Authors: Nancy Toback,Kristin Billerbeck
Table of Contents
Copyright © 2004 by Kristin Billerbeck and Nancy Toback. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the permission of the publisher, Truly Yours, PO Box 719, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
Our mission is to publish and distribute inspirational products offering exceptional value and biblical encouragement to the masses.
All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.
PRINTED IN THE U.S. A.
Tom lowered the truck’s electric window and squinted at the hazy gray sky. A smidgen of sunshine broke through the clouds. He should’ve gone to the Bronx Zoo with Frank—and the promise of “the blind date from heaven.”
At the blare of a car horn, Tom punched the accelerator, drove through the intersection, and turned right. He glided to a stop in the tow-away zone in front of Jessica’s apartment building.
Instead of a romantic possibility at the zoo, he’d opted to eat up his Saturday morning in a bridal shop. He knew the routine. This would be Jessica’s sixth march down the aisle as a bridesmaid. He’d been there for the previous five fittings—driven to distraction as Jess stood poised on a platform, a seamstress pinning material around the perfect curves of her tall, slender frame.
Tom scrubbed his hand across his jaw and huffed out a deep breath. After sixteen years as her friend, he knew she’d never see him as anything more. Yet here he was, as faithful as ever, by her side. He had to be kidding himself. He shot a glance at her building. The spike of self-pity in his gut disintegrated at the sight of Jess, whirling past the doorman, a smile lighting her gorgeous features.
The concierge pulled open the truck door. “Thanks, Pete,” Jessica said. She slipped into the truck, tugging at her little black skirt, then stretched her long legs under the dash. The rotund doorman tipped his hat and closed the door.
Tom cleared his throat. “Good morning.”
Jessica turned her bright blue gaze on him. Her sweet lips curved in a smile. “Good morning.”
He could only fathom to what degree his face heralded his lovesick state. Not that Jessica would notice. They were “best friends.” And best friends weren’t supposed to fall in love with one another. Some unspoken law of ethics dictated he keep his mouth shut—unless he was prepared to risk losing her forever. And he wasn’t.
Reaching across the seat, Jess wrapped her pretty tapered fingers around his upper arm. “Thanks for doing this for me, Tom.” She tilted her head. Her thick, dark hair fell forward over one shoulder. “The good news is I’ve run out of single friends.” Her musical laugh rippled over him. “This should be our last trip for a fitting.”
“No problem.” Tom slid the gearshift into drive. Any normal male would be relieved to be let off the hook. But, barring her driving phobia, Jess never asked him to step in as her knight in shining armor. He’d volunteered—heart and soul.
“I have the directions.” Jess riffled through her soft leather purse. Her clean orange-vanilla scent filled the cab, making its way to his heart. She unfolded several scraps of paper, clucking her tongue, mumbling about having to get organized.
A strong sense of déjà vu hit him. Tom smiled. “The shop is in Queens, right?” He surveyed the traffic on York Avenue, bottled up as far as his eyes could see.
“Yes, Queens—found it!” Jess ran her finger under the black lettering on the page. “The Fifty-ninth Street bridge, of course.”
“I’d better try Second Avenue.” Tom gave her a sidelong glance. “Do you want to go for breakfast after the fitting?”
Jess bit her lip, eyes narrowed. “I don’t know if we’ll have time. The new assistant chef didn’t work out.” She groaned. “Back to working on Saturdays until I find a replacement.”
A familiar pinch of disappointment clenched his stomach. “What time do you have to be in Flavors today?” Skimming around a taxi to get to the corner, Tom rolled up the window to block out the sound of the cursing cabbie.
“Around eleven or—ha!” Jess tossed the directions on the seat beside her. She waved around the papers in her other hand. “I forgot I had these with me. Perfect! I need your help.”
Lord, let her always need me.
“What is it?” A short silence hung between them. From his peripheral vision, he felt her scrutinizing him. “Jess? What—”
“I–I need to find my glasses.” She dug inside her purse. “By the way, how did things work out for you with the blind date on Wednesday?”
“Must you ask?” He unzipped his jacket and extended his arm toward her. “You want to help me out of this?” Blind dates weren’t meant for people already in love. He had to hand it to Frank. He’d introduced him to quite a few beautiful, intelligent, Christian women. Only he never got past comparing them to Jessica. This was bordering on mental illness. He had to either play his hand and risk losing her or go on being her best buddy for the rest of his life. He sighed. The latter was so much safer.
“Of course I have to ask. It’s my job as your nosy friend. What was she like?” Jess tugged at his cuff, then leaned toward him till her breath feathered his face. He could turn to her now. Kiss her— “She was really nice. We just didn’t—”
“Click?” Jess peeled off his jacket and squeezed his upper arm. “Have you been working out at the gym behind my back?”
“Nah, I’m just a late bloomer.” He could imagine himself later today, digesting her words, letting them feed into his undying hope.
Jess laughed, folded his jacket, and set it on the seat between them. “Sorry the blind date didn’t fly.” She sighed. “Do you think there’s something wrong with us, Tom?”
Oh, yeah, there was definitely something wrong with him. “How so?”
“Well, why are we both still single at thirty-two?” Jess pulled out her glasses and tossed her bag on the seat.
He had the answer to this one. He buried it, cleared his throat. “Maybe we shouldn’t have dropped out of the singles’ group at church.” Maybe if he had never laid eyes on Jessica—
“Oh, Tom, please!” Jess tore off her glasses. “After awhile we were parenting the singles. Remember? They started coming to us for advice like we were two senior citizens.”
Laughing, Tom eased the truck onto the bridge. “We have to wait for God’s perfect timing. That’s all.” He glanced across at the Manhattan skyline, the sun glinting off the Empire State Building. “Gorgeous day.”
Jess turned. Her clear blue gaze locked on his, snuffing any lingering regret of missing out on “the blind date from heaven” and the Bronx Zoo.
“That’s easy for you to say, ‘God’s perfect timing.’ Your biological clock isn’t ticking. My job keeps me too busy to socialize. I think I’ll try another route.”
Battling against the dread curling around his heart, he raked his mind for a way to keep her from taking a new route to finding Mr. Right. “Don’t let fear make you run out and do anything stupid.” Great! Perfect response.
“Thanks for your vote of confidence.” Jess slipped on her glasses, smoothed out the papers in her hand, and readied her pen. “Will you help me fill out this questionnaire, or what?”
“What is that? Another insurance form?” Tom smirked. “For a Scrabble pro, you sure let those forms trip you up.” He pulled into the right lane to prepare to exit the bridge. Jess bit her lip, her thick, dark lashes shielding her exquisite eyes. Tom groaned. “Okay, I know that look. What’s going on?”
She grinned. “I think I’m going to take Marilyn’s route.”
His breath stopped in his lungs. “You’re not serious?” He forced the words past the dull ache in his throat. Jutting the wheel right, he exited into Queens.
“Well, you’re acting as if I slapped your face or something.” Jess picked up her purse and stuffed the papers back into her bag.
Talk about misreading signs. If she were willing to go to this extreme, he didn’t even qualify for the running. Making a sharp right into a gas station, he stepped on the brakes and threw the gearshift into park.
“What are you doing?” Jess stared at him.
Tom rolled down the window, clicked off the engine, then turned to the attendant. “Fill her up, please.” With his hands in a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, he turned to face her. “You’re talking about an online dating service. Isn’t that what Marilyn—”
online dating service. But forget I ever mentioned it.” Jess crossed her arms over her midsection. “Men don’t understand these things anyway.”
Nodding, he tried to steady his breaths. “Men understand these things all too well. Why don’t you take out an ad in
while you’re at it?”
Jess tossed him a sarcastic grin. “Well, things turned out great for Marilyn. That’s how she met her minister husband, and two kids later, she’s looking pretty happy from this side of the fence.”
“Okay, so it worked out for Marilyn. But if you look at this statistically—”
“See—that’s your problem.” Jess bristled. “You’re letting your mathematical mind take over. Love isn’t some perfect formula.” She shrugged. “If you choose to look at it statistically—the glass half-empty—that’s your prerogative. But I intend to go for it.”
“I’m a financial advisor, not a mathematician.” Tom handed his credit card to the gas station attendant. “And those papers”—he gestured at her purse with his chin—“what are they?” He knew. He had to hear it with his own ears. Maybe it would knock enough sense into him to know it was time to abandon ship.
Jess swiped her purse off the seat. “It’s the Love Online questionnaire.” Smiling, she pulled out the papers. “C’mon, Tom. You’re the only one I trust to help me fill them out. You see me objectively, but through a man’s eyes. You know?”
Objectively? He hadn’t been objective since the day Jessica slipped into the desk in front of his, junior year, Manhattan Christian High School. She’d turned, smiled, and asked if he had an extra pen. With his lips pressed tight to hide his braces, he handed her his pen and fell in love straight away.
Tom signed the credit card slip, passed it to the attendant, and restarted the engine. He looked down at the directions to the bridal shop. Perfect. Half a mile and they’d be there. Then the fitting. Then the drive back. And then, if it took a week of praying and fasting, he’d knock every thought of Jessica Stewart out of his thick skull.