Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Teens Tread the Muddy Waters of Honesty by YA Author Cynthia T. Toney

Remember the first time a child looked you in the eye and asked why someone lied? If you were that someone and you’re like me, the answer was tough to give.

Grandma and Grandpa didn’t know you smoked. You couldn’t tell Aunt Marie you threw out the casserole she made. You didn’t want to go to that birthday party, so you pretended you were sick.

Young children most often view situations and reactions to them as black or white, bad or good, wrong or right.

Discernment is more difficult for teens. Most think of themselves as honest and don’t want to lie, but sometimes they are confused. Teens see and hear lies being told all around them, probably every day. On television, in movies, and in real life. And when lies don’t seem to do any measurable harm, it’s easy for teens to enter a gray, muddy area. There they may not be able to determine when a lie or withholding of the truth is just plain wrong.

They may think lying is sometimes necessary. When is a lie necessary? Only to save a life—or simply to spare someone’s feelings?
Cynthia's newest book,
releases 12/6! 

You or I may have years of experience in avoiding a direct answer that would hurt someone’s feelings. We may answer with a compliment about something else in order to save a relationship. Teens may not have practiced this art. And it is an art of deception, if we’re honest with ourselves.

Of all things important to teens, relationships are way up high on the list. And that’s the point we can use to guide them regarding their honesty.

Just as brutal honesty can sometimes damage relationships, dishonesty is certain to ruin them. Dishonesty with parents, teachers, friends, employers, coworkers. Teens may not consider how a lie about the car, schoolwork, tardiness, keeping a date, or numerous other seemingly small lies can affect the trust they receive from others in the future. And the future of relationships they need, whether they recognize their importance now or not.

To start a conversation with your teen about honesty, something fun to do is to take an honesty quiz such as this

Christian Teen Honesty Quiz: How Truthful Are You?

The introduction states that about 83% of teens believe that moral truth depends on a particular situation. As a family member of a teen, how do you feel about honesty and what do you expect from your teen? Now is the time to talk about it.

Interesting survey statistics about teens lying, cheating, and stealing can be found in
5 Things to Do When You Know Your Teen Is Lying on Crosswalk.com.

Statistics particular to academic dishonesty can be found in Teen Dishonesty at TeenHelp.com.https://www.teenhelp.com/teen-issues/teen-dishonesty/

We can sometimes reach our teens through fiction that addresses issues of our concern. A novel can demonstrate how teens handle situations that are muddy regarding honesty.

The third book of my Bird Face series, 6 Dates to Disaster, tackles the subject of dishonesty in school and withholding truth from parents.

When the main character’s family faces financial hardship, she must find a way to earn money to fly to Alaska to see her surrogate grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Wendy has only a few months to acquire enough money for her fare. What seems like the perfect opportunity to achieve her goal presents itself, but she handles the situation badly and risks permanent damage to her relationships and her future.

Learn more about Cynthia and all of her books at her author page at WriteIntegrity.com

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Are You Still Remembering the SACRIFICE?

Now that Veteran’s Day has passed, are you still remembering the heroes who sacrificed their lives so that our nation would remain free? Or, did you pack away those patriotic memories and feelings so you can easily access them again on Memorial Day?

Are you still remembering the SACRIFICE … of the Heroic Soldiers?

Total commitment is what President Abraham Lincoln had in mind when he spoke these words during the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers
brought forth on this continent,
a new nation,
conceived in liberty,
and dedicated to the proposition
that all men are created equal.”

President Lincoln helped the audience be cognizant of the heroes’ sacrifice as they remembered the past, recognized the present situation, and looked to the future. They were reminded of the reasons for breaking ties with England and signing the Declaration of Independence that established the new nation, under God, upon the concept of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The President explained that the “great civil war” was being fought to test the country’s ability to endure.

Lincoln reminded them of the unfinished work of the nation and
admonished the living to dedicate themselves to continue the work so that this “nation, under God” would endure and not “perish from the earth.”

Are you still remembering the SACRIFIC E… of our Merciful Savior?

Just as President Lincoln’s address prompted his audience to remember the past, recognize the present situation, and look to the future, we as Christ-followers must do the same.

Before we became Christ-followers we were sinful people at odds with holy God—we were spiritually dead!

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his
life for his friends.      -Jesus of Nazareth (John 15:13)

This, of course, is referring to His sacrificial death on the cross when sinless Jesus Christ stepped in and did what we could not do. Now, Christ-followers are redeemed, free to live as His children, new creations being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit as we rest in the finished work of Christ. And, we have the glorious assurance of eternal life with Christ!

So, what must we remember about SACRIFICE?

The unfinished work of our nation will not be completed by America’s military.

“… We are resolved to stand firm against those who would
destroy the freedoms we cherish …”
– President Ronald Reagan

Each one of us must also sacrifice as we fight the subtle war that threatens our nation, the spiritual, economic, and political battles we face daily to maintain the often taken for granted freedoms we now enjoy.

Thankfully, the work of our redemption in Christ Jesus is finished! However, we must remain
Shirley Crowder is our newest author at
Write Integrity Press. She and Harriet E. Michael
have put together the PRAYER STUDY GUIDE,
a Companion to PRAYER: IT'S NOT ABOUT
YOU, which will release in early January.
cognizant the Ultimate Sacrifice—Jesus Christ—Who gave His life so that in Him we would have freedom that brings eternal life, and freedom to walk in the newness of life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith,
act like men, be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13

As our grateful response for this sacrifice, Christ-followers present themselves as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1), giving Him 100% of themselves as they serve Him.

May you be strengthened with all power,
according to his glorious might,
for all endurance and patience with joy.
Colossians 1:11

*All Scripture passages are from the New King James Version of the Bible.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Power of the Written Word

By Betty Thomason Owens

“There are so many wonderful writers out there…how can I possibly compete?”

I’ve heard this repeated, in some form, over and over since I started my writing journey. Yes, I’ve said it often. But I’m not the only one. I read it this morning on Facebook. I hear the writer’s heart’s cry in those words, and I’m wrenched as well. More than anything, they want something in their writing to resonate with the reader, catch the heart and eye of an agent, or publisher. They want to be accepted, receive a contract, see their work in print. A dream come true.

I guess that’s what we all want—acceptance—writers ache for it. They crave it. You see, there’s power in the written word.

Can you create the image you’ve imagined? Can you, using the written word, construct a scene well enough that a reader sees it, feels it, tastes it, hears it? So that all five senses are in play?

Together, Lucas and Spielberg created a universe, populated it with planets teeming with life. They created something so real, we felt we were there. From that very first moment when that huge starcruiser rushes overhead, we are hooked.

It all began with words written on paper.

George Lucas is a genius in many ways. But he’s not alone. He isn’t the first, and he won’t be the last. We first hear of the principle of creating with the word in Genesis. “In the beginning God…And God said…” (Genesis 1:1-3 NIV)

Who will be next to create a blockbuster? To take an empty, white screen and fill it with words that grab onto our senses and pull us into a story that leaves us breathless? It could be you, if you don’t give up.

Betty Thomason Owens writes the
Legacy Series and the Kinsman-Redeemer
series. Learn more at her page on
When we, the created ones, become creators, we are only imitating our maker. As writers, our medium is the written word. We are artists, creating a masterpiece. We hope. But just like all forms of art, there are those who are truly gifted, and then there are those who try really hard. But don’t be discouraged. I’ve seen some art that looks like it was created by a toddler, yet it’s worth millions.

It begins with an idea. A spark, that gets our imagination juices flowing. Using words on paper, we build the idea into a scene. We layer in color, create images, and emotion. Conflict, cause, and effect. It comes to life. The characters could walk out of the story, sit down next to you, and you’d recognize them. Their conversations pull you into the moment. You root for the heroine, fall in love with the hero. And when you reach the end, you know the satisfaction of a story well told. You hope and pray your readers will agree.

Even if you never achieve a blockbuster hit on the New York Times bestseller list, the highest praise can come from your readers. “So what happens next? I can’t wait for the sequel.” They’re hooked. 

That’s the power of the written word.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Looking Up by Deborah Dee Harper

I love the sky. Day, night, clear, cloudy, stormy, sunny, filled with raindrops or snowflakes, falling leaves, butterflies, or birds. Doesn’t matter. To me, the sky is God’s canvas and He repaints it daily for our pleasure.

For some time now, I’ve loved photography. I started out as a child with a Brownie camera (didn’t everyone of my era?) and eagerly and unknowingly took atrocious photos. They were grainy where they weren’t blurry, always black and white, and as you can imagine, not well proportioned. Forget the rule of thirds, what did it matter if that tree grew out of my brother’s head, or if I cut his head off altogether? What mattered the most to me was that I had a camera. Waiting for my appalling pictures to be developed was half the fun. When they finally arrived, I took each one out and tried to figure out what that grainy blob was supposed to be or where each shot was taken. Usually I wrote what I’d figured out about each one on the back, along with the date, and then carefully pasted them on the black pages of my photo album with the help of those little corner pockets that I licked to make them stick to the page. I can still remember that awful taste. There they languished unseen for years. Just as well.

Thankfully, cameras and I have both improved. Today I use a gorgeous Canon that my generous brother gave to me and I utilize most of the rules of photography. I have thousands (yes, thousands) of pictures of my grandchildren (but then doesn’t every grandparent?), followed by roughly the same number of photos depicting God’s provision for His children in the natural world. Clouds are some of my favorite subjects, and I’m often in the yard or stopped along the highway to capture an unusual cloud formation or spectacular stream of sunshine flowing to the earth—seemingly from Heaven— in glowing, diaphanous rays. Some of my favorite shots are of threatening clouds that roll and tumble and growl their way toward us like arrogant soldiers who know we can do nothing but defend ourselves against their onslaught.

Whether puffy, feathery, or menacing, clouds speak to me of God’s unchanging character. From the
Learn about Deborah Dee Harper's
MISSTEP on her page at
sunny days of happiness and blessings through the overcast days of illness and misfortune, to the downright scary days of death, God is with us. He sends His love in many ways, but painting a picture in the skies is one of my very favorites.

Discovering new ways to blend my writing with my photography brings me great pleasure. It would take a miracle to find the time in my life to take my photography to a higher level, but at the moment that’s fine by me. Finding God by merely glancing upward is a miracle in itself, and capturing those ever-changing paintings, those delightful angel wings in cirrus clouds, capricious animals in the marshmallow-like cumulus clouds, or growling predators in storm clouds can be the most rewarding thing you’ll do all day.

Kind of like taking it to a higher level, wouldn’t you say?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

New Release from Write Integrity Press

Debut Novel: Romantic Suspense from Marji Laine.
Purchase COUNTER POINT in e-book or print.

Someone wants to complete the final assignment of a murdered hit man.

Her dad's gone, her diner's closing, and her car's in the lake. Cat McPherson has nothing left to lose ... except her life. And a madman, bent on revenge, is determined to take that, as well. Her former boyfriend, Ray Alexander, returns as a hero from his foreign mission, bringing back souvenirs in the form of death-threats. 

When several attempts are made on Cat’s life, she must find a way to trust Ray, the man who broke her heart.
Keeping Cat safe from a fallen cartel leader might prove impossible for Ray, but after seeing his mission destroyed and hearing of the deaths of several godly people, he knows better than to ignore the man’s threats. Cat’s resistance to his protection and the stirring of his long-denied feelings for her complicate his intentions, placing them both in a fight for their lives.

How can a small-town girl survive when ultimate power wants her dead?

Here's the first chapter:

Villa Montes, Chiapas, Mexico

“A boy.” Sevilla clapped his hands. The smack echoed against the bare adobe dome. “He will be a fine boy.” He beat his boot heels on the marble floor. His black beard bounced against his white tunic. “Ha. Go upstairs, wife. Lie down. Rest.”
“I have plans for the afternoon.” Oleta took a step backward, putting the leather sofa between them. Her large eyes wary. But her middle already showed evidence of his child.
“You will do as I say.” He snapped in her direction and put his back to her. His child would be the heir to his business. His kingdom. He must be strong and healthy. “Go now and take care of my son.”
“He is my son, too.” The woman’s voice cracked. She pressed her back against the wall.
She tested his good humor. His eyes hardened as he shot her a glare. His hands fisted at his side, prepared to take action on her insolence.
But this was supposed to be a joyful time. He relaxed his muscles and applied a measured smile under his black whiskers. “Be careful, Oleta. I cannot guarantee that my gratitude will last too far beyond my son’s birth.”
She stiffened. Good. She should be scared. She’d seen enough to know her fortunate circumstances and to be thankful for them.
Sidestepping out of his study, she scurried up the stairs. Her heels clicking like the little mouse she was. Popping in a hollow manner. The sounds grew louder. She gasped as glass broke, echoing in the entrance of his villa.
“Oleta?” He stepped toward the great hall.
Señor Sevilla.” Two from his security. Good. He needed answers.
“Go, check on Oleta. Make sure my son is all right.”
Captain Ortega gestured to the other man. “We must get you to safety.”
“Another drill? These are getting tiresome.”
“They prepare your security team to keep you safe, sir.” Ortega ushered him through the thick hallway to his helicopter hangar.
The other man had seen to Oleta. “Make sure my wife comes.”
The captain touched his earpiece and issued the order.
Sevilla climbed aboard the revving bird and looked back.
Ortega grew pale. “We must go.” He climbed aboard.
“Not until Oleta arrives. She is carrying my son. My heir.” His humor returned. A young prince to carry on his legacy.
The angled roof sections lifted.
“Stop. I will not leave without her.”
“We have to go, Señor.” Ortega strapped a belt around Sevilla and shouted at the pilot.
“I will have your head.” Sevilla kicked at the man, willing him to fall out of the gaping side of the transport. No such luck.
Ortega pulled the sliding door closed as they cleared the roof. Pings hit the heavy metal siding.
“What is that? Is something wrong with the rotor?”
The copter lurched forward and accelerated.
“Gunfire, Señor.”
“You idiot. You left Oleta back there.”
“I am sorry, sir. Fernandez reported that she was dead when he reached her. Shot on the stairs.”
No. Bile gathered in his mouth. “She carried my son. The coming leader of the Montes Cartel.”
“There is no more Montes Cartel, sir.” Ortega shouted over the pounding of the blades. “There is only you, me, and our pilot.”
“What are you saying?” What about his soldiers? His loyal followers? His faithful ones who would die before injury befell him? “The cartel lives.”
“All of your property is under siege except for the bunker near Asmirandu.” Ortega wiped sweat from his eyes with the back of his hand. “A few men there. And the federales know nothing about the compound.”
“Asmirandu.” Sevilla growled the village name. “His home.”
“The missionary?”
“He did all of this. His noble report in the face of fear.” The man would pay. “He has no idea what fear looks like.”
“I will kill him myself, Señor.”
“No.” Sevilla tapped his fingertips together. “I want him to worry. And then see everything that he loves destroyed. As he has destroyed everything that is mine.”
“Most of what he loves is in America.”
“Then I will go to America.” He spat out the hated word. “By the time I am finished with Raymond Johnson, he will understand true terror.”

Heath’s Point, Texas

“We’ve lost contact.”
The shout, spurred on by a January gust, flew past Cat McPherson without fully engaging her brain. “You did what?”
Violet Alexander rarely came to the diner at sunset, but Cat’s focus was on the needy people who waited in the treacherous cold for dinner. She stepped off the stoop of Mac’s Diner, handing a boxed meal to a dirty-faced man dressed in clothes much too large for him. “Do you have shelter for tonight?”
He nodded.
“Got him a spot near mine, Miss Cat.” Dash, a regular for as long as Cat could remember, put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “I’ll take care of ’em.”
She smiled and handed Dash a meal. The man’s wide smile showed his gratitude. “You such a blessing, Miss Cat. Can’t tell ya how thankful I was to know you’d keep serving meals after your daddy passed.”
Cat’s mouth twitched. She wished Dad were there. Talking about Jesus. Praying over the meal. How could she ever fill his shoes? “Sunset dinners are way too important to let them go.” And she’d do everything in her power to keep the diner profitable, as long as Dad’s silent partner didn’t get in the way, if only to keep serving these dinners.
Rubbing her hands on her blue jeans, she hoped to ignite heat and restore feeling to her fingers. Vi came closer.
Cat paused. Her hand steadied the rolling cart just inside the door. The chilling gale rested a moment. A warm breath from the heater inside caressed Cat’s frigid cheeks. “I’m so sorry, Vi. I couldn’t hear you over the wind.”
She caught a glimpse of Violet’s face. The woman’s puffy, red eyes, a contradiction to her usually flawless makeup, shook Cat from her routine. The rare sight of a not-having-it-all-together Vi shoved the words back through Cat’s brain, this time engaging it. We’ve lost contact.
The nerve endings along Cat’s spine filled with ice. The wind picked up, whipping her curly ponytail into a knotted frizzle. She grasped the edge of her red wool coat as the gale snatched at the hem. Trying to shout over the force of the blast used all her energy, and she struggled to form the single syllable that came out as a broken whisper.
“Ray?” Her heart lurched at the name she hadn’t uttered in months.
Vi bit her bottom lip.
Cat’s breath came in sharp gasps as her eyes locked onto Ray’s mom. “Is he all right?” Surely the message contained more information. Some hope. He had to come back.
But the woman stood silent as tears pooled against the bottom rim of her eyes.
Dash laid a hand on her shoulder. “I can finish handing out these here dinners if you need some time.”
She stared at him for a full second, her thoughts whirling to some wilderness where Ray was trapped, unable to return, or maybe … Shutting her eyes against her worst fears, she nodded. “Thank you.”
“Come inside.” Vi pulled Cat out of the frigid air and into the diner, warmed from hours of grilling. Aromas of stale frying oil mixed with freshly baked chocolate cake failed to offer Cat their usual familiar comfort. Her mind refused to settle on one thought. Like when the doctors told her they could do nothing more for her father.
This couldn’t be happening. Even with Ray’s silence when he left for his mission field, she still dreamed of a future together, the ministry they had spent hours talking about. Was that dream gone forever? Lifting her eyes, she hoped to ask more questions.
Vi lowered into the nearest chair. Her hands folded in her lap. Her gaze somewhere between the edges of the red laminate table.
Oh God, comfort Violet right now.
Cat couldn’t imagine losing Ray, but when Vi looked at him, she saw her baby. Unwilling to allow her angst freedom, she hurried into the kitchen. She had to get control of her emotions. Before she caused Violet even more pain.
Cat grabbed a pair of sodas from the fridge and rejoined Vi. The hollow clomps of her boots on the black and white checkerboard linoleum reverberated in her chest. Empty. Alone.
She pushed the ache aside and set the Dr Pepper in front of Vi. “Have some. You’ll feel better. Or can I get you some of Grady’s leftover cookies?”
“No, no. I’ll be fine.” She tugged a napkin out of the table canister and folded it. Resetting her can on the makeshift coaster, she popped it open.
Cat opened her Diet Pepsi and observed the woman, her eyes still rimmed in red, though wiped dry. Petite with short, highlighted hair and the same chocolate eyes as Ray. If anyone had a right to crumble it was his mother, but Vi stood strong. Coming to offer comfort to Cat instead.
“What is the board doing about it?” Cat wrapped her hands around the can and took a sip, forcing the bubbles down with a loud gulp.
Vi stared at her soda. “They’ve contacted Ray’s ministry partners, but those missionaries live over a hundred miles from his village.”
“Wherever that is.” Cat chided herself immediately for letting her frustration have voice. Especially around Vi.
But the fact that Ray had told her nothing, advancing no trust whatsoever, cut as deeply as his leaving her behind. Almost as deeply. Taking the future they expected to share for himself and leaving without her was a betrayal she could never forget.
But she’d always expected him to return.
“Ray’s journal noted an appointment to preach last Sunday at the little church he helped to build, but he logged in nothing further.”
“Haven’t they contacted the US Embassy? Called the police? Anything?” Surely there were ways to find him. She bounced her right leg.
“Things are different in other countries, Cat. You know that.” She sniffed.
Cat laid her hand across Vi’s. “We’ll find out this is just a mistake. I bet you hear from him tomorrow. He’ll be fine and have a good laugh at the worrywarts back home.”
Sad eyes lifted. “I have learned that some of the surrounding villages have been contacted.” She pulled another napkin from the canister and rubbed her nose.
“So, maybe he went someplace else. Maybe he tried a new place and has yet to update his journal.” Cat could believe that. And Vi needed other options to think about besides …
“Someone from one of the communities responded to the contact.”
Cat glanced at Vi’s reflection in the darkened glass of the storefront. The woman opened her mouth and shut it again. Beyond that virtual mirror, the small group that had huddled outside dispersed with their dinner packages.
“What did they say?” Despite the warmth of the diner, she shivered and jumped as Dash opened the door.
He shoved the cart through, staying well outside the doorframe. “You all right in here?”
She waved at him. “We’re okay. Thank you for your help.”
The old man whose girth didn’t match his nickname stepped back a few steps and waved at Cat through the window.
“Probably as close to being inside a building as Dash has been for some time.”
Vi’s jaw muscle twitched briefly. The corner of her mouth angled downward.
Cat’s attempt to lighten the air failed. “Oh, Vi, you know God is with Ray. You told me yourself how He led him to the mission. Don’t give into fear now.”
Brave words. And she tried to believe them.
Tears brimmed Vi’s lashes again. “There’s word that the mission fell under attack.”

Outside Asmirandu, Chiapas, Mexico

¡Pégalos!” Get them.
Voices of the hooded attackers chasing Ray Alexander echoed under the canopy of trees. He stumbled over briars and weaved between gnarled trunks. Branches slapped his face as he followed the man who pulled him from a chaos of shouts and gunfire at the small church he helped to build.
Dodging the vine tentacles, he pushed aside the fronds of invading plants along an invisible path. His lungs burned. His shoulder screamed pain. Dislocated? Keep moving. He focused on the man, Miguel, a recent transfer to his mission team. He dared not lose sight of him.
Not here. Especially not now.
Voices somewhere behind him called out again. His own crashing boot steps far overwhelmed the sounds of his pursuers. Had he widened the gap?
Miguel halted then folded his frame into the fronds of a large fern. Huffing, Ray tucked himself behind a giant elephant ear leaf nearby. He struggled to listen over his heaving chest. His blood-stained shirt clung to his limp left arm.
Shouts began again. Farther away, he felt sure this time.
“Are you okay?” Miguel’s hoarse whisper blended with the jungle noises.
Ray nodded. He yanked the leather belt from his waistband. Lassoing his middle, he lashed his useless arm to his torso.
Miguel bobbed his head. Time to move on.
A steep ditch lay on his right, and Miguel dropped over the edge. Ray slipped from his cover. Without hesitation, he scooted down the ridge. Angular trees provided regular braces on the way. He practically fell against the first, catching himself with his good arm. The same technique worked for the second descent. Reaching for the next trunk, he stepped into a rotted log. The misstep propelled him into the rough and broken bark, left-shoulder first. He gritted his teeth against a choked cry. Pain blinded him. Miguel glanced back and changed course, but Ray waved him on. Breathing deep, he pushed off the tree and forged ahead.
His rescuer hesitated while Ray closed the gap. At the bottom, a gully with a trickling stream provided them with secretive travel. Downed trees and boulders made the path look like something out of a video game.
But the men searching for them weren’t playing.
“Not sure how many are dead at the mission.” A man’s low voice in sharp Spanish staccato floated down from behind the heavy undergrowth on the ridge above them. Obviously he’d been involved with the attack.
Ahead, Miguel paused and held up his hand. Ray halted.
“The missionary got away, but we’re looking for him.”
Ray went cold. He’d received threats from the drug cartel when he helped to shut down their traffic within his area. His actions had even flushed out the powerful leader of the cartel, Sevilla. But that placed Ray in a precarious position. The policía hadn’t arrested the drug lord yet, but Ray was hopeful. Could Sevilla have arranged for the attack on Ray’s mission? Was he really that powerful?
After a pause, the one-sided conversation above him continued. “We believe he headed to Dumaus, and when we find him, we will bring him to the compound as instructed.”
Ray recognized the village name. He hoped Miguel had a different destination planned.
“Say again? The signal here is not so good.” The man’s voice rose. His footstep tramped closer in the undergrowth on the plateau.
Miguel motioned for Ray to crawl beneath the overhang created by a massive Montezuma Cypress on the edge of the eroded ravine. Soundlessly, Ray darted for cover, hunkered under a cascade of exposed roots.
“I’ve passed on the explicit instructions. Raymond Johnson will be taken alive.”
A sliver of fear danced around the back of Ray’s neck. Using a fake, utterly common, last name struck him as overkill at the onset of his mission. Now he thanked God that this powerful man couldn’t trace him or his family. Good thing there weren’t any other Johnsons in Heath’s Point. But then, no one knew his hometown either.
The man’s voice faded, but his intent had been clear. People—friends and brothers in Christ—had just given their lives so some insane man could prove his power to Ray. Sevilla gave little thought to the people of the church. He only wanted to destroy the pastor.
Guilt added more weight on his already heaving chest.
They waited for the silence to deepen. The music of birds and animals marked the absence of the phone-using marauder. Ray worried their delay allowed the hunters to get ahead of them. What if he and Miguel caught up to them while trying to escape?
Finally, Miguel stepped out and climbed up the roots.
He shimmied back down, rejoining Ray underneath. “I see no one.”
“I must thank you. I owe you my life.”
“You owe me nothing, my friend. I am happy I came to Asmirandu when I did.”
Only a few days before the raid, Miguel had arrived from a village to the north. He’d brought with him some supplies for the mission and a letter of introduction from a missionary Ray had met a few times.
Miguel wiped the back of his hand across his forehead. “I saw the men heading for the mission, but I could not run fast enough to warn you.”
“I’m still in your debt. I don’t want to think of what might have happened if you had not pulled me out the back door.” In truth, Ray didn’t want to think about the raid at all, but he expected the scene to revisit him again and again.
Miguel took the lead again. They broke through the forest cover far too quickly to suit Ray. Miguel dashed across a large field of head-high grasses. Ray accelerated, but his guide disappeared into bobbing reeds. He hoped his steps remained straight. An accidental circle to return the way he came promised disaster.
Shots rang out behind him. The assassins had caught up. At least gunfire confirmed he ran in the right direction.
He climbed a hill. More shots went off. Running in a dark brown shirt through the waving tan stalks, he stood out like a cockroach on a wall. Ducking low, he veered right. Twelve paces. Then peeled to the left for seven. The soft pffft of bullets finding ground nearby made him dart right again.
Reaching the crest, Ray escaped into the shelter of thick forest.
Miguel waited for him inside the dark shadows. “Do you need to rest? We could stop.”
“No!” His burning lungs couldn’t waste air on words. And the crack of a shot hitting a nearby tree propelled him on.
Miguel led him through the outer edges of the Montes Azules Reserve that lay in Chiapas. The shouts from behind them faded, finally stopping altogether. Ray followed his guide’s breakneck pace, desperate to reach safety before the dimness of jungle became the blackness of night.
They slowed to a jog when the growth thickened. Several times Miguel stopped to help Ray push through walls of vegetation. His shoulder ached and his cheek stung with every drop of sweat that found its way to a cut he’d received during the attack. Thankfully it stopped bleeding.
Thoughts of Cathy filled his head—the way she looked running through the hayfield, her bright red hair standing out among the stalks. Leaving her behind tore him apart but, at least, his lone departure kept her safe. What would he have done had she been at the mission with him? He shuddered.
With God’s help, he hoped to see her again, though he knew things would never be the same between them.
Ray lost sight of Miguel in the filtering light. He’d ducked into a low arch in a mass of vines. Ray saw no other way around the layers of underbrush. Like the Going on a Bear Hunt book his mom used to read to him, the living barrier allowed no access around, over, or through the bushes. He had to follow Miguel and crawl under heavy branches. He thanked the Lord that he had tied up his arm to keep the lifeless thing out of the way.
He hit all fours—well, threes—hopping like a lame dog. He struggled through the labyrinth, army-crawling for the last few yards. Working his way out, Ray left the great wall of jungle. A western road that led to San Salbitaso lay under his knees.
At least the path didn’t go near Dumaus, though the hunters might have changed course.
Ray’s memories of the vicious surge, led by the four hooded men, hurt worse than the throbbing of his shoulder and his cheek put together. He had no idea who or how many, but people died in that little stucco building. His people. They had depended on him. He let them down. He didn’t know how deeply the assassin’s knife had slashed his cheek, but nothing cut as deeply as the consequences of his failure.
All of his failure.
Miguel stopped to look at his cheek before the setting sun removed all chances of seeing anything. “Your cut looks bad, amigo. Better stop and clean it.”
“The airfield’s close, right? Wait ’til we get there.” Ray didn’t pause. Let Miguel catch up with him for a change.
Hesitations caused this problem in the first place. Ray received threats but didn’t take them seriously. Well, he believed them now. With people he cared for at risk, he dare not let his guard down.
He jogged to the rise above San Salbitaso. The valley spread below him like a panoramic photograph. The last rays of the sun illuminated the tiny village of thatched roofs cradled between two rocky hills. Though he likely viewed the beauty for the last time, he dared not pause to create a mental picture, as the camouflage of the jungle no longer protected them. The little-used road gave direction, but if Miguel found this washed-out, two-rutted track, those hunting them would have no problem. The remaining light faded. Dusk worked in their favor. He picked up the pace.
Safety neared, but uncertainty threatened to blast a hole in the net.