Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Adunni Dares to Dream

Write Now Literary is pleased to announce Adunni Dares to Dream by Taiwo I Ajao, Virtual Book Tour, June 5-30, 2017.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Kids, Youth
Author/Illustrator Bio
The Dr. Ajaos are a husband-wife, doctor-nurse team who have a joint passion for health literacy, preventative healthcare, and education for at-risk groups in the Global setting. Mrs. Taiwo I Ajao, the Author, is a Registered Nurse with a Master’s in Public Health in Maternal and Child Health, while Dr. ‘Wale Ajao, the Illustrator, is an internationally-trained medical doctor with a Master's of Arts in Communications & Producing for Film and Video. Together, The DrAjaos intend to address health literacy via it’s most fundamental forms: using the arts of writing, entertainment, and communication to educate children and their parents. Adunni Dares to Dream is the beginning of a beautiful merger of not just a celebration of educational achievement, but also of Faith, Hope, Love and Miracles.
About The Book
Adunni Dares to Dream is the true tale of a poor African girl who just wanted to go to school. Although she was a part of a very hardworking family, Adunni just could not have the finer things in life, like school, books, & literacy. In her culture, girls were just expected to look pretty, get married and have children. But Adunni wished for something more.
As Adunni dares to dream , she inspires many others to dream too, including a handsome young man who couldn't stop dreaming about her! So Adunni has choices to make. Does she give in to her society's expectations? Does she chose the status quo? What are Adunni's dreams and where do her dreams take her?
Excerpt
Whenever Adunni brought up the idea of school, somehow Mama found a way to end it. Despite the fact that she was illiterate, Mama was sharp, hardworking and very resourceful with money. Mama had married young, as was common in the culture, and she started to bear children as a teenager. It was unfortunate, however, that she experienced the loss of many of those children during childbirth. Only Adunni and her sister had survived, and Adunni wondered often about what she could have done to save those who hadn't made it. Adunni was tearful as she remembered how her mother had nearly died last year during childbirth. Was every girl expected to get married and have children, even if it killed her? Adunni didn’t want to be like other girls: she wanted to be great! Adunni believed that to be great, she must be smart and be able to read, and learn great things. 

How did you come with the idea for your current story?
This story was not my idea. It's a true story, written by God. I share the story, because I believe it needs to be told and that generations need to hear it.

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
My favorite scene in the book is when Adunni's Mom started to encourage her dream. That one jester gave her the courage to take action towards her dreams. You see, Adunni's Mom was my Grandmom, and Grandma's belief in Adunni is what propelled her forward. Likewise, Adunni (my Mom) has always been my driving force. Her words and approval has always meant the world to me, and when she tells me I can do it, I have tended to believe her and go for it.
It's just one of the

What is the highest goal that you desire to meet as an author?
The highest goal that I would like to achieve is a full & deeper merger of my role with that of my husband, my illustrator & publisher--plus literally, every other role! My highest goal is to be one mind with him and create a form where we unite to create more literary masterpieces and use our other skills in healthcare and education to impact the health, safety and well-being of children and their families. Just like Adunni, my husband, Dr. Ajao, loves to learn, and I believe that this love can be transferred to others. Also, a love of learning translates into a love for teaching.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?

Wait for it. The inspiration might not come when you want it, but God sends each part right on time! Each aspect of your dream is a milestone, from the title to the content to the imagery. Wait for it. He makes all things beautiful in His time!!!


How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite place to go and unwind?
We love a variety of wholesome music. Unwinding is likely a free evening to clean & cook to good music.

What do you have in store next for your readers?

A lot of folks are enamored by the Mike character. I'm going to go deeper to reveal his character, his thought processes and his unique wisdom.

Describe your book in three words?
A Pleasant Surprise.

 Link 
Tour hosted by Write Now Literary

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Keep You Safe

Keep You Safe Keep You Safe by Melissa Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Whew! Where do I start. First off, I think this is the best book I've read so far this year. Melissa Hill tackled a serious issue of vaccinations: Should we? Or, shouldn't we? What is best for our children?
Set in Knockroe/Dublin, we meet Madeleine and Kate, two mothers, who both share the same desire: Keep their daughters safe. However, both of these women had two different parenting styles. My stomach clenched when I was about 60% through because I had no idea what was going to happen, what the outcome of such a controversial topic would be. Melissa Hill does a phenomenal job of presenting two strong characters and their opposing viewpoints. There is conflict, depth, politics, sensationalism, tension, and the never ending question: What would you do? What is the right thing to do?
All I can say is, not everything can be answered in black and white. I lived both sides with the women, though I found myself rooting for one over the other. I think some might find the court scenes a little difficult to trudge through as it was repetitive - but that's how it is in court. I enjoyed it. So, please hang in there until you get to the end. The ending was one I didn't see coming but it was real. Melissa Hill tied things up neatly, maybe too neatly, but I suppose after such a stomach-clenching ride, we needed that breathe of fresh air.
Absolutely loved loved this read. I can't imagine the research Melissa Hill had to have done to deliver such an authentic tale.
Some memorable quotes:
"Don't child-proof the world, is my motto. World-proof the child."
"I just wonder how many times you can get kicked when you're down before that spirit becomes broken."
Thank you, Netgalley.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review: Any Dream Will Do: A Novel

Any Dream Will Do: A Novel Any Dream Will Do: A Novel by Debbie Macomber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an uplifting read. I can't sing the praises enough on why you should read this. Debbie Macomber delivered a powerful tale resonating with themes of forgiveness, redemption, second chances, faith and the power of love. Shay endured a terrible home life and as a result ended up spending time in prison. When we meet her, we fight a young woman lost, dejected and rejected by society. She has nowhere to go and enters a church on a whim. Shay doesn't even know why she is there. She doesn't believe in prayer. But, that's when her life begins to change.
Shay meets Pastor Drew Douglas and he decides to help her. As the story progresses, we will see this young woman come into her own and her true nature will begin to shine through despite all her adversities. We will also see Drew overcome his issue and wonder, will he open his heart?
What I loved is that Debbie Macomber didn't rush the story, but gave her readers a chance to savor every moment and rejoice with every step of Shay and Drew's journey. Debbie Macomber didn't shy away from serious topics, but tackled them with such authenticity that I felt as if I were there in the scenes. Great use of secondary characters. I admit I got teary-eyed at the end. I highly recommend.

Quotes that ministered to me.
"When we worry," Drew continued, "we take reality and move it in the realm of fiction. What is real is transferred into the land of monsters and dragons, which are far bigger and frightening than they really are."
"I never confused God with the church. We're all human. We all make mistakes. The key is not allowing anyone to stand in the way of how we view our Lord."
"I refuse to focus on our past mistakes; God takes each one of us exactly where we are and so do I. Instead of focusing on the past, I prefer to look at the potential God has given each of us."

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Review: Until You Loved Me

Until You Loved Me Until You Loved Me by Brenda Novak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a new Brenda Novak fan. This is my second book of hers and I plan to read even more of her books. Ellie learns her wedding is off and goes out with the girls to a club. This is not a norm for her. But, she meets Hudson King, an NFL quarterback, and decides to return to his hotel. Their one-night escapade leaves her pregnant. Will Hudson think she is a gold-digger? Avid readers like myself know this plot very well. What I like is that this is more than a romance. The characters and storylines are well-developed and makes for an entertaining read. Brenda Novak adds her own special twist to the plot that made it enjoyable and a page-turner.
I loved to see both Ellie and Hudson's journey. Brenda Novak does a phenomenal job with the hero. Hudson is a dream to get to know. He had so many layers to him that I really found myself rooting for him.
Memorable lines:
"Once a secret is out in the open, it became far less tantalizing to the gossips."
"Careful is smart, but too careful can make you miss something magical."
"A person can't run from the past forever."

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: The Good Widow

The Good Widow The Good Widow by Liz Fenton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Wow. Wow. I really enjoyed this read. The sharp writing, humor and wit drew me in from the beginning. But. The. Ending. The ending-- where things usually taper off-- is where the suspense built and the revelations had me glued to the page. What a way to end a good story, making it jaw-dropping good. I can't wait for more from these authors.
Some great quotes.
"...once you find out there are so many lies sitting right below the surface of your relationships, you want to know them all."
"The men you never think would stray--they are always the ones with the most to hide."
"Sometimes you just have to trust your gut. If you spend your whole life scared to make the wrong choice, how is that really living?"
"...we could all be better. Better husbands, better wives, better sons and daughters. But the people who love us, the ones who truly care, they accept us, even if we aren't perfect."

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: Let Her Go: An emotional and heartbreaking tale of motherhood and family that will leave you breathless

Let Her Go: An emotional and heartbreaking tale of motherhood and family that will leave you breathless Let Her Go: An emotional and heartbreaking tale of motherhood and family that will leave you breathless by Dawn Barker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"She had never understood how much she wanted children until the doctor had told her that she couldn't have them." Zoe McCallister wants a baby more than anything. But what happens after you get what your heart desires?
I loved that the author tackled the issue of surrogacy between sisters. The conflict with the family dynamic made for a good read. It made me think. But, I didn't fall in love with Let Her Go. The writing isn't the issue but as the story progressed, I became less emotionally connected to the outcome. I understood both Zoe and Nadia's sides, felt their pain and understood their conflict, but the ending... I didn't buy it. I didn't understand Louise at all. Surrogacy isn't an explanation for her actions.
Some insightful quotes.
"Family bonds weren't forged from blood, they were welded by shared moments, from intimacy, from vulnerability."
"No one ever knows the effect on the future of the things we do now; we just have to do what we think is right at the time."
3.5 stars.
Thank you Netgalley for this read.

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Review: Every Last Lie

Every Last Lie Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mary Kubica does a phenomenal job of writing Clare's story in the present and Nick's in the past. I felt the suspense with each chapter. I related to Nick. I understood his predicament, thinking he had time to fix his life and lies. Clare was tough for me. I was with her in the beginning but toward the middle onward, I began to question her sanity and actions. The ending left some loose strings that left me somewhat dissatisfied. I would definitely read more of Mary Kubica.
Thank you Netgalley for this read!

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Review: Surrender to Me

Surrender to Me Surrender to Me by Donna Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a hot cover! Whew. Good job, Kimani. Rafe Lawson is a successful sax player. He knows how to plays instruments and women. That is, until he meets Agent Avery Richards. Then, everything changes. Surrender to Me begins with their meeting and instant attraction. From then on, we see firsthand what Michael Bolton means when he sings, When A Man Loves A Woman. Ladies, you shouldn't have to run down a man. If he wants you, he will come after you. Rafe traveled across states and even another country to get his woman. I Loved this hot, scintillating read. Donna Hill is one of the best.
Favorite Lines:
"Life is all about rhythm, finding the beat that suits you and goin' with it. Once you figure it out the world looks a whole lot better."
"Sometimes all it takes is a change in atmosphere to get a different perspective. And you'll be back on track."
"...at some point you're gonna want to do more than simply survive, you're gonna want to live."
3.5 stars.
Thank you Netgalley!

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Review: No One But You

No One But You No One But You by Brenda Novak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sadie Harris is a single mom to a young son. She is trying to make ends meet and decides to take a job with Dawson Reed, the acquitted town murderer, as his housekeeper. Though Sadie is scared, she bravely accepts the job. Instead of finding a monster, she finds a considerate man.
Brenda Novak had me deeply invested in this story. Both of our characters had serious drama and challenges in their lives. They weren't the typical characters that you read in romances. There was no rich billionaire but instead both characters had a true wealth and depth to them that drew me into their lives. Sadie and Dawson's resilience shines through that made their journey a heartwarming tale.
Two of my favorite lines, and there were a few good nuggets:
"Even the hope of love is worth the risk, she clarified."
"Love isn't the problem, Sadie," he said, his voice soothing. "Love is the answer. That's what makes life worth living."
Sigh. Yes, Dawson. I completely agree.
Thank you netgalley for this read.


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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Review: The Dream Keeper's Daughter

The Dream Keeper's Daughter The Dream Keeper's Daughter by Emily Colin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am torn about this read. On one hand, I saw many elements of solid writing particularly in the beginning, but on another, I think my question was why? Why did this story need a "back in time" component? I really didn't get why the characters were taken and why they were returned. I enjoyed the history and the interactions that occurred but how did that line up with the rest of the story. I think I would have understood if the title had been explained in the story: The Dream Keeper's Daughter - Maybe it was explained but this felt like a long long read so I might have missed it. Who was the dream keeper? I THINK I know who the daughter is but...
Next, the 'romance' between Max and Isabel took a different twist, which is fine, if it would have made sense for Isabel to go that route. If the author had built that character. It was interesting but I didn't fall in love with the main characters. Instead, I found myself wondering about Ryan. He was interesting. 2.5 stars
Thank you Netgalley for this ARC

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Review: Wild Embrace

Wild Embrace Wild Embrace by Cassie Edwards
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

II love romance. I really do and I even lost instant love and attraction but it didn't work in this novel. I love the cover. I love the title. I love the author. But that was it.
Our not-so-smart heroine, Elizabeth Easton did a lot of things that had me shaking my head. Strong Heart was able to spot her so many times and was skilled but couldn't find his grandfather.
The love between these two after short encounters had me rolling my eyes. It was disappointing.
Thank you Netgalley for the ARC!

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Review: Seeing Red

Seeing Red Seeing Red by Sandra Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sandra Brown is one of my all-time favorite authors. No one writes romantic suspense like she does. This cover is hot. In Seeing Red, we meet Kerra Bailey and Joh Trapper. Kerra lands the interview of a lifetime with Major Trapper before tragedy hits. Typical Sandra Brown. I was drawn in from the first page.
Then we meet our flawed hero, Trapper, who is nursing a wicked hangover. (This hero seems common in some of her books of late, I think.) Kerra has to decide if she can trust a hot-headed, hot-tempered John Trapper as she tries to figure out who is behind that tragedy. Together, they battle desire while trying to solve the puzzle that got John fired from his job as an ATF.
The romance is intense and the intrigue is high. Many plot twists and events that had me finishing this read in one sitting. Sandra Brown has done it again. I eagerly await her next release. More, please. More.

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Review: How I Lost You: A Novel

How I Lost You: A Novel How I Lost You: A Novel by Jenny Blackhurst
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I loved the title, the cover and the blurb. It was intriguing but the flashback scenes and too many characters stole from the essence of the story.
I liked the friendship with Susan and Cassie but there was an unnecessary scene between them that sullied the strength of the friendship.
One question I had was how could so many people find her that easy? What was the point in having the name change? It didn't contribute to the story in any way.
The author crafted a tricky tangled web that she miraculously detangled by the end. Glad for that, but my main question was, why? If you're going to introduce a twisted backstory, then make it meaningful. None of the characters changed.
There wasn't one good person in the story that I could think of. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the suspense but my questions overshadowed full enjoyment.
2.5 stars. Thank you Netgalley for this read.

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Review: The Drowned Girls

The Drowned Girls The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my first book by Loreth Anne White. What a dark, twisty, good read! The first line had me glued. Then when you meet, Angie Pallorino, the gritty heroine, you quickly realize this is not your Disney heroine. She is raw and flawed and passionate. She is ambitious and driven. You feel her guilt and her pain as she struggles with demons of the past.
Then we meet the rugged James Maddocks, another complex character. He is trying to build a relationship with his daughter and ends up finding more. The villain also has depth and a story that makes us understand his pain even though we can't forgive his evil.
I enjoyed this suspenseful tale. It had everything AND the kitchen sink. At times, I felt there were too many characters. I felt a couple scenes or story strands could've been shaved off in editing but then I realized that this was the foundation for a series. I am eager to know more about Angie.
Kudos to Loreth Anne White. She is creepy good.


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Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: Seeking Sarah

Seeking Sarah Seeking Sarah by ReShonda Tate Billingsley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished Seeking Sarah in hours. The cover drew me in but the storyline kept my fingers swiping through the pages. Brooke was a complicated and flawed heroine. I understood her actions even though I didn't agree with almost all of them. I found myself asking many times, would Brooke realize a person can't conquer deception with deception? She was bent on revenge but the thing with revenge is that it comes with consequences. Will Brooke realize that in time? You will discover the answer as you read.
Even when I got to the end, I continued to ask myself: How could a mother abandon her child? SMH. Can Sarah ever fully explain that? Seeking Sarah shows how important a parent's love is and how a parent can shape a child's life and future actions. It is not a light responsibility.
My favorite lines:
"A woman's gut doesn't lie."
"Well, I guess if there's a roadblock to your path to happiness, you have to stop and move it out of the way."
Thank you Netgalley for this read. 4.5 stars

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Review: The Runaway Bride

The Runaway Bride The Runaway Bride by Patricia Johns
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a solid story. Liam's and Bernie's romance warmed my heart. The author allowed their love to build--and it felt realistic--even though it was a short amount of time. Things started off rocky for Bernie but she came into her own. So many themes resonate in this read: family, forgiveness are two. It looks at the question of family and shows how love can stretch that parameter. The backstories and other characters added conflict and depth to the tale. I understood the couple's struggle and rooted for them on their path to happy-ever-after.
There were some great lines in this read:
"He was man enough to love a woman with his whole heart, but he was also man enough to let her go, and to deal with the pain on his own."
"...life doesn't give you many chances to follow your heart, and the rest of your life is an awfully long time to go without the man you love."

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Who Killed My Husband?

I am in love with the title and the cover. Add the fact that it is Michelle Stimpson and I have already clicked the pre-order button. Check out my interview with this prolific writer. 


Buy Links
Interview with the Author
About the Author
Excerpt

Description

Ashley Crandall finally convinced her husband, Allan, to attend the Christian men’s retreat...but he ends up dead there. What happened to him on the campgrounds? Who would want to kill Allan? And why are the detectives pointing fingers at Ashley? In her quest to solve the mystery and clear her name, Ashley will learn something about her husband that she didn’t want to know and something about her Christian faith that shifts her life. 

This short work by national bestselling, multi-published author Michelle Stimpson is packed with emotion, suspense, and a her signature way of weaving hope into a story – always a hit with readers who enjoy faith-based reads.

Buy Links:








Interview with the Author

Q: This is a different kind of book for you. What made you venture a little with this title?
A: After writing 40+ books, an author can get kinds stagnant. I have recently started reading clean mysteries, and I found that I actually enjoy them. They keep me up late at night because I truly want to find out whodunit and why. I’m hoping my readers will enjoy a different pace, too. I think they’ll be glad to know it’s possible to change things up and still keep the message of the book strong.

Q: What is the message of the book?
A: The main character, Ashley, is struggling to make sense of things as they relate to her. She has suffered much loss in her life already. But she’s going to have to understand that God doesn’t make His plans around Her. She may be the apple of His eye, but she is not the center of the universe.  His promise to be there always will have to sufficient for some of us until we reach the other side.

Q: Wow! That title really caught me. How did you come up with the idea for this book?
A: You know what, I wish I could remember. Thankfully, I have not experience much death around me, but I know that the longer I live, the more loved ones will pass away. Death is a part of life.  I don’t kill off a lot of characters in my books, but there was just something about this couple that struck my imagination and I knew they needed a book. Quickly!

Q: How quick?
A: About 10 days from outline to finished first draft.

Q: Seriously?
A: Yes, but keep in mind: This is a shorter work of fiction.

Q: Why did you choose to write a shorter piece?
A: I actually got my start with fiction as a short-story writer. I love shorter reads because I can finish them quickly. My schedule is often irregular, so it’s hard for me to get into longer books during hectic weeks. When I sit down for a few hours with a short read, I already know I’m going to have the satisfaction of finishing it. I usually save longer reads for holidays/vacations.

Q: What else is going on with you outside of the writing world?
A: Glad you asked! I am now the grandmother of a wonderful baby girl. Bless God! I am spending a ridiculous amount of time just staring at her and nibbling on her juicy cheeks.

Q: What’s your next release?
A: I’ve got a non-fiction book coming out entitled Change Your Mind, Transform Your Life: 21 Truths to Renew Your Mind in Christ. I am always sooo excited about edifying believers. Non-fiction is not my first genre, but it is definitely one of the most fulfilling to me.

Q: Do you have advice for aspiring authors?
A: I have more than advice—I have help! They can visit www.PublishMyBookAlready.com to take classes and learn more about publishing, marketing, etc.



Q: How Can Readers Connect with You?
A: The best way to keep in touch is through my email list. I send out notice of new books and keep people posted on all kinds of things from events to what’s happening with their favorite characters to upcoming releases. The link is here: http://bit.ly/MichelleStimpsonSignUp

Additionally, they can like or follow me at Facebook: www.Facebook.com/MichelleStimpsonWrites
Or Follow me on Twitter @StimpsonTweets. I blog at www.MichelleStimpson.com.

Thanks so much for the interview!



About the Author



Michelle Stimpson’s works include the highly acclaimed Boaz Brown, Divas of Damascus Road (National Bestseller), and Falling Into Grace, which has been optioned for a movie. She has published several short stories for high school students through her educational publishing company at WeGottaRead.com.

Michelle serves in women’s ministry at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, TX. She regularly speaks at special events and writing workshops sponsored by churches, schools, book clubs, and educational organizations.

The Stimpsons are proud parents of two young adults, grandparents of one super-sweet granddaughter, and the owners of one Cocker Spaniel, Mimi, who loves to watch televangelists.




Excerpt


Chapter 1
“Thank you for doing this, Allan.” I kept my eyes steady on the unfamiliar, winding road sprawling before me. Already, I had braked three times for sharp turns and a pothole. 
Allan, ears covered by headphones, bobbed as though he didn’t hear my compliment. His baby smooth skin, dimples, and semi-mohawk haircut made him look much younger than thirty-two. So young, in fact, that a few times, twenty-something chicks at his DJing events had mistaken me as his older sister or his manager, even though I was only thirty. Allan thought that was funny. “It’s good for business,” he’d say, flashing his boyish grin.
I was tired of him acting like a boy. A guy. A dude. A bro. I needed him to grow up and be a man. Start thinking about things that mattered, namely his eternity. Since Allan had agreed to attend this non-church-affiliated men’s retreat, I thought my prayers were finally being answered. I had gone all out to take off work early so I could take him to Peaceful Days. Even dusted on some makeup and flat-ironed my wavy mane so he’d have this awesome picture of me in the back of his mind all weekend.
I tapped him on the shoulder and mouthed again, “Thank you for doing this.”
I knew better than to expect a “Sure thing, Ashley,” or “It’s my pleasure to go,” from him. He was either ignoring me or caught up in his music. No matter, I was used to being blocked out of his life by music, working at KRBF FM radio Dallas. His side gigs. His friends. His lifestyle.
Still, my eyes watered for a moment. The rejection stung worse than a bee. At least when a bee stung, it was defending its own territory. Allan and I were supposed to be one in God’s sight. Why he chose to turn on me—his wife of six years—and treat me like the enemy was unreasonable. We were on the same team.
At least we were until Corey died.
Blinking tears away, my vision cleared just in time to spot a pretty good-sized animal dart into the road. I slammed on the brakes. My stomach squirmed. I winced, hoping the thing had escaped being crushed.
A second later, my body relaxed. Whatever it was hadn’t become a bump under my wheels.
“Geez Louise!” Allan yelled. “Can you not see?”
“It came out of nowhere!” I pointed toward the open field on the passenger’s side.
“I saw it a mile away!” he claimed, motioning toward his window. “You’re not paying attention.”
“Neither are you!”
Allan pulled the headphones down so they dangled around his neck. “I’m paying plenty of attention to the road. Can’t say the same about you since you nearly got us killed.”
Cautiously, I continued our path to the campgrounds.
“Do you need me to drive?” he asked with a hint of sympathy in his voice.
This was my husband’s way of apologizing. He wouldn’t just come out and say, “Babe, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at you.” He’d offer to do something.
“No,” I said. That was my way of not accepting his roundabout apology.
I had grounds for a full-blown argument. How dare he accuse me of trying to kill us? And why am I driving anyway—I’m the woman! Real men know how to step up and take the wheel in more ways than one. Top that off with the fact that my heart was still racing from the animal-in-the-road scare, and I was primed.
But I didn’t want to go there. Not now. Especially not today. Allan had finally agreed to attend a Christian men’s conference for the weekend, and I’d been praying that God would use this weekend to touch my husband’s heart. Having a big blowout of an argument just before dropping him off wouldn’t exactly be productive.
Thanks to a few books I’d been reading and the personal advice of the Holy Spirit, I had come to the point of understanding that, apparently, Allan was in the “may be won without a word” category. I just needed to keep my mouth zipped and let God do His thing. Problem number one: Allan had a knack for provoking me. Problem number two: I wasn’t always obedient. Problem number three: God was taking His sweet time.
My husband pressed a dial on his headphones. “Hello?”
The caller spoke loud enough for me to hear that it was a man. A hollering man.
“Wait up, man! I gotchu! My first payment isn’t even due until next month, bro,” Allan said.
I put two and two together and realized he was talking to Jerry Albright, the man who had helped finance my husband’s acquisition of the radio station where he worked.
“I’mma have yo money like I said, at the time we agreed to,” Allan said forcefully, slipping into a strong southern accent. “Why you tryna collect early?”
The rest of the conversation was much more calm. Allan wasn’t playing with Jerry. But neither was Jerry playing with Allan, apparently.
Great. Now we have loan sharks after us. This whole DJ Pistol Whip persona was getting out of control.
“Aight. I’ll talk to you next week. I’m gonna be at a…some kind of thing my old lady set me up to…Naw…you know I ain’t goin’ out like that! I got a reputation to protect!” Allan laughed.
Thank God they’re laughing and not threatening each other.
Whatever the man had suggested was probably too civil for DJ Pistol Whip to admit to.
“I’ll catch you later.” He took the headphones off, mumbling to himself that Jerry was crazy. His thumbs whittled away at a message to somebody.
“In one-half mile, turn left on Prayer Lane,” the navigation system instructed.
Allan chuckled. “Prayer Lane.” He pushed his headphones back in place.
I could hardly wait for that half a mile to come and go so I could drop him off at that camp and burn rubber on my way out. I figured, if nothing else, at least I’d get a weekend away from him
As we neared the grounds, we were welcomed by the United States flag, the Texas flag, and the Christian flag. Flowers bloomed in pristine arrangements lining the entryway’s white picket fence. Green grass rolled for acres between small buildings with country flair. A large pond sparkled in the midst of the camp. The scenery alone should have been enough to let Allan know that God is real and loves to bring beauty into this world.
Peaceful Days Camp was painted in bright red letters on a wooden sign. Underneath the facility name was the phrase Come all who labor.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Allan yelled. His music’s volume must have been so loud he didn’t realize how his voice carried. “Laboring is what I need to be doing this Friday night instead of hanging out with some chumps at a camp.”
“Really?” I yelled loud enough for him to hear me. “You think judging a twerking contest is labor?”
“It’s a hard job, but somebody’s gotta do it,” he shouted back. “DJing and vibin’ with the hip hop culture is the way I make my money. You knew who you were marrying when you married DJ Pistol Whip, right?”
“I didn’t marry DJ Pistol Whip. I married Allan Crandall.”
“One and the same, baby. One and the same.” He bobbed his head even harder and started throwing punches in the air as though fighting an imaginary foe.
All I could do was poke out my lips. He had a point. Allan had turned into this persona he’d created to earn a living. He was very good at what he did. A part of me was glad that he loved his work. But when that work involved MCing wet T-shirt contests, I had a problem. A serious problem.
I followed the signs to the H. P. Lewis men’s dormitory, which had been mentioned in the series of emails leading up to the retreat. Of course, all of the email messages came to me, since Allan wasn’t about to keep track of anything regarding this event.
I parked and, almost immediately, Allan hopped out. I pushed the button to open the back window so he could retrieve his bags. As he walked around to the back of our vehicle, I got the paperwork from my purse. Suddenly, I felt like a mother must feel when she’s dropping her child off at kindergarten. The joy. The pain. The pride.
A sadness swept over me as I wondered: Will I ever experience that for myself?
Thoughts of little Corey filled my mind, nearly overtaking me with their intensity. He would have been three years old the following week. “Horrible Threes” I’d heard people called them. People wouldn’t say such negative things about babies and children—about them waking up in the middle of the night, the crying, the teething, the getting into everything—if they realized what a blessing it was to have a living, breathing, normal, healthy child.
The tears had come too quickly for me to blink them away. I swiped them from my eyes.
Allan closed the back window.
I got out of the car to see him off. I had planned to give him a big kiss and a hug in Jesus’s name, but I wasn’t feeling my husband or Jesus at the moment.
Allan hoisted his backpack on his shoulder as he walked toward me.
All around us were couples saying goodbye. Hugging, slight pecks, praying with one another.
I looked up at him. Forced a smile. “Have a good weekend.”
The heavy weight of concern crossed his face. “Why are you crying, Ashley? I’m at the retreat, okay? This is what you wanted, right?”
As mean as Allan could be sometimes, he always fell apart at the slightest hint of wetness on my face.
Peering into his eyes, I wondered why on earth God had allowed these crazy twists and turns in my life. My son’s death. My failing marriage. Even my mother’s dementia, which had been a long time coming, seemed an odd ending to such a good life.
If only my husband and I were on the same page, spiritually, I could lean on him. We could pray for each other. He could actually love me like Christ loved the church, and I could be submissive because I respected him, and life would be…well…easier and holier and basically better.
But I knew not to share my thoughts to Allan. No sense in talking to a brick wall.
Allan hugged me. “Get some rest this weekend. I know.…” He sighed. “I know what today is.”
“Yeah.”
Allan still couldn’t say Corey’s name.
A tinny beat came from the headphones, interrupting our silent moment.
“Are you going to wear those all weekend?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I guess, when we’re not doing anything.”
I thrust the itinerary into his hand. “You’ve got a full weekend. There’s no way you’ll have time for music.”
“There’s always time for music, baby.” He gave a charming smile.
I sighed. Twisted my lips to the side. This was a joke to him. If all he planned to do was go to the classes between vulgar songs, my efforts to get him here had been nothing but a waste of time, effort, money, hope, and prayers.
I blew a cool breeze from my mouth. “You’re right. It’s totally up to you, Allan. Enjoy yourself.” I turned and opened the driver’s side door, not wanting him to see my fresh batch of tears. I didn’t want him to think I was trying to manipulate him by crying. Guilt-induced expressions of love were always disingenuous and short-lived.
Allan grasped my arm. “Ashley. Wait.” He squared up my shoulders before I had a chance to wipe my cheeks dry.
“I’m here because I want to be here.” He swallowed. “I’m tired of fighting with you. I can’t change what happened. I can’t fix everything like I want to. And I don’t know God like you want me to. But I’m here this weekend because I do care.”
“If you care, then listen? Take off your headphones and listen to what’s in here.” I placed my hand on his heart.
Slowly, my husband removed the black headset. He put it around my neck. Smiled. “You could use some music this weekend, I bet.”
I giggled slightly. “You’re probably right.”
He rested his forehead on mine. “I love you, pretty brown-eyed girl.”
His nickname for me, based on the Mint Condition 90s song, still made me melt. I twisted my lips to one side, then gave way to a smile of my own. “Love you, too. See you Sunday.”
The truth was: I loved Allan and I knew he loved me. But if God didn’t fix him that weekend, I didn’t know what I was going to do. We’d already tried counseling. Well, I tried counseling. Allan went twice and said it was a waste of time. I bought his-and-hers versions of do-it-yourself couples therapy-type books. Allan never got past the first few chapters. I was getting to the end of my strategies for improvement.
Friday night found me in bed crying as I flipped through pictures of our wedding. We were so happy back then. We had the rest of our lives in front of us.
Or so I thought.
Taking off the afternoon and enduring the tension with Allan almost all the way to the camp had taken a lot out of me. I didn’t want to argue with my husband. I didn’t want to be so judgmental. I just didn’t know any other way to make him see how much he needed Jesus.
Rather than cry my eyes swollen, I decided to get up and do some work. I logged into my employer’s system and began to edit and comment on documents the team had uploaded. If nothing else, I could at least find some success at work.
Chapter 2
Celeste had warned me that the temperature in Zoccara’s Italian Cuisine was always chilly. She knew me well. I didn’t go anywhere without a pair of socks to keep my feet warm.
“Girl, you need to get your blood checked for anemia.” She used to tease me when she’d come over to the house to care for Corey and found the thermostat set on seventy-nine degrees.
Since she was a nurse, I’d taken her up on the advice. Sure enough, my doctor recommended more iron. I had been a fan of Celeste’s advice from that moment on.
The red and black shawl I’d packed in my purse came in quite handy as I waited for Celeste’s arrival. I took in the intricate Tuscan tile on the walls. Soft lighting and wine bottle displays added an authentic feel to the restaurant.
“This place is beautiful, and so are you, girl!” I complimented Celeste when she arrived wearing a cute, white lace maxi dress with nude heels. She always looked so beautiful, even in scrubs.  
“Says the woman who wakes up like this every day.” Celeste returned the compliment as she waved across my face and clothes. “You look amazing!”
We fell into an embrace and her spiral-curled brown hair fell across my cheek. It was nice to smell the familiar jasmine and vanilla-scented shampoo. Some things didn’t need to change.
“I’ve been in Dallas for almost fifteen years now and never even heard of this restaurant.”
“Well, you gotta get out more,” she recommended with a full smile.
Celeste and I hadn’t been out much lately since she’d taken on a few new home health patients. Her work with critically-ill children and their families often meant odd hours and last-minute changes in her schedule. I never gave it a second thought when she had to cancel or reschedule our occasional girls’ nights out because I remembered all too well the nights she had dropped everything to answer a frantic call from me.
Our friendship had begun when the doctors said there was nothing more they could do for Corey in the hospital. Despite the surgeries and medications, they couldn’t get ahead of the fluid building on his brain, called hydrocephalus. So much damage had been done already, they had come to the agreement that it would be best to put Corey on hospice at home.
Celeste had become our main home health nurse, helping to make sure his IV was properly rotated every three days, his feeding tube stayed in place, and nothing out of the ordinary was happening. She was very vocal about the fact that she wished the insurance company would have kept my baby in the hospital. “These doctors and hospitals have become so insensitive these days,” she would murmur under her breath as we worked together to change Corey’s sheets. “The whole system turns people into numbers.”
I couldn’t argue. As a mortgage analyst, my field was probably one of the worst when it came to taking people’s individual situations into consideration. I understood all too well that businesses needed to make money, and doing so meant minimizing risks, maximizing profit. There were a few times I wanted to go to bat for someone, but my job had been so good to me—giving me all the time off I needed, even working with the IT department to set up a network so I could work from home in Corey’s final weeks of life—I didn’t rock the boat much. Shame on me, I knew, but I was just trying to keep putting one foot in front of the other back then. Buyers could get another house, but I could never get back those days with my son.
Celeste had been with me the night Corey took his last breaths. As much as I’d dreaded that day, Corey’s passing had actually been peaceful. He looked like a little sleeping angel. My heart was torn to pieces, yet there was a quiet sweetness to the moment. Gave the word “passing” a different meaning. It wasn’t a violent transition. Just his soul leaving his little body, as though it was simply the best time for him to return home.
Celeste had hummed a song that night, one with a moderate tempo. One I had never heard before, which wasn’t a surprise since I didn’t group up in church. The song was not too slow, not too fast. “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing there will be.” I found myself rocking to the beat long after the funeral home had taken Corey’s body away. Celeste slept in the guest room. Allan was trying to get a flight back from New York, but he wasn’t able to get out because of the weather. As much as I needed Allan, I was almost glad he wasn’t there, because I’d needed to fall completely apart alone in my bedroom with just me and God. That’s what I did.
And so did Celeste. I’d heard her. She’d heard me. And before long, we teamed up and decided to cry together in the living room. That was when I found out how strong Celeste’s faith really was. I’d never seen anyone praise in the middle of sadness before the night Corey died. It was beautiful, as though the Comforter Himself came and sat down in the middle of it all with us.
I didn’t care what the protocol, I wasn’t going to say goodbye to Celeste just because my son had gone home to be with the Lord. She’d been such a blessing to me. I needed her friendship, and she was more than glad to give it.
She didn’t talk much about her subsequent patients. I didn’t ask questions, either. Instead, when we caught up to one another, we focused on encouraging one another. Like sisters. In fact, Celeste and I had grown so close while caring for Corey, I never bothered to take back her key to my house. My family lived several states over and Allan’s family was two hours away. If there was ever a time one of us got locked out of the house or if we were on vacation and something was happening with our residence while we were away, there was no one else I trusted to enter except Celeste.
“Ladies, your booth is ready,” the hostess said, breaking up our hug.
We looped elbows and followed the young woman, giddy with the unspoken excitement of being reunited with a dear friend.
We scooted onto our seats as the hostess gave us our menus. “Your server, Marissa, will be with you shortly.”
“Thank you,” said Celeste.
As soon as we were alone again, I could see from the extra-wide smile on her face and the cheeks pushed up so high that her eyes were nearly closed that Celeste was about to burst with news.
“Okay…what’s up with you?”
She flashed her left hand, which sported a thin gold band with three diamonds.
“You’re engaged!” I nearly screamed.
“Uh huh.” She nodded.
We both raised our hands and clasped them high above the table, letting out little squeals of delight. We’d drawn a bit of attention to ourselves with this celebration.
“Calm down,” Celeste warned.
We leaned in. “I can’t! I’m so excited for you! Tell me all about him. And exactly when did you have time to fall in love?”
Celeste filled me in on the whirlwind romance she’d been in with a man named Steve for the last three months, a man whom she’d met at her nephew’s college graduation ceremony. Steve’s youngest brother was receiving his degree as well.
“At first, I mean, I noticed him sitting next to me. He is cute, after all. But he was sitting next to a woman, so I didn't take a second glance. But then a man came and sat on the other side of her. And she kissed that other man. The man and Steve shook hands, so I was like—okay, he’s not with her.”
I nodded for her to continue the recount of events from their meeting, to their first trips to church together, to their morning prayer-calls and the roses he’d sent “just because.” The beauty of fresh love.
I remembered it well. Try as I might to stay focused on Celeste’s love story in the making, my mind took me back to the times when my eyes used to twinkle at the thought of my man. Allan and I didn’t have a long courtship. When we met, we were both out of college, on good paths with our careers, and thoroughly enamored with each other. He wasn’t really into church, but he would attend services with me if I asked him. He was easygoing like that. We’d played enough games with people in our early twenties and didn't see a need to prolong our courtship or engagement. Being the decisive, take-charge person I’ve always been, I said “yes” when he asked me and it was a done deal. I wasn’t a “wedding” person and I’m definitely not one to waste money. We had a small private ceremony at my parents’ church—much to his family’s chagrin. They’d wanted to go all out for their baby boy and turn it into a socialite event in their mid-sized East Texas town. But I wasn’t having it and, truthfully, Allan didn’t want it, either—though he didn’t voice his opinion loudly enough, if you ask me.
“Ashley?”
“Huh? Oh! Yeah. That’s great, Celeste. I’m so happy for you.” I suddenly tried to find my manners.
“Will you?”
I didn’t know what she’d asked me, but there was no way I could say no to Celeste, regardless. “I sure will!”
“Thank you!” she gushed. “I’ll be sure not to put you in some crazy dress you’d never want to wear again.”
I swallowed hard as I realized I’d just agreed to be in Celeste’s wedding. This was a good surprise.
Marissa set a plate of jumbo crab cakes on our table. Celeste said the prayer and then we dove in.
“Enough about me. What’s up with you? How’s Allan? What’s this men’s retreat all about?” she asked.
I took a deep breath and a bite of food. I didn’t want to tell her that things between Allan and I hadn’t been going so well lately, especially not in light of her good news. I didn’t want to discourage her about marriage in any way.
“We’re good. For the most part. Allan just signed a deal to buy the radio station.”
Celeste’s eyebrows leapt. “Oh wow! That’s major! He’s gonna be, like, one of the most powerful men in the city. All the young people listen to that station.”
“Yeah, it’s a pretty big deal. He and Michael Rivers, A-K-A DJ Drop-the-Bomb, went in together. They’ve got some pretty big ideas about the direction they’d like to see things go.” I took another bite of food.
“You don’t seem very happy about it.”
I swallowed. “You know, I want the best for Allan. I really do. And I don’t want to seem judgmental…”
“But,” Celeste said.
“But,” I continued, “have you ever listened to KRBF?”
She shook her head. “No, but I know what they play. And you’re right. You are being judgmental. Owning a radio station is just a job. Not everyone has the luxury of nursing or helping people buy homes responsibly.” She’d pointed to herself and then to me. “Allan is in a supply-and-demand job. Artists supply music that people demand. It’s that simple. Besides,” she smiled and snapped her finger, “you just got saved, like, five minutes ago. You cannot be this judgmental this fast. You gotta grow up in the church and start wearing long skirts before you can do that.”
“It’s just so…” I tried to explain through laughing at her joke, “when he would listen to the station while we’re riding somewhere, the music was so offensive. Filthy. I mean, I get that he was trying to listen to the station for business purposes. He wanted to make sure the commercials aired at the right time, and completely. He wanted to hear what new DJs were doing so he could give them some pointers. I totally understand. But it’s hard to sit there and not be critical when I hear the lyrics about people’s body parts or what they’re gonna do in bed and how they gotta kill anybody who stands in between them and gettin’ that easy money. It’s just…I insisted Allan start putting on headphones because I couldn’t take it.”
“What?”
“Girl, it was too much.”
“You were the one always complaining about how he never took those things off. But you made him put them on when you two rode together?”
“I didn’t have a choice!” I said, pressing my fingertips against my chest.
Celeste rolled her eyes. “Your ears are not going to fall off at the sound of a cuss word.”
“But it’s more than the words. It’s, well…you just said so many young people listen to those songs every day. How can I be elated about the fact that my husband is on the cutting edge of promoting this detrimental gangsta mentality to the next generation?”
“Look.” Celeste arrested me with a solid glare. “You are not Allan. Allan is not you. It’s a free country. People are free to make money in whatever field they choose, so long as it’s legal. You have to let Allan know that you support him, that you admire his drive to succeed, and that you’re proud of his efforts to be a good provider for you.”
I leaned to the side and rubbed the back of my neck. “What he’s doing goes against my beliefs.”
“But it doesn't go against his beliefs. And right now, Allan’s beliefs and your beliefs aren’t the same. You can’t hold him to a standard that he hasn’t agreed to abide by. And I really don’t know if he’d agree with you, even if he were a Christian. Men have a knack for separating feelings from their work.”
I peered at her. “How’d you get to know so much about men, Miss-I’m-thirty-and-just-now-in-a-serious-relationship?”
“Ha, ha, ha,” she jeered. “Don’t try to change the topic. Anyway, if Allan’s attending a Christian men’s retreat, I’d say some things are about to change. This time last year, Allan wouldn’t go near a preacher.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not going to put all my eggs in the weekend-retreat basket.”
“Ashley.”
“What?”
“Stop trying to be Allan’s savior. Just be his wife. Okay?”
I knew Celeste was right. Theoretically. Probably even biblically. But I had to take her words with a grain of salt. Or maybe I just chose to take them with a grain of resentment. Anger. She’d never been married. She didn't know what it was like to be married to an unbeliever, and I prayed she never would.
Thankfully, the server brought out our food before Celeste could get into a really deep throw-down lecture. The delectable dishes gave us more than enough reason to switch the subject. We talked about other things: our jobs, her extended family, and of course her wedding plans. She pulled up pictures of dresses and table decorations. She asked for my opinion on floral arrangements and party favors.
We ended our time together on a high note, with a prayer for my current marriage and her upcoming nuptials. She kissed my cheek as we parted in the parking lot.
“Love you, Ashley. Don’t spend so much time worrying about people. You gotta enjoy life, you know?”
“I know,” I agreed. “And you deserve to enjoy yours, too. I’m so happy for you and Steve.”
“And I’m happy for you and Allan. Don’t give up on him, sis. You two have been through a lot. You’re both still healing, recovering from Corey, really.”
It seemed weird, but there was so much comfort in hearing someone say Corey’s name. The way people avoided speaking of him directly sometimes made me feel as though they weren’t acknowledging that my baby had lived. Hearing Celeste say “Corey” reminded me that someone else knew him, loved him, and hadn’t forgotten about him, either.
I nodded. “Okay. I’ll give him another chance. Since you asked.”
“Don't do it for me. Do it because Jesus would do it for you.”
Laughing, I said, “You like to roll up on people and do those Jesus drive-bys, don’t you?”
She winced. “Jesus drive-by? Girl, you’ve been listening to too much gangsta rap. Startin’ to sound like Allan!”
“Girl, bye.” I waved at her and walked to my car, still laughing.

Though Celeste had couched her wisdom in humor, the message rode home with me: Treat Allan the way Jesus treats you. When I thought of His patience, His love, and how He had drawn me to Him in loving kindness, there was no way I could hold a grudge against my husband for not being drawn close to Him at the exact same time as me.
Instead of overdosing on movies, I decided to end the night earlier than planned and in prayer. Meditating on the name of Jesus pulled me down to my knees, brought me to conviction and repentance, and filled my heart with a renewed sense of peace about me and Allan. Maybe God is going to use this weekend in a mighty way.
I plugged my phone into the charger and set my alarm for seven-thirty, so I could get to early service and then go pick up Allan by eleven, the official end-time of the retreat. Then, I slipped between my sheets and fell asleep.
Until my doorbell rang at six fifty-seven a.m. I wasn’t exactly sleep, but not in the mood to get out of bed yet.
I scrambled to my feet and threw on my robe. The only people who disturbed me at that time of morning were my new neighbors, whose puppy kept getting into my backyard somehow. I’d told them the last time that if Scruffy escaped, they had my permission to enter my gate to get him. But that hadn’t happened in a while since the dog had grown too big to slip through the gate’s iron bars. I thought to myself as I tied the terrycloth belt around my waist: Maybe I should get a dog to keep Scruffy from coming onto my territory.
To be safe, I asked, “Who is it?”
“Officer Logan.”
A shiver ran through my body. Was this the beginning of an attempted home invasion, where the criminals pretended to be an officer in order to gain access to my home? I’d seen plenty of those chain emails on social media—maybe this was the real thing. My only safe haven was my bedroom, which I’d had built with no outside access.
I glanced out the slender window to my right. For a moment, I was relieved to see the police cruiser at the curb with the familiar city logo and a set of real lights atop the hood of the white Crown Victoria.
But then another reality hit me: If the police are at my home, something bad is happening.
I quickly opened the door, bracing myself for bad news and reminding myself that whatever it was, I could take it. I’d already lost a child, which I’d heard was the worst thing a person could ever endure. Allan and I had made it through that. We’d make it through this, too.
“Mrs. Crandall?” The tall, box-faced man asked. His much shorter companion tipped his hat.
“Yes. I’m Ashley Crandall.”
“Ma’am, I’m Officer Logan. This is Detective Jackson. Dallas County Sheriff’s Office. I’m sorry to tell you this, but there was an incident at the retreat. Your husband is dead.”