii, but now lives in San Jose, California, with her engineer husband and rambunctious poi-dog. In a previous life she was a biologist researcher, but these days she is surgically attached to her computer, writing full-time. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service.


Sushi for One? (Sushi Series, Book One) was her first novel. Her second, Only Uni (Sushi Series, Book Two) was published in March of this year. The next book in the series, Single Sashimi (Sushi Series, Book Three) came out in September 2008!

Visit her at her website.

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (September 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310274001
ISBN-13: 978-0310274001

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Single Sashimi
By
Camy Tang

Chapter one

Venus Chau opened the door to her aunt's house and almost fainted.

"What died?" She exhaled sharply, trying to get the foul air out of her body before it caused cancer or something.

Her cousin Jennifer Lim entered the foyer with the look of an oni goblin about to eat someone. "She's stinking up my kitchen."

"Who?" Venus hesitated on the threshold, breathing clean night air before she had to close the door.

"My mother, who else?"

The ire in Jenn's voice made Venus busy herself with kicking off her heels amongst the other shoes in the tile foyer. Hoo-boy, she'd never seen quiet Jenn this irate before. Then again, since Aunty Yuki had given her daughter the rule of the kitchen when she'd started cooking in high school, Jenn rarely had to make way for another cook.

"What is she cooking? Beef intestines?"

Jenn flung her arms out. "Who knows? Something Trish is supposed to eat."

"But we don't have to eat it, right? Right?"

"I'll never become pregnant if I have to eat stuff like that." Jenn whirled and stomped toward the kitchen.

Venus turned right into the living room where her very pregnant cousin Trish lounged on the sofa next to her boyfriend, Spenser. "Hey, guys." Her gaze paused on their twined hands. It continued to amaze her that Spenser would date a woman pregnant with another man's child. Maybe Venus shouldn't be so cynical about the men she met. Here was at least one good guy.

Trish's arms shot into the air like a Raiders' cheerleader, nearly clocking Spenser in the eye. "I'm officially on maternity leave!"

Venus paused to clap. "So how did you celebrate?"

"I babysat Matthew all day today." She smiled dreamily at Spenser at the mention of his son.

Venus frowned and landed her hands on her hips. "In your condition?"

Trish waved a hand. "He's not that bad. He stopped swallowing things weeks ago."

"I'm finally not wasting money on all those emergency room visits," Spenser said.

"Besides, I got a book about how to help toddlers expect a new baby." Trish bounced lightly on the sofa cushion in her excitement.

"And?" It seemed kind of weird to Venus, since Trish and Spenser weren't engaged or anything. Yet.

Trish chewed her lip. "I don't know if he totally understands, but at least it's a start."

A sense of strangeness washed over Venus as she watched the two of them, the looks they exchanged that weren't mushy or intimate, just . . . knowing. Like mind reading. It made her feel alienated from her cousin for the first time in her life, and she didn't really like it.

She immediately damped down the feeling. How could she begrudge Trish such a wonderful relationship? Venus was so selfish. She disgusted herself.

She looked around the living room. "Where is -- "

"Venus!" The childish voice rang down the short hallway. She stepped back into the foyer to see Spenser's son, Matthew, trotting down the carpet with hands reached out to her. He grabbed her at the knees, wrinkling her silk pants, but she didn't mind. His shining face looking up at her -- way up, since she was the tallest of the cousins -- made her feel like she was the only reason he lived and breathed. "Psycho Bunny?" he pleaded.

She pretended to think about it. His hands shook her pants legs to make her decide faster.

"Okay."

He darted into the living room and plopped in front of the television, grabbing at the game controllers. The kid had it down pat -- in less than a minute, the music for the Psycho Bunny video game rolled into the room.

Venus sank to the floor next to him.

"Jenn is totally freaking out." Trish's eyes had popped to the size of siu mai dumplings.

"What brought all this on?" Venus picked up the other controller.

"Well, Aunty Yuki had a doctor's appointment today -- "

"Is she doing okay?" She chose the Bunny Foo-Foo character for the game just starting.

"Clean bill of health. Cancer's gone, as far as they can tell."

"So that's why she's taken over Jenn's domain?"

Trish rubbed her back and winced. "She took one look at me and decided I needed something to help the baby along."

Jenn huffed into the living room. "She's going to make me ruin the roast chicken!"

Venus ignored her screeching tone. "Sit down. You're not going to make her hurry by hovering." She and Matthew both jumped over the snake pit and landed in the hollow tree.

Jenn flung herself into an overstuffed chair and dumped her feet on the battered oak coffee table.

Venus turned to glance at the foyer. No Nikes. "Where's Lex?"

"Late. Where else?" Jenn snapped.

"I thought Aiden was helping her be better about that."

"He's not a miracle worker." Spenser massaged Trish's back.

"I have to leave early." Venus stretched her silk-clad feet out, wriggling her toes. Her new stilettos looked great but man, they hurt her arches.

"Then you might not eat at all." Jenn crossed her arms over her chest.

Venus speared her with a glance like a stainless steel skewer. "Chill, okay Cujo?"

Jenn pouted and scrunched further down in the chair.

Venus ignored her and turned back to the game. Her inattention had let Matthew pick up the treasure chest. "I have to work on a project."

"For work?"

"No, for me." Only the Spiderweb, the achievement of her lifetime, a new tool that would propel her to the heights of video game development stardom. Which was why she'd kept it separate from her job-related things -- she didn't even use her company computer when she worked on it, only her personal laptop.

A new smell wafted into the room, this one rivaling the other in its stomach-roiling ability. Venus waved her hand in front of her face.

"Pffaugh! What is she cooking?"

Trish's face had turned the color of green tea. "You're lucky you don't have to eat it. Whatever it is, it ain't gonna stay down for long."

"Just say you still have morning sickness."

"In my ninth month?"

Venus shrugged.

The door slammed open. "Hey, guys -- blech."

Venus twisted around to see her cousin Lex doubled over, clenching her washboard stomach (Venus wished she could have one of those) and looking like she'd hurled up all the shoes littering the foyer floor.

Lex's boyfriend Aiden grabbed her waist to prevent her from nosediving into the tile. "Lex, it's not that bad."

"The gym locker room smells better." Lex used her toes to pull off her cross-trainers without bothering to untie them. "The men's locker room."

"It's not me," Jenn declared. "It's Mom, ruining all my best pots."

"What is she doing? Killing small animals on the stovetop?"

"Something for the baby." Trish tried to smile, but it looked more like a wince.

"As long as we don't have to eat it." Lex dropped her slouchy purse on the floor and walked into the living room.

Aunty Yuki appeared behind her in the doorway, bearing a steaming bowl. "Here, Trish. Drink this." The brilliant smile on her wide face eclipsed her tiny stature.

Venus smelled something pungent, like when she walked into a Chinese medicine shop with her dad. A bolus of air erupted from her mouth, and she coughed. "What is that?" She dropped the game controller.

"Pig's brain soup."

Trish's smile hardened to plastic. Lex grabbed her mouth. Spenser -- who was Chinese and therefore had been raised with the weird concoctions -- sighed. Aiden looked at them all like they were funny-farm rejects.

Venus closed her eyes, tightened her mouth, and concentrated on not gagging. Good thing her stomach was empty.

Aunty Yuki's mouth pursed. "What's wrong? My mother-in-law made me eat pig's brain soup when I was a couple weeks from delivering Jennifer."

"That's what you ruined my pots with?" Jennifer steamed hotter than the bowl of soup.

Her mom caught the yakuza-about-to-hack-your-finger-off expression on Jenn's face. Aunty Yuki paused, then backtracked to the kitchen. With the soup bowl, thankfully.

"Papa?" Matthew's voice sounded faint.

Venus turned.

"Don't feel good." He clutched his poochy tummy.

"Oh, no." Spenser grabbed his son and headed out of the living room.

Then the world exploded.

Just as they passed into the foyer, Matthew threw up onto the tiles.

Lex, with her weak stomach when it came to bodily fluids, took one look and turned pasty.

A burning smell and a few cries sounded from the kitchen.

Trish sat up straighter than a Buddha and clenched her rounded abdomen. "Oh!"

Spenser held his crying son as he urped up the rest of his afternoon snack. Lex clapped a hand to her mouth to prevent herself from following Matthew's example. Jenn started for the kitchen, but then Matthew's mess blocking the foyer stopped her. Trish groaned and curled in on herself, clutching her tummy.

Venus shot to her feet. She wasn't acting Game Lead at her company for nothing.

"You." She pointed to Jenn. "Get to the kitchen and send your mom in here for Trish." Jenn leaped over Matthew's puddle and darted away. "And bring paper towels for the mess!"

"You," she flung at Spenser. "Take Matthew to the bathroom."

He gestured to the brand new hallway carpet.

Oh no, Aunty Yuki would have a fit. But it couldn't be helped. "If he makes a mess on the carpet, we'll just clean it up later."

He didn't hesitate. He hustled down the hallway with Matthew in his arms.

Venus kicked the miniscule living room garbage basket closer to Lex. "Hang your head over that." Not that it would hold more than spittle, but it was better than letting Lex upchuck all over the plush cream carpet. Why did Lex, tomboy and jock, have to go weak every time something gross happened?

"You." Venus stabbed a manicured finger at Aiden. "Get your car, we're taking Trish to the hospital."

He didn't jump at her command. "After one contraction?"

Trish moaned, and Venus had a vision of the baby flying out of her in the next minute. She pointed to the door again. "Just go!"

Aiden shrugged and slipped out the front door, muttering to himself.

"You." She stood in front of Trish, who'd started Lamaze breathing through her pursed lips. "Uh . . ."

Trish peered up at her.

"Um . . . stop having contractions."

Trish rolled her eyes, but didn't speak through her pursed lips.

Venus ignored her and went to kneel over Matthew's rather watery puddle, which had spread with amoeba fingers reaching down the lines of grout. Lex's purse lay nearby, so she rooted in it for a tissue or something to start blotting up the mess.

Footsteps approaching. Before she could raise her head or shout a warning, Aunty Yuki hurried into the foyer. "What's wron -- !"

It was like a Three Stooges episode. Aunty Yuki barreled into Venus's bent figure. She had leaned over Matthew's mess to protect anyone from stepping in it, but it also made her an obstacle in the middle of the foyer.

"Ooomph!" The older woman's feet -- shod in cotton house slippers, luckily, and not shoes -- jammed into Venus's ribs. She couldn't see much except a pair of slippers leaving the floor at the same time, and then a body landing on the living room carpet on the other side of her. Ouch.

"Are you okay?" Venus twisted to kneel in front of her, but she seemed slow to rise.

"Venus, here're the paper towels -- "

Jenn's voice in the foyer made Venus whirl on the balls of her feet and fling her hands up. "Watch out!"

Jenn stopped just in time. Her toes were only inches away from Matthew's mess, her body leaning forward. Her arms whirled, still clutching the towels, like a cheerleader and her pom-poms.

"Jenn." Spenser's voice coming down the hallway toward the foyer. "Where are the -- "

"Stop!" Venus and Jenn shouted at the same time.

Spenser froze, his foot hovering above a finger of the puddle that had stretched toward the hallway. "Ah. Okay. Thanks." He lowered his foot on the clean tile to the side.

Aiden opened the front door. "The car's out front -- " The sight of them all left him speechless.

Trish had started to hyperventilate, her breath seething through her teeth. "Will somebody do something?!"

Aunty Yuki moaned from her crumpled position on the floor.

Smoke started pouring from the kitchen, along with the awful smell of burned . . . something that wasn't normal food.

Venus snatched the paper towels from Jenn. "Kitchen!" Jenn fled before she'd finished speaking. "What do you need?" Venus barked at Spenser.

"Extra towels."

"Guest bedroom closet, top shelf."

He headed back down the hall. Venus turned to Aiden and swept a hand toward Aunty Yuki on the living room floor. "Take care of her, will you?"

"What about me?" Trish moaned through a clenched jaw.

"Stop having contractions!" Venus swiped up the mess on the tile before something worse happened, like someone stepped in it and slid. That would just be the crowning cherry to her evening. Even when she wasn't at work, she was still working.

"Are you okay, Aunty?" She stood with the sodden paper towels.

Aiden had helped her to a seat next to Lex, who was ashen-faced and still leaning over the tiny trash can. Aside from a reddish spot on Aunty Yuki's elbow, she seemed fine.

Jenn entered the living room, her hair wild and a distinctive burned smell sizzling from her clothes. "My imported French saucepan is completely blackened!" But she had enough sense not to glare at her parent as she probably wanted to. Aunty Yuki suddenly found
the wall hangings fascinating.

Venus started to turn toward the kitchen to throw away the paper towels she still held. "Well, we have to take Trish to the hospital -- "

"Actually . . ." Trish's breathing had slowed. "I think it's just a false alarm."

Venus turned to look at her. "False alarm? Pregnant women have those?"

"It happened a couple days ago too."

"What?" Venus almost slammed her fist into her hip, but remembered the dirty paper towels just in time. Good thing too, because she had on a Chanel suit.

Trish gave a long, slow sigh. "Yup, they're gone. That was fast." She smiled cheerfully.

Venus wanted to scream. This was out of her realm. At work, she was used to grabbing a crisis at the throat and wrestling it to submission. This was somewhere Trish was heading without her, and the thought both frightened and unnerved her. She shrugged it off. "Well . . . Aunty -- "

"I'm fine, Venus." Aunty Yuki inspected her elbow. "Jennifer, get those Japanese Salonpas patches -- "

"Mom, they stink." Jenn's stress over her beautiful kitchen made her more belligerent than Venus had ever seen her before. Not that the camphor patches could smell any worse than the burned Chinese-old-wives'-pregnancy-food permeating the house.

At the sound of the word Salonpas, Lex pinched her lips together but didn't say anything.

Aunty Yuki gave Jenn a limpid look. "The Salonpas gets rid of the pain."

"I'll get it." Aiden headed down the hallway to get the adhesive patches.

"In the hall closet." Jenn's words slurred a bit through her tight jaw.

Distraction time. Venus tried to smile. "Aunty, if you're okay, then let's eat."

Jenn's eyes flared neon red. "Can't."

"Huh?"

"Somebody turned off the oven." Jenn frowned at her mother, who tactfully looked away. "Dinner won't be for another hour." She stalked back to the kitchen.

Even with the nasty smell, Venus's stomach protested its empty state. "It's already eight o'clock."

"Suck it up!" Jenn yelled from the kitchen.

It was going to be a long night.

***

Venus needed a Reese's peanut butter cup.

No, a Reese's was bad. Sugar, fat, preservatives, all kinds of chemicals she couldn't even pronounce.

Oooh, but it would taste so good . . .

No, she equated Reese's cups with her fat days. She was no longer fat. She didn't need a Reese's.

But she sure wanted one after such a hectic evening with her cousins.

She trudged up the steps to her condo. Home. Too small to invite people over, and that was the way she liked it. Her haven, where she could relax and let go, no one to see her when she was vulnerable --

Her front door was ajar.

Her limbs froze mid-step, but her heart rat-tat-tatted in her chest like a machine gun. Someone. Had. Broken. Into. Her. Home.

Her hand started to shake. She clenched it to her hip, crushing the silk of her pants. What to do? He might still be there. Pepper spray. In her purse. She searched in her bag and finally found the tiny bottle. Her hand trembled so much, she'd be more likely to spritz herself than the intruder.

Were those sounds coming from inside? She reached out a hand, but couldn't quite bring herself to push the door open further.

Stupid, call the police! She fumbled with the pepper spray so she could extract her cell phone. Dummy, don't pop yourself in the eye with that stuff! She switched the spray to her other hand while her thumb dialed 9 - 1 - 1. Her handbag's leather straps dug into her elbow.

Thump! That came from her living room! Footsteps. Get away from the door! She stumbled backwards, but remembering the stairs right behind her, she tried to stop herself from tumbling down. Her ankle tilted on her stilettos, and she fell sideways to lean against the wall. The footsteps approached her open door.

"9 - 1 - 1, what's your emergency?"

She raised her hand with the bottle of pepper spray. "Someone's -- "

The door swung open.

"Edgar!" The cell phone dropped with a clatter, but she kept a firm grip on the pepper spray, suddenly tempted to use it.

One of her junior programmers stood in her open doorway.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Camy Tang
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530



Note: I still haven't read this, mainly because I haven't read the first two yet either and would like to before I read this one ^_^