LOOKING FOR A GOOD BOOK? – TRY ‘THE RHINESTONE MURDER’

LOOKING FOR A GOOD BOOK? TRY THIS ONE:
 
I’m back with another short book review and reading suggestion. THE RHINESTONE MURDER is the best little cozy mystery I’ve read in quite a while. Last week, I reblogged the posts from Isaac Wallace with 4 preview chapters, so you may have seen those posts. I have to agree with what the back of the book says about the story. In fact, I’ll just quote it here:
 
“A snappy little novella introducing private investigator Carson Knight, who finds himself at the end of a gun barrel when Police Detective Andrea Pierce discovers him searching through an active crime scene. Knight, who was hired to investigate threats to his client, barely gets started on his case before the client is found murdered. Starting out on the wrong side of the police detective in charge of that murder investigation puts him in a bad position. But when he unexpectedly discovers a handful of rhinestones at the scene of the crime, they prove to be a key to discovering the killer. Knight’s a committed Christian, convinced he can get help from the Lord in solving his cases, and he’s going to need that kind of help if he’s going to win over Detective Andrea Pierce and help bring a murderer to justice.”
 
That pretty well sums things up. If you like cozy mysteries, I think you’ll thoroughly enjoy THE RHINESTONE MURDER by Isaac Wallace.
 

‘EVERYTHING’S JAKE’ — chapter 7

EVERYTHING’S JAKE

© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER SEVEN

The following Sunday afternoon, Mariah went back to the country club with Carter. They played tennis until 5:00 and then decided to stay for dinner after they showered and changed. Mariah got to the table first, and while she waited for Carter, she found herself accidentally eavesdropping on a conversation involving a few people at the bar several feet behind her. She had recognized two of the people as a man and wife she had met earlier, and the others she didn’t know. She hadn’t heard the beginning of the conversation, but she started paying close attention when she heard Carter’s name.

“I gotta hand it to him,” one of the men said. “He’s one in a million. The man can have every model in three counties if he wants them – and the daughters of a couple of millionaires I could name – but he puts all of them on hold to go out and get his kicks with a grease monkey.”

Another male voice spoke up then. “What worries me is that maybe it’s more than getting his kicks. Maybe he’s serious about her. He’s been seen all over the place with her. And she’s definitely not going to fit in with our crowd, I can tell you that right now – all that religion!”

“Don’t let that throw you. I’ve seen Carter Sanford date three different women in the same afternoon, and make all of them think they’re his only one. No … he’s not serious. He told me he’s got this idea that running around for a while with a little grease monkey will shake him out of his boredom. He knows his family is expecting him to get married and settle down before too long, and he’s working on having all the flings he can before he has to bite the dust.”

Mariah was about to choke on the coffee she was drinking. She sat still as a stone, her heart pounding in her chest. Surely, she wasn’t hearing this right. Then one of the women spoke.

“You two need to keep your voice down. Everyone here knows him. And did he really tell you that, or are you just guessing at all this?”

“No … I’m telling you … he told me he’d found himself a cute little grease monkey – and those are his words – a cute little grease monkey – who could keep his car in souped-up shape, and he intended to grab her and run with her – and just see what would happen.”

At that point a new individual joined the group and broke up the conversation. Mariah was numb. She wanted to get out of there, but she felt as if her legs wouldn’t work. She forced herself to drink more of the coffee. It was hot and bracing, and that did help to get her mind kick-started again. And just in time. Carter came in, all smiles, and sat beside her at the table, taking her hand in his. She stiffened, and he looked at her curiously. “Hey, babe. Is something wrong?”

Mariah knew she couldn’t trust herself to answer intelligently, so she said, “No, not really. Just tired, I guess.”

“Well, I know exactly what you need.” He jumped up and walked over to the bar. When he came back, he had a glass of white wine for Mariah, and without thinking, she took several sips. Almost instantly, she realized how foolish that had been since her stomach was basically empty.

“I think I need food more, Carter. Can we just eat now?”

“Sure thing,” he said, and got up to lead the way to the dining area. Mariah thanked the Lord that the food came quickly and tasted good. She felt better after getting her head and stomach settled and had wisely not touched the wine glass again, opting for more coffee.

Carter, however, didn’t stop at one drink. He kept calling for one more throughout the meal, and by the time they were to dessert, he looked – and sounded – a little worse for the wear. Mariah had decided by then that she wasn’t riding home in his car with him in that condition, and she had pretty well decided that, even if she hadn’t overheard that conversation, this drinking situation was more than enough reason to put Carter Sanford out of her life for good.

So she excused herself to go to the ladies’ room, but quietly slipped out to the door and asked the doorman to get her a taxi. To her relief, one taxi was letting out a passenger at the time, so she didn’t have to wait. Twenty minutes later, she was in her own apartment, thrown across her bed, pouring out tears of hurt, frustration, and anger – and wondering which one of those emotions would win out.

Almost an hour later, she finally pulled herself up from the bed, changed to an old worn-out robe and scuffs, and padded to the bathroom. Looking into the mirror, she saw a tear-stained face, with eyes wreathed in runny mascara, and hair that looked like it had seen a buzz saw. Unexpectedly, she laughed out loud. The sound startled her, but then it became infectious, and she continued laughing for quite a while.

She finally washed her face and felt surprised at how much better she felt afterward. She looked at her reflection again. “Well, Mariah Jacoby, you’ve made a fool of yourself again, my girl. But since it’s not the first time, it probably won’t be the last either. Just suck it up and move on.”

She leaned in closer to the mirror. “So maybe you’re not a femme fatale who can bring men to their knees. But you’re a gentle, kind, loving, hard-working woman of God, and if anything in Proverbs 31 can be believed, that’s everything that matters!”

She turned away to leave the room, but then suddenly turned back to her reflection. “And dang it, girl! You’re also the best darn mechanic that this town has ever laid eyes on!” She grinned and gave herself two thumbs up: “Everything’s Jake!”

At work the following week, Mariah’s mood was subdued. She wasn’t depressed – just thoughtful. The pep talk she’d given herself Sunday afternoon still rang in her soul. In the midst of that experience, she had come to the realization that she didn’t have to be the woman other people thought she should be in order to be satisfied and successful. That afternoon, as she had looked at her messy face and hair in the mirror, that truth had finally taken possession of her.

She had laughed because she suddenly saw how ridiculous she looked as a result of pushing to be what the rest of the world said she should be – and to have what the world said constituted success as a woman. She’d realized from that moment that she valued herself for the person she really was in her heart. And for the first time in her life, she had identified completely with that person. As she had washed her face, the Lord had brought to her mind the verse from Proverbs that said, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” And she had been meditating on that truth ever since that moment.

Neil was subdued as well. In fact his mood was so reserved that Mariah worried about having done or said something that upset him, but she couldn’t remember anything that negative. She knew his reaction to her dating Carter had not been positive, but, in a way, that fact seemed sort of “positive” to her. It at least indicated that Neil recognized the fact that she appreciated being treated like an attractive woman.

But by Friday morning, she had decided she didn’t want even this kind of strain on their relationship, and she decided to make a move to remedy the situation by offering to work with him on the books that night. As soon as she got to the shop, she went to the office to talk to him.

“Good morning, Boss!” she said. “I wanted to talk to you about the bookwork.”

Neil’s eyebrows rose slightly. “Oh?” was his only reply.

“Well, we haven’t worked on anything for the past couple of weeks, and I just wanted to volunteer to work tonight if we have some things that need to be caught up.”

“What … no big date with your new flame?”

Mariah’s good intentions squirmed a little. Boy, this man was getting hard-hearted! Still, she had made the move, and she wasn’t giving up that easily. She smiled. “Nope. I don’t go out every night, you know. And I figured we surely had a good deal of work that needed to be brought up to date in the computer, and probably some monthly forms that needed to be filled out.”

Inwardly, Neil felt relief, because the truth was that he hadn’t been able to force himself to get that work done for the weeks Mariah had been unavailable. Partly, he had been pressed with other work, but partly he was feeling a little depressed at the thought of sitting there and working on the material by himself. It was still a little mystifying to him, but he had to admit that a job he’d done all alone for three years now seemed to be beyond him without Mariah at his side doing it. He also admitted that what he was feeling was more than just confidence and trust in an employee, but he wasn’t quite sure how to react to that knowledge.

“Well … if you’re sure you have the time, I could use the help.”

Mariah breathed a deep sigh of relief. She hadn’t realized until that moment how much she really did want to work with Neil tonight. “Great! And this time, the pizza is on me.”

“You don’t need to do that. You’re helping the business, so we’ll let the business buy supper.”

Unaccountably, Mariah’s spirits deflated at those words. She guessed she’d thought of their time together as more personal than just business, and the idea of putting their meal together on the expense account just wasn’t what she was after. But she didn’t argue. She’d made a step forward, and she’d continue in that direction. “Then I’ll buy dessert.” she said. “I’ll run to the bakery and get us two slices of chocolate cheesecake.”

***

As soon as they’d locked the door after the last customer, they went to work. After the first five minutes, they had fallen right into their old pattern of working together, and Mariah felt relief. Awkwardness seemed to melt away, and they worked for an hour before stopping to eat. After taking fifteen minutes to concentrate on the pizza, they decided to let dessert wait and get the last hour’s worth of work finished first.

Neil seemed a little more preoccupied during that hour, but Mariah didn’t mention it. She worked diligently, wanting him to know that she still cared about this part of the business running smoothly. By 7:30, they were done. Neil had made coffee in the office pot, so they sat down in the waiting area with coffee and cheesecake.

After about five minutes, Neil cleared his throat. Mariah could see that he was still preoccupied with something important on his mind, but she wasn’t quite prepared for what he said.

He cleared his throat again. “Mariah … I’ve been sitting here thinking about whether or not I should mention something to you.” She looked at him, giving him her full attention.

“If it’s something important to you, then by all means, share it with me.”

He cleared his throat the third time. “Well … you may consider it none of my business, and in reality, it isn’t, except … well … except that I care about you. We’ve become more than just co-workers. I feel like we’re friends.” He looked at her intently.

“Oh, I agree, Neil. You can feel free to talk to me about anything you think is important.”

Neil got up and started pacing around the waiting area. He rubbed his hand across the back of his neck and cleared his throat yet again. Finally, he stopped – about ten feet away from Mariah as she still sat in her chair. He took a deep breath and finally spoke:

“You need to watch your step with Carter, Mariah.” He had almost blurted out the words, due to the nervous pressure he was feeling. But once started, the words just kept rolling out with no restraint. “He’s nothing but a poor little rich kid who’s been spoiled rotten and given everything he wanted on a silver platter! He can have nearly any woman he wants in twelve counties with the snap of his finger – models, celebrities, daughters of the most powerful and wealthy men in this state!”

Mariah’s eyes pierced him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Something deep inside told Neil he’d already overstepped the boundaries here, but he just couldn’t seem to shut himself off now. “It means that he’s probably playing around with you because you are something different. I seriously doubt he’s ever even thought about dating a mechanic before, and taking you out and showing you off to his friends is a big hoot for him. He probably doesn’t really care about you at all.”

He couldn’t have known that he was putting into words the whole nightmare she’d lived through the previous weekend. A cold chill went through Mariah, and even though she had already come to terms with this truth, the fact that Neil was putting it into words seemed like another level of insult. She stood to her feet. One part of her mind reminded her that she already knew this truth and had dealt with it, but there was another part of her that felt the bitter pain of it all over again. Her insides were churning, but her voice was still controlled.

“In other words, I’m not good enough for the Carter Sandfords of this world because I get dirty working on cars? Or did you mean that I’m too plain and unattractive to stir up any interest as a real woman?”

Neil snorted. “Don’t play word games, Mariah. I’m telling you he’s taking you out because you are a diversion from his ordinary fun. And I just don’t want you to get hurt; that’s all.”

By this time, Mariah’s eyes were filled with tears, but she had turned sideways so he couldn’t see that. She struggled now to control her breathing so her voice wouldn’t be nervous and high-pitched when she answered. Finally she turned back to look at Neil. “Well just maybe I’m out to have some fun myself. Maybe I want Carter’s attention regardless of why he’s interested. And why shouldn’t I? There’s sure no indication of any interest in me as a ‘real woman’ around here!”

“What the …! So now you’re mad because my guys don’t jump all over you while you’re here to work?”

Mariah gasped audibly at the insinuation. Her eyes were enormous and her mouth wide open. Neil felt the blow to his own conscience as well. He’d never dreamed he would say something like that to a respectable woman – least of all someone he cared as much about as he did Mariah.

Mariah finally recovered and looked him straight in the eye. Her voice was subdued and her words deliberately slow and measured. “That remark was totally uncalled for, Mr. Warner, and if you cannot keep a modest tongue in your mouth when I’m around, I think perhaps I need to start looking for another job.” On one level, she knew they were both letting feelings they hadn’t named lead them into saying things they didn’t really mean. But on the more conscious level, she just needed to fight back. So with that remark, she turned and walked briskly from the office, got into her car, closing the door without slamming it, and drove away.


Only two chapters left. Meet me here tomorrow for Chapter Eight.


‘EVERYTHING’S JAKE’ – CHAPTER 4

EVERYTHING’S JAKE

© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner


Fortunately, Adam didn’t have long to wait. Neil walked into the office about ten minutes later, carrying a bag of food that stirred Adam’s appetite even more. But more attention-grabbing than the food was the uniform Neil was wearing. Up until the last time Adam had visited the shop, Neil and his men had been wearing the same standard blue coveralls with the company name on the left pocket. Neil had found them at a bargain from a local supplier the week he opened the shop, and he’d never wanted to spend money to replace them.

Mariah – he’d noticed after she stood up – was wearing a hunter green, almost form-fitting uniform with tan stitching around the collar and sleeves. The company name and her name were stitched into the fabric in the same tan color. Adam hadn’t given it much thought at the time, but when Neil came through the door wearing a matching uniform, Adam did take notice. Neil had forked over a good penny or two to outfit the whole staff in new uniforms evidently, and Adam was beginning to suspect that Mariah’s presence accounted for that decision.

“Mariah, they didn’t have your barbecued chicken today – oh – Dad – good to see you –” came from Neil before he slapped his hand to his head and looked stressed. “Oh, no … did we have an appointment for lunch?”

Adam held up his hand to stem his son’s repentance. “No, no. I just stopped by on the chance you’d have time to do lunch with me. No problem. We’ll do it another day. I’ve enjoyed my visit anyway because I got to meet your newest mechanic. Mariah’s been entertaining me just fine.”

At the mention of her name, Neil returned to his unfinished comment to her. “Oh, yeah, they didn’t have your barbecued chicken, so I got you the roast beef.”

“Great,” she said opening the sack and sniffing appreciatively. “I’ll just go sit on the bench out back and see if I can settle these hunger pains while you two visit.’

She smiled at Adam. “I’m really glad I had the opportunity to meet you, Mr. Warner.”

“Same here, Mariah. And, please, call me Adam.”

“Great. Hope to see you again soon,” she said and then turned to Neil. “Just yell if you need me.”

“We’ll be fine. Take your time eating. You’ve earned it watching the shop so I could get away.”

As Mariah walked out the door, Adam looked again at his son. Was he blushing? Neil? Blushing? Maybe his face just had more color because he’d been walking in the sun, but he’d swear Neil Warner was blushing. Man, he wished Elizabeth were here, because she’d know for sure.

“New uniforms, I see,” he said now.

Neil looked down at his own uniform and grinned. “Yeah. I know Mom has mentioned a few times that she thought it was time to spruce up our outfits, but I just held off spending the money. But when Mariah came on, we didn’t have anything at all that really fit her. She picked up a couple of cheap overalls to get through the first couple weeks, but I knew we’d have to have something for her that matched the rest. And when I got to looking at how worn they were, I decided it was a good time to order for all of us.

“Mariah suggested that since you see the blue so many places now days, maybe a more distinctive color would help us stand out in people’s minds. She asked me what my favorite color was, and when she found out it was green, she went to work checking to see if we could get uniforms that color. She found me a good deal on price too, so I took the plunge,” he finished, with a boyish grin at his dad.

Adam nodded. “I like them. And I like the idea of a more distinctive color.” He paused, and Neil, who had stood there looking slightly ill at ease, moved to the other side of the counter and started sorting some papers. Adam guessed right that the action was more to calm him than anything else. Yep … there was something up with his number two son, but he’d have to tread lightly to find out the details.

“Mariah was entertaining me with the story of how she came to work here,” he said now, his tone light and bantering.

Neil laughed. “Yeah, that’s quite a story alright.” He scratched his head and then leaned on the counter, looking his dad in the eye for the first time that day. “You know, Dad, there was just something in here,” he said, touching his chest to indicate his heart, “something deep inside that just seemed to say this was right. She walked in right when I was getting desperate for help, and I learned later that she was pretty desperate herself where a job was concerned. That’s a long story, but as I’ve pieced it together, I’ve realized that Mariah is one of those rare women who seems to have been born to work under the hood of a car, but has always been pushed to try to do some more ‘lady-like’ work instead. It was getting to her.”

He motioned his hand toward the work-bay area. “Why she’s as happy as a lark here,” he said, his own voice registering awe at the truth of what he was saying. “She even sings almost all the time she’s working. And the other guys think she’s great. They treat her like she’s a brother, but –” he held up a finger to make a point – “they feel as protective of her as if she were their own sister.”

Neil’s voice grew more excited as he talked, and his eyes took on a sparkle. Elizabeth had told Adam that men weren’t the most perceptive individuals on the planet, but today even he could perceive that his son was smitten with his new mechanic – and not just because she could wield a wrench with the best of them. He smiled. Maybe Elizabeth’s worries about Neil’s lack of a personal life were just about over.
~~~~~~

By the end of the month it was clear to see that the business was growing even more, and Neil was starting to feel more pressure where the bookwork was concerned. Mariah walked in one evening to say good night and found him running his hands through his hair and sighing out loud. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

Neil looked up at her and just rested his eyes on her for a moment. Then he smiled. “Nothing really. Just a lot more bookwork than I bargained for in the beginning. And I hate the stuff – the bookwork, I mean.”

She chuckled. “I understand. So do I. But … I don’t mind trying to help with it if that would take some of the pressure off you.”

He smiled at her again. “I appreciate it, Jake, but I just can’t afford to pay you to do office work on top of the repair work. And I do need you in those bays out there.”

“Oh, Neil! Don’t be ridiculous. You took a chance on me when I really needed – and wanted – a job here. I’d be glad to help you sort some of this stuff out and help keep it caught up – at least for a while. If the business grows more the rest of this year, you’ll eventually have to hire someone else to do the bookwork anyway most likely.”

He shook his head. “I can’t let you do that.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. I’ll go lock up the bay area and be right back. You can at least acquaint me with what you need done, and we’ll work out a plan that I can help with.”

She suited actions to her words and was back beside him in two minutes. “Well, if you insist, then I’ll order us a pizza, and we can at least eat while we work.”

“That sounds good to me.”

Neil called in the order, and they set to work, stopping only long enough to receive delivery of the pizza and grab a couple pieces from the box.

For the next four weeks, the pattern was set. Every Friday evening, they ordered pizza and worked on the accounting – usually not quitting until close to 10:00. But the intensity of the work changed gradually over that period of time, until almost half the time was spent in personal conversation, getting to know each other more intimately. The intensity of the work grew less, while the intensity of their relationship grew stronger.

Mariah found herself hesitant to leave on those evenings – even though she had put in more than twelve hours of work. And she was pretty sure Neil felt the same way. She had hoped he might invite her to go out with him some evening, where they wouldn’t feel constrained to talk shop. But, so far, he didn’t show any signs of doing so. And even though, she was far from a social butterfly, Mariah was beginning to feel the down side of living in a new town with only Abby and Seth to socialize with. She was getting to know a few people at church pretty well, but the ones she felt closest to were married couples as well, and she needed some single friends to go out with occasionally.

After another month, Mariah began to realize that Neil was enjoying their Friday night “work dates” a lot. She referred to them in her own mind as “work dates” because by this time, the bookwork was running so smoothly that they didn’t need to stay every Friday and work together. In fact, they spent most of the time now just talking, sharing, enjoying being together – the things people did on real dates. She had to wonder: couldn’t Neil see what was happening? Didn’t he want something more than just hanging around the shop together?

She talked to Abby and Seth about it. Seth’s reply was sympathetic, but practical. “Well, that’s his comfort zone, Jake.” After Mariah had told them about the nickname the guys at the shop had given her, Seth had insisted on calling her by that name as well.

“Yes, I understand that, Seth, but all guys feel more comfortable in their own home or their own work place, but that doesn’t keep them from ever asking a girl on a date.”

Seth held up his hand. “Now, hold on and let me finish. From what you’ve told me, Neil sounds like a quiet, almost retiring sort of individual, and may, in fact, be pretty shy. Maybe spending this much time with any woman and letting his guard down the way he has with you is completely new for him. And if so, he’s just not ready to take the next step yet.”

Mariah heaved a sigh. “Boy, that’s some huge case of shyness, if you ask me.”

“Well … would you like my opinion now?” Abby asked.

“Sure,” Mariah said, turning to her best friend.

“I think the man sees you as a fellow mechanic – you know – one of the guys – that he can let his hair down with and not feel threatened the way he would with a real woman —”

“What do you mean a real woman!” Marial interrupted.

“Well, let’s face it, Mariah. The man calls you Jake for heaven’s sake. Do you think he sees you more as a desirable woman or as a workmate?

“Gee thanks.”

“No, no. Hear me out. If he is shy and a little backward about asking a woman on a date, his feeling like you’re more one of the guys – one of his ordinary friends – serves as a buffer for him right now. I think he really does care about you. He certainly has all the symptoms. You said when he goes to lunch he almost always brings you something special even if you’ve already eaten – a candy bar you especially like or a some ice cream, etc. And you said when he has to make trips out of town for something, he does the same thing and almost always comes back with some kind of treat for you. Now, he doesn’t do that for all the other mechanics, right?”

“Right.”

“So … that means he feels something for you that he doesn’t feel for the other ‘guys,’” Abby said as she made quote signs in the air around ‘guys.’

“Well, again … thanks!”

Abby giggled. “Don’t get smart here. I’m trying to help.”

“Well, you’re not!”

“What I’m trying to say is that he’s sort of caught in a trap. He really likes you and wants to be with you, but he has been able to relate to you only in the situation at work. He hasn’t been able to step out of that workplace and see you as he would see any other woman – say, maybe one he met at a party somewhere.”

“Yeah, I guess you have a point.”

“So … I think you may just have to come up with a way to get him to see you from a totally different perspective.”

“Well great … and just how, best friend, do you suggest I do that?”

Abby chewed gently on her forefinger as she thought. Finally she shook her head slowly. “I don’t know yet, but there has to be a way.”

Seth got up. “Well, I can tell this is going to deteriorate into a ‘how to trap a man’ discussion, so I think it’s time for me to leave.” Abby threw a pillow from the sofa at him, and Mariah stuck out her tongue, but he ignored both and removed himself to his study.

By the time Mariah left for her own apartment an hour later, the girls hadn’t laid out a workable plan, but other events were taking place outside their personal sphere that were about to have an effect on Mariah’s situation. Unknown to her, as she slept peacefully in her own comfy bed, an exceedingly wealthy young man by the name of Carter Sandford was having serious trouble with his Porsche. He got as far as Neil’s Auto Service, and just before it died completely, he parked his ruby red beauty right outside Mariah’s work bay.


Tomorrow: Chapter Five


‘EVERYTHING’S JAKE’ – CHAPTER 3

EVERYTHING’S JAKE
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER THREE

When Mariah heard the words, “You’re hired,” she was so startled that she didn’t take in Neil’s next words. He had turned and walked to the office, and Mariah stared after him for several seconds before her brain brought his words into focus and she followed him.

“Pull that red Chevy into the bay you were using, and I’ll get the work order for it.” He was still in the office, but Mariah sent a brisk military salute his direction and spoke out loud, “Yes, sir, Boss!”

She then made a beeline for the Chevy, but before she started work on it, she took a minute to call Abby and let her know she wouldn’t be back to the house as soon as planned. She didn’t go into any details but told her she was trying out for a job and would explain when she got home. Then she went straight to work and didn’t stop until she’d finished the Chevy and a Dodge truck.

By that time, Neil was ready to close for the day, and although she was tired enough physically to be dragging, Mariah felt rejuvenated inside. She had thoroughly enjoyed herself working alongside Bill and Neil, and they had quickly developed a sense of camaraderie. Evidently the heavy workload had helped both men to put aside any awkwardness caused by the fact that she was a woman, and they had all three worked together in a pleasant, cordial atmosphere. And to Neil’s delight, they had managed to repair and service all but two of the vehicles that had been lined up when Mariah had stopped for help.

After Neil drove off, headed for home, he tried to get his mind to methodically go back over all that had transpired since Mariah had walked into his office. But he couldn’t really get it all to make sense. He was a believer, and although he didn’t generally make an issue of his faith to people, he did talk things over with the Lord in the manner of friends throughout the day. “Lord,” he said now, “I hope I’ve heard You right today. It just seemed right somehow to put Mariah to work, but I’m sure trusting You to cover me on this. It’s so different from anything I’ve thought about doing in the business.” He chuckled softly. “But I guess You know that all ready.”

He turned into the drive of a local barbecue restaurant to order a carry-out meal, and then proceeded to his home where he slumped down on his living room sofa and dug into his food with a vengeance. He realized right then that he’d forgotten all about getting lunch in the press of getting all of the jobs done. But now — thanks to Mariah — tomorrow would be better.

Meanwhile, Mariah had stopped by one of the chain superstores to purchase overalls that would fit her better so that she could work more easily. When she finally arrived at Abby and Seth’s, they were just putting supper on the table. “Oh, I’m glad you’re here, Ry,” Abby said. “I was beginning to get a little worried.” She stopped and looked more intently at her friend. “My goodness, you look like you’ve been through the mill, hon. You’re hair looks like you’ve been running your hands through it, and there’s a dark smudge on your jaw.”

Mariah put her hand up to her hair and chuckled. “I didn’t realize I looked that bad,” she said. “I guess I should have taken the time to check before I went shopping.”

“Shopping?”

“Well, just to pick up a couple of overalls.”

“Overalls!” Abby and Seth were both staring at her now.

“Yeah,” she said, grinning broadly. “I have a job!”

“What … what … kind … of job?” Abby asked, looking suspicious.

“At Neil’s Auto Center over on Ludlow Drive.”

Abigail sat down on one of the chairs beside the table. “Auto Center!”

“Hey,” Seth chimed, “you mean you’re going to be a mechanic?” He seemed to be enjoying the idea.

Mariah nodded, still grinning. “Isn’t it great?”

Seth looked at his wife, who still seemed to be in shock. “Honey, you know, Mariah used to love those auto shop classes. You’ve told me more than once that she would just as soon be under the hood of a car as on a dance floor.”

Abby nodded her head in agreement. “Yeah,” she answered, still looking just a little bewildered, “but I guess I just assumed that she had traded all of that in for teaching school or writing.” She looked intently at her friend. “You do look a lot happier than I’ve seen you since you got here, Ry.”

“Well, it’s not a permanent job. But when I stopped because of a problem with my own car this morning and found that Neil was really short-handed due to the illness of two of his guys, I just got this brainstorm. And … well … it took a little convincing to get him to give me a try, but … well … I think he was really pleased with my work,” she said, not able to hide the note of pride in her voice.

“And I’m sorry to be so late and then have to ask you to excuse me even longer so I can get a quick shower, but you all go ahead and eat.”

“We’ll start,” Abby said, getting up now, “and you come on in whenever you’re ready. Just put on a robe if you like. You’re among family here, you know.”

The following day, Mariah arrived early and jumped into her work humming a song. By noon she had tackled a leaking fuel line, worn rear brakes, and two oil changes. She asked Bill to test drive the car with the repaired breaks – just to double check her work. As he parked the Chrysler and got out, she hurried up to him. “Did everything check out to your satisfaction?” she asked.

He gave her a thumbs up sign and grinned. “Everything’s Jake.” he said, his grin broadening. Mariah caught the play on her name instantly and grinned with him. From that day, it became one of his favorite quotes, and when Kurt came back to work the following week, he picked up on it as well. By the end of the month Neil had caught the spirit of the joke and couldn’t help teasing her with the same comment.

Mariah went into the office to talk with him about plans for the future, now that Kurt was carrying his full load and Bobby was due back in four weeks.

He looked up from the desk where he was getting a deposit ready for the bank. “Hi,” she said, shoving her hands into her back pants’ pockets and walking around the counter to get closer to the desk.

“Hey, Jake,” he said, grinning at her, waiting to see how she would take to the nickname. Up to that point they had used the name only when commenting on her work, but Neil was feeling closer to her now and wanted to build on the easy friendship that seemed to have developed between them.

She giggled, but didn’t contradict him. Finally she spoke, “I … uh … was wondering ….” She stopped, not sure how to ask if she was going to have a job after the next four weeks.

“Yes?” he said, putting down his pen and leaning back in the chair.

Mariah took a deep breath. “Well, I know Bobby’s supposed to come back in four weeks, and I guess I was just wondering if there was any chance you might be able to still use me around here after he comes back.” She heaved a big sigh, making it clear it had been hard on her to ask the question.

“Well … about that,” Neil began. “I had a long talk with Bobby yesterday evening. He told me he’s thinking about going back to school. And if he does, he won’t be available to work for me except on weekends.”

Mariah’s eyes lit up. She knew that made her look a little mercenary, but she couldn’t seem to help it. “Soooooo ….” She let the word hang.

Neil grinned broadly. “Sooooo … I was thinking about asking you to stay on.”

Her face glowed. “Really?”

He held up one hand. “With one reservation,” he added – a more serious tone in his voice.

“Okay,” she said, her eyes now a little wary.

“All of the guys I’ve employed have degrees, and I advertise that my business offers men who are not only skilled in “hands-on” training, but well educated in the latest technology available for repair and servicing of all kinds of vehicles. It’s important that I maintain that standard —”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” Mariah rushed to interrupt. “I can take the courses and get the degree!”

“You’d be willing to do that – without wasting any time about it?”

“You bet!” she said. “I already have some credits in that direction, you know, and I’ll check at the local college and find out what’s available this fall term.”

“All right then,” Neil said, standing up suddenly and extending his hand to her. “You’re officially part of the family, Jake!”

She gripped his hand in her firmest hold and pumped it up and down, grinning from ear to ear. “Thanks, Boss! You won’t be sorry!”

The following week a quiet, well-dressed man walked into the office and addressed Mariah, who was alone there, reading from the computer screen. She turned when he spoke and smiled suddenly, realizing she felt she should know this man. No name came to mind. He was past middle age, but looked fit, and he acted like he was quite comfortable in the place.

“Where will I find Neil?” he asked.

“Oh, I’m sorry; he’s out to lunch right now. But he should be back in half an hour. Can I help you?”

He looked disappointed and shook his head. “No. I don’t need any work done. Just hoped I could take him to lunch.”

“I’m sorry you missed him. He’s had a full week of over-work and has barely grabbed a bite here between repairs, so when things settled down today, I insisted that he leave the premises and sit down and have a decent lunch.”

At her words about “insisting” Neil leave for lunch, the visitor’s brows rose significantly. This was a brand new twist at Neil’s Auto Center. He had to learn more, but he barely held back a chuckle as he asked, “And Neil obeyed you when you … uh … insisted?”

“Well … I can be pretty … persuasive sometimes.” She grinned at the man, still pulled by the feeling she should know him well. “Some people have called me bossy, but I like persuasive better.”

The man did chuckle then. “So are you the new secretary?”

“Oh, no!” she said, bouncing up and heading toward the counter. “I’m sorry: I should have introduced myself.” She reached her hand across the counter to him. “I’m Jake … well … actually Mariah … but they all call me Jake around here. I’m the new mechanic.”

The visitor had gripped her hand warmly, but at her last statement, he convulsively gripped tighter, as his mouth dropped open and his eyes grew to twice normal size. “You’re … you’re the new …” His words trailed off, and he finally released her hand. “Well … I’ll be ….”

Mariah realized he was shocked, and she saw curiosity replace surprise as he continued looking at her. She was used to that kind of reaction – especially from the older generation. Woman mechanics weren’t all that prevalent a few decades ago, and even today, some men considered women who worked on cars nothing but tomboys – or worse: misfits in society altogether.

The visitor rubbed his chin now, and instantly Mariah realized why he looked familiar. She had seen Neil rub his own chin the same way, and with that gesture, the visitor’s likeness to Neil was unmistakable.

“Wait a minute!” She blurted, her eyes alight. “Are you, by any chance, Neil’s father?”

He grinned at her. “That I am. Adam Warner’s my name.”

“Oh, I’m glad to meet you, Mr. Warner,” she said, grabbing his hand again and pumping it up and down. “You have a terrific son!  But I guess you know that.”

He managed to release his hand and rested it on the counter. “I tend to agree with you, Mariah, but it’s good to know others see him as I do.”

He moved both hands to his pockets now and tried to act nonchalant rather than sound like he was giving her the third degree. But Elizabeth would never forgive him if he went home and told her that her son had hired a woman mechanic and left it at that.

“So how long have you been here at Neil’s place?”

“Just since last Monday. It was the most fortunate thing that I found him, and that he was brave enough to hire me on the spot.”

Adam’s brows rose once more at her description of how she’d been hired, and he had to make some quick mental adjustments concerning the kind of behavior he’d been used to from his son. Normally a deep, unhurried thinker, Neil had never indicated any tendencies to act on impulse concerning his business or his personal life either one. Adam could hardly wait to ask questions as soon as he got Neil to himself.

And he could hear Elizabeth now. She was a strong romantic at heart, and this kind of scenario was enough to send her out to look at wedding invitations. Yep, he’d better hang around and have a word with his youngest son and see if he could get a handle on these strange events.

 


Find Chapter Four here tomorrow.


‘EVERYTHING’S JAKE’ — read it free

I promised another free novel in serial form this month. So here it is. EVERYTHING’S JAKE  is a light inspirational romance, but it’s a whole lot more than a love story. It’s about finding out who you really are and learning to like that person – and discovering that liking who you are opens the door for the best relationships with other people. It’s about family – and friends who are just like family. It’s about letting God’s way of loving take control of your heart.

I think some readers might enjoy this short novel as they get ready for the Christmas holidays. The story is easy reading, the kind of thing you need when you’re mind is full of lots of other stuff and stretched a little too far in too many directions. I’ll try to give you just one chapter a day so you don’t get carried away and forget to decorate the house or buy the gifts you want to give.

Hope you enjoy it. Be sure and let me know.

EVERYTHING’S JAKE

© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER ONE

Mariah Jacoby paced the tiny office, taking the confined distance from wall to wall in four agitated strides as she waited for her boss to join her. She was fairly certain what the outcome of this meeting would be. She’d be looking for another job. She shook her head now in frustration. If only she could convince her boss that she could probably sell more from this boutique in the long run if she were honest with her customers!

Well, that wasn’t going to happen. Convincing Patricia there was something to be gained by telling a woman she looked fat in one of her dresses was about as likely as going over Niagara Falls in a barrel without getting hurt — seriously hurt! Hadn’t somebody tried that once? She thought she’d remembered reading something about it, but — right now her mind was too muddled with the mess she’d made of her third job in two years. Of course, it’s not like this latest one was something in her field. With a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in journalism, selling in a boutique was a little wide of the mark on both counts.

But her one year working at the Excel Learning Center had been enough to convince her that teaching school was definitely not her forte. Her second job, the one with The Beacon, had been more in her line, but evidently news reporting was not what she really felt called to do either. Well, Mariah did feel a genuine interest in writing for a newspaper. It was actually her editor who had felt that she wasn’t right for the part. “You’ve got to quit editorializing, Mariah!” he’d said, through his gritted teeth. How many times had he said that? She couldn’t be sure, but it seemed to average about once a week, until finally, he had given her the bad news: She’d have to go. And he’d warned her one last time that if she thought she’d ever really want to get serious about a career in journalism, she’d better start working harder on her ability to remain objective when she covered the news.

She sighed now and finally dropped into one of the two chairs that sat in front of the desk, just settling into the seat when her boss opened the door and came in with a purposeful stride. Patricia wasn’t a time-waster; that was for sure. She marched around her desk and leaned over it toward Mariah. “I guess you know what this means?” Mariah opened her mouth to protest — or defend herself — or something — but nothing came out. She dipped her head and then nodded.

“I know,” she said on a resigned sigh. “I really do try to do what you want though, Patricia.”

Her boss shook her head as she sat down behind the desk. “Not hard enough, Mariah. I’ve told you repeatedly that we do not tell any of our customers that they don’t look terrific in whatever they choose.”

Mariah’s head came up, and she looked directly at her boss. “But that’s lying! I can’t believe that’s the best way to do business!”

“The point is that this is my business, Mariah. And the only one who needs to be satisfied with the way we do business here is me. Besides, I don’t really consider it lying. When our customers have chosen something that they like on themselves, it makes them feel good about themselves, and that does make them look good. Happy people always look better than those who are unhappy. And more importantly, happy customers keep coming back!”

“But Mrs. Jamison wasn’t unhappy when I told her that I thought she’d look better in something else.”

“No? Well, just what would you call that frown on her face, that furrowed brow, and her flustered attitude?”

“She was just trying to think about what I’d said while I was showing her the other possibilities.”

“All possibilities that she did not like herself! That’s just my point. She’s been a customer here for five years, and she had already disqualified the style of dress you kept trying to push off on her!” She leaned back with a sigh. “I’m sorry, Mariah, but I did warn you that you may not be cut out for this kind of work. I know you’ve tried, but you’re not going to be able to treat my customers differently. This is the fourth time I’ve had to deal with the situation and try to soothe the people you’ve upset. I’ll give you the rest of this week doing jobs that won’t require you to work with customers, and I’ll give you the one week’s severance pay that your contract specifies, but I’ll definitely have to replace you with someone who’s comfortable with my rules here.”

It didn’t take long for the end of the week to arrive, and Mariah found that she wasn’t all that emotional about having to say goodbye to Patricia and the two other women who worked at the boutique. She was very emotional, however, about not having a job. She had managed to save a little money while she’d worked on her masters because she’d decided to attend the university at home and stay at the house with her parents. They had been eager to have her there again, even for that period of time, and they just refused to let her pay for much of anything at all. She’d tried to make up for it by treating them to special dinners out and a weekend away a couple of times, but she had put most of her money from the job on campus into a savings account. Good thing! She’d already gone through half of it, and it looked like the second half would soon be in hot pursuit of the first.

She made her way back to her one-bedroom apartment in a very unfashionable, but comfortable part of town, dropped her purse and jacket on the table just inside the door, kicked off her shoes, and headed for the tiny kitchen to make tea. Her granny had always sworn by tea as the fix-it potion for any problem. Of course, Granny had always held faithful to all the little details that constituted a traditional English tea – the boiled water, the warmed teapot, the unrushed brewing time. Mariah filled the teapot and stuck it in the microwave. What Granny didn’t know wouldn’t cause her any unhappiness.

While she waited for the water to boil, she picked up the mail that lay on her kitchen counter. She hadn’t had time to go through it carefully for the last two days, and now she was surprised to see a card from a friend of hers in another state. Abigail Harland, who had gone through the first four years of college with Mariah, was now a happily married wife and the mother of two rambunctious little boys. She took to that lifestyle like a duck to water, Mariah thought, smiling now as she remembered the last time she’d visited Abby and Seth.

She scanned the lines eagerly, moving over to the microwave as it dinged to let her know the water was ready. A few minutes later, as she sipped the fragrant tea and began to relax, she came to the end of the note, which included another invitation to visit as soon as possible. “Come for a whole weekend if you can,” Abby had written. “Better yet, I wish you’d look for a job here so we could be close like we used to be.”

Mariah laid the note on the counter, deep in thought. Well, why not? Why not at least try? She certainly had nothing holding her here. Of course she was only an hour from her parents living here, but Abby’s home wasn’t more than three hours from them. She shrugged her shoulders. She was going to have to start somewhere, and she might as well try to find something close to her best friends. She’d made a couple of local friends since moving here to work, and of course, she was comfortable with most all of the people she’d met at church. But there wasn’t anyone she felt she could bare her soul to the way she could Abby and Seth. Maybe this was a good time to move on.

She got up and added more tea to her cup, then moved into the living room and snuggled into the corner of the sofa. She had an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach — almost a fear. Only she refused to let herself be afraid. It was just that — well — she had never figured herself for a failure. She had always done well in school. And she’d taken a variety of electives just to expand her mind and her horizons. Hadn’t she even taken those two auto-shop courses?

She grinned now as she remembered how surprised a couple of the guys in the class had been when they’d discovered how much she already knew. That was thanks to her big brother Mitch, of course. From the time she’d been a preteen, she had helped him work on his cars. And he’d had several over the years that he virtually rebuilt. Of course, it was just a hobby with him. He’d opted for a career in marketing, but he’d really had a gift for working on cars! And he’d told her she was a natural too, but of course, no other girls she knew were interested in becoming auto mechanics, so she dismissed that idea as less than good if she were going to have to compete with them for the guys out there that were worth having.

She snorted now as she thought about the fact that even though she was never in overalls or smudged with grease and oil these days, the guys weren’t exactly beating a path to her door. She thought about what she had to offer a man. Well — there was her open, friendly nature — her quick mind — her Christian lifestyle. She sighed. Those things didn’t sound like attention grabbers to her.

She took mental stock of her physical assets: She had a clear complexion. Her hair was a rich brown, and the pixie cut she currently wore framed her face perfectly and drew attention to her eyes. And they were probably her most positive feature, weren’t they? She had always considered them plain old brown until one of the men she’d dated in college had told her they were the warm color of a glass of sherry. Her relationship with that man had taken a definite upswing from that moment, although they’d never gotten serious, and he’d graduated the following year. Still, he remained one of her favorite dating memories just because he’d given her a whole new confidence about her looks.

She sat her empty cup on the table beside the sofa and stretched out, thinking. What kind of job should she look for? She laughed lightly. She’d lain on the sofa in her home as a child and daydreamed just this way, asking herself, what she wanted to be when she grew up? But this wasn’t like those times. This was no daydream; this was reality. She was grown-up. She was twenty-five, and it was time she made a career for herself.

The following Friday evening, she arrived at Seth and Abby’s door with a large suitcase, having told them of her plans to look for a job close to them. They had insisted she stay with them while she searched, but she had been adamant about not staying more than a week. If she hadn’t found something by then, she would either move into a motel or start looking in a different town.

But by the end of the week, she was no closer to having employment. She had checked with the area schools about possible openings for the next school year, which was fast approaching. She knew she wasn’t licensed to teach in the state, but she also knew there were ways to deal with that as long as she was working toward meeting the requirements within a certain time period. But there wasn’t anything in her field.

Then she’d checked with a couple local newspapers, but still nothing permanent. They had told her they’d consider some free-lance articles from her if she wanted to turn something in, and she had, in fact written one article and had it published. But she knew that she had managed that feat mainly because it was the kind of thing she didn’t have to be objective about.

After that, she’d checked with a couple department stores, but their waiting lists were long, and besides, she could tell by the manner of the women who’d talked to her that she would be right back in the same boat as she had been in with Patricia. So she’d signed up with an employment agency, and had even gone to one interview that they’d set up, but to no avail. They’d been pleased with her credentials, but they were equally pleased with those of some of the other applicants, and two of those people had lived in the town all their lives. The company just considered them a better risk, all other things considered.

On the Friday evening a week after she’d arrived, Abby tried to convince her that she should stay at least another week. “You know we love having you here, Ry,” she said. “And you’ve been so much help with the boys. They really love you.”

Seth had reached over and patted Mariah’s hand. “We both want you to stay, Ry. Give it at least one more week.” He glanced over at his wife, a light in his eyes that made no secret of the fact that he was in love with her. “Besides,” he said, a teasing note in his voice, “my sweety would never forgive me if I didn’t do everything in my power to make sure you move here permanently.”

Mariah had laughed with them, but she felt sad too. Something was wrong with her. Why couldn’t she find a job? And a job that she liked? What did she really enjoy doing, anyway? She thought long and hard on that subject after she retired for the night. Lying there in bed, she tried to remember every time she’d ever felt happy at work, and she realized with a good deal of surprise that she had actually felt pretty good about all of her jobs. The problem was that her happiness had really been coming from her interaction with people, which she always enjoyed, and not from the work itself. In fact, the last time she remembered feeling really happy about the work she was doing was when she had been in the auto mechanics class, helping her project partner put an engine back together.

The following morning at breakfast, Abby’s four-year old climbed up on Mariah’s lap and put his arms around her neck. “You stay wif us,” he said. Then he reached up to pat her cheek. “Me don’t want you to weave. You stay wif us, Ry.” She squeezed him tightly and kissed his cheek.

Abby sat down at the table with a cup of coffee. “See,” she said, grinning. “You can’t break his little heart by leaving yet.”

“Oh, all right. You’re all ganging up on me. I’ll take one more week, but … Abby … you know if I don’t find something by then, I need to try to get something in a larger city. There’s bound to be some kind of newspaper and teaching jobs both in a large enough city.”

“Well, just try one more week here then. I can’t bear to think you’ve come so close to living in the same town as us again and then not have it work out.”

Mariah chuckled and reached over and gripped her friends hand briefly. “Me too, Ab. I’ll really try this week, and I’ll spend more time praying about it too. Maybe I’ve been trying too hard on my own and not looking to the Lord for guidance as I should have been.”

So after breakfast was cleaned up, Mariah went out to the back yard to sit on the patio in the shade and read her Bible and pray. She’d been a Christian most of her adult life, and she thought she had lived according to God’s will, but sometimes she had to admit that she didn’t spend nearly as much time listening to what the Lord might have to say to her as she did talking to Him. So for the next week, that listening was her primary goal, and she hoped it would lead to the perfect job.


Find Chapter Two here tomorrow.


Smoky Mountain Series Continues

Just a little update to say Book # 6 of the Smoky Mountain Novel Series will be out around the first of May. GRACE FOR ATTICUS  has been one of my most challenging books in a long time, but I’ve been in love with it from the first paragraph. I thought I’d give you a little sneak preview just to stir up a tad of interest. See the excerpt below:

GRACE FOR ATTICUS

Copyright © 2021 Sandra Pavloff Conner

Excerpt: Chapter One

The glass front door of Tsalagi Craft and Trade Center flew open, the bell at the top of the door jangling so hard it sounded like an alarm. Grace Walela Ross looked up from the accounting work she was doing at the desk in the back left corner of the store.

Her black hair, cut in short tousled layers accented her black eyes and her bronze Cherokee skin. She rose to her full height of five feet, seven inches, and although she was quite delightful to look at as she stood behind her desk, the man stomping his way toward her had such fire in his eyes, it was unlikely he had taken time to notice.

“I understand you’re the one responsible for this trash,” he said, slamming a copy of The Sword newspaper down on top of the desk.

“I’m the editor of the paper, if that’s what you mean,” Grace replied, standing straight and looking him in the eye. He was a good half a foot taller than she was, and all powerful, barely restrained muscle. She felt only slightly intimidated, but had no intention of letting fear have a place.

“Do you have a problem with something in the this week’s issue, Mr. – ?”

“ A problem? No, I don’t have a problem. I have a legitimate complaint against your libelous excuse for journalism. You’re the one who has the problem, Ms. – ” He stopped and glanced at the masthead of the paper to double-check her name. “Ms. Grace Walela Ross! Because unless you print an immediate retraction – and on the front page – you’re going to court and pay through the nose.”

“And just what exactly are you referring to as libelous, Mr. Whoever-You-Are?”

“St. John.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Atticus St. John. Doctor St. John to you.”

“Oh, I see.”

“I don’t think you do see, Ms. Ross. I don’t think you even try to see the whole picture. You’re so focused on your own personal rant that you don’t care how distorted you make your articles.”

Some kind of righteous anger mixed with personal hurt rose up in Grace. She rounded the desk and advanced toward him until she stood mere inches away. “I never distort my articles! How dare you come stomping in here and speak such lies!”

“Me speaking lies! You have the gall to accuse me after you’ve written and printed this hideous excuse for journalism?! You should be tarred and feathered!”

Grace’s head almost buzzed with the anger she felt. She prided herself in all the effort she put into being sure of all her facts, even down to the exact spelling of every single name she used. And she was always hard on herself to make sure she’d used proper restraint before assigning responsibility and fault to anyone in her articles. Such an attack as this on her character as a credible journalist was more than she could bear, and before she could even think about what she was going to do, she spit in his face. Instantly, the shock of what she had done hit her so forcefully that she gasped, and her hand flew to cover her mouth. Her eyes, wide with the horror of her actions, locked onto his.

But her shock was nothing compared to his. Followed by a new level of anger. “Why you little savage!” he said, grasping her by the shoulders and, without thinking, pushing her backwards against the desk, and pinning her there with his own body. Grace put up her hands against his chest in an instinctive defense, but he was much more powerful than she. Her eyes focused on his shoulders now, and her self-defense training came to mind, but for some reason, she felt a kind of dazed lack of energy to inflict any kind of retaliation.

He wasn’t sure what he’d intended when he’d grabbed her, but was responding to some primal need in him to exact revenge for such humiliation and put her in her place somehow. He fought within himself over whether to spit in her face as well or kiss her forcefully enough to prove his mastery over her.

He had decided on the ruthless kiss when, suddenly, her eyes met his again and held him with a look that said she knew he was in control, but she wouldn’t even consider backing down. There was something so pure in her eyes – an assurance of being in the right – something that pulled on him to side with her unflinching commitment to what she believed – that his own thoughts came crashing to a full stop.

In response, he gradually leaned forward almost touching her lips in what would have been an entirely different kind of kiss, but he caught himself just in time. He pulled back slowly and heard himself say in a tone of disbelief, “Grace? … You’re name is Grace? And if I’m not mistaken, your middle name is the Cherokee word for Hummingbird, is it not?”

Grace was silent with surprise at the sudden change in him, and she just nodded. He laughed softly then. “What a mistake your poor parents made. You most definitely are not a hummingbird. In fact I’d say you’re more like a she-bear – defending her domain – a spitting bear in fact,” he added, taking his right hand from her shoulder and wiping his cheek where her spittle had landed. He quickly grasped her shoulder again, but couldn’t hold back more laughter.

The laughter was genuine, but he was having a hard time understanding everything else he was feeling. Something powerful had passed between them in those moments – something so elemental he couldn’t put a name to it, but it pulled on him and caused him to want to stay close to her. A ridiculous feeling since she represented everything he had to fight against in order to carry out his own work – work that he believed in and had labored hard to be able to accomplish.

He finally released her and stepped back, glancing toward the floor and running his hand through his hair in a frustrated manner. But he looked right at her again and spoke in a disgruntled tone. “Never mind. I don’t really have time to bother with you.”

He turned away from her and started for the door, but just before he pushed the door open, he turned and almost spat out the words, “Just be careful, my little Spitting-Bear. The next victim of your irresponsible journalism may not be as willing to forego exacting his vengeance.” And with those words he walked through the door and almost stomped down the street.

Grace still leaned against the desk, almost as if she needed its support. Her adrenaline was rushing, and she knew she’d been frightened a little by the encounter, but there was something else involved that she couldn’t identify. She realized with a quickening of her breath that she actually wished he had followed through on his actions and kissed her. She shook her head in disbelief now and finally pushed herself away from the desk, making her way around it, where she sat down in the chair again. She closed her eyes and relived the whole experience.

In the heat of the moment, she hadn’t been conscious of noting his appearance, but now, in her memory’s eye, she saw again the strength that showed in the muscles of his arms and chest even beneath the fabric of his long-sleeved dress shirt. His hair was sandy brown and had been tousled by the breeze. She saw again the firm jaw, and the olive green eyes – eyes that kindled with his barely restrained temper as they bored into hers. She felt a stirring inside as she remembered those eyes – and the way his body felt barely touching hers. Suddenly, she shook herself lightly, trying to escape those memories and clear her head.

Everything about the man was the antithesis of her beliefs and agenda for her own life. How could she have wanted to kiss him – to stay in a place where she was touching him and looking steadily into his eyes? She leaned back in the chair and just sat, waiting for her thoughts to clear and for her day to get back to normal somehow.

She heard the bell again, but at a normal volume this time, and when she glanced toward the door she saw her brother Blaze heading her way. “Hey, Sis, I read your article this morning.”

Grace looked up at him as he stood now in front of the desk, but she seemed to be having trouble focusing.

“Is something wrong, Hon.” he asked, concern in his eyes now.

Grace really looked at him then, finally focusing, and shook her head again slightly, as if still trying to clear it. “No, not really. I guess I’m just a little dazed after having a confrontation with Dr. St. John.”

“St. John? As in the man you wrote about in the front page article?”

Grace nodded her head and, to Blaze’s relief, her impish grin kicked in, and he felt reassured that she was her old self.

“What happened?”

Grace told him how Dr. St. John had stormed into the store and accused her of being irresponsible in her journalism and of telling lies, and how he’d threatened to sue if she didn’t print a retraction of her accusations.”

“I guess you set him straight, didn’t you?”

“Well … about that.” Grace said and started to squirm a little in her chair.

Blaze was intrigued by that move, because his little sister was generally straight-forward and outspoken with everyone, so he just stood there and looked at her intently until she glanced away and then, finally, looked back at him.

“Hummingbird, why do I feel that there’s something you should tell me, but you don’t want to? What really did happen?”

“Everything happened just like I said, except that … well … I guess he just made me so angry and so hurt … you know everything he said was totally unfair and just wrong … and … well … I … before I realized what I was doing, I spit in his face.”

“What!”

Grace leaned forward on the desk putting her face into her hands and groaning. She felt ashamed and so guilty. Not only was she ashamed about what she had done to the doctor, but she was just as much ashamed to have her brother know that she had acted in such an un-Christlike manner to anyone. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she lifted her head just enough to reach for a tissue from the box on the corner of the desk.

“Oh, Honey, don’t cry. I can’t imagine your doing anything like that unless you were seriously pressed beyond endurance,” Blaze said and sat down in the chair in front of the desk.

He sat quietly for a few moments while his sister blotted her eyes and blew her nose. He thought back to last fall when she had decided to move back to Cherokee to be closer to their family and to help him with his craft center and store because the Lord was using him so much in a traveling ministry now that he didn’t have the time to devote to actually running the business alone.

She had worked for several years for a publishing company, but had long had a dream to begin her own newspaper with the aim of focusing on much needed moral and social change in both the local community and the nation. After deciding to move back home and work with her brother, she’d felt it was the right time and place to launch the paper, and she had been working hard at making it a real success for the past six months.

He smiled now as he watched her getting control of her emotions and blotting her eyes once more before looking up at him.

“You want to tell me the rest of it?” he asked, grinning at her. “What did he do when you spit on him?” Grace thought back through all of his reactions – and her own unexpected response to his grasping her and almost kissing her. She wasn’t ready to share that part with her brother just yet, but she could at least tell him about the doctor’s words.

She grinned now too as she answered. “He called me a savage.”

Blaze’s eyebrows rose at that. “Wow, that’s a little cowboy-and-Indianish, isn’t it?”

Grace laughed out loud at that. “But that’s not all. He also said that he knew my middle name was the Cherokee word for hummingbird but that my poor parents had made a serious mistake because I was more like a she-bear – in fact a spitting bear. And just as he walked out the door, he addressed me by that name again.”

“And he’s going to sue?”

“Well … that’s the really odd part,” she said. “He acted like he sort of got better control of his own anger and said he didn’t have time to fool with me. Then his parting words to me were that I should be careful because the next victim of my irresponsible journalism might not be so willing to forego exacting his vengeance.”

“Whew!” Blaze said, leaning back in his chair. “You’ve had quite a day, haven’t you?”

Grace nodded and leaned back in her chair as well. “But I don’t think he’s actually planning on a lawsuit now. And, of course, even if he did sue, he can’t possibly win because, as you know, I make absolutely sure of all my facts – right down to correctly spelled words – and he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”

“Still, I’d hate for you to have to be dragged through court over all of it.”

“Yeah,” she said, nodding her head again. “Me too. But, you know, Blaze – well, we both knew from the beginning – some of the situations I’m addressing in The Sword are going to be pretty volatile from time to time.”

Blaze nodded. “It’s true. And, as you say, you didn’t go into the work blind. I think, though, that this whole abortion issue is something the devil and his forces fight more intensely than anything else right now. It’s going to take the true sword of the Lord and a lot more prayer to make any headway against it.”

“And concerning my articles … it’s not as if I’m trying to shut down every abortion clinic in the country. Of course, you know I don’t believe they should be legal at all, but my recent articles are mainly fighting against adding another abortion clinic to this area when we already have enough of them. It’s a valid argument. But it’s true that I am hitting hard on the whole fact that abortion is immoral period, wherever people have it performed.”

“Did he say specifically what he considered libelous?”

She shook her head and picked up the paper, scanning her front page article again. “No … but I’m pretty sure he was going to focus on the fact that I called him ‘another professional exterminator.’”

“Is there any chance at all that he can make his charges stick?”

“ I don’t see how. I was very careful in my choice of words. I would have liked to use the term murderer, but the technical definition of murderer is ‘someone who illegally kills another person. And right now, in most states almost all abortions are considered legal. There are still a few states holding out on late-term abortions, but the scale is sliding downhill fast. And the states where he has his other two clinics are one hundred percent pro-abortion at any time during pregnancy, so that term would have left me open to question. But the term exterminator specifically means ‘someone who kills whole groups of people or animals. What he does fits the term exactly.”

She leaned back in her chair again and sighed. “I think when he gets rid of all his anger, he’ll be sensible enough to know that even if he forced me to retract the article, or even won a lawsuit, it would just prolong the attention people are giving the story, and if I made it clear that I was forced to retract, he would still end up looking like the bad guy to our readers.”

“I think you’re right. And I’ll let Joy know about your little … uh … adventure today,” he said grinning again, “and we’ll both be praying for the Lord to cover you in this. But, listen, I came in to do some work on the leather moccasins I started yesterday, but I wanted to ask you if you’d like to take a couple days off and get away from the store. You know Joy and I will be gone four days next week for that seminar in Dallas, but I’m here for the rest of this week, and you’ve been working non-stop for months now. I don’t want you worn out with this, especially since you’re still doing some editing for Milton Publishing.”

“Well, if you wouldn’t feel abandoned, I just might think about taking a couple days. I’d actually like to take Mom shopping in Nashville one day, and if we stayed over and went out to dinner, that would be fun for her and me both. I can also make a quick run by the publishing house and check in with the main office.”

“Hey, that sounds like a great idea.”

“Do you think Joy might want to go with us?”

“Well … I guess she might … but … I rather hope she doesn’t,” he said, grinning.

“You really are still newlyweds, aren’t you?” Grace teased him. “You don’t want her out of your sight if you can manage it.”

“Oh, it isn’t that bad, but I do really like having her around all the time. And after all, we have been married only five months.”

He heaved a sigh and added, “But I don’t want to be selfish, and it’s only fair that she have some time with you girls if she’d like to. I’m sure I can survive forty-eight hours,” he said grinning again.

“I know you can, but I just can’t keep from teasing you. I think I will ask her if she’d like to go with us. We haven’t all three had a chance to do anything like that together.”

“I know, and, honestly, I’d be happy for her to get that time with you and Mom if she’d like to go. Call her and let her know what you’re planning.”


The Christmas Rescue — a short story


(I post this story annually as part of my celebration of the season. I hope it blesses you.)
♥♥♥


The following story is fiction – as are all the characters and the setting. However, the story was inspired directly by the real-life story of one of the most effective and compassionate men in ministry today. Bill Wilson, who is the founder of Metro World Child in New York City, was actually abandoned as a child and left alone on the streets of his home city in Florida. He was eventually rescued and greatly helped by a loving man of God, and that love led Bill Wilson to devote his entire life to rescuing inner-city children and ministering to their most vital needs – as well as those of their families.

The results of his work, both in the U. S. and internationally, would fill volumes. I have listened to him tell his own story more than once. He always concludes that story by sharing why he does what he does. And it is his reason – which constitutes the final statement by the main character in my story as well – that inspired me to sit down and write “The Rescue.”

I trust that the story will touch your heart deeply, and if it does, I encourage you to remember that it was inspired by the real life experiences of a great man of God. Readers can learn more about Bill Wilson’s ministry at the ministry website: metroworldchild.org.  I am not personally affiliated with the ministry at all, nor did the people involved have any influence on my writing this story. However, it is my prayer that this story will encourage readers to pray about supporting Metro World Child with finances and with prayer.

THE CHRISTMAS RESCUE
© Sandra Pavloff Conner

 

The old woman knelt shivering before the tombstone as her husband pulled away a pile of decayed leaves that seemed to cling defiantly to its base in spite of the wind that whipped at them repeatedly. It wasn’t bitterly cold — at least not like it had been many other Decembers in this city. But the wind was always stronger up here at the cemetery, and today, with no sun smiling down its warmth, the chill just seemed to beat its way into their elderly bones. Of course, sorrow had its own chill, and sometimes it was hard to tell if the icy feeling came more from the weather or from the pain within.

The old man finished his work and then joined her, slowing sinking to his own knees and removing his warm felt hat. Tears glistened in his eyes, but he wouldn’t let them fall. He had to be strong for her right now. He glanced sideways at her, seeing the tears flowing freely down her cheeks. She kept pressing her handkerchief to her face, to try to stem the bitter stream, but it did no good.

It had been a year and a half now since they had lost their second son. He had followed his brother into military service and then into war … and, finally, into the grave.

The old man shuddered out a deep sigh. He had brought his new bride to this country just one year before their first son had been born, and it had been a time of promise and happy expectation. The Lord had blessed them with two handsome, healthy sons, and they had been the sweetest blessing life had to give. He sighed now as he thought back over the years of raising two strong-willed, but tender-hearted boys. They had all been so happy … until ….

But he shook off the heaviness of those years of war – and the funerals – and the nights of wishing he could have gone in their stead. He knew his boys weren’t really in these graves here. He knew that for certain. They had believed in Jesus Christ, both of them, from the time they had been tiny little curly-haired youngsters. And they were in Heaven now. He couldn’t grieve for them, but for himself and his beloved wife, he couldn’t not grieve.

He leaned over toward her and put his arm around her shoulders now. “The wreaths look lovely, my dear. You’ve done yourself proud. I think these are the most beautiful you’ve ever made.” And she had made some beautiful flower arrangements, this wife of his. It had been her life’s work and a great joy at one time. Now, it seemed to always remind her of the need for flowers on these graves, and she took no joy in the work of her hands. Still … it kept her from sitting and mourning all the time, so he encouraged her to keep the business going.

And the money helped. There was no doubt about that. His pension and the little bit he made working as the church custodian were just enough to enable them to keep their house, modest as it was, and to cover their basic utilities.

But with both their incomes – and with a little extra help from the Lord from time to time – they lived well enough. And every year at this Christmas season they pulled out their special bank – the little treasure box where they had put aside a very small offering each morning during their prayer time with the Lord. They paid the tithes on their monthly income faithfully, of course, but this little extra offering represented their desire to do more than just what was expected of them. And each Christmas they asked the Lord what He would have them do with the money to help someone not as fortunate as they.

The old man smiled to himself now. Christmas Eve was just three days away. They needed to get to asking the Lord what His plan was for this year. He leaned over and kissed his wife on the cheek. “Come, Mama. We need to get into the warm. The wind is getting bitter.” She allowed him to help her rise from her knees and pull her coat tighter around her neck.

The wool scarf she wore on her head had almost blown off, and he straightened that too and then placed his hands tenderly on either side of her worn face. “Our wonderful boys are warm and safe in Heaven, Mama … looking down on these wreathes you have made for them and feeling proud. Now … we will go home and fix some hot cocoa and take out our silver bank and have our talk with the Lord about His plans for the money, hmm?”

She nodded her head in agreement, and they turned together to plod arm-in-arm out of the cemetery and down the lane to their car.

As they entered their back door, he stopped a moment and breathed deeply. “Ahhh . . . your kitchen still smells like molasses cookies and shortbread, Mama,” he said, pinching her cheek tenderly and grinning at her. “What do you say we have some with our cocoa?”

His wife was taking off her scarf and coat and hanging them on the pegs beside the door. “You’ll ruin your supper if you eat all that sugar right now, Papa,” she scolded him. It never occurred to either of them to refrain from calling each other by those names, even though they had no children living now. They had rarely called each other anything else since their two little ones had chosen those names for them. It had thrilled them so to be parents that they took pride in the names and wore them like crowns of honor.

Now he hung his coat and hat beside hers and grabbed her around the waist with both hands and began waltzing her around the kitchen. “Well, I have the solution to that!” he announced boldly. “We’ll just have molasses cookies and Scottish shortbread for our supper!”

“Now listen to you go on. What kind of supper is that?”

“Well … we’ll have a chunk of that delicious cheese you bought yesterday along with it, for protein,” he announced, as if that solved the whole question, whirling her around one last time and depositing her in a chair beside the table. At least she was laughing now, and that gave his heart a little ease. “You make the cocoa, and I’ll go get the treasure box.”

So while the milk warmed on the stove, Mama set the food out on the table. She was pouring out the cocoa when he returned carrying a small silver box that looked a little like a treasure chest. “Here it is, Mama,” he said setting it in the middle of the table and taking a seat beside her. “Now, let us thank the Lord for our food and enjoy it while the cocoa is good and hot, and then … then we shall count the money!”

When they had eaten their fill, and their faces were rosy with the warmth of the kitchen and the good food, they moved their utensils out of the way, and Papa pulled the box to him, unlocking it with the key that he always kept tucked away in his top dresser drawer. He dumped out the contents and began to straighten out the paper and sort the coins. “You count the coins, Mama, while I count the bills,” he said, and so they sat quietly, adding up their respective parts of the treasure.

When he was done, Papa picked up the little pad and pencil that he also kept in the box and wrote down his amount. Then he wrote down the amount Mama had in coins and added them together. He looked up at her beaming. “Mama, God has truly blessed us this year. We have put a total of seven hundred, four dollars, and seventy-two cents in our bank!”

“Oh, that’s more than last year or the year before either one!”

“Yes!” he said, nodding his head eagerly.

“Do you think the Lord has multiplied it for us?”

The old man smiled at her with eyes that were lit up with his faith that the Lord had done just that. “Now we must find out what our Lord wants us to do with it. Shall we pray right here, or go into the living room and kneel on the rug?”

“Let’s go and get down on our knees. We need to do everything we can to make sure we focus on the Lord. We wouldn’t want to make a mistake with so much money.”

So they moved into the living room and knelt down in front of their old but cared-for sofa, and, hand in hand, sought the Lord for His plan for the money they had given to Him during their morning devotions. After they had prayed for some time and were now both quiet and listening with their hearts, Papa whispered to Mama, “Do you hear anything yet, Mama?”

“Not yet, Papa. Perhaps, He will reveal something to us while we sleep tonight. He did that once before, remember?”

“Yes, that’s right. All right. We will expect that He will show us something, either as we sleep, or maybe when we first awake in the morning.” He grinned down at her with the eagerness of a small child. “I can hardly wait to see what He has in mind. I know we have to be patient. He may not show us until Christmas morning, you know. One time that’s what He did. But at least we know that He’s never taken longer than that to tell us what we must do, and that’s only four days away.”

Mama smiled at his excitement and rose from her knees, grateful for this generous-hearted husband that the Lord had given her. If only … if only he could have kept his sons to pour that heart into, she thought, shaking her head gently at the sad thought.

“No, Mama,” he said to her now, reaching out and lifting her chin and looking into her still bright blue eyes. “We will not be sad tonight. God has something happy for us to do, and we will enjoy it!” He leaned down and kissed her on the mouth. Then he raised his eyes heavenward and said, “Thank you, Good Lord, for giving me such a beautiful wife!”

“Oh, Papa . . .” she said, chuckling and shaking her head.

“Now,” he said turning her toward the kitchen, “I will help with the dishes, and then you shall read to me.”

The next morning the couple rose expectantly, eagerly anticipating the Lord’s leading about what to do with their money. But as the day progressed into evening, both had to admit that they just didn’t sense the Lord’s direction yet. So they retired that night with the prayer on their lips that He would show them tomorrow.

Again the following morning, they were a little disappointed, but since it was a day with much to be done, they quickly went about their business. Papa had more than the usual custodial work to do at the huge stone church in the middle of the city, because there were always extra services and celebrations this time of year. And Mama had finished the Christmas flower arrangements that had been ordered by two merchants whose shops were on the same street as the church. They always ordered the flowers for their holiday parties from her.

So after having a cozy breakfast, the couple loaded the flowers into the car and headed into the main part of the city. As they passed the corner one block from the church, they noticed a small boy sitting on a concrete bench on the sidewalk. “Would you look at that little tyke, Papa,” Mama said with a chuckle. “He’s bundled up all the way to his nose.”

“Well it is awfully cold,” Papa answered. “Wonder what he’s doing sitting there all by himself.”

“Oh, his mama probably told him to stay put while she ran into the bank behind the bench there.”

“Mmmm, probably, but … I don’t know … in these times, I don’t think I’d leave my little boy sitting by himself for even that long in a city this big.”

Mama sighed, “I know, Papa. Sometimes it seems to me that parents don’t take the dangers waiting for their little ones seriously enough.”

“Well, here we are,” Papa said in a more cheerful voice as he slowed down to look for a parking place close to the first store. “Are you sure you want to walk back down to the church? I can come and get you, you know.”

“Oh, Papa! Don’t be silly. It’s only two blocks. You just carry in one of the arrangements for me, and as soon as I’m done here, I can manage to carry the last one on to the shop two doors down. I’m sure they’ll both want to talk a few minutes, and then I’ll come down to the church to meet you.”

“Okay,” he answered, sliding into one of the few parking spots left on the street in this part of the city. While Mama carried the arrangement for the proprietor of the first shop, Papa carried in the other piece and set it down where Mama could get to it easily. He went on to the church and began his work, stopping almost an hour later when he realized that Mama had not returned yet. But just as he started down the hallway to the outside door to check on her, she walked in, bringing the biting air from outside with her, but flushed with a smile and twinkling eyes.

“Oh, Papa, they raved about my arrangements! They said they’d never seen anything they liked any better!”

He hugged her. “Well, of course, Mama! What else did you expect with your talent for working with flowers?”

“Thank you, Papa, but I happen to know you’re just a little prejudiced,” she said, pinching his cheek gently. “But come … I’ll help you with your work.”

So they worked side by side, finishing up the day’s list of tasks by noon, and left the church together. As they drove back the way they had come, they noticed that the small boy was still at the same corner, sitting on the bench alone.

“He’s been there all morning, do you think, Papa?” Mama asked, her tone beginning to sound worried. Papa looked at the boy as they passed and noticed that he kept looking in both directions, stretching his neck as if looking for someone or something in particular.

“It is peculiar, Mama,” he answered, but traffic was so heavy right at that time, that he had to give his full attention to working through it and getting into the correct lane to make their way back home. Concern nagged at him as he sat down to his noonday meal, and then troubled him off and on as he sat in his recliner and dozed during the afternoon. When the couple retired for the night, they prayed especially for the little boy they’d seen on the bench and his family.

The next morning Papa helped Mama finish her Christmas baking. She always made cranberry nut bread for four of the people in their church and popcorn balls and fudge for all of the children to take home after the Christmas Eve program. They stopped to have a ham sandwich and a cup of hot cider while the treats cooled enough for packaging. Then they began to wrap the gifts in gay paper and tie them with carefully worked bows, adding a candy cane to the top of each package.

When the last of the gifts was finished and set on the kitchen counter to wait for delivery, Mama made a meatloaf, while Papa scrubbed potatoes and prepared them for baking along with the meat.

“You know I can’t help thinking about that little boy we saw yesterday,” Mama said quietly as she worked. “I wonder who he was waiting for.”

“Probably some of his family who were doing last-minute Christmas shopping.”

“But wouldn’t you think they would have taken him with them?”

Papa looked up from the potato he was working on, thinking for a moment before he spoke. “No … not necessarily. Especially not if they were buying his gift.” He laid down his potato absentmindedly. “Still … you’d think they’d be a little hesitant to leave him there alone for so long.”

“You don’t suppose something happened to them do you, Papa?”

“Well, I wouldn’t know, of course, Mama, but I’m sure at least one or two police officers must have passed by their yesterday, and if something had been wrong, I’m sure the boy would have told them.”

Mama nodded her head and carried her meatloaf to the oven. “Of course. I hadn’t even thought about that.” She turned to look back at him. “Are the potatoes ready?”

“Yes, here they are,” he said carrying four potatoes over to the stove and laying them on the pan she had ready to slip into the oven beside the meatloaf.

After dinner, Papa read the newspaper to Mama, and then they watched a Christmas program on television. As they retired, they prayed once more for the young boy and his family and asked the Lord to show them by tomorrow what His plan was for the money He had helped them save this year.

First thing the next morning Papa drank hot coffee, wolfed down some of Mama’s gingerbread, and hurried off to the church to turn the heat up for the evening program. He also wanted to make sure that all the different props for the Christmas program were in place so that they would be easy to find at the last minute before the service began. But as he neared the block where the church stood, he was horrified to see that the little boy from two days before was still sitting on that same concrete bench. Papa hurriedly found a parking place close to the church and then walked back to the corner and sat down on the end of the bench opposite the young boy.

He could see that the child was very cold, even though he had on a heavy coat and a knit cap pulled down over his ears. He had his hands in his coat pockets, but once when he pulled a hand from his pocket to wipe his runny nose, Papa saw that he also had on gloves. He didn’t want to frighten the boy, but he felt frightened himself at the thought that this child could possibly have been sitting here for more than two days.

Why hadn’t the police done something about it? He thought about that question for a while, but then decided that there was so much crime and so many people with serious problems that possibly the police officers who were responsible for this area of town were unusually busy this time of year, just trying to take care of all of those other situations.

“Hi there, Son,” Papa said, his voice friendly and encouraging.

The big brown eyes just looked at him for a moment, and Papa saw a shiver run through the little body. “Hi,” the boy answered in little more than a whisper.

“I’m Jules Larson,” Papa said, holding out one gloved hand toward the boy. Slowly, the child pulled a hand from his pocket and reached it over to shake the old man’s hand.

“I’m David,” he said.

Papa nodded, letting go of David’s hand and watching him put it immediately back into his pocket. “Haven’t I seen you here on this corner for that last couple of days?”

David nodded, but didn’t speak. Instead, he just looked up and down the street again, much as he had been doing the other times Papa had passed by this corner.

“Well … you haven’t been sitting here all day and night, though, have you?” he asked.

David looked back at Papa and nodded again. Papa felt a cold wave of fear move through him and called out to Jesus under his breath.

“But …” Papa started to speak again, but then he stopped. He needed to figure out exactly what to say. After another minute, he sighed deeply and tried again. “But what about your family, David? Where are your mom and dad?”

David looked once more down the street and then turned his eyes on Papa. “My mom’s comin’ back for me,” he said, his lips trembling. Papa wasn’t sure if they trembled from the cold or because the boy was on the verge of tears.

“Where did your mom have to go?”

David looked up and down the street again, and then turned to look behind him once. He looked back at Papa and shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know. She just said I should wait right here.”

“Do you live close to here?”

David shook his head. “Not anymore.”

“What do you mean? Did you used to live close?”

This time David nodded. “Unhuh,” he said, pointing back down the street. “Over in that other block. We lived in one of the apartments on the very top of that old brown building.”

“Well, why don’t you live there now?”

David shrugged his shoulders again. “Don’t know. Mom just said we couldn’t live there anymore. She put some of her clothes in a bag and told me to put on my coat, and then we left.”

“But did she put some of your clothes in a bag too?”

David shook his head. “I thought maybe she was goin’ to buy me some new clothes.”

Papa sighed, not liking the thoughts that came crowding into his mind with the boy’s last words. “So she took her clothes with her, but not any of yours?”

David nodded. “And when we got to this corner, she told me to sit down here and wait.”

“Is that all she said?”

David nodded. “Sometimes she goes away for a day or two, but then she comes home again, and we have something to eat. So I know she’ll be comin’ back for me,” he said, lifting his chin as if to ward off any rebuttal of that idea from the old man. But just then his lips quivered again and two tears slipped down his chapped cheeks.

Papa sighed inwardly and prayed silently with all of his heart. What was he to do? He couldn’t leave this little boy out here another night, and it was obvious to him that if his mother hadn’t bothered to pack any of his clothes, she had not intended to keep him with her. Should he go to the police? That’s probably what the police would tell him was the right thing. But, somehow in his heart, he just didn’t think he could bring himself to do that just yet. They would turn him over to the authorities, and he might end up in almost any kind of place while the legal aspects of his case were considered.

Papa shook his head silently. No … he couldn’t just turn him over to the police. What would Mama tell him to do?

He sat up straighter. Of course! That was the answer! Mama would say to bring him home and give him some warm food and a warm bed for tonight at least … and then they would pray for the Lord to show them what to do after that. But first, he’d have to do the necessary work at the church. He looked back at David.

“Well, I’ll tell you what, David. I think maybe your mama might have had to go farther than she planned to try to find another place to live. And I don’t think she’ll be able to come back for you for a while. But my wife and I … we used to have two little boys. They died in the war, and we miss them. We’d like to have you come to our house and eat supper with us and maybe sleep in one of the warm beds that we used for our boys. We could always come back here tomorrow and see if your mama is here waiting for you.” He knew that wasn’t a sensible plan, but he was counting on this boy, who looked no more than nine years old, to be too cold and tired and hungry to figure out how improbable it was. David was looking at him with wide eyes, full of indecision. He looked up and down the street again and than back at Papa.

“I’ll tell you what,” Papa continued. “I was going to go into that little coffee shop over there and get me some soup. How about you come with me, and I’ll get both of us some, and we can talk it over.”

David chewed on his bottom lip, and Papa could see the temptation on his face. What must it feel like to sit on this bench for nearly three whole days and have nothing to eat?

“What do you say?” he urged David again.

Finally, the boy nodded his head, and Papa stood and held out his hand to take David’s. Together they walked to the restaurant across the street, and once seated at the table, Papa ordered two steaming bowls of soup and added a glass of milk for David. He would have liked to have ordered him a big, juicy hamburger too, but knowing he probably hadn’t eaten anything in more than two days, he was afraid too much food at once might make the child sick.

Papa sipped his soup slowly, not really hungry yet himself, but David ate as if he were truly starved. “Did you have anything to eat yesterday?” Papa asked the boy.

David only shook his head and kept eating.

“Well, how about the day before?”

David shook his head again and picked up his bowl to drink the rest of the liquid from the soup.

“Well, I’ll tell you what, David. I could sure use some help to do my work at the church down the street. I wonder if you’d help me there for a little while, and then we’ll come back to the corner and sit a minute, just to see if your mama’s coming. Then, if we don’t see her, you come home with me, and we’ll have some more good food to eat. Would you like to do that?”

David thought, his brown eyes dark with the intensity of his concentration as he tried to decide what to do. Finally he nodded. “Okay,” he said, “but just for a little while, and then I gotta go back to the corner.”

“Good enough,” Papa said and rose from the table. They donned their coats and caps once more and made their way back out into the cold and down to the church. A couple of hours work put everything into good shape for the evening festivities. Papa had planned on him and Mama coming to the Christmas program, but he wasn’t sure now just what they would do.

He took David back to the corner, and they sat together for another thirty minutes, while Papa tried to listen to the Lord for instructions. Finally, he looked at David. “Well, now, let’s go home and have supper with Mama,” he said and then chuckled. “That’s what I call my wife, you see. Ever since we had our little boys, I’ve called her Mama, and she’s called me Papa.” For the first time David smiled just slightly, and Papa’s heart was lighter instantly.

“Well, as I was saying, let’s go home and eat some supper with Mama and then we can come to the Christmas program at the church and stop on this corner afterwards, just in case your mama comes along then.”

This time David decided more quickly and got up, reaching out to take Papa’s hand as he did so.

When they arrived home and entered the kitchen, Papa called out. “Mama, I’ve brought a friend home with me. Come and see.”

Mama came scurrying into the kitchen and stopped short as soon as she saw the boy. Her hand flew to her heart as she took in the situation without being told. She had known inside somehow that this little boy had been abandoned on that bench. She just hadn’t been able to shake that feeling, and now as she looked down into his dark, frightened eyes, she knew with certainty that what she’d felt was true. She hurried forward and reached out to shake his hand.

“Why, hello, young man! I’m so glad you’ve come home with Papa.”

“This is David … David McKenzie,” Papa said, “and I invited him to eat with us and then go to see the Christmas program. I even told him we could give him a warm bed to sleep in after the program if his mama hadn’t come back for him yet.”

Mama gave her husband a knowing look and then spoke to David, “We like having boys stay at our house,” she added, looking up at Papa to gauge his response to her use of the word ‘stay.’ He nodded his head in agreement and began helping the boy remove his coat and cap.

“We had a bowl of soup in town, Mama, but we could sure use something else hot,” he told his wife.

“Well, you show David where the bathroom is so he can use the bathroom and wash his hands and face in some warm water, and I’ll see what all I can find.”

After their mid-afternoon snack, Mama tucked David into the bed that her youngest son had used, and the boy had drifted into a deep sleep almost before she left the room. Then she went to an old chest that she kept in the hallway, and digging deep inside, she extracted two sets of clothing just about David’s size. For a moment her eyes clouded with tears, and she held the garments to her chest. But then she braced her shoulders and whispered, “Thank you, Lord, for having me save these garments all these years. You knew that little boy was going to need them.”

After his nap, a warm bath and clean clothes made David feel so much better that he couldn’t keep a smile from sneaking through when he re-entered the kitchen for another snack before they took off for the Christmas program. And during the program, David’s eyes were glued to every single action on the stage. The lights and music fascinated him, and he listened to the words, taking in the story of Jesus’ birth as if he had never heard it before.

At the end of the program, all the children received bags full of treats to help celebrate the Lord’s birthday, and as Papa and Mama led David out of the church, they turned once more toward the corner where he had spent three lonely, fearful days. “We’ll just sit here a short minute, David, and make sure your Mama isn’t right around here looking for you,” Papa said, and sat down, putting one arm around Mama and the other around David. But after about ten minutes, Papa shifted his position so that he could look right into David’s eyes. Mama looked over Papa’s shoulder, her face registering her pain for the boy’s situation.

“David,” Papa said, clearing his throat a little. “I know you want to believe your mama is coming back here to get you. But you see, son, I believe she was having some big problems and didn’t want you to have to go through them too. I believe she probably knew she couldn’t find another place to live with you, and that’s why she didn’t pack any of your clothes. She packed only her own, because she intended to have you sit here until someone came along who could help you and give you a good place to live. A place like she couldn’t give you.” Papa could see the tears glistening in David’s eyes just before the boy turned his head to look up the street as far as he could see, and then turned to look in the other direction one more time.

“Now, we could let you stay here, of course,” Papa continued. “But Mama and I …” he turned slightly to see his wife’s face, and she smiled at him through her own tears and nodded, so Papa continued. “Mama and I would like to have you come and stay with us as long as you’d want to.” He stopped and waited.

David looked at him and then at Mama. “Please come home with us, David,” Mama said in almost a whisper. “We’ll love you just like we did our own little boys years ago.”

“You can decide, David,” Papa said. “But we need to decide right now, because I don’t want to keep Mama out in this cold any longer. So what do you say?”

Once more David looked up and down the street, and then back at Papa. Suddenly he put his hands to his face and whisked away the tears that tracked down his cheeks. Papa could see decision in his eyes, and he knew the moment the boy faced the truth that his mother was not ever coming back to him. He heard Mama whisper just behind him, “Please help him, Jesus.”

David stood to his feet. “Okay,” he said.

Mama gave a glad cry and jumped up to gather the boy into her arms. Papa forced the tears filling his eyes to stay where they were, and he reached out to rest a hand on David’s shoulder. “You made the decision your Mama would have wanted you to make, Son,” he said. Then he stood up, putting an arm around each of them again. “Now,” he said with authority, “let’s go home and celebrate Christmas!”

Which is exactly what they did. And before David went to sleep, Mama and Papa told him more about the Jesus he’d learned about in the Christmas play. They told him how Jesus took all of people’s sins so that they could become good in God’s sight. They told him about the Father who loved little boys and welcomed them into His own family, and how they’d never have to be alone, no matter what, if they would allow the Father and Jesus to come and live in their hearts. So David made another right decision that night and offered Jesus a home in his own heart.

Just as they were getting into their own bed, Mama said, “Oh, my goodness Papa! We forgot about listening to the Lord about our $700.00!” But Papa reached out to take her hand in his. “Not to worry, Mama. I believe the Lord has shown us where to use the money this year, don’t you?” he asked, nodding toward the bedroom next door to theirs where David slept peacefully.

“Oh, of course!” she said, and giggled as he hadn’t heard her do since their own boys had been toddlers. “Clothes and books and toys and schooling, and so many other things. Isn’t it exciting, Papa? The Lord has trusted us with another little boy to raise for Him!”

So they did. And the days and weeks passed. Mama and Papa simply told friends and acquaintances that David was a friend of the family whose mother had become seriously ill and needed him to stay with the Larsons until she was well. In their own hearts and minds, they believed she would have had to be spiritually and emotionally sick to make the choices she’d made.

Friends were glad to see how much the elderly couple enjoyed giving the boy a safe, loving home, and they approved when Papa and Mama asked a young mother who home-schooled her own three children to add David to her classes. Papa used the $700.00 to help pay for the schooling expenses.

And the months rolled along, into the next year, and on to the next Christmas. That next Christmas Eve, Papa announced after their lunch, “It’s time for us to take a drive.”

So all three of them settled into the car, warm and cozy and ready for some kind of adventure. But as they neared their destination and David saw where they were going, he began to feel a tightness in his throat. His stomach began to ache, and tears burned his eyes.

Sure enough, Papa pulled the car into a parking place right beside the corner where they had first seen David sitting on a bench. And the bench was still there. “Let’s get out,” Papa said. He walked around the car and opened Mama’s door and then the back door for David.

“No … please!” David said, panic in his voice. “I’m sorry! Whatever I did that was wrong, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again! Please don’t leave me here again!” And then the tears that had started coursing down his cheeks became a flood of sobbing. “Please don’t make me stay here. I’ll be good. I promise!”

Papa and Mama were stunned. Mama sat down in the back seat, grabbed the boy, and held him close, “Shhh,” she said. “What’s wrong, dear?”

Papa knelt down in front of the door, reached in, and took David’s hand. “David … David … we’re not going to leave you here! Is that what you thought?”

David nodded his head, sniffing back tears as well as he could and leaning hard into Mama’s shoulder.

“Oh, no, no, no!” Mama said.

“No indeed, David,” Papa added. “We’d never give you up. Not ever! I’ve just brought us all back here so that we could remember how the Lord first brought us together. And I thought it would be good for us to sit here a minute and pray and thank Him for making us a family.”

“Would you like for us to do that, David?” Mama asked.

Sniffing again and trying to get the last of his crying under control, David looked at one and then the other with wide, surprised eyes. “You’re not going to leave me here?”

“Never, Son!” Papa said. “You’re part of our family for as long as you want to be. Just like you’re part of God’s family forever!”

So they got out of the car and sat on the bench together, hand in hand. They prayed and thanked the Lord that Christmas Eve for His love and mercies in their lives. Then the months rolled by again, and the next Christmas Eve found them at the same bench, praying the same prayer. They made the same journey the next Christmas Eve … and the next … and the next ….

~~~~~~~~~~

“Pastor McKenzie?” The voice seemed to come from far away. “Pastor McKenzie?” It came again more insistently. David shook himself slightly, realizing that his thoughts had been so concentrated on the testimony he’d been giving that he’d almost forgotten he was on an international Christian television program.

“I’m sorry,” he said, smiling apologetically now. “I was so caught up in remembering.”

“Do you still go back to that same spot every Christmas Eve?” the interviewer asked, her own voice husky with her response to his emotions.

“Yes,” he said, discreetly wiping the dampness from beneath his eyes with two fingers. Releasing a quiet sigh, David McKenzie leaned back in his chair and continued. “Yes, I still go back every year, and … and that’s also why I make sure that I drive one of the buses throughout those neighborhoods every Christmas Eve and pick up all the kids I can personally and take them to our church service.”

“Not many pastors of such a huge inner-city church would drive the bus themselves. It must be a heavy load of work, considering the fact that you have the Sunday School classes for several thousand children every week, plus all of the extra Christmas season services where you serve meals and hand out clothes and gifts to the thousands in need in the city.

“And you’ve begun similar work with children in similar situations in other nations, is that correct?”

“Yes. There are so many hurting children, and we touch only a fraction of them,” he answered.

“I’m sure after almost three decades of serving the Lord, you’ve had opportunities to move into many other areas of ministry. You’re a powerful preacher in your own right, and I’m sure you have connections that would open any number of doors to you. Have you ever thought about doing anything else besides reaching the hurting children in inner cities?”

He paused a long minute before answering. “I can’t do anything else,” he said, looking almost surprised that she had asked the question. “I can’t do anything else!”

“So … you would never consider turning your attention to any other kind of evangelism? Something on a larger scale that would bring you more into the public eye?”

David McKenzie smiled. It was a knowing smile. A smile that spoke of contentment and peace. And he looked directly into the eyes of the young woman asking the question. “No,” he said quietly, shaking his head gently. “No, I’d never considered that alternative even for one minute.”

“That’s interesting. May I ask why?”

“Because it’s only on the streets of New York, and countless cities like it, driving the bus through those ugly neighborhoods of ragged, hungry, frightened, hopeless kids to take them to Jesus … it’s only there that I can rescue the person I’m looking for.”

The interviewer’s eyes grew wide as she asked, “And who is that, Pastor McKenzie?”

“Myself,” he said, smiling at her as another trickle of tears made its way down his weathered cheeks. “Every time I pick up one of those hopeless kids … I’m really picking up myself.”

~ THE END ~

May you have a Christmas season filled with opportunities
to show the love of God to others.


 

The Wait Is Over

 

Yes, it’s official. Book # 5 of the Smoky Mountain Series of inspirational novels is on the market. THIS FIRE IN MY HEART, which continues the story of many of the original characters from the earlier books while introducing us to new ones as well, is finally ready for readers.

Many of my readers who have followed my website for a few years know that when I lost my best friend (who had also been my best book editor) a little over three years ago, the grief and the loss were such that I was not able to return to any of the novels I had been working on, or to start any new works. I was able to write poetry during those years, which provided a healing process for me, but after writing and publishing 11 novels, I was suddenly at a complete standstill when it came to fiction writing. It was a terribly unhappy time for me, not only because of my personal loss, but because of the creative loss as well.

Many of you prayed for me, and the Lord did a wonderful work, particularly during the past year.  Earlier this year, I was able to pick up the second novella in another series that had been about half done when my friend and editor died. And I was able to finish that short work and get it into the marketplace. But taking up the task of writing a completely new novel again — and one that fit into the series which has been the most popular of my works — was still quite daunting.

But during the past few months, I’ve experienced a fresh flow of creativity, and I am thrilled with the results. Not only did I write book 5 and get it into publication, but book 6 began to push its way into my psyche so strongly that it almost interrupted my completing book 5 just because I had to keep stopping to write down notes for book 6 that I didn’t want to forget. It’s a very happy problem for an author to have.  🙂

Anyway, folks, that’s a long way of saying that I’m celebrating. So I’ve launched both the E-Book and the Paperback versions of THIS FIRE IN MY HEART  at special sale prices through the end of the month.

E-Book — $0.99

Paperback — $6.99

I’ll include a brief description of the story below, and if you’re interested in your own copy, you can find the book HERE.


What’s it about????

He was Cherokee, she Scottish-American. But the moment they met in the airport coffee shop, they were connected. Waiting out the fog, they talked like old friends. When her plane was called, he carried her bag to her boarding gate.

With disappointment in her voice, she said, “Wow, Chicago and Dallas – talk about two people going in opposite directions.”

Light flared in his eyes as he realized she didn’t want their connection to end any more than he did. Her pull on him was so strong that he reached out, thinking to touch her cheek, but caught himself just in time. Such an intimate touch with someone he hardly knew wasn’t like him, He quickly bent and picked up her bag and handed it to her, smiling.

“Opposite directions today,” he said, “but not always, I think. I will see you again, Joy.”

How do you know when you’ve met the right person to spend the rest of your life with? For a Christian believer, the Lord has guidelines. Even so, Joy McDaniels struggles with her heart and mind in conflict. But determined to focus on God’s Word and His way of doing things, she finally allows her heart to take the lead.


Hog Wild Book Sale

THREE PIGS WITH SALE SIGN
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ALL of my KINDLE E-BOOKS are just $0.99.

For 10 days — today through July 31 at midnight, central daylight time.

All 18 of my E-books are on a hog wild sale for that time. And if you don’t have a Kindle reader, Amazon has a free Kindle app for any of your devices. Just download it when you order any of the books.

Check out the huge variety by visiting my author’s page at this link:


Encouraging Love Story — On Sale for Valentine’s Month

JONAH'S SONG AMAZON COVER - FRONTDon’t forget about the big sale on JONAH’S SONG.

This 4th book in The Smoky Mountain Series is a beautiful, memorable love story. Although it’s book # 4 in the series, it also stands alone as a complete and inspiring story. In fact, all the novels in this series are equally capable of standing alone without the other stories.

Special prices through Valentine’s Day!

E-Book —- $1.99

Paperback — $7.99

To read some excerpts from the story, you can visit this post.

Find the book in both formats on Amazon.



 

You’ll Never Look at Halloween the Same Way Again


DIGITAL VERSION ON SALE THROUGH THE END OF OCTOBER:  $1.99

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RACING FINAL AMAZON COVER - front

RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT

What’s it about?
When a small coastal town is invaded by witchcraft that threatens the lives of the school children and the future of the entire community, the citizens must learn to fight back with a Higher Power. Follow the story as God’s human vessels take their authority in the name of Jesus while the angelic hosts route the demonic forces on the spiritual plane in response to believers enforcing the Word of God. Read it, and you’ll never look at Halloween the same way again.
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Click the link at the top to find out more about the story and purchase your copy.
∞  ∞  ∞  ∞  ∞



Free E-Book — today through September 9

SET FREE - AMAZON FRONT COVER

Do you prefer reading books digitally? Well, then this offer is for you. SET FREE TO LOVE, which is Book # 1 in The Smoky Mountain Series, is available for the next four days absolutely free in digital format.

The book normally sells for $3.99, but since Amazon and I are focusing on The Smoky Mountain Series promotions this month, we’re offering the first book free — for the next 4 days only.

Also, if you don’t own a Kindle device, you can download a free Kindle app for any device that you use. You’ll find the download on the same page where you order the book.

If you enjoy inspirational fiction, I hope you’ll check out Private Detective Maddison Holt’s story in SET FREE TO LOVE. Click on the title to link to the product page for a description and to make your purchase.


 

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Inspirational Romance Goes To School

When there’s no textbook on love, romance can be a little tricky. But God, who’s the original Author of romance, has all the answers in His own book. And Professor Ephraim Kent is about to get an education with a higher degree than he’s ever earned before.
Purchase your own copy in paperback or digital:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1980587361

 

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Audio Short Stories — My Newest Project

Do you enjoy just sitting back and listening to stories? Then you’ll enjoy my newest project: Audio Short Stories. You’ll find the first story on YouTube now. I’ll make it really easy for you and insert it right here, but if you like it, hop over to the YouTube site so you can click the “thumbs up” symbol and subscribe to my channel so you’ll know when I post the next story in the project.

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