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In this collection of three whimsical and fresh stories of romance in unusual settings, Karen Ball’s writing will delight readers of all ages and in every season. Infused with love, tenderness and humor, the stories are threaded together with common characters and themes.
The protagonist in “Valentine’s Surprise” has been unlucky in love, so her sisters conspire and set her up with a blind date they’re sure will be “The One.” The date is surprisingly successful…until she discovers she went out with the wrong man!
In “Jericho’s Walls,” a widow’s grown children try to forestall her annual April Fools’ Day depression. They trick her into pet-sitting a ferret, and talk her into a major house renovation—to be done by the good-looking but distant Jericho Katz, whose spouse also has died. But can you help someone who doesn’t think she wants it?
“An Unlikely Angel” is the story of a very successful lawyer who believes he’s got everything he wants and needs in life. Then a charming but destructive Siberian Husky turns up. The man comes to learn what is truly valuable, with help from an even more charming and quirky girl-next-door, and the gentle nudge of…an angel?
|Publisher:||Hendrickson Publishers, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Karen Ball is the bestselling author of five novels and four novellas. She also is the editor behind several of todays bestselling Christian novelists. Her appealing writing style blends humor, poignancy, and honesty with Gods truth. She lives in southern Oregon with her husband and beloved dog.
Read an Excerpt
By Karen Ball
Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLCCopyright © 2011 Karen Ball
All rights reserved.
Kitty's eyes cracked, opened. She groaned. Acknowledging the new morning was the last thing she wanted to do.
She had dreaded this particular day for weeks. Wished she could just sleep through it. Forget it existed.
But that wasn't possible.
Not with her devoted offspring, Kylie and Brendan, along with her parents, "watching over" her. They were all so determined to help her, to cheer her up.
It made her want to scream.
"Hope you're getting ready, Mom," her son, Brendan, had said a few days ago, that forced smile on his handsome face. "One more month until we march into April."
Of course he'd been trying to tug her out of the doldrums, trying to encourage her into their family tradition of making April Fool's a day of fun and celebration and laughter. Ever since the children were small, March 1 had been, for their family, the starting date for "marching" forward—and planning the biggest and best April Fool's caper of all.
How could she tell Brendan it was that very fact that triggered her depression? Yes, the other holidays since Dan's death had been difficult, but with her family's love and support, she'd managed to endure them. Rather admirably, she thought.
They'd even tried to make a go of it last April Fool's Day. They'd all said the right things and done the right things. And they'd all been loath to admit it was a colossal failure. Everything they attempted only seemed to bring Dan's absence back into stark focus.
She should have known it would be a waste of time to even try. April Fool's was their holiday. A tradition she and Dan started when they were dating. And one they'd continued—and worked hard to perfect—every year since. So when Kitty glanced at the calendar last week and realized it was only ten days to March ... then thought about how April was on it's way ... how this would be the third April Fool's Day without her husband ... well, a bone-deep weariness had settled over her. All she felt was a bleak awareness of how horribly different that once-special day would be from now on.
Of course, it only made matters worse that April 1 also had been Dan's birthday.
And the day they got married.
It was so fitting. Dan was a man who knew how to live with enthusiasm and joy. Indeed, most days their household was steeped in "buffoonery and tomfoolery," as Dan loved to call it. It was a well-documented fact: Let a practical joke take place in the Hawk household, and Kitty could be sure that the instigator was as often her husband as it was their children. Kitty didn't mind. She enjoyed a good prank, though she usually played the role of spectator. Or victim.
A memory shoved its way into her mind, an image so clear and distinct she felt she could almost reach out and touch it....
She had come up from the basement and found herself in the middle of a fierce water fight.
Inside the house.
In the living room.
Water dripped from the curtains and dribbled down the TV screen. A small pool was forming on the floor, held in check only by the cotton rug in front of the now-soggy couch. Her six-foot-three, forty-year-old husband was crouched behind the couch, full Super Soaker in hand.
"Daniel Willia—!" But her near-scream was cut short when what had to be an entire glass of water hit her full in the face.
Horrified silence filled the room for an instant. Then, "Way to go, genius sister. You just creamed Mom."
"Me? I didn't cream her! That was you!"
"Not a chance. Your signature idiocy at work, runt."
She turned to glare at her eldest child, her only son, Brendan, her firstborn, the one who was her constant ally in the onslaught of life—and could not believe the cheeky grin on his face.
"Yo, Mom, gotta learn to duck." He held out a handful of already damp paper towels.
"No, I need to be a duck." She snatched the proffered towels and tried to stem the stream of water dripping from her hair and off the tip of her nose.
An arm slid around her shoulders, and she glanced up at Dan's face, which bore his most winning smile. He didn't have a drop of water on him.
She narrowed her gaze. "Don't. Even. Try."
"I think you'll find this works better." He held a dry towel out to her.
She stared at it, not moving. Another drip off her elbow.
"You'll feel better if you dry off."
She hated it when he did that, talked to her in that low, sweet tone when she wanted to be outraged. He knew laughter—his or hers—was one of her greatest weaknesses.
Kitty looked away. "Forget it, Dan Juan. You aren't getting off so easily." She spread her hands toward the room. "What do you think this is? The lost city of Atlantis?"
He looked properly chastised—or he tried, anyway, but the twinkle in his hazel eyes belied his penitent demeanor. A rebellious swath of thick, honey-brown hair fell down on his forehead, and she fought the urge to reach out and brush it back.
"How did you stay so dry?"
"I learned to duck."
"Told you so, Mom," Brendan crowed.
She shook her head. "This room will be cleaned up."
"And it will not be used for water fights in the future."
"Yes, Mom," her three troublemakers replied in chorus.
She took the towel from Dan, dried her face with it, then whipped it into a rope and snapped him with it. He jumped back, hands up. She met his laughing gaze. "And you will take me out to the restaurant of my choice to help me recover from the trauma I've suffered."
His slow smile warmed her from head to toe. "It would be my pleasure."
The sound of his voice, low and loving, echoed in her mind, as clear now as it ever had been. No ... no, the pleasure was all mine. And now it's gone.
How exactly did one endure a birthday when the guest of honor was dead?
Fresh pain swept her and she rolled over, pulling the pillow over her head. "I can't do this anymore," she whispered to no one in particular. At least she told herself it was to no one. She absolutely, positively was not talking to God. Why bother? He clearly had stopped listening to her.
Otherwise, her husband would still be alive. Wouldn't he?
Despair slid into the bed beside her, covering as completely as the blanket she was clutching. She squeezed her eyes defiantly against the tears that pushed to escape.
She was tired of crying. She'd already cried a river. No, an ocean. No, three oceans. She gave a wobbly chuckle. How could one body hold so much water?
Get hold of yourself, Kitty! It's been two years. Twenty-four months. Seven hundred thirty days ...
And every one of them a struggle. Oh, she got up each morning—well, most mornings anyway—and took up the business of living. But it wasn't the same. When Dan was alive, they'd relished their days together. They'd loved to go places. Whether on a trip, or just to the park or the library, they found things to do and enjoy. But without him ...
Without Dan, Kitty was finding fewer and fewer reasons for going anywhere. It all just took so much effort. Or for getting up in the morning. Dan used to tease her about being such an early riser. Sleeping in meant not getting up until six a.m. Now she could hardly drag herself out of bed by ten. Or, on days like today, by noon.
Dan would be ashamed if he saw you like this! that same scolding voice nagged at her. Get on with your life.
Kitty clenched her fists. She wanted to hit something. So many well-meaning friends and family members had urged her to do that. Get on with her life. But no one could answer the question that continued to scream in her head: What life? What kind of life was left for her without the husband who had filled her days with love and laughter since she was eighteen. Nearly thirty years.
Twenty-eight, to be exact. We were married for twenty-eight years. And in all that time, he'd only made her cry twice: four years ago, when he told her he had cancer, then two years ago, when he died.
It had been, to Kitty's grief-dazed mind, the most unbeatable and horrible April Fool's joke of all.
The first April when Dan was gone, they'd all been so engulfed in grief none of them even noticed the date until the day was long past. Last year ... well, that disaster was most likely at least a part of why it had hit her with such force this year.
Now all she wanted to do was hide.
If only she could be different. Follow Dan's lead. He'd believed so fully in the power of prayer and joy and laughter. "I know who's in control," he often said, even after his diagnosis, "so why should I get discouraged?"
True to his words, he hadn't allowed discouragement entrance into his heart or his home. Not once. Not in the midst of pain, not in the face of death. Amazingly, even as she was losing him, he'd filled Kitty's days with laughter, regaling her with tales of the nurses, the doctors, the other patients.
"There's so much joy all around us, Kitty." His once booming voice had grown weak and hoarse. "Don't ever forget that. Laughter is a gift from God, because he loves you so much. Don't let go of it, and don't let go of your dreams."
Laughter. Dreams. God. All a part of who Dan was. And all the things in life Kitty had lost.
I am with you.
The familiar words whispered through her mind, striking deep within her. She wanted to embrace them, to draw on them as a drowning man would draw on a tank of oxygen. But she couldn't. No, that wasn't true. She wouldn't.
I don't believe you. You aren't with me. You can't be. You let Dan die.
The creaking of the door alerted Kitty that she wasn't alone any longer.
She didn't move or answer.
"Mom." The voice was closer now. Kylie. Sweet Kylie, the younger of their two children. Kitty had always shared a special connection with Kylie.
"She's your daughter, through and through," Dan often said. Kitty couldn't argue. For one thing, Kylie and Kitty both were dreamers. "Creative types," Brendan called them, usually with a self-effacing grin. After all, he was an artist himself. "Lots of imagination and no common sense." Some might be insulted at this, but Kitty didn't mind. As far as she was concerned, common sense was highly overrated.
Kylie also shared Kitty's deep love of animals. So much so that she'd studied veterinary medicine and was now one of the youngest—and most requested—vets at the local animal clinic. Kitty and Dan had been so proud of her.
As they'd been proud of their son. Brendan was a gifted artist. No matter the medium, he created such beauty with his hands. Galleries across the country showed his works. "The next Picasso," Dan would say with a grin. "Hurry up and make a million, Son, so your mother and I can retire!"
And yet, for all their professional successes, what pleased Dan most about their children was that they lived lives of faith. Kitty and Dan had raised them to do so, but in a world where so many voices clamor for a kid's attention, Dan had found it a special joy that his children stayed tuned to the voice of God.
"God's blessings to us have been abundant. And evident." It was Dan's favorite saying, especially when he was looking at or talking about their children.
"Mom?" Kylie's voice came again, a bit more insistent this time.
Go away. She didn't want to talk to anyone. Go away, I'm asleep. To prove it, she gave as realistic a snore as she could manage.
Her only reward was a snort of disbelief. "Nice try, Mom, but my room was next to Brendan's, remember? There's no way I'd buy that for a real snore. The walls aren't shaking." Her voice gentled. "Come on, Mom. I know you're awake, so you might as well sit up."
Kitty gritted her teeth and pushed the pillow away, peering at her daughter. "I thought I taught you children to be polite. Can't you see I'm ... resting?"
Quick sorrow filled her daughter's eyes, and Kitty felt a stab of guilt. But she shoved it aside. Why should she feel guilty? Didn't she have the right to be left alone if she wished?
She started to say as much to Kylie when her daughter turned and walked toward the window, her steps determined. "Kylie." Kitty made the word forceful, hoping to stop her, but her daughter didn't pause.
"Looks like you forgot to open the curtains, Mom. You always told us you couldn't stand a room without sunshine." She took hold of the curtains and pulled them back, letting the light pour into the dark room.
"Don't!" But either her daughter had developed an acute case of deafness or she was ignoring Kitty. Kylie didn't even break her stride as she moved to the second window and set the daylight loose there as well.
Kitty pushed herself into a sitting position. "Kylie—"
"Wow, what a beautiful day. A good day for the park."
"Kylie." Kitty let her tone grow ominous.
For all the good it did.
Kylie gave her a bright smile, pulled the curtains back on the last window, then moved to the doorway of the room.
"There you go, Mom."
Rotten child. She acted as though she'd just done Kitty some enormous favor. A quick, cutting retort jumped to her mind, but before she could voice it, Kylie lifted what looked like an animal carrier from the floor and plopped it on the bed.
"Anyway, I just stopped by to ask you a favor." Kylie opened the lid of the carrier.
"What—?" But whatever Kitty started to say stopped in her throat. Something small and furry darted out and dove under the covers.
"Awwwwk!" Kitty scrambled to get away from the creature, but it seemed to have decided it wanted to get to know her. Up close and personal. It crawled straight at her, and she pushed back until she slammed into the headboard. Folding her knees up against her chest, she looked around for a weapon.
Suddenly something clambered up her nightgown-covered legs. A yelp rose in her throat, but before she could scream the critter was there, perched on her knees, nose-to-nose with her. A pair of clever little eyes—small, black, and beady—scrutinized her with what appeared to be keen interest. A small pink nose twitched, whiskers all atremble.
Kitty stared in horrified silence for a second, then exploded from the bed with a screech. "A rat??! You put a rat in my bed??" She flattened against the wall. "Kylie Renae, have you gone stark-raving mad??"
"Mother!" Kylie frowned at her. "You frightened him!"
"I—!" Kitty stared at her daughter as though she'd turned purple. "I frightened him??"
Kylie didn't respond. She was busy looking under the covers, then under the pillows. Finally, she peered inside one of the pillows and a grin broke over her features. "There you are," she cooed, reaching down to scoop the animal up. She cradled the long, furry body against her, and gave Kitty a lopsided grin. "He's not a rat, Mom." She held the animal up for her perusal. "He's a ferret."
Kitty looked more closely, then arched a brow and pinned her daughter with a glare. "You'll have to forgive me, I left my field guide in my other nightgown."
Kylie chuckled. "You've seen ferrets before, Mother. We watched a special on the Discovery channel about them, remember?"
"I remember they're weasels." Kitty wasn't budging from the wall. The ferret hung from Kylie's hands, looking every inch a weasel. But, Kitty had to admit, a very cute, very patient weasel.
Its long, sleek body and bushy tail dangled loosely as it turned its head this way and that, taking in its surroundings. Its little paws were cupped over Kylie's fingers and folded over each other, almost as though the creature were praying. Its coloring actually was similar to a raccoon, with black and gray and white in the fur. It even had a black "bandit's mask" across its sharp, little eyes.
A disturbing realization hit Kitty. A few years ago Kylie had brought home a hedgehog. "They're all the rage for apartment pets," she'd claimed.
Kitty had been delighted and intrigued. In fact, she'd gone right over to pet the little animal, laughing at its antics. But now ...
She closed her eyes. Now she just didn't have the energy. So she stood there, not moving, not speaking. Until her daughter's voice, so full of warmth and tenderness, whispered against her ear. "Go ahead and pet him, Mom. He's really soft."
Excerpted from Love's Surprise by Karen Ball. Copyright © 2011 Karen Ball. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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