It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and her book: Nothing But Trouble
Tyndale House Publishers (April 2, 2009)
About the Author:
Susan May Warren is the award-winning author of seventeen novels and novellas with Tyndale, Steeple Hill and Barbour Publishing. Her first book, Happily Ever After won the American Fiction Christian Writers Book of the Year in 2003, and was a 2003 Christy Award finalist. In Sheepâ€™s Clothing, a thriller set in Russia, was a 2006 Christy Award finalist and won the 2006 Inspirational Readerâ€™s Choice award. A former missionary to Russia, Susan May Warren now writes Suspense/Romance and Chick Lit full time from her home in northern Minnesota. (ISBN#9781414313122, 352pp, $13.99)
She stood on the shore, her toes mortared into the creamy white sand, the waves licking up to her ankles, and with a cry that sounded more like frustration than fury, threw her linen espadrille with her best underhand pitch. It sailed high, cutting through the burning sky, disappeared briefly in the purple haze of night, then splashed into the ocean.
Gone. Along with her future.
A seagull soared low, screaming, pondering the morsel it may have missed.
â€œPJ, come back inside.â€ Matthewâ€™s voice sounded behind her as he trekked out onto the beach, kicking sand into his loafers, looking piqued as the wind raked fingers through his brown, thinning hair, snagged his tie, and noosed it around his neck. He dangled her oversize canvas purse from his hand, as if it might be a bomb.
Ten feet away, he held it out to her like a carrot. â€œThey havenâ€™t even brought out the crab legs yet. You love those.â€
â€œOh, sure I do. Right along with brussels sprouts and pickled herring.â€ Sheâ€™d been so soundly ensconced in happily-ever-after land sheâ€™d failed to see that the man she wanted to marry didnâ€™t even know she hated crab legs.
Pretty much all shellfish.
Thanks to the fact that she was allergic to it.
Matthew lowered the purse, as if her words stung him. â€œReally?â€
PJ shook her head, her mouth half-open, not even sure where to start. Behind them, calypso music drifted out of Dungarees Restaurant, festive themes for happy couples. Twinkle lights stringing along the thatched roof overhung the porch, and the piquant smell lifting off the grills on the patio snarled her empty stomach. Maybe she should go back inside, pick up the wicker chair sheâ€™d knocked over.
He owed her dinner, at least.
She stood her ground, forcing him to march her belongings across the sand.
â€œHereâ€™s your, uh . . . suitcase.â€ He held it out to her, letting go before she had her hand on it. It dropped with the weight of an anvil onto the glossy sand.
â€œHey, thatâ€™s my personal survival kitâ€”show some respect.â€ She scooped it up, realizing sheâ€™d been entirely too civil during his execution of their relationship. â€œYou never know when youâ€™re going to need something.â€ Laugh all he wantedâ€”if a gal was going to haul around a purse, it should be filled with all things handy. Tape to shut someoneâ€™s mouth, for example. Or a flashlight to guide her way home across a black expanse of shore.
â€œSorry.â€ He stuck his hands into the pockets of his khakis, his sports coat like a warning flag as it whipped around him. â€œCâ€™mon, PJ, come back inside. Please. Itâ€™s cold out here.â€
â€œSeriously? Because ten minutes ago you were telling me how I wasnâ€™t the girl for you. How, after nearly a year of dating, on a night when I expectedâ€”â€ Nope, she wasnâ€™t going there. Wasnâ€™t going to give him the slightest satisfying hint that she might have come to dinner tonight hopingâ€”convinced, evenâ€”that heâ€™d actually take a knee and put words to what she thought sheâ€™d seen in his eyes. Devotion. Commitment.
How could she have cajoled herself into believing that perfect Matthew Buchanan, church singles group leader and seminary student, might see a pastorâ€™s wife in her?
Maybe she wasnâ€™t exactly the picture of a pastorâ€™s wife, with her curves, dark red hair, too many freckles spraying her nose as if she were still fifteen. Sheâ€™d never considered herself refined, more on the cute side, her height conspiring against her hopes of being willowy and elegant. But her eyes were prettyâ€”green, and honest, if maybe too wide in her face. And sheâ€™d cleaned up over the years. Even if Matthew didnâ€™t think her beautiful, couldnâ€™t he see past her rough edges to the woman she longed to beâ€”a friend of Jesus, a woman of principle, a servant of grace? a girl whoâ€™d finally outrun her mistakes?
She should be flinging herself into the surf right behind her espadrille.
â€œExpecting what, PJ?â€ Matthew had a faraway, even stricken, look in those previously warm eyes.
PJ couldnâ€™t believe she was actually answering him and in a tone that betrayed her disappointment. â€œI just thought we were heading somewhere.â€
â€œLike the missions trip to Haiti? You wanted to go on that with me?â€
She stared at the place between his eyes, pretty sure she still had her shortstop aim. Her grip tightened on the other espadrille. â€œNo,â€ she said slowly, crisply. â€œNot the missions trip.â€
â€œOh.â€ Wonder of wonders, he got it then, his face falling as he replayed his rejection. â€œIâ€™m sorry. It just isnâ€™t working for me.â€
What did that mean exactly? Wasnâ€™t working? Like she might be a cog that fouled up his perfect image? Clearly heâ€™d forgotten the depths from which heâ€™d climbed. Especially since, in her recent memory, heâ€™d been a Budweiser-drinking surfer.
â€œYou said that.â€ PJ hauled her bag up to her shoulder and curled her arms around her waist as her sundress twisted through her legs. She turned away, watching the ocean darken with its mystery. She never really swam in the ocean, just waded. The riptides and the unknown predators that lurked below the surface scared her. She tasted the salt in the cool spray that misted the air, heard hunger in the waves as they chewed the sand around her feet. She sometimes wondered what lay beyond the shore, in the uncharted depths of the sea.
And if sheâ€™d ever have the courage to find out.
â€œItâ€™s just that, I want to be a pastor, and . . . ,â€ Matthew said, his voice closer to her.
â€œAnd?â€ She wrapped her arms tighter around herself, fighting a shiver.
â€œYouâ€™re just not pastorâ€™s wife material.â€
PJ refused to let his epitaph show on her face and found a voice that didnâ€™t betray her. â€œDo you remember the last time we were out on the beach together?â€
â€œWhat? Uh . . . no . . . waitâ€”a couple weeks ago, we got ice cream on the pier.â€
PJ closed her eyes. â€œThat wasnâ€™t with me.â€
Silence. She didnâ€™t temper it.
â€œIt was the night of the sea turtles. Remember, we had to use flashlights because they made all the residents along the shore turn off their outside lights? We had our arms woven together to keep from losing each other. I remember wondering if it was possible to read your thoughts, because I couldnâ€™t see your face.â€
â€œWe nearly walked on a sea turtle coming to shore,â€ Matthew said, reminiscence in his tone. She glanced at him, and something like pain or concern emerged on his face, edged in the shadow of whiskers.
PJ turned away, back to the ocean. â€œI kept thinkingâ€”that turtle mamaâ€™s going to bury her babies onshore and never see them again. She was going to leave them to fend for themselves, to struggle back to the sea, tasty defenseless morsels diving into an ocean where theyâ€™re the main course.â€
She stared at her shoe, dangling in her hand. The wind ran its sticky fingers through her hair, tangling what had been a stylish short bob into a nest. Gooseflesh prickled her skinâ€”she was cold and hungry, but sheâ€™d wrap herself in seaweed and dig a bunker in the sand before sheâ€™d return to the restaurant with Matthew. Probably she could even find something to eat in her so-called suitcase.
â€œDo you think they made it?â€ She wasnâ€™t sure why she asked, why she prolonged this moment, their last. Probably trying to unravel time, as usual, figure out where it had snarled, turned into a knot.
Matthew dug his foot into the sand, watching it. â€œIf they were supposed to, I guess.â€ He sighed. â€œLetâ€™s go inside, PJ.â€
PJ ran her eyes over the profile sheâ€™d previouslyâ€”about an hour previouslyâ€”told herself she loved. His sharp jaw, that lean rectangle frame. Barefoot, she still came to nearly his chin.
She wanted a taller man. â€œYouâ€™ve got to be kidding.â€
â€œIâ€™m not doing this â€˜letâ€™s be friendsâ€™ thing with you.â€
â€œBut we were friends before.â€ He reached for her and she dodged him, raising her shoe.
â€œWhatya gonna do, PJ? Bean me with a shoe?â€
â€œDonâ€™t tempt me.â€
He shook his head. â€œSee, this is why weâ€™d never work out. I need someone who is . . .â€
â€œPerfect? Doesnâ€™t show her emotions?â€
He raised his shoulder in an annoying shrug. â€œPastorâ€™s wife material.â€
Now he was going to get hurt. â€œOh, thatâ€™s rich. Coming from a former surfer with a scar where his eyebrow bar used to be. What happened to â€˜Ride the waves, PJ, and see where they take youâ€™?â€
His eyes darkened. â€œIâ€™ve changed.â€
And apparently she hadnâ€™t. â€œGood-bye, Matthew. And by the way, yes, I hate crab legs. Because Iâ€™m allergic to them. Pay attention.â€
She kicked up sand as she marched across the beach, thankful she could see her condo/motel/efficiencyâ€”depending on who she talked toâ€”in the distance. Sheâ€™d give just about anything for her Chuck Taylors to run home in. But sheâ€™d dressed to kill, or at least for love, this evening in a floral sundress and new espadrilles that gave her a sort of out-of-body feminine feeling. She needed her Superman pajama pants and a tank topâ€”and fast.
â€œPJ! Donâ€™t run away!â€ Matthewâ€™s voice lifted over the surf.
â€œRunning away is what I do best!â€ She didnâ€™t turn.
â€œWhy do you have to be such a drama queen?â€
Okay. That. Was. It. She spun around, dropped her bag to the sand, and with everything in her, hurled her other shoe at him, a hard straight shot that any decent first baseman could have nabbed or at least dodged.
His four-letter snarl into the night put the smallest of smiles on her lips as she turned away.
The restless ocean stirred into the sounds of the club music as she hiked up the beach. She clung to the shadows, avoiding the pool of light from houses and condos, restaurants and cafÃ©s.
Not pastorâ€™s wife material.
She broke into a little jog, hiking up the confining circle of her hem.
Angling up the sand, she hopped over the boardwalk toward her building. Brine-scented sea grass brushed the walkway, carpeted the trail to the two-story Sandy Acres motel/apartment complex, the half-lit sign now reading only â€œSa d Ac es,â€ a term that seemed particularly apropos as she opened the metal gate alone, again.
Around the patio area, rusty pool furniture glimmered under the tinny, buzzing fluorescent lights. A horde of moths flirted with death around the heat of the bulbs; the earthy palmetto smell tangled with the coconut oil smeared onto the deck chairs, tempering the sharp odor of chlorine. Hip-hop thrummed under her downstairs neighborâ€™s door, and wet towels taunted by the wind slapped the metal rail above her as she climbed the stairs to her unit.
Home sweet home.
A temporary home. Three years could mean temporary. In fact, until tonight, sheâ€™d already been mentally packing, giving away her garage sale wicker and, finally, her Kellogg High School Mavericks sweatshirt. Maybe even Booneâ€™s leather jacket, the one sheâ€™d stolen the night she left town. It seemed an uneven prize to all heâ€™d cost her.
Her skin prickled as she fought the dead bolt.
Boone had probably forgotten the girl who wound her arms around his waist and dug her face into the leathery pocket between his shoulder blades as he roared them away from Kellogg on his Kawasaki.
Loneliness met her in the silence, the lights between the slats of the blinds striping the bedsheet that cordoned off her so-called bedroom. Her faucet dripped, and she dropped her key onto the counter, surrendering to the habitual attempt to turn it off. Then she ca-lumped her bag onto the chair, folded her arms, and stared out the window at the dark, hungry ocean.
Almost without realizing it, she clamped her hand over her left shoulder, high, near the apex, where the word Boone marked her in flowery script.
Beep. Behind her, the answering machine beckoned her away from the past and what might have been.
Boone was probably in jail or, worse, reformed and married with children. The great taboo, he wasnâ€™t mentioned in her motherâ€™s phone calls; his name wasnâ€™t scrawled in her letters. She was sure heâ€™d forgotten her, just like everyone else had.
Forgotten that sheâ€™d left Kellogg, Minnesota, accused of a felonyâ€”an accusation too easily pinned on a high school senior whose reputation indicted her without trial. Her only crime had been abysmal judgment in men and allowing her heart to trespass into places her common sense told her not to tread.
A crime, apparently, she kept committing.
Forgotten that her mother cut a deal with the director of the country club, one that included a full tank of gas and promises of a new kitchen. Her motherâ€™s instructions to her included the phrase â€œjust until things blow over.â€
Perhaps things had blown over long ago. Perhaps she was the one not ready.
She pushed the Play button as she opened the freezer. Please let there be iceâ€”
â€œPJ, itâ€™s me.â€ Connie. The fact that her sisterâ€™s attorney-solemn voice tremored made PJ close the freezer door.
â€œDonâ€™t panic.â€ Of course not. Because Connie never called her without some earth-shattering joyful news: I passed the bar. I bought a house. Iâ€™m having a baby. Iâ€™m getting married again!
PJ forced herself to remember that dissecting all that joy was the dark news of husband number oneâ€™s death. No one, regardless of how successful, thin, wealthy, and smart, deserved to be woken up at 2 a.m. by the police and asked to identify her husbandâ€™s remains. Or those of his mistress, with whom heâ€™d been traveling when his car went off the road.
Still, PJ could hear panic under Connieâ€™s voice. Especially when Connie continued, a little too quickly.
â€œOkay, listen, I know you donâ€™t want to hear this, but . . . I need you to come home.â€
Connie took a breath. And PJ held hers.
â€œMomâ€™s been in an accident.â€
Everything went silentâ€”the hip-hop beating the floorboards, the far-off hunger of the ocean, Matthewâ€™s criticism in her ear. The years rushed at her like a line drive knocking her off her feet, regrets scattered like dust in her shadow.
Then Connie sighed and hung up. The beep and time signature noted no further messages.
PJ reached for the phone.
Connie sounded as if she might be on her fourth cup of coffee in some cement-lined corridor, tapping out the hour in her Jimmy Choos.
â€œPJ, where have you been? Momâ€™s already had her cast set and is in recovery.â€
â€œPlease, Connie, not now. Just . . . what happened?â€ PJ pressed the phone tight to her ear and paced to the window, the ten-year near estrangement with her mother hollowing her out. Had her mother forgotten her silent pledge to carry on, to be waiting if and when PJ summoned the courage to point her car north?
â€œShe fell on the tennis court and broke her ankle.â€
The windowâ€™s cool surface broke the sweat across PJâ€™s forehead. Tennis? â€œFor peteâ€™s sake, Connie, I thought . . . oh, man . . . Donâ€™t call me again.â€
â€œDonâ€™t you want to know how bad it is?â€
PJ sank into a chair. â€œHow bad is it?â€
â€œThey casted her ankle; her bones are secured with a pin. Sheâ€™ll be out of the hospital tomorrow. But I need you to come home. Iâ€™m getting married in a week, and I need help.â€
Married. Of course. PJ had seen a picture of Sergei, Connieâ€™s fiancÃ©, and seriously wondered why a double-degreed lawyer might be marrying her tae kwon do coach. But who was she to questionâ€”after all, she, a near felon, had dreamed she might pass as a pastorâ€™s wife.
â€œI thought you two were eloping.â€ PJ had managed to catch her breath and now returned to the freezer, cradled the phone against her shoulder, and dug out the Moose Tracks. As she opened the lid, crystallized edges and the smell of freezer burn elicited only a slight hesitation. She lifted a spoon from the dish drainer cup in the sink.
â€œWe were flying down to CancÃºn, but Sergeiâ€™s parents couldnâ€™t get a visa for Mexico, so I planned a little soiree at the country club. But the thing is, I have vacation time coming, and if I donâ€™t use it, Iâ€™ll lose it. So we need to get away now if we want a honeymoon, and Mom certainly canâ€™t watch David while sheâ€™s in a cast. I need you, Peej.â€
PJ leaned a hip against the counter and cleaned the sides of the carton, the chocolate swirls melting against the roof of her mouthâ€”sweet with only an edge of bitter.
â€œSo let me get this straightâ€”itâ€™s okay that you werenâ€™t going to invite me to the sunny sands of Mexico to watch you tie the knot with Mr. Muscle, but you want me to leave my life and return home at your whim?â€ She kept her eyes averted from the threadbare wicker and the chipped Formica table and stomped the floor once, real loud, hoping the boyz in the hood might hear her over the rap.
On the other end of the phone, Connieâ€™s voice wadded into a small, tight ball. â€œI know how you feel about Kellogg and Boone and especially Mom, and frankly I donâ€™t blame you. Iâ€™ve even tried to respect your decision. But itâ€™s time to come home. You have family here. I need you. David needs you. . . .â€
PJ tossed the empty container into the sink, licked off the spoon. Down the street, a car peeled out in a hurry, and a dog barked in disapproval.
â€œYou know how I feel? Really? Because you got to stay, Connie. After graduation, you went on to college, to a life. I left town right after the ceremony, a Tupperware bowl of fruit on the seat beside me, praying my ancient VW Bug would make it to the South Dakota border. Iâ€™ve spent the past ten years wandering from one tank of gas to the next, trying to figure out where I should land. You lived the life Mom dreamed for youâ€”â€
â€œYou lived the life you dreamed for yourself.â€
PJ flinched, Connieâ€™s voice sharper than she remembered. She stared out the window, wondering if Matthew still stood on the beach, a hand to his bruised head. â€œIs that what you seriously believe?â€
Silence on the other end made PJ rub her fingers into her eyes. Connie had become an unlikely ally over the past ten years, mediating between PJ and their mother, once in a while sending her enough to cover her rent. However, it still wasnâ€™t so easy to share the limelight with the sister who was wanted.
As opposed to being the one left on the proverbial doorstep. Being adopted sounded so endearing to everyone but the adoptee. The fact that Connie had been born just a few months later, close enough to share the same classes in school, constantly earning better grades and more awards, only served as a constant reminder that PJ hadnâ€™t been good enough, even from birth.
â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ PJ said, letting a sigh leak out. â€œIâ€™ve had a rough night.â€
â€œThen come home, PJ. If only for a couple weeks. Or longer. You can stay with me until you find your own place.â€
â€œDid you ask Mom?â€ PJ winced, hating the question and that she didnâ€™t yank it back. Hadnâ€™t she learned anything?
â€œI asked. Even if Mom wonâ€™t admit it, she needs you.â€
PJ stood at her screen door, staring out at the now star-sprinkled night glistening on the rippled landscape. The Milky Way streamed across the sky, heading north.
â€œPlease?â€ Admittedly, it was the closest to pleading sheâ€™d ever heard from Connie. â€œI need you.â€
â€œHow long before your wedding?â€
â€œSix days. Sunday at two.â€
PJ hung up without promises and walked back outside, over the boardwalk to the beach. The wind had chased the clouds, and a diamond chip moon hung in the sky, surrounded by the jewels of the night, brilliant and close enough to wrap her fingers around. She pressed her bare feet into the sand, then lifted them out, listening to the water slurp, then fill the imprints. Finally, she stared out again at the ocean and wondered how many turtles really made it back to the sea.
Excerpted from Nothing But Trouble by Susan May Warren. Copyright Â© 2009 by Susan May Warren. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
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