Category Archives: Christian

CROSSING INTO THE MYSTIC – Hits It Right On So Many Levels


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Every once in a while, I read a novel that is so entrancing, so captivating that I find myself submerged in the story without realizing how much time has passed. CROSSING INTO THE MYSTIC is such a book. Ms. Koontz weaves a hypnotic web, filled with lyrical descriptions and interesting characters, drawing the reader deep into the world of Grace McKenna and wrapping them in a subtle, silky cocoon resistant to one’s will to break free . . . even if you wished for such an escape.

You won’t.

Grace McKenna is a sixteen year old thrust into maturity by circumstance, not by choice. After her mother and sister are killed in an automobile accident, Grace is sent to live with her aunt in Boston . . . a selfish, self-serving eccentric who lives off Grace’s inheritance. When Grace is willed her step-father’s ancestral home with the stipulation she must live there for three months before selling the property, her aunt is on board with shipping poor Grace to West Virginia alone. Grace is eager to leave her aunt’s clutches, so perhaps it’s a win-win situation . . . in the beginning.

Shortly after her arrival, Grace discovers the old, dilapidated mansion is haunted by a Civil War soldier, William Kavanaugh, who entreats her help in unraveling the mystery behind his death one hundred and fifty years ago. Her first reaction is a mixture of curiosity and fear but when Will saves her from two unscrupulous vandals, she becomes his devoted assistant.

Along the way, she meets an assortment of small town residents who add color, humor and complexity to the story. Clay Baxter adds a little more . . . even though he  is engaged, the hunky twenty year old is inexplicably drawn to the independent young woman with emotional walls ten feet tall. They form an alliance, one that leads to strong  feelings on both sides.

As they attempt to solve the mysterious circumstances behind Will’s death, Grace finds herself torn between two realms, two men and struggling to find her place in an adult world.

Honestly, the only negative thing I can say about this book focuses on Grace’s age. I know there are emancipated young people who live on their own at sixteen but I think I would have enjoyed her emotional journey more if she had been a bit older. Other than that, this is a wonderfully written novel that speaks to readers on so many levels. CROSSING INTO THE MYSTIC should be on everyone’s To Be Read list! I rate it 4.5 stars.


Crossing Into the Mystic:

A Civil War Paranormal Romance

The Crossings Series

Book One of a Trilogy

D.L. Koontz

Genre: Inspirational Fantasy, paranormal elementsmystic cover

Print Length: 258 pages

ISBN: 1941103030


Publisher: Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas

Book Description:

Three years after losing her family in a car crash, Grace MacKenna is set to inherit her stepfather’s ancestral estate among the mountains of West Virginia. Seeking solace and healing, Grace discovers the ghost of William Kavanaugh, a dashing Civil War captain in Virginia s 17th Infantry, haunts the property. When William charms Grace into investigating the mystery that led to his death a hundred and fifty years ago, she finds herself drawn into a world of chivalry and honor, but also deception with secrets too dark to speak aloud.

Meanwhile, Clay Baxter, home from service in Afghanistan, fights his own demons and ghosts. When Clay senses Grace falling deeper into the realm of the dead, he seeks to pull her back. But is he too late?

Torn between her love for two mysterious young men – one living and one dead – Grace stands in the shadows of the Antietam Battlefield with a choice: one that could leave Grace lost forever, “crossing into the Mystic.”

Available at Amazon  Amazon Paperback    BN

Book Trailer:


  • In Crossing Into The Mystic, D.L. Koontz makes a very different world real. ~ Ann Vanino
  • The story is complex and unexpected and I enjoyed the twists of plot. by Felicia Bowen Bridges
  • I kept going back and reading a sentence, a paragraph, some of the time the whole page.~ Tricia Scoggins

About the Author:

koontzD. L. Koontz was born in Pennsylvania, but with her husband, now splits her time between their home in mountainous West Virginia and their cattle ranch in coastal plains Georgia. She has a son and a stepdaughter. A member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors), she is a former journalist, business consultant, spokesperson, and college instructor. After several non-fiction books, Crossing into the Mystic is her first novel.

Echoes Of Paradise – Review & Contest!


3 PAPERBACK copies of Echoes of Paradise by Deanna Kahler

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Echoes of Paradise

Deanna Kahler 

echoescoverGenre: Fiction/Paranormal

Publisher: Rose Petal Publications

Date of Publication: January 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0615863399


Number of pages: 228

Word Count: 54,000

Cover Artist: Cover photo by Paul Kahler


Echoes of Paradise is a sweet tale with a metaphysical slant about spiritual growth and enlightenment.

It’s atypical of the romance genre. The main character, Celeste is married with a 5 year old son, living in a flawed yet manageable relationship. It’s a situation she accepts. However, when Connor, the love of her life who left to work overseas, decides to come home, she feels conflicted. His impending return resurrects old feelings. After all, if two people could be described as soul mates it was Connor and Celeste.

Unfortunately, Connor dies in a plane crash before they can ever re-connect. Celeste grieves as someone who has lost the love of her life, confusing her current husband, Dave. He is a shallow but well meaning guy who assumes she’ll get over it. When strange, inexplicable things start happening, Celeste realizes Connor has come back as an angel to guide  her and son, Chip.  She eventually tells Dave about Connor’s visits who remains skeptical at first, then succumbs to jealousy.

And then we go on a metaphysical journey, exploring theories and beliefs of the afterlife as the story unfolds with Connor teaching Celeste how to live a happier, fuller life.

I was fine with this since it echoes my fundamental beliefs. Others may consider it fantasy or paranormal. Regardless, the story is strong enough to please both factions and a good read for romance fans of contemporary, sweet, or paranormal genres. The characters are interesting and believable.

My only criticism is the ending seemed a little contrived but once again, what’s a sweet romance without an HEA? The writing flows easily even though I found the dialogue simplistic at times. But that’s just me. I tend to read edgier content anyway, so go figure.

I recommend this book for romance fans, especially those who enjoy stories about loving ghosts, life beyond death, metaphysics or parables of enlightenment such as The Celestine Prophecy.

Book Description: 

Does Love Survive Death? When Celeste’s one true love Connor dies, she’s left with many questions and regrets. Caught in a web of painful memories from her troubled past – and a complicated marriage to a materialistic executive – she ventures into an unknown world.

What she experiences makes her more determined than ever to find out what really happens after death and what became of her lost love. Her journey takes her to places she never thought possible. But just around the corner, danger still lurks. Will she find the answers she seeks and ultimately discover the truth?

Short Excerpt: 

Celeste began sobbing uncontrollably. She struggled to see the road ahead of her through tear-filled eyes. The landscape became a fuzzy blur of moonlight and shadowy trees. The world around her spun into an unrecognizable mix of darkness streaked with occasional rays of dim light. As she drove blindly ahead, she felt as if she were plunging into nothingness. And she didn’t even care.

She would have continued in her oblivious state, but somehow, out of nowhere, she heard a very clear and distinct male voice pop into her head. She thought that surely she must have imagined it, because it sounded like Connor.

Pay attention.

Suddenly a deer darted out in front of her, its startled eyes aglow from the blazing gold headlights. Blood pulsed through her veins as she abruptly swerved her car to the right, narrowly missing the animal. With her heart still pounding, she took a deep breath and tried to regain her composure.

“That was close,” she said aloud to herself. “Stay focused, Celeste. Keep it together.”

Although she was alone in her car, she noticed a distinct presence. It felt like Connor was somehow with her. First the voice, and now this? Surely she must be losing her mind! Even so, she had an irresistible urge to talk to him. Maybe it was silly or useless, but she couldn’t fight this desire brimming inside of her. She didn’t just want communication with her deceased former love; she needed it—even if it was one-sided. She began to have a conversation as if he were right there with her.

“I’m so sorry,” she sobbed. “I’m sorry I didn’t stay in touch with you and try to be a part of your life in some way. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you or able to help you. I’m sorry for the night I left you. I’m sorry I didn’t let you get closer to me or tell you that I love you. I’m just so sorry.”

Tears streamed down Celeste’s face like the rain on a shiny glass window, and she gasped for air. What she wanted most right now was to know that Connor still existed somehow, somewhere. She wanted proof that his spirit lived on. She wanted to know that he was alive and well in heaven. Although she had been raised Christian, her faith had faded as she’d grown older. Life’s circumstances, unanswered prayers, and the cynical, materialistic world around her had left Celeste with doubts and questions. She now wondered if God and the afterlife even existed at all. She wanted to believe. She just didn’t know how.

Right after she spoke to Connor, a song came on the radio. The words caught her attention, and she stopped crying long enough to listen. It was a tune by Nickelback titled “Someday.”

For a brief moment, Celeste noticed a tingling sensation run down her spine. She felt like Connor was speaking directly to her through this song. It felt as if he were trying to respond to her. Were the words to this song meant for her? Did he somehow hear her cries? Was he trying to tell her he was going to help her in some way?

“No,” thought Celeste. “You’re being ridiculous. This is all just a coincidence. Connor can’t hear you or help you—he’s dead.”

Somehow, even though her rational, logical mind told her this, her heart told her otherwise. Maybe Connor really was alive in the afterlife. Maybe he really could hear her. She needed to know the truth. She wanted answers.

About the Author:

Deanna Kahler is an accomplished writer and proud mom. Her work has been published in numerous corporate newsletters and magazines across the country. She began writing as a young child and enjoys the opportunity to reach others and make a difference in their lives. deannakahler

Echoes of Paradise is Deanna’s second book. Her first book, From Pain to Parenthood: A Journey Through Miscarriage to Adoption, details her difficult journey to motherhood and provides tips and resources for those facing similar circumstances.

Deanna holds a bachelor’s degree in communication arts from Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., where she graduated with departmental honors. She lives with her husband and daughter in a Metro Detroit suburb, where she enjoys writing, dancing, walking, and visiting parks in her spare time.

For more information about the author, please visit




Review & Giveaway: BEGOTTEN by Giovanna Lagana


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5 ebook copies of Begotten

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The Forsaken Prophecies

Giovanna Lagana


Genre: Paranormal Romantic Suspense



Number of pages: 324

Word Count: 78280

Cover Artist: Ghislain Mallet


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Begotten is a tale of good versus evil. While it’s not marketed as a Christian based book, it should be. I found the story entertaining with enough human interest to balance the strong biblical theme.

Megan Johnson is devastated when her husband is killed in a tragic accident, but not as much as her son, Tristan, who dreamed of the horrifying events before they happened. At the funeral, Tristan hears a loud tapping and an ominous stranger convinces him it’s his father inside the casket. Tristan jumps into the grave and attempts to rescue his deceased parent.

Megan knows something was bothering her son before the accident, and is even more concerned by his actions at the funeral. Tristan grows more distant with each passing day, eventually running away with a cult leader named Vincent. When her husband’s best friend offers support, Megan discovers feelings that take their relationship beyond platonic. To make her life even more confusing and tumultuous, she begins to experience psychic powers.

Megan’s visions warn her of Tristan’s imminent danger. She will risk anything to save her son but she’ll need God’s help to fight the evil threatening their lives.

This book was originally published in 2005 as With Black and White Comes The Grey – The Battle of Armageddon. It’s been re-written in part, edited and some names have changed but the story is basically the same. If you haven’t read it in either incarnation, and you enjoy Armageddon themed stories with a strong biblical slant, you’ll enjoy Begotten.

Book Description:

In the blink of an eye Megan Johnson’s perfect life turns into a nightmare. Her beloved husband mysteriously dies in a car crash and her fourteen-year-old son, Tristan, runs away with a diabolical cult leader named Vincent Hellion. Her world is spiraling to destruction. She leans on her husband’s best friend, Rhett Foster, for support and help. But when feelings she thought she never had for Rhett begin to surface and unknown psychic powers possess her, she becomes more confused than ever. She tries to push her feelings for Rhett aside and focus on her visions to save her son before it’s too late.

Rhett Foster has loved Megan for so long. But he never confessed his feelings to her because his best friend was her husband. Now that her husband is dead, he struggles with his conscience. Should he tell Megan how he really feels or should he honor his best friend’s memory?

Megan’s desperate quest to find and free her son sets them both on a path of love, danger, and renewal. If they return, their lives will be changed forever.


Megan closed the door and leaned on it. She began to cry. Fatigue and the doctor’s words took their toll on her.

Rhett hugged her and caressed her long hair. “You heard what the doctor said? Tristan is going to be all right.”

She sniffled. “But what if he gets worse? Mark and he were so close. He lost his whole world a few days ago.”

“He still has you,” Rhett said.

“Yeah, but what if he doesn’t let me in? What if he won’t let me help him and support him? He’s a teenager now, Rhett. At his age, who knows how he will react.”

Rhett stared into her eyes, which she knew were watery, red, and puffy. “Then I’m here. Granted, my relationship with Tristan isn’t anywhere as close as his relationship had been with his dad, but we are still close. If he won’t confide in you, then I’ll try. The kid is tough. You and Mark hit the jackpot with him. He’ll be okay.”

“I hope you’re right, Rhett.”

He pulled out a compact pouch of tissues from his suit pocket. “Here you go.”

She smiled, wiped her teary eyes, and jokingly said, “Thanks, do you have any mascara in there, too?”

He put his hand in his pocket to check. “No, just a small lint remover. Care to use it?”

They both laughed at his joke. Then Megan felt a twinge of guilt for experiencing a happy emotion when she buried her husband just a few hours before. She turned serious. “Why is it that you always know what to say or do? It’s like you can read my mind.”

He smiled as he raised his left eyebrow. “That’s because we’ve known each other almost all our lives.”

“That’s true. There’s nothing we don’t know about each other. We have no secrets. You’re like the big brother I always wanted.”

Looking up into the air, he nodded. “Yeah, yeah, I know. I know. You always say that.”

“But it’s true. You’ve always been there for me, and for Mark.” A yawn escaped her lips. “What am I thinking right now?”

Rhett winked as he spoke. “Okay, okay, I get the hint. I’ll go now.” With genuine concern, he continued, “Are you going to be okay?”

“Yes, I think I’ll go to bed early.”

He opened the door. “I’ll call you tomorrow from work. Bye.” He kissed her cheek and left.

* * * *

As Rhett closed the door behind him, he rubbed his nose. Megan’s soft locks had tickled his cheek. He could still smell her strawberry scented shampoo. He thought about what she had just said as he stood on her porch. “We have no secrets,” she’d uttered. She was wrong.

He had a secret that he kept from her all of these years. He wondered if he should ever tell her the truth. Their friendship would be at great risk if he did.

Rhett got into his car, put on the radio, and tuned it to his favorite station. The Wind Beneath My Wings was playing. He had a flashback of when he and Megan had been seventeen. They were dancing to this song at their prom.

Since they didn’t have any dates, they decided to go with each other. A smile formed on his face as he remembered how they both had two left feet. A spectacle they had made of themselves on the dance floor. Ah, the fun times they had. Megan was certainly someone special. How boring his life would have been if she had never come into it.

He drove off, vowing to protect her and her son in these troubled times. He owed it to Mark and to himself.

About the Author:

Giovanna Lagana is a freelance author. Some of her short stories and poems have been featured in magazines like Tales of the Talisman, Short-Story.Me, Static Movement, and Fear and Trembling Magazine, etc.giovanna

To learn more about Giovanna and her writing, please check her website at:





In Memory Of Sandy Hook

Sometimes a tragedy is so horrific, so terrifying, so unimaginable, that it tears right through the heart of humanity. We grieve. We mourn. We become angry and demand laws to keep it from happening again. Then time passes. For those not directly affected by the event, we move on. It’s human nature. I understand.

But we must never forget.

The victims and surviving families of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting on December 14, 2012 deserve more. A group of incredibly talented artists created this tribute to those who lost their lives. It’s heartwarming.

Kudos to my friend, Esmeralda Hernandez, for editing and directing this beautiful video.

Click here for more information about 13th Productions:

Review: “Just Like Heaven” – Heaven Sent for Romance Lovers

COVER_just_like_heaven_(2)Romance. It used to be readers knew exactly what to expect when they picked up a title in the romance genre. A man. A woman. External conflict. Internal conflict. Resolution. Happily Ever After.

Okay, so it was formula based but the stories hooked us and romance readers worldwide drove the genre to the top of publisher’s “money makers” list.

These days, readers must examine the sub-genre because a “romance” can include an assortment of couplings, heat content and might only allude to an HEA ending. The chick lit that no one wants to mention anymore has merged with romance (and often other sub-genres) to create a sometimes indefinable content – leaving readers conflicted about how to classify the book.

“Just Like Heaven” is a romance. It might also appeal to Chick Lit  and contemporary romance readers. It addresses real people (i.e. not a famous celebrity or a tough on the outside, soft on the inside detective) with real problems. And it still manages to deliver a charming, endearing story that will elicit a sigh or two at the end.

I liked it. But be warned, I have a sweet tooth and “Just Like Heaven” is a sweet story about an Episcopalian priest . . . yes, you heard me right . . . and a heart attack patient.  Kate and Mark are uncommon characters in Barbara Bretton’s tale of love – being over 40 is just one of the unique traits that attracted and held my attention. Yeah, yeah . . . I’m a baby boomer. Boomers know first hand that love doesn’t always happen when you’re twenty something and in perfect form.

At times, it feels as though the character’s intense attraction balances on a narrow path, with heaven on one side and hell on the other. At others, it’s almost lyrical and old fashioned with it’s delivery. Add a healthy dash of humor, a reality that feels “real”, and “Just Like Heaven” is an interesting, well written story that will keep you turning pages to the end.

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Just Like Heaven

Barbara Bretton

Genre: Contemporary romance/women’s fiction

Publisher: Free Spirit Press (previously published in print by Berkley)

ISBN: 9781301177493


Number of pages: 320

Word Count: Approximately 90K

Book Description:

Because love can happen anywhere . . .

Even in New Jersey!

A beautiful morning in early spring. What could possibly go wrong?

Just returned from a buying trip in England, Kate French was jet-lagged and exhausted and running on fumes. She was already running late for an appointment but a wave of dizziness forced her to pull into the shopping mall parking lot in search of a quick fix of caffeine and protein.

When the pain first hit, she ignored it and continued racing across the parking lot toward the food court. But within moments she realized something was terribly wrong as her wobbly legs gave out and she dropped to the ground. The last thing she remembered as she started to fade away was the guy in the Grateful Dead T-shirt who held her in his arms and promised he’d never let her go.

Mark Kerry didn’t think of himself as a hero but the story of a Good Samaritan who had saved a woman’s life in the parking lot of the Princeton Promenade was attaining the status of suburban legend. Determined to return a stack of documents that had been left behind when the ambulance swept her away, he called in some favors and tracked her down at home one week later.

The moment Kate saw him again, the world and everyone in it disappeared. She knew his voice, the smell of his skin, the way his hands felt against her skin, the taste of his mouth, everything that mattered. All the things she would ever need to know about him.

And then she took another look . . .


*TOP PICK!* Bretton’s lyrical writing enthralls from the first page as she immerses readers in a tale of romance and new beginnings. –Romantic Times

Bretton has few peers among contemporary romance novelists when it comes to combining escapist romance with everyday, messy reality. She’ll make you believe that love can happen anywhere – or make you grateful that you’ve been fortunate enough to find it.  –Susan Scribner, The Romance Reader

This one will keep you reading past your bedtime. –Elizabeth Darrach, BellaOnline

*STARRED REVIEW* Very few romance writers create characters as well developed and realistic as Bretton’s. Her books pull you in and don’t let you leave until the last word is read.  –Shelley Mosley, Booklist


Coburn, New Jersey – 9:30 a.m.

Kate French shifted the phone from her left shoulder to her right and plunged her hand deeper into her lingerie drawer.

“Mom!” Her daughter Gwynn was no longer a teenager, but you would never know it from her tone of voice. “Are you listening to me?”

“I heard every syllable.” Kate pulled out an orphaned hand-knit sock and a silky pink camisole carbon-dated from the Disco Era and tossed them on the bed behind her.

“So what should I do?”

Unfortunately Kate had shifted into maternal auto-pilot five minutes into the conversation and had lost track. Was Gwynn still debating her roommate Laura’s excessive devotion to the New York Giants or had she segued into an old favorite of all the French women: a dissection of Kate’s non-existent love life.

She bent down and peered deeper into the perfumed recesses. One pair of plain cotton panties. Was that too much to ask for? “Run it by me again, honey.”

“I know what you’re doing,” Gwynn said. “You’re answering emails while I’m pouring out my heart to you. I really wish you wouldn’t do that.”

“Gwynnie, I’m not on the computer.”

“I can hear the keys clicking.”

“What you hear is the sound of your mother searching her lingerie drawer for a pair of —”

“Hold on! I have another call.”

The distance between the thirteen-year-old girl her daughter used to be and the twenty-three year old woman she was hadn’t turned out to be quite as wide as Kate had hoped. She glanced over at the clock on her nightstand. Come on, Gwynnie. I have things to do.

“That was Andrew.” Gwynn the daughter had been replaced by Gwynn the girlfriend. She sounded almost giddy with delight. The sound hit Kate’s ears like fingernails on a chalkboard. “He called from the boat! Isn’t that the—”

“I’m going to hang up now,” Kate said. “I have an appointment down in Princeton and I’m running late. We can pick this up another time, can’t we, honey?”

“But, Mom, I still haven’t—”

“I know, I know, but this can’t be helped. I want to hear everything you have to say, honey, but not right this minute.”

“You’re going to Princeton?”

“Yes, but not if I don’t get out of here in the next ten minutes.”

“If I leave now I could meet you for lunch at the Mexican place and I can tell you my news in person.”

“I thought you were working lunch shift at O’Malley’s during the week.”

“Mondays are slow. They won’t miss me.”

“You can’t just not show up, Gwynn. That’s how you lost your last job.” And when you do show up, you’re always late. That’s not how you get ahead.

“You always do that to me.”

“Do what?” She glanced at her watch. Was she the only one in the family who believed in punctuality?

“Keep score. Why can’t you just accept that my career path isn’t like yours and let me live my life my own way?”

“Gwynnie, do we need to have this conversation right now?” She was still on London time and not up for a discussion of individual rights and freedoms with an independent young woman who still expected mommy to foot the bill for her car insurance.

“You sound pissed.”

“What I sound is jetlagged.” She waited for the appropriate response from her only child but none was forthcoming. “Did you forget I’ve been in England for almost ten days? I got home very late last night and I’m still on London time.” Does any of this ring a bell, Gwynn? She liked to believe most daughters would notice when their mothers were out of the country.

“You’ve been gone forever. That’s why I have so much to talk to you about.”

“Honey, this can’t be helped. I really have to go.”

“Are you okay?” Gwynn asked. “You’re not acting like yourself.”

“We’ll talk later, honey,” she said and then disconnected.

Normally Kate would have felt guilty for cutting her daughter short but today she only felt relieved. She loved Gwynn more than life itself but her daughter’s melodramatic outbursts had a way of sucking the oxygen right out of her lungs.

“Okay,” she said as she tossed the cell onto the bed. “Let’s get down to business.”

There had to be something wearable in the house. A ten-day trip to the U.K. shouldn’t deplete a woman’s reserves. She pulled out the second drawer of her lingerie chest and dumped the contents in a pile. T-shirts from various island paradises. A garter belt with tiny roses embroidered across the handmade lace, remains of a long ago Valentine’s Day celebration. More bras than any one 34B woman needed in three lifetimes. A puka shell necklace. The black lace mantilla she had found in a shop in Seville during her last married vacation. Ticket stubs, a McCarter playbill, a deflated balloon dachshund, and what was easily the worst birthday present her mother had ever given her: the infamous red lace thong.

Maeve had come of age at the start of the turbulent 60s and she believed in shaking up the status quo whenever she had the chance. How better to ignite some passion in her forty-year-old daughter’s life than to present her with outrageously sexy underwear in front of friends, colleagues, relatives, and a half-dozen prospective boyfriends. Unfortunately the passion Maeve ignited in her daughter had nothing to do with romance and everything to do with embarrassment. Kate had tried to be a good sport about it but it had taken every ounce of self-control at her command to keep from throttling her own mother.

She held up the thong. It wouldn’t cover a Barbie doll, much less a full-size woman. What on earth had Maeve been thinking?

She considered making a quick run to Target for a three-pack of Jockey for Women but the clock was ticking and Professor Armitage wasn’t known for his patience. And there was the fact that she was way beyond exhausted. Jet lag rarely bothered her, but today she was having trouble keeping her eyes open long enough to finish getting dressed.

She cringed her way into the scrap of lace and elastic then peered at herself in the mirror opposite the bed. That was better than a jolt of caffeine. The thong should have come with a warning sticker. This much reality so early in the morning was hard to take.

She looked closer. That couldn’t possibly be right. The human body wasn’t supposed to have quite so many indentations. Maybe they should add an instruction label too for the lingerie-impaired. She slipped off the thong, spun it around, then tried again.

A forty-one year old woman with a red lace wedgie was a sight to behold.

Thank God it was a sight nobody else on the planet would likely ever see.

Rocky Hill, New Jersey – 9:45 a.m.

“Congratulations,” the realtor said as Mark Kerry handed her four signed copies of the contract. “It’s now official: your house is sold.”

It was also officially the point of no return. “Now what?” he asked, wishing he felt more enthusiastic about the sale.

Bev the realtor scanned the signature pages then slipped them into a large folder. “We have a tentative closing six weeks from today. I’ll arrange for the appraisal, the home inspection, radon testing, smoke alarms, yadda yadda yadda. All you have to do is pack for your move,” she said with a cheery smile.

“And dig up the township permits for the new roof.”

“See?” Bev rolled her eyes. “I’d forget my head if it wasn’t attached. We’ll need the roof permits, the signed lead paint disclosure, and your attorney’s name. You can fax copies to me and I’ll pick up the originals.”

“So far it’s been almost painless.”

“Five days from listing to contract,” Bev said, clearly pleased, “and we managed to get top dollar. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

She gave him a contact sheet with pertinent phone numbers and a metaphorical pat on the back.

“You look shell-shocked,” she said as he walked her down the gravel driveway to her car. “I promise you the hard part is over.”

Easy for her to say. When Memorial Day weekend rolled around he would be on his way back up to New Hampshire to find out if you really could go home again.

Where was home anyway? This small stone cottage in New Jersey didn’t have much going for it but somehow over the last two years it had become home. Or as close to it as he was likely to get.

Two postage-stamp bedrooms. Small kitchen. No dining room. No family room. A basement with its own share of troubles. When he walked through the front door he knew he was where he was meant to be.

But nothing lasted forever.

The other contract he needed to sign was propped up against the toaster, along with a note from his old friend Maggy Boyle who was shepherding him through the process.

The funny thing was, he thought he would have more time. Bev the realtor had warned him to be patient. The New Jersey real estate market wasn’t as hot as it used to be and the whole thing might take a while.

It didn’t.

Kris and Al Wygren showed up on Sunday for the first Open House and fell head over heels in love with the place. They loved the wonky windows, the big stone fireplace, the squeaky floor boards, every single thing. He had pointed out all the flaws and they only loved it more.

The Wygrens were all of twenty-five or twenty-six. Newly married. Newly pregnant. Ready to build a nest of their own.

He and Suzanne had been just like them. Young and in love with their entire future spread out before them like a field of wildflowers. Not that he would have ever thought of the wildflowers simile. That was pure Suzanne. She had seen life through a prism of joy that even in memory still amazed him.

Her mother used to say that God had been feeling generous the day he made Suzanne. He had granted her beauty and wit, intelligence and a kind heart, a sense of humor that could still make Mark smile across the years.

But the one thing God hadn’t seen fit to grant her was the one thing that would have made all the difference: a long life.

When she looked at him, she saw a hero. The kind of man his father had been, the kind of man he wanted to be. But time hadn’t been on their side. She had been taken from him while he was still very much a work in progress.

At least Suzanne never saw him stumble and fall. She never saw him flat on his face on their front porch, stinking of cheap whiskey and pain. She hadn’t been there to see him try to outrun the memories of their past. The lost days, those dark nights, belonged to him alone and for that he was glad.

She never found out her hero was only a man.

Central New Jersey – around 10:30 a.m.

Kate was stopped in traffic near the Bedminster exit on Route 287 when a wave of something uncomfortably close to nausea swept over her. Jet lag on an empty stomach was bad enough but for sheer misery she would put her money on the thong.

Traffic eased up as she neared Bridgewater Commons Mall but the cell phone calls kept coming. Her assistant Sonia called twice. Clive phoned from England to tell her she had left a pair of sunglasses behind. Armitage’s secretary wanted to make sure she was on schedule. Jackie the furniture refinisher with another one of her minor emergencies designed to boost her going rate another ten percent.

They all called for different reasons but every call ended the same way. You sound exhausted . . . you need a vacation, not a buying trip . . . I’m worried about you . . .

Bless call waiting, the greatest exit strategy ever invented. What was wrong with everyone? Sure, she had noticed the dark circles under her eyes but that was genetic. Maeve had them and Maeve’s mother before her. And unless she missed her guess, Gwynn had something to look forward to. She wasn’t twenty any longer. Not even Estee Lauder could turn back the clock.

She shifted around in the driver’s seat, tugging at the elastic band pinching her hipbone. Her mother had promised her that the thong would release her inner goddess and turn her into a siren capable of luring men away from ESPN and repeats of Baywatch, but so far her inner goddess was missing in action.

Her cell burst into the William Tell Overture as she neared the Route 1 exit. Her mother’s theme song.

“What did you say to Gwynn? She called me, sobbing.”

“Hello to you too, Mom. I thought you were in New Mexico.”

“I am and our girl woke me up with her tale of woe. What is going on back there?” Maeve was on the other side of the country, touring for her latest self-help tome, but family drama transcended geography.

“It was Gwynn being Gwynn,” Kate said. “She wanted to talk, I needed to finish dressing and get on the road.”

“You hurt her feelings. She had some news she wanted to share with you.”

“I cut her short once in twenty-three years and it’s a major incident?” She took a series of deep breaths and tried to calm herself. “I haven’t slept in almost thirty-six hours, Maeve, and my body thinks it’s the middle of the afternoon.”

“You don’t sound like yourself,” Maeve observed. “What’s going on, sweetie? We’re worried about you.”

“Is Mercury retrograde again or something? There’s nothing wrong with me that a good night’s sleep won’t take care of. Why is everyone suddenly asking if I’m okay?” Jet lag was hardly a new concept.

“Maybe because it’s clear you’re not yourself. You’ve seemed a little depressed, forgetful–”

“Ma!” Kate practically shouted into the tiny cell phone. “I think your imagination is running away with you.”

“You might be entering perimenopause,” Maeve volunteered.

The morning was actually deteriorating. She wouldn’t have believed it possible but she had learned long ago to never underestimate her mother.

“So how did things go in London with Liam? Any sparks?” Maeve was nothing if not resilient.

“We had tea together my first day. That was it.”

“Sharon said he would be perfect for you. She’ll be so disappointed.”

“Next time why doesn’t Sharon fix you up with the Liams and Nigels of this world. I keep telling you I’m not looking for a man and I mean it.”

“You might not be looking but you wouldn’t turn down a good one if he popped up.”

“I’m not sure there are any good ones,” she said, “at least none that I’d be interested in.”

“That’s not normal, honey. You sound like you’ve given up.”

“Mom, this is old news. I’m perfectly happy being on my own, even if that seems to bug the living daylights out of everyone else in the world except me. Can’t we just leave it at that?”

“Sara Whittaker’s son is back in town. He’s been working in Tokyo the last few years, a graphic artist. I think you two might hit it off.”

“Mom, I have another call. We’ll have to pick this up later.”

“You don’t have to use the call-waiting excuse with me, sweetie. I know when you’ve had enough.”

Kate had to laugh. “It’s a real call this time,” she said as her irritability lifted. “I’ll call you tonight. I promise.”

Paul Grantham, old friend and confidante, was next in queue.

“Took you long enough, French.”

“Thank God it’s you,” she said, adjusting the headset. “This thing hasn’t stopped ringing since I got off the plane.”

“So how was the big buying trip? Is there anything left on the other side of the pond?”

“Not much,” she admitted. “I may have struck gold.” She told him about the stack of Revolutionary War era letters she’d found in a tiny shop near Lincolnshire written to a colonel’s wife in New Jersey.

“When will you know if you found the mother lode?”

A truck, horn blaring, appeared out of nowhere in her blind spot. “Oh, damn! Sorry!” She veered back into her lane, heart pounding wildly. “What were you saying?”

“Are you okay?” he asked. “You sound a little out of breath.”

“I’m not out of breath. It must be the connection.” That and her surging adrenaline.

She held on while Paul answered an assistant’s question.

“Sorry,” he said. “Crazy morning. We’re still on for the Hospital Gala this week, aren’t we?”

“I take it Lisa’s no longer on the scene.”

“Lisa is looking for somebody who’s willing to go the distance,” he said, “and we both know I’m saving myself for you.”

It was an old joke between them, but lately she had the feeling there was more behind her old friend’s words than either one of them cared to acknowledge.

Paul was a partner in a prestigious Manhattan law firm, another one of the Coburn High School Class of 1982 who made good. He had been in her life for as long as she could remember, part of their crowd from kindergarten through high school. He had hung out with them at Rutgers where Kate had struggled unsuccessfully to combine marriage, motherhood, and college, and he had stayed a good friend even after their respective marriages fell to the divorce statistics. They had tried dating once early on but the absurdity of dressing up and staring at each other over candlelight and a bottle of Taittinger had pushed them both into helpless laughter which was pretty much where they had stayed.

Or so she had thought until recently.

“Oh my God,” she said through clenched teeth. “I almost rear-ended a cop.”

“You sure you’re okay?” he asked. “Maybe you should take the day off and catch up on your sleep.”

“That’s something you say to your aging aunt,” she snapped. “I’m not ready for the nursing home yet, Paul.”

“Tell you what,” he said. “How about if we’re not both hooked up by the time we hit retirement, we pool our social security checks and move in together.”

“Sweet talker.” She rolled to a stop. “No wonder Lisa’s not going to the Gala with you this weekend.”

“She’s twenty-eight. I don’t have time to wait for her check.”

She tried to think of something suitably witty to say in response but her mind was filled with nothing but air.

“Kate?” Paul’s voice poked through the fog. “Are you still there?”

“Sorry,” she said yet again. “I don’t know what my problem is today.”

“Did you eat anything? You’re probably hungry.”

“I grabbed a brownie and a Frappuccino at the airport while I was waiting for my bags to get through Customs.”

“And now you’re crashing. Pull into a McDonald’s and get an Egg McMuffin.”

He sounded uncharacteristically solicitous which made her wonder how bad she sounded.

“I don’t have time. Armitage expects me there in twenty.”

“Screw Armitage. Get something to eat. You’re running on fumes.”

Another wave of nausea gripped her. Maybe he was right. “I’m coming up on Princeton Promenade,” she said, easing over into the right hand lane. “They have a great food court.” She could grab some protein and a bottle of water and be on her way again with time to spare.

“Good thinking.”

“Oh, wait! I don’t have to stop. I have some nuts in the glove box.” She leaned across the passenger seat and popped open the glove box in search of smoked almonds, survivors of her last trip down the shore for the semi-annual Atlantique City extravaganza. The Atlantique City trade show was a must for New Jersey antique shop owners, and Kate was no exception. French Kiss maintained a prominent spot twice a year. She sifted through her insurance card, registration, owner’s manual and pushed aside a mall flashlight and an open packet of tissues. Where were the almonds?

She veered toward the fender of a white Escalade and quickly steered back into her own lane to a chorus of angry horns.

“What the hell is going on?” Paul asked. “It sounds like you’re at the roller derby.”

She caught sight of herself in the rear view mirror and the odd feeling in the pit of her stomach intensified. A single bead of sweat was making its way down her forehead toward her right eye. It was barely seventy degrees outside. Nobody broke into a sweat in seventy degree weather, least of all her.

“You’re right,” she said. Everybody was right. “I’m a menace. I should get off the road.”

“Want me to drive down there and get you?”

She turned on her blinker and made the right into the parking lot of Princeton Promenade. “Don’t be silly. You’re in Manhattan. I’ll be fine after I get something to eat.”

“I’ll send a car for you. We use services all over the tristate area.”

She zeroed in on a spot two lanes over and headed for it. “I’ll stop. I’ll eat. I’ll be fine.”

“I’m gonna hold you to it.”

She whipped around the head of the third lane from the entrance and zipped into the spot as a dented blue Honda angled itself behind her. “Uh oh,” she said.

“What’s going on?”

“Some guy in an old blue car is glaring at me. He seems to think I stole his spot.”

“Did you?”

“He didn’t have a turn signal on.” She hesitated, replaying the scene in her head. “I might have.”

“Where is he?”

“Stopped right behind me.”

“Blocking you in?”

She slunk down low in her seat. “I never do things like this. I’m the most polite driver on the planet.”

“Is he still there?”


“Want me to call mall security? I can use another line.”

She hesitated. “Maybe you—oh, thank God! He’s driving away.” She watched through the rear view mirror. Good-looking men in her own age demographic had no business wearing Grateful Dead t-shirts.

Paul wanted to talk her into the mall and out again but her cell battery was running down. The only way he would let her go was if she promised to phone him after she saw Professor Armitage.

Normally she would have told him to back off, but so far nothing about the morning had been even remotely normal. It wasn’t like him to be so solicitous. The last time he had sounded that worried was when one of his daughters said she wanted to become a model.

A vague sense of dread wrapped itself around her chest and it wouldn’t let go.

“Okay,” she said out loud. “Don’t go getting crazy.”

The problem was so obvious that it was almost laughable: she needed food and water and she needed them right now. The food court was located near the multiplex at the south end of the Promenade. A huge round clock mounted to the left of the Sushi Palace sign offered up a reality check she didn’t need. Armitage expected her at his front door in exactly thirteen and one half minutes. Even if she ditched the search for protein she would never make it on time.

Why hadn’t she just cancelled out earlier this morning when she was trapped at the airport waiting for her boxes and bags? Why had she been so hell bent on squeezing as much from the day as was inhumanly possible?

She swallowed hard against a sudden, acrid burst of nausea at the back of her throat. The air was soft and sweet with spring promise and she swept huge gulps of it into her lungs in an attempt to clear away the discomfort but that didn’t help either.

She flipped open her phone and said, “Call Armitage,” then waited while it attempted the connection.

“Call Armitage,” she said again.

No luck this time either.

She would have to find a pay phone in the Food Court and –

And what?

Professor Armitage. That was it. Concentrate! The thought of facing the professor’s wrath wasn’t half as unnerving as this weird, disconnected feeling that seemed to be growing more intense. Unless Armitage wanted to assess the documents in the emergency room of the nearest hospital he would simply have to understand.

Understand what? She went blank for a second as scattered images flooded her brain. Professor Armitage’s wooly grey beard. His fierce little eyes. The cold slick feel of the metal box in her hands. The way that stupid thong pinched exactly where no sane person wanted to be pinched. The whooshing sound inside her head . . .

Don’t faint! she warned herself. She would die of embarrassment if the EMTs saw what she was wearing under her peach cotton twin set and pearls.

A shiver ran up her spine and she pushed the thought as far from her mind as she could. Clearly her imagination was as jet-lagged and out of whack as the rest of her, hopping without warning from one bizarre thought to the next.

She didn’t know the first thing about being sick. Her last hospital stay was twenty-three years ago when she gave birth to Gwynn. She was the one who visited patients and brought them flowers and candy and trashy magazines to while away the hours. She was always the one who got to go home when visiting hours were over.

The thong pinched when she took a step, then pinched harder when she stopped. What she wanted to do was duck between the parked cars and make a swift adjustment but wouldn’t you know it: the man she’d beat out for the parking spot was a few aisles over and looking right at her.

Bad enough she was wearing underwear ten years too young and two sizes two small for her. Imagine being caught fiddling with it in public by an angry man in a Grateful Dead t-shirt. They locked eyes for a second and she looked away. His look was disconcertingly direct but it wasn’t angry and that unnerved her. She had expected anger or irritation but she saw neither. His look wasn’t flirtatious but there was something there, something she couldn’t put her finger on. She couldn’t remember the last time a man’s gaze had unsettled her this way. The stupid thong was even affecting her judgment.

She shot him another quick glance. Tall, lean. Thick dark hair that caught the sunlight and held it. A deeply intelligent face alive with open curiosity aimed in her direction and a smile that–

Okay. Enough of that. The smile was for whoever was on the other end of his cell phone connection. Besides, the guy was wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt. What more was there to say?

A woman with three small children in tow raced past her in a cloud of baby powder and soap. Her stomach lurched at the sweet smell and for a second she thought she was about to faint. She tried to steady herself with another deep breath of spring-fresh air but suddenly her chest felt tight, like some unseen force was wrapping a band around her ribcage and pulling tighter and tighter and she knew she was going down.

Or was she down already? She wasn’t sure. The world had gone all soft-focus on her except for the sickening smells of pickled ginger, old Juicy Fruit, and motor oil.

I’m asleep, she thought. What other explanation could there be? This had nothing to do with real life. Open your eyes, Kate. You really don’t want to be having this dream.

The room smelled like a Dumpster. The mattress was hard as a rock and the covers were all tangled up around her legs and she felt like she was being —

She opened her eyes and screamed. Actually she tried to scream but she couldn’t draw down enough oxygen to manage more than a loud whisper.

The guy in the Grateful Dead t-shirt, the same guy she had beat out for the parking spot, was bent over her, tugging at the hem of her skirt.

“Glad you’re back with us,” he said, like they were chatting over cocktails at TGI Friday’s. “I was starting to worry.”

He tugged again and she tried to strike out at him but her arms seemed weighted with lead.

“Whoa!” He pretended to duck. “Take it easy. I’m on your side.”

She thought of a half dozen remarks she could make but none of them found their way to her lips. What was wrong with her? Usually she could deal out a smart remark at the speed of light. “Get your hands off me,” she managed. That’s the best you can do? Pathetic.

“You don’t want all of Princeton to see that red lace, do you?”

Oh God . . . the thong . . . just leave me here so I can die of embarrassment . . .

“So what happened? Did you trip? One second you were walking toward the Promenade and the next–” He made a falling gesture with his hand.

Couldn’t he see she wanted to roll under a car and disappear? Why was he trying to make conversation?

It wasn’t a hard question but she couldn’t seem to figure out the answer.

“Does this sort of thing happen a lot?”

“Never.” She cleared her throat. “Absolutely never.”

“I’m going to take your pulse again.”


“It was over a hundred when I checked your carotid artery. That’s not great.”

Not every Dead Head could use “carotid artery” in a sentence with such ease. Was it possible he actually knew what he was doing?

“No thanks.” But she wouldn’t mind an extra-strength Advil. Her shoulder. Her back. Her hand. Even her teeth hurt from the fall. Her left jaw was actually throbbing.

“I’m a licensed EMT.” He pulled some cards from his pocket and she pretended to examine them but the truth was she couldn’t focus on the text. “Fifteen years’ experience. New Hampshire and New Jersey.”

“This really isn’t necessary,” she said. Or at least that was what she tried to say. She was having trouble following the conversation and even more trouble synching her thoughts with her words.

“Do me a favor and lie down. You look like you’re going to pass out again.”

She wanted to protest but suddenly the thought of lying flat on her back in the middle of the Princeton Promenade parking lot sounded like the best idea she’d ever had. He opened a newspaper wide and spread it down on the ground beneath her head but the combined smells of pickled ginger, motor oil, and chewed-out bubble gum seeped through and made her retch.

He placed two fingers on the pulse point in her inner wrist and monitored the second hand on his watch. “One twenty. Any nausea?”

She nodded. You felt queasy in the car too. Maybe you should tell him that too.

“Any underlying medical conditions that might have some bearing on this?”

She was perfectly healthy. Why couldn’t he see that for himself?

“Are you on any medication?”


“Are you in pain?” The man was relentless.

“Not–not exactly pain.”


Oh God. Even through the fog swirling around her, she could see where this was going. “Yes.” Admit it, French: you’re in big trouble.


“My back.”

“Sharp pain?”

“Not sharp . . . pressure.” Three words and she was totally wiped out. What was happening to her?

“Okay. I’m not trying to worry you but we need to call 911.” He pulled a cell phone from his back pocket and punched in some numbers.

The band around her chest tightened and she broke into a sweat.

“. . . yes, I’ll stay here with her . . . thanks.” He jammed the phone back into his pocket. “You’re probably right. I’ll bet it’s nothing too but I know you’ll feel a lot better if you heard that from a doctor and not some guy in a Dead shirt.”

She wanted to laugh at his joke but all she could manage was a quick smile. She was sweating. How could that be? She wanted to say, “This isn’t really me,” but that required more energy than she could muster up. He wiped her forehead with the back of his hand and she almost wept from the gentleness of the action. “Heart attack?” she whispered.

“Yes,” he said. “There’s a good chance that’s what it is.”

“Lie to me,” she managed. “I don’t mind.” She tried to force another laugh but the iron band around her rib cage wouldn’t let her.

He didn’t pull his punches but the deep compassion in his eyes made her feel safe.

“It could be indigestion, a panic attack, a sprained muscle. But if it is your heart, we need to get help sooner rather than later.”

“Are you sure you’re not a –”

She was going to say “doctor” but the pain exploded and it blew everything else away. Deep crushing pain from the center of her body that stripped her of her identity, her memories, her future, stripped her of everything but bone-deep terror.

“Oh God . . . oh God . . . ” Was she saying it or just thinking it? She didn’t know. She felt like she was floating above the parking lot like a helium balloon on a very fragile string.

He leaned closer. She could feel his warm breath against her cheek. “What is it? Do you want to say a prayer? Is that what you’re saying?”

No . . . no . . . make it stop . . .

“Stay with me.” His voice flew at her on the loud rush of wind inside her head. “I’m not going to let you go.”

Don’t let go . . . don’t let me go . . . I’m scared . . . this is really happening . . . oh God . . . Gwynnie . . . I’ve got to see Gwynnie . . . I have to tell her I love her . . . I don’t even know your name and you’re the one who’ll have to tell my daughter . . .

“The ambulance is on its way . . . you’re going to be fine . . . just hold on a little longer . . . I’ll stay with you . . . ”

I can’t hold on . . . I want to but I can’t . . . don’t let me go . . . don’t let me go . . .

“Talk to me . . . come on . . . look at me . . .open your eyes and look at me . . . grab my hand and hang on . . . I’m not going to let you go . . . ”

Somewhere in some other universe he took her hand and held tight but it was too late. His words were the last ones she heard.

About the Author:

Barbara Bretton is the USA Today bestselling, award-winning author of more than 40 books. She currently has over ten million copies in print around the world. Her works have been translated into twelve languages in over twenty countries.

Barbara has been featured in articles in The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Romantic Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Herald News, Home News, Somerset Gazette,among others, and has been interviewed by Independent Network News Television, appeared on the Susan Stamberg Show on NPR, and been featured in an interview with Charles Osgood of WCBS, among others.

Her awards include both Reviewer’s Choice and Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times; Gold and Silver certificates from Affaire de Coeur; the RWA Region 1 Golden Leaf; and several sales awards from Bookrak. Ms. Bretton was included in a recent edition of Contemporary Authors.

Barbara loves to spend as much time as possible in Maine with her husband, walking the rocky beaches and dreaming up plots for upcoming books.

My Wish For 2013: Humanity

In many ways, 2012 was a difficult year – not just for me but for the world in general. What I found most disturbing, however, is the increasing trend toward a lack of humanity. What’s happened to the nations of the world? Our peoples?

stockxpertcom_id196170_PeaceHands_ISSUEHumanity means you’ve overcome prejudice;  you recognize differences in opinions and lifestyles, and while not always agreeing, you are, at least, accepting. It means you’ve moved past someone’s religious affiliation or lack of one. You see the person before you – not what country they’re from, where they purchase their clothes, their sexual orientation,  or the balance in their bank account.

Humanity means you treat others as you would wish to be treated. With respect. With understanding. With compassion. Let’s hope we can come together from all corners of the Earth in 2013 to practice a bit more humanity.

That goes for sportscasters who create animosity and violence among fans for the sake of ratings, never once caring about the repercussions. And media personalities who push the boundaries of ethics and professionalism by creating insane publicity stunts like publishing the names/addresses of gun owners to sabotaging the royal family’s privacy and triggering a hospital employee’s suicide. Or the mass attacks on entire groups of people, from the brutal rape and torture of women in New Delhi to the genocides in countries like the Congo and Darfur.

Those actions are cruel, thoughtless and fueled by the desire for power. But where is the humanity? How can someone look in the face of a six year old while firing several bullets into their small body? Is it possible not to cringe at the screams from a woman being beaten and raped with an iron pipe? Does the crumpled and burned corpses from an entire village haunt their murderer’s dreams?

My wish for the new year is that we all develop a bit more humanity within ourselves and by doing so, plant the seeds for better years to come.

Love and peace.