Joe Gardner never expected to see Elizabeth again, not after the part she'd played in ruining his life. Refusing to believe she now shares his faith, Joe tosses aside her efforts to apologize. But when they are forced to work together in the midst of the Christmas season, Joe has to face the truth about Elizabeth, and himself.
Joseph Gardner stared at the paper in his hand. He struggled not to crumple it or rip it to shreds. Talk about adding insult to injury—not only had the judge ripped apart his life by granting the divorce, he’d given her the house as well. And now, since he’d also been ordered to pay all of Anna’s court costs, he held an invoice for thousands of dollars. He’d prayed so hard for Anna to change, knowing all along he shouldn’t be yoked to a non-believer. God was on his side, or so he’d thought. Instead he’d lost everything. But it wasn’t all Anna’s fault, she had someone on her side too. The infamous divorce attorney. Home wrecker.
He tossed his mail to the counter and reached for his Bible, randomly opening it to Jeremiah. Midway down the page a verse jumped out at him: “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”
A future and hope? Joe sighed. Maybe one day he’d understand.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a merchant seeking goodly pearls: and having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it." Matt 13:45, 46
One year later
Joseph Gardner stared out at the clear night sky, wondering how the lawn had grown so frosty it down-right sparkled. It was still early after all, he thought, leaning against the wood railing of the Gazebo Café’s front porch, hoping it held. His family gathered inside, laughing and planning the upcoming holiday season.
He, however, felt like grinding his boots against the brick walkway in a quick getaway. If the holidays never arrived this year, that would be fine with him.
The front door squeaked behind him, his cousin Daniel had come out to check on him, no doubt.
Joe sighed, and rolled his shoulder muscles to ease the tension. “I’m about ready to take off.”
Silence. A truck passed on the road in front of the café, and Joe inhaled diesel exhaust. Even in a small town, trucks held a presence. Behind it, a white car turned into the drive and headed for them.
“Latecomer?” Joe asked, pushing his hat off his forehead.
“Guess so.” Daniel moved out onto the porch. “Looks like Liza’s Camry.”
The car stopped and a blonde woman got out, carrying a purse and what looked like a basket.
“Hey, it is Liza,” Daniel said, waving the woman over. He turned to Joe. “This is someone you should really meet. Single, an attorney. Good looking—and a Christian.”
The blonde reached the porch and stepped up, her heeled boots clicking on the wooden planks. Joe watched, appreciating her slim figure and long hair. There was something familiar about her. As she neared he inhaled a whiff of some sweet perfume, again, something he’d smelled before.
Daniel kissed her cheek and relieved her of the basket. “Glad you came!” He gestured toward Joe. “This is my cousin Joe.”
Their gazes locked. His heart thudded. Joe saw the silver flecks in her blue eyes glint when she recognized him. Probably ice crystals.
Her smiled faded. Shoulders rigid, she took a step back. “You’re Daniel’s cousin?”
After a few beats Joe nodded. “Elizabeth,” he said, wondering why he’d never heard her called by a nickname before. From the corner of his eye he saw Daniel staring at him, his arms folded across his chest.
Joe could hear the frost forming in the yard as they stood there.
“Well,” Daniel said, “why don’t you both come in for dessert?”
A few more seconds clicked by in the evening air.
“I was just leaving.” Joe kept his gazed locked on her.
“Sure, I’d love to,” Elizabeth said, stepping forward and flashing an almost defiant glance at Joe.
She hadn’t forgotten what went down, and that was OK because he hadn’t either. He felt a tug in his gut and almost wished he’d talked to her back then, cleared the air. OK, he’d change his mind and stay a while. Just to make Daniel happy. Yeah, that was it.
“Then again what’s the rush?” Joe forced a grin he didn’t feel.
Daniel held the door, and they both moved into the light spilling from the Café. Watching Elizabeth’s hair shine under the lobby chandelier, he wondered what she was thinking about him. When she disappeared into the crowd, he noticed Daniel studying him. Great, now he had to worry about Daniel too, which was interrupting his ability to think of something appropriate to say to Elizabeth. Of course, she might just avoid him for the rest of the evening, but that was OK. He deserved it.