Excerpt From Chanson de l’Ange: Book Two~The Bleeding Rose by Paisley Swan Stewart

Chanson de l’Ange by Paisley Swan Stewart is a two volume epic retelling of the classic novel, the Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux. Inspired by the legend of The Opera Ghost in all its incarnations, the author weaves her own captivating tale while remaining faithful to key story elements.  Chanson de l’Ange creates bookends to the compelling saga of the Opera Ghost through an imaginative account of Christine Daae’s childhood companionship with the Angel of Music; while the final gripping chapters unveil her years beyond the opera house.

Excerpt

Prologue:

Looking back on the events of those early days, I concede it is only now through adult eyes that I can begin to describe what happened to me. Childish innocence has faded into sepia photographs, hopelessly romanticized by the passing of time and my aging memory. The girl I once was is little more than a stranger to me now; a far removed shadow of the woman I am today.

I often wish I could have prepared, and yes, even warned her about he events which were to come. But even if I could have, would I? And would it have changed anything, if she . . . if I had chosen differently; if I had understood and known the truth? Or was I in some way destined to make that strange journey, irresistibly drawn to him for a greater purpose than I could have possibly imagined? My woman’s heart willingly embraces the truth now and I must tell it; and though, even after all these years it threatens to split my soul asunder, I must speak of it.

They say that pain is a patient teacher; that a wound burns and bleeds to purge the body of life threatening infections. Pain is a warning against danger and alerts one to escape further injury by avoiding the behavior which caused the pain. If treated swiftly, most wounds heal over time, perhaps leaving only the slightest scar, but emotional pain is a vicious tearing force, capable of inflicting wounds so deep that no balm, and no stitching together of flesh can bring wholeness to the sufferer.

These invisible scars mar more than the surface of the skin, burrowing deep into the recesses of the mind and deforming every pure intention. This pain paralyzes the soul and renders one the shell of a human being, who desperately reaches out through a haze of devastation and inconsolable grief for a reason to live.

No one knows for certain why some souls must endure pain and suffering, whether self-inflicted or carelessly caused by others; or why some creatures are chosen for sorrow and others destined for joy. We do not choose our place or time in the world nor can we change our past.

Each soul is blessed with the spirit of life and with the ability to make the best of what it is given. The ability to love or to hate, to heal or to Wound, to draw the darkness of hell up into the world . . . or to reach beyond our heartache for the strength to lift our eyes heavenward, and to make the music of angels.

Chapter 1

Orphan in Winter—1873

The bleak sky hung gray and heavy, forecasting a winter storm. Barren trees thick with ice were bent unnaturally in the silvery sheen of late afternoon, and huge snow-dusted monuments encompassed the gravesite.

Ominous winged angels, statues of saints, and mysterious creatures whose forms might have turned to stone under enchantment, stood watch over the dead. Their hollow eyes stared unblinking, their frozen hearts numb to my grief.

It was with acute emotional pain that I watched my father’s coffin lowered into the grave. The wind whipped strands of hair against my cold cheeks, and with a bouquet of red roses clutched in my gloved hand, I watched in horror as darkness swallowed him. Shivering in my black dress and heavy winter cloak, I tightly held onto the hand of Madame Giry, a woman I barely knew, whom father had chosen to be my guardian.

Scriptures spoken by the minister echoed eerily through the mausoleum, and there father would lie forever below those benevolent stargazers, whose cold countenances made me shiver beyond the chill of the day.

A burial plaque was all that marked the thirty-seven years of my father’s existence on earth; a stone marker with engraved name and dates, saying nothing of the man who lay there. There was no mention of the life he had lived, the places we had traveled, or the music he had created with his beloved violin. They don’t engrave memories on markers, for only we who are left behind can truly tell the story of a life. He had been my only companion, both father and mother to me, and his music would live in my heart forever, but on that winter afternoon as I watched the ground steal him away, his beloved face began to recede from my inner eye.

Memories of father playing gypsy melodies and the music of Mozart,drifted through my mind as snow flurries began to swirl, and gazing upward I squeezed my eyes closed as snowflakes melted on my lashes. Looking down with an ambiguous expression, Madame Giry took my hand and led me to the grave’s edge where with vapored breath, Reverend Manning recited the last scriptures. He spilt a handful of earth into the grave; and I flinched, wishing to have covered my ears from the sound of dirt striking the coffin. The few living souls attending the service offered a final prayer,and then Madame Giry instructed me to release my roses into the grave.

At only ten years of age, I could not comprehend the finality of death, or understand how quickly a living being could be reduced to a six-foot box in the ground. I wanted to throw myself down onto the coffin, and beg God to bring back my father, but I could only whisper goodbye as the roses fell from my hand.

Father was lost to me as I slowly turned away, and with the receding sound of shovels piercing stone cold earth, Madame Giry led me through a massive iron gate where we boarded the carriage that would take me to my new home.

The carriage wound its way through cobbled streets and wide avenues. Shops and markets were deserted and dark, but for a few beggars and vagabonds who hovered in doorways. The Christmas holiday found families and merchants comfortable in their fire-lit homes, as the winter storm gathered force. Bitter wind began to howl, sending brittle leaves spiraling up into the air, while tree limbs crackled as frozen rain pelted the already slick street.

“We are almost there, my dear,” Madame Giry spoke quietly. I could feel her eyes, but kept my attention straight ahead and nodded without speaking. Gently she tucked her hand under my chin and turned my face toward her own, patting my wet eyes and cheeks with her cotton handkerchief.

“I know how difficult it is for a child to lose a parent, Christine.” She told me. “Gustave was a decent man and a wonderful father who will never be replaced in your life, but I promise I shall be good to you, and in time you may even come to think of me as a mother, or at the very least a friend you can trust.”

Nodding my head I stared out the window and answered dutifully, “Yes, Madame.”

A mother. I repeated within myself, fresh tears making silent pathways down my cheeks. Her words stung as I thought about my real mother and the mystery surrounding her death. I knew only her beautiful name, Katrine Daaé, and that she had been born and raised in Paris. Father never spoke of her, and there had been no reminders of her in our Parisian apartment or our home in Sweden. No photographs or mementos of Katrine Daaé were among our family treasures; my only portrait of father lay with my belongings in a small suitcase, now on its way to my new home.

I had been told mother passed away shortly after I was born, but beyond that, I had no knowledge of where she was buried or how she had died. Late at night when he thought I was sleeping, I often heard father  playing his violin; lovely gypsy melodies that were both beautiful and melancholy. I would wonder what could have been the cause of so much beauty and sorrow; and I would lie in my bed listening, comforted by the violin’s haunting music. Father had promised that when I was older, he would tell me more about my mother, but as our carriage journeyed to The Paris Opera House, I knew I would never know her story.

I held my breath as the horses trotted up to the largest and most beautiful building I had ever seen. Father and I had traveled extensively before coming to settle in Paris. Our travels had taken us to great cities throughout Europe and Scandinavia, but Paris boasted some of the finest architecture in the world, and this ornate structure was the crown of Parisian artistry and skill. Blinking my eyes, I craned my neck, placing the palms of my gloved hands on the window.

Corinthian columns framed the building’s massive entrance and supported the arches of the theater’s dome. Wreathed by engravings of flowers and cherubim, the arches were suspended between earth and sky. Voluptuous bare breasted angels perched atop the highest edifices, seeming to have dropped down from heaven to grace the world of men, and stone gargoyles crouched in the shadowed archways, as if they had crawled up from deepest hell. Webbed bat-wings wrapped around their grotesque forms, revealing only a glimpse of malevolent mouths and eyes.

In time I would come to learn that angels and demons both shared guardianship over that magnificent palace, a garish monument to music and humanity. Both light and darkness sought influence in the comedies and tragedies of the souls who inhabited the opera house, where the human condition was little more than a drama, played out on a stage of choices. Humans could embrace the light within or be seduced by the hissing caress of darkness. Each soul was subject to dreams and desires which led to eternal life and joy, or to disaster and damnation. I couldn’t help feeling apprehensive, and that my life would never be the same once I walked through those doors.

Snow was steadily falling as we pulled to a stop, and Madame placed her hand on my knee, pointing up to the roof, “If you like, Christine, my daughter will take you to see the statue of Apollo.” she said, trying to engage me in conversation, but as I looked up to the gigantic figure overhung from the very pinnacle of the opera’s roof, I could only stare in silence, feeling powerless and afraid of what lay ahead.

Madame Giry took my hand as the driver assisted us down from the carriage. Father’s violin case with my bags was carried by a porter up the granite staircase, while the driver tipped his hat and waved us away. With each step toward the grand entrance, dread inched icily up my spine. Dark and nearly deserted, only a small staff of maids and chamberlains had been left behind to oversee the building. The opera remained closed during Christmas, to open again on New Years Eve for the annual Bal Masque. With dreary daylight giving way to winter gloom, gas lamps and torches were lit on the grounds, and I clung to Madame Giry’s hand as she led me up snow-covered stairs. “Tomorrow you shall have the grand tour of our lovely lady,” she smiled. “But for now, we must get you settled in your room.”

With the opening of the massive doors, I drew in a sharp breath as we entered The Grand Foyer. Only a few lamps reflected and sparkled across the marble and golden surfaces, but even in near darkness, the beauty and size of the place was spectacular. From the main floor, we proceeded to the left of the grand double staircase, and entered a long narrow corridor to the very back of the building, and then on to a plain wooden door. Madame pulled a set of large keys from her handbag, and with a quick twist the door opened into yet another narrow hallway. I was immediately struck by the contrast between this quarter of the building and The Grand Foyer.

Whereas, the foyer sparkled with Parisian wealth and luxury, I could sense the age of these corridors, the damp musty odors souring my senses. Taking an oil lamp from a bracket seated in the wall, Madame held my hand as we wound our way down a flight of stairs. Her silk skirts and woolen cloak brushed the walls as the porter followed behind with my belongings. The stairway curved downward through rough stone walls on either side, giving me the sense that I was descending into an ancient castle.

Reaching the bottom, Madame smiled and tugged on my hand gently as we looked down a long stretch of wooden doors, each painted a different color. “This is the dormitory wing, where you’ll be staying just a few doors down from my apartment.” she said, guiding me to the end of the hall where a torch flared and smoked, casting long shadows across the plaster ceiling.

The hallway was quiet, with only the sound of muffled silence greeting our arrival at a rose-colored wooden door. “I chose this room especially for you, Christine.” Madame informed me cheerfully, slipping a key in the padlock. “Most of our girls must share common quarters, but now that I am your guardian, I’ve made arrangements for you to have your own room, close to mine.”

She led me into a small room furnished with a coal-burning stove that glowed from the corner, and a single bed draped in layers of quilts, with a pink lace coverlet overtop. A small chest of drawers, a cedar trunk, and a stuffed armchair upholstered in worn damask filled out the modest but homey furnishings. A rose-patterned carpet lay atop the wooden floorboards, and a rose-colored stained glass window embellished with brass fittings was set high in the wall above the bureau.

As an only child, I had always slept in my own bed, even if it was in makeshift quarters behind a kitchen pantry, or my own little corner in our small apartment. I was thankful for a room of my very own, fearful that I might not be welcomed by other children, and wishing to be left alone. Though it wasn’t fancy or richly appointed, the room was inviting and Cozy, and I was tired, longing to unpack my things and crawl beneath the covers. I sat down on the bed yawning repeatedly as the porter deposited my suitcase and violin on the floor.

“What do you think, my dear, will it do for now?” Madame asked, seating herself beside me.

Gazing about the room with another yawn, I nodded my head and whispered wearily, “It is very nice, Madame. Thank you.”

The room’s one truly remarkable feature was the floor length mirror dominating the wall opposite the bed. With its unusual size and golden embellishments, the mirror seemed an odd fit to the room’s shabby and girlish decor. Light reflected from the mirror, and strange shadows danced on the ceiling and across the floor.

The porter took his leave, closing the door behind him as Madame helped me remove my boots, hooded cloak and dress. I was an emotionless and obedient automaton as she opened my suitcase and pulled out my night clothes, slipping the nightgown over my head.

“I see you’ve noticed the mirror, Christine.” she spoke soothingly, doing up the little buttons on the back of my nightgown as I pulled off my stockings. “It is very old, and has been hanging somewhere in this opera house since before the ballet dorms were added many years ago. This room was mine when I was just a few years older than you, Christine,” she explained, rising up from the bed, and walking gracefully across the carpet. Caressing the golden frame, her slender fingers slid along the detailed leaf and vine carvings, and she glanced back at me, speaking with a hushed voice, “I once danced before this very mirror for hours at a time.” she said wistfully. “You will find many mirrors in the opera house, Christine, but this is my favorite.”

“It is beautiful.” I answered sleepily. My eyes feeling heavy, I dangled my legs over the side of the bed and asked her, “But, Madame, why do I need such a big mirror?”

There was something unsettling about this mirror, and I wasn’t at all certain I wanted those strange reflections and shadows looming over my sleep. Gliding back to my bedside, Madame shrugged off her heavy coat, draping it across the footboard.

Turning down the blankets, she began unpacking my cases and storing my clothing in the bureau. “Christine, my dear,” she answered with a patient sigh while emptying the carpet bag. “It was your father’s wish that you master all the performing arts under my care. You will be a student of dance, of voice, and of theater…and one day, if you work very hard, you may even perform with the opera company.”

I looked up wide-eyed, my mouth gaping open, unable to grasp her words. At only ten years old, I could not imagine how I would ever fulfill father’s wishes. With him gone, the very notion of performing was out of the question. My only thoughts were of his loss, and not of a future he could not share with me. My shoulders sagging, I folded my hands in my lap and tried not to cry, staring at the rose designs woven into the rug.

“A dancer must have a mirror, child, and a great singer must observe her reflection while she sings.” Madame instructed, as I puzzled over her words. It was in that moment when I began to realize how different my life would be in the opera house. I had never attended an actual opera, and now I was being groomed as a professional singer. Performing with father at country fairs and in small concert halls was far less intimidating. I had always loved singing with my father on those small stages for farmers and merchants. But what would it be like to sing on a real stage with lights and a large audience? The very thought terrified me.

Sitting down beside me, Madame unwound my braids, combing her fingers through the length of my hair as I closed my eyes, my head rocking back with each gentle tug. Removing a hair brush from a drawer in the bureau, she brushed out the tangles, and I found comfort in her hands on my scalp and neck. Separating my hair into equal sections, she expertly combed my chestnut waves until they shone, and again my eyes drifted back to the mirror’s reflection of myself and the strange woman who would now be a mother to me.

Following my gaze, Madame Giry remarked breathlessly, “Mirrors are enchanting things are they not, my dear? One could almost believe them magical,” she sighed, twisting my hair into two new braids, and fastening them with ribbons. “Well, I expect that is because they are often depicted as such in myths and stories.” she added, tying the ribbons into bows.

I looked up at her face, fascinated by her features and startling posture. Even when sitting, Madame’s spine was perfectly straight, her shoulders back and chin erect. She seemed never to slouch, and when she walked across a room, there was no hesitancy or clumsy bounce in her fluid movements. Following our move to Paris, I had seen her from time to time in our apartment, but I had never actually been bold enough to observe her beauty. Now with her close proximity, I studied her physical appearance with interest. Her hazel eyes were kind and mysterious, and reminded me very much of the tabby cat owned by Madame Valleria, father’s wealthy patroness. Madame Giry’s eyes could appear either green or golden, depending on the color she wore. Her ivory complexion and high forehead were smooth and luminous in the room’s soft glow, making her appear younger than her twenty-nine years. A thick braid trailed gracefully down her back, its rich auburn color accentuating her feline features.

She smiled at me and set the brush on my nightstand as I pulled my feet up onto the bed. “Christine, would you like tea before bed?” she asked kindly, cradling my cheek with her hand.

Shaking my head, I drew my knees up to my chest. Although I had eaten very little in the past two days, my stomach felt oddly full. “No thank you, Madame, I am not hungry at all.” I answered.

“That is understandable, dear,” she replied with a nod. “I will bring your breakfast in the morning, and after you’ve had time to adjust, you will take your meals with my daughter and me in the dining hall.”

Slipping my toes under the heavy quilts, I lay my head back against the pillow, grateful for the bed’s warmth as my legs stretched under the soft layers. Madame pulled the blankets up to my chin and bent over to kiss my forehead.

“You’ll see,” she said, pulling matches from her pocket and lighting the oil lamp on the bureau. “You will be happy here, and tomorrow, Christine, you shall meet my daughter. Her name is Margaret, but she prefers to be called Meg, the nickname her father gave her.” Madame added.

When I did not immediately reply, she stood regarding me for a few moments then turned toward the doorway. “Good night, my dear,” she said over her shoulder as she gathered her cloak, took up her lamp and tiptoed across the rug. “If you need me, I am just down the hall, mine is the blue door on the right.”

“Good night, Madame,” I answered, yawning and rubbing my eyes. With the soft rustling of silk, the door closed behind her, and I was alone. The room was deathly quiet, and I lay with the blankets pulled up to my chin, trying not to look at the mirror. I considered bolting out the door to Madame’s apartment, but I did not wish anyone to know how truly frightened I was. How would it look if I cried out for Madame on my very first night? It would surely shame my father, who had taught me to look after myself. With all our travels to foreign cities and villages, I had often slept in strange houses, and sometimes we even camped out-of-doors. Surely I was grown up enough to stay in this room on my own, but the terror of the moment and the weight of the day’s nightmarish events suddenly bore down on me like the heavy lid of father’s coffin. With my heart pounding, I could scarcely breathe and jolted upright, throwing back the blankets in a panic. Panting breaths came hard and fast, and I clutched my arms around my body as the memory of father’s death rose up in my mind.

Pain gripped my belly as I gagged back the meager contents of my stomach. Tears stung my eyes and flowed in a sticky mess as I sobbed violently, rocking back and forth until the neck of my nightgown was soaked through. I couldn’t comprehend that father was gone.

So quickly he had taken to his bed with fever, his violin ignored as Madame Giry brought a succession of physicians to his bedside. To no avail, potions were poured down his throat and tinctures rubbed over his feverish flesh. Day by day, I watched him change from a strong and

handsome man into someone I barely recognized. In the hours before his death, they allowed me into his sick room where he lay dressed only in his nightshirt. He was shriveled and dusky, his once handsome face gaunt with eyes sunken, his lips drawn back to reveal his yellowed teeth. With short gasping breaths and his frail hands clasping the sheets, he gestured for me to approach. Oily sweat coated his skin, and losing consciousness, he rose up from the death throes just long enough to gurgle my name. His voice was so weak that I had to put my ear to his mouth, and his breath reeked of death.

“Christine, I will not leave you alone,” he panted, a strange sucking sound in the back of his throat.

I could only lay across his chest, my little hands clutching his face, begging him not to leave me. “Papa, please don’t die,” I whimpered. “Please don’t go!”

“I promise,” he forced between violent gasps, “I will send the angel.”

“But I don’t want an angel. I want you to stay here with me!” I cried, holding onto him in desperation. Burying my face in his nightshirt, not caring that he was unwashed and sweaty, I prayed for God to let him stay. I didn’t want an angel, I wanted father to get better, to leave his bed and play his violin. I wanted him to eat meals with me, to sing with me and tell stories like we used to. What good was an angel? No angel, no matter how holy or beautiful, could ever take the place of my father. I had heard the legend many times, the story of the Angel of Music who appeared only to the most deserving of souls. The legend taught that the angel was sent from heaven to watch over special children who had been given the gift of music. Father explained that it was the angel’s duty to protect and nurture that sacred gift. The angel was never visible to the child and often appeared when least expected. If a child was lost and heartbroken, the angel would come to comfort her. Suddenly his celestial voice would call out in the night when the child was sleeping. Father said that those who were visited by the angel would experience an ecstasy unknown to the rest of mankind, but proud and foolish children were denied visitation because they were not found worthy. Only the humble and the gentle were blessed by the angel’s holy presence.

I imagined the Angel of Music to look like the stained glass seraphim in the chapel windows; with flowing robes, white swan wings, and golden hair. But now I wanted my father’s gentle brown eyes and soft dark hair. His tattered work clothes and his calloused hands meant more to me than any angel’s crown.

“I don’t want an angel,” I repeated stubbornly, “I want you, papa!

Please don’t go away.”

Father moaned and writhed in his bed, as Madame Giry tried to comfort me. He drifted in and out of consciousness for another hour, intermittently opening his glazed eyes and twitching violently. They wiped his brow and parched lips with a damp cloth, while I hovered in the corner, Madame’s arms wrapped tightly around my body. Finally, with a shattering wail as his back arched in rigid spasms, he called out my name. I ran to his bed and he took hold of my hands, looking into my eyes for the last time.

“I love you, Chris . . .”

And then, he fell back onto the mattress, his body going limp, the muscles and lines of his face becoming relaxed and smooth as if he were only sleeping. I waited, wanting him to move, watching for breath to fill his chest, but there was only silence. The only sound in the room was my sobbing and a ticking clock. I lay across his chest for some moments, clinging to him, listening for that familiar thrum of life and blood pumping through his heart. But there was nothing.

A mysterious dark power had taken my father to a place where I could not follow, and my grief was unbearable as I clung to his lifeless body.

“Papa!” I wailed, “Papa!”

The memories of his death were too vivid. I could not bear them. Sobbing and choking, I slipped down from the bed and knelt before the mirror, folding my hands in prayer as I had done nightly throughout my childhood, but father had always been at my side, waiting to tuck me in and kiss me goodnight. Now he was gone and who would hear my prayers? I believed in God, but on that night even God seemed too far away to hear the longings of a frightened child.

“Dear God, please let me hear his voice again!” I begged.

My prayer was met with silence and I had never felt so alone. Drawing my knees up to my chest, I sobbed into my hands, trying to stifle my tears in the sleeves of my gown. With all the loneliness of the world crushing me, I remained on the floor until my body ached with the cold.

Paisley Swan Stewart’s website:  http://www.chansondelange.com

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Chanson de l’Ange by Paisley Swan Stewart

My guest blogger today is Paisley Swan Stewart, who talks about her life and why she retold the story of The Phantom of the Opera.

Chanson de l’Ange by Paisley Swan Stewart is a two volume epic retelling of the classic novel, the Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux. Inspired by the legend of The Opera Ghost in all its incarnations, the author weaves her own captivating tale while remaining faithful to key story elements.  Chanson de l’Ange creates bookends to the compelling saga of the Opera Ghost through an imaginative account of Christine Daae’s childhood companionship with the Angel of Music; while the final gripping chapters unveil her years beyond the opera house.

Book One: The Bleeding Rose opens with the tragic death of ten year old Christine Daae’s father; ushering in dramatic changes when she is left in the care of Madame Louise Giry, ballet mistress at the Paris Opera House.  Christine makes her new home in the opera’s conservatory, where she encounters a bohemian world of singers and dancers, and where she is visited by the unseen Angel of Music.  A bond of obsession and music is forged as Christine’s dark Angel methodically makes himself known. Through the illusory mirror of her dreams and desires, Christine will discover that not all angels have wings and not all devils are what they seem.

Scheduled for release in late 2011, Book Two~The Angel’s Song continues the Chanson de l’Ange retelling of Phantom of the Opera.

Book Two continues the Phantom’s  haunting odyssey into the very  essence of love, madness and  redemption.  As Christine takes center  stage in the Joan of Arc opera,  events swirl out of control  with dire consequences.  The Angel of Music   steps out from the shadows,  and mirrors become the portal into both  heaven and hell.  Now a young  woman, Christine is forced to make  choices that will dramatically alter the lives of those she loves.  She   must brave a future where all are thrust into an emotional and  operatic crescendo that will leave readers  breathless.

Chanson de l’Ange spans a fifty year journey fraught with music, high romance and madness.

Paisley Swan Stewart talks about her life and why she retold the story of The Phantom of the Opera:

My chosen pen name is Paisley Swan Stewart, but I am known as Swansong or ‘Swannie’ on website communities.

Now a happily married middle aged dreamer with a passion for art and beauty, music and theater, I am a woman of faith who celebrates the beauty of the world, while giving the glory to God for its creation.

Growing up as a lonely and introspective child, I found escape in the fantasy world of books and movies. I’ve always been creative; inspired by other artists and dreamers to sing, write, to draw, to perform and to believe in life’s ‘Deeper Magic.’

I have many interests and have attempted a lot of wild and crazy creative projects throughout my life. I studied classical voice in my youth and took first place in my state’s vocal competition. I was heavily involved with theater through my 20’s, where I played leads and supporting roles.

From a tender age I recognized man’s cruelty to his fellow man.  I hurt profoundly when children were ridiculed and bullied by other children because of their physical appearance.

Skinny and physically awkward, I did not fit in at school.  I was unhealthy, my eyes were too big behind thick glasses, and my complexion was too pale.  I rarely played with other children and chose to remain indoors while the neighborhood kids played kick ball and hide-n-seek, and thus I was nicknamed, “the mole.”

Shy and afraid to speak unless spoken to…a result of my step father’s constant haranguing me to “shut the hell up,” I became a quiet, lonely and introspective child.  Adults encouraged me to smile but I saw little to smile about and escaped into a world of fairy tales and fantasy.

My preteen years remain shrouded in family secrets and my step father’s escalating alcoholism.  His negative influence poisoned the entire family and I sought further escape through books, movies and music.

I gravitated to musicals and movies from the 30’s 40’s and 50’s,  often staying up late into the night watching old black and white horror films like Dracula, Frankenstein and King Kong.  I was sympathetic to these monsters, perhaps relating personally to their outcast stories.

The first time I saw the Lon Chaney silent version of Phantom of the Opera, I was about eleven.  I was frightened but equally fascinated by the masked Phantom, the movie’s man/monster, whose name was Erik.  The film’s tragic conclusion left me in tears, wishing that Christine had saved him from his fate.

Later I came across the colorful film adaptation starring Claude Rains, and I developed my first crush on a movie character.  His voice floating through the mirror enthralled me, and the melancholy melody he played on the violin was unforgettable. I thought him so handsome in the mysterious mask and was captivated by his efforts to win the trust of the young opera singer.

Finally in my mid-teens I discovered that I could sing and my love of performing was a further identification with the Phantom story.  For 10 years I studied classical voice, playing leading roles in musicals throughout high school and my early 20’s, where I finally received the attention and acceptance I craved.

In the early 90’s, my husband and I attended an LA based performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical, starring Michael Crawford.  I shall never forget the first commanding chords played on the dark organ as the gold and crystal chandelier rose above the gasping audience.  When the Phantom first appeared in the mirror, I forgot everything else around me; the audience, the auditorium, they all receded into the mist when he beckoned Christine from behind the glass.

Dressed in elegant tails and black opera cloak, he gracefully prowled across the stage, with the half-mask erotic and spell binding.  As an adult woman I immediately recognized the sexual pull of this Phantom, and I sat breathless as the tragic story came to life through Webber’s soaring music.  The performance was hypnotic and deeply sensual, but for me the drama resonated beyond its Victorian romance and beautiful score.

The Phantom is a man of superior intellect and artistic intelligence who because of a hideous facial deformity, is denied acceptance and love.  He is forced to remain on the outside looking in and can never know the warmth of human touch.  His soul is twisted, his psyche damaged through his self imposed isolation in the opera house cellars; where he exists as a shadow, a ghost…a haunted creature to be feared and obeyed.

But the Phantom is no monster.  He is only a man who desires to walk unmasked in the daylight, who craves someone to share his music, his heart and his body.  Underneath the skin, Erik longs to be loved just like the rest of us.

In December of 2004, as I sat enthralled by Joel Schumacher’s film version starring Gerard Butler, I was once again awash in the flickering light of an old black and white television, where a lonely little girl wept real tears for the Phantom of the Opera.

My own story, however, will have a happy ending because despite my emotional and physical scars, I found true love and a deep abiding faith in God.  As I mature, my own need for masks and disguises diminishes and I am learning to love myself for who I am… as alas, poor Erik never could.

Paisley Swan Stewart’s website:  http://www.chansondelange.com

Adventures of a Lightworker: Dead End Date — by Caroline A Shearer

Today’s guest is Carolyn Shearer, author of Adventures of a Lightworker: Dead End Date. Dead End Date introduces readers to Faith, a young woman whose dating disasters and personal angst have separated her from the reason she’s on Earth. When she receives the shocking news that she is a lightworker and has one year to fulfill her life purpose, Faith embarks on her mission with zeal, tackling problems big and small — including the death of her blind date. Working with angels and psychic abilities and even the murder victim himself, Faith dives headfirst into a personal journey that will transform all those around her and, eventually, all those around the world.

Carolyn writes:

Studies consistently show the vast majority of people believe in angels, and one doesn’t have to look far to find examples of people who believe they have been helped in some way by an angel. Many will even say angels have saved their lives!

I was taught about the existence of angels from a very young age, and I even have a framed picture from my childhood of the famous scene of an angel guarding two small children who are crossing a bridge. I was raised to believe I had a guardian angel who was always with me, and I welcomed that idea. Perhaps because of this, I always have felt protected, in all situations.

As I became an adult and began looking into this concept of angels, there is much that I have brought into what I consider “my truth.” I still believe in guardian angels, and now I believe that most people have at least two angels with them at all times. I believe we can call on more angels any time we want, and they will respond immediately. I also have come to understand the real significance of “free will.” We are here to evolve our souls, and as such, we have to ask angels to help us, or they will simply lovingly support us from the background. The exception to this would be in the case of an emergency.

In my (funny to me) way of thinking, I interpreted this piece of knowledge as, “Hey, my angels must get bored when I forget to ask for help!” Ever since then, I have made specific efforts to ask for help, understanding my angels will act when it is for my highest and greatest good.

One way angels help me all the time is with my worries. I used to be a worrier, but I began asking my angels to hold on to my worries for me. That way, if my freaking out side pops up, I know my worries are still technically there, but in the meantime, I know I can release them and move forward with whatever is positive in my life. It works really, really well!

Right now, this very moment, you can close your eyes and talk to your angels. It is that easy! Listening can take some practice, but we can all do that, too! Angels will communicate in whatever way you are able to receive it – so that may be with a song on the radio, a sign on the side of the road, a sentence you just happen to overhear in a crowd … Be open to receiving their messages, and you will find them!

Now, what does all this have to do with me, and my guest post? Well, angels appear in my mystery novel, Adventures of a Lightworker: Dead End Date, and my main character, Faith, has a special relationship with them. It is a fun and eye-opening mystery – I hope you’ll read it!

Bio

Caroline A. Shearer is the author of the novel, Adventures of a Lightworker: Dead End Date, with a second book in the series due out in 2010. Previously, she was a journalist for publications across the U.S. and was the editor in chief of a statewide magazine. She is a graduate of Texas A&M University, from where she earned a B.A. in Journalism, with a minor in Psychology. She also began an Interdisciplinary Studies Masters’ Program in Children’s Literature and Psychology at Texas State University. Caroline has been recognized twice as a finalist in the prestigious Austin Under 40 Awards.

It Can’t Be You by Prem Rao

It Can’t Be You by Prem Rao: When Colonel Belliappa, Indian Army (Retd), a highly decorated war hero is found dying one night frothing at the mouth in anguish, there is no one else at home. Other than his immediate family. His wife, his daughter and his son.  Did he, who killed so many, kill himself to bury something dreadful from his past? Or, was he killed? His death sets the clock back to his life as a career officer in the Indian Army. He fights with great valor in the 1971 war against Pakistan which leaves him physically and psychologically scarred for life. Years later, his aggression and maniacal bravery leads to a secret assignment. He is handpicked to command a crack team of Indian Army snipers as an irregular force to fight intruders and militants in the Kashmir Valley from 1989. Today, he is a partner in a flourishing and successful armaments firm. The Colonel finds himself in a series of conflicts with his family, amongst others. Standing to gain from his death, they plan to kill him for their own reasons, quite unknown to each other. Do Colonel Belliappa and his family pay the ultimate price? For the spiral of vengeance he himself triggered some decades ago.

Excerpt:

Had one been able to, they would have seen a shadowy figure step into the corridor, look left and right and move swiftly to one of the bedrooms. Not more than ten minutes would pass from the time the scurrying figure entered one of the upper floor bedrooms, before it would re-appear in the corridor and scurry back to where it came from. The figure was hunched low and moving fast so as to be less visible to a watcher- if at all there was one. It was indeed difficult to determine whether that figure was that of a man, a woman or something else. The bungalow was after all over a hundred years old. One couldn’t be sure how many people had died there leaving their spirits to wander around- if they did that at all.

It was well past midnight when suddenly the silence was broken by a woman’s high pitched scream. By any standards it was loud and frenetic- in the quiet of the night it was deafening. Outside the bungalow, Rolf started barking ferociously and raced around the compound. The scream came from one of the bedrooms upstairs.

Pritam whose bedroom was across the hall raced towards where the scream came from. He saw his father’s bedroom door wide open. The lights were on and Elena stood there holding her hand to her mouth. She looked absolutely pale and shaken. There was shock in her large blue eyes and what she said was indistinct but she pointed to the floor with a hand that shook. The chair in which Col. Belliappa was sitting had toppled with him in it. He was lying on the ground, his arms outstretched, the fingers on one hand were half clenched, the pain on his face was so clear to see. His face looked almost grotesque, red and puffy. His thick eyebrows were knit together and the mouth was shaped in what could be described as either a grimace or a scowl. His swollen tongue hung out as if in defiance. Somewhere near his legs, his reading glasses lay on the ground still intact despite the fall. The closed windows with the curtains drawn made the room more stuffy and gloomy. It was fast becoming claustrophobic in here. Pritam felt his pulse and knew what he had feared when he first saw the body on the floor. His father was dead.

Within minutes the entire household had gathered there. They stood around in deep shock. Bahadur broke down and wept. He had seen too much of death and knew instantly what had happened. He had known the Colonel for over 30 years. It seemed clear to them that this was no heart attack or stroke. You didn’t need to a medical specialist to know that the colonel had suffered towards the end. Glass pieces from the glass which held the whisky and soda lay shattered around the body. His mouth was open and puke fell in a puddle. In place of the rows of medal ribbons that normally decorated his left chest, lay a stream of puke. There was a strange smell in the room – a mixture of alcohol, vomit and –death.

What had happened? Who had done this? Was the Colonel taken by surprise? Why hadn’t anyone heard noises of a struggle? How could anyone sneak in with Rolf let loose at night in the compound? Had he choked when drinking something? Was it something that he drank that made him choke?

The lights from the modem linked to the computer on the table blinked as if they knew the answers.

Bio

Prem Rao re-invented himself as an author by turning to his passion for writing after 36 years of professional work as a Talent Management specialist and executive coach. He is an alumnus of The Lawrence School, Lovedale; Loyola College, Chennai and XLRI, Jamshedpur. An avid blogger, his professional blog called People at Work & Play is widely-followed globally. More recently, he started a writing blog called Writing To Be Read. His tweets are at : http://twitter.com/premrao. He lives in Bangalore, India and can be reached at bpremrao@gmail.com

Beyond Diapers: How Not to Wallow in Your Own Poop by Carmen Allgood

My guest blogger today is Carmen Allgood the author of Beyond Diapers: How Not to Wallow in Your Own Poop. Based on a lifelong study of the energy of Love, this modern day exploration of our spiritual evolution delivers a timely twist of pop psychology for those who are starved for peace of mind and true happiness. The metaphorical focus and surefire solution to healing ourselves and the world is revealed in a cut-to-the-chase simplicity designed to make you  laugh your way from forgiveness to love.

Carmen writes:

You wouldn’t believe all the offers I get from companies that sell baby products – with a book title like BEYOND DIAPERS, who would guess! The other side of the coin is that these companies aren’t sure if I’m into baby diapers or have traversed to the other side and need ‘adult diapers!’ Lol.. If truth be told – I’m in a middle phase and don’t have to rely on either product – yet.

DIAPERS is really just a metaphor for an unhappy state of mind. It’s all relative and all of us have been there, done that.

There’s not a person in the world who wouldn’t love genuine peace of mind and lasting happiness, which are actually inherent in who and what we are. We don’t have to strive for peace or happiness. The underlying dilemma is that most of us struggle with feelings of unworthiness, and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get something into our lives which is already there. Namely, love.

My little book is subtitled The Beginner’s Guide To Inner Peace. BEYOND DIAPERS reveals authentic, simple baby steps that anyone can take, or practice, to ‘deliver’ themselves from the temptation to believe love and peace are in a future state. If this was true – then peace would forever be impossible. Therefore, says reason, peace and happiness are not only possible, but they must be with you NOW.

So, take a little trip with me as we journey to the center of your mind and learn to go beyond diapers to the place where peace resides. Stay tuned! Love is the Answer.

Excerpt – CHAPTER 8 The changing face of diapers

Science and religion agree on one thing, that everything is one thing; that the truth about us is the same. And this is true simply because everything came from One Source. The big bang? Or, when God made Love? The sole difference between science/religion and Love is that science and religion are man-made, and Love is not. 

BIO

Carmen Allgood is a Loveologist and Radio Host and Producer. She has devoted her life to the study of love as energy, relationships, and what it takes to be happy and at peace. Carmen also works with various non-profit agencies as a fund-raiser and event coordinator.

More Than Meets the Eye, True Stories About Death, Dying, and Afterlife by Yvonne Perry

An excerpt from More Than Meets the Eye, True Stories About Death, Dying, and Afterlife by Yvonne Perry

Chapter One: Fear of the Unknown

Screaming, moaning, groaning, and sorrowful sobs could be heard from the medical intensive care unit of Vanderbilt University Medical Center all the way down the corridor on the seventh floor. The ventilator had just been turned off for a young woman who was dying of AIDS. The woman never took a breath once the support was removed. She passed immediately and without a struggle. However, the family completely fell apart emotionally and were not prepared to accept the passing of their loved one with any amount of understanding or peace. In contrast, Terry Emge shares her story:

Upon arrival, I found Mother in her chair. Her respirations were agonal, her pupils were fixed and dilated and she had a strong steady pulse. I asked my grandmother, who was ninety-one, what had happened and she said, “Virginia grabbed the back of her head and said, ‘Get Terry.’ Those were the last words she spoke.

Despite my efforts at resuscitation and my medical background (I am an RN, CRNFA for a busy cardiac surgical practice), I knew in my heart that she had come to the end of her life on earth.

A definitive diagnosis was made by CT scan. She had suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke. Our options were to temporarily monitor her in ICU on a ventilator or make a decision to withdraw life support. Her chances of survival were minimal at best.

After a discussion with her physicians and caregivers, it was decided to withdraw life support. During all of this, my mother’s condition remained unchanged—fixed, dilated pupils, strong pulse, and normal blood pressure. Her ventilator was disconnected and her pulse and blood pressure remained stable.

The hospital chaplain student that was with me, my husband and best friend, Diane said to me, “Sometimes you have to tell them it’s okay to go.” As I was holding my mother’s hand, I kissed her, told her that I loved her and that I would take care of Mom-Mom and for her to go to the Light. Within five minutes, her pulse and blood pressure slowed and her spirit went to be with God.

My mother had had a near-death experience earlier in her life. When my brother was born in 1952, she had a post-partum hemorrhage. She relayed to me that she had walked through a misty grey valley and was aware of relatives that had died when she was a child. She was drawn to the Light, the brightest and most pure she had ever seen and she had a sense of “utter peace”. Her only thought was of how beautiful it was there and how she longed to remain, but she knew she had two small children to care for. Suddenly a voice like thunder said, “Ye shall live.” She awoke in her hospital bed and began to realize what she had experienced. From that moment in her life she was not afraid to die.

As I stood beside her stretcher in the ER, knowing there was no chance for her survival, but not yet wanting her to leave me or those who loved her here on earth, I felt a sense of peace. Mother was not afraid to die—she had reassured me of that “beautiful, wondrous place” and I knew she was finally in heaven.

Some families are able to let go and even assist their loved one in transitioning. Why do some families or cultures process death so differently than others? Perhaps the fear of the unknown is what makes death so intimidating. If only we knew what was on the Other Side. Is there an afterlife or not? Do our deceased loved ones live in another dimension or reality? Are they near us? Can they see or hear us? Knowing for sure what lies ahead might make a difference in how we handle death.

Much of what we believe about death and dying is taught to us by religious doctrine. Our main attitudes about death and afterlife are deeply connected with our religious beliefs which may either confuse or comfort us. For example, if someone believes in a legalistic or angry God that punishes for sin, then death for that person may be frightening. If someone believes that we all go to a better place after death, regardless of our earthly behavior, that person may not have as many concerns about dying.

There is a huge difference between Eastern and Western cultural views on death; specifically about beliefs in salvation, reincarnation, and the afterlife. Buddhism, Hinduism and other Eastern religions believe in a progression of the soul after death. These philosophies teach that an accumulation of bad or good karma affects rebirth into either a favorable or unfavorable situation. Western religions tend to look at the present life as a one-and-only chance to “get it right” with the end result being an eternity in either Heaven or Hell. Most Catholics believe in an interim state called Purgatory where those who are borderline between deserving Heaven or Hell work their way up. Jewish beliefs most often do not include the typical Christian idea of an eternal hell. Jewish people see hell as a separation from God rather than an actual place of fire and brimstone. Therefore, Heaven may be considered as a reuniting with God’s light or spirit and not necessarily as a physical place with streets of gold as many Christians believe. The Aramaic word for death is interpreted “not here, present elsewhere” and shows a belief in an afterlife. Modern day scientific studies show that there is a consciousness of mind after death and that the mind and the brain are not one in the same.
Many of our fears are rooted in delusions or distorted ways of looking at life and the world around us. Generally, our fear of death is an unrealistic fear. We tend to either ignore the subject altogether or become morbidly obsessed by it. Perhaps the best way to overcome the fear of death is to remember that our present physical life had a beginning. There was a time when we were not on Earth in these physical bodies, and there will be a time when we shall return to a non-physical state of being. The rational mind has difficulty believing that any reality other than the third dimensional world of time and space, in which we currently live, could possibly exist. We have been trained since birth to thrive in it. We know ourselves to be who we are by our external experiences; however, looking inwardly may give us a different perspective.

The sorrow, grief and sense of loss are real, but our fear about death is only an illusion. You’ve faced many things in life that are more frightening and unknown than death. For example, public speaking is said to be the greatest fear a person can face. So, if you’ve ever spoken in public then you have faced a fear said to be worse than the fear of dying. The famous comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said, “If you’re at a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy!”

Death should be feared no more than birth, for there is no real separation between the physical and non-physical realms. The separation seems real because there is a very thin veil (i.e.: our skin and physical body) between the two realms that dims our ability to interact with those in other dimensions. But more than the physical sense of separation, we limit ourselves with the false belief that we have only five senses with which to explore and experience life. This belief hinders us from accepting what our inner knowing tells us is true. We are multi-sensory spiritual creatures able to sense the presence and energy of non-physical beings. Those who do interact with the non-physical realm are sometimes considered insane or in need of psychiatric help. Many are shunned and ridiculed. Some children are even punished for talking about seeing angels and spirits.

The Earth plane is simply another facet of our experience as souls. We are spirit beings having a human earthly experience. We all come from the same Source regardless of what we call it—God/Goddess, Spirit, Energy, Creator or whatever vocabulary term one wishes to use. Even though we manifest in individual bodies and have the illusion of separateness, there is no real division in our spirit. An ethereal mist or cloud of spirit exists where every soul is united with God and with one another. From this cloud extends a line of energy or Spirit to the Earth plane where it manifests as a suit of human flesh.

Who we really are is only a small portion of what we see in each other. It is like poking your fingertip through a hole in a bed sheet draped over your body. What is hidden behind the sheet is so much greater than the fingertip—so much greater than the small portion that meets the eye!

After its mission is accomplished in the earthly realm, the soul essence simply returns to the spirit cloud to continue its work or to wait for another opportunity to manifest into human form. This return to Source may occur as a result of the body’s deterioration and inability to support the soul as a vehicle and thus death of the physical body occurs. Because the soul craves authenticity, living an incongruent life may cause us to subconsciously create disease, physical deterioration, or ultimately death as a means to leave the physical body.

According to the Old Testament, humans originally had the ability to live forever. The book of Genesis teaches that death occurred for mankind as a punishment for the sin committed by Adam and Eve. Still, some Biblical characters were noted to have lived for almost a thousand years. What happened that caused our lifespan to be so shortened? In light of the technological and medical advances, it would seem that the opposite should be true. Some, like Elijah mentioned in the Bible, didn’t die. Jesus took his resurrected body with him when he ascended as a light body. Living a long, healthy life requires us to live in integrity with our inner truth. It requires unplugging from belief systems that prevent us from living life to the fullest.

What we do with our life is our choice. Even dying is a choice we make! It is my belief that God does not infringe upon our free will or tell us what to do with our life. Instead, God very gently leads us to learn at our own pace, and never forces us to do anything we do not wish to. Life is the picture we paint by the decisions we make. Since a soul has choice (free will) it may simply choose to return to Source. I believe this is why we have SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and other unexplainable departures from a body that is otherwise healthy. The soul changes its mind about being in the physical body, or has another idea about what might best assist it on its spiritual journey. While any death causes grief for the remaining family, it is ultimately the soul’s choice to move on. Free will is something we have not been taught to accept, appreciate or consciously exercise. In order to understand and accept death as a natural part of the soul’s evolution, we must be able to allow people to choose for themselves on all levels. It is normal to feel anger towards God when our loved one leaves his or her physical body, but it is not God’s choice. God does not take a soul against its will. The soul chooses to leave in the best interest of its evolution. We may have difficulty accepting that our loved one’s death could have been a part of a greater plan—especially when it doesn’t fit our expectation.

What is death? What is dying like? The best way to obtain information about death is from those who have had a first-hand experience with death; those who have died and returned to tell about it. These are referred to as near-death experiences (NDEs). P.M.H. Atwater is one of the original researchers in the field of near-death studies. In her book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Near-Death Experiences, an NDE is loosely defined as an intense awareness, sense or experience of “otherworldliness”, whether pleasant or unpleasant, that happens to people who are at the edge of death. It occurs for people regardless of age, education, culture or religious background. Atwater began her work in 1978 and comes from the vantage point of being a near-death experiencer—not just a mere researcher. She believes there is a step-up of energy at the moment of death, an increase in speed as if you are suddenly vibrating faster than before. Using radio as an analogy, this speed-up is comparable to having lived all your life at a certain radio frequency and then someone or something comes along and flips the dial. That flip of the dial shifts you to another, higher wavelength. The original frequency is still there as it was before. Only you changed. You sped up to allow entry into the next radio frequency. As is true with all radios and radio stations, there can be bleed-over or distortion of transmission signals due to interference patterns. These can allow or force frequencies to coexist or commingle for indefinite periods of time. Normally, most shifts on the dial are fast and efficient, but occasionally, one can run into interference, perhaps from a strong emotion, a sense of duty, or a need to fulfill a vow or keep a promise. This interference could allow coexistence of frequencies for a few seconds, days, or even years (perhaps explaining hauntings); but eventually every given vibrational frequency will seek out or be nudged to where it belongs. You fit your particular spot on the dial by your speed of vibration. You cannot coexist forever where you do not belong. Who can say how many spots are on the dial or how many frequencies there are to inhabit? No one knows. You shift frequencies in dying. You switch over to life on another wavelength. You are still a spot on the dial but you move up a notch or two. You don’t cease to exist when you die. You shift your consciousness and speed of vibration. That’s all death is…a shift.

Those who are not afraid of death may actually look forward to it. Such is the case of Carolyn Smith. She is a neat, very attractive, woman, about 80 years old, who has been a widow for a number of years. She was diagnosed with lung cancer recently and the doctor estimated she would have about 1-3 years to live. Carolyn had a great attitude about her coming demise so she started making her plans and preparing for her departure as if it was a trip to Disneyland. She cleaned out all her old stuff and decided to sell her home and build a house with her daughter – a house that would be a great place where her daughter could live after she was gone. Then her doctor told her about a wonderful new treatment that would take care of her lung cancer. She was actually disgusted to find out that she may continue to live! How dare they find a cure after she put forth so much effort getting ready to die? She said to her doctor, “So, am I going to die, or did I go to all this trouble for nothing?” Carolyn plans to have the treatment, but she is disappointed to have to wait a while longer for her ride home. Carolyn’s attitude about dying is better than her attitude about living! Oh, that we all would have such an expectancy about our transition.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Living life to the fullest in Nashville, Tennessee, Yvonne Perry (also known in spiritual circles by the name, LavendarRose) is an author and keynote speaker who enjoys helping people discover a spiritual path of love and joy that comes from the knowledge that we are all one with our Creator.

A graduate of American Institute of Holistic Theology, Yvonne holds a Bachelor of Science in Metaphysics. She has written hundreds of articles on spirituality, death, afterlife, spirit communication, and suicide. She is the host of We Are One in Spirit Podcast, a talk show that offers people a chance to share spiritual insight and join cross-cultural hands. She is a polished, speaker available to share her knowledgeable on a wide variety of spiritual topics such as walk-in/soul exchange, psychic gifts, empathy, ascension rituals, ghosts, afterlife, and near-death or other spiritually-transforming experiences.

Heart Not Taken by Naomi Dawn Musch

HEART NOT TAKEN
A contemporary story of love, inspiration and redemption by Naomi Dawn Musch.

High school English teacher Sean Heart has almost let his faith slip away. Haunted by a lapse in judgment from his past as well as his mentor’s betrayal, doubt has set in. Then he meets Jordyn Delaney. A beautiful, talented landscaper, Jordyn has been hired to improve the Heart family property. But Jordyn is having a crisis of her own. Devastated by news of her parents’ separation, she must overcome that obstacle to faith in order to help Sean Heart regain his. At least with him in her life, there’s someone she can depend on and trust. Or can she?

When the situation Sean most dreads threatens to sabotage their budding relationship, he and Jordyn discover that a renovation of the heart and spirit might be the most complicated job of all.

Excerpt

She looked up the drive, though there was no way to see all the way up the crooked, wooded lane. She slowed the car to a crawl. No one was out on the lonely stretch of highway. The sun had dropped below the tree line and the road lay in shadows. She stepped on the brake and put the car into reverse. Backing up, she passed the drive again, changed gears, and turned her wheel to enter. Pressing the gas pedal slightly, she crept a few yards up the driveway.

What are you doing, Jordyn? She should stop now and leave while she still could. What would she give as her reason for coming by, anyway? That she just wanted to see if the stuff was still there for Monday’s job? Yeah, right. He’d think she was pushing things, showing up after one meaningless dinner. Yep.

But just a little farther . . . just for a peek.

Jordyn inched the car along. Darkness was heavier under the thick pines. He wouldn’t see her, and she could always back up and make a getaway.

Coming to the final tight bend in the lane, she saw the lights. There were floodlights –or were they headlights? — and sparks drifting up into the dusky sky. Loud music sifted through the woods and through her slightly opened car window. Her memory clicked: He’s having a party with kids from his class!

She quickly threw the gear into reverse and looked over her shoulder. “Oh, no!” Jordyn groaned as another car with headlights on bright bounced up the driveway behind her, trapping her. There was nothing she could do but proceed on ahead. A horn blared and Jordyn cringed. She glanced into the rearview mirror and gave a little wave, a grimace on her face. “I’m going . . . I’m going.”

She pulled up behind a host of other cars at the head of Sean’s driveway. Beaters, a souped-up truck, a couple of nicer cars probably belonging to parents stuffed the small parking area. In the growing shadows, silhouettes of teenagers roamed in and out of the house, and conversation and laughter floated up into the night sky from beyond the cabin, near the river. A firecracker burst, making Jordyn jump, but not as badly as when two laughing teens pounded on her car window as they passed by.  “Hi!” they hollered. Jordyn would have escaped even then, but they’d sufficiently blocked her in for keeps.

With nothing to do but face the music, she ventured out of the car and followed, stuffing her arms into her sweater against the coolness of the evening air. Behind the cabin, probably twenty or twenty-five teenagers mingled, but even in the twilight she recognized Sean’s form among them. She heard his deeper voice, and realized that they were laughing at something he was saying. As she drew closer, a few of the younger people made room for her, looking at her curiously.

A tall, good looking kid about seventeen said, “Hey, Sean.” Except for darker eyes, and longer hair, the resemblance was similar enough that even in the growing dark, Jordyn guessed it was probably one of Sean’s brothers. He smiled at her and looked over at Sean with a knowing sort grin that made her want to turn around and run away. Then Sean looked up, and the light of the bon fire made his eyes look like warm, blue flame.

# # #

Bio 

Naomi Dawn Musch enjoys writing in several genres of fiction. Her next novel, The Green Veil will release on January 1st as book one of the historical romance series: Empire in Pine. She is also an editor for Port Yonder Press, and a staff writer for the monthly Christian newspaper Living Stones News. She enjoys writing in various venues for the encouragement of homeschoolers and mentoring young writers through tutorials at A Novel Writing Site. She and husband Jeff are celebrating 30 years of shared romance, and they continue to enjoy epic adventures with their five young adults around their home in the Wisconsin northwoods. She invites readers to visit her at her site: http://www.naomimusch.com