From Ashes to Honorby Loree Lough
Minutes before two jumbo jets changed U.S. history, New York police officer Austin Finley ignored the call from his brother, who’d been bugging him for days. Trying to live with his one regret causes hatred and bitterness to consume Austin, and when counselor/strong>
If he had only answered that last phone call from the World Trade Center . . .
Minutes before two jumbo jets changed U.S. history, New York police officer Austin Finley ignored the call from his brother, who’d been bugging him for days. Trying to live with his one regret causes hatred and bitterness to consume Austin, and when counselor Mercy Samara recommends desk duty, Austin resigns. Haunted by her own memories of 9/11, Mercy takes a job as a school counselor in Baltimore. When Austin, now an EMT, responds to an emergency at Mercy’s school, both are stunned and wary.
Finally their commonand painfulmemories turn suspicion into friendship, then romance.
But hard questions linger: Can they truly move beyond their past harsh judgments and harsh words? Will their past finally bring them closer oras the tenth anniversary of 9/11 draws neardrive them farther apart?
"Loree Lough proves once again her superb storytelling skills in From Ashes to Honor, peopled by characters so lifelike they seem to jump from the pages."
Cathy Bryant, author of the award-winning Texas Roads and A Path Less Traveled"Loree Lough’s characters allow us to re-explore what happened ten years agoand examine our feelings, perhaps like never before."
Rev. Robert A. Crutchfield, Founder, Christ 4responders and Chaplain, Katy, Texas Fire & EMS
Read an Excerpt
From Ashes to Honor
Book 1 of the First Responders Series
By Loree Lough
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2011 Loree Lough
All rights reserved.
New York City 10:00 AM January 2003
Would you agree that the 'watched pot never boils' maxim applies here?"
Austin looked up from his watch and hid his annoyance behind a grin. "May I remind you, Doc," he said, slow and easy, "that you were fifteen minutes late for the fifth time in a row, and, as usual, wasted another five tidying your desk before we got down to business." He shrugged one shoulder. "I'm only trying to make sure those high muckety-mucks at headquarters get their money's worth outta these sessions."
"How noble of you, particularly under the circumstances."
Translation: The Department put him on desk duty, and that's where he'd stay until the doctor deemed him fit to hit the streets again. That fact galled him, but he'd grind his molars to dust before he'd give her the satisfaction of scribbling "easily provoked" in his file. "They're just going by the book. I've got no beef with that." A bald-faced lie, but no way he intended to admit it to her.
She leaned back in the too-big-for-her chair. "If you think hostility will get you out the door faster, you're sadly mistaken."
Hostility? He looked left and right, as if to say "Me?"
Lifting her chin, the doctor added, "A talent for doublespeak might be useful on the streets, but it won't get you anywhere with me."
First hostility and now double-speak? In Austin's mind, she'd just confirmed the old "You need to be half nosy and half crazy to become a shrink" theory.
"Cooperate here," she said, tapping her desk blotter, "and maybe I can help you get back out there."
The only person who'd ever talked to him that way—and got away with it—had been Principal Buell. Well, Buell and Lieutenant Marcum, who cornered him in the bullpen six weeks earlier with a snarly "You're at the end of your rope, Finley. See the department shrink, this week, or you're through."
The threat made him call to schedule that first appointment, then arrive on time five weeks in a row—more than he could say for Dr. Samara. It also explained why he'd stretched his patience to the breaking point, and why he hadn't provoked her by admitting what a waste of time it was, nattering on and on about feelings. He didn't acknowledge that wearing stylish business suits instead of a burqa didn't fool him, because everything—from her name to her green-rimmed brown eyes and sleek, dark hair—branded her a Muslim. It galled him that she wielded the power to end his career, especially since, for all he knew, her kinfolk were 9/11 terrorists. But he didn't tell her that, either.
"You've been dancing around these police brutality incidents in your file long enough, don't you think?"
That haughty tone—a regular thing with her, he wondered? Or had she adopted it to tick him off, see if she could make him lose it, right there in her office? Well, if she wanted to play the game that way, she'd best prepare to learn a thing or two about scoring points.
He sat up straighter and cleared his throat. Because if she intended to talk about those, she'd better be prepared to cite the dozens of commendations he'd earned in the line of duty, too. But just as he started to make the point, she said "Eight separate incidents in the eleven months since 9/11."
Technically, there had been ten, but the first two had occurred in the first weeks after the terror attack, and the lieutenant had agreed not to put them in Austin's file. Knowing Marcum, he'd added both to cover his own butt after the third perp-cop confrontation, providing this arrogant little smartmouth yet another arrow in her "Get the Hothead to Hang Himself" quiver.
Her expression and posture reminded him of the black and white photo he'd found, researching Sigmund Freud for a Psych 101 assignment. In it, the doctor sat in an overstuffed wingback, fingers steepled under his bearded chin, wearing that same self-important smirk. Why would the little fool want to emulate a man whose theories had been debunked by his own contemporaries?
"Surely you have something to say in your own defense."
Austin pinched the bridge of his nose, hoping to buy time. Time to summon the patience not to let her have it with both barrels. Time to remind himself that he'd always been a good cop, and his actions didn't need defending. So he'd roughed up a few perps—thugs who'd beat their wives, robbed hardworking shopkeepers, got into gunfights in the streets and killed innocent folks. If it took a little "police brutality" to get animals like that off the streets, so be it! But that wasn't what she wanted to hear. Just play the game, he told himself, and keep your cool.
It dawned on him that he might be going at this all wrong. Maybe under that smug, buttoned-up exterior beat the heart of a "badge groupie," like those he'd charmed in cop bars from the Bronx to Manhattan. Austin rested his left ankle on his right knee and linked his fingers—not too tightly, lest she see it as a symptom of agitation. "You forgot to swear me in, counselor."
One perfectly plucked eyebrow disappeared under thick, gleaming bangs. "I beg your pardon?"
"'In your own defense'?" Austin chuckled quietly. "Seriously?
You sound more like a lawyer than a shrink."
"I've never been overly fond of the term 'shrink.'"
"Ah." He grinned. "Maybe you prefer 'wig picker.'"
To that point, her practiced expression hadn't changed much, but the subtle narrowing of her eyes and lips didn't escape his notice. In place of the "Gotcha!" reaction he'd expected, it made him nervous, and, much as he hated to admit it, a little afraid of what she'd tell Marcum.
If only he could go home, numb his brain with a little Jim Beam! Lately, he'd been moving in two speeds: Too Fast, and Off, like the windshield wipers on his beat-up pickup. It took more and more booze to knock him out, and mega-doses of caffeine to jack him up again. Maybe he ought to just tell her that, because what could it hurt to blast her with a dose of grim reality?
Austin leaned forward, elbows on knees and hands clasped in the space between, until no more than two feet of cluttered desk separated their faces. "Y'know, I do have something to say in my defense." He mimicked her earlier move, and aimed his forefinger at the window. "I'm a good cop, and I belong out there, not in here." He paused, more to ratchet up the courage to continue than to give her time to mull over his words. "And I think you know it as well as I do."
"Your dedication to the department has never been in question."
She might as well have said "The sun is shining" or "It's Tuesday." And thenshe leaned forward, too, and he caught himself pulling back to put more space between them. As he wondered how she'd read that, she said, "May I be perfectly honest with you, Austin?"
Her silent scrutiny unnerved him, but he couldn't afford to let her see it. So he matched her steady gaze, blink for blink. She tilted her head, and for an instant, he got a glimpse of the human being behind the stodgy title. If he'd ever seen a more appealing smile, he didn't know where. It was almost enough to keep him from noticing that she'd completely ignored his statement.
"As my sweet mama says, 'Honesty is the best policy.'"
As quick as it appeared, her smile vanished, like the whiff of smoke blown from a spent match. "You're seriously mistaken if you think you can charm your way out of the hole you're in."
Score one for the doc, he thought, frowning. Because that's exactly the way he'd been feeling since 9/11, like he'd fallen into a deep, dark pit with no flashlight and no way out.
"So be frank with me."
Austin cringed. In his experience, when people tucked the word 'frank' into a sentence, he'd best prepare for the verbal sucker punch that would follow.
"Why are you so angry?"
The question caught him by surprise, jarring him nearly as much as the left hook he'd taken on the jaw a couple weeks back, trying to cuff a drunk driver near the Brooklyn Bridge. "I'm not angry!" he ground out. Enraged, maybe. Even incensed. But angry? He nearly laughed out loud at the absurdity of it.
But he couldn't very well admit it, now could he? At least, not without opening his own personal can of worms, the one that barely kept a lid on the bitterness and resentment born on 9/11. The one where he'd tried to stuff the memory of his brother's final cell phone call, ignored by Austin as a chorus of radio blips summoned every available first responder to Ground Zero.
It took every bit of his self-control to keep his butt in the chair. He wanted to get to his feet, stomp around her messy little office. Wanted to slam a fist onto her cluttered desk and bellow, "Yeah, I'm angry. Who wouldn't be?"
But he sat still and kept his mouth shut, because only the most self-centered schmuck would moan and groan about his own misery when thousands of others had been hit much harder, had lost far more than he had.
So, yeah, he was angry, all right, and it made him the meat in a Life Sucks sandwich:
If he admitted it, she'd send for the men in white coats. If he didn't, she'd think he didn't have a handle on his rage, which would probably inspire the same outcome. Still, he needed to tell her something if he hoped to put these blasted pick-his-brain sessions behind him, once and for all.
Her pen, scritch-scratching across the top page of his file, caught his attention. Just as he looked up, she met his gaze. "Are you angry because you feel guilty?"
"Guilty?" he echoed. "What in blue blazes do I have to feel guilty about?"
"You're alive, for starters, and many of your comrades aren't."
Score another one for the doc, for making him admit he was ticked off, big time. For reminding him that when finally he returned to his third-floor walk-up on September fourteenth, he carried the grisly images of mangled bodies with him.
Mental pictures of cop and firefighter pals and hundreds of uniformed officers he'd never met, all buried under smoking debris with badges and kids' tiny sneakers, women's high heels and spit-polished Wingtips.
Just tough it out, he'd told himself, and the pictures will fade. But all these months later, he saw it as clearly as he had that day. He'd never been a nail biter, but every cuticle glowed red and raw now. Never experienced a tic, either ... until he developed a few of his own. And though he'd quit smoking years ago, Austin burned through a pack a day. When memories of the thousands who fell that day shuffled through his head like a deck of gory playing cards—and it happened at the weirdest, most unexpected moments—steely determination had been the calmant that put a stop to head-to-toe tremors.
What happened that day stirred up a lot of differing emotions, but guilt at having survived? That sure as heck wasn't among them!
The voice mail from his brother, played for the first time on the fourteenth, after showering and wolfing down a bologna and mustard sandwich, after looking at his most recent credit card bill, after checking his email? Oh, he felt plenty guilty about that. Because Avery, knowing full well that he'd never get out of his office in the North Tower alive, wanted to spend his final moments with his twin. And when Austin didn't pick up, he'd launched into a trembly voiced rendition of the Lord's Prayer. He got as far as "... for Thine is the kingdom ..."before an ear-blasting explosion cut him short and—
"What a horrible thing to carry around in your head all this time," she interrupted.
The look of shock and disbelief on her face mirrored the ache that had clutched his heart.
"Have you talked about this with anyone else? A relative? A clergyman? Someone?"
Until she asked the questions, Austin hadn't realized he'd said it all out loud. He glanced at his watch. Last time he'd looked, it had been one thirty-five. Now the dial read one thirty-seven. He'd interviewed enough witnesses to know how much could be divulged in two short minutes.
Confused—and flat-out annoyed with his lack of selfcontrol—he got to his feet, slapped a hand to the back of his neck and began to pace. He'd wanted to be a cop since junior high school, when two somber-faced cops informed him that his dad had been shot in a convenience store holdup. They could have left him alone to deliver the dismal news to his twin and their mom, but they didn't. And when they promised to check in with them often, Austin chalked it up as just another one of those well-meaning but empty promises grownups sometimes made. But he'd been wrong. Separately and together, they returned every few weeks, sometimes to throw the football or teach the boys how to catch a pop-up fly, other times to mow the lawn or fix a leaky faucet. That's the kind of cop he'd worked so hard to become. If his maniacal blathering cost him his job, what would he do with the rest of his life?
"Please, sit down, Austin. We still have ten minutes left before—"
That first day, while waiting for her to grace him with her company, he'd paced off the space, and estimated her office at eight-by-ten feet. Right now, it seemed hot as Hades, and half that size. "Gotta go," he said, flinging open the door.
It slammed into a shoulder-high stack of books, and for a moment, Austin could only stare as it swayed to and fro, exactly as the Towers had, milliseconds before collapsing in a sky-blotting plume of roiling black smoke. A colorful "Come to Jamaica" brochure stuck out about halfway down the pile, and for a blink in time, it reminded him of the brightly colored tail section of the jetliner that had pierced the first building.
He reached out to steady the pile a tick too late. Novels, textbooks, and a copy of How to Build a Birdhouse clattered to the floor. Feeling stupid and clumsy, he dropped to his knees and began shoving them, one by one, onto the nearby bookshelf. "What kind of idiot piles books behind a door!" he bellowed, tugging at the how-to book, wedged under the door. After several futile tries, he got up and kicked it shut with enough ferocity to rattle her black-framed diplomas and degrees against the wall.
Trembling and sweaty, he faced her. "Was that another one of your cockamamie tests?" He drew quote marks in the air, raised his voice an octave to mock her. "'Let's see how riled up the crazy cop will get if the tower of books falls down around him, reminding him of the day when—'"
She grabbed his wrists and held on tight. "I give you my word, Austin," she said. "I'd never do such a thing."
For a long, silent moment, she gazed into his eyes, and in that moment, she looked every bit as vulnerable and helpless as he felt. Without the doctor-patient wall between them, they were just two people. A man and a woman who, like so many others, were forever changed by that dreadful day.
Her expression softened to a slow smile. "Thanks," she said, nodding at the tidy row of books he'd arranged on the shelf.
"I've been meaning to do that since I moved in here."
As he stared at their hands, he couldn't help thinking that maybe he really did need therapy, because he would have sworn she'd grabbed his wrists. When—and how— had their fingers become so tightly linked? He'd been a cop for years, for crying out loud. Why hadn't he noticed? And why were his eyes smarting with unshed tears?
If he didn't get out of there, and fast, he'd get the psychological treatment he seemed to need, all right ... in a padded cell, wearing a jacket with no arms.
He strode purposefully toward the elevator and thumbed the Down button hard enough to make him wince. From the corner of his eye, he saw that she'd followed him. Saw the Exit sign, too, and for a second, considered racing down the stairs instead of waiting for the car to reach her floor. But the image of once-normal and civilized people, screaming and crying as they crawled over one another to escape the Towers, stopped him dead in his tracks. He didn't need a shrink to tell him those were normal reactions to a thing like that, but he sure wouldn't mind knowing long it would take before he could ride in an elevator or climb a flight of stairs without breaking into a cold sweat as his heart beat double-time.
Excerpted from From Ashes to Honor by Loree Lough. Copyright © 2011 Loree Lough. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
With nearly 4,500,000 books in circulation, award-winning author Loree Lough has 99 books on the shelves (mostly faith-based fiction & non-fiction for children & adults that earned dozens of 4- & 5-star reviews & 5 movie options), including reader favorites such as the First Responders series & For Love of Eli (Abingdon Press). With the publication of Guarding Alyssa in February of 2014 (#3 in the “A Child to Love” series for Harlequin Heartwarming), the total will reach 100.
Loree's articles have appeared in dozens of international & national newspapers & magazines. In addition to nearly 2,500 feature stories (writing as L.A. Lough), she "ghosted" hundreds more that appeared in trade & technical publications.
A firm believer in the "what goes around, comes around" theory, Loree developed & taught numerous fiction & nonfiction writing courses for area colleges, writers' organizations, & the prestigious Writer's Digest Writing School. Through these efforts, she has mentored hundreds of students, & the list of those now published has passed 100. She also believes in dedicating a generous portion of her annual income to favorite charities & organizations. See the "Giving Back" page at her web site www.loreelough.com for a complete list.
Loree & her husband split their time between a humble home in the Baltimore suburbs & a cabin in the Allegheny Mountains, where she takes great pride in her "identify the critter tracks" skills.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I really liked the story line of this book and I appreciated that it didn't gloss over things too much. However I felt the writing and especially the editing were lacking. Parts of the story were repetitive while others were never explained. The story had such promise, but I feel like the book needed a bit more ploshing and fine tuning.
Mercy and Austin are two people broken by the horrors of 9-11. But Austin has faith; Mercy doesn't. Austin doesn't believe in happenstance, in coincidence, in fate. But he believes in Mercy. Mercy, on the other hand, has lost her ability to believe in much of anything at all. Together, they try to find their way. The operative word here is 'try'. This ain't your typical romance, and perhaps that's one of the reasons this book worked so well for me. Ms. Lough's writing is seamless, her timing impeccable. Although some say the ending of this book left them 'wanting more', in my view that's exactly what it was supposed to do. I, too, am wanting more and cannot wait until the next book in the First Responders series comes out. This was simply an excellent, excellent book.
Second in seriees does the same. I think it is terrible to waste the reader's time to like characters only to leave one hanging. If you don't ike being "led on," do not read these books.
If he had only answered that last phone call from the World Trade Center... Minutes before two jumbo jets changed U.S. history, NYPD officer Austin Finley ignored the call from his brother. Mercy Samara, who cost Austin his job after 9/11, leaves the city to work as a school counselor in Baltimore. When Mercy and Austin cross paths again, will their common - and painful - memories finally bring them closer or drive them further apart? (excerpt back cover). In the latest novel from Loree Lough, From Ashes to Honor, works through the lives of Dr. Mercy Samara and former NYPD officer, Austin Finley, who are brought together following the events of 9/11. Mercy is a clinical psychologist whose goal is determine if Austin is fit enough to return to work as a NYPD officer after multiple incidents involving his out of control temper. Despite all his sessions with Mercy, he won't come to terms with what happened that fateful day and how it affecting him in his work and therefore, remains in denial. Mercy struggling with her own issues involving 9/11 and the fact that most people stereotyped her as another Muslim terrorist following the attacks, while trying to help first responders like Austin deal with the underlying trauma of that day. When she can't sign the release authorizing Austin to return to anything other than desk duty, there paths will take them to new places but will once again intersect. This time, Austin has turned his talents to becoming an EMT and Mercy has moved to Baltimore to take up something less stressful than working with first responders in the aftermath of 9/11, she now works as a high school guidance counselor. When a football player is injured and the paramedics are called, Mercy and Austin come face to face once more. I received this book compliments of Abingdon Press for my honest review and couldn't wait to dive into this one once it arrived. This story takes the reader into an emotional ride into the lives of Mercy and Austin but also into the lives of the supporting characters as well, Griff, Flora and Bud, and even the strained relationship with Leo, Mercy's half brother. What we get an opportunity to see is how the rebuilding of what people went through following 9/11 is an ongoing, life changing process that will never be forgotten. It's not something that will ever be forgotten, especially in the lives of Mercy and Austin. This book is a perfect tribute to those first responders of the 9/11 tragedy that forever changed all of us. It united us all in a common goal, a goal to take care of one another, and see past our differences. This would make a great gift for anyone involved in first response or who loves anything dealing with 9/11. I rate this book a perfect 5 out of 5 stars.
I liked the characters and enjoyed the story until the end. I agree with the other raters that the ending was rather abrupt, left you hanging, and was totally disappointing.
Spiritually inspiring and well written
After September 11, 2011, multi-published Loree Lough decided she wanted to write a series of novels that would honor the heroes of that fateful day. The first in that series is Ashes to Honor. It is my honor to call Loree "friend." NYPD officer Austin Finley, one of the responders to the Twin Towers disaster, ignored a call from his twin as he sped to what would later be called Ground Zero, not realizing that he missed the last chance to talk to Avery. After several explosions temperwise, he is ordered to begin sessions with Psychologist Mercy Samara. He attends enough to make him sick to his stomach, much preferring his bottle of Jim Beam in the privacy of his home. It doesn't take long for him to realize he cannot continue as a police officer. He retires to a houseboat on the coast, becomes an EMT, begins attending AA and becomes a Christian, and his life is changed. Mercy goes through enough traumas herself to realize she has to leave the first responders counseling. One of her counselees commits suicide. Her father dies in her arms. She attempts suicide herself. When Austin and Mercy meet up again, they realize they share more than a disastrous history. It doesn't take long before they are linked. One problem seems insurmountable: Austin does not want to be unequally yoked to an unbeliever, and Mercy chooses not to believe in a God who did not step in to save her mother, her father, or her counselee. Yet--he cannot ignore the deepening love he feels for this caring woman. And she wants so much to be part of his life, just not at the expense of her own beliefs.
Great theme and storyline but the ending sucked
I would have given it 5 stars if the ending want how it was
The book starts on 9/11/01 and ends shortly after today, 9/11/11. I found the main character to be overly preachy and was very dissapointed by the ending. The one redeeming quality is that it is a quick read at 284 pages.
Religion, love and struggles with life's stresses. Not thrilled with ending. Not sure if i will continue the series. 285 pages
I loved this book and would have given it 5 stars if the ending would have been different. I understand it's a series, but I would have loved for there to have been a little bit of closure before moving on to the next book. Other than that, I think this was a wonderful book!
Not a favorite
Likked the premis of the story, however the charaters you get to know and love fall off without closeure or explination. There is no ending obf the story the author seems to have gotten bored with her story and threw out an ending paragraph.The wrting was redundant in many places and needed editing and polish. I am grateful I didn,t pay for this book. I wiil not purchase any other books in the series after reading the reviews.
An amazing story of courage and faith. I liked the way the author made the characters come alive,and you got to know them well. There was one character who always denied any faith till' the end of the story. They all dealt with pain and loss, but managed to survive. There were these two characters in the story- an older couple who even, when told that the wife had Cancer, they always remained optimistic. They had a great sense of humor, that always brighten the atmosphere. They always made me laugh,they said the funniest things! I really enjoyed reading this book and look forward to book 2- Honor Redeemed, in the First Responders series.
This book was decent. Not the 'best' book ever, but it was good...Until the ending. Yes, I understand there is a sequel, but the book just stopped. No resolution to anything. One minute Austin is thinking about having to make a tough decision and then the chapter ends and the next chapter is the epilogue that doesn't clear anything up at all. It's almost like the author didn't feel like writing anymore and gave up.
Liked the book until i got to the ending! Glad i didn't pay for it.
I expected this book to be more intense and instead I would say it was a light read. It started out very interesting but about half way in it became boring w/lots of details. The ending was incredibly abrupt...wrapped up in two pages...I don't disagree with the main characters decision but I would have liked more put into the end. This is a Christian Fiction book.
It was a good story, although it did drag in places. Bad ending.
Enjoyed this read!
Loree Lough is not afraid to write a book with real life situations that affect our relationships that don't work out because our lives are not right with God! I was captivated with Honor and the struggles she deals with in a mans world and still searching in life for God and what to do in her relationship with Matt Phillips. The books end the write way, we need to straighten our spiritual lives out before we get into a serious one. I loved From Ashes to Honor and Honor Redeemed and I'm very much looking forward to reading A Man of Honor!