Aileen, Siobhan, Kassidy and Maeve–long ago they made a purity pledge to God and a friendship vow to one another. Now this quartet is about to embark on the journey of a lifetime...
All her life, Aileen Brewer has dreamed of singing on stage and winning the heart of Liam Douglas. When she sings, she exudes confidence and charm. Away from the spotlight, she's the shy, curvaceous woman who has always tried to maintain a sweet, Godly spirit despite her radical upbringing and a sense that she's not quite good enough.
During a music festival at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Aileen takes the stage with her three best friends, and Sisters in Spirit is born.
Liam, a Christian record producer, is captivated by the wallflower of his youth who has blossomed into a magnetic performer. He champions a record deal, and a quest for Aileen's heart begins, but can she find confidence enough to take command of the group...and accept Liam's love? Can Liam help her see the beauty of the woman she has become?
Dreams just might come true in ways only God could orchestrate...
Six Years Ago
“Guys, you’re not going to believe what my parents did! I’m serious—you’re not going to believe it!”
Aileen Brewer couldn’t slam her bedroom door closed fast enough. No one would yell at her for the silence-shattering gesture; her parents were long gone for the weekend, and her three best friends had preceded her to the inner sanctum. Kassidy Cartwright flopped onto the king-sized sleigh bed of mahogany with its down comforter of pale green.
Siobhan Douglas, meanwhile, spun toward Aileen in a typical display of her natural, fluid grace. She pointed at the small plastic drug store bag which presently bumped against Aileen’s hip. “What’s that?”
“This is what my parents gave me just before they left to go to the city for the weekend. I’m telling you, it freaked me out!”
Rounding out the quartet, Maeve Callahan tucked close to Aileen’s side, her fiery hair a tumble around a heart-shaped face. “Come on, then! Don’t keep us in suspense!”
Sucking in a breath, Aileen turned the bag upside down and shook it until the contents spilled free and bounced across the bed, landing next to Kassidy’s long, slim thigh.
It was a box of condoms.
A unified gasp filled the air.
Aileen, who counted herself as pretty sophisticated—she was nearly eighteen, after all—stared at her parents’ parting gift stunned anew by their audacity. In basic terms, her mother had given Aileen permission to have sex, as long as she was “safe” about it and didn’t get pregnant. Didn’t her mom and dad realize anything about the beliefs she had grown to love and embrace when she started attending services at Holy Spirit Catholic Church a handful of years ago? Had they no respect…or a brain in their heads?
That irreverent, harsh thought crashed and burned against the reality of her life.
What she’d never tell anyone—even her very best friends, and especially her dearest friend Siobhan Douglas—was that her parents had urged the latex birth control devices upon her because they were spending an anniversary weekend in Manhattan, and they knew Liam Douglas, Siobhan’s older brother, was in town from college and just might be paying a visit to say hello.
They were keen enough to sense a girl with a crush. Liam was Aileen’s deepest temptation toward love and passion, but Aileen wasn’t foolish. First, any time spent with Liam Douglas would be the very definition of the word innocent. They might share a quick interlude of friends becoming reacquainted, but that would be the end of it. Second, he was older by four years and would never think of her in terms of romantic interest.
Still, the idea left her cheeks to burn. Considering a romance with Liam Douglas quite neatly set fire to Aileen’s senses and left her skin tingling.
But even if he were interested, there was no way Aileen would demean the act of making love by offering herself so readily outside of marriage—even to Liam—whom everyone seemed to know she adored. Except Liam.
Pushing that bout of drama to the side, the greater message of her parents’ condom delivery reasserted itself.
Do what the other girls do, Aileen. Fitting in with everyone else and being more social just might help you keep up with the other kids your age. We’re not naive. We know what’s what. You’re going to have sex, drink, and probably sample smoking and the like—just do it within reason.
Which, Aileen knew, translated into: Do what you like, but don’t ever bring shame to the family name around the exclusive enclave of Westerville. Image and acceptance was everything.
Aileen snorted, shaking her head. Sure. As if stupid decisions and the results thereof couldn’t touch this well-to-do community in upstate New York.
She huffed. “They bought me these wretched things because they believe they’re looking out for my best interests. They wanted to—how did my mom put it?—spare me the embarrassment of having to purchase them for myself, thereby ensuring safety as I indulge in a bit of hanky-panky.” In sarcastic emphasis, she shimmied her shoulders—and hoped her glowering expression spoke volumes. “They’re afraid I’m being cut out of all the fun things in life. That I’m somehow being overlooked because I don’t hang with the fast moving, glam-crowd at Westerville High.”
This time it was Kassidy who made a derisive sound. “Anyone who’s heard you sing at church or in the choir at school would never say you’re overlooked. Your voice moves people to tears it’s so beautiful.”
Maeve nodded sharply. “Here, here!” She settled on the edge of the bed next to Kassidy.
Aileen cast her friends a grateful glance, but anger continued to roll. She possessed the hot spirit of the Irish, but for the most part, capped that particular trait. “They want their pleasingly plump, mousey little girl to embrace what other kids do so she’ll be accepted. Well, that’s so not going to happen, I don’t care how much it disappoints them!”
Still, she was human. She could easily imagine the feel of being in Liam’s arms; she had often fantasized about the touch of his lips, the glide of his fingertips against her arms and her waist as he pulled her in for a long, warm embrace. The idea was enough to drive her crazy and send her mind into a dizzy, warm free-fall.
“Pleasingly plump my sweet you-know-what! You’re perfect, Ailee! You’re absolutely gorgeous, and you have an hour glass figure most women can only wish for! Don’t you dare listen to them about anything having to do with your personality, your social standing, or your weight!”
Siobhan chimed in and a chorus of support followed. Oh, how Aileen loved and relied on these wonderful girls. Siobhan was Liam’s sister and a ballerina—tiny and as graceful as a feather cast to a gentle breeze. Tall and curvaceous, Aileen had always wished she were just the same.
“And for sure don’t let them grab hold of your beliefs and twist them around.” Kassidy rolled from her back to her side and focused on Aileen who still stood in the center of her room, boiling and affronted. “You’ve always led by example. If you didn’t, I sure wouldn’t be part of Holy Spirit Church.”
Kassidy Cartwright—KC to her closest friends—was the tough-minded, soft-hearted, ex-wild-child of their group. Now a devout Christian, Kassidy’s decree set a mysterious seal on Aileen’s heart. An idea dawned.
“OK, then here’s how we’ll fight back.” Aileen pursed her lips, considering for a moment before she continued. Sparkles of excitement danced through her chest, against her fingertips, her legs and toes. For some reason, this moment felt huge. “Let’s make a vow. A promise to one another, and to God, that we’re going to hold firm to what we know is right. It’ll be a pact. A pact between the four of us. Come with me. We’re going shopping for something…something I’m going to give to each one of you as a gift. Let’s go.”
The shopping trip didn’t take long. An hour later, they were ensconced in Aileen’s bedroom once more. They sat cross-legged, in a circle, on a hand-tufted Aubusson rug of deep burgundy patterned by elegant swirls of crème that covered a shimmering parquet wood floor. Materially, Aileen Brewer didn’t want for a thing. Her parents saw to that. What she longed for most, however, remained just out of reach—a sense of her own self-worth.
For a moment, she considered her friends, regarding them individually. Their love and her faith formed the bedrock of Aileen’s life. The four of them had grown up together, friends since elementary school. Now, as adulthood called, so did a commitment—to one another, and to God.
That’s what this moment was all about.
They were knee-to-knee; before her, and before each of her friends, rested a plain, padded white ring box. Following a nod from Aileen, they opened the cases and extracted the jewelry from inside—a silver ring with two blended bands engraved with the words: I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.
“The verse is from the Song of Songs in the Bible,” Aileen began. “It always hits me in the heart when I read it. It’s a vow from God that if we honor Him, He will honor us with a love that’s forever.” The girls studied their rings. “That’s what I want. For all of us. I want us to promise our friendship to each other. And I want us to make a promise to each other that we’ll wait for the love of our lives, for marriage, to give any man the honor and privilege of possessing our bodies.”
“A purity vow. A friendship vow.” Maeve gathered her thick red curls and swished them to one side so her hair was out of the way. “I love it.” She squiggled then sat straight. “What do we do?”
Everyone’s attention rested on Aileen, who acknowledged Maeve’s soft green eyes and eager posture with a smile of appreciation.
“Put the ring on and simply say”—Aileen slid her ring onto the third finger of her right hand—”I vow.”
“I vow.” Siobhan slid her ring into place, her smile radiant. Powerful.
“I vow.” Kassidy spoke with quiet reverence, her eyes fixed intently on the freshly placed band.
“I vow.” Maeve whispered the words, and Aileen noticed the spray of gooseflesh that danced against her friend’s tenderly freckled skin.
Following a deep breath, Aileen looked at the ring. She noticed the others in her quartet did just the same. Then, as if on some mystical cue, they burst into girlish giggles. Seriousness dissolved into the music of their history and affection.
“Well. What next?” Siobhan posed the question, her gaze bouncing from one girl to the next.
While Kassidy and Maeve shared grins and shrugs, Aileen dared to form an answer that spoke to the deepest wish of her heart. “I say we take the world by storm. Agreed?”
Four hands came together in the middle of the small circle they had created, the physical acceptance and culmination of a pact. Unblemished silver caught the light from overhead and caused it to shimmer.
“Agreed!” Four voices lifted as one.
The first Scripture reading of the Mass had just concluded at Holy Spirit Catholic Church. Aileen stood and left the dais where she sat with the choir. She strode to the simple wooden lectern at the side of the altar and performed a subtle mic adjustment. “Our responsorial Psalm is Psalm Thirty Three. The plans of the Lord stand firm forever.”
Following the introduction, Aileen awaited her entry cue from the music director who began a brief piano interlude. She launched into the musical refrain then the congregation joined in.
While she offered the piece, one thought filled her heart. It was so good to be home. She sang, the music held so deeply in her spirit she didn’t even require sheet music. That luxury afforded her the opportunity to see the faces of those gathered—many of them familiar—and her joy in returning to Westerville was complete.
How fitting was this Sunday’s Psalm, which she continued with a power of conviction and love that filled the church. “Sing joyfully to the Lord. Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.”
The notes lifted from deep within, pure and sweet, transporting. Just to the right, Aileen spied Kassidy, who sat next to Maeve and Maeve’s family. Her friends watched and sang the response, wearing smiles that fueled her spirit. Not far away, the Douglas family filled about half the side pew.
That’s when Aileen’s breath caught in a way that, skilled and trained though she was in music performance, nearly caused her singing to stumble. Liam sat next to Siobhan, and Aileen felt helpless against the brushstroke of his gaze. She willingly absorbed each vibration of his intent regard.