As promised, this week I’ll be talking about just one of the five novels in the Women of Heart book bundle. I’m starting with The Women of Valley View: Callie, the first book in a series by Sharon Srock, who writes about ordinary women doing extraordinary things. Sharon would call herself an ordinary woman, but I know her, so I’m not fooled. Sharon is anything but ordinary, and her debut novel, Callie, is just one bit of evidence to prove it.
Here’s a sneak peek at Callie.
Callie Stillman dabbed raindrops from her face with a linen napkin as Benton dodged a server with a loaded tray and took his place across from her. She smiled into her husband’s blue eyes and reached across to wipe water from his beard. “We’ll both have pneumonia if we don’t dry off soon.”
Benton took the napkin and finished the job. He sent a wink across the table. “I’ve been told the food is very good. A few sniffles should be worth it.”
Callie’s gaze roamed the room. “The décor is lovely. It’s…” Recognition slammed into her chest, forcing the air from her lungs. The man crossing the room behind her husband nodded and continued to his table. Was that the bailiff? Do you swear to tell the truth… She gulped for breath and fought the familiar darkness that crowded the edges of her vision.
Callie ran a finger around her collar, tugging the neck of the blouse away from skin suddenly dewed with a fine film of sweat. Too hot. She took a sip of water, dismayed at the tremor in her hand as she lifted the glass to her lips. I won’t give in to this.Not here, not tonight. Callie closed her eyes and practiced the breathing techniques she’d learned over the last six months. In through her nose, hold for a few seconds, and out through her mouth. Concentrate only on the current step in the process, the next breath. The tightness in her chest began to fade. Thank you, Jesus. She raised her water again and held the cold glass to her flushed cheek.
Callie met Benton’s eyes across the table. The concern etched on her husband’s face threatened to break her heart. Benton had been so supportive during the last few months, so protective while she tried to heal. She would beat this. For him, she would move on.
Callie smiled. “I’m fine. It’s just a little warm in here all of a sudden.”
Benton cocked his head to the side. “You sure? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.
A ghost? She closed her eyes, the images unbidden but ever present. Sawyer’s pale, lifeless face. Callie’s hand reaching out to stroke baby-fine hair, bruises the mortician’s makeup couldn’t hide. That tiny coffin lowered into the ground. Callie could have lived with a ghost, but her haunted memories and the never-ending what ifs that traveled with them would drive her crazy.
Two more breaths, another swallow of cold water. Callie straightened in her seat and smiled at her husband. “This was a nice surprise. Thanks for thinking of it.”
Benton took her hand. “Anything for the woman I love. Have you decided what you’d like for dinner?”
“I—” A vicious bolt of lightning lit the dark Oklahoma sky outside the windows of the restaurant. Thunder rattled the building. The lights flickered and went off, plunging the room into sudden darkness. Across the room a frightened child began to wail.
Callie jumped to her feet. Her chair tipped sideways onto the carpeted floor. Oh Jesus, please make the crying stop. A harsh voice cut across the child’s frantic cries. “Andy, sit down and stop that noise. It’s just thunder.”
The lights came back up and Callie’s awareness narrowed to the cries of the child. Is that how Sawyer sounded? Frightened howls as his eighteen months of life surrendered to the beating his father dealt him. Oh Jesus, I’m so sorry. So sorry I let Janette deceive me. So sorry I didn’t ask you before I testified. I know you’ve forgiven me. Please help me forgive myself. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. Callie bolted from the restaurant.
“Callie!” Benton called.
She was letting him down. Still she ran for the door.
When Benton found her several minutes later, she stood by the car. Rain cascaded over her, mixing with her tears. Benton pulled her into his arms, wet and all. He held her close, his bearded chin rested on her head. “Shh, baby, it’s OK. I’m sorry. This was a bad idea.”
Callie clung to him like the lifeline between sanity and madness he was. “Benton, no. It was a great idea. I know you were trying to distract me. Trying to make me forget Sawyer’s birthday. I thought I could.” She allowed Benton to help her into the car, only to bend double in the seat as the panicked adrenalin gave way to nausea. “How could I have been so stupid?”
Benton started the car and turned the heater up to high. “Callie, you weren’t stupid. You thought you were doing the right thing.”
Callie shook her head. “I just wanted to help. I knew Janette wasn’t abusing her children. She didn’t deserve to lose them. Testifying to that…being at the hearing to support her…celebrating when it was over. I just wanted to help,” she repeated.
Her husband navigated the rain-washed streets while Callie huddled in the seat, head down, arms wrapped around her middle. The images in her mind took on a life of their own. Janette, sitting in her office, tearful over charges of alleged child abuse, frantic because her babies had been taken from her. Callie’s unhesitating agreement to appear in court as a character witness. The custody hearing, her nervous testimony, the endless waiting for the judge to make a decision, the joy of seeing those two babies reunited with their mother. And Sawyer dead a short time later because of my interference. Jesus, give me strength. Give me the wisdom I
need to never put myself in that situation again.
Robin Patchen lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband and three teenagers. Her third book, Finding Amanda, released in April, and its free prequel, Chasing Amanda, released in July. When Robin isn’t writing or caring for her family, she works as a freelance editor at Robin’s Red Pen, where she specializes in Christian fiction. Read excerpts and find out more at her website, robinpatchen.com.