Free Excerpt- Urban Christian Romance Novel “The Beauty of Summer”

 

Cover Photo of The Beauty of Summer
Cover Photo-The Beauty of Summer

This upcoming novel  is a bit different for us.  First of all, it’s our first attempt at a romance novel, as most of our fiction offerings are thrillers and suspense. Secondly, it deals with infidelity and sexual attraction between couples in a realistic manner. Since this is a Christian novel, don’t expect Fifty Shades of Grey raw, but the author does not shy away from portraying the reality of urban sexual mores in the context of faith and morality.

The Beauty of Summer is about a beautiful woman who suffers serious setbacks and devastating events after she tries to reclaim the trophy boyfriend who dumped her for another woman. This novel will be available in December 2014, but you can read an excerpt below.

The Beauty of Summer

By Louis N Jones

Wednesday, 9:01 pm, Richmond, Virginia

 

“Why can’t we go to your place?”

The girl, fresh out of high school and ready for as much debauchery and rebellion as her five-foot-eight frame could muster, rolled down the passenger side window and flicked the still-smoldering remnant of a joint out onto the road.

Her date, five years her senior, remained silent and kept his eyes on the road. The motel was somewhere on Broad Street, but he wasn’t sure if he was going in the right direction. He had just passed several blocks of government buildings that quickly made way for pricey townhomes.  It didn’t seem like the right neighborhood for a cut-rate motel. He decided to drive only five more blocks before he made a U-turn and head northwest.

“There’s a Holiday Inn. Why don’t we stop there?” the girl urged.

Because the Super 8 is cheaper, the man thought.  But he dared not say that aloud, even though he had long stopped trying to impress her. She was willing to be intimate with him, and that’s all he cared about. “Be cool, Gracie. I’m sure the Super 8 is around here somewhere.”

“Tim, y’know I’d rather go to your place,” Gracie cooed.

“My roommate has the apartment tonight,” Tim lied.  His only roommate was a ten-year old cat, and she was too old to care. He had no intention of allowing Gracie to see where he lived. He was planning for this rendezvous to be short-lived.

He was driving his brother’s car.  He drove it a few more blocks, then gave up and decided to go the other direction. He started to make a U-turn against the posted sign, noticed an RPD cruiser, with two officers inside, sitting across the street, and made a right instead. For some strange reason, the refrains from the Phil Collins/Philip Bailey song Easy Lover began playing in his head.

“You think we can get some snacks before we go to the room?” Gracie said.

“Girl, we just ate,” Tim noted.

“I know. But I’m hungry.”

“Need to stop smokin’ so much of that stuff.”

“Only had two joints today.”

“That’s enough.”

Gracie ignored him.  “There’s got to be a 7-Eleven nearby. They have one every five blocks.” She turned to him and said slyly, “There’re other things in there you might need, too.”

Tim looked at her briefly out the side of his eye before he stopped at a red light. “Don’t worry, girl. I got it covered.”

He made another right turn and then drove a few blocks before the street ended, forcing him to turn right again. He approached the red traffic light at Broad Street and stopped. He turned to Gracie, checked her out, and reached for her. She giggled and playfully slapped his hand away.

“You’re so thirsty,” Gracie said.

“Can’t help it.  I have been waiting for you to turn eighteen for months.”

“The light’s green.”

Tim signaled, then made a left turn and headed northwest up Broad Street. He had driven a few blocks before he tried reaching for her again.

“Tim, watch out!” Gracie’s eyes widened in horror.

Gracie’s shout was preceded only a second by a loud metallic thud. Tim looked up just in time to see a crumpled late model Acura rolling backwards across the intersection in front of him.

He cursed, then tried to slam on the brakes. But he was going 40 miles per hour, so it was much too delayed a reaction. Both he and Gracie shielded their faces as they slammed into the Acura. The force of the impact drove Tim’s car under the Acura, forcing the Acura to flip over on its side and land against the median strip dividing Broad Street. The bumper of Tim’s car curled up, the hood sank, and the windshield shattered, sending crystalline shards bouncing off the deployed air bags. Tim’s car stopped, its nose lodged against the bottom of the Acura, where it was quickly greeted by a spray of leaking transmission fluid. Tim and Gracie lay bloodied and unconscious, each leaning in opposite directions against the center pillars of the car.

Several pedestrians had seen the accident, and a few had started to dial 911 on their cell phones. Some of the men started to approach the vehicles to check on the occupants. The man who approached the Acura could see, through the shattered windshield, a woman, crumpled, bruised and bloodied, lying on a bed of glass against the passenger side door, which was now flat against the sidewalk.

Unsure of the woman was dead or alive, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. Once the dispatcher had told him a unit had already been deployed and on its way, he hung up the phone and looked carefully at the woman inside the car. Despite the blood and glass all around her face, he noticed that she was very beautiful.

He had been a Christian since his early teens, and so he did the only thing he knew how to do at that point. He prayed that if she was alive that the Lord would restore her broken body and lead her on the road to health. And, if she was dying, that she had made her peace with Christ.

But as of that moment, unbeknownst to him, she had not.

***

Six Days before

Xavier’s marriage proposals were getting more ornate as time went on.

Just two months before, on the 15th, Summer Maldonado came to work, sat at her desk, check her emails, and found a new email from Xavier with a photo attached. The photo was taken of her on a recent romantic trip to the Bahamas. There she was, lying on Paradise Beach in a Caribbean blue one-piece, her perfectly manicured toes dug in the white sand, her natural long black hair pouring gracefully out of a wide-brimmed straw hat, her cinnamon-toned skin glistening in the mid-afternoon sun. The caption on the photo was, “You are the picture of perfection. Will you marry me?”

One month before, also on the 15th, a bouquet of fifteen red roses in a tall crystal vase was waiting on her desk upon her return from lunch. The note on the flowers read, “Will you marry me, and let our relationship blossom like the petals of a rose?” The note gave Summer a mile-wide smile. Her boyfriend was corny but thoughtful and sweet.

Summer would answer his last two proposals the same way she answered the eleven previous ones, all tendered on the 15th of the month. She would never explicitly tell him no, but always, “Ask me again next month.” Xavier would be persistent enough to ask her every month, like clockwork, on the 15th.

It was the fifteenth of the month again, and Xavier Williams had texted her earlier that morning to ask her to join him that evening at the Wild Ginger, an Asian restaurant on the western outskirts of Richmond. It was a Thursday night, but still the Wild Ginger would be almost impossible to get into without a reservation, so Summer knew Xavier had planned several days beforehand.

Thursday was casual day at Visual Notions, one of the leading video production companies in Richmond. But Summer, the marketing manager, had chosen not to dress down that day. She wore a simple purple sheath dress, professional enough for the job, but sexy and form-fitting enough to make sure Xavier’s eyes didn’t stray, which they did from time to time. Just a few minutes after seven, she left the office, which was on the seventh floor of an office building in downtown Richmond. The restaurant was only a fifteen-minute drive away in moderate traffic, so she had plenty of time to get there before the 7:30 reservation.

During the drive, Summer switched on the built-in MP3 player and allowed Stevie Wonder’s Ribbon in the Sky to drown out the faint street sounds that made it inside the tinted windows of her late model Acura. She had to brace herself to turn down yet another one of Xavier’s proposals, and she hoped that the proposal would come at the latter part of the evening, so that it wouldn’t dampen the majority of their date. She knew she would have to say yes to him one day, but right now, her mind was not in that space. Her excuse was that she was not ready to be a wife, and that was true, to an extent. But as loving and doting as her boyfriend was, there were some things about him that bothered her. But she had neither the willpower nor the bravery to tell him the truth about himself. So, month after month, she kept hoping he would change and that somehow the rarest of miracles would alight upon him like a feather on the shoulder, and he would transform into a man that she would be comfortable marrying.  Someone who was NOT like her father. Xavier did not yet seem inclined to come home drunk and beat her like her father beat her mother. But his controlling nature and his frequent drinking made him a likely candidate.

Summer hadn’t seen Nestor Maldonado in thirty years. She assumed he was still somewhere in Brazil; Summer had no clue where, and she didn’t wish to know. But his aura remained with her like a bad odor. He hadn’t always been a drunken looser; he had actually been quite personable, engaging and sober when Susan Wright met him during a vacation to Rio. Enthralled with the idea of living in Brazil, and tired of her hardscrabble life in Atlanta, Susan, an African American janitor, married Nestor a year after meeting him. Summer was born in July a year later. Susan named her after her favorite song, Summertime, from Porgy and Bess, the one sang by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Most people in the states assumed, without asking, that she was named that way because she was born in the summer, not knowing that Brazilian summers began in December.

The marriage went well until Summer was four years old. Several days after her birthday, Nestor lost his job at the soft drink plant as the result of a layoff, and the hard drinks soon followed, with the beatings right on the heels of the drinking. By the time Summer was five years old, she had heard, and in some cases seen, her mother beaten at least twelve times during one of Nestor’s drunken tirades. Finally, Susan got tired of it.

The fateful day of Summer’s introduction to the United States came on September 8, the day after Brazil’s Independence Day, two months and three days after her fifth birthday. Nestor had come home late the night before, his breath reeking of Skol’s, with whatever celebratory spirit he had engaged in long gone by the time he crossed the threshold of his house. Susan met him in the kitchen and accused him of cheating on her, an accusation based purely upon woman’s intuition, but in this case was spot on. But for some reason, she never had the gall to confront him about it until then.

The argument in the bedroom became so loud that the words spilled out onto the streets. Susan’s words were spiced with Southern rage, and a deep Georgia accent that Susan had tried to conceal, but surged forth whenever she was angry.

You need to leave those bitches alone!

If you don’t stop this, I’m gonna take Summer and leave!

A scream. Several crashes. A door slamming. Spewing of obscenities in Portuguese. Another door slam. Then, eerily quiet.

The next day, Summer and her mother were hitch-hiking their way to Galeão International Airport, headed to Atlanta with only two garbage bags of belongings and an open-ended plane ticket purchased months earlier by a cousin in Atlanta who mailed it to Susan to encourage him to leave the son-of-a-bitch.

Xavier had not yet deteriorated as drastically. But Summer could see the signs brewing. The drinking, for one. Xavier could knock them back with the best of them, and it was only Summer’s interventions that prevented him on many occasions from tipping over the edge of drunkenness. Xavier also had a paternalistic bent that bothered Summer. Xavier, like Nestor, didn’t believe in a woman working. It was why Susan quit her $20,000 a year janitorial job and stayed at home to cook his meals and chase dust bunnies. Xavier also believed that the man was the head of the household and that the woman should obey. To Summer, it was elementary math: head of household = man controls woman; woman has no say, no options, no life. And there was no way Summer was going to quit her $95,000 a year job for any man, no matter how much he was paid.

Nonetheless, Summer kept hoping that Xavier’s love for her would lead him to believe that having a strong, capable, independent woman would prove to be his greatest asset. The drinking she could deal with, but there was no way she was going to marry a man who had every intention to relegate her to housewife.

Summer pulled into the shopping center where the restaurant was located. She found a parking spot near a nail salon, with only a two-minute walk to the front door of the restaurant. Summer’s dress was short-sleeved, and it was getting chilly out. She wished she had brought her shawl from the car with her. No worries. She would just send Xavier out to her car to get it.

The restaurant had clean, modern lines, decorated in mauves, grays and browns, with a huge bar in one wing, and a dining area in another, separated by the hostess station and a small waiting area. As she expected, the restaurant was packed, but she had no trouble finding Xavier in the crowd. He was already seated at a small table by himself at the far end of the restaurant, adjacent to a large window with a view of the parking lot. Summer headed to Xavier’s table.  She drew an admiring glance from a gentleman seated in the waiting area.

Xavier stood as she approached. He was six foot one, clean-shaven, with a full head of closely cropped hair and eyeglass frames that would set a full-time minimum wage employee back about two weeks of pay. His fair skin contrasted with his crisply tailored suit, which hung on a thin, not lanky but athletic, build.

Xavier looked just as handsome as the day she met him eighteen months before. Xavier held a plum position as the vice president of media relations at the city’s gas utility. Summer had been trying to get the utility’s video production contract, and her attempts brought her in frequent contact with Xavier. They had several business lunches together before Visual Notions won the contract. After the paperwork had been signed, the business lunches turned into dinners. Eventually, Xavier won Summer’s heart as well, which was not an easy task. Summer had no lack of men who wanted to court her, but it was Xavier’s earthy charisma, his passionate devotion, and his quiet manner that hooked her. He was drawn to her as a person, and not just for her body. And a man who could afford to book the executive suite at the Jefferson Hotel just because certainly was a plus.

Meu Amor,” Summer said to him as they embraced. They exchanged a simple peck on the lips, which, given the posh surroundings, was a great deal more sedate than how they would have kissed in private.

Xavier motioned Summer to the chair directly across from his. That was odd. Usually they sat at 90-degree angles to one another. Summer ignored his directive and parked in a chair directly to Xavier’s right. She then checked him out in his suit. It looked like the one that she had bought him for his 38th birthday a few months ago. As her gaze moved up to his eyes, he was looking off into the distance.

Summer followed his gaze but saw that it led nowhere. “Are you alright?” she asked.

Xavier finally looked at her. “I’m fine.”

“You look nice. Is that the suit I bought you?”

Xavier looked down at himself, seemingly surprised. “Yeah, I guess it is.”

The waiter came over with a wine list. Xavier quickly waved him away. Again, unusual. Summer studied his body language. Xavier seemed tense. His arms were tight against his body; his hands clasped in his lap. His gaze wavered off to nowhere again.

Summer toyed with the white napkin on the table and tried to say something to ease the tension. She was usually the talkative one in the relationship, so she had no problem starting a conversation. “So, how was your day?”

“It was good. Yours?”

“Wonderful. I was excited about meeting you here.”

“Ever been here before?”

“No. First time.” Summer noticed that Xavier’s gaze trailed off again.  It seemed as if he was looking at the front door.

Summer asked a burning question. “Are you expecting someone? I mean, other than me?”

Xavier’s eyes finally returned to her. “I have something I need to tell you.”

Summer swallowed hard. There was no passion, no joy in his voice. She tried to play off the obvious implication in his voice by making jest. “What, you’re breaking up with me?” She said it with a bat of her eyes and a bedroom voice.

Xavier was silent.

Summer waited for a laugh, a smile, an angry denial, anything that would acknowledge the humor in what she had said. Instead, he just sat there, carefully avoiding her eyes. Summer drew back in her chair and said, “X, what’s going on?”

“Summer, this is not easy for me to say.”

Summer felt blood rushing from her face. There were only two reasons people made that statement: if someone had died, or if they were about to end a relationship. And Xavier’s incessant staring at the front door give her a clue as to which one it was.

“X, don’t tell me you’re breaking up with me.”

C’mon, X. Tell me no. Tell me I’m wrong. Stop my heart from beating so fast in my chest.

Finally, he looked at her. And his eyes told her the truth.  Dear Jesus.

Summer drew back in her chair again. “X, please don’t kid around with me.”

“I’m serious.”

Summer looked in his eyes and didn’t see any hint of his normal jovial nature. But something didn’t gel. Why would he invite her to a fancy restaurant just to break up with her before they served the wine? That was too callous for Xavier, so she knew this conversation had to be leading somewhere other than the termination of their fifteen-month relationship. “X, stop kidding with me. Let’s talk real here.”

“This is not a joke, Summer.”

There were two things at that moment that convinced Summer that Xavier was not joking. The first was that he used her real name. Xavier never called her by her real name unless he was angry. Usually it was honey or baby or sweetie or gorgeous or some variation thereof.

But Summer was really convinced when she looked up in response to a shadow darkening their table. The person standing there was not a waiter.

Xavier stood. “Summer, you know Jada.”

Summer looked up at Jada Hardy with the scorn of forty jilted women. Jada Hardy was the assistant to the president of Visual Notions. Her office was just ten paces away from Summer’s. There she stood, fake auburn hair, fake nails, Hershey-bar-dark model-thin body, and enough chest that if someone tapped her gently on the head from behind, she would tip over forward. And for all she knew, that might be fake. Summer quickly dialed back her hard look, realizing that Jada had enough clout to get her fired with a bat of her eyelashes. Summer had liked Jada. Until now.

Jada tried to be cordial in a less than cordial situation. “Hi, Summer.”

Summer looked down at the table. “Jada.”

Jada walked over to Xavier’s side of the table. Summer looked up just in time to see Jada plant a respectable kiss on Xavier’s cheek. She then sat in the chair directly to Xavier’s left. When Xavier sat back down, he looked over at Summer and saw a blaze in her eyes.

“Summer, I wanted to let you know that me and Jada have been seeing each other for a few months now.”

Summer inhaled deeply. Her heart began to palpitate. The shock that statement cut her deeply than anything she would have imagined, rendering her vocal cords inoperative. She focused her eyes on the table, fighting back tears, not wanting to give either of them the pleasure of seeing her cry.

At that moment, Summer realized the mistake she had made a few months before. Summer had invited Xavier to her office to have lunch, something she rarely did with her friends. She preferred to separate her business and personal interests as much as possible. After lunch, when Summer was walking Xavier to the door, Jada strolled past. In courtesy, Summer introduced Jada to Xavier, referring to him as “one of Visual Notions’ clients.” Not my boyfriend, or my man, or even my friend, but my client. The last thing you want to do is introduce your man to another gorgeous, buxom, clasping woman as nothing more than a business interest.

The waiter returned to the table, interrupting an awkward silence. Once he had given his welcoming spiel, he asked for their drink orders. Xavier politely sent him away once again, and then focused his attention on the two lovely ladies sitting at his table.

Emboldened now that the worst of his silent confession was over, Xavier said, “Listen, I know the two of you have to work together. I was hoping we could come together, talk it out, and at least be civil to one another.”

Summer knew the hidden meaning behind Xavier’s words: this is my new girl. I’m going to be coming around the office quite a bit nuzzling up to her, and I don’t want you screwing things up.

Summer phased out Jada for a moment and focused her icy glare on Xavier. “You couldn’t even give me the courtesy of breaking up with me without bringing your new girlfriend along, and you expect me to be civil?” Summer threw her hands up. “I don’t even know why you’re doing this.”

“Why I’m doing what?”

“Why you’re breaking up with me.”

“You know why.”

“Because—” Summer stopped, realizing that what she was about to say was too personal for Jada’s ears, and frankly none of her business. She turned to Jada. “Could you excuse us for a moment?”

Jada cut her eyes at Xavier, seeking his permission. Xavier nodded. Jada cut a final glance at Summer before she stood and walked toward the bar on the other side of the restaurant.

Summer leaned in toward Xavier. “You’re breaking up with me because I wouldn’t marry you?”

“You know I’m looking for a relationship that is going somewhere, Summer. I’ve been asking you for your hand for months. I can’t wait any longer.”

Summer sighed. “You know I have issues with marriage—”

“Yeah, I know. And your daddy issues. Although I don’t think you’re against the idea of marriage as much as you are against the idea of marrying me.”

Summer leaned back in her chair. She couldn’t argue. Xavier was a fantastic boyfriend. But not every relationship was made to make the leap to marriage. From her perspective, there was so much that needed to be worked out. Unfortunately, Xavier had lost patience. And with so many women around waiting to throw themselves at a handsome, high-paid stud such as Xavier, he no longer needed to be patient.

When they had started dating, Summer told him that she intended to be celibate until marriage. Her mother had raised her that way, according to her Christian principles. And Summer considered herself a Christian, even though she had not been to church in many months. But Xavier was the type of man who was used to wrinkling a woman’s sheets within one to two weeks of the first date, so challenges greeted his relationship with Summer from the beginning. And Summer went into the relationship fully intending to make a decision about marrying Xavier within a few months. But then, the alcoholism and the controlling issues surfaced, and that was all she needed to hold off any possibility of a deeper relationship. Summer adored her mother, but she didn’t want to become her by marrying a man that was potentially abusive. She saw how much it affected her mother, and she had no intention of following in those footsteps.

But now she sat here, quickly drowning in the hurt and pain of rejection. What worse, he was cheating on her with a co-worker, a woman she respected and trusted. She fast-forwarded through her life and realized she was about to go through life once again without a man, lonely and depressed. Thirty-five years old, and no closer to having a successful relationship than she was at 18. Her entire life had been relationship-deprived, especially since moving to Richmond. The realization of losing the one person who seemed drawn to her was so frightening that her next words were a compromise against facing the ugliness of the next few months, perhaps years, of her life.

“X, I don’t want to lose you. I could look more closely at this marriage thing. Please let’s talk and work this out.”

“Summer, I’ve already proposed to Jada, and she accepted.”

Summer squeezed her eyes shut. This was unbelievable. The evening was just getting worse, and she could feel Xavier slipping out of her grasp. “You haven’t known her that long.”

“But we don’t need to know each other for long to know that we were meant for each other. When you feel that way, there’s no sense waiting.”

“You used to say that about us.”

“What?”

“That we were meant for each other.”

Xavier looked way. “Maybe I was mistaken.”

That stung more than anything that Xavier had said. That their relationship was a sham, a mistake. She wasted fifteen months of her life on a mistake. They were hard, sharp words, but she didn’t want to acknowledge them. She knew that Xavier was the man for her. She knew it now more than ever.

And with those thoughts, she was moving into the same dangerous territory and destructive co-dependent behavior that her mother had exhibited throughout a year of abuse; that sometimes it was better having a man in your life that abused you, than no man at all.

Summer’s next words were abrupt and only half-hearted. “Okay, I’ll marry you.”

Xavier shook his head. “We had our chance, Summer. I’m going to be with Jada now.” He looked toward the bar, hoping that he could meet eyes with Jada and summon her to return to the table.

Summer’s eyes were moist with tears now, and as she blinked, they started to flow down her face. “How can you do this to me?” She made no effort to stop the flow, as they had begun to drip off her chin and onto the tablecloth. A few of the patrons noticed her tears and stole periodic glances, trying to figure out what was going on without appearing nosy.

Jada returned to the table, at which point Summer noticed that several of the patrons had noticed her crying. Flustered, Summer grabbed her purse, got up from the table, and without a word, headed for the door. One of the waiters saw her on the way out and asked if she was okay. She hurried past him without answering.

Then suddenly, just before she reached the front door, anger mingled with her sadness like a suitor cutting in on a dance. This woman, Jada, the one she trusted and respected for years, just stole her man from her. There was no way she was going to do that without her making a bold statement about it.

Summer turned around and headed back into the restaurant. On a table near the door, three wine glasses, half-full with Merlot, were sitting there, left by departing patrons. Summer clutched her purse tighter between her left arm and her side, then grabbed two of the glasses. She marched toward Xavier’s table. Xavier and his new girl-toy Jada were sitting next to each other, nuzzling close while reviewing the wine selection, so they didn’t notice her approach. By the time they did, it was too late.

With the precision of a gunslinger, Summer hurled both the glasses forward, sending the wine out of the glasses and directly into Xavier and Jada’s faces. They jumped up and screamed, and the room fell silent, as all eyes were now on them. Summer dropped the glasses on the table and marched toward the door. The glasses rolled off the table and crashed on the floor, creating the only sound in the room at that moment.

As Summer left, she couldn’t help but notice that a few of the women, understanding her pain, had smiles on their faces.

* * *

End of Excerpt.  For more information on this novel, including release date, visit our website at www.conquestpublishers.com.

The Word Changers-Youth Fantasy Fiction-Sample Chapter

This is an excerpt from the upcoming Christian fantasy novel, The Word Changers, by Ashlee Willis. This novel is currently available. Connect with us at Dove Christian Publishers for more information about this publication. You may also visit the author’s blog.

Synopsis:

Posy is devastated.  Her parents’ marriage is falling apart. Posy retreats to an old library, selects a magical book and is drawn into its story, which has been usurped by a cruel king and queen. She battles dangerous monsters and strange creatures, and forms an unlikely alliance with the prince. Will Posy save the story, find truth and romance, and heal her own heartache?

CHAPTER ONE

(A Bewildering Beginning)

            The moment she began to fall, Posy forgot everything except her descent. She even forgot how she had come to be falling in the first place. Everything behind her grew faint and far, and everything in front of her seemed a black void. Gravity worked backward, and her racing speed slowed. Now she floated, like a dry leaf, or a page torn from a book. Gradually she felt nothing at all.

And the entire time she was falling, she could hear voices, hollow and wide-flung, pulling her back from the precipice. Posy lifted a heavy hand to swat awkwardly at her face.

“You’ve come at last, my dear,” said the voice nearest her. “And about time, too.” Posy attempted to open her eyes, only to find it difficult. Was that the brush of a feather on her brow? She groaned in frustration at the weighted feeling she couldn’t shake.

A woman’s voice came faintly from a distance. “Will it work?”

“Well, their looks are quite different, I must say.” Now a man’s deep tones.

“It was what Your Majesty wanted, if I may remind you,” the answer came smoothly. “And after all, it is much too late now to send her back.”

“Let us hope it is only for a short time,” the woman spoke again, with a slight accent of distaste. “But see. The princess begins to wake.”

Why are they speaking so strangely? Posy’s thoughts crawled sluggishly into her head, And it is almost as if they are speaking about meDid someone just say … ‘Princess’?

Only last night—was it only last night?—Posy lay in her own bed, listening to the sounds of unhappiness down the hall. Crying hadn’t stopped her parents from arguing. Praying hadn’t ended their hate for each other. Fists clenched into the pillow she had pulled over her head had done no good either. Of course it hadn’t.

All the same, something deep within her had clamored and quaked for a change. Something inside had whispered that things could not remain as they were. Perhaps this was the answer. But she thought it more likely it was all a horrid mistake.

Solid arms went around her, pulling her to a sitting position. “There we go, my dear,” said a man’s voice next to her ear. “What a scare we had, didn’t we, Valanor? We thought we were going to lose our princess.”

There was no doubt about it now. Someone was calling her princess. Posy’s eyes snapped open at last. What she saw almost convinced her she was dreaming, if everything hadn’t been so real and so unbearably bright. She had not seen a place like this before. What had she been doing before all this happened? Why could she not remember?

Standing around her bed were several individuals. The first one she noticed was a large man, tall and broad, with ruddy cheeks and a full black beard streaked with shots of gray. His must have been the arms that had moved her, as easily as a doll, up on the bed. He was smiling broadly at her through small, intent eyes as he rubbed his hands together with the anticipation of someone a fraction his age. Next to him stood a tall slender woman, breathtakingly—coldly—beautiful. Her white-blond hair fell over her pale shoulders and shimmered like fairy dust down the back of her exquisite gown. Posy blinked at the sight of the gold crown on each of their heads. A group of people—servants from the look of it—surrounded the two of them, all peering curiously at her. Just as the students in biology class all stare at those poor frogs in their glass tanks, Posy thought with a grimace.

“Did …?” she began hesitantly. “Did someone call me—Princess?”

“Indeed! And how are you, my dear?” the man said, who seemed to be the king.

“I—I—am all right, I guess. Although—”

“Ah, good!” he boomed before Posy could say more. His grin widened, his white teeth gleamed. “Nothing to put you down for long, eh, Daughter?”

“Daughter?” Posy murmured in confusion, looking from the king to the queen and back again. She bit back a panicked laugh. A vision of her own mother and father—nothing like these two—swept through her head and was gone. What had happened? she demanded of herself harshly. But she could remember nothing clearly. Nothing but … but … Posy sighed in frustration. The memory was just beyond her grasp.

“Yes, my daughter,” the queen repeated, her rich voice filling the corners of the room. “You had a fever, and we have been worried about you these many days. We even feared for your life. But you have proved the doctors wrong and are on the mend at last.”

“No,” Posy shook her head, “I am not your—”

“You may not remember, Princess,” a smooth voice, neither the king’s nor the queen’s, cut in. “They say a fever can chase many memories away, even keep some away forever. You were on a hunt with your father and mother, the king and queen, and the lords and ladies of the court. It began to rain. You, being the excellent horsewoman you are, decided the rain would not stop the hunt. You pushed on. But alas, that very night when the hunting party returned, you took ill with a delirious fever and have been abed ever since. You have regained consciousness only today.”

Posy heard these words with astonishment as she looked around the room for the person who had spoken them. At last, her eyes alighted on the stone windowsill. On it sat a great gray owl, at least twice the size an owl ought to be, sitting with feathered chest thrust forward, a self-satisfied expression on his face. Surely, she thought to herself … surely the owl didn’t just … . But even as she doubted it, the creature spoke again.

“But now, here you are,” he said soothingly, as if he were calming a distressed child, “and we all rejoice that you are restored to us.”

Posy stared, open-mouthed, but the creature merely gazed back at her placidly from where he perched.

“Yes, yes,” bellowed the king rather impatiently. “So we will leave you to rest, my dear. Come, Valanor.” He took the queen’s hand. “The Kingdom awaits us, you know.” And they swept from the room.

The Kingdom awaits us? Posy snorted under her breath. Had the man really just spoken those words? They seemed theatrical—like those you’d hear in a fairytale, or read in a … Posy froze.

“In a book,” she said aloud, though the room was now empty.

Memory flooded her then. Once again, she could hear her parents down the hall, just as she had countless times before. Their voices rose and fell in anger, traveling through the house and into her room like an endless, waking nightmare. She remembered the heavy tread of her own feet as she launched from her bed, heard the jarring of her parents’ bedroom door as she ripped it open. And she had screamed at them—screamed to stop them shouting at one another, screamed to quiet the fear and anger that reared up inside of her. But she had seen their faces turning toward her, and their expressions had gone from shock to anger and then a disappointed sadness that was worst of all.

“How dare they?” Posy turned sideways and whispered into her pillow. “How dare they get angry. They were the ones hurting me. And hurting Lily, too.”

Posy felt a thrill of sorrow, thinking of her little sister. Lily was only eleven. To Posy’ 15-year-old mind that was much too young to be subjected to the bitter misery of what their parents’ marriage was doing to their family. She had hoped Lily had heard nothing of the wild interchange of that night, when her parents shouted cruel words at one another, and she shouted cruel words to them in turn.

Tears pricked behind her eyes. Yes, she remembered now. Anger and tears had etched such deep grooves into her young heart that she hated the very thought of them. Anger and tears were what drove her out of the house and straight down the street to the library. Peace, and silence, and books. Posy clung to these things.

And that was where she had discovered the book. She had found it innocently enough, she supposed. The library was an old one, to be sure, but she had thought she knew all its dusty corners and sagging shelves by now. But somehow, yesterday, she had found herself in an unfamiliar place. And down the dimly-lit aisle she had chosen a strange, musty book, with a scrolling, antique font. Posy had chosen it for the lettering. It had reminded her of the covers of the fairytales she had read as a child—the ones that made her feel like a character in a kingdom far away from any troubles she knew in her own world. And she had certainly needed such an escape.

Her fingers could still feel the grooves of the book’s title, her hands the heaviness of its spine. She had opened it, and … and …

The thought that came to her next made her suddenly sit up in the unfamiliar bed. She didn’t dare say it aloud, to herself or anyone else, for it seemed so bizarre. All the same …

Posy looked to the windowsill, intending to question the owl, but he was gone. A young maid in a simple gray gown approached Posy’s bed and began to straighten her covers in a fidgeting way, as if she didn’t know what was expected of her. The girl wouldn’t look into Posy’s face, even when Posy asked her for her name.

“Olena,” the girl said, keeping her chin down and her eyes on her clasped hands.

“Olena,” said Posy, thoughts of her own soft-spoken sister making her voice gentle, “I think you must know that I am not the princess, whoever she is, don’t you?”

Olena’s gaze shot up at once and her frightened eyes looked straight into Posy’s. “Yes! That is to say … no! Oh, Princess! Please don’t ask me such things!” And the girl flew from the room as if she were escaping something horrible.

Think, Posy said to herself. Think hard. Where are you? How in the world did you get here? What were you doing last? Shouting at Mom and Dad—telling them to shut up, telling them I hated them. Yes, I remember that much. Then, at the library … finding the book, yes … taking it … feeling so strange …. Opening the book …. But that means … Posy’s mind swam and spun within her head. What did it mean?

“You are within the book, yes.”

Posy started and turned toward the sound of the voice. The owl had returned and was sitting on the windowsill as if he had never gone, his soft gray and white feathers gleaming.

“In case you were wondering, which of course you have to be, you are within the book. That is really all I am at liberty to tell you for now, for things are a bit complicated within the Kingdom at present. Well, very complicated, in fact. I might tell you more at another time, but I don’t know when. It can’t be now. We need more privacy and I need more information. You will have to be patient, Princess.”

“But why are you calling me Princess?” burst out Posy. “You must know I am no princess, and certainly not the daughter of any king and queen. I don’t think you realize where I actually come from …. It’s nowhere like this!”

“Oh, of course it’s nothing like this,” the owl scoffed, ruffling his chest feathers. “No world is like this one. We are characters living within the Plot. And now you are one of us. But I can say no more—not now! I will find you when the time is right. In the meantime, Princess, I suggest you go along with whatever happens. It might be much less than pleasant if you decided to start talking and asking questions. No one asks questions here. You must follow the Plot. The king will have it no other way.” The owl made ready to fly out the window once again. As he turned, his head swiveled around toward Posy and he said, “I am Falak, the king’s chief adviser, if you have need of me. But you won’t, because there is nothing else to say now.” And he spread his great wide wings and dived off the windowsill and out of sight.

 *  *  *

 The thought slowly came upon Posy that perhaps it was no bad thing to be believed a princess. In fact, the more she thought of it, the more she liked the idea. How many times had she wished for just such a thing, as she sat curled on her bed enwrapped in a book?

As she lay on the enormous, soft bed underneath a silken coverlet, she began to feel very comfortable. Her fear and ignorance as to the way she had come to be in this strange place began to matter less and less. The owl had told her to play along, and she was only too willing if that meant living as a princess and forgetting the worries of her other life, which already seemed so far away. She determined that she would enjoy this adventure, even if it turned out to be a dream after all.

One thing worried her as she began turning things over in her mind. If this was a book, and it was full of characters, where had the true princess gone? And what if she came back and found Posy had taken her place?

* * *

 

 

Upcoming Christian Suspense Novel-Adverse Possession (Sample Chapter)

Adverse Possession

The following excerpt is from a upcoming Christian suspense novel entitled Adverse Possession, an eBook released on October 1, 2013.  A family comes home from an overseas trip only to find that someone has taken over their beloved home. The police can do nothing about it, and the possession actually appears to be legal. Their struggle to get their home back tests their faith, their marriage, and puts them in more danger than they ever would have imagined.

***

Her birth name was Lieselotte Koch, but most people in the neighborhood called her Lottie K. That was to differentiate her from Miss Lottie Morris, who lived farther down the road, near the cul-de-sac abutting Kent Gardens Park with its skyscraping white pines and cedars. Lottie K did not have a problem with the shortening of her name. After all, these darned Americans wanted everything so simple. The only time she heard her full name was when her relatives came to visit from her native Dresden. Even her American husband, who passed five years ago, simply called her “Lot.”

It was a Wednesday morning in February. The residents of McLean, Virginia awoke to clear blue skies and weather chilly enough to whiten the dew that had fallen overnight on cars and lawns. Lottie’s normal routine would go unchanged. At 7:00 a.m., she awakened and immediately switched on the TV to watch Charlie Rose. The TV was a 25-inch flat screen her daughter gave her last year for her 65th birthday, and it allowed her to spend time with Charlie in lifelike high definition. She delighted telling friends she had such a crush on him. At her age, calling it a crush was hardly apropos. Nonetheless, it made her feel more youthful and alive to try to cling to some trappings of her childhood, though most of them had long passed on.

By 7:30 a.m., she was downstairs switching off the burglar alarm near the front door. A woman her age living alone could not be too careful, she thought, though FairfaxCounty police had not answered a burglary call on Bynum Drive in ten years. It did not bother her that her alarm code was the same as her ATM code, which was the same as her daughter’s gate code at her home in Sterling, which was the same as the month and day of her daughter’s birthday. The fewer numbers she had to remember, the better.

Sometime between 7:30 and 7:45, she slipped on her Cole Haan down coat, a rare extravagant purchase from the Nordstrom at nearby TysonsCornerCenter mall. She stepped outside just in time to greet a few of the neighborhood kids as they dipped in the rear of their parents’ BMWs and Lexus’ and headed off to school. The moment they saw Lottie, with her flaxen hair tied back into a bun and her supermodel complexion, they yelled, “Hi, Miss K!”, further shortening her name. She always would respond with a wave or, if they were close enough, she would say, “Morning. Have a good day at school.”

Lottie could tell that the kid who delivered the Sun Gazette this morning was the lazy rascal who rarely got out of his car, but tossed the paper from his driver’s side window. Because her house, like most of the houses in the neighborhood, had front lawns about the length of a basketball court, the paper usually landed somewhere in the middle of the driveway, or on the top of her car. When this happened, Lottie had to walk down the driveway to retrieve the paper. However, this morning, the paper landed in the middle of the yard, which meant it would be damp from the dew. Lottie grunted as she walked in the yard to retrieve her paper, the icy dew crunching under her slippers. She really preferred the kid who would walk up the driveway and place the paper neatly inside the mailbox, which was on the wall just to the left of her front door.

Over the past two months, Lottie K had added one slight thing to her routine. She glanced quickly at the five-bedroom split-level ranch-styled house directly across from hers on Bynum Drive to make sure everything was okay. She had grown quite fond of the owners, a young couple who had bought the house just over a year ago for $950,000. Shortly after moving in, Jesse and Jennifer Kane saw Lottie in her front yard pruning the wild hydrangeas framing the eastern edge of her driveway, and they came over and talked with her. They talked frequently in the coming days and weeks, and their talks sometimes lasted for more than an hour. Whenever Lottie’s ten-year-old granddaughter, Kaitlyn, came to visit her from Sterling, the Kane’s two children, eight-year-old Ashley and seven-year-old Aiden, would entertain her in their spacious basement, play the latest video games, and enjoy marathon couch potato sessions with Adventures in Odyssey. The Kanes had even invited Lottie to their church a few times, although Lottie was Catholic, and the Kanes’ worship style was the loud hallelujah, lifting of the hands, falling prostrate on the floor, twirling in the aisles kind. Lottie couldn’t really get into their worship style, but found the Kanes to be genuine and loving people, and connected with them based on their mutual admiration for each other.

Consequently, Lottie agreed to keep an eye on the Kanes’ home while they were away on a missionary trip to Haiti. In a neighborhood as quiet and uneventful as Bynum Drive, the responsibility amounted to nothing more than making sure the UPS man hadn’t placed any unexpected packages on their front doorstep. She did not need to worry about mail, because the Kanes had their mail temporarily held at the post office. The Kanes had left Lottie with the key to the house in case there were any emergencies, and in the past two months, she only needed to use it once. Two weeks ago, during heavy rain, she went to check the basement to make sure the rain did not flood it, as the sump pump was renowned for being lazy and finicky.

This morning, Lottie’s quick glance at 6609 Bynum Drive found nothing out of order, so she went back inside her home to prepare for work. Today was a work day, so she could not salivate over Charlie Rose another hour. Instead, she had to shower and get dressed for her part-time fill-in receptionist job at Woodmore Associates, PC. Attorney Neil Woodmore had allowed his regular receptionist to attend morning classes at NorthernVirginiaCommunity College on Wednesdays, so Lottie K earned a few extra bucks, besides her social security checks, by filling in. After a quick bowl of muesli, Lottie reemerged from her home, climbed into her green Nissan Sentra, and headed off to work.

Unbeknownst to Lottie, someone was watching her every move. From the moment she emerged from her house, to the moment two minutes later when she started her car and pulled out of her driveway, eyes were focused on her.

Eyes watching through the window from inside the master bedroom of 6609 Bynum Drive.

Jesse and Jennifer Kane disembarked their flight at FortLauderdale-HollywoodInternationalAirport at 9:17 a.m. Jesse could not stand planes, and could only tolerate one flight per day. Once they cleared customs, they picked up a Lincoln Navigator at the Avis car rental booth, loaded seven bags of luggage into it, and began the twelve-hour trip up I-75 toward Knoxville, Tennessee. They had been in Haiti for more than two months, and were anxious to get to Jennifer’s parents’ house to reunite with their kids.

“Slow down a bit, honey,” Jennifer said to her husband, watching as the roadside palm trees whizzed by so fast, she could barely count them.

“Sorry,” Jesse said, braking gently until the vehicle speed gauge read seventy. His voice was deep and smooth, like a balm. “I’m trying to get there before it gets too late. I don’t want the kids waiting up.”

“Well, they ain’t seen their Ma and Pa since Thanksgiving, so what’s the harm in them staying up a little longer to see us?” Jennifer’s southern twang was proud and prominent. “They ain’t gon’ be able to sleep anyway.”

“I’m more concerned about your parents. By the time the weather girl shows up on the ten o’clock news, they’re passed out. It’s like clockwork. I don’t want the kids keeping them up.”

“Well, I think all parties concerned would be better off if we got there safely, or at least without being pulled over by a FloridaState trooper.”

That was Jennifer, always the voice of reason. It was one reason Jesse married her. The others were her compassion, her soft-spokenness relative to his own, and her passionate faith in God. Jesse cited these reasons whenever Jennifer asked him the question, Why did you marry me? The question came occasionally, usually when Jennifer suffered one of her frequent bouts of insecurity. Why would Jesse, a preacher’s kid and eventual heir to the throne of one of the East Coast’s biggest Pentecostal churches, be interested in Jennifer, the daughter of a manufacturing plant worker and a stock clerk at Hackney’s? With Jesse’s pedigree, he could have married someone worldlier and more sophisticated than Jennifer. Despite Jesse’s frequent displays of love for her, Jennifer felt that he was too good for her.

They met ten years ago, during a Christian financial development conference led by Jesse’s father, Rodereck Kane. The small church that held the conference was booked to capacity within days of the conference being announced on WKCR radio. Jennifer Trudeau was lucky to be able to get three tickets before the closing of registration. She had frequently listened to Rodereck Kane’s national broadcasts, particularly his signature message of living in prosperity. His message resonated with her because she wanted that type of life for herself. Growing up with her parents in Knoxville, they were never quite poor, but were always a paycheck or two from being there. Her dad usually started work the same time her mother got home from work, so she saw her parents together only on weekends. Her parents barely earned enough to pay the mortgage on their three-bedroom rambler on Pelham Park Road. When they paid for groceries and other necessities, there was nothing left over for luxuries such as shopping or a night out at the movies. It was a hardscrabble life that Jennifer had no interest in emulating.

Yet Jennifer so loved her parents that any opportunity she could find to get them out of the house for a night on the town, she would. Since the conference tickets were free, she invited her parents to attend with her. Neither of her parents had been to church much since the days her grandparents dragged them off to church on selected Sundays, and they had little interest in déjà vu. However, since their daughter went through the trouble to obtain the tickets, they agree to attend.

The day of the conference, Jennifer and her parents arrived early and found seats near the front of the auditorium. The conference began with fiery worship and praise for about thirty minutes, then moved to a heartfelt greeting and welcome from the host pastors. About forty-five minutes after the start of the program, Rodereck Kane took the stage. Tall and thin, but not skinny, he led the congregation in an exuberant praise to God. His hands were lifted, his eyes blue and earnest, his crow’s feet barely visible under his makeup, his almost impossibly well-coifed jet-black hair glimmering in the glow of the overhead lights. His voice was strong, with just the right measure of bass to give it a commanding, authoritative vibe. When he launched into his presentation, talking about the spiritual aspects of money, the Trudeaus paid rapt attention.

Midway through his talk, he brought another minister to the stage. Jesse Kane was almost the mirror image of his father, but more muscular and chiseled, revealing he had spent more time in the gym than his father. Jesse Kane gave a testimony about how following his father’s financial principles got him through bankruptcy in his early twenties and needing to give up his first home. During his talk, he looked around the audience and made eye contact with several people, as his father had taught him to do to connect with his audience. When he made eye contact with Jennifer, he no longer looked at anyone else.

Jesse would describe it as divine providence that Jennifer Trudeau caught his eye. After all, she was cute, but not remarkably gorgeous. The ends of her blond hair brushed her shoulders, and a slight run of barely noticeable freckles ran from cheek to cheek. Her bangs hung like a valance above her dark brown eyes, and she wore no jewelry or makeup–not even lipstick. She was model slender, but not skinny, and she wore a simple cream-colored blouse and blue jeans. She bore a striking contrast to a few of the other women seated in the first two rows. These women were dressed to the nines, complete with short three-figure skirts, legs crossed and heels dangling from well-manicured feet, décolletages slightly restrained and respectable for church but still prominently on display. These women were on the prowl for financially secure single ministers who were lonely and looking for love, and Jesse seemed to fit the bill. Jesse was financially secure, was the director of evangelism and missions at his father’s church, Harvest of Righteousness Fellowship of Manassas, Virginia. He was not lonely, but he was looking for love. That day, during the final leg of his several minute testimony, he could not keep his eyes off Jennifer, though she was the plainest looking woman at the front of the church.

The only thing Jennifer wondered in her mind was, “Why is he looking at me so much?”

She would find out when, after the service was over, Jesse scrambled his way past several well-wishers to catch up with Jennifer, who was about to leave with her parents. They would only chat for a couple of minutes, while her mother stood by watching, and while dad went to get the car. It was enough time for him to tell her that he wanted to get to know her a little better. She would say, nonchalantly, “I’m not interested.” Nevertheless, it was okay. Jesse would not press. After all, if God had meant for the two of them to be together, God would make it happen.

Divine providence came again when Jennifer’s mother, under the guise of having forgotten her cell phone, returned to the church, found Jesse greeting other guests, and gently interrupted him. Sammie Trudeau gave Jesse a piece of paper with Jennifer’s cell number written on it, and said only, “Call her. She’s a little shy, but she’ll warm up to you.” Then she left as abruptly as she arrived. Sammie was not normally in the business of playing matchmaker, but she knew a good catch when she saw one. At the time, she had been married to her husband for twenty-two years, and they were married a year after Jennifer was born. Their marriage had their fluctuations, but she knew that Harlan Trudeau was a good man, and she would not trade him for all the tea in China.

As Sammie suggested, Jesse called Jennifer, and Jennifer immediately bucked. Fifty things went through her mind. Why would this proper gentleman be interested in me? On what level can I relate to him? What do we have in common? She hoped he was not one of those rich men who liked to slum it in the ghetto, searching out chicks with no profile, pedigree, or connections, have their way with them, and then slip them a few bucks to keep quiet. That was something those rich men could not do to rich socialites, not without Wendy Williams talking about it on TV the next day.

Jennifer decided she would humor him. After all, once he got to know the real Jennifer, he would hightail it in the other direction. She would tell him about her life growing up right next to a trailer park. She would tell him about the time she smoked a joint in Bobby Simons’ rusty Mustang in the Shoney’s parking lot. She would mention that during a two-year period in her life after she graduated from AustinEastHigh School, more guys spent the night on top of her than a Sealy Posturepedic. She fully expected that he would lose her number, like so many other “good” men that had approached her.

Nevertheless, Jesse would not budge. He continued to call her, night after night. Rather than focus on all the negative aspects of her life, he preferred to focus on her life since she accepted Christ. He wanted to talk about her goals, and her aspirations and what God was doing with her. He spent many hours listening to her talk about her parents, her grandparents, her aunts, her uncles, her cousins. He wanted to talk about her life growing up as an only child, since she he was also one. He even confessed a few sins of his own as a teenager growing up in suburban Virginia, including the time he passed out after winning a drinking game at a college party, and several occasions of lying. He also spoke candidly about his father’s divorcing his mom when he was eighteen years of age. The confessions removed his “golden boy” sheen, but humanized him in Jennifer’s eyes.

After two years of dating, they were married in a small Baptist church in downtown Knoxville. It was a wedding attended mostly by the relatives of the bride and groom, along with a few select friends. Rodereck Kane officiated over the wedding, mostly to keep up appearances. Still, deep inside, he loathed his son’s choice of a wife. He would have preferred Jesse to marry one of the bourgeois “well-bred” single women at his church. He did not care if Jesse married pretty or ugly, black or white, thin or fat, if she had a pedigree that was in keeping with a successful minister. With Jennifer’s past involving drug use and promiscuity, she did not have a dog in that fight. Rodereck was glad that at least Jesse insisted that Jennifer get a blood test before they married.

They were riding past Valdosta, Georgia when Jesse’s cell chirped out “Amazing Grace” at twice the normal beat. Jennifer grabbed his phone from the armrest compartment and checked the caller ID.

“Who is it?” Jesse asked, his attention never wavering from the road.

“Says unknown number,” Jennifer replied. She pushed the answer button and held the phone to her ear. “Hello?”

She heard about five seconds of silence before she heard a click. She again looked at the phone display and, confirming the call was disconnected, placed the phone on the seat beside her. “Probably one of your girlfriends callin’ you,” she said.

Jesse scoffed, knowing that Jennifer was only joking. He also knew that she had never completely let go of a slight belief that he was receiving clandestine telephone calls from other women. Nonetheless, he had to reassure her.

“Honey, I would never cheat on you. You know that,” Jesse told her.

“Really?” Jennifer’s voice was challenging. “How do I know that? How do you know that? Everyone that’s ever cheated on their spouse at one time said, ‘I will never cheat on you.’ How do I know that statement is valid?”

“Would you feel better if I told you that, statistically, there’s an 80 percent chance that I will cheat on you?” Jesse said, quoting a statistic that he read in some blog.

“No, but at least I know you were living in reality.”

“And what is that reality? Believe that one day I will cheat on you?” Jesse said. “No. I don’t like impure thoughts like that. I prefer to focus my mind on what I need to do, and that’s be completely faithful to you, no matter what stats say.”

“Well, I thought that since you’re a chip off the old block . . .”

That statement angered Jesse so much that he pulled off to the side of the road in front of a shopping mall. He firmly placed the car in park and looked at Jennifer intently.

“Jennifer, we’ve been around about this for years now.” Jesse’s glare was angry yet reassuring. “I adore my father, but I am not him. He made a choice. I don’t have to make the same choice. There’s no cheating DNA running around in my body. If anything, the way my pop hurt my mom, I would rather do anything than subject you to that kind of experience.”

Jennifer stared straight ahead. The vroom of cars whizzing by punctuated the silence.

“Jen?”

She turned to him, searching his eyes.

“I love you. I wish you would believe that.”

“I do believe that,” Jennifer said. “Growing up hard makes you skeptical, I guess.” She grabbed the phone from her seat and placed in back into the armrest compartment. “I should never have answered your phone. I need to trust you.”

“I don’t mind you answering my phone.” Jesse put the car in drive and edged back onto I-75. “That’s only because I have nothing to hide.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Jennifer leaned toward him and gently stroked his forearm. “Let me make it up to you. There’s a Hampton Inn we just passed. Let’s turn around.”

Jesse smiled. “What about the kids?”

“I’ll call ma and tell her we’re gonna stop at a hotel, and we’ll be at their house tomorrow morning. We ain’t have much time to spend together in Haiti, so this may be the last hurrah before we get the kids and head back home.”

“Yeah.” Jesse took the next exit so he could cloverleaf to the other side of the highway. “But I, for one, cannot wait to get back home. I look forward to sleeping in my own bed.”

***

Connect with us at Conquest Publishers for more information about this publication.

Getting beyond “church as usual”

Church As Usual?

Many Protestant churches in D.C. follow the same mode: gather on Sundays for clergy-led worship, stay about two to three hours, and then go home.  For most of the worshipers, church is finished for the week. Their religious obligation is complete. Back to their regular lives.

Rinse. Repeat.

However, I know of at least two churches in the D.C. area that have taken enormous leaps and bounds away from the traditional, institutional church model (I may, with their permission, profile one of these churches in a future blog). To the casual observer, these churches may appear to be strange, even heretical. In fact, they are far from heretical (although I admit they are strange, in the sense that they are unusual expressions of the church in the D.C. area), and are wholly committed to preaching the gospel of Jesus and affecting lives in the city.

These churches gather for worship as a corporate body on Sundays, usually late in the afternoon. They own no church building, and are likely not interested in owning one. They meet in rented school buildings or churches. Their services are usually short, between an hour and two. In addition, unlike many churches in D.C., one would be hard-pressed to find anyone wearing a suit or a fancy church hat (a casual shirt and jeans are more commonplace).

What is most striking is that, for them, church does not end there. In fact, it is just the beginning. An essential part of their worship is community groups that gather weekly in various homes around the D.C. area. These gatherings are the continuation of worship that occurs on Sundays.  In these meetings, they pray, they praise God, they sing, they eat, they study the Bible, they might even play a game or discuss an impactful movie or TV show. But they do not exist just to have meetings. Each group has a mission, unique depending on the neighborhood, to impact the community and the culture through the gospel. These meetings are the personification of fellowship and community, and closely mirror the model of church presented in the Acts of the Apostles.

No doubt, these churches have broken from tradition and are hewing more closely to the New Testament model of church. And just what is that model? Pastor J. Todd Kingrea, in his new book, “Carrying on the Mission of Jesus: Rediscovering the mission, identity and purpose of the church,” takes the reader through a series of devotionals that cover the entire book of Acts. His premise is that the modern day church has been largely operating on the wrong model for 1,800 years and that God is calling the church back to the model and purpose of the New Testament church.

“I decided to write this book because I have seen too many churches merely existing for their own sake,” says Kingrea, an elder in the United Methodist Church. “They have lost their identity.  The only mission they seem to have is institutional maintenance and the status quo.  Churches are rapidly dying because they are not fulfilling their biblical mandate.  I want to cause people to stop and think–seriously–about their own church when compared to what we see in Acts.”

Certainly Kingrea’s book is not the first-and likely not the last-book to challenge the modern-day church to excellence. But Kingrea has a unique message to share with readers.n the United Methodist Church. “They have lost their identity.  The only mission they seem to have is institutional maintenance and the status quo.  Churches are rapidly dying because they are not fulfilling their biblical mandate.  I want to cause people to stop and think–seriously–about their own church when compared to what we see in Acts.”

carrying front cover thumbnail
Carrying on the Mission of Jesus, available on Amazon.com and B&N.

“I hope my readers will be challenged to evaluate their own church life and practice,” he says. “I would like to see more churches begin moving away from a social or cultural expression of Christianity, and reclaim the essence and biblical principles of the church in Acts.  It’s time today’s church stopped being little more than a social gather with some religion sprinkled on top of it.”

The book and its message have been getting rave reviews from churches Kingrea is connected to, as well as glowing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, including one who proclaims the book as “one of the best Christian books I have read.” Although Kingrea has no direct connection with the churches mentioned above, his book is proof positive that God is calling churches to think deeply about their operations. It is poised to start a movement of churches who reject tradition and return to doing “church” the way God intended. As Kingrea points out in his book, he prays, “this book will enhance your spiritual growth, and that God will begin a revitalization movement within your church…that you may transform the world outside your doors, and bring glory to God the Father!”

The Key to Happiness for Introverts

bigstock-emotional-woman-shouting-in-me-44371339I recently ran across two articles that discuss the traits of introverts as opposed to extroverts. As an introvert and the author of a book about introversion in the church, I was very interested in these articles. However, upon reading them, it became clear to me that the first article (How an Introvert Can Be Happier), presented a very misinformed view of introverts, while the second (The Church Lady blog. Can Introverts Handle an Extroverted Church Service?) expresses what I believe is God’s heart toward the introvert.

The reason I believe the WSJ article is misinformed is because it vaguely suggests that extroverts have a lock on happiness, and that introverts need to get with the extroversion program in order to be happy. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, many introverts, including myself, were confused and miserable trying to act like extroverts in order to fit in to an extroverted society. When I realized who I was and the mold in which God created me, I ceased striving to be something that I wasn’t. My impression is that the root of unhappiness springs from the desire to be someone other than who God created us to be.  We become unhappy trying to achieve a destiny other than that which God prescribes.

Not surprisingly, the WSJ article promotes a worldly view of what it takes to be happy. Follow the status quo. Do whatever is popular and successful. That is why so many people, especially young people, imitate and emulate popular athletes and entertainers. After all, don’t famous entertainers always appear to be happy and successful, even though it isn’t necessarily so?

The eight beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12 prescribes to the Christian the recipe for happiness. According to Wikipedia, the term beatitude comes from the Latin adjective beātitūdō which means happy, fortunate, or blissful. True happiness does not come from emulating others at the expense of ourselves, but it comes to those who are poor in spirit; those who mourn; those who are meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; those who are merciful; those who are pure in heart; those who are peacemakers; and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. These are qualities which are exclusive neither to the introvert nor to the extrovert, but to those who love God and obey his word.

Introverts, as well as extroverts, are fearfully and wonderfully made. The key to happiness is to realize that we are His, and that we are nothing unless we are adhering to His plan for our lives. And that plan involves recognizing whose we are, as well as who we are.

Louis N. Jones
Author of Wallflowers in the Kingdom: A Vindication of Introverts in the Body of Christ
www.louisnjones.com

Understanding when we don’t understand

iStock_000013185603XSmallOnce again, tragedy has struck America.

On May 20, a category EF5 tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, a town with a population of just over 55,000 people. The tornado killed at least 24 people, including 10 children, and injured more than 353 others. This happen just over a month after the bombings of the Boston marathon, and a little more than five months after the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

As a Christian, I struggle with these events. Like many others around the country, I watched with dismay the news coverage of these events. I witnessed the indescribable grief suffered by the families of those killed, and I prayed for them. But I also struggled to understand.

With the Boston Marathon bombings and the Sandy Hook shootings, there were people to blame. Human beings were directly responsible. Hatred, pity, disgust, and in some cases, prayers could be directed to them. We could reconcile these events by attributing them to “crazy people.” We could, if we chose to do so, redirect our anger to the creation of more effective gun laws, or more accessible mental health treatment, or better security at schools and public events.

But who do we blame for a tornado? What legislation will satiate the effects of a natural disaster?

Many will blame God.  Even I, as a devout, experienced Christian, found myself struggling to understand why God would allow the taking of so many lives, especially ten innocent children or, in the case of Sandy Hook, twenty innocent children. What justice or goodness could be achieved by allowing such disasters?

These questions represent a crossroads for many of us. At this point, some Christian believers, unable to reconcile their belief in a good and loving God with such horrible events, will move down the path toward agnosticism and atheism.  If they continue to “believe” in Jesus, there is an overarching hostility toward Him, and a blatant refusal to acknowledge Him in devotion and worship. This is the point where our faith in God can be strenuously tested.

As I write this, I do not know why God allowed such events to happen. Maybe it is not for me to know. Mankind often has such an insatiable quest of knowledge that it discomforts us to realize that we cannot and do not know everything. Only God is omniscient. And my faith in Him demands that though I may not know or understand everything that God does, I still have to trust Him and believe that He has our best interest at heart. God has a purpose and a plan for us. Sometimes that is hard to swallow in the wake of such terrible events. We want to know. We want to understand. We want to make sense out of something that is senseless. But Romans 11:33 reminds us, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” In the spiritual realm is wisdom and purpose far beyond our limited and finite understanding.

I pray for the families of the victims of the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, and for the families of all the tragic events that have occurred in this country over the past year. I don’t know the purpose behind which they grieve. Some will say that God is trying to get America’s attention. Others will say that it is the sign of the last days. But whatever it is, my faith is still undeterred. God is still in control. He is still a good and loving God. Even when it seems like He isn’t.

Louis N. Jones, Author and Publisher
Dove Christian Publishers
www.dovechristianpublishers.com

Is it appropriate to refer to church abuse as rape?

raped front cover webI have received some interesting and controversial comments about one of the new books that Conquest Publishers recently released. The book is entitled, “I’ve Been Raped by a Church: A Christian Recovery Guide for the Wounded.” The book chronicles author Vicky Lynch’s experiences with church pastoral abuse and gives biblical how-to advice to the reader about dealing with it.

The comments focused mostly on the title of the book (one person commented without even reading the book). The gist of the comments is that the use of the word “rape” in the title is troubling, especially since the book is not discussing sexual rape that takes place in church.

It is true that the commonly accepted meaning of the word “rape” is forcible sexual assault, an act that is violent, unwarranted, illegal, and causes physical and psychological harm. However, the spiritual and psychological damage that can occur with pastoral and church abuse is just as devastating as sexual rape, and gives credence to the use of the word “rape” as a metaphor for church abuse.

In some churches, the pastor or bishop is purported to be the representative of God in the life of that local assembly. The pastor may be just as vital to the local church as the pope is to the Catholic church. Church members often greatly honor, highly respect, and unequivocally trust their pastor. The pastor becomes heavily invested in the lives of his or her members, and vice versa. On matters of spiritual significance, the pastor becomes the final authority. The pastor becomes like a parent to them, and they like sons and daughters to the pastor. The pastor may not be God, but to local church members, he or she is about as close as you can get.

There are many church pastors who have this level of influence over their flock, and they use it with humility, govern in love, and seek only to bring their members into the potential that God has for them. But there are others who, unwittingly or not, use this influence to abuse and misuse their members. And because of the spiritual and psychological connection that exists between the pastor and church members, such abuse can —and often is—just as damaging as the spiritual and mental effects of sexual rape.

One can argue that an abused church member can always voluntarily leave the church, and thus avoid the abuse, while a rape victim does not have that choice. But abused church members often find it difficult to leave. Members that are heavily connected to their pastors often believe that God is speaking through them, and if they leave, they are dishonoring the pastor, and consequentially, dishonoring God. So, they will subject themselves to this dysfunctional relationship, believing that God will punish them if they sever the bond. For devout Christians who live each day to love and serve God, leaving the church and God’s representative is not an option. It is as if the pastor is holding a figurative gun to their heads and demanding that they stay, or else.

Therefore, as shocking and pointed as the word “rape” is, I believe the word is appropriate to describe the experience of a church member who has been subject to an unloving and abusive pastor and those who support that pastor. What do you think?

Are Christian Online Dating Sites the Will of God?

Recently I saw a TV commercial for a popular online dating site that is geared toward Christian singles. When I pulled up the site on the Internet, the home page included a Scripture quotation and makes an appeal to the viewer to “Find God’s Match for you.” A further examination of this site reveals that it is owned by a company that has several niche dating sites, including one for Jewish singles, and others for black singles and military singles. The Christian site includes a statement of faith, presumably for those who sign up, and tips for Christian dating.

There’s no denying the success of the site.  It claims to have more than 2,000,000 registered members and growing.  The site and its TV commercials include testimonials from those who have found their ideal mates through use of the site. And it includes endorsements from several pastors and ministers from around the country.

Obviously the site has gone through great lengths to present itself as a legitimate resource for online Christian socializing and dating.  The question is, are these online sites Biblical? Can God really use an online dating site to help a Christian man or woman find their mate for life? Can the will of God be realized through internet personals?

Critics of online dating sites say that using them reflects a lack of faith in God.  If you use an online dating site (also called online personals) to filter through a waiting pool of potential mates, are you truly trusting and believing in God?

There appear to be two extreme points of view when it comes to dating and marriage.  One is that all you need to do is trust in and believe in God, and seek to please Him, and do not worry about finding a wife, and one day it will happen. Maybe you will run into your future spouse in a supermarket, totally by accident. The scripture in Matthew 6:25-34 seems to support this view.

Conversely, there are those who believe that a high level of effort and searching are necessary to find a spouse. After all, doesn’t the scripture say, “He who finds a wife, finds a good thing” (Proverbs 18:22)?

Godly wisdom suggests the need to find a middle ground between these two extremes. Yes, it is necessary to trust and believe in God for your mate, but you may have to apply a certain degree of effort and searching in order to be successful at finding a mate.

Going as far back as Abraham’s effort to find his son Isaac a mate in Genesis 24, and continuing to this day, God has been very involved with mate selection, so finding one must always be done in a Godly manner and in accordance with faith and trust in Him. You must use Holy Spirit discernment as to the “where” and “how” you search for a mate. In Genesis 24, Abraham gave his servant direction as to where to search for a wife for his son Isaac. He told him not to look in the land of Canaanites, whom Noah previously placed a curse upon, but in Abraham’s own land and among his own relatives (v. 4). When Abraham’s servant had arrived near the spring in the town of Nahor, he prayed that the Lord would reveal to him the woman whom He had chosen for Isaac (vv.12-14). God led the steps of Abraham’s servant directly to the place, at the proper time, for him to meet the woman whom God had already set aside for Isaac. But it would have never happened if Abraham did not take the initiative to find a wife for his son.  And Isaac might never have met Rebekah if Abraham’s servant did not obey his master and go to the place where God had the blessing awaiting.

In modern times, Christian singles meet and date through church, at social events, in the marketplace, through friends and relatives, and at work. Online dating sites provide a meeting place for single Christians who may be too busy or too introverted to meet people through traditional means. However, just as a Christian must use spiritual discernment (Galatians 5:16) to determine which social events to attend, whom to socialize with at work, and which church to attend, the same discernment must be applied with online dating sites. While these sites are not sinful in and of themselves, they can be harmful for those who are functioning outside of God’s guidance. These sites can present a “quick fix” for immature Christians who have become impatient waiting on God’s blessing, and want to take the matter into their own hands.  They provide a way for lonely Christians to quickly and, with minimal effort, become linked with someone who is interested in them, even if God is not ready for them to take on a mate just yet.

On the other hand, sites like this may be perfect for introverts who do not get out much and may have trouble meeting people of the opposite sex. For those who are busy and have minimal opportunities to socialize, online dating sites may provide a means for them to meet people who could potentially become mates. But before you access any online dating site, make sure you consider the following:

Make sure you are spiritually, mentally, and financially ready for dating. Many people want mates. Unfortunately, not everyone is ready for them. Dating and marriage carry responsibilities that not everyone is prepared for. A person that is not fortified in the Lord may be subject to sexual temptation, financial temptation and other harmful vices. Just because a person is a Christian does not mean that the person has the attributes and character of an ideal mate. A person may use an online dating site to circumvent God’s redemptive work at getting the person ready for the mate of his or her choosing.

Bathe the matter in much prayer, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Even if you decide that online dating is God’s will for you, make sure you use Godly discernment throughout the process.

Make sure you are not doing this with purely selfish motives. Do not bow to impatience, loneliness, lust, low self-esteem, the belief that you will never find a mate, or the “ticking of the biological clock,” all of which often leads people to these sites.

As with many things in life, online dating sites can be a blessing to those who were meant to use them and use them properly, but can be destructive to others. Unless you are absolutely certain you are being led by God to connect with someone through online personals sites, stay clear of them and focus on your own relationship with God. Fellowship with other believers. Be diligent and watchful, and God will bless you with a mate in due time. Believe Proverbs 3:5-6, which reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.” Your circumstances are no reason to step outside of God’s will for your life. God is not limited by your circumstances. In the middle of your busy-ness, God can send you a mate. Even if you are not the life of the party, God can cause you to be a shining gem in the eyes of a future spouse.

In time, God will lead you to your prince or princess charming.

Louis N. Jones
www.dovechristianpublishers.com