Authors: Eva Shaw
Tags: #romance, #contemporary
This edition published by
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
10151 Carver Road, Suite 200
Blue Ash, Ohio 45242
Copyright © 2012 by Eva Shaw
ISBN 10: 1-4405-5226-6
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-5226-7
eISBN 10: 1-4405-5225-8
eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-5225-0
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © 123rf.com
Place the blame where it should go: On chocolate.
I opened the front door of my Vegas condo. And nearly slammed it, except the man I faced handed me a golden, foiled-wrapped container with the unmistakable Godiva label. Then he took a step back. He’d baited a hook, and I was caught.
I grabbed the box. If it hadn’t been for that lure of dark chocolate, I’d have stayed happily ignorant about sex slaves, black-market babies, cheatin’ preachers, and an assortment of lowlifes that intruded on my cluttered, fluttered and frazzled life.
If I’d slammed the door, I’d would never have been rejected, arrested and nearly exterminated. Wait, like always, I’m getting ahead of the story and how it all happened.
You see, at the stroke of another hot summer midnight, I found myself feeling the breeze on my backside and sniffing the corners of a chocolate snare. I ripped open the box, placed a sensually scrumptious chocolate into my mouth, slurped and swirled the wickedly decadent cocoa around on my tongue, and eyed what the devil had dumped on my doorstep. Medical studies have proven it’s a bad idea to let woman with PMS eat a pound of Godiva at one time, or some news report said, I think. Trust me. It’s an even
idea to try to take chocolate away from a woman, with PMS or not.
The guy didn’t know my cycle, but he certainly knew women. So he didn’t come closer until I’d gobbled up three more. In a row. Then I handed back the empty box.
Forget what you’re thinking. This man was not a hunka hunka burnin’ love, but seemed to be my pudgy grandfather. Or a doppelganger dressed collar to cuffs with glitter galore, gold and gosh-awful fake-e-o alligator-esque cowboy boots, with spurs in the shape of skulls. They clanked when he backed up, reverberating like cymbals.
He squinted in the porch light as his chin dragged low. He grumbled, muttered, and withdrew his left hand from behind him, producing yet another box with the chocolatier’s signature label. I salivated, snatched it, and stepped back. You see, I’m not addicted to the stuff, I’m chocolate-enriched. I am not officially plump, I’m just short for my body weight.
Okay, that brings you the abbreviated version of why five minutes later my disgruntled relative was huddled on the beige sofa in the sterile Las Vegas condo I got with my current job and why I was stomping in front of him. See, I am usually the one who solves problems, being that I’m a minister and all.
Yes, you heard it right. I might not look like one as I am rounded on all the right edges and with a propensity for wearing clothes showing a smidge of cleavage and it’s true if you’ve heard that I have Victoria’s Secret’s site as my homepage. Like it or not, that’s me, Pastor Jane Angieski. I’m fully licensed, fully educated, and fully confused most of the time.
You’re not the first, you know, to wonder how a flashy woman like me got into the ministry business. Most folks do not come straight out and ask if I am a preacher because they’re so dumbfounded to find out I know the Good News backward, forward and well done in the middle. My response? “You see, they have quotas. Recall affirmative action? Needed more women who had some curves and padding in the ranks, and that’s me,” I say. The one who asks gets a glazed look and nods. Honestly? Hold on to something sturdy because here it comes:
During college, I worked in retail (see above Victoria’s Secret reference), at a mortuary where I applied make-up to the dearly departed, gave out contraceptives and condoms at a free clinic in Watts, and did time asking, “Want fries with that?” Along the way, I made enough so I could head to UCLA for a master’s in psychology because I’m outrageously curious about people. Honestly, a few days before graduation I went to a program on campus, because the A/C in my apartment was broken and I knew there would be cake and coffee. The program was to recruit grad students into the ministry. I signed on the dotted line right then, attended seminary, graduated with honors, accepted an assistant minister gig straight out the door, and got kicked out because I worked with the cops in tracking down hoods in the hood where I was the pastor for this ghetto church. The church council didn’t mind that I nabbed the bad guys looking like a lady of the evening who could do it all through the night. What they didn’t like was that I appeared on the front of the
in a hot pink leather miniskirt, strappy sandals that only enhanced the look, and a blouse leaving little to the imagination of your Great Aunt Tillie. The story hit the national news, and wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, little old me was seen and talked about on
, MSNBC, Twitter, YouTube, and it then went viral.
begged for an interview but better judgment snapped in. I declined — well, only because my denomination’s district council put the brakes on that one. Besides, I don’t always want to stay second fiddle in church hierarchy. I do have pride. I’d like to be known, someday, as an important minister, but not the television evangelist kind with those flapping eyelashes and hair like Marge Simpson. No offense, Marge, but it’s not a good look for either of us.
The happy ending to the above knuckle-rapping was that the jerks who were dealing, drugging, and pimping went to a “helping” place in California, clogging an overstuffed prison system even more, and I got thanked by getting my backside booted to Vegas. I wasn’t exactly demoted, but I’m no longer a full pastor. These days, if I should burp without saying, “
,” the council knows. Hence the youth minister I’m filling in for left exact instructions so I wouldn’t lead the teens on a slope that has flashing orange signs reading, “Beware: Point of No Return.”
Back to the man of the midnight hour — the grumbling continued, and like waiting out a storm, I sat down next to that huddled mass of manhood, Henry J. Angieski, Ph.D., my grandfather. In all my thirty-five years, I’d never seen him defeated.
Quick footnote on my family: He and Gram couldn’t have children, and knew it before they married. Gramps always says it like this: “Uncle Sam really needed me and thought a tropical Asian trip might help me to understand humanity better.” That meant he was unemployed after grad school, was drafted and sent to Vietnam. About Dad? Gramps says, “I found the son of my heart there, always hanging around the barracks. He had red hair, like your Gram, and the most intense almond-shaped eyes I’d ever seen. When I was accepted into the doctorate program, your Uncle Sam let me come home with the things I found there, from the bullet wound in my knee to a ten-year-old kid.” Gramps and Gram made it official — adoption was different then. They couldn’t trace Dad’s biological parents; the country was in shambles and of course had already been invaded by the French, English and Russians before the US stepped into the mess. Then Gram died, a painful battle with cancer, and a couple months later I came into the picture. When my parents decided that parenthood didn’t shake, rattle, or roll on their personal Richter scale, Gramps once more manned up. Story goes that they piled their macrobiotic rice, pine nut smoothies, ceremonial drums, unfiltered carrot juice and love beads inside a rusting, purple VW van dotted with painted daisies, dumped pint-size me on Gramps’ doorstep, and went in search of their bliss. I believe they were ten years past the real hippies. Last I heard, when I was sixteen, they were in Sedona, finding and selling therapy rocks to tourists. I’m happy for them, really, but getting a rock in the mail for your birthday stinks. That’s enough of me, at least for a minute, as it was the grunting, grumbler grandfather on the ghastly sofa that this is all about.
He sighed from the pointy toes of his red boots. Then grunted. I would have sworn he swore, but I knew better.
“Call me Onesimus.” The statement ended in a pheewee.
“Get a clue, you’re a preacher. You should know this stuff, always spouting it off as you do all Bible belting and never letting a man swear without raising those eyebrows. Oh, don’t give me that look, girl. Won’t do you any good this time. I’m immune. Been looking at myself to long one of your freeze-frame frowns frazzle me. You know I’m talking the truth.”
My mouth flapped, “Old or New Testament?” If only someone had videoed my mouth gaping and eyes blinking, I would have been a shoe-in for
America’s Funniest Home Videos
. “Onesimus, Pastor.” He spoke as if I were a dolt, which I felt like. And a stranger, which I certainly wasn’t.
He never calls me Pastor. Never before had he even raised his voice to me. “Who are you and what did you do with my grandfather? My gramps is happily living in Carlsbad, California. That’s right along the Pacific and north of San Diego. My gramps is in bed right now, not in Vegas, baby.”
We stared at each other, and then a two-watt light bulb my brain flickered. “Do you mean Onesimus, as in the slave the Apostle Paul writes about?”
“Bing-a-ding ding, girl. Listen, Jane, I’m having a crisis, one that’s, well, personal, as personal and private as it can get for a man.”
From the dancing rhinestones on his denim shirt, past the belt buckle, which was the size of Rhode Island, to the candy-apple red Mustang convertible, which I noticed since it was in the middle of my driveway, the man was either auditioning for a low-budget movie or had lost his senses. Besides, my grandfather never needed help. Never wore cowboy clothes, either, for that matter. He was dependable, taught music at the university, and played with an aging boomer band who’d just found out they were hip. The man had style, grace, out of
. Okay, there were some fifty- and sixty-something women circling like ravenous seagulls chasing a fishing boat, but he always chose right from wrong when it came to women. Then again, I never had a conversation about the birds and bees with him.
“Ohhhhhhh, personal and private,” I muttered, regretting my decision to have the second Lean Cuisine dinner, even if it was diet food because I absolutely, positively didn’t want to discuss my grandfather’s sexual inadequacies or performance.
Heck-o, I never intended or wanted this talk. But I blurted in more than a squeak than a pastoral voice, “Crisis? Men your age are past that. For Pete’s sake, don’t tell me you’re here in Vegas to marry an eighteen-year-old half-dressed dancer who wears pink feathers that glow in the dark with matching pasties that barely cover her nipples. Or that she’s employed in a strip club as a stripper.”
A giggle came from me, a grunt came from him.
“Say any of that is true, and I’m kicking your knickers back to Carlsbad.” I yanked his sleeve, being careful not to dislodge one of the three million rhinestones on that part of his shirt. He either didn’t get my little joke or … Wait, this couldn’t be.