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Sister Towns

Closer Than You Think (Book Two)
Doobie Brothers Chapter
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Exerpt from Doobie Brothers Chapter

          Zack's car turned into the parking lot reserved for those working with the band, and pulled up to the loading docks at the rear of the Bowl. Turning off the engine, Zack opened a large manila envelope. "Here, Miranda, you'll need to put this on." He handed her a large, rectangular sticker.
          It was made of fabric, silkscreened with images and words: the Doobies logo, a fierce looking eagle, and the words "Backstage Pass." Miranda carefully inspected the eagle. Beautifully drawn, but I could make it more soulful, Miranda thought. Zack interrupted her absorption with the art work.
          "You won't be able to get beyond that door without it. Those guards are friendly, but they mean business."
          Miranda smiled, and felt a jolt of excitement. Zack got out of the car, came around to Miranda's side and opened her door. They walked in silence toward the stage door, and a roadie nodded at Zack in recognition.
          A guard inspected Miranda's sticker, and glanced at the lanyard Zack had slipped over his head and now wore around his neck. "All Access," his badge said, and hers didn't. So she'd be on her own for part of this, she realized. As they entered the backstage area, Zack took a moment to survey the progress. Miranda felt out of place in this bustling world of wires, lights, platforms, and equipment. Scores of young men scurried from place to place with perfect focus, each certain of his task, each task fitting perfectly into a huge, complex puzzle. The band members were nowhere to be seen.
          "I'm going to check to see if Rune needs me for anything. You all right on your own for a few minutes?" Zack seemed solicitous, but distracted.
          "Of course," Miranda smiled at him. "Take your time."
          Relieved that Miranda was the kind of woman with enough independence and presence of mind not to cling, Zack smiled back at her, and headed off to the middle of the auditorium where a huge desk seemed to be straddling a bank of seats, manned by several people.
          Miranda stood even with the stage. To her right was the huge open amphitheatre, its seats rising against the hillside, perfect in its ancient design. Century upon century people had gathered this way, she thought. To her left was the backstage area, buzzing with activity. Straight ahead was the huge stage, with its graceful bandshell semi-circle soaring overhead, and arcing toward stage left like a rainbow.
          Miranda's eye was drawn to a man who'd wandered alone onto the deserted stage. He was tall and lanky with a shock of salt-and-pepper hair and a full beard to match. He looks familiar, but he must be a sound tech, she thought.
          That's what Zack had called them. There were four full drum sets on stage, and the man looked at the front of one, scrutinizing each rack and drum carefully. He picked up drumsticks then, and sat on the drum seat, adjusting it, bouncing on it slightly. Oh, he shouldn't be touching the drummer's things, she found herself thinking. And then she laughed, realizing she had no idea what anyone should or shouldn't be doing.
          The man began to play. It seemed curious to be hearing an acoustic instrument, when it was surrounded by speakers the size of library bookshelves. The backstage noise competed with the sound of his drums, and Miranda moved closer to hear him better. Rat-tat-tat-tat ta-tat-ta-tat-tat. The pattern was repeated. She knew that sound.. It was the opening of "I'm Here To Love You." Oh, my God, she thought, that's not a techie, that's one of the Doobies. She took a few steps closer.
          He changed songs. What was that rhythm? She almost recognized it. She realized he was singing, though he was too distant for her to hear him clearly. And he was looking at her, staring as he sang. She'd been seen, and felt she should leave immediately, and yet he was holding her there with his gaze, and with his music. She ventured closer still. "One Step Closer..." she knew the song now. "One step closer" he sang, while he hit his drums in magical cadence. She laughed out loud at the joke, and stood beaming at him while he played.
          When the song finished, the musician continued to look at her for a moment, then stood from his stool, and placed his drumsticks carefully in preparation for the show. He looked at her again, and as she gave him a final smile and turned to go, he called, "Don't run away." Miranda turned back at him, smiled again. The man walked over to her with an easy gait.
          "Hi," he said, extending his hand. "I'm Keith."
          "Hi...hi," stammered Miranda. "I'm...I'm Miranda. I'm...I'm here with Zack."
          "Cool," said Keith. His dark eyes shone. "This your first Doobies concert?"
          "Yes!" Miranda answered. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb your practicing. I mean your preparation."
          Keith laughed. "It's cool. I saw you come in with Zack. Glad I had someone to play for."
          Miranda chuckled. "Oh, I don't think you're going to lack for people to play for."
          Keith began walking off stage right, and Miranda kept pace. "Yeah we have a pretty good house tonight," he said. "You live here on the Central Coast?"
          "Yes, in Milford-Haven."
          "Oh yeah? What do you do there?"
          "I'm...I'm a painter," Miranda said.
          Keith stopped when they reached the dressing room door. "Yeah? Cool. Well, enjoy the show. Maybe I'll see you after."
          "Yeah. Maybe." Miranda smiled up at him. "Thanks."
          "For what?"
          "For the concert. The one you just played for me, and the one you're about to play."
          Keith smiled, and disappeared into the dressing room. Miranda turned her head when she heard her name being shouted.
          "Miranda!" It was Zack, calling from the auditorium. "Come over here...want to show you something!"
          She made her way to the middle row of seats where the lighting technicians had established their bay of dimmers and controls. "These are some of the lighting effects we're going to be using." Zack nodded to a lighting tech. "Of course, you can't see it clearly until it's dark, but this will give you some idea."
          "Oooh," was the only comment Miranda could muster. "Bring it up a little brighter on the Cyc, Brian," Zack said.
          "What's a Cyc?" Miranda asked.
          "It's short for psychodrama," replied Brian, "which is what I'm about to be starring in, if I don't get this thing working." Miranda looked at him, confused.
          "No, actually it sounds like "psych" but it's short for E28098cyclora ma,' the technician continued. "It's the wall all the way upstage E28093 at the b ack of the stage that is."
          "It's a canvas," Miranda said, "and you paint with light."
          "Hey, I like that. Hey, man, where'd you find her? This one's a keeper."
          Zack chuckled. Miranda blushed. Remembering her strong aversion to attention, Zack quickly made their excuses. "Look, Bri, are you okay for a few? Rune should be here any minute, but call me if there's a disaster."
          "Rune was supposed to be here two hours ago, and I'll do what I can, but don't wander off too far." Sensing Zack was anxious to spend time with his beautiful date, he added, "Sorry about the interruption." Brian gave Zack a knowing look, adding to Miranda's embarrassment.
          "I'm on the two-way. Shall we?" Without looking up, Miranda stepped in the direction he pointed. "Ever seen the Green Room at the Bowl?" he asked.
          "Oh, you mean like a greenhouse? I didn't know they would keep plants at a performance hall."
          Zack laughed. "No, no that's not what a Green Room is." He brought the laughter under control. "Sorry, no a Green Room is where the performers prepare."
          "Oh, I wouldn't want to disturb their quiet time," Miranda looked up at him imploringly.
          "Miranda, it's not exactly quiet before, during, or after a rock concert."
          It was her turn to laugh. "I suppose not."
          "It's the place where everyone relaxes, meets friends. Some of the guys like to visit before the show, some don't." Zack continued to usher her toward the concession stands, where employees were opening windows and refilling paper napkin containers. The smell of hot dogs began to waft through the air. "There's food usually, and some sodas." Zack saw Miranda cast a skeptical look toward the counters. "Not this kind of food. The guys generally eat well."
          They reached the double doors of a private room, guarded by yet another uniformed Bowl employee, who scrutinized her sticker. Miranda stopped, turned to Zack, and looked up at him. "I'm not hungry, Zack. But the Green Room sounds like a good place for me to be out of the way while you finish working."
          "You always know the right thing to say, don't you." Zack looked into her green eyes and sighed. "I appreciate your forbearance, Miranda. I shouldn't be long. But in case I am, here's your ticket." He reached into his jacket breast pocket and produced a single ticket. "Take your seat I'd say about twenty minutes before show time." He paused a minute longer. "Are you sure you're all right?"
          "Zack, this is fun. I'll be fine."
          "Okay then. See you as soon as I can." He bent down slightly and kissed her softly on the mouth. She clasped her fingers through his as they kissed, then pulled quickly away and passed through the door.

          The Green Room was deserted for the moment. Just as well, thought Miranda. Recessed lighting gave the room a pleasant glow, and sofas and chairs were grouped into seating arrangements. Across the room, a picture window made a backdrop for a sumptuous-looking buffet. She walked toward the food. Chilled shrimp, hot shumai, crisp baby carrots, cubed cheese, stone-ground wheat thins, and sushi were laid out in a tempting display. She glanced around the room. Still no one. Despite what she'd said to Zack, she hadn't eaten since morning. Her mouth began watering and her stomach rumbled. Impulsively, she grabbed a small plate, and began daintily placing the bite-sized delicacies around its perimeter till the plate was crammed with tidbits. Glancing around the room one more time, she chose the unlit corner of a sofa and popped a California roll soaked in ponsu sauce into her mouth. Its pungent flavor assaulted her senses and she closed her eyes in a reverie of taste.
          "Pretty tasty, huh?"
          The man's voice startled her and her eyes sprang open. Her mouth completely full, she couldn't answer a word. The man began to laugh. Miranda began to choke. "Oh," he said, "Sorry. I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to make you choke." He began laughing again, unable to stop himself. Miranda's choking continued. "I'm...here...." He began patting her on the back, gently. "Want something to drink?" Miranda nodded yes. He dashed to the side table and popped open a soda, offering the can to her. She sipped from the chilled drink and at last swallowed. "Thank you," she said in a weakened voice.
          "No. No! It was my fault you were choking." He looked at her carefully, seeing that she was all right. "Pretty funny though."
          Miranda smiled. "I guess so." The man, she now realized, was another of the Doobie Brothers. He had wide, hazel eyes, gold brown hair well past his shoulders, and was sleek in leather pants, ostrich cowboy boots, and a cloth jacket with a Native motif. She took in the sense of design and style with her artist's eye, wondering if this were a costume, or if he always dressed this well. He resembled no one else. He was unique.
          "I'm John."
          "How do you do. I'm Miranda."
          "You're here with Zack, right?"
          "Yes. Word gets around, I guess."
          "Backstage is like a small town," John said.
          "Sounds familiar," she answered.
          "Ah hah." John stared at her, but appeared to be thinking distant thoughts. Miranda couldn't tell if the man was shy, or preoccupied with the impending performance. Perhaps both, she mused. "Well, I have to get going. Hope you like the show."
          "Oh, I will," Miranda said, still balancing her plate of food on her lap. "I love your music. It's my favorite." She had said it quietly, but with a kind of fire, which John happily took with him as he left the room to gather himself before playing.
          She hadn't been aware of it, but by now several other people had entered the room, and a short line had formed in front of the food table. Another musician she recognized as one of the band members sat on the arm of a sofa laughing with invited friends, and still another band member shared some mutual back slapping with a leather-clad pal. It was a jovial occasion, full of good will and she could feel the energy rising palpably as the room filled and the concert time drew closer.
          This would be an impossible way for her to work, Miranda realized. To paint she needed solitude. Perhaps to play music, one needed company. Lots of company. But still she wondered about these talented men, many of them far from home...and for long stretches of time. She wondered about the fundamental loneliness of the road, and what a high price they paid for the glamor of being rock musicians.

          The Bowl began to vibrate like the inside of a volcano, and anticipation pulsed through the audience like a heartbeat. This was not the polite murmur of a presymphony crowd. This was the purr and growl of the Doobies Fan-Beast, and it was hungry for its supper. The fans seemed to own their band, know its every note, anticipate its every riff. Surprises would be welcome, only if expectations were satisfied. And they always were. The beast would soon be sated, and ready to bay at the moon.

Backstage, the tension was mounting. For Rune Sierra, a year of work was coming to fruition, and no disgruntled stage hands were going to interfere. He'd put out one more fire. God willing, there would be no more to douse tonight. He'd had one more fight with the union, but he felt strongly about this. It was a benefit. No favors, no freebies. He'd even asked that every band member pay for his family's tickets. Now it would all be worthwhile. Despite his doubts and fears, tickets to the reunion concert at the Bowl had sold out in three hours. They'd make a significant contribution to Veterans' Assistance, and that had been the goal.
          He looked at Cynthia, who stood fidgeting beside him, craning her neck to catch a glimpse of Zack Calvin. Not even her obvious behavior could get to him tonight, after all the other battles he'd fought. Or so he thought, until he heard a familiar voice. He decided to step away and watch the fireworks.
          "Cynthia? What are you doing here? You hate this kind of music!" Zack stood staring at Cynthia, an appalled expression on his face.
          Cynthia turned to face him. "Do I?" Her voice sounded syrupy. "What I really hate is being left out."
          "But how...how did you get backstage?"
          "Oh, I was invited, Zackery. In fact, when Rune invited me tonight I just couldn't resist."
          "Rune invited you to this? You mean...."
          "Oh yes, Zackery, I mean as his date."
          Zack scrutinized Cynthia's outfit, and his eye stopped at the bottom of the skirt. "Jesus," he muttered.
          "Why, Zackery, you seem just the tiniest bit upset. Are you? I mean I thought red was just perfect for a rock concert."
          Zack stood smoldering. "I am not upset. Where is Rune?"
          Right on cue, Rune stepped toward the dueling duo. "Somebody ask for me?"
          "I thought you were taking care of that problem with the stage hands. You left me high and dry!"
          Rune looked at him with contempt. The guy didn't know a stage hand from a roadie. "You have no idea, Zack, what you're talking about. Right now Cynthia and I have some business to take care of."
          "Business to take care of?" Zack fumed.
          "See you later, Zackery." Cynthia tugged at her skirt, spun on the heel of one naughty boot, and tried not to drool, as she lapped up every delicious moment of her revenge.

          The sky had grown dark, plunging the Central Coast Bowl into a state of readiness. A sudden blaze of light illuminated the stage, and the audience began cheering in anticipation. It wasn't a band member who stepped up to the mike, however. It was Rune Sierra.
          "Good evening!" His own amplified voice surprised him, and he stood back from the mike for a moment before resuming. "Tonight...is a very special night. We're going to hear some great music." Cheering rose from the audience in a crescendo, then subsided as Rune continued. "And we are here to honor men and women for whom honor is long overdue. I'd like to introduce to you now the spokesman for Veterans Aid, a decorated veteran, Tony Fiorentino."
          Waiting in the wings, sweat pouring down his back, Tony wheeled himself toward the center of the stage, becoming breathless from what was a normal exertion for him.
          The crowd began to applaud. It sounded like thunder to Tony. He wanted to run for cover. His strong arms pushed forward again on the two large wheels, and again he seemed to be making such slow progress, he felt he wasn't moving at all. Rune appeared as a tiny figure in black, backlit by a thousand blinding lights.
          And then Tony heard another sound. A cadence had begun in the clapping. His colleagues in the first three rows were giving him encouragement. His nervousness ebbed, and strength returned to his arms. He reached center stage, and saw the man who had become his friend stand ready to hand over the microphone. While the steady beat of applause spread throughout the audience, Rune struggled to lower the mike stand. And suddenly it struck Tony as wrong to be sitting. He edged himself forward in the wheelchair and looked up. "Rune," he said over the noise. "Help me up?"
          Rune was stunned for a moment. He couldn't mean...but he did. His eyes darted over to the darkened wings, and the only person he could see clearly was Zack Calvin. Zack took in the situation, and before he could think otherwise, walked on stage. Rune looked at his rival, and set differences aside. "One on each side, okay Tony?" Tony nodded. Zack and Rune locked eyes, and each placed a hand under Tony's arms. In one smooth motion, all three men stood. The crowd's roar rose as a wave of energy and good will, and its power was a revelation to everyone present. In the fifth row, tears cascaded down Sally O'Mally's cheeks. She was not alone.
          Tony's moving acceptance speech had segued smoothly into the concert, and now there was so much happening on stage it was hard to know where to look. The Doobies were midway through "Jesus Is Just All Right," and Cornelius Bumpus was singing a slow section of the song as though singing a spiritual. John McFee moved over to Cornelius now, playing sultry answering-riffs on the guitar he held low and tight to his body. With no warning, the band rocked back into a rhythm which took them headlong toward a pause just brief enough for applause and cheers. The next tune started. It seemed to Miranda that they hardly had time to take a breath between songs.
          Visually, it was a live painting. Banks of lights poured washes of color over the instruments and musicians in perfect synch with the music, until Miranda felt as though she were experiencing the music both visually and aurally. The light bounced off guitars, drums, boots, buckles, and keyboards. Somehow the guitarists and bassists all managed to walk up and down the stage while still playing in perfect time, taking their music to each other, playing face to face, their heads bobbing, their legs keeping time. The imagery overloaded her senses, and she closed her eyes.
          Strong, rich rhythm coursed through her and filled her with an unfamiliar sensation. As she thought about it, she understood what it was. It was joy. And as she realized it, it spilled out of her in a laugh which was swallowed up in the exuberant sounds lifting from the Central Coast Bowl.
          Zack looked at Miranda. Her joy was contagious, and he was catching it. His moment on stage with Rune and Tony had done a great deal to lift him above Cynthia's saccharine-coated tantrum. And Miranda's presence was curiously calming. He watched her for a moment longer. Her eyes were shining, and she swayed with the music. He wasn't sure why, but it touched him to see how completely she was transported. He reached over and put a hand on hers. She looked at him and smiled. "I'll just keep depending on you," sang the band, and as Zack looked at this woman he barely knew, he wondered if he'd do just that.

          Zelda looked up at Joseph again, trying to gauge his reaction to what he was seeing. He'd been moved by Zack's gesture to help the poor veteran stand, she could see that. But he'd been agitated as well.
          Their seats were well up the hillside. The performers on stage would have been miniature figures in the distance, were it not for the huge video screens which captured their every move, and magnified them beyond their natural importance: a guitar seemed as large as a jet plane; a fling of the arm across the strings became a grand gesture. The musicians looked like demi-gods of mythological proportion, and indeed, perhaps in this culture, they were.
          Joseph shook his head. He'd laughed, but now he was grateful Zelda had given a set of disposable ear plugs -- not because the music wasn't good, but because it was shockingly loud. The people in the row ahead of them were standing now. He glanced around the auditorium and realized that most people were. Perhaps it was expected. He stood as well, and Zelda followed suit.
          Joseph gazed down at her. She was wearing a black suede outfit: fitted pants, a fringed jacket, and enough make-up to go to work on a soap opera. But she looked chic, he had to admit. She had her arm looped through his and had kept it there most of the evening so far. It was a formal gesture, considering the setting. But there was something plaintive about it, as though Zelda ran the risk of getting trampled unless she held on to him. Despite the high-heeled boots, she didn't have much stature. He found himself responding to her vulnerability, and it was a pleasant sensation. Her large eyes looked up at him. He gave her a slight smile.
          Zelda returned his smile, but watched his expression. There was something about this whole situation that he didn't like. She was going to search relentlessly, until she knew what it was.

          Ten songs later, the Doobies were still going strong. Pat Simmons had leapt into the air, guitar and all, more than once, Jeff Baxter had twirled his trademark mustache, and Tiran Porter's bass was thumping out the foundation notes of some of America's favorite songs.
          Cynthia was feeling more comfortable now that the entire audience was standing, because she could pull her skirt a little lower. She glanced around at the audience again. She hadn't caught sight of Zackery since their fracas backstage, but she knew he must be here somewhere. She looked over at Rune, who was watching the audience more than he was watching the band. Protecting his investment probably, she thought.
          Shifting her eyes back at the stage, she had to admit it was quite a spectacle. There were ten musicians on stage, and every one of them was a real man. She could tell that in a glance. The unbridled male energy pouring off the stage was enough to make her weak in the knees. Cynthia looked around and yanked down on her skirt again.
          She'd seen bands before with one drummer. This band had four. As she watched, Chet McCracken, Keith Knudsen, Michael Hossack and John Hartman sat on high risers, four men with arms of steel hammering huge arrays of drums in perfect unison. The drums sounded like accelerating heartbeats and Cynthia wanted to dance. She started moving slightly from side to side, and glanced around to see what other people in the audience were doing.
          She saw a woman two rows up tossing her hair from side to side, clapping with her hands overhead. A little taken aback at the public display, Cynthia glanced at people standing near the uninhibited woman, and realized that no one was looking at her. If anyone noticed, they didn't care. This was a place to come and be free. Well, for some people it was. They apparently had no agendas to follow. She did.
          Quickly she glanced at Rune, who was looking at her now, with a knowing expression on his face. She smiled back, taking this as a good sign. He was mouthing something she couldn't hear. "What?" she yelled. He continued smiling, and mouthing, and eventually she realized it was the lyrics to the song being played. She focused on what the Doobies were singing. Over and over they sang it, until she could hear it clearly. "Dangerous," they said, "that's why you love it." Rune continued smiling at Cynthia. In an uncomfortable moment, it dawned on her that Rune knew her too well.

          Technically, the concert was over, but the Doobies were on their third encore. As far as Miranda could tell, not a single person was left sitting in the entire audience: it was a standing ovation. Zack had disappeared for a while, and was still gone. Now Miranda saw him gesturing from the end of her aisle. She hesitated for a moment, but he continued to wave her on. She made her way past her screaming aisle-mates as the band began to sing "Taking It To The Streets."
          Zack took her hand when she reached the last seat. "Time to go backstage!" he shouted, but Miranda shook her head, not having heard him. The smokey strains of Michael McDonald's voice arced over the sound system and penetrated Miranda like a heart ache. "You don't know me but I'm your brother...." Singing from the soul as he did, it seemed to her he made everyone within earshot his brother. Tonight, with the vets in the front rows being honored, the lyrics were an embrace of these men and women, some of whom had given more than they had to give.
          It didn't seem right to be leaving while they sang, but Miranda didn't question Zack, nor resist his determined forward momentum. They power-walked past the concession stands. The sounds from the stage had receded slightly. The music had ended. "Thank you very much!" she heard Tommy Johnston say, and with that another roar erupted from the crowd. The corridors leading from the seats began to fill rapidly, pouring forth a charged and exuberant stream of humanity.
          Zack clutched Miranda's hand tighter. They could no longer walk side-by-side, so she walked behind him, careful not to step on his heels. She tried to orient herself. They seemed to be approaching the quiet room where she'd eaten before the show. It was no longer quiet. Already hundreds of people stood in a line which snaked away from the door and blocked people trying to leave the Bowl. These were the fans, she realized.
          Zack pressed through to the front of the line and flashed his all-access badge. That wasn't enough to get Miranda through, however. The guard stopped her until she managed to turn her body far enough for him to see her backstage pass sticker. The tall guard glanced at the pass, then lifted his head imperiously, pushing her through the door.
          She'd expected relief once they were in the room, but that was a laugh. Fans stood shoulder to shoulder and wall to wall. Some had landed near the food table and were eating; some were drinking; all were being jostled by the new arrivals, which sent small side-stepping movements through the crowd like ripples.
          She recognized some of the people in the room -- a City Council member from San Luis Obispo, a well-known author who now lived in Cambria. Stars attracted stars, she mused. It made her feel even more uncomfortable. "How'd you like the show?" she heard someone say. The voice sounded familiar. She turned around to see Keith standing behind her. She assumed he'd been talking to someone else, but then realized he was asking her.
          "Oh! It was fantastic!" beamed Miranda. "Never seen anything like it!"
          "Cool," he said, giving her a big grin. "Really glad you enjoyed it. We sure have fun doing it."
          "Are you exhausted?"
          "Nope! Well, I'm not saying I'd like to do another show tonight, but I'm fine. You know we spend a lot of energy, but we get a lot back from the audience too."
          "They really love you."
          "They love the experience, which is cool. If they really knew us, they'd realize what a bunch of insane guys we really are."
          Miranda laughed. "Good kind of insanity."
          "Hey, man, excellent show." Zack had been talking with someone else, and now turned to Keith. "You played your heart out. The vets will never stop thanking you for doing this."
          "It's something we really wanted to do. Wouldn't trade tonight for anything. Thanks for working on this, Zack. Good job."
          The two men embraced and hit each other on the back. In a crowded and rapidly overheating room, it was a heartfelt moment. Miranda looked away, and took the image with her as a memory she would always cherish.

To find out more about the DOOBIE BROTHERS check their fantastic web site at www.doobiebros.com where you'll find touring schedules, articles, photos, and all kinds of extraordinary Doob graphics. Maybe I'll see you back stage....

Closer Than You Think (Book Two)
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Milford-Haven Novels Menu

"What The Heart Knows" (Book 1)
"Closer Than You Think" (Book 2)
"Child Secrets" (Book 3)
"Cause & Conscience" (Book 4)
"Nobody's Fault" (Book 5)
"Dream Catchers" (Book 6 - Coming Soon)
"Christmas Angels"

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