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: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events
portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or
are used fictitiously.
STIRRING UP STRIFE
Copyright (c) 2010 by Jennifer Stanley.
Excerpt fromPath of the Wicked
copyright (c) 2010 by Jennifer Stanley.
All rights reserved.
For information address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York,
ISBN : 978-0-312-37685-7
Printed in the United States of America
St. Martin's Paperbacks edition / January 2010
St. Martin's Paperbacks are published by St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth
Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
my spirited, beautiful friend.
The author would like to thank:
Mary Harrison, for the invitation to attend Bible Study at Third Presbyterian Church, and to the kind-hearted ladies of Circle #2 for extending such a warm welcome.
Holly, Anne, and Mary, for sharing your gifts as sharp-eyed readers and honest friends.
Hope Dellon and Laura Bourgeois of St. Martin's, for shaping this stack of pages into something better than I'd dreamed possible.
Jessica Faust of Book Ends, for making me laugh and always being in my corner.
Jessica and Mark of the UPS store in Gayton Crossing, for answering a host of rather dull questions with patience and courtesy.
And last, but never least, my family, for letting me wander freely down these winding paths and then, just when I've had enough, bringing me home again.
Hatred stirs up strife,
But love covers all sins.
--Proverbs 10:12 (NKJV)
There should be no strife with the vanquished or
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
Psalm 25:16 (NIV)
Cooper Lee was more comfortable with machines than with people. She drove all over the city of Richmond to fix them. By the time she got to these copiers, laminators, or fax machines as they waited in their offices, hospitals, or schools, they were broken. Broken and quiet. Cooper would arrive and meticulously lay out her tools, and as she did so, the machines didn't raise their brows in surprise or barely concealed amusement that a woman worked as an office-machine repairman. A thirty-two-year-old woman dressed in a man's uniform shirt didn't seem odd or funny to them at all.
Most importantly, they never stared at her eyes.
Her left eye wasn't worth a second look. It was a flat, almost colorless blue. No one would have dreamed of com paring it to sapphires or deep seas or cloudless summer skies. But the other eye, the eye Cooper had received through ocular transplant surgery after being smashed in the face with a field hockey stick in junior high, was a shimmering green. It was exotic--invoking images of lush jungles flecked with firefly light or the green shallows of tropical waters, in which sunshine was trapped just below the surface.
That single moment at field hockey practice, when a girl on Cooper's own team had accidentally swung her stick too high as she prepared to hit the ball with incredible force, made Cooper more self-conscious than other teenagers. Still, she wanted what most people want. She longed to have one close friend, to be loved by someone she could grow old with, and for her life to have purpose. Cooper thought she had found all of those in her boyfriend, Drew. Until he dumped her.
Shaking off her gloomy thoughts, Cooper cut a piece of crumb cake for breakfast, wrapped it in a paper towel, filled her twenty-eight-ounce travel cup to the brim with milky, unsweetened coffee, and tossed a banana onto the passenger seat of her truck. She drove east on I-64, the sun blinding her most of the way. According to Bryant Shelton's weather report, there wasn't going to be a cloud in the sky this April Friday. For once, it appeared as though Bryant might be right, though it didn't matter much to Cooper. She'd be inside offices most of the day, but could enjoy brief moments of sunshine while driving the work van from one destination to another.
At ten minutes to nine, Cooper pulled into the parking lot belonging to one of a dozen corporate buildings resembling silvery LEGO blocks. The Make It Work! headquarters was on the fringe of an area called Innsbrook in which hundreds of different companies, replete with an abundance of office equipment, depended upon Cooper and her coworkers in order to operate smoothly.
"Mornin', Coop!" Angela called out a chipper greeting as Cooper approached the reception desk. Angela's smile, combined with a vase filled with plump, yellow roses, created a warm welcome. Few people visited the office as most of Make It Work!'s transactions were conducted via telephone, but Angela bought a dozen roses every Monday, claiming that a good workweek always began with fresh flowers. Angela was in charge of setting up appointments and billing. She was at her desk every morning before anyone else, wearing one of her vintage sweaters, a pencil skirt (both of which were always too tight), and a pair of sexy heels. Angela's platinum hair, powdered face, and fire-engine-red nails and lipstick were supposed to call to mind an image of Marilyn Monroe, but Angela was older and plumper than the late actress had ever been. Still, Angela was the heart and soul of their small operation. Filled with pluck and boundless optimism, even the frostiest customers thawed once Angela worked her magic on them.
"You've got an emergency waitin' for you, sug." Angela examined her reflection in a small compact that was never out of reach. "Some poor lady has gotten her weddin' ring jammed in the insides of a copier." She held out a pink memo pad and ripped off the top sheet with a flourish.
"Capital City, huh?" Cooper said, reading the message. "I have to go over there anyway. They've ordered half a dozen Hewlett-Packard 7410 multifunction printers and I've got to bring them to Building F and hook them up." She grinned at Angela. "A wedding ring, you say? I wonder how she got it stuck inside."
Angela shrugged. "You know folks like to try to fix things themselves. You've fished stranger things out of those machines. 'Member the bologna sandwich last year?"
"Do I?" Cooper laughed. "That mayo waseverywhere
. And that obnoxious executive tried to blame it on his administrative assistant. What a jerk."
"That's why I like workin' for Mr. Farmer. He's just as kind as he can be." Angela's eyes, beneath their curtain of long, fake lashes, twinkled as they always did when she mentioned the boss's name.
Cooper buttoned up her gun-smoke gray Make It Work! uniform jacket and grabbed the keys to one of the company's two vans. Ben, the other repairman, was already off on his rounds. He came in an hour earlier than Cooper and was out of the door by 4:00 p.m. He was obsessed with developing his naturally thin frame into a walking mass of muscle, so he spent two hours at the gym before heading home to his wife--a woman that no one from Make It Work! had ever laid eyes on. Ben never spoke about her either.
"Can you grab some Mexican from Casa Grande for lunch?" Angela asked as Cooper opened the front door, wiggling the van keys until they sounded like metal castanets.
"Sure. What would you like?"
"Chicken quesadillas for me, something for yourself, and a Pan Filo burrito for Mr. Farmer. Hesaid
he needed to be more like Ben and watch his weight but I told him that a little stuffing makes a nicer pillow." Angela giggled, placed a twenty-dollar bill on the desk, and pushed it toward Cooper. "Lord, he turned beet red when I said that!"
Cooper thought about her introverted boss being complimented by the effusive Angela. He was a man of few words and usually hid in his office, drooling over the latest issues ofTechnology Review
, andPC Magazine
. Cooper couldn't fathom why Angela found their short, balding, hermitlike employer so captivating. It was like having a crush on Danny DeVito.
"See you in a bit, Angela." Cooper saluted the other woman with her coffee cup and headed out to the van.
A Mrs. Brooke Hughes of Capital City, one of the nation's largest credit card companies, had placed the call regarding the lost wedding ring. Cooper could tell that Mrs. Hughes was either an administrative assistant or an investigative agent in the Fraud Protection Division by the fact that the copier in question was located on the third floor in Building C. The Fraud Protection Division took up most of that floor, with the exception of a large filing room Cooper had never had reason to enter.
The second the elevator doors opened on the third floor, Mrs. Hughes leapt forward and latched onto Cooper's arm like a barnacle.
"Thank goodness you're here!" she exclaimed. Then, she looked down and realized shewas held clamping onto
Cooper's arm with a viselike grip and that the younger woman was politely struggling to reclaim her limb. "Oh, I'm sorry!" Exhaling loudly, she released Cooper and then displayed her hands, which were coated with black toner. "I've really made a mess of things, I'm afraid."
Cooper could see that the woman had also smeared toner on her ivory blouse and berry-colored skirt. Mrs. Hughes, though agitated, had a friendly face and kind eyes. "Don't worry, ma'am," Cooper assured the woman and then introduced herself. "We'll get your ring back. Which machine is it stuck in?"
"Oh, please call me Brooke. The copier's right outside my office."
Although she wore a name tag, Cooper thought it only polite to speak her name aloud since her client had established a friendly rapport, despite her distress.
It turned out that Brooke Hughes was the head of the entire department. She had her own assistant and a full-sized six-thousand-dollar Sharp grayscale copier at her disposal. The chair at the assistant's desk was empty and her workstation was covered with mounds of wadded tissues and untidy stacks of paper.
"Cindi, my assistant, called out sick today. Again." Brooke's eyebrows shot up and down suggestively. "I've been trying to wrap up this case I'm working on and I just needed to pull together a few more documents." She gestured at Cindi's desk. "I was attempting to make sense of that mess when I came across a document that wasvery, very
incriminating ..." She trailed off, looking abashed. "I'm sorry to go on about all this to you." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "It's just that it was crucial for me to make multiple copies of this, ah, report so I could quickly store it in more than one location as soon as possible."
Brooke nervously picked at her cuticles and lowered her voice even further. "I'm concerned that the original document could suddenlydisappear
." Her voice returned to normal as she continued. "But then the copier jammed and I was so desperate to make copies that I tried to fix it. When I reached under that panel"--she pointed inside the machine and Cooper noticed that the woman's finger was trembling--"and tried to rip out the paper, my ring slipped off my finger and fell down in there."
"Were you able to make any copies?" Cooper wondered, concerned about the woman's apparent anxiety.
Brooke shook her head and made a visible effort to pull herself together.
Wordlessly, Cooper rolled the copier away from the wall and scanned the carpet. She couldn't see the ring anywhere, so she knew that meant she'd have to unscrew the back panel from the machine. Retrieving a flashlight from her toolbox, she asked Brooke, "Has this copier been acting up lately?"