It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
House of Mercy
Thomas Nelson (August 7, 2012)
***Special thanks to Rick Roberson of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Erin Healy is an award-winning fiction editor who has worked with talented novelists such as James Scott Bell, Melody Carlson, Colleen Coble, Brandilyn Collins, Traci DePree, L. B. Graham, Rene Gutteridge, Michelle McKinney Hammond, Robin Lee Hatcher, Denise Hildreth, Denise Hunter, Randy Ingermanson, Jane Kirkpatrick, Bryan Litfin, Frank Peretti, Lisa Samson, Randy Singer, Robert Whitlow, and many others.
She began working with Ted Dekker in 2002 and edited twelve of his heart-pounding stories before their collaboration on Kiss, the first novel to seat her on "the other side of the desk."
Erin is the owner of WordWright Editorial Services, a consulting firm specializing in fiction book development. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and the Academy of Christian Editors. She lives with her family in Colorado.
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Beth has a gift of healing-which is why she wants to become a vet and help her family run their fifth-generation cattle ranch. Her father's dream of helping men in trouble and giving them a second chance is her dream too. But it only takes one foolish decision for Beth to destroy it all.
Beth scrambles to redeem her mistake, pleading with God for help, even as a mystery complicates her life. But the repercussions grow more unbearable-a lawsuit, a death, a divided family, and the looming loss of everything she cares about. Beth's only hope is to find the grandfather she never knew and beg for his help. Confused, grieving, but determined to make amends, she embarks on a horseback journey across the mountains, guided by a wild, unpredictable wolf who may or may not be real.
Set in the stunningly rugged terrain of Southern Colorado, House of Mercy follows Beth through the valley of the shadow of death into the unfathomable miracles of God's goodness and mercy.
Genre: Christian Fiction | Suspense
List Price: $15.99
Paperback: 284 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
It wasn’t every day that an old saddle could improve a
That was what Beth Borzoi was thinking as she stood in the
dusty tack room that smelled like her favorite pair of leather boots. In the
back corner where the splintering-wood walls met, she tugged the faded leather
saddle off the bottommost rung of the heavy-duty rack, where it had sat, unused
and forgotten, for years.
Her little brother, Danny, would have said she was stealing
the saddle. He might have called her a kleptomaniac. That was too strong a
word, but Danny was fifteen and liked to throw bold words around, cocky-like,
show-off rodeo ropes aimed at snagging people. She loved that about him. It was
a cute phase. Even so, she had formed a mental argument against the characterization
of her- self as a thief, in case she needed to use it, because Danny was too
young to understand the true meaning of even stronger words like sacrifice or
After all, she was working in secret, in the hidden folds of
a summer night, so that both she and the saddle could leave the Blazing B
unnoticed. In the wrong light, it might look like a theft.
The truth was, it was not her saddle to give away. It was
Jacob’s saddle, though in the fifteen years Jacob had lived at the ranch, she had
never seen him use it. The bigger truth was that this saddle abandoned to
tarnish and sawdust could be put to better use. The fenders were plated with
silver, pure metal that could be melted down and converted into money to save a
horse from suffering. Decorative silver bordered the round skirt and framed the
rear housing. The precious metal had been hammered to conform to the gentle
rise of the cantle in the back and the swell in the front. The lovely round
conchos were studded with turquoise. Hand-tooled impressions of wild mountain f
lowers covered the leather everywhere that silver didn’t.
In its day, it must have been a fine show saddle. And if
Jacob valued that at all, he wouldn’t have stored it like this.
Under the naked-bulb beams of the tack room, Beth’s body
cast a shadow over the pretty piece as she hefted it. She blew the dirt and
dander off the horn, swiped off the cracked seat with the flat of her hand,
then turned away her head and sneezed. Colorado’s dry climate had not been kind
to the leather.
She wasn’t stealing. She was saving an animal’s life.
The latch on the barn door released Beth to the midnight air
with a click like a stolen kiss. The saddle weighed about thirty-five pounds,
which was easy to manage when snatching it off a rack and tossing it onto a
horse’s back. But it would feel much heavier by the time she reached her
destination. She’d parked her truck a ways off where the rumbling old clunker
wouldn’t raise questions or family members sleeping in the nearby ranch house.
She’d left her dog at the foot of Danny’s bed with clear orders to stay. She
hoped the animal would mind.
Energized, she crossed the horses’ yard. A few of them
nickered greetings at her, including Hastings, who nuzzled her empty pockets
for treats. The horses never slept in the barn’s stalls unless they were sick.
Even in winter they stayed in the pasture, preferring the outdoor lean-to
The Blazing B, a 6,500-acre working cattle ranch, lay to the
northwest of Colorado’s San Luis Valley. The region was called a valley because
this portion of the state was a Rocky Mountain ham- mock that swung between the
San Juans to the west and the Sangre de Cristos to the east. But at more than
seven thousand feet, it was no low-lying flatland. It was, in fact, the highest
alpine valley in the world. And it was the only place in the world that Beth
ever wanted to live. Having graduated from the local community college with
honors and saved enough additional money for her continuing education, she
planned to leave in the fall to begin her first year of veterinary school. She
would be gone as long as it took to earn her license, but her long-term plan
was to return as a more valuable person. Her skills would save the family
thousands of dollars every year, freeing up funds for their most important
task—providing a home and a hard day’s work to discarded men who needed the
peace the Blazing B had to offer.
On this late May night, a light breeze stirred the alfalfa
growing in the pasturelands while the cattle grazed miles away. The herds
always spent their summers on public lands in the mountains while their winter
feed grew in the valley. They were watched over by a pool rider, a hired man
who was a bit like a cow’s version of a shepherd. He stayed with them through
the summer and would bring them home in the fall.
With the winter calving and spring branding a distant
memory, the streams and irrigation wells amply supplied by good mountain
runoff, and the healthy alfalfa fields thickening with a June cutting in mind,
the mood at the Blazing B was peaceful.
When Beth was a quarter mile beyond the barn, a bobbing
light drew her attention to the west side of the pasture, where ancient cottonwood
trees formed a barrier against seasonal winds and snows. She paused, her eyes
searching the darkness beyond this path that she could walk blindfolded. The
light rippled over cottonwood trunks, casting shadows that were
indistinguishable from the real thing.
A man was muttering in a low voice, jabbing his light around
as if it were a stick. She couldn’t make out his words. Then the yellow beam
stilled low to the ground, and she heard a metallic thrust, the scraping ring
of a shovel’s blade being jammed into the dirt.
Beth worried. It had to be Wally, but what was he doing out
at this hour, and at this place? The bunkhouse was two miles away, and the men
had curfews, not to mention strict rules about their access to horses and
She left the path and approached the trees without a
misstep. The moonlight was enough to guide her over the uneven terrain.
The cutting of the shovel ceased. “Who wants to know?” “It’s
“Beth Borzoi. Abel’s daughter. I’m the one who rides
Hastings.” “Well, sure! Right, right. Beth. I’m sorry you have to keep telling
me. You’re awfully nice about it.”
The light that Wally had set on the ground rose and pointed
itself at her, as if to confirm her claims, then dropped to the saddle resting
against her thighs. Wally had been at the ranch for three years, since a stroke
left his body unaffected but struck his brain with a short-term memory
disorder. It was called anterograde amnesia, a forgetfulness of experiences but
not skills. He could work hard but couldn’t hold a job because he was always
forgetting where and when he was supposed to show up. Here at the ranch he
didn’t have to worry about those details. He had psychologists and strategies
to guide him through his days, a community of brothers who reminded him of
everything he really needed to know. Well, most things. He had been on more
than one occasion the butt of hurtful pranks orchestrated by the men who shared
the bunkhouse with him. It was both a curse and a blessing that he was able to
forget such incidents so easily.
Beth was the only Beth at the Blazing B, and the only female
resident besides her mother, but these facts regularly eluded Wally. He never
forgot her father, though, and he knew the names of all the horses, so this was
how Beth had learned to keep putting herself back into the context of his life.
“You’re working hard,” she said. “You know it’s after
eleven.” “Looking for my lockbox. I saw him take it. I followed him here just
an hour ago, but now it’s gone.”
Sometimes it was money that had gone missing. Sometimes it
was a glove or a photograph, or a piece of cake from her mother’s dinner table
that was already in his belly. All the schedules and organizational systems in
the world were not enough to help Wally with this bizarre side effect of his
disorder: whenever a piece of his mind went missing, he would search for it by
digging. Dr. Roy Davis, Wally’s psychiatrist, had curtailed much of Wally’s
compulsive need to overturn the earth by having him perform many of the Blazing
B’s endless irrigation tasks. Even so, the ten square miles of ranch were
riddled with the chinks of Wally’s efforts to find what he had lost.
“That must be really frustrating,” she said. “I hate it when
I lose my stuff.”
“I didn’t lose it. A gray wolf ran off with it. I had it
safe in a secret spot, and he dug it up and carried off the box in his teeth.
Hauled it all the way up here and reburied it. Now tell me, what’s a wolf gonna
do with my legal tender? Buy himself a turkey leg down at the supermarket?”
Wally must have kept a little cash in his box. She could
under- stand his frustration. But this claim stirred up disquiet at the back of
her mind. Dr. Roy would need to know if Wally was seeing things. First off,
gray wolves were hardly ever spotted in Colorado. They’d been run out of the
state before World War II by poachers and hos- tile ranchers, and their return
in recent years was little more than a rumor. Wally might have seen a coyote.
But for another thing, no wild animal dug up a man’s buried treasure and
relocated it. Except maybe a raccoon.
A raccoon trying to run off with a heavy lockbox might actually
“Tell you what, Wally. If he’s buried it here we’ll have a
better chance of finding it in the morning. When the sun comes up, I’ll help
you. But they’ll be missing you at the bunkhouse about now. Let me take you
back so no one gets upset when they see you’re gone.” Jacob or Dr. Roy would do
bunk checks at midnight.
“Upset? No one can be as upset as I am right now.” He thrust
the shovel into the soft dirt at his feet. “I saw the dog do it. I tracked him
all the way here, like he thought I wouldn’t see him under this full moon. Fool
dog—but who’d believe me? It’s like a freaky fairy tale, isn’t it? Well, I’d
have put that box in a local vault if I didn’t have to keep so many stinkin’
Web addresses and passwords and account numbers and security questions at my
fingertips.” He withdrew a small notebook from his hip pocket and waved the
pages around. It was one of the things he used to keep track of details. “Maybe
I’ll have to rethink that.”
Beth’s hands had become sweaty and a little cramped under
the saddle’s weight. She used her right knee to balance the saddle and fix her
grip. The soft leather suddenly felt like heavy gold bricks out of someone
else’s bank vault.
“Well, let’s go,” she said. “I’ve got my truck right on down
“What do you have there?” Wally returned the notebook to his
pocket, hefted the shovel, and picked his way out of the under- brush, finding
his way by flashlight.
“An old saddle. It’s been in the tack room for years.” She
expected Wally to forget the saddle just as quickly as he would for- get this
night’s adventure and her promise to help him dig in the morning.
He lifted one of the fenders and stroked the silver with his
thumb. “Pretty thing. Probably worth something. Not as much as that box is
worth to me, though.”
“We’ll find it,” Beth said.
“You bet we will.” Wally fell into step beside her. “Thanks
for the ride back, Beth. You’re a good girl. You got your daddy in you.”
With Jacob’s old saddle resting on a blanket in the bed of
her rusty white pickup, Beth followed an access road from the horse pasture by
her own home down into the heart of the Blazing B.
The property’s second ranch house was located more strategically
to the cattle operation, and so it was known to all as the Hub. The Hub was a
practical bachelor pad. Outside, the branding pens and calving sheds and
squeeze chutes and cattle trucks filled up a dusty clearing around the house.
Inside, the carpets and old leather furniture, even when clean, smelled like
men who believed that a hard day’s work followed by a dead sleep—in any
location—was far more gratifying than a hot shower. The house was steeped in
the scent stains of sweat and hay, horses and manure, tanned leather and
barbecue smoke. The men who slept here lived like the bachelors they were. If
their daily labors weren’t enough to impress a woman, the cowboys couldn’t be
bothered with her.
Dr. Roy Davis, known affectionately by all as Dr. Roy, was a
lifelong friend of Beth’s father. Years ago, after the death of Roy’s wife,
Abel and Roy merged their professional passions of ranching and psychiatry and
expanded the Blazing B’s purpose. It became an outreach to functional but
wounded men like Wally who needed a home and a job. Dr. Roy brought his teenage
son, Jacob, along. Now thirty-one, Jacob had never found reason to leave,
except for the years he’d spent away at college earning multiple degrees in agriculture
and animal management. Jacob had been the Blazing B’s general operations
manager for more than five years.
Jacob and his father shared the Hub with Pastor Eric, who
was a divorced minister, and Emory, a therapist who was once a gang leader.
These men were the Borzois’ four full-time employees.
The other men who lived at the Blazing B were called “associates.”
They occupied the bunkhouse, some for a few weeks and some for years. At
present there were six, including Wally.
When Beth stopped her truck in front of the Hub’s porch,
Wally slipped off the seat of her cab, closed the rusty door, and went directly
around back to the bunkhouse. She pulled away and had reached the end of the
drive when a rut jarred the truck and rattled the shovel he’d left in the truck
In spite of her hurry to take Jacob’s saddle to the people
who needed it, she put the truck in park, jumped out, and jogged the tool up to
the house. The porch light lit the squeaky wood steps, and she took them two at
a time. Jacob would see the tool in the morning when he came out to start up
his own truck and head out to what- ever project was on the schedule. She’d
phone him to make sure.
She was tipping the handle into the corner where the porch
rail met the siding when the Hub’s front door opened and Jacob leaned out.
“Past your bedtime, isn’t it?” he said,
but he was smiling at
her. Over the years they had settled into a comfortable
big-brother- little-sister relationship, though Beth had never fully outgrown
her adolescent crush on him.
“Found Wally digging up by the barn,” she said.
Surprise pulled his dark brows together. “Now? Where is he?”
“Back in bed, I guess. He said he followed a wolf up to our place. You might
want Dr. Roy to look into that. Your dad should know if Wally’s . . . seeing
Jacob nodded as he stepped out the door and leaned against
the house. He crossed his arms. “Coyote maybe?”
“Try suggesting that to him. And when was the last time we
had a coyote down here? It’s been ages—not since Danny gave up his chicken
“I’ll mention that to Dad. It’s probably nothing. What had
you out at the barn at this hour? Horses okay?”
“Fine.” Beth’s eyes swiveled down to her truck, to Jacob’s
saddle, both well beyond reach of the porch light. She tried to recall all her
justifications for taking the saddle, but in that moment all she could think
was that she should get his permission to do it. She’d known this man more than
half her life. He was kind. He was wise. He’d say yes. He’d want her to take
But she said, “I’m headed out to the Kandinskys’ place.
They’ve got a horse who injured his eye, and it’s pretty bad. They let it go
too long, you know, hoping it would correct itself, maybe wouldn’t need a big
“The Kandinskys have their own vet on the premises. Who
called you out?”
“It’s not one of their horses, actually. It’s Phil’s.
Remember him?” “Your friend from high school?”
“He’s been working there a year or so. They let him keep the
horse on the property. One of the perks.”
“But he can’t use their vet?”
Beth looked at her feet. “Phil’s family can’t afford their
vet. You know how that goes. We couldn’t afford him. His family doesn’t even
have pets, you know. They run a grocery store. The horse is his little sister’s
project. A 4H thing.”
“Well, tell Phil I said he called the right gal for the
“I don’t know, Jacob. It sounds really bad. These eye
things— the horse might need surgery.”
She found it unusually difficult to look at him, though she
was sure he was studying her with a suspicious stare by now. But she couldn’t
look at the truck either. Her eyes couldn’t find an object to rest on.
“All you can do is all you can do, Beth. That’ll be as true
after you’re licensed as it is now.”
“But I want to do miracles,” she said.
He chuckled at that, though she hadn’t been joking. “Don’t
we all.” He uncrossed his arms and put his hand on the doorknob, preparing to
go back inside. “I heard some big-shot Thoroughbred breeder is boarding some of
his studs there,” Jacob said. “Some friend of theirs passing through.”
“I heard that too.”
“Maybe that’ll be Phil’s miracle this time—an unexpected
guest, someone with the right know-how or the right resources who will come to
his horse’s rescue.”
“Angels unaware,” Beth said. “Something like that. Night,
Beth didn’t want him to go just yet. “Night.”
She lingered at the door while it closed, hoping he might
intuit what she didn’t have the courage to say.
When he didn’t, she committed to her original plan. She
descended the steps in a quiet rush, wanting to whisk the saddle away before he
could object to what he didn’t know. She wanted to be the one who did the good
works, who made the incredible rescue. She couldn’t help herself. It was her
father’s blood running through her heart.
On the driveway, her smooth-soled boots skimmed the dirt,
whispering back to her truck.
“It’s not your right to do it,” Jacob said. Beth gasped and
whirled at the sound of his voice, unexpected and loud and straight into her
ear, as if he’d been standing on her shoulder. “It’s not your gift to give.”
But the ranch house door was shut tight under the cone of
the porch light, and the bright window revealed nothing inside but heavy
furniture and cluttered tabletops. At the back of the house, a different door
closed heavily. Jacob was headed out to the bunk- house to check on Wally
Beth let her captured breath leave her lungs. She looked
around for an explanation, because she didn’t want to accept that the words
might have been uttered by a guilty conscience.
At the base of the porch steps, crouching in such darkness
that its black center sank into its surroundings, was the form of an unusually
large dog. Erect ears, broad head, slender body. A wolf. She had passed that
spot so closely seconds ago that she could have reached out and stroked its
She took one step backward. Of course, her mind was dreaming
this up because Wally had suggested a wolf to her. If he hadn’t, she might have
said the silhouette had the outline of a snowman. An inverted snowman guarding
the house from her lies. In May.
Beth stared at it for several seconds, oddly unable to
recall the landscape where she’d spent her entire life. She was distressed not
to be able to say from this distance and angle whether that was a shrub planted
there, or a fence post, or an old piece of equipment that hadn’t made it back
into the supply shed. When the shape of its edges seemed to shift and shudder without
actually moving at all, she decided that her eyes were being tricked by the
Convincing herself of this was almost as easy as justifying
her saddle theft.
She turned away from the house and hurried onward, looking back