Heart of Grace (Return to Grace Trilogy #1)

BOOK: Heart of Grace (Return to Grace Trilogy #1)
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ALSO BY ABIGAIL EASTON
Prodigy
Heart of Grace
Book One in the Return to Grace Trilogy
Abigail Easton

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and
incidents are products of the author’s imagination and are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or
locations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

No portion of this book may be copied, retransmitted,
reposted, duplicated, or otherwise used without the express
written approval of the author, except by reviewers who may
quote brief excerpts in connection with a review.

Copyright © 2014 Abigail Easton

 

All rights reserved.

 

Printed in the United States of America

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

 

ISBN-13: 978-1495916205
ISBN-10: 1495916200

 

Preface

Heart of Grace
is the story of woman who finds redemption in
the last place she expected to find it:
home
. When I sat down to
type those first words about a business woman returning to the
hometown she had escaped fifteen years earlier, I had no way
of knowing the pain and redemption that was about to occur
in my own life. Through the years and the numerous rewrites
of
Heart of Grace
I endured a failed marriage and several more
devastating heartbreaks, each one reflective of a void I had
been desperately trying to fill with the wrong things.

My search for home took me on a journey that I now see
echoed in Angela’s story. My hope is that you will see at least
part of your own story, and that you will be encouraged in
knowing that through whatever pain we must endure, there is
help and healing available.

God bless,
Abby
For Caitlyn and Emily

 

ONE

Angela Donnelly raised her face to the rain. The water
stung her eyes, but she blinked through it and fought back
tears. The lights of Manhattan towered high above her, drifting
endlessly toward a black sky.

The rain and the bone-rattling chill were drastically
different from the place she had just left. The harsh reality of
nature and the splatter of passing cars were a welcomed change
to the soft melodies and gentle light of the restaurant. This cold
tempest suited her mood better, she mused as she lifted a hand
to hail a cab and the wind whipped around her legs.

She braced as a cab pulled up to the curb and splashed
water over her shoes and pant legs. Water dripped off her
ruined suit and onto the vinyl seat as she slid into the back, the
delicate fabric clinging to her legs. She yanked the door shut.

“Where to?” The driver snapped.
“Fifth Avenue and Tenth Street.”
“What you doin’ out without a umbrella?” He shook his

head and maneuvered into traffic.

Angela back leaned against the seat and watched the rain
bead up on the window and then wash away in rivulets. “Oh,
is it raining?” she quipped. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“Yeah, you got my cab wet.” He glanced back with a smirk.
“Should ring out before you get in my cab.”
She was certain her mascara was streaked down her cheeks,
no doubt made all the more pathetic by her pale skin and long
rain-matted hair. She could let the tears fall and no one would
notice; she was already a mess. But she stiffened and raised her
chin. “I’m on tenth, just east of fifth. It’ll be the fourth
brownstone on the right.”
The rain came down harder as the driver made his way
across town. When he pulled up to the curb Angela hurried out
of the cab and up the stone steps of her Greenwich Village
walkup. She fumbled with the key, her fingers frozen and
numb, and then
rushed inside. The outside
lamps
cast
flickering shadows across the small lobby, mottled by rain
drops falling on the glass door. She inhaled the scent of wet
brick and her own perfume and tried to shake off the feeling
of the walls closing in on her.
She had lived in a similar walkup when she had majored in
business at New York University. Five girls crammed into two
rooms, all writers and artists. Angela had been the odd woman
out. She
preferred working
with numbers
and market
predictions over discussing the works of Hemingway and Van
Gogh; the logical over the whimsical.
Her contract with Sykes and Steeple Investments included
an apartment of her choice. The same day she had received her
first paycheck she had paid for her first tailored suit and moved
into this apartment. She could have chosen one on the Upper
West Side, or midtown overlooking the lights and movement,
but she liked Greenwich Village with its tree-lined streets and
Sunday morning farmers’ market.
Angela’s paychecks had grown through the years, but not
nearly as quickly as she had hoped. Her diet consisted mostly
of yogurt and overripe fruit. She justified her only luxury – a
closet full of expensive suits – by thinking of it as an
investment. But in spite of her budding career as a business
analyst, she was beginning to think the predictions she had
made about her own life were destined to always fall flat.
Someday might never come, regardless of her ability to predict
market fluctuations almost as well as she could predict the next
train.
Sometimes the cost wasn’t worth the payoff.
She retrieved her mail from the brass box and hurried up
the stairs, her stocking feet sloshing inside her shoes.
Men like her last client were not all that hard to come by.
Her life had amounted to a compilation of shady business and
even shadier men. All she had to show for it was the
anticipation of an evening spent with cheap wine in a vain
attempt to pretend that mountain of regret did not exist.
Angela pushed wet hair off her shoulder and slid her key
into the lock. The doorknob turned too easily. The door was
unlocked. She pushed it open and walked through the small
foyer and into the living room. Jeffrey Sykes sat on her sofa.
The low melody of a saxophone streamed from the digital
player on her bookshelf. In contrast to the heated thoughts
screaming in her head, the room was warm, the music quiet.
The patter of rain on the roof and windows the only other
sounds. Jeffrey had lit one dim lamp so that it illuminated him
from an angle, casting shadows across his face. The glass he
held caught a glare from the light. Angela recognized it as one
of the glasses from the set he had bought her during their trip
to Vermont last fall.
“Breaking and entering.” Angela flicked off the music. “I
wouldn’t think you capable of it.”
Jeffrey sipped his wine, standing only after he had taken a
moment to savor the taste. The handsome lines of his olivetoned face and the contrast of his dark hair and blue eyes were
more pronounced in the low
light. He demonstrated
knowledge of that fact by eyeing her across the bridge of his
nose. His position as Senior Analyst and Partner at Sykes and
Steeple Investments warned her to tread carefully, but the true
threat came from that familiar stab of physical desire.
“I still have my key.” He produced it from his coat pocket.
Angela grabbed it. “You gave up the right to use this.”
He chuckled. “I have another spare in my office. I do, after
all, hold the lease to this quaint abode.”
She lifted her brow and curled her fist tightly around the
key.
“You can’t still be upset.”
“Upset?” Angela moved into her bedroom and partially
shut the door to keep out of his view. “What do I possibly have
to be upset about?” she called out sarcastically as she stripped
out of her wet clothes and donned a light robe. “All things
considered, I think the only thing I’m truly upset about is the
fact that I had to fire my assistant over this. She was a really
good assistant. Unless you count that tiny little issue of her
sleeping with my boyfriend.”
She went into the bathroom and quickly washed her face.
“But we are both adults,” she said as she patted her face dry
with a towel and caught the bewilderment of her hazel eyes in
the reflection of the mirror. “I think you and I have come to a
proper understanding. In spite of the animosity between us,
and the fact that I now find myself living smack dab in the
middle of a cliché, we’ve seemed to maintain an agreeable
working relationship.”
She walked back into the living room to find him standing
just outside her bedroom door. “Of course,” she added icily,
“the definition of agreeable is subjective.”
Just as her client, Mr. Ikomish, had done an hour earlier,
Jeffrey ran the back of his fingers across her cheek. “Angela, it
was over a month ago, surely we can move on from this.”
She leaned away from his touch, but kept her eyes locked
with his. “Is that why you’re here, to see if my tiff has worn off
yet?”
“I wanted to see you,” he whispered, the smell of wine on
his breath.
“I wanted to see you, too.” Angela stepped back, her arms
crossed over her chest.
Jeffrey grinned, undeterred by the distance she had put
between them. “Well, here I am.”
“Yes,” she said, tongue-in-cheek, “here you are.”
With an arrogant lift of his chin and a charming smile – the
same look he used in the boardroom – Jeffrey took another
step toward her.
She let him pull her into his arms, but she raised her gaze
defiantly. “Mr. Ikomish liked your proposal better than mine.”
That wiped the grin off his pretty face. “He approached
me.”
“Liar. He’s not the first client you’ve stolen from me. You
know how hard I worked on that account.” She pushed him
away. “Is that how this works, Jeffrey? I reel them in, and you
take the glory?”
“No.” He spread his hands out in front of him. “That is
absurd. Does it matter who receives the glory, as long as the
firm is benefited?”
“But you advised me to not pursue his business,” Angela
pointed out, irritated with herself for coming so close to
whining. “You said he wasn’t high-end, that he was hardly
worth the effort. You just wanted him for yourself.”
“I didn’t think you should pursue him because he’s not
high-end enough for you.” Jeffrey’s voice softened, a clever
trick of his. “Angela, you have a very promising career ahead
of you, and it will do you no good to waste your time with
mediocre accounts. You need to fill your portfolio with high
profile clients. Let me handle the smaller stuff.”
“So this is for my benefit?” She let out a harsh laugh. “How
kind of you. And why should I bother with pesky financial
matters when my true contribution to the firm is so much more
valuable? Keep the clients happy. Is that all you think I’m good
for?”
Jeffrey knit his brow, feigning confusion.
Feeling as though the floor might tumble out from beneath
her, Angela sat on the sofa and pressed her fingers against her
forehead. “Ikomish hit on me, and he was not subtle about his
intentions, nor the source of his assumption that I’m fair
game.”
“You’re a beautiful woman, Angela. Things like that
happen in this business. It can’t be avoided.”
“Yes it can. I quit.”
Jeffrey stared at her incredulously. “You can’t do that. You
wouldn’t
do that.”
“I just did. Oh.” She curled in, her head on her knees, and
told herself she’d let the fear take over for only five seconds.
When she reached the count of four she felt the sofa
cushion give beside her. “Angela,” Jeffrey soothed, his hand
on her back, “you’ve had a rough night. Okay. Fine. Mr.
Ikomish is yours. I’ll give you the commission. It’s a pittance
to me, but I know it would mean a great deal to you. Is that
what you want? Does that make it better?”
“No.” Angela stood and shuddered, shaking off the feel of
Jeffrey’s warm hand on her back and his slick voice in her ears.
“You need to leave.”
He doggedly followed her into the foyer, but he made no
move for the door. “You can’t just quit because a client hit on
you. Do you have any idea what you are giving up?”
She gathered the mail she had collected from the lobby; a
stack of bills she would never be able to pay without a job. Her
cell phone buzzed. It was past ten. No good news ever came
from phone calls that late.
Jeffrey shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his
fingers rapidly tapping his thigh.
Angela exhaled sharply, slapped the bills back onto the
entryway table, and pulled her phone from her purse. Her
brother’s name flashed across the screen.
Michael.
She swiped the “reject” icon.
“Angela.”
She sucked in a breath and dared herself to look at Jeffrey.
“I know you’re upset,” he said, “but you don’t really want
to quit, do you?”
He found a way to look sympathetic, although she could
still see the annoyance in his eyes. Even so, there was a
shimmer of the thing that had attracted her to him in the first
place. He had come there for one purpose; he’d left no
misconceptions about that. For a moment, Angela considered
taking the distraction, but then the image of Jeffrey and her
assistant, together in his bed, flashed in her mind.
“Of course I’m upset,” she said, turning her thoughts away
from the disturbing memory. “I’m upset that you’re here,
Jeffrey. I believe I asked you to leave.”
“I think you’ll reconsider everything once you have had
time to calm down.”
He leaned his face close to hers. There was a weakness in
her that almost met him halfway. With some effort, she backed
away and refused to look at him. “You’ll receive my written
resignation via email. Goodnight.”
He leaned in again, but then thought better of it, efficiently
thwarted by the flick of her seething eyes. “Fine.” He opened
the door. “You have forty-eight hours to clear out your
personal items before I have the locks changed. The apartment
comes with the job. No job, no apartment.”
Jeffrey stood firm, his hand on the doorknob. He waited
for her reaction.
She stayed still and silent, as though she were looking from
the outside in at herself and she might wake up from this dream
at any moment. Perhaps she had only to close her eyes and she
might awake in an unfamiliar bed that first morning in her new
apartment, her new suit still hanging in plastic on the back of
her closet door.
But this was no dream and the threads of that first suit had
worn away years ago. She kept her eyes glued to Jeffrey’s and
tried to remember him as he had looked the day he interviewed
her. He had enchanted her with the way he studied her from
his throne behind the mahogany desk, his eyes dancing with
pleasure. Tonight those same eyes darkened with contempt.
“Goodnight, Jeffrey.”
She knew he wanted to urge her again to stay, and part of
her hoped he would. He bit down on his words and walked out
the door.
She leaned against the wall. The sound of the door clicking
shut, and the finality of it all, like a gunshot through the quiet
room.
The phone buzzed again.
Angela closed her eyes and slid down the wall until she was
sitting on the hardwood floor beside the entryway table. She
waited for the buzzing to stop and for the room to settle back
into silence.
Thunder rattled the walls and broke through the quiet.
Angela jerked back against wall, her hands fisted in her hair.
The rain continued to fall. Street lights shined through the
windows, illuminating the things she had collected through the
years.
You have forty-eight hours to clear out your personal items.
She shook her head to empty Jeffrey’s voice from her
thoughts, the weight of a mountain on her shoulders. An
envelope sat on the shelf of the table beside her. She’d tucked
it there more than a week ago. She reached for it and removed
the letter inside. The paper was soft, the edges worn.
The letter was from an attorney, informing her that her
father had willed his rodeo arena to her upon his death. She
wanted nothing to do with anything that had belonged to
Henry
Donnelly.
She
had refused to go to his
funeral,
convinced that nothing good would come of returning to the
small ranching town where she had grown up. Grace, Montana
was filled with too many demons, but as she re-read the letter
for the hundredth time she wondered if they were any worse
than the demons taunting her now.
****
Had Cole Jordan not been poised above a ticked-off
bronco, he might have reflected, with some sense of wonder,
on the full crowd and the thousands of eyes trained on him.
Waiting as he waited.
But the veteran rodeo star from Montana focused only on
his adversary.
His hands gripped the thick fence rungs and he sucked
three
consecutive
breaths
through clenched
teeth. His
opponent snorted, angry at the confines of its pen. Cole settled
onto its bare back and wrapped the rigging around his hand.
He heard only the thrumming in his veins; felt only the muscles
of the bronco beneath him.
He tipped his hat and the chute swung open, punctuated
by the eruption of shouts from the crowd. He would not notice
that roaring excitement until later, and only after he had lost
the battle between man and beast.

BOOK: Heart of Grace (Return to Grace Trilogy #1)
3.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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