Lydia Frederickson is afraid to answer her telephone. Widowed and alone, she only wants to get through another anniversary of her husband’s death without falling to pieces, but a stalker isn’t making that goal easy. The disturbing calls are becoming increasingly personal and threatening, and everyone who knows her is suspect. The only person she knows isn’t making the calls is her new ponytailed, tattooed—and breathtakingly handsome— minister, Matthew Winters. Former-narcotics-agent-turned-minister Matthew Winters knows he’s not what the town expected in their new pastor, but he’s up for the challenge. What he doesn’t expect is the sudden attraction he feels for parishioner Lydia Frederickson. When he discovers she’s the victim of a stalker, he feels God’s intervention has led him—both a cop and a preacher—to her. Matthew knows he’s falling for the beautiful widow, but a secret from his past may undermine their future.
Awards & Other Kudos
First Place in the 2010 Royal Palm Literary Awards for Inspirational Fiction
The police finally left and neighbors returned to their own lives. Only Lydia Frederickson remained. Discomfort crawled into her. Why did she call over such a trivial thing as a prank phone call? But when the voice described what she was wearing, she allowed her fear to rule. She pulled her knees to her chest as she sat in the plush chair next to the window. Lydia couldn’t get his unsettling words from his mind.
“I want you. I need you,” he’d taunted, his breathing loud and quick. “I can feel you near me in that pretty pink gown. Soft, silky, so nice to touch. I bet you’re nice to touch, too.”
The last two evenings, it had only been dead air. Tonight he said disturbing things.
She glanced at the notepad. “Phone with caller ID, also feature that blocks calls without identifying numbers,” it read. Deputy Green had made the suggestions, telling her it might end the calls. She prayed he was right.
Her queen-sized bed welcomed her as she coiled into the safety of the blankets. The house had an eerie silence she hadn’t noticed before. She longed for Justin’s reassurance as she scooted closer to the center. Her hand jutted out to reach for him, but the pillow on the other side lay bare. As empty and lonely as when her husband died almost two years ago. Sadness overwhelmed her as she fought to hold the tears in. She missed the comfort and safety of him next to her.
What was that? Lydia bolted upright. Was it her imagination or was the caller in the house? Deputy Green said he checked, but the creep could have been hiding. He might be downstairs. Her heart stuck in her throat as she listened for any sound indicating his presence. She raced to the bedroom door and clicked the lock. The cold wood door added to her shivers as she pressed her ear to it.
She recalled checking all the locks downstairs after Deputy Green left. Even with that reassurance, her pulse continued to race in her ears.
“How did he know what I had on?” Lydia whispered. The beige walls held no answers. The pink gown lay in the middle of the bathroom floor. A pair of shorts and a t-shirt now covered her.
Why now? Why so near the anniversary of Justin’s death? While seated on the edge of the bed, she grasped the picture frame. It held a smiling Justin on their wedding day, his arms surrounding her. She raced to the closet and swung open the door. His suits and shirts neatly hung on his side. She found the purple long-sleeved shirt and pulled it into her chest. It’s fabric as soft as when he wore it last. The warmth of his aroma cradled her.
She returned to the bed and moved closer to Justin’s side, clutching both the photograph and the shirt to her. This time nothing kept the tears from falling.
A cat screeched outside startling her from her sobs. She tightened the covers and shoved hair from her dampened face.
“God,” she pleaded to the ceiling. “Please help me through the next few days.”
Matthew Winters revved the Harley Davidson Ultra Classic motorcycle. He’d searched a long time for the ultimate ride. When he saw the two-tone, black and smoke gold color, it summoned him as if hypnotized. The Classics were popular so he snatched it up the day he came across it without quibbling over price. He had more than enough saved to pay cash.
The sun had risen about an hour earlier this Saturday morning to combine with a light cool breeze that made him glad he wore his FXRG leather jacket. Dampness covered the ground from the sprinkling of rain that had fallen before dawn.
He grinned wondering what waited for him at his new job. According to his friend, Riley Owens, most of the citizens held a somewhat conservative view of things. Did that mean more than just their political opinions? Keeping people on their toes. It’s what he did best. There might be shock from his appearance, long hair, muscular body, but it would be the tattoos, especially the one on his arm, that would stun the most. His smile widened.
Two days ago he had pulled into Lincolnville, Georgia. Riley had set him up in a two-room apartment at Anna’s Boarding House on the east side, seven miles from the west side. The whole town consisted of less than fifteen thousand inhabitants.
As he passed what the locals called the strip mall, he almost laughed outright. No large chain stores as anchors. If you wanted a loaf of bread or gallon of milk, you had only Lou’s Grocery to go to. If a hammer was your desire, no decision between Lowe’s and Home Depot need be made. You wandered over to The Hardware Hutch. For a sit down meal you chose Fred’s Diner, the local greasy spoon. The closest fast food was Betty’s Bakery, where you’d grab a quick bite and a cup of coffee.
Today, Matthew rode over for breakfast at Fred’s. The advertisement of blueberry pancakes on the window had caught his eye the day before.
He eased the bike into an open space near the entrance. When he slid his helmet off, his hair fell to the middle of his back. He climbed the steps and inhaled the balmy air. The double front doors had two signs. The left read “Open,” the other “Please Use the Other Door.” Matthew did as instructed.
The smell of grease hit him like a frying pan to the skull. Smoke from the grill made the air heavy. The A/C did little to aid in dispersing the thickness as sweat drops burst onto his forehead. The backwash of noise faded to a murmur as he entered.
“You can sit where you like,” a wrinkle-faced man said.
Matthew nodded and took a step toward the back. Curious onlookers watched as he advanced.
Red vinyl stools lined the counter to his left. Booths swathed in the same red vinyl lined the opposite wall reminding him of diners he’d seen in older television shows. He made his way through the narrow passage, giving a slight nod to those who met his glance. Most turned as he approached.
A table against the rear wall sat empty, making him feel more at ease. Something he brought with him from his undercover days. The farthest seat was the best vantage point—you could catch trouble as it entered, usually through the front.
In his printed t-shirt and faded jeans, he felt out of place compared to the neatly dressed patrons. When he removed his coat before sliding in, the whispering started. He knew the top portion of the snake tattoo was visible on his neck.
“Coffee, sir?” A small brunette waitress stopped beside the table. Her hair was tucked into a bun on the top of her head. The red apron surrounding her waist showed signs of a busy morning. Her nametag read Dolly.
“I’d prefer a glass of orange juice and a stack of those blueberry pancakes you have advertised, Dolly.” He pointed toward the large block letters in the display.
“I’ll bring that right out to you.” She quickly retreated.
He continued to scan the patrons. Most wrenched their necks, trying not to appear obvious with their stares. All except one woman. He wasn’t sure if he considered her appealing because of her looks or because she returned his gaze. He gauged her to be in her early thirties and her mood as troubled, if the frown of her mouth and the dark circles under the blue-purple eyes were any indication. Even with the shadows encircling the almond-shaped eyes, she captivated him. He had to fight to pull his attention from her.
As he waited for his food, he observed kids stuffing pancakes into their mouths faster almost than they got them on their fork. An indication as to how good they might taste, he hoped.
Families filled most of the booths. Older men with a scattering of older women sat on the stools at the counter. The one thing they all had in common, the designer jeans they wore either in dark navy or black. There wasn’t one faded, oversized pair among the group. You wouldn’t chance upon anyone with their backsides hanging out in this crowd. Even the teenagers’ seemed well-fitted. Matthew hoped he hadn’t fallen into some sort of Stepford society where all the children were perfect.
Dolly returned with five pancakes and a tray that held jars of strawberry and grape jam and a bottle of maple syrup. Matthew glanced over the jellies but chose to go with the syrup for his topping. He paused after his first bite. The food proved as tasty as the gulping children indicated.
After finishing his breakfast, he stood to leave. The smell of flowers swept over him. He stopped, taking in the aroma.
“Excuse me, please,” said a feminine voice with an irritated overtone.
Matthew twisted, coming face to face with the woman who held his attention earlier. A lump rose in his throat, causing him to lose any other thoughts he might have had. He sized her up, noticing the rings on her left hand. For some unknown reason, disappointment flushed over him.
“Do you plan to stand there staring all day, or can I get through?” She placed a hand on her hip.
She knew the effect she had on a man. He tugged his jacket on, making her wait a moment longer than necessary because of the irritation he sensed from her attitude. It wasn’t a very Christian thing to do, but God was still working on him with some things.
“Be my guest.” He finally moved aside, allowing her through the double doors heading into the restroom area. Too bad most beautiful women had the ego to go with it. More than likely, she married the local football hero, and they were extremely happy.
Outside, the breeze had lessened making the weather humid. The weatherman had given a forecast of scattered showers. He’d kept his word thus far.
Once on the bike, Matthew glanced over his shoulder toward the window and saw people’s heads spinning so he wouldn’t be aware they’d been scrutinizing him. Everyone except her. The woman had returned to her seat and made no attempt to hide the fact she watched him. For some reason, she unnerved him. He couldn’t recall feeling as insecure as he did at that second. Her stare burned into him as he drove off.
He hoped she wouldn’t be anywhere near for his first official day tomorrow. Her presence would only add to the anxiety he already felt.
Goose bumps remained on Lydia’s arms. The loud motorcycle caused everyone to take notice, but she by no means expected someone so attractive to step from it. Her pulse stopped when he walked through the door. She wasn’t shocked by his long hair, but she thought he’d have stubble covering his chin. However, the view alarmed her. His facial features, clean shaven, had the most ideal attributes she’d ever seen. Everything appeared flawless, including his pointed nose and raised cheekbones, right down to his full lips. She could only describe him as thoroughly gorgeous.
He sat in the rear, scrutinizing the crowd. Most patrons crooked their heads so fast when he glanced at them she was surprised they didn’t suffer whiplash. However, when it came to directing herself away, she couldn’t. He had somehow captured her attention, and she discovered it hard to turn loose. If he hadn’t broken away first, they’d likely still be staring at each other.
“Who do you suppose that was?” Warren Anniston jabbed his thumb toward the back table.
“I heard someone new was staying at Anna’s.” Sheryl Coufield blew into her coffee. “Maybe that’s him. He’s definitely nice to look at, isn’t he?”
“With the leather jacket, it looks like he belongs in jail, not out here with decent people,” Warren argued. “Did you notice that tattoo sticking out over his t-shirt?”
“It only added to his machismo,” Sheryl said. “Even Lydia stared.”
“It’s because I’m not used to seeing men like that in Lincolnville.” Lydia popped the last strawberry in her mouth. Of course, his penetrating blue eyes helped, she admitted to herself.
“I wonder who he’s visiting. It’d be nice to take another peak before he leaves like all the other single guys.” Sheryl’s lips formed a pout.
Lydia knew Sheryl’s desire to have a family. She continually hunted for someone to be a good fit. The stranger appeared unlikely to be that special person she deserved. He was conceited with his loud ride that shouted, “Hey, everyone. Look at me!” And blocking the aisle, confirmed it more. It didn’t bypass Lydia that he had taken his time putting on his coat before moving. The thought of shoving him aside brought a quick smile. She could almost hear the gasps from the other customers if she had.
“You’ve been awful quiet.” Sheryl tossed a ten on the table to cover her share of the check.
“I’m tired. I got another call last night.” Lydia prayed they would soon stop. “Warren and I are going shopping to find a system that’ll block them.”
The three met for breakfast every Saturday. Normally they would have eaten in Chattanooga, but this week was Warren’s choice. Because Sheryl remarked a day or two earlier about him balding on top, and Sheryl hated greasy food, Warren chose Fred’s as a way of punishing her. It would have been punishment for Lydia also if it weren’t for their fruit dish.
Of course, this morning, Fred’s did offer the added floor show of the attractive man on the motorcycle.
(Q1) Is keeping secrets the same as lying?
(Q2) How does God work in Lydia's heart to make her open up to Matthew?
(Q3) Have you ever had a close friend betray you?
(Q4) Do you find yourself faced with someone at church like James Newman, III. If so, how do you deal with him?
(Q5) How does Matthew differ from your perception of a minister?
(Q6) Sheryl gives Lydia strength and encouragement to move on with her life. Have you ever had someone who did that for you?
(Q7) What in your past continues to haunt you? Why have you not turned it over to God?
(Q8) Do you know someone with an addition? How do you try to help them?
(Q9) Lydia tried not to fall for Matthew because she felt guilty about Justin. Has there ever been anything God has put in your way that you didn't want to face?
(Q10) Is there anyone in your life you feel is worth fighting for?