Nancy Mehl lives in Festus, Missouri, with her husband, Norman, and her very active puggle, Watson. She’s authored twenty books and just finished a new series for Bethany House Publishing. The first book in her Finding Sanctuary series, “Gathering Shadows” was released in May of 2014. The second book, “Deadly Echoes” became available in February. The third book, “Rising Darkness releases in November. Now she’s working on a new series based on the U.S. Marshals. The first book will release in November of 2016. She is also working on an Amish cozy mystery series for Guideposts. The first book, “Blessings in Disguise” was released in June, 2015. She will write at least three more in this series.
Readers can learn more about Nancy through her Web site: www.nancymehl.com. She is also very active on Facebook.
Rising Darkness is finally available! The final book in the Finding Sanctuary Series reaches back in time. In fact, it reaches intoanother series! Sophie Wittenbauer first appeared in Unbreakable, book two in my Road to Kingdom series. For those of you who wondered what happened to the abused teenager who caused so much damage to her hometown of Kingdom, Kansas, you’ll find your answers in Rising Darkness. Here’s a look at her new story:
Sophie Wittenbauer left her strict Mennonite hometown under a cloud of shame and regret. After a rough childhood, her teenage poor choices harmed others, leaving her with no choice but to change her life. Her entry-level writing job at a newspaper puts her in the right place at the right time to overhear office gossip about a prisoner who has information on a decades-old unsolved crime. While the other reporters write off the tip as the ravings of an angry criminal, Sophie can’t ignore it because she knows the name of this prisoner from her old life.
Upon learning from the man that one of the other suspects is hiding out in the Missouri town of Sanctuary, she takes on a false identity to investigate and meets the young pastor of a local church–the very man she’d loved as a troubled teenager. As she gets closer to finding the suspect, will the truth of her own past come out before she discovers the identity of the criminal–or the very person she’s seeking puts a fatal stop to her investigation?
Here’s part of the first chapter to get you started…
There was something about the smell of prison that made me feel an almost overwhelming urge to run. It wasn’t the high fences that surrounded the prison in El Dorado, Kansas, or the dour-faced security guards, or even the electronic doors that slid shut behind me as I made my way to the room where visitors met with inmates. For some reason it was the sharp aroma of bleach and disinfectant that made me feel something dark lurked beneath the unpleasant smell.
I glanced around the large room at the other visitors who had come to meet with prisoners. Although most of the conversations seemed relaxed, even friendly, there was something about the men who wouldn’t be walking out the front door when their visit was over. The panic in their eyes that came from the reality of knowing there was no way out. I shivered involuntarily and stared down at the cold white table top. Even though it was only March, the air conditioning in the room was turned up high. I pulled my jacket tighter, trying not to shiver.
The door to the room opened and a guard led a man in. I almost didn’t recognize him. Tom Ford had changed. His dark, greasy hair was cut short and his acne-scarred face had cleared. He was still small, but his matchstick thin arms now had muscles. It seemed bizarre to think he was actually healthier now than he had been as a free man. He didn’t meet my gaze as he approached the table where I waited for him. Instead he sat down, the chains around his ankles rattling.
“He needs to be back in his cell in thirty minutes,” the guard said brusquely before he turned and walked over to stand next to another guard who leaned against the wall. I smiled at them but was rewarded with blank stares. I had the distinct feeling they felt the friends and family of prisoners were as guilty as their charges – as if they were somehow responsible for their criminal behavior.
The guard that led Tom into the visitor’s room watched me with narrowed eyes, his expression bordering on antagonism. His attention made me uncomfortable so I swung my gaze back to Tom who appeared to be ignoring me. I’d begun to feel claustrophobic and extremely uncomfortable.
Finally, Tom looked up and frowned at me. “You’re that reporter from the newspaper in Saint Louis, right? When you called here I told you not to come. That I changed my mind.”
I nodded and swallowed several times, trying to calm my ragged nerves.
“Why didn’t you listen? It’s not like anyone’s beatin’ down the doors to talk to me. No one else even bothered to answer my letters.”
I took a deep breath. “I want to hear what you have to say.” My voice came out in a near whisper. I breathed in and out slowly, an exercise designed to bring calm. I had an important task to accomplish, and there was no choice but to focus and finish what I came to do.
“I was wrong to write to your paper,” Tom said gruffly. “Terrance Chase is dead.”
“Did your letter have anything to do with that special on TV?” I asked.
He didn’t respond, just stared down at the table.
“That show brought a lot of attention to the robbery – and Chase. What did you see that prompted you to write to us?”
Still no answer. Just a cold glare, probably designed to make me back off.
“Over six million dollars stolen. Two guards dead, along with Chase’s partner.”
No reaction. I met his gaze head on. “You don’t recognize me, do you?” I said finally.
“I ain’t never met you. I’d remember.”
I managed a small smile. “The name Sophie Bauer didn’t help?”
He shook his head. “Still don’t know you.”
“I’m Sophie. Sophie Wittenbauer.”
He still looked confused, and I wanted to slap him.
“From Kingdom?” Bringing up the small Mennonite town in Kansas where I’d grown up made my stomach clench. Breaking free from that place was the best thing I’d ever done, and I was certain everyone in Kingdom felt the same way.
This time his jaw dropped and recognition chased away his perplexity. “You look totally different. Your hair’s different. And you’re not…” He colored and pursed his lips.
I’d had my ugly dishwater blonde hair cut short and streaked. Now I wore it in a cute bob I felt looked good on me. Of course, losing so much weight had changed me more than anything else. And trading my one simple faded, dirty black dress for attractive modern clothes made a world of difference too. Thinking about the dress I’d worn in Kingdom, two sizes too small with a hem that reached to my ankles, made me shiver. I would never be that person again. Gone was the filthy unkempt teenager. And good riddance.
“You look different too,” I said.
He nodded. “Prison will do that to you.”
“Changing your life will do that too.” I clasped my hands together on the top of the table because I didn’t know what else to do with them. “After I left Kingdom I got my G.E.D. I’m working my way through college and will earn a degree in a little over a year. Right now I’m working for the Saint Louis Times.” I neglected to tell him my current assignment was obituaries and the occasional restaurant review. But hopefully, Tom Ford would be my ticket to writing bigger stories. Stories that mattered.
He stared off into the distance. “Yeah, I understand. I’m hopin’ to get another chance someday too. But right now I’m lookin’ at a long stretch.” His eyes locked on mine. “That’s why I wrote those letters. Thought maybe my information about Terrance Chase might get me a deal. But nobody believed me. Nobody even got back to me. Until you, that is.”
“There have been a lot of rumors about Terrance Chase. Especially after that special. But most of the information has been bogus. Just people wanting to insert themselves into the investigation. The overwhelming belief is that Chase is dead. An old friend of his swears to it. Says Chase was ambushed and killed. The money taken.”
Tom shrugged. “Maybe I was wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time.”
I sighed. “Look, Tom. I saw a copy of your letter. You sounded convinced that Chase is alive, and that you know where he is. Then suddenly, you change your mind? It doesn’t make sense. Are you afraid of something?”
Tom grunted. “In here?” His eyes darted around the room and then came back to settle on me. The bold, cocky expression he’d been exhibiting slipped a notch. His voice was so soft, I could barely hear him say, “Of course I’m afraid.”
A chill ran through me. I wanted this story. Even if I had to lie. “You don’t have to worry,” I said, ignoring a brief twinge of conscience. “Talk to me off the record. I won’t print anything you don’t want me to. But if you give me something I can use to find Chase, I could go to bat for you. You know, try to get you a reduced sentence.”
His eyes narrowed. “I’ll need more than that. You gotta get me outta here, Sophie. Less time and a new prison. Someplace where no one knows me. I…I feel like I’m being watched all the time. Ever since I sent those letters.”
Part of me wanted to tell him the truth. That I had no ability to help him. That I was just a peon at the paper, but what came out of mouth was fueled by my determination to be somebody. To prove I wasn’t the worthless human being my father had told me I was. An image of his leering face floated through my mind, and I felt ill.
“You have my word. I’ll do everything I can to protect you. My paper has a lot of contacts. With people who can help you.”
He appeared to consider my offer. Once again his eyes scanned the room. The tension in his face tugged at my emotions, but I couldn’t back down now.
“Now tell me why you changed your mind about sharing what you know,” I said. “And tell me the truth.”
Watch for a special contest that will announced on Friday! Someone will win the entire Finding Sanctuary Series!