© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner
The following day was Mariah’s Saturday off, so Neil had time to mull over the things he and his dad had talked about before he saw her again. The work load was fairly light, and even while he worked, he replayed in his mind the conversation with Mariah and the one with his dad. There was no escaping his guilt and remorse concerning the first conversation, and there was no denying that his dad’s words in the second one made complete sense – now that Neil was in slightly less emotional turmoil. But what to do about it was the question of the day – or maybe – more realistically – the big question of his life.
By mid-afternoon, he had decided that he owed it to Mariah to apologize for his insinuations and his generally unChristian attitude over the past few weeks. But he knew in his heart that if he faced her with those feelings, he would also need to be ready to tell her the truth about the rest of what he felt. He couldn’t keep living with this merry-go-round of emotions, and now that he had blurted out the truth – a truth his own heart had kept hidden until last night – he should tell her the truth as well: he was in love with Mariah Jacoby, and he wanted her in his life from now on.
He got his last customer off for the day, and went to the phone. He realized that he had left the decision a little late. She was probably preparing to go out with Sanford. But if he just surmised that scenario and didn’t bother to find out for sure, he’d just prolong his own agony. She answered on the second ring.
“Mariah, it’s Neil.”
He heard her sigh. “Neil, I’d rather not talk right now.”
He hastened to butt in before she could hang up. “I know, Mariah, and you have every right to feel that way. I owe you a huge apology, and … well … the real reason I called was to see if you were going to be home a while this evening, and if you’d let me come and apologize in person.”
There was silence on the other end of the line. Neil held his breath. Finally, Mariah sighed again and answered. “Neil, I accept your apology. You don’t have to come over here in person.”
She didn’t even want to see his face! This really was bad. He probably had lost her forever, but his dad’s words still rang in his ears: “Go ahead, Son. Stick our neck out. You know she’s worth it.”
He cleared his throat and tried again. “Well, the truth is that I’d like to do more than just apologize. I’d also like to tell you something about what’s going on in my own heart. If you’ll just hear me out; then if you don’t want to talk to me anymore I’ll respect that.”
He could hear hardness in her voice when she answered. “Is it more about Carter Sanford?”
“No!” He wanted to make that crystal clear. “No, Mariah, I don’t have anything else to say to you about Carter. I was way out of line yesterday, and I won’t ever bring up that subject again.” He paused for quite a while, but Mariah stayed quiet, and – more importantly – stayed on the line.
“I want to talk to you about you, Mariah – and about how much you mean to me.”
He heard her utter a small gasp of surprise. “I … I’m not sure I understand.”
Neil was getting frustrated. “Mariah, all of it is hard to explain over the phone. Will you please let me come and see you for a while this evening – that is – if you aren’t already going out?”
She took another moment to answer. “No … I’m not going any place important tonight – just the grocery store, but it can wait. Come over if you feel you really need to.”
The truth was that Mariah was feeling so defeated by all of the emotional upheaval of the past week that she felt resigned to whatever happened now. “When do you want to come?”
“Give me an hour to get home and shower and get over there.”
“Fine,” she said, and waited another moment. “I’ll see you then.”
“Thank you, Mariah. I’ll be with you shortly.”
After hanging up the phone, Mariah took a look at what she was wearing. An old pair of jeans and a tee shirt that said, “I’ve got a good arm, a ball, and an attitude. Don’t mess with me.” She had to laugh at the thought of wearing it when facing Neil tonight. She knew she looked a little sloppy, though, and one part of her wanted to change into something pretty. But the other part – the part that was tired of trying to be the “right” woman for the “right” man to love – just felt too exhausted to care.
She opted for leaving on the outfit and using the time she had to straighten up the apartment a little. She’d never been the most organized housekeeper. Her home was never dirty, but it definitely wasn’t the neat, well-organized home her mother kept.
She then decided she could force herself to be hospitable enough to put on a pot of coffee and open a package of cookies. Holding a coffee cup would at least give her something to do with her hands while they talked, and drinking the warm liquid might help her stay calm.
Her clock said fifty-five minutes since the phone call when her doorbell rang. Neil stood there in a dark blue polo shirt and jeans, his hair still damp around the edges. It made her smile to think he really had been in a hurry to get over here. “Come in,” she said and motioned him toward the living room. “Sit down anywhere. I made coffee. Would you like some.”
“That would be great,” he said, as he walked to a chair arranged beside the sofa and sat down.
“I’ll be right back with it,” she said, already turning toward the kitchen. Five minutes later, she returned with a tray bearing two steaming mugs, cream and sugar, and the plate of cookies. Sitting it down on the table next to the chair, she took a seat on the close end of the sofa.
“Mmmm, the coffee smells good,” Neil said and reached for a cup. Mariah took hers as well and curled her feet up onto the cushion. She sipped the hot liquid and looked at Neil. He cleared his throat.
“I like the apartment,” he said, smiling. “The colors of cheerful.”
“Thank you. I agree. I like a lot of color in a home.” She knew she should probably say something that would break the ice and help him get started with what he needed to say, but she just didn’t seem to be able to do it.
Finally, he cleared his throat again and sat his cup back onto the tray. He looked right at her. “Mariah, first of all I sincerely want to apologize for what I said to you last night. I was completely out of line, and I’ve been out of line ever since you started dating Carter Sanford.”
“When did you decide all of this?”
“Well … to be totally honest, I knew when the words were coming out of my mouth last night that I didn’t have any right to say them – and actually I knew that I didn’t really mean them the way I said them.”
She just looked at him a moment and then asked. “Then … why did you say them?”
Neil cleared his throat again. He’d never felt a need to work at keeping his throat clear and his voice strong before, but this whole experience was a first for him, so ….
He finally answered. “Well, the answer to that question is actually the other thing I wanted to talk to you about. And I’m going to ask that you hear me out, and then when I’m done, if you don’t want to talk to me anymore – or even work for me anymore – I’ll understand. But, I’m hoping, of course, that you won’t feel that way.”
Mariah’s curiosity was aroused enough by this time that she did help him. “Say anything you feel you need to say, Neil, and I promise not to interrupt. I’ll let you finish.”
He nodded his head in acknowledgment and scooted forward in his chair to be closer to her. “Mariah, I said all of those things because I was jealous.” He searched her eyes to see if she was shocked, but he couldn’t tell. He knew she was surprised he’d said it, but that was all. “I knew I had antagonistic feelings toward Sanford, but I wouldn’t consciously admit it to myself – or the reason for it. I tried to convince myself that my feelings were because we had become great friends, and I was just looking out for your welfare, but that isn’t the truth.” At that, her eyes did get wide, and her eyebrows went up.
He unconsciously reached out a hand and laid it on hers as it rested on the arm of the sofa. “Oh, I was trying to look out for you, but not just because we were friends. I realized last night – after it was too late – that what I really feel for you goes much deeper than friendship.” He squeezed her hand. His eyes were so intense that Mariah couldn’t have looked away if she’d wanted to, but, of course, she didn’t want to. Neil continued.
“Mariah, I … I’m in love with you, and … and I’ve never said that to another woman in my life.”
Mariah’s gasp was audible, and a light flickered to life in her own eyes. Neil took hope from that tiny light and continued. “I don’t know for sure what you feel for me, but I’d like to ask you to give me a chance to show you how much I love you and how valuable you are to me – not as an employee – but as a woman – as the woman I want in my life from now on.”
As he spoke the words, Neil slipped from the chair to his knees in front of Mariah, who sat there with her mouth open and the light in her eyes even brighter. He gently took the cup from her other hand, sat it down, and then took both hands in his. She didn’t resist, but finally spoke, “Neil … I … I don’t understand. You’ve never said anything before.”
“I know. I’ve been too dense to realize myself what I was feeling – that is until last night. But I also realize that you may have strong feelings for someone else, and I don’t have any right to make you feel pressured by what I’m saying. I’m trying not to pressure you. I hope you know that. But I just had to at least tell you the truth.”
“Oh, Neil!” was all she said, but she lifted her hands and placed them gently on either side of his face.
“You’re not angry that I’ve said all this?”
She smiled widely. “My darling Neil, since when does a woman become angry because a man declares his love for her – especially when he does it so beautifully?”
Neil let out the breath he’d been holding and smiled for the first time since he’d started his explanation. He reached both hands up and laid them over hers. He then took each one and pressed the palm to his lips. “I love you, Mariah. I think I’ve loved you almost from the first day. You’ve been like my second self from the first week we worked together.
“I’ve never felt so comfortable with any other woman that I can remember, yet I’ve never felt to challenged to be the best man I could be. It made my day complete every time you were pleased with what I said and what I did, or how I ran my business or lived my life. I came to work every day with a new kind of expectation of vitality and beauty somehow – all because you were there. Oh, I couldn’t have put it into those words a week ago. But I finally recognize it for what it is.”
He paused and kissed the palms of her hands again. “Oh, Neil,” was still all she could say.
“And if you already have deep feelings for Carter Sanford, then I will accept that fact and not bring up my own feelings again. But I had to at least tell you the whole truth – at least once. You deserve that.”
Mariah chuckled softly and shook her head. He squeezed her hands in his. “I don’t even care if you laugh at me, Honey. I feel so much better knowing I’ve told you what’s in my heart.”
At those words, Mariah slipped from the sofa to her knees as well, facing Neil, and without thinking, she put her arms around his neck. “No, Darling. I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing at myself – and maybe at the idea that I could have deep feelings for Carter Sanford.”
“What?” Neil’s confusion was obvious. “Do you mean you don’t ….” His voice trailed off because it was just too much to hope for.
Mariah inched closer to him and shook her head. “No … I do not have deep feelings for Carter. I don’t really want to talk about him right now, but you can rest assured that what I do feel for him is not positive enough to cause you any jealously.”
“But you said last night that you wanted his attention — ”
Mariah slipped one hand over his lips to stop his words. “What I said last night was born out of the same thing that brought forth most of your words. I was reacting to feelings that I hadn’t recognized or learned to deal with yet. I had been hurt by Carter, and then I was being hurt by you. But the hurt caused by you was so much more painful and damaging —”
“Oh, Sweetheart!” Neil interrupted her and wrapped his arms around her completely, holding her against him. “I’m so sorry! … so sorry!”
Mariah pulled back enough to look at his face. “No … it’s all right now. What I was going to say is that what you did hurt me more than what Carter did because I don’t love Carter, but I do love you.”
He lifted his hand to caress one side of her face, “You … you do love me?” Mariah nodded her head. “You’re sure?” She nodded again.
“Very sure!” she said.
“And all this time … we’ve wasted …. when we could have been ….” He just couldn’t seem to find the words, so he finally gave up and pulled her even closer, taking possession of her lips in a kiss that conveyed the message much more clearly than any words could have done anyway. And Mariah’s response was equally as satisfying. So satisfying, in fact, that it was several moments before either of them took a breath or thought reasonably about anything at all.
As their lips finally parted, Neil wrapped her even tighter to him, and she buried her head against his neck, but several seconds later, Neil spoke. “Mariah, I think we’d be more comfortable if we got up from the floor, don’t you?”
Mariah laughed out loud. For the first time she realized that her own knees hurt from being on the floor in that embrace for so long. “Of course, Honey. Come on,” she said and began to get up. Neil did the same, but as they stood facing each other, he couldn’t resist kissing her again. Mariah was very willing, and, once more, it was quite a while before they had breath to speak. When they did, Mariah settled her arms more comfortably around Neil’s neck and grinned at him. “So, Boss, would you say that everything’s Jake again?”
Neil tightened his hold on her and looked at her solemnly, shaking his head in the negative. “No, Sweetheart. You have that backwards.”
Her eyes clouded. “What?”
“You asked me if everything’s Jake again. But you have it backwards … because from now on … in my world … everything isn’t Jake. In my world, Jake is everything!”
Thank you so much for reading. I’ll leave the story on this site for one more week, in case a few people haven’t had time to get to the end yet. But after next Saturday, I’ll remove it. You can find the book, as well as most of my other inspirational fiction, on Amazon at this link.
Or visit my Amazon Author’s page for more information.
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner
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.”
“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.
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.
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner
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.
Believe it or not, I totally forgot to tell you that my second adult coloring book, COLOR ME CONTENT, is now available!
I’m one of these people who loves to color to relax, and I just can’t seem to do that with coloring books that have pictures with thousands of intricate, convoluted lines and configurations. They are just too intense for me. So I’m putting out books that have my own artwork in them. Most of them are ordinary landscapes or floral pictures, and a few are more geometric, but simple. If you follow this website, you’ve seen most of these pictures as I posted them one at a time right after creating them.
This book is 6 x 9 in size, paperback, and easy to carry around and manipulate. There are 20 individual pictures and then there are 3 pictures repeated in the back of the book, so that colorists can stretch themselves a little farther and try doing those pictures a second time with a different color palette or medium.
The paper does very well with colored pencils and crayons, and should do well with pastels. However, some markers do bleed through, so you’ll want to test markers before using them. If you enjoy coloring, you can check it out and get your own copy HERE:
I like stripes.
They give variety, but keep stability.
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:
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?”
“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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Most of my friends know that I have a great love for lighthouses, and several years ago, two of my best friends, Roy and Donna Manasco, came across a small print of a painting by Steven Sundram, “Sureal Moments,” which focused on a lighthouse standing as sentry over a vast expanse of beach during a storm, and a beautiful solid white horse approaching the lighthouse. They bought the print for me and presented it to me as a gift on a Sunday morning at church. I was delighted with the scene immediately, and after arriving home with it, I sat and looked at it for some time before setting it aside to concentrate on my work. I was in the middle of writing two novels at the time, and they needed all my attention. So I had intended to work on one of them most of the rest of the day.
However, I placed Steve Sundram’s picture against the music rack of my keyboard, and sat down on the sofa across from it to eat some lunch. As I ate, I kept looking at the picture, and it literally drew me into it until my imagination began to build to the point that I felt I knew the place personally. Words began flowing through me, as if I were describing it in detail for someone else. I felt that I knew the people who lived there, who walked that beach and shared their lives on it. (Although they are not visible in the painting, they are there.) I even felt as if I knew the horse. I knew his name was Moondancer.
But I also recognized what was happening inside me: I was on the verge of birthing a brand new novel based on that picture. Now, at that time, I had already written six inspirational novels, three of which had been published and were currently on the market. However, every novel I had written previously had been born out of a specific story in my own mind — based on a particular character, problem, or theme. I had never written a novel that focused on a setting of any kind, and even my five-book series The Smoky Mountain Series, keeps the focus on the setting at a minimum.
So starting a book based solely on a physical setting was completely out of character for me. Furthermore, I scolded myself for even thinking about starting a new novel when the current books were still not finished. Immediately, I jumped up, walked over to the picture, turned it around backwards so that I could not see it anymore, and tried to finish my lunch.
But by the time I had finished eating, the descriptive passages flowing through my mind had grown into paragraphs. I fought off the temptation to sit down to the computer and pull up a blank page. I told myself that I absolutely had to finish the other work, one part of which was facing a specific deadline. But those words kept pressing through me. I managed to leave the room and do something else for several minutes, but before I knew it, I was back in the living room, turning the picture back around and looking at it again. I put it down and picked it up multiple times.
Eventually I began to get a handle on the main character — a man who had suffered serious emotional trauma and needed healing. A man who had made his way to this ocean, this beach, this place – in order to find peace and quiet, time and solitude, a touch of eternity — so that he could heal. At that point I didn’t know what he had suffered or what he was running from. Nor did I have any insight into what form and process his healing would take. I just knew that the story would be his story; he would be living there temporarily, and that the other people who lived there were going to have a significant part to play in his healing.
I fought the temptation and the draw of that painting until 3:00 in the afternoon, at which time, I sat down at my computer, pulled up a blank page, and began writing the novel Racing Toward the Light. Of course, it didn’t have the title at that point. But I wrote everything I saw and felt in that painting, and I didn’t stop writing until I had the lighthouse inhabited and the main character named Noah Bennet. I still didn’t know what his terrible past was or what would happen to him in the story, but I was determined to find out. And I can say, without any reservation, that I virtually lived in that painting for the entire three months it took to write the story.
Over the next two weeks, I realized two things: this story would take the bold step of dealing with the subject of the supernatural, which had been experiencing a resurgence in literature and movies at the time. Several conversations that I had with other people concerning the surge of interest in supernatural subjects, especially witchcraft and its effects, led me to realize that I had the rest of the story in that subject matter.
I’ve learned that when an author lets a story begin to tell itself on paper, he finds that it has within itself much more than he ever thought about when he wrote the first word. This story, conceived out of a picture of an unnamed place, built itself into a masterpiece that takes an intimate look into the world of the supernatural while, at the same time, allowing readers to follow the earthly characters as their lives relate to and are impacted by the supernatural realm. The story of spiritual warfare in both realms is sure to inspire and encourage faith in the readers.
Racing Toward The Light also gradually eased its way into a powerful love story. That’s the second thing I realized: that in every book, whether the author planned it or not, there is a love story just waiting to be told.
But now, to the second leg of this author adventure: When the book was finished, I wanted, with all my heart to be able to use Steven Sundram’s painting for the cover. I contacted him to find out what terms he could offer for the use of his work, and I must say that he offered me a very generous proposal. That fact, in itself, was a blessing. Nevertheless, I did not feel that I could afford to accept. I knew that even if I got my hands on that amount of money, I would feel obligated to apply it to a number of other necessities. In fact, even before I contacted Steve Sundram, I had worked diligently to try to create a “second-best” cover, using a friend’s picture of another lighthouse. It was not very satisfying, of course, but I knew it would serve the purpose if necessary.
However, unknown to me, a very dear friend, who had read and been intrigued by Racing Toward The Light — and who had done a thorough job of editing it for me — had been meditating on the fact that this painting had been so powerful that it had ignited the spark that became this bold and brave story. He felt in his heart that it was wrong for the book to use a “second-best” cover. His words were, “It would be an injustice for this book to have any cover other than the painting that inspired it in the first place — the painting you lived in all the time you wrote the story.”
He insisted that I stay in touch with Steve Sundram and not refuse his offer. I couldn’t figure out why he was so adamant that I continue to plan on using the picture that inspired the book, and I felt a little uneasy about continuing to communicate with the artist, knowing I did not actually have the money in my hands.
Then one day, about two weeks after I had begun to confer with Steve Sundram concerning the use of his painting, this friend, who insists on remaining anonymous, simply handed me the money necessary to purchase the rights to use the painting. Now this individual does not consider himself a Christian, but he was so touched by this Christian-themed novel that he wanted to be a part of sharing it with others.
Because most of the novels I write focus on truths from God’s Word as they apply to our every-day lives, I do believe that the Lord inspires most of what I write. And He has had to work out some problems along the way with the writing, publishing, and marketing of several of those novels. But Racing Toward The Light seems to me to be the recipient of an extra amount of the Lord’s intervention. I consider the original gift of a painting that captured my heart so completely — and the outright gift of all the finances necessary to purchase rights to the painting for the cover — to be proof that the Lord has taken a hand in bringing this book to the reading world. The book was first published in paperback in 2009, and it has been available on Amazon in paperback and digital for the past four years.
Writing Racing Toward The Light was truly one of my greatest adventures as an author, and, personally, I believe it offers an adventure and a great blessing for everyone who reads it.
I’m offering the E-Book version of Racing Toward The Light at a special discount price of $0.99 for the rest of the month of October. The price is good from now until midnight October 31, 2020 (U. S. Central Standard Time). If you don’t own a Kindle, Amazon offers a free Kindle app for any device when you order the book.
You can find your copy HERE and start your own adventure with Racing Toward The Light.
People often ask me where I get ideas for my novels, and they also like to know the “behind-the-scenes” details of the actual writing. So periodically I share some of those details — especially the ones that I found personally enjoyable or that helped me grow as a writer. The writing of Quenton’s Honor taught me much about dedication and commitment to a project — the kind of commitment that refuses to throw in the towel because tracking down those miniscule details takes multiple phone conversations, some with foreign speaking individuals, and hours poring over dusty facts and figures and then double-checking to see if any of them have changed since I started the research. But it also taught me that even the drudgery work has its own rewards in the positive results of self-discipline.
Quenton’s Honor was actually my third novel, but it was the first of all my novels to be published, with the first printing coming out in 2008. It was marketed by its original publisher for several years, but now it is currently available on Amazon as well. The basic story had been hanging around in my mind and my heart for months before it took enough shape to send me to the keyboard to write the first words. Once I was started, however, there was no stopping. I had to do a considerable amount of research where Pakistan was concerned, and I had to keep reminding myself that I was dealing with a huge time difference between St. Louis Missouri, and Karachi, Pakistan. That time difference didn’t cause me nearly as much trouble, though, as the loss of 12 whole days when I decided — after finishing the novel — to substitute Chapter 3 for Chapter 1.
As often happens in writing a work this long, once it’s done, the author can look back and see new possibilities for the beginning chapter — scenes that will better help grab the reader and get him involved with the story immediately. I realized that Quenton’s Honor would be a better story if I took Chapter 3 and gave it to the readers first. It was a beautiful trade, and I was very happy with it, except for the fact that I had lost 12 days of action. Not to be thwarted, however, I managed to squeeze in a little flashback to grab those 12 days. Of course, I’ll admit it took me 3 days to figure out how to make it all work. But in the end, all was well.
Another editing change came when I turned it over to a friend who reads all my novels critically. I like to have him read my works before anyone else, if possible, because he is very particular about the quality of books he reads and is eager and quick to speak up if a book is lacking in any area. When he read Quenton’s Honor, he loved the book overall and was genuinely touched by several parts, but he was not at all happy with one scene where Quenton’s life is about to be snuffed out by his terrorist guards, and the men sent to rescue him have not arrived. My friend insisted the scene needed more energy and physical action.
Now, this friend is a very shy, introverted, quiet-spoken person, and definitely not the physical confrontation type. However, when I asked him for his ideas about changes to that particular scene, he got up from his desk and began to act out all the parts of the physical confrontation for the scene. I sat and watched him with my mouth open. Here was an entirely different person from the one I’d known several years. He was so energized as he acted out all the parts that he made a believer out of me, and I went home and re-wrote that scene exactly the way he had acted it out. Of course, I acknowledged him gratefully in the front of the book.
Making those changes before publication seems to have been the right decision. The feedback from the book has been very positive — more positive, I think, than it would have been if I hadn’t gone beyond just writing a good story. The fact that I grabbled with the troublesome places until I got them “right” has made all the difference in my opinion. Any of the rest of you who read the book are welcome to let me know what you think as well. To say that writing Quenton’s Honor was an adventure is a bit of an understatement. I think the extent that I grew as an author during its creation makes it more of a major life event for me. I love that I was able to write the story and share it, and I love that I learned so much that helped me hone my craft more effectively for the sake of all the books that came afterwards.
If any of you readers would like to check out Quenton’s Honor for yourselves, you can find it here.
There’s a quote floating around out there among writers and readers that says, “Every book you’ve ever read is just a different combination of 26 letters.” I don’t know where it came from originally. I’ve searched the Internet for a reference, but found none. However, I know that quote is true. And this past week, I’ve found myself thinking about that truth more than usual.
As many of my readers know, I’ve recently taken a dive back into my “Smoky Mountain Novel Series” to get book number 5 completed. It’s been a few years since I finished the first 4 books, and I actually had to go back and read a bit of some of them to make sure I still knew the characters well enough to continue the series. I found that I do, indeed, still know them and love them. And after a couple unsuccessful attempts at birthing book 5, I have finally managed to get it into the birth canal far enough that delivery is imminent.
But as I sat this morning pondering on this quote, I thought back over all the books that I have written. Now, I’m not even thinking about books by others that I’ve read — the multiplied thousands of them — and I wasn’t even considering them as I meditated on this thought. But considering just the books that I have written, I stand totally amazed at the vast differences in the subject matters, the characters, the environments, and the stories themselves that have all been created by using only these same 26 little letters.
I guess I’m unusually focused on language and it’s amazing power in the lives of human beings at this particular time because in book 5 of the series, I’m telling the story of a full-blooded Cherokee man who is very personally involved in a movement to restore the original Cherokee language to his people. While many of the elderly Cherokee still speak their native language, most of their children and certainly almost all of their grandchildren barely know and understand that language.
A major reason for that lack, of course, is the result of the U.S. government forcing thousands of American Indian children to leave their homes and families and attend boarding schools for years at which they were totally stripped of everything about their culture and their heritage. They were forced to use only the English language for all communication and were severely punished if they even spoke to each other in their native tongues. Naturally, that kind of treatment could easily and quickly eradicate an entire nation’s communication skills.
As I’ve been pondering these terrible events in history and working them into the story where they need to go for the sake of developing my main character, I’ve been thinking anew about how powerful language really is. And how powerful words are. As a devout Christian and one who tries to write mostly for the sake of sharing Gospel truths through my work, I’m very well acquainted with the importance the Lord puts on words. In fact He comes right out and tells us in Proverbs 18:21 that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
So our words have great power to effect others. And as a writer, I try to always be aware of that fact. I know that words have driven men to hateful, heinous acts against each other, and words have brought an end to wars and brought comfort and courage to thousands in times of need. I try to be aware that all my words carry some degree of power to affect others and even the atmosphere around me — for good or for bad. I believe that the words I write are just as powerful as the words I speak aloud, so it’s my aim as an author to be the most responsible purveyor of words that I can possibly be. It’s a challenge, but it’s also a great adventure — taking 26 little letters and crafting them responsibly into brand new life-sized people and their stories.
If readers would like to check out “The Smoky Mountain Series” novels for themselves, they can find them, along with many of my other books, at this site.
My short story anthology Stories That Leave You Thinking is on sale during the whole month of June.
A collection of diverse and slightly unconventional short short stories
Have you ever come to the words “The End” when reading and just couldn’t seem to turn off your own imagination? Did your mind keep working on the plot and planning out possible ways in which the story could continue? Did you enjoy the process? Then you’ve come to the right book. The stories included here, on a wide variety of subjects and themes, offer the reader the opportunity to keep thinking past “The End.” Each story comes to a stop, to be sure, but most of them will tempt the reader to let his own imagination get involved and do some thinking about what would happen next – if the story continued. A refreshing approach to short story telling.
Paperback only — $5.00
Find it here:
Wish I were there right now!