Elise Amberson’s husbands always die before she can get the marriage momentum going. At least this last one left her with lots of money. Now she can hang out with her dogs, avoid men, and try to keep off God’s radar.
But her dogs are behaving oddly, a pesky pastor can’t keep his hands off her soul, and God is backing her into a corner.
It’s all more than a rich, beautiful young woman should have to bear. But when someone begins targeting Elise, she’ll have to figure out why before she becomes the late Widow Amberson.
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This funeral was so different than the last one. Both drew large crowds to the visitation and service. But the first one had been filled with messy grief, loud sobbing and noisy comfortings. In this regal cathedral with its carved altar, high-backed pews and vaulted ceiling, outward manifestations of grief were unseemly. Even the elaborate stained glass windows transmuted bright sunbeams into particles of understated pastels.
Elise looked at Timothy’s coffin. Pounds and pounds of hothouse flower sprays crawled along its cover. Standing arrangements with pride of place near the open lid reached slouching lilies toward Timothy. Such a futile gesture. His powdered nose couldn’t smell them. Lucky guy. Elise wanted to gag from their stench.
Christopher’s coffin had been closed, nothing but a pressed American flag on top. They all agreed—Elise, Christopher’s parents, his siblings, that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Wounded Warrior Project. The morning of Christopher’s funeral Elise had walked alone down country lanes and gathered armloads of Queen Anne’s Lace, yellow tansy, and sky-blue chicory. The law frowned on picking of wildflowers but she gravitated to those lowly species considered weeds.
The Reverend Lucille Montague began winding down. She’d extolled Timothy’s virtues, his contributions to the betterment of society and the express hope that his soul would live on in his children and grandchildren. Poor Lucille. She hadn’t much to work with in the spiritual realm. Timothy in life remained a devoted agnostic who gave the church great sums of money in its quest for social change. If all went according to Timothy’s plan, he was now, body and soul, really truly dead forever.
The family was being called to come forward before the lid closed on Timothy. As his widow, Elise should have led the procession, but the head pallbearer instead extended an elbow to Timothy’s daughter, Vanessa. At the same time, his brother Palmer leaped from across the aisle and tucked Vanessa’s arm in his. Shaking off both men, and never taking her eyes from the coffin, Vanessa marched forward and in a booming voice to jar the gilded chandeliers, said, “Rest in peace, Daddy.”
Timmy Junior tottered forward. Associate in his father’s law firm, two children of his own, and still known far and wide as Timmy Junior, he had all his father’s handsome features, but on Timmy they looked just this side of finished, a sort of modeling clay version of Timothy. The slightest pressure and his face would be quashed into flatness. Elise snorted at the image and was horrified that she had been audible. She pressed a lacy handkerchief to her nose and hoped anyone in earshot would assume she had been overcome with grief.
They wouldn’t, though. And she wasn’t. At Christopher’s funeral she had maintained a brittle poise and fooled no one. They knew hot grief surged just beneath the frost line. This time the freeze went deep. All the way to the soul Timothy claimed she didn’t have.
Timmy Junior’s wife accompanied him to the casket, gripping his arm as he swayed over his father’s body. When he flung arms wide as though to embrace the cadaver, she dragged him back to the pew. Their two small children hadn’t come. Timothy’s grandchildren must be home with the long-suffering nanny. Elise rose briskly. No matter what the chief of the pallbearers had been told, she intended to go before Timothy’s parents and certainly before his ex-wife. At the coffin she stopped and looked critically down at its occupant. The morticians had done an excellent job. No one would guess the entire back of Timothy’s head was caved in.
The casket cover closed and so did the Celebration of Life. Lucille announced there would be no graveside ceremony in accordance with the wishes of the deceased. Everyone could just follow the family—she hesitated a brief second before nodding coolly at Elise—into the church fellowship hall for a catered meal. Pallbearer-in-chief appeared torn, but parked himself next to the pew where Elise had been sitting in solitary, and she followed the satin-lined mahogany casket down the aisle and out of the church.
In the fellowship hall—surely too homey a term for this drafty, echoing space with its antique wooden tables covered in white linen cloths and gleaming silverware—Elise looked hopefully for someone to sit with. Her parents were in an assisted living center, leaning more on assistance and less on living, and she’d told them they needn’t attend. Her only sister lived in France. But all the friends from high school. Where were they? They’d come out in droves, flocks, herds, to Christopher’s funeral. They’d fluttered around her, sobbing on her shoulder, acolytes begging the chief mourner for comfort.
An arm lifted from a far corner and agitated in her direction. Thanking God for angels among us, Elise waved back. The angel attached to the arm had a high forehead sloping into a grove of bright brown curls, only marginally less dense than in high school. The neon-blue eyes in those years had winked through glasses, usually lopsided or cracked.
“Russ! You got contacts!”
Russell Martinez unfolded his lanky self from the chair and folded her in long arms. Now would be the perfect time to break down and cry. Elise twitched her eyes experimentally. No tear lurked, and she refused to produce false sobs.
"A masterful fictional re-telling of a biblical story. The characters were well-developed, which made it impossible not to feel their pain, fear, and ultimate joy. Great job." Amazon Reviewer
Rahab, a resourceful beauty, struggles to survive in the pagan culture of ancient Jericho. As years of harsh labor begin to lift her and her family from poverty, a foreign army threatens the well-fortified city. Rahab is forced to make an immediate decision. Will she put her faith in the fabled walls of Jericho or the powerful God of the Hebrews? Either choice may cost her life.
Are these men up to no good? While attempting to believe there was no cause for alarm, Rahab considered whether she might need to defend herself. Was the baking paddle enough to frighten the men away? Or was it better to snatch her knife from the holster over her shoulder and scream for Karmot? These men looked healthy and strong enough to overpower her and her father. Yet they did not strike her as violent, merely unusual.
Pulling the perfectly browned bread from the oven, Rahab put on a bright smile. “Oh, I am sorry. Were you speaking to me?” She turned the fresh bread onto the stone table. “Smells delicious, does it not?” she asked. “With my good wine and ghee made just this morning, you will be refreshed from your journey.”
“Thank you, mira.”
The travelers looked similar enough to other Egyptians who passed through Jericho occasionally. Was it their slightly different manner of speaking? Perhaps they were not from Alexandria but some more remote area of the land of the pharaohs. Regardless of where they came from, they were foreigners. Therefore, the king’s men would make it their business to evaluate whether or not the visitors had legitimate business in the city. Because of the Hebrews, the king’s men were especially interested in anyone who passed through the city gate these days.
Rahab decided to bide her time and keep the strangers occupied until the soldiers came to question them. She was confident in her ability to kindle her male guests’ interest. “You have traveled many days from your wives and families,” she said as she served wine. “No doubt you miss them.”
The tall man continued to eat, while the shorter turned his face toward her.
“My inn offers you nourishment and lodging,” Rahab continued. She stretched her arms and trailed the fingertips of her right hand slowly along her left forearm. “There are times when a man needs more than food and shelter.”
The men’s reactions were not in accordance with Rahab’s expectations. The tall, quiet one seemed amused, while the shorter man wore a look of surprise. Tossing her hair, Rahab slowly licked her lips. At this point, most men began to negotiate a price for her services or—more rarely—gave her a reluctant refusal. These fellows did neither. Why were they so slow? Do they know nothing of how to conduct business?
Rahab went to stand behind the men. The taller one continued to eat and drink, as if unaware of her presence. She leaned over the shorter man to rearrange the food on the stone table. As she did so, she rested a hand lightly on the man’s shoulder. He jumped away, as if her touch burned his body. “You are a harlot!” he exclaimed. The tall man stifled a laugh.
“Yes, I am,” Rahab replied, drawing her hand away. “What do you expect at an inn?”
“I expect decency and honor in all things,” the shorter man said. “But then, I suppose I forget what kind of pagans—”
The tall man held up a hand, and his companion fell silent. Rahab was accustomed to men too poor to afford her services, but the reactions of these two puzzled her. One seemed completely indifferent, while the other made her feel unclean. The truth flew into her mind with such force it escaped from her mouth. “You are Hebrews.”
“Yes, we are,” the tall man said, much to Rahab’s surprise.
They were such beautiful young men. What a pity for them to be impaled in the public place. “Do you not know the king’s men keep track of foreigners in Jericho, because of all the trouble across the river? If you hurry, you may be able to escape.”
The shorter man quickly pushed his food away, stood up, and shook out his clothing. The taller one turned and faced Rahab. “Will you hide us?” he asked.
“I could be executed for helping you. And my whole family along with me.” Looking into his eyes made her heart beat faster. Yet his face would no longer be handsome after a beating from the soldiers’ rods.
The tall man spoke gently. “Help us and you will live when we take this city.”
“Take Jericho? You cannot,” she whispered. “Our walls…”
“Your walls are nothing to the Lord. We will conquer this city and all others who stand in our way, just as we have overcome the Amorites.” His manner conveyed absolute confidence. “Our lives in exchange for yours. Yes or no?”
Rahab never understood exactly why she believed the Hebrews would prevail. Yet in that moment, she knew it was true. Jericho will fall before the powerful God of the Hebrews! So many thoughts swirled in her head. She remembered the morning when she broke away from her father’s household to find her own way in the world. Others called her actions foolish, but in the end her family benefitted from her boldness. Was this another such opportunity? If so, she must again act with speed and courage. She might scream for Karmot, and turn these men over to the King of Jericho—or trust her unexplainable feeling the God of the Hebrews was both real and all-powerful. Were the stories she heard all her life about His parting of the Red Sea actually true? Whichever way she chose, there was no turning back.
Once she made her decision, calmness fell over Rahab like a warm cloak. “Yes. We have an agreement. Pour the water from that large crock on the ground,” she told the men. “It will take both of you to lift it. Then go quickly up those stairs,” she pointed to the central staircase. “On the roof you will see many bundles of drying flax. Hide among them and wait. Show yourselves to no one until I come to you. Hasten.”