Nancy Mehl lives in Festus, Missouri, with her husband, Norman, and her very active puggle, Watson. She’s authored eighteen books and is currently at work on a new series for Bethany House Publishing. The first book in her Finding Sanctuary series, “Gathering Shadows” was released on May 6th.
All of Nancy’s novels have an added touch – something for your spirit as well as your soul. “I welcome the opportunity to share my faith through my writing,” Nancy says. “God is number one in my life. I wouldn’t be writing at all if I didn’t believe that this is what He’s called me to do. I hope everyone who reads my books will walk away with the most important message I can give them: God is good, and He loves you more than you can imagine. He has a good plan for your life, and there is nothing you can’t overcome with His help.”
Readers can learn more about Nancy through her Web site: www.nancymehl.com. She has a newsletter located at: www.nancymehl.blogspot.com, and is a part of another blog, The Suspense Sisters: www.suspensesisters.blogspot.com, along with several other popular suspense authors. She is also very active on Facebook.
GATHERING SHADOWS is the first book in my Finding Sanctuary Series. It will be followed by DEADLY ECHOES in February, and the third book later in 2015. Here's a peek at Gathering Shadows. To win a copy, leave a comment, along with your contact info, and I'll draw a winner next week.
Wynter Evans is a promising young reporter for a television station in St. Louis, but even a bright future doesn't take away her pain over the disappearance of her brother nine years ago. So when she stumbles across a photograph of a boy with an eerie resemblance to him, she can't pass up the chance to track him down. With research for work as her cover, she sets out with one of the station's photogs for the place where the picture was taken: the town of Sanctuary.
Almost as soon as she arrives, she meets the town's handsome young mayor, Rueben King, and together they begin to uncover long held secrets that could tear the small town apart and change everything Wynter thought she knew about her life. As the truth of her family's past hides in the shadows, it's clear someone will stop at nothing to keep the answers she's searching for hidden forever--even if the cost is Wynter's very life.
GATHERING SHADOWS / PROLOGUE AND FIRST CHAPTER
He observed the youngster ride his bike to the end of the block where the street dead-ended. Then, after looking around carefully, the man slowly drove his car over to where the boy stood, staring at something on the ground. He parked a few yards away and watched as the boy wiped tears off his face.
The man rolled down his window.
“Excuse me,” he said. “You’re Ryan Erwin, aren’t you?”
The boy stood up straight and stared wide-eyed at the man, his expression guarded. He blinked furiously, obviously not wanting the man to know he’d been crying.
“Yeah, I’m Ryan.”
The man smiled. “I’m Bill Martin. I live on the next block. You’ve seen me before, right?”
Ryan frowned, his forehead wrinkled in thought. “I…I don’t know…”
“Sure you have. I own the big black lab.”
The boy’s expression brightened. “Oh, yeah. I know that dog. You own it?”
The man nodded. “That’s Sadie. She recently had puppies, and one of them is missing. I wonder if you’ve seen it?” The man reached over to the passenger seat and grabbed a photo. “Here’s a picture of Waggles. He got out this morning. I’d sure hate for him to get run over. He’s just a little thing.” He held the picture out.
Ryan nudged the kickstand on his bike down and approached the car.
“He’s cute isn’t he?” the man said, his smile pasted firmly in place. “My kids are heartbroken.” He pulled the photo a little closer to him. “You have a dog, don’t you?”
The boy nodded. “Yeah, a golden retriever.”
“What’s his name?”
“We named him Ollie, after Laurel and Hardy. My dad…” Ryan took a deep breath. “My dad thinks they’re funny.”
“I like that name.”
The boy came up even nearer to the car.
“Ryan, do you think you could do me a favor and help me look for my puppy? I’d sure hate to go home and tell my kids something happened to him.”
The boy studied the man’s face once again, then he stared down at the photo of the small, black lab puppy. Finally, he nodded. “My teacher told me not to talk to strangers, but I guess since I know you, it would be all right.”
“I’m glad you know about stranger danger. It’s very important to be careful.” The man’s smile widened. “Why don’t you leave your bike here? We’ll look for Waggles, and after we find him, I’ll bring you right back.”
“Sure,” Ryan said. He glanced back once at his new blue racing bike as he ran around the car and got into the passenger seat.
An hour later, Ryan’s father found the bike.
But Ryan was gone.
"You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
But Ryan was gone.
"You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Megan’s voice made me jump. I looked up to see her standing beside me. I hadn’t heard her come in. “Sorry. Guess I drifted away for a minute.”
She stared back at me with a strange look on her face. “You’re about the whitest person I’ve ever known, Wynter. When you get pale, it’s scary. Something about those pictures upset you?”
I shook my head. “No. Just looking them over.” I cleared my throat and turned back to the photographs that lay scattered on the large mahogany conference table. “Where did you say you got these?”
“From my mom. She took them about six years ago.” Megan plopped down in the chair next to me. Her brown eyes sparkled. “She lives in Madison County.” She pointed at the photos. “This town is about ten miles from her. The people shop in Fredericktown, where she lives, so she sees them quite a bit. They don’t like people taking their pictures, but Mom snapped these from her car as she drove past them. I doubt if they were happy about it.”
She frowned. “No. Mom said they’re Mennonite. Not as strict as the Amish, but I think they share some of the same beliefs. Don’t know if this place would fit into your report, but since you’re putting together a list of unique Missouri towns, I thought you might find the pictures interesting.” She pulled one of the photos closer and peered carefully at it. “My mom says the whole town isn’t religious, but most of them live very simply. You know, horses and buggies, stuff like that. Mom has a friend who moved there just because she wanted a more uncomplicated life. She’s not Mennonite though.” Megan shrugged her thin shoulders. “I don’t know much else.”
I fingered through the photos once again. They showed people riding in buggies. Most of the men wore hats while the older women had some kind of head covering. I couldn’t stop my fingers from trembling.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Megan asked again, her voice tinged with worry. Her dark eyes sought mine. “The flu’s going around. Maybe you’ve got it.” She pushed her chair back a bit, causing me to smile.
“No, I’m fine. Too much coffee this morning, I guess.”
“You do drink more coffee than anyone I’ve ever known.”
I nodded. “What’s the name of this town?”
“Sanctuary. Cool name, huh? But I doubt it’s on any map.” She flipped over one of the pictures. “I wrote down some directions so you’d know how to find it.” She shook her head. “I haven’t had time to do any other research. Sorry. Ed’s got us jumping. The new owners are due in at the end of the week. No one knows what will happen after that.”
I didn’t respond because there really wasn’t anything to say. According to a friend at another station in town, new owners could be a blessing – or a curse. Usually, the latter turned out to be true. Corporate hotshots, convinced they knew more than anyone else, loved to clear the deck and “bring new excitement” to existing television stations. Many times, the best people were lost in the shuffle, while new, inexperienced reporters and on-air personalities drove loyal viewers to a competing station. It had already happened twice at KDSM before I was hired. I was hopeful this transition would be smooth.
“If you look online, it’s possible you might find a phone number for someone who actually lives in Sanctuary,” Megan said, going back to our previous discussion. “You could stumble across a resident who could help you.” A smile lit up her ebony features. “Who knows? Maybe this will turn out to be an adventure.”
“Maybe.” I returned her smile. “I’m hoping this idea will turn out to be interesting enough for Ed to sign off on. With a little luck it could end up being a franchise. You know, like John Lewis’s People of Missouri.” John Lewis, a reporter at KJML, another station in St. Louis, had vaulted himself into an anchor position after putting together a weekly piece about unique people who lived in our state. Although I enjoyed my job as a reporter, I secretly hoped this story would move me up too. Like John, more than anything, I wanted to sit in the anchor chair.
“Missy is so jealous,” Megan replied, grinning. “She really wanted the next assignment. When Ed agreed to let you put this concept together and present it, she turned three different shades of green.” She laughed. “Even her carefully applied makeup couldn’t hide her jealously.”
“She’s been gunning for me ever since she started. I’d hate to know what she’s really thinking behind that fake smile.”
“I’m sure it’s not suitable for prime time,” Megan quipped.
“I agree.” I reached out and touched her arm. “Thanks, Megan. You’ve been so supportive. I really appreciate it.”
“That’s what friends are for.” She got up left the conference room, slowly closing the door behind her.
Her words echoed in my mind. Were we really friends? I guess she was closer to me than most of the people in my life. I tried hard to keep a distance between me and my coworkers. Working at a television station was a competitive situation at best. Everyone fought for their spot, and no one, including me, ever felt safe.
I’d started at KDSM as an intern while still in college. I was excited to be officially hired right after graduation. Including my internship, I’d spent almost three years at the station. Maybe it wasn’t one of the largest stations in St. Louis, but they had a good reputation and several successful anchors at the big stations had been hired from here.
Megan Parsons, a production assistant, had been friendly from my very first day. We had a lot in common. We were both twenty-three, and we both came from broken homes. Like me, Megan was raised in church, although I’d stopped going when I was a teenager. Our biggest differences were in our appearance. Megan’s dark skin, eyes and hair were an antithesis to my pale complexion and light blonde hair.
Realizing I’d allowed my mind to wander, I pushed worries about my job away and pulled out the picture that had sent shockwaves through me. I stared at the face of the young boy caught by the camera as he rode past in a buggy. It was clear from his shocked expression that he wasn’t expecting to have his picture taken. I could feel my heart beat faster, and I found it difficult to catch my breath. The features were so familiar. Could it be him? Was I just seeing what I wanted to see? Ryan was seven when he was taken. There was something about the eyes – and the hair. The boy wore a black, wide-brimmed hat that had been pushed back on his head. His widow’s peak was clearly visible. Just like Ryan’s.
“Ready for our meeting?”
Ed Grant, KDSM’s news director, strode into the room, and I quickly pushed the picture underneath my notebook.
“Yes, sir. I’ve done quite a bit of research, and I think this would make a compelling piece.”
He sighed as he lowered his massive body into the chair across from mine. The chair squeaked under the pressure, and as he scooted into place, sounds emanated from underneath him that I prayed came from sliding across the leather seat.
“I’m not convinced this is newsworthy, but Leon says we need more stories with local interest. Our new owners are pushing for it. I guess this idea is as good as any other.” He sighed again, obviously not happy dealing with a new corporate entity. Ed’s job at KDSM was tenative, as was our general manager’s. Leon Shook was a great GM, and no one wanted to see him leave. But in a previous shake up, the news director and the general manager had been the first to go. What we could get in their places worried everyone.
“I believe this piece could be popular if we get it right,” I said. “I have quite a few suggestions. Some are obvious, like Defiance and its Wine Country Gardens, and Fulton, which has a piece of the Berlin Wall. Then there are all the ghost towns left behind when the mining companies moved out. You know, like Morse Mill. Also, Columbia is interesting since it’s home to a lot of ex-Amish. There was a special on TV a while back that mentioned…”
Ed held his hand up. “That story’s been done and overdone. Besides, Columbia’s too big. I want small towns. Out of the way places. Spots that even Missourians don’t know about. And nothing about that Amish town, Jamesport. We just did a story about them.”
I cleared my throat, trying to quell my nervousness as I pushed some of the pictures Megan had given me across the table.
“In that same vein, here’s a possibility. A small town called Sanctuary. Residents are mostly Mennonite. It seems to be inhabited by people looking for a simpler life.”
Ed took the pictures and rifled through them. “I’ve never heard of this town, and I thought I knew every nook and cranny of this state.”
I sat back in my chair, hoping it wouldn’t make the embarrassing sounds that had come from Ed earlier. Since I only weighed a third of Ed’s three-hundred pounds, thankfully, there was only silence.
“What do you think?” I asked.
I was greeted with a cold stare followed by a shrug. Actually, from Ed, that was a sign of unmitigated approval.
“What do you need?”
I pulled the photos back when he shoved them toward me. “I’d like a couple of weeks to tour these towns, Ed. I’ll need to interview people, do some research.”
He crossed his arms across his chest and looked bored. Once Ed made up his mind to do something, his interest waned. “You’ll need a photog.”
“Why don’t you let me look around first? I’d hate to waste anyone’s time. Once I find towns that fit the bill, I’ll call you. Then you can send someone.”
He shook his head. “Waste of valuable time.” He stood to his feet. “You have one week to get it done. I’ll see who’s available. Why don’t you leave on Saturday the twenty-fifth? That gives you two weeks to make contacts and get things set up. Be back a week from the following Monday. That will give you ten days to get this thing done. If it’s good enough, we’ll run it in July.”
July was a minor sweeps month. Not as important as February, May or November, but I had to take what I could get.
I cleared my throat. “I’m wondering if this could turn into a franchise. We could highlight one town every week. There are a lot of interesting places in Missouri. And lots of special events. We might…”
Ed held his hand up, a sign that I should stop talking. “You’re getting ahead of yourself. Why don’t you go to…what was it? Sanctuary? See what’s going on. Get something on film and send it to me. If it looks good, we’ll talk. If it doesn’t excite me, get out of there, go to four or five other towns. We’ll go over the footage and put something together. Ten days, Wynter. That’s it.”
Although I wanted to point out that it was really only nine days, I didn’t dare criticize Ed’s math abilities. Arguing with him was a mistake. In his present frame of mind, it could cost me this opportunity. I didn’t say another word, just nodded my agreement.
As the door swung closed behind him, I gazed once again at the picture of the teenage boy. Nine days with a photographer tagging along. Was I chasing shadows? Or had my parents and I quit too soon? Was Ryan still alive?
Had I actually found my brother?
For your chance to win a copy of Gathering Shadows, leave a comment, along with your contact information.