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!
***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***
Penny Zeller is an author, wife, mother of two, and inspirational speaker. She’s known for her down-to-earth prose and creativity in conveying spiritual truths with clarity and humor. On her blog “A Day in the Life of a Wife, Mom, and Author” (www.pennyzeller.wordpress.com) she addresses a variety of concerns families experience day-to-day across America. Penny has loved to write since the second grade, but it was in 2000 that she dedicated her writing skills to God and made a commitment to use her talents to inspire others. She recently released the Montana Skies Series for Whitaker House: McKenzie, Kaydie, and the lastest, Hailee. Other titles include: Hollyhocks (Booklocker 2003); Wyoming Treasures (Medallion Books 2005); and 77 Ways Your Family Can Make a Difference (2008 Beacon Hill). Penny leads a Bible study and women’s prayer group, co-organized “Sisters in Christ Community Girls Night Out,” and regularly volunteers at her daughters’ school. In her spare time she enjoys canoeing, gardening, and playing volleyball with family and friends.
Visit the author’s website.
For years, orphan Hailee Annigan roamed the streets of Cincinnati, stealing food to keep her two younger brothers fed. She landed in a home for delinquents where, by the grace of God she received an education. Now 19, Hailee excitedly anticipates her new role as school teacher in a small Montana town, but she’s still plagued by her past and fears never seeing her brothers again. In Montana she meets and is instantly attracted to Rev. Maxwell Nathaniel Adams, Jr., pastor of the local church, who is likewise drawn to her. Rev. Adams is from a wealthy, well-connected Boston family whose plans for him did not include seminary, let alone moving to rugged Montana and falling in love with a former street urchin. Their former worlds collide as the unlikely pair attempt to forge a future together.
List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (September 6, 2011)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Hailee Annigan removed the discolored sheet of paper from the community board in the train depot. Time and weather had faded the poster, so the message was barely readable, but she had memorized the words:
Looking for Philip and Reuben Annigan.
If you have any information, kindly respond to:
c/o Dot Pangbourn’s Boardinghouse
West Eberlee Street, Cincinnati, Ohio
She crumpled the paper in her hand and stuffed it into her purse. In its place, she posted the notice she’d written that morning, then stepped back to make sure it would be conspicuous to people passing by or preparing to board a train.
Looking for Philip and Reuben Annigan.
If you have any information, kindly respond to:
c/o Pine Haven School
Pine Haven, Montana
For the past several years, she had replaced the posting every month, two times in order to alter the address where she could be located if someone knew of her brothers’ whereabouts.
Hailee swallowed hard to hold back her tears. She didn’t want to leave Cincinnati and diminish her chances of ever finding her younger brothers. However, she knew that a change in location would do her heart good, and that she was following God’s prompting to fulfill the dream she’d had in her heart since she was a young girl.
Tomorrow, Hailee would begin her journey of nearly two thousand miles to a place she’d never been, where she had accepted a job as the schoolteacher. Yes, such a drastic change would help her to leave the past behind and start life anew.
She turned and trudged the short distance from the train depot to Austin Street. Her feet ached from all the walking she’d done in the past few hours, replacing each of the seven postings in varied locations around the city. Now, she had one more place to visit—one more person to see—before leaving Ohio.
Hailee sat on the wooden bench and waited for the horse-drawn hansom cab to round the corner during one of its many scheduled stops. Hoping she had read the schedule for the cab correctly, she counted the money in her coin purse. She’d ridden in a hansom only a handful of times due to the cost, but today was an exception. Today, she would travel to a distant part of the city to say a final good-bye to an important part of her life. She needed to put a period at the end of the sentence that had affected her more than anything else in her nineteen years.
Within minutes, Hailee spied the carriage. She rose to her feet as the hansom cab slowed to a stop.
A short, husky man with a mustache that was black, peppered with gray, and that curled up in swirly loops at the ends stepped down from the back of the carriage. He removed his top hat and greeted her with a bow. “Good afternoon, ma’am. Ambrose Peters at your service. Where may I take you today?”
“Hello, Mr. Peters. Would you please take me to The Sanctuary of Promise?” Hailee smiled at the driver.
“My! A ways away, is it not?” said Ambrose. “But, yes, I can take you there.” He extended a white-gloved hand and helped Hailee into the cab. “If you need anything, anything at all, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I can hear you through the open window in the roof.”
Hailee nodded and glanced up at the small window with a hinged cover that was open. As she settled into her seat, Ambrose prepared to close the door. “Are you comfortable?” he asked.
“Yes, thank you.”
“Very well, then. We shall be on our way.” He bowed again, placed his hat back on his head, and closed the door. Moments later, they lurched forward with the clatter of horses’ hooves.
“Are you from Cincinnati, miss?” Ambrose asked sometime later.
“Yes, I’ve lived here all my life,” Hailee replied. She appreciated the driver’s small talk. It took her mind off of the nervousness she felt.
“As have I,” said Ambrose. “Do you have family here?”
Hailee wasn’t sure how to answer that question. Were her brothers still in Cincinnati? Or, had they traveled far from this city, which held so many memories? “My parents have gone to be with the Lord, but I do have two brothers,” she finally answered.
“I’m sorry to hear about your parents, miss.” Ambrose paused. “It sure is a lovely time of year, isn’t it, with the flowers blooming and the trees with all their leaves? I have to admit, I enjoy every season, but winter gets a mite cold at times driving the cab.”
Hailee smiled and nodded. She could only imagine how a cold Cincinnati winter might affect cab drivers. She wondered about the winters in Montana. Were they similar to those she had experienced her entire life in Ohio? Would she still love summer the best of all the seasons once she was settled in her new home? She watched in silence as they passed by the tall buildings, some dating back to the turn of the century, and dozens of other buggies traversing the crowded avenue. Would Pine Haven match the hustle and bustle of Cincinnati? Would it have streets lined with storefronts offering a wide variety of goods? Somehow, she doubted it. From what she had heard, Montana was rugged and wild, Pine Haven nothing like a big city. A change will do you good, Hailee, she reminded herself. Even if that change is a drastic one.
“We’re almost there,” Ambrose announced. “It’s been a while since I’ve traveled out this way. I’d forgotten how beautiful this road looks, lined with trees as it is.”
“It is beautiful,” Hailee agreed. The buildings became fewer and farther apart, while the buckeye trees grew more numerous. They folded out their branches as if to welcome Hailee to the place she would never forget, a place where God had molded her into the type of woman He desired her to become.
In the circular driveway in front of The Sanctuary of Promise, the cab slowed to a stop. The door opened, and Ambrose peered in. “Here we are, miss.” He held out an arm to assist her out of the cab. “When shall I return for you?”
“In about an hour, if it’s convenient. Thank you, Ambrose.” Hailee climbed out, then handed him her hard-earned money for the fare.
“See you shortly, miss.”
“Yes, indeed!” She bid him farewell as he climbed back onto the cab and picked up the reins. Then, she turned around and surveyed the mammoth building before her. The brick structure had four stories and two wings, the third- and fourth-floor windows of which were covered with curtains, and a covered porch held up by four faded white pillars. The building was surrounded by a well-manicured lawn, and Hailee spied the familiar tiered birdbath under an oak tree. To the left of the tree was the fenced-in garden where she had learned much about farming.
Looking back at the building, Hailee could see the heads of students inside the first floor windows, and she recalled the many hours she’d spent in its classrooms. A little girl turned her head and peered out at her with a look of curiosity.
Hailee smiled at her and urged her feet to move toward the front door. Had there really been a time when she’d spent almost every waking moment in this looming fortress of a building? It felt as if she’d stepped back in time; while everything around her had changed in the past two years, and while dozens of children from entirely different backgrounds had lived within its walls and played on its grounds, The Sanctuary of Promise had undergone no observable alterations, at least on its exterior.
On the porch now, Hailee sucked in her breath and turned the doorknob. As she stepped inside the vast entryway, a mix of emotions stirred within her.
“I’ll be right with you,” a woman called from an adjacent room.
Hailee recognized the voice and smiled. “Ella?”
“Hailee Annigan, is that you?” Ella Fanshaw rushed through the door toward Hailee and wrapped her arms around the much younger woman. “It’s been the better of three months since we last saw each other. How have you been?”
“I’ve been well, thank you.”
“Please, come into the dining area,” Ella invited her.
Hailee followed her and sat down at the long, worn wooden table—quite possibly for the last time in her life, she realized—where she had once taken every meal. Gazing around the room, she recalled the first day she’d entered The Sanctuary of Promise, at fourteen years of age….
“I don’t belong here!” Hailee shouted at Officer Ulmer, who had taken her inside the large, frightening building.
“The judge ordered for you to come to The Sanctuary of Promise, so that is where you’ll stay,” Officer Ulmer said firmly. “Had you not done what you did, you wouldn’t have found yourself in this predicament.” He paused and shook his head. “Just about every child I remand to The Sanctuary of Promise makes the same claim about not belonging here. When will you street children come to learn that crime doesn’t pay? It never has and never will.”
“But I don’t belong here!” Hailee stamped her feet.
“If you don’t belong here, then why do you have a reputation for thievery among the storefront owners in East Cincinnati?”
“Yes, a reputation. There’s nary a storekeeper who hasn’t fallen victim to your thieving ways and lying tongue.”
Hailee ignored the officer’s insinuations. Yes, she had stolen; yes, she had lied; and, yes, she had deceived. What of it? It had been out of necessity that she had done such things. Had she not needed to provide for her younger brothers, she wouldn’t have dreamed of lying, stealing, and deceiving.
“You don’t understand. I need to be with my brothers!” Without forethought, Hailee pushed past the man, rushed out the door, and raced across the vast lawn. Spurred on by the rhythmic thumping of her heart within her chest, she ran with all her might, willing her eyes to adjust to the darkness of night so that she could make out her path.
“You come back here, young lady!”
Hailee stole a glance over her shoulder and saw Officer Ulmer running after her, but the thickset man was no match for her speed. “Stop that girl!” he yelled as the gap between them continued to widen. “Stop her!”
As Hailee rounded the corner of East Seventh Street and Holmes, a strong hand grabbed her arm and stopped her in mid-stride. “Not so fast,” the officer said sternly.
“Let me go!” Hailee wailed as she tried to wriggle out of the officer’s grasp.
“Not this time,” he said. “Another runaway?”
Hailee looked around. Officer Ulmer was stumbling toward them, gasping for breath.
“Yes,” he managed, still panting. “Ten years ago, I could have caught her”—he expelled a loud breath—“but my best years of chasing street urchins are behind me.”
The other officer chuckled. “That’s true of a lot of us, Quincy.”
“That’s why I requested this post, delivering wayward juveniles to The Sanctuary of Promise,” Officer Ulmer continued. “It’s supposed to be easier and less eventful. But then, spitfires like this Hailee Annigan come along and make my job almost impossible.” He breathed in and out, in and out. “Still, children like Hailee give me reason to pray even harder. Yes, I lift every lost child I meet to my Father’s throne, asking Him to take care of their needs, and—”
Out of desperation, Hailee leaned forward and bit the officer who held her on the arm. Yelling in pain, he immediately released his grip. Hailee stepped back and was ready to run, but Officer Ulmer grabbed her arms and held her fast. “She really doesn’t think she belongs in The Sanctuary of Promise, Officer Edwards,” he said.
“Humph. Do any of them?” Officer Edwards scowled and rubbed his arm where Hailee had bitten him.
She glanced around, hoping for another way to escape her captors. She would not give in and be taken to The Sanctuary of Promise. Sure, it was a big brick mansion, but it was just a fancy jail. Besides, she had her brothers to care for. Why couldn’t these officers see that?
“You don’t understand,” she whined. “My brother Philip, he has to walk with a crutch.” She pasted a sad look on her face in hopes of eliciting their pity. One thing she had learned on the streets was how to manipulate others through emotional appeals.
“Right. And I’m the president of the United States,” Officer Ulmer said with a chuckle. “Let’s get moving.” He started walking and pulled her along.
“I’m telling the truth,” Hailee insisted, trying to keep her voice low and her tone mournful.
“Are you aware of the alternative of going to The Sanctuary of Promise?” Officer Ulmer asked.
“What?” Hailee demanded.
“You would be put in jail.”
“The Sanctuary of Promise is a jail—just a fancy one,” she retorted. “Nothing good ever comes from being in a place like that.”
“I think you’ll find The Sanctuary of Promise quite different from the jail where you were held until the judge heard your case.”
“I don’t want to be in any jail. I want to be free!” Hailee gritted her teeth and tried to pull her arms out of Officer Ulmer’s grasp, but Officer Edwards held fast to her shoulder as he walked alongside. She was no match for two grown men.
“You know, most kids at The Sanctuary are released after about a year and a half,” mused Officer Ulmer. “With the little shenanigan you just pulled, you’re likely to spend more time there, though.”
“I won’t stay there,” Hailee insisted. “I’ll just escape. I have to. My brothers are depending on me. Who’ll make them dinner? Who’ll tell little Philip the story about baby Moses in the basket?”
“I’m sure someone will see to it that they’re taken care of,” Officer Edwards muttered. “If they even exist.”
“You don’t believe that I have brothers?” Hailee was shocked at what she was hearing. Why would she make that up?
“You couldn’t imagine the stories we hear,” Officer Ulmer chuckled. “Do you think you’re the first wayward juvenile to insist she has younger siblings to care for? And we’ve heard the brother-with-a-crutch story one too many times.”
“But it’s the truth! One of Philip’s feet is turned the wrong way. He was born like that. And it makes it hard for him to walk, so he has to use a crutch.”
“And just how old is this Philip?” Officer Ulmer asked as they entered The Sanctuary of Promise grounds.
“He’s only six.”
“What about your other brother? I’m sure he can care for him just fine,” Officer Edwards said dryly.
“Reuben?” Hailee was getting angry. “Reuben can’t care for him—not like I can. He’s only twelve. And, sometimes, Reuben is…well…grouchy.”
“And where do these brothers live?” asked Officer Ulmer.
“Over on Gardner St—wait, why?”
“Gardner Street?” asked Officer Ulmer.
“No, not Gardner Street,” Hailee said. “I meant to say Garrison Avenue.”
“Either way, we’ll find them,” said Officer Edwards. “Again, assuming they exist.”
“Why doesn’t anybody believe me?” Hailee demanded.
“With the crimes you’ve committed and the lies you’ve told, it is a bit difficult to believe you,” Officer Ulmer reasoned. He reached out with his free hand and opened the front door of The Sanctuary. “Good evening Miss Torenz,” he said as they stepped inside and were greeted by a young woman. “We’ve got one who insists on escaping.”
“Don’t worry, she won’t be escaping,” the woman assured him. “Please bring her upstairs to the Yellow Flower Room.”
Still fighting to be released, Hailee kicked and wriggled as the officers dragged her up the stairs. Miss Torenz opened a door, and the officers shoved Hailee inside and quickly shut the door.
“Let me out!” she shouted, beating on the door with her fists. She had to get out of here—her brothers’ lives depended on it! No doubt, little Philip was hungry right now. It was bad enough that she’d spent last night in jail and left Philip and Reuben all alone. But two nights in a row? Hailee cringed at the thought.
“It’ll do you no good to pound on the door,” said Miss Torenz through the door, her voice firm. “We’ll bring you some breakfast in the morning.”
“No, wait! You can’t leave me here!” Hailee resumed pounding on the door. After a while, her fists sore, she turned to assess her whereabouts. A tiny window on the far wall allowed a minute amount of moonlight into the room. With the exception of a bed with a faded quilt, the closet-sized room was empty. Hailee squinted. Was the wallpaper yellow with large sunflowers? It was difficult to tell in the dim light, but she supposed it was, which would account for the name of the room.
One last time, Hailee pounded on the door and screamed until her throat hurt. Finally, she gave up, turned, and leaned back against the door. She slid down into a seated position, buried her face in her hands, and began to sob. While she’d never been one to give up, no matter how harsh the circumstances life had dealt to her, this was the exception. She was trapped, and there was nothing she could do about it….
“Hailee?” Ella asked.
“I’m sorry, Ella. I was just remembering my first day here.”
“I wasn’t here that night, but I recall hearing that you put up the fight of the century,” Ella said, laughing.
“It seems so long ago now, almost a different lifetime.”
Ella sighed. “It was only five years ago, but you were so different then. I could tell when I first met you that you were frightened and feeling alone. And so thin and malnourished…. My heart broke for you.”
“I will forever be indebted to you for all you’ve done for me,” Hailee said.
Ella smiled. “I prayed that very morning for God to send me someone I could encourage. I didn’t realize that He would make good on my prayer right away by sending me someone the same day! And a challenge, too—that’s what you were, Hailee Annigan. A challenge.”
Hailee had thanked the Lord many times for Ella. In the years since she’d left The Sanctuary, she had maintained contact with her former teacher, although their visits had not been as frequent as she would have wished due to the busy lives of both of them. However, Hailee had treasured the times when Ella had met her at the boardinghouse where she lived. They would have tea and catch up on the happenings in their lives, and, many times, Dot Pangbourn, the boardinghouse proprietress, would join them.
Sitting across from Ella, Hailee realized how much the past five years had altered her friend. Her auburn hair was beginning to gray, her lovely face had gained a few more wrinkles, and, behind her thick glasses, her eyes looked more tired than ever. Hailee knew she was responsible for some of those wrinkles, and that she and others like her had been sources of the weariness her dear friend’s face showed. “I am deeply sorry about having been a challenge,” she said.
Ella smiled. “Oh, pooh. That’s in the past. What matters now is what you do with the second chance the Lord has given you.” She paused. “Would you care for a cup of tea?”
“I would love a cup of tea, thank you.”
Ella stood up and left the room, then returned a few moments later with two steaming teacups. She set one down at each of their places and then took her seat again. “So, tell me, Hailee, what is new in your life?”
“Well, I actually came here to tell you that I am moving…to Montana. I’ve been hired as the new schoolteacher in Pine Haven.”
“Pine Haven? That’s wonderful! From the moment you told me of your intent to apply, I had no doubt that you would get the position. I clearly remember the day you showed me the newspaper advertisement.” Ella took a sip of tea. “However, I must say…Montana? That’s pretty far west!”
“It is quite far from here,” Hailee conceded. “At first, I was hesitant because of my brothers. What if Philip or Reuben finally sees one of my postings? It will take weeks for me to receive word, and then there is the matter of the travel time. But you know my dream of becoming a teacher, and Pine Haven was the only place where the incoming teacher was not expected to have several years of experience.”
“If your brothers see one of your notices, they will contact you, wherever you are,” Ella assured her with a pat on her arm. “This will be an adventure, and you are smart to take advantage of it.”
“I have prayed about it so much, Ella. I prayed that God would open a door for me to be a teacher, and He did.”
“He’s had a plan for your life all along.”
“Even when I was causing so much trouble here?”
“Even then.” Ella smiled. “Now, besides the good news of your teaching position, what brings you to The Sanctuary?”
“To see you,” said Hailee. “I couldn’t very well go without saying good-bye, and I’m leaving tomorrow. I will arrive in Pine Haven on July twenty-seventh, with plenty of time to get settled before school starts.”
“My, things are happening fast.”
“They certainly are.” Hailee bit her lip. “I also felt that I needed to see this place one last time.”
“Not much has changed since you lived here, Hailee, although many lives have been changed—for the better, I might add.”
“God has used you in wonderful ways to touch the lives of so many children. I can only pray that He will use me in the same way with my students.”
“I know He will.” Ella paused, looking pensive. “Do you remember the first Bible verse I asked you to look up?”
“Of course!” Hailee had all but forgotten that there had been a time when she was not familiar with the Scriptures. Ella had opened God’s Word to her, and the first verse she’d learned had become one of her favorites. “Jeremiah twenty-nine, verse eleven,” Hailee began, and Ella’s voice joined with hers as the two women recited together: “‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.’”
“Hailee, do you finally understand that God has always known the plans and thoughts He has toward you?” Ella said. “He hasn’t changed. The Lord has been laying the foundation for those thoughts and plans, and, now, they are coming to fruition.”
“Thank you.” Hailee squeezed the hand of the woman who had become a second mother to her. “I’m just a little nervous about going all the way to Montana.”
“I can see that. Just remember that there is no place you can go where the Lord is not there with you. Lift your eyes to Him, Hailee, and He’ll be your comforter.”
Hailee nodded. Ever since she’d come to know the Lord, He’d never turned His back on her.
“I’m sure Dot will be sorry to see you go.”
“I will miss her so. She’s been so kind to me, almost like a grandmother.” Hailee paused. “And, more than anyone, Ella, I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, too, Hailee. But you have prayed about this decision, and I do believe it is the Lord’s calling for your life. Besides, I’m only a train ride away.”
“A long train ride.”
“Nonetheless, we will correspond regularly, which shall be a source of encouragement to both of us.”
“I promise to write if you will,” said Hailee.
“It’s a promise,” Ella agreed.
“Well, we’ve talked enough about me. Please, Ella, tell me how you have been.”
“Oh, I’ve been well.” Ella paused, her eyes suddenly glowing. “I do have a tidbit of information you might find amusing, if not exciting.”
“Do you remember Officer Ulmer?”
Hailee feigned a grimace. “How could I forget him?”
“Well, he has asked me to marry him.”
Hailee almost choked on her tea. “I beg your pardon?”
“It’s true. He has been courting me for the past several months, and it happened rather quickly—”
“Officer Ulmer, the man who brought me here?”
“The one and the same.”
“I don’t believe it!” Hailee immediately regretted her words, for Ella looked stricken. “Oh, do forgive me, Ella. Congratulations are in order!” She reached out and clasped her friend’s hand. “I am happy for you.”
“I know you saw only the authoritative side of him, Hailee, but Officer Ulmer—Quincy, rather—is a kind, gentle, and godly man. He’s loving, thoughtful, and….” Ella blushed. “Handsome.”
“You’re right, Ella. I knew him only as a policeman, and we didn’t meet under the best circumstances. He treats you well, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, he does. He’s exactly the type of husband I have been praying for all along. You see, I thought I was much too old to get married, but the Lord had other plans. He placed Quincy in front of me all these years, and we’ve been good friends for so long. It was just recently that we both began to see each other as something much more than a friend.” Ella giggled shyly. “It took us many years, but we finally realized our love for each other. I couldn’t be happier, Hailee.”
“And I am happy for you. Have you selected a wedding date?”
“Sometime this fall. And, although I don’t like to wish time away, autumn can’t come soon enough!”
“I only wish I could be here for the happy event.” For a moment, Hailee considered staying in Cincinnati, if only to see one of her dearest friends get married.
But Ella knew her so well that she read her thoughts. “Now, Hailee, you must go. I know how you have searched for a permanent teaching position for some time now. I also know how humbly you have asked God to use your gift of teaching. I believe He has answered that prayer. Had He wanted you to teach in Cincinnati, the opportunity would have arisen.”
“You’re right, Ella. Still, I shall miss you so.”
“And I shall miss you.”
“I suppose I should go,” Hailee said. She stood to her feet and gave Ella a warm hug.
“Take care, dear one. Write and let me know that you have arrived safely.”
“And don’t worry. You’ll do fine in Montana.”
“No, never good-bye,” said Ella. “As my grandmother Fanshaw was fond of saying, ‘It’s never “Good-bye” but instead, “So long.”’”
“So long, then, Ella.”
Hailee hoped that Ella’s conviction about her doing fine in Montana would prove true. She took one last look around the room. With the adventure that lay before her, she might never get another chance to see the place that had housed so much of her past.