Donovan's Angles

Donovan's Angles
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IshaJohnson,United Kingdom,Professional
Published Date:31-07-2017
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CHAPTER ONE The dry leaves rattled like old bones as Martie swung her rake. She sang as she worked, her glee at being in a new town apparent in every note. Nearby, her large blue-gray Siamese cat tested the growing pile of leaves with its paw while her dog romped through the yard. Plop A tattered marigold landed at Martie’s feet. “Why, thank you, Baby.” Dropping the rake, she knelt beside her gangly-legged golden retriever puppy and playfully scratched the soft, pale fur under her neck. “Where have you been this morning?” Baby’s tail thumped the ground as she bathed her owner’s hand with a wet, pink tongue. Giving her puppy one last pat, Martie picked up the drooping yellow flower and stuck it behind her ear. Baby pranced around the yard, stopping long enough to give the cat a thrill by nipping at his tail, and then she disappeared through a gap in the tall clapboard fence. Martie finished raking and sat beside an unkempt flower bed to attack the weeds. She reveled in the feel of the black, loamy earth under her hands. Her patch of earth, she thought. Her house. Her town. It felt wonderful to belong someplace, and she was glad all over that she had chosen this little town to settle down after all her vagabond years. The minute she’d seen Pontotoc she'd known this was a good place to hang her hat. There was a feeling of permanence about it, a solid sense that generations had sat under its ancient oak trees and that countless others would come along to enjoy the rapport between civilization and nature in this sleepy Southern town. Absorbed in her work and her thoughts, Martie was completely unaware of the growing pile of marigolds behind her. Marigolds without leaves, marigolds with roots, marigolds with tattered heads, homeless marigolds gasping for breath in the jaws of Baby. As Martie turned to reach for a trowel, she saw the mountain of wilting flowers and the golden wave of Baby’s tail as she disappeared through a hole in the fence. “Good grief What have you done?” She clutched a mutilated marigold. “Come back here” The dog blissfully ignored the command. The quickest way to see what her rambunctious pet was up to was to climb the oak tree, jump down on the other side of the fence, and follow her. She just hoped an irate gardener with a gun wasn’t waiting on the other side. Knotting her bright peasant skirt between her legs, she grabbed a low-hanging branch and swung up the tree. Quickly she shinned up the trunk, her legs navigating the limbs with ease. Branches snatched at her topknot of white-gold hair, pulling random curls down around her neck and forehead. She straddled a limb and inched along until she was on the other side of the fence. Parting the leaves, she peered down into total devastation. A once proud flower bed was almost naked, and her pet was digging with a vengeance, determined to strip the bed of its few remaining flowers. “No, Baby” Doleful brown eyes lifted up to the sound of a familiar voice. There was a moment’s pause as clouds of dust settled to the ground; then, reluctantly, Baby stopped digging and scampered back through the fence. Martie judged the distance to the ground. It was time to face the music. Maybe she would get lucky. Maybe the owner of this flower bed was allergic to marigolds and had been planning to have them dug up anyway. She looked at the ground again. The fence was taller than she had imagined, and the tree trunk was on the other side. She would have to swing down from the limb, Tarzan style. Of course she had done more daring things in her lifetime, but she was partial to her bones. She didn’t relish the idea of breaking them for the sake of a few flowers. The bark scraped her knee as she shifted her legs and dangled from the limb. She lost her precarious grip, and the upturned earth met her body with a soft whump With her face in the dirt and her rump saluting the breeze, she wriggled experimentally. Thank goodness, nothing seemed to be broken. “Well, hello there.” The man's voice vibrated all the way down to her toes. She twisted her upended bottom so fast she made lightning look slow. Underneath the smudges, her face was bright pink. “Hi,” she said as she looked up into the face of a very large man. He had a pair of silver-gray eyes that were startlingly light in the deep tan of his face, and a lock of black hair hung down over his forehead as if mussed by the careless hand of a loving wife. Martie felt a quick flash of irritation at the loving wife, and the unexpected thought muddled her usually sharp mind. “I’m planting flowers.” Her hands sifted aimlessly through the dirt. “I beg your pardon.” His lips curved upward into the most remarkable smile she had ever seen. Sunshine and rainbows and Christmas-morning joy all seemed to be wrapped up in that smile. Her violet eyes widened a fraction as she met that disconcerting smile. She tore her gaze away from his mouth and focused her attention on his chin. It was square and steady, with a cleft on its beard-shadowed surface. A small puff of wind whispered through the leaves of the tree and lifted the tendrils off her forehead as she studied the man standing over her. Theirs was a meeting as ancient as time, a primitive recognition of the magic that flows between man and woman. As the knowledge surged through her, her confidence returned. “I’m Martie Fleming, your new backyard neighbor.” “I’m Paul Donovan.” He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the Botticelli-angel face. It was the first time in his thirty-five years that he’d felt tongue tied. There must be something that he needed to say, but all he could think of was bending down to wipe the smudge from her suntanned cheek. Instead, he extended his hand. “Here,” he said. “Let me help you up.” If he thought it was strange that a woman had fallen from the sky into his flower bed, he didn’t say so. He was too busy counting his blessings. Martie took his hand and sprang lightly to her feet. “I came to apologize about your flowers. My dog decided to do some fall gardening. I’m afraid all your marigolds are in a dying heap in my backyard.” He decided her voice was like music. Angel music. She could have told him that his blue jeans were on fire and he wouldn’t have moved a muscle. He was too entranced by the vision that had dropped into his life. “I was never partial to marigolds.” “What a relief. I expected at least twenty lashes.” “Apparently so did your dog. Where is he?” “He’s a she. A four-month-old golden retriever puppy who has her lovable moments. Today is not one of them.” She scanned the immaculate yard. “She never hangs around when she knows justice is at hand.” Paul’s smile widened. He couldn’t imagine her meting out justice. She seemed so much more at home with laughter. Gray eyes met violet, and the Indian summer day took on a golden hue. Martie forgot about the marigolds, and he forgot that he had come outside to get his socks off the clothesline. “I’m glad you did,” he said. “Did what?” “Hang around.” “For my punishment?” She had a generous smile, a perfect showcase for teeth that were even and as white as pearls. Paul decided that everything about her was perfect. Even the dirt on her face suited the gamine he saw peering out of her remarkable eyes. Such eyes As if God had mixed a bit of sky with dark purple flowers and thrown in a dash of sunshine for good measure. “No, for a cup of tea.” Martie swiped the dirt on her cheek and smeared it behind her ear. “It’s the best I can do on such short notice.” The pixie smile flashed again. “And I do adore get acquainted parties. Do you have lots of sugar? If we’re going to make this a neighborly tradition—sharing tea—I have to warn you that I consume more sugar than a honey bear.” Paul loved the way she talked with her whole body. Rows of plastic bracelets jangled on her arm, her long dangle earrings swayed with the motion of her head, and the ruffles on her off-the- shoulder blouse floated around her, punctuating her phrases. Somehow it seemed perfectly natural to him that she would wear such a flamboyant outfit to climb a tree. “I’ll remember that,” he said. The screeching of tires shattered their magic world, and they focused their attention on the impressively large woman emerging from an antique baby blue Cadillac. “Yoo-hoo” she called. Her voice was only twice as loud as the orange flowers on her tent dress. The slamming of her car door resounded in the still October day, and she rolled toward them with the purposefulness of an army tank. “I have to talk . . .” She stopped in mid-sentence as she became aware of the silver-blond haired woman standing in the ruined flower bed. As her eyes roamed over the dirty face, the flashy jewelry, and the skirt, brazenly tied between the woman’s bare legs, Miss Beulah Grady’s nose seemed to rearrange itself on her face. “I wasn’t aware that you had company.” Coming from her pursed lips, company sounded like the biggest scourge since the bubonic plague. Unaware of the hurricane brewing behind Miss Beulah’s tight face, Paul made the introductions. “We were just going inside for a cup of tea, Miss Beulah. Won’t you join us?” “As a matter of fact, a spot of tea might help. I didn’t sleep a wink last night for thinking about the disaster that has struck our little community. It’s a sin and disgrace. A dis-grace.” She billowed along behind Paul and Martie, talking every breath. The screen door banged shut behind her as they entered a high-ceilinged parlor. Miss Beulah Grady settled into an overstuffed chair with sagging springs and propped her hands on her knees. And continued to talk. “You two make yourselves at home while I get the tea.” Paul winked at Martie. He had no qualms whatsoever about leaving her with Pontotoc’s self-appointed watchdog of morality. Anybody who could fall out of a tree and handle herself with such aplomb would be safe with Attila the Hun. He whistled as he worked. Life was full of wonderful surprises, he reflected. And today’s surprise had come in a package that fairly took his breath away. Martie only half listened to Miss Beulah’s chatter as she studied the parlor. Odds and ends of furniture that looked as if they had recently come from somebody’s attic were scattered around the large room. A brand new sofa occupied the center of the room, its unsullied brightness making everything else seem faded. She smiled. Whatever else his vices were, it couldn’t be said of Paul Donovan that he craved material possessions. Oh, she liked the man. She liked him immensely. Miss Beulah interrupted her thoughts. “What do you do, Miss Fleming? You never did say.” “What do I do about what, Miss Grady?” Martie didn’t know why she said that. On occasion her impish sense of humor had caused her friends to call her perverse. She leaned back in her chair and noticed that her skirt was still knotted between her legs. She might as well leave it, she decided. As a matter of fact, she kind of liked it that way. “For a living.” Miss Beulah had a habit of emphasizing words when she was riled. And there was no doubt about it: the woman sitting in the parlor riled her considerably. “I teach.” “You don’t look like any teacher I ever saw . . . that funny-colored hair and all. I was telling Essie Mae the other day. . . Essie Mae, I said, what’s this world coming to when a woman can go down to the drugstore and buy her hair color in a bottle?” “My hair is natural.” “You sure could have fooled me. And those clothes. I never saw any teacher wearing such a getup as that.” “I wasn’t teaching today. I was working in my yard.” “You do yard work in that . . . that gypsy skirt?” “Of course. I’m not bound by convention. I wear whatever suits my mood.” She glanced up as Paul entered the room. He had overheard her last remark, and his eyes were crinkled at the corners and twinkling with mirth. Martie flashed a smile in his direction and wished she had fallen out of his tree sooner. “Here you are, Miss Beulah. With a twist of lemon, just the way you like it.” Then he turned to Martie. His hand touched hers as he gave her the chipped china teacup. “And lots of sugar for you, Martie.” She wanted to grab his sun-warmed hand and hang on. It was electric, dynamite. This man pulsed with energy and strength. And that voice It made her want to stand up and cheer. She wondered if he were a singer. Miss Beulah ignored her tea and focused on Paul. “I’m so glad you’re back, Reverend . . . .” “Tarnation” Martie’s back stiffened as her shocked whisper echoed in the room. “Did you say something, Miss Fleming?” Miss Beulah lifted her eyebrows until they disappeared into her Mamie Eisenhower bangs. “I said, carnation. This chair cushion is covered with rose colored carnations." Oh, doggone the luck, anyway, she thought, taking a big gulp of her tea. A preacher Stuffed shirts and stiff upper lips and going by the book and whatever happened to the carousel? Living in a fishbowl and being oh-so-correct and whatever happened to swimming naked in the moonlight? If she had been home, she would have kicked something. Instead, she lowered her eyes to her teacup and said goodbye to an improbable relationship before it had ever begun. Paul watched all these emotions cross her face. He had half expected her reaction, but he was not prepared for the intensity of his own feelings. Why was she shutting him out without taking the time to know the man behind the profession? he wondered. Why was she throwing away magic—and he knew that together they would be magic—without a second thought? He would make her see him as a man. He had to. “Aren’t you curious about what’s underneath the covering, Martie?” he asked, and suddenly she felt as if all the breath had been knocked out of her. The minister wasn’t talking about chairs. And that made him all the more dangerous. “Not in the least,” she lied. “Your actions belie your words. A woman who climbs a tree to see what’s on the other side of the fence exhibits a great deal of curiosity.” “I thought we were talking about chairs. How did fences get into this conversation?” Miss Beulah might as well have been a knot on the wall for all the attention she received. Paul and Martie were absorbed in one another, cut off entirely from the rest of the world. Even the furniture had faded into nothingness. “Evasive tactics won’t work, Martie. Tenacity is my strong point.” “And stubbornness is mine.” Miss Beulah Grady was completely unaware that she had witnessed a preliminary skirmish. Her eyes were shut to the lifting of the shield and the counterthrust of the sword. She didn’t smell the smoke or hear the battle cry. If she had, she would have run. Instead, she stepped right into the fray. “As I was saying, Reverend, I have the gravest matter to report to you. One of absolutely cataclysmic proportions.” “I’m always here to listen to the problems of my parishioners.” Paul made the transition so smoothly that Martie almost believed she had dreamed their exchange. She thought of slipping quietly out the door, but discretion was not her style. It would be much more fun to go out with a drumroll and a trumpet fanfare. All she had to do was wait for the band to march by. She didn’t have long to wait. “I don’t know if you are aware of this, Reverend, but there is a honky tonk in this neighborhood.” Hot on the trail of scandalous doings, Miss Beulah was in her element. Perspiration beaded her upper lip, and her hands trembled when she talked. “Are you certain, Miss Beulah? I’ve heard of no such establishment.” “Am I certain? Why, Reverend Donovan, that sleazy music well nigh blew me out of my bed last night. I never heard such whumping and pounding in all my life For a minute there I thought it was Satan and his band marching through Pontotoc. Or at least the Russians.” Paul tried unsuccessfully to hide his smile behind his teacup, and Martie’s sides were shaking with laughter. She thought this was almost as much fun as falling over the fence. Miss Beulah took a gulping breath and continued her tirade. The orange flowers on her dress heaved up and down. “I’m telling you . . . something has to be done. It’s a sin and disgrace. A dis-grace. And right behind the parsonage, too. Just beyond that cyclone fence.” Martie met Paul’s gaze over the teacup. For a moment laughter bubbled up as she started to explain what was going on behind the cyclone fence. Then she thought she saw a question in his eyes. Well, for Pete's sake. Let them think she ran a honky-tonk. It was probably the quickest way in the world to put an end to the music she had been hearing ever since she’d met the man with the quicksilver eyes. Her cup rattled against the saucer as she plopped it down on a scarred end table. “I own that honky tonk behind the cyclone fence.” She glared at Paul. Now let him smile and talk about neighborly cups of tea and curiosity and fences and things that made her heart go bump “I should have known,” Miss Beulah blurted out. Paul spoke quietly. “Just a moment, Miss Beulah.” Why was she doing this? he wondered. Women who adored golden retrievers and wore tattered marigolds behind their ears didn’t operate beer joints. “As a matter of fact, I heard the music myself. I thought it was rather lively and joyful sounding. I’m sure Martie is playing a joke on us.” He looked directly into her eyes. “Aren’t you?”The question burned through her, singeing her heart, and she almost told him the truth. Almost. “Why should I deny it? Miss Beulah heard the music. So did you.” She turned to Miss Beulah. “And by the way, it’s not sleazy music. I call it jazzy juba juke music.” She bounced out of her chair. “It’s the kind of music that adds pizzazz to life. Good day, all.” She flounced out of the room with a brilliant demonstration of pizzazz. “Martie, wait.” Paul’s entreaty fell on deaf ears. “Well, I never.” Miss Beulah fanned herself with her hands. “It just makes my blood boil. Running a honky tonk, and brazen about it, too. Pure D brazen. Pizzazz, my foot. I call that twitching your tail. I said to Essie Mae the other day . . . Essie Mae, I said—” “Excuse me, Miss Beulah,” Paul said, interrupting her endless flow of words. He left Miss Beulah in the parlor, still talking. The screen door was vibrating on its hinges from Martie’s flamboyant exit. He flung it open and stepped into the October brightness. A flash of scarlet announced Martie’s retreat down the sidewalk. He started to follow and then hesitated. The wonderful thing that had been blossoming between them was squashed the minute Miss Beulah had opened her mouth about a honky tonk. Now was not the time to force the issue. And anyway, Miss Beulah was still in his parlor, probably still talking. He sent a prayer winging upward for patience as he turned to walk back into the parsonage. Martie’s blood roared in her ears as she marched down the sidewalk. She heard the screen door slam again and knew Paul was standing in the doorway. If he tried to follow her, she’d knock him in the dirt Her sandals slapped against the sidewalk. Well, why wasn’t he following her? It just proved her point: she was totally unsuitable for a minister. She knew it and he knew it. Why then did it make her so angry that he thought so? She was so mad she could have jumped the cyclone fence flat-footed. She barreled down the sidewalk, blind to nature’s stunning display of gold-dipped foliage. She rounded the corner of the block and raced up the street to her own house. Baby met her with a bark, tail thumping madly. “It’s all your fault,” Martie said to her dog. For an instant Baby’s tail forgot to wag, but she recovered quickly and pranced off to worry the cat. Martie was tempted to put her eye to a crack in the fence to see if Paul was still standing on the steps. It would serve him right. Honkytonk, indeed Self-righteous hypocrite. Her indignation made her feel noble for all of two seconds, and then she wilted. He had never accused her of anything. He had cast no stones. She had acted on impulse, as she always did. But this time it was different. She had the uneasy feeling that she had thrown away something precious. Well, doggone the luck, anyway. She marched to the pile of tattered flowers and gave them a vicious kick. She would never look at another marigold as long as she lived.CHAPTER TWO Martie woke up with two furry faces peering down at her. Baby and her archenemy, the gray-blue Siamese cat, were on opposite sides of the bed trying to get their mistress to come down to the kitchen for breakfast. “Shoo, you two hellions.” She swatted playfully at her pets. “I jazzed until midnight. Go away and let a girl get her beauty rest.” She closed her eyes and rolled over. Baby grabbed the white eyelet comforter and dragged it off the bed. “Doggone it, Baby,” Martie grumbled. “I’m going to put you in the cellar.” Baby’s tail thumped on the polished wooden floor and her tongue lolled out in a goofy dog smile. Martie stretched her arms above her head and yawned. She wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing. Even in the dead of winter, she slept with nothing on. The morning sun gilded her skin and made a halo of her tumbled hair. She sprang from the bed humming, stepped into a pink silk teddy, and pulled a gaily embroidered Mexican wedding dress over her head. Tying her hair back with a pink ribbon, she bounded down the stairs to her kitchen. The large, airy room was awash with October sunshine pouring through a row of ceiling-to- floor windows overlooking her backyard. Martie smiled at a pair of sparrows giving themselves a dust bath in her freshly weeded flower bed. Then she spotted the pile of wilted marigolds, and her smile vanished. She whirled around the kitchen, filling pet dishes, mixing a banana and yogurt shake, and trying not to think about a certain too handsome minister who lived across the fence. But she thought about him anyway. She thought about the lock of black hair that needed pushing off his forehead. She thought about his quicksilver eyes that crinkled at the corners when he smiled. Most of all she thought about his voice, that wonderful baritone voice full of trumpets and hallelujahs and little boy laughter. The first thing she was going to do this morning was get rid of that mountain of marigolds. She should have done it yesterday after that business about the honky tonk. She guessed that she’d hoped they would disappear overnight all by themselves, just float off on a Pontotoc breeze, never to be seen again. Leaving her yogurt shake half-finished, she marched to her backyard, intent on destroying the evidence of her ill-fated meeting with Paul Donovan. She thought of burying them and then discarded that idea. If she put them in a hole, Baby would just dig them up again. In the end she decided to rake them into a pile with the leaves and burn them. Somehow burning seemed appropriate, a cauterizing of memories. “Need any help?” She spun around at the sound of the well remembered voice. She’d been so intent on her work that she hadn’t heard Paul Donovan approach. Leaning on her rake, she tried to act as if her heart weren’t doing a rumba. “Well, well. If it isn’t the Reverend Paul Donovan? What are you doing in my yard so early in the morning? Crusading against honky tonks?” His smile didn’t waver; he had already made up his mind that today he would clear the air with Martie. “Actually,” he replied, “I’ve come for my socks.” “Are you also accusing me of being a sock thief?” “Do your eyes always turn the color of pansies when your dander is up?” The remark pleased her so much she almost forgot she was mad. She quashed the urge to laugh and thought how hard it was to be mad at a man whose smile rivaled the sun. “Wouldn’t your dander be up if I had come into your yard, unannounced, and demanded that you hand over my socks?” Paul chuckled. “I see your point. Let’s start over, shall we?” He could hardly take his eyes off her. It wasn’t just the unusual hair and the brightly colored dress, he decided. It was that remarkable spirit bubbling inside her that drew him like a magnet. “The parsonage dryer is on the blink,” he said. “While your pet was gathering my flowers, she apparently decided to retrieve my purple socks, too. They’re missing from the clothesline.” “Purple socks You wear purple socks?” The laughter that had been quivering just beneath the surface exploded. Martie never did anything halfway. Now she threw back her head and roared with uninhibited delight. A man who wore purple socks couldn’t be all correct stuffiness and stodgy convention. “They break the monotony,” Paul explained. “Anyhow, I don’t dare not wear them. My formidable Aunt Agnes gave them to me last Christmas.” “I’m afraid you’ll just have to face up to Aunt Agnes, Reverend Donovan.” She was having a hard time remembering that the man in her backyard was off limits, and calling him Reverend helped . . . but not much. “I don’t have your socks.” “Call me Paul, and it’s okay about the socks. They were just a good excuse to come over and talk. There are some misunderstandings that we need straighten out.” “About the honky tonk?” Her laughter vanished as she remembered the way he had looked yesterday when Miss Beulah had named her house as the source of sin and disgrace. She certainly didn’t run a honky- tonk, but that was not to say that she hadn’t been in a few. And enjoyed it, too. One of the best times of her life was her stint as a singer with Booty Matthews’s country and western band. They had started in El Paso and rattled all over the Southwest in his souped-up camper, performing in one-horse towns and eating canned pork and beans on tin plates under the stars. She looked at the Reverend Paul Donovan with his radiant smile and his lofty ideals. She was no fool. Although she had never done anything she was ashamed of, she knew that by his standards she was a tarnished woman. Furthermore, she wasn’t about to find out how long she could stand the strictures imposed by a relationship with a man of the cloth. She knew herself too well. She was a free spirit, a maverick; living by the rules would smother her. A small sigh of regret passed her lips. If only he weren’t so appealing. That lock of hair still needed brushing back from his forehead. It took all the willpower she possessed not to reach over and do it herself. She hardened her heart. “Did you come on your own, Reverend, or did your church send you?” He knew she was deliberately erecting a wall between them, and he was more determined than ever to crash through and get to know the woman on the other side. He also knew that she was using his title as a barrier between them, but he decided to let that go—for the moment. “I’m not on a holy crusade, Martie,” he said, “but I think you would like me to be. Why?” Paul’s forthrightness shocked and unnerved her. She realized that if she had expected to intimidate this man, she’d been mistaken. Instead, it was the other way around. She wished they had stuck to socks. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” It was probably the only time in her life that she had ever felt the need to hide behind a lie. “I think you do,” he said. “You’re putting stumbling blocks in our way.” “There is no ‘our way,’ Reverend. There’s your way and mine.” “And never the twain shall meet?” “Precisely.” He threw back his head and laughed in what she considered to be a very unpreacherlike manner. The laughter unnerved her even more than his penchant for total honesty. “Why are you laughing?” she asked. “I’m thinking what fun I’m going to have proving that you’re wrong.” “You are the most forward minister I’ve ever met.” “Lesson number one, Martie.” He quickly crossed the small space between them and took the rake from her hand. Letting it drop to the ground, he put one hand on her shoulder and one on her chin. Gently he tipped her face upward, forcing her to look directly into his eyes. “I’m not just a minister; I’m a man. And don’t you forget that.” She felt as if she’d been pulled into the center of a volcano. His eyes seared her face, his hand burned her chin, and the nearness of him blazed through her with a ferocity that made her knees weak. Not for one second since she’d met him had she forgotten that he was a man. Unconsciously her tongue flicked over her lips, and she wondered what he would think if he knew that she wanted to seduce him. Right now. This very minute. She wanted to wind herself around him, pull him down to the browning stubble of grass, and make love with him. In broad daylight she wanted to rip off his clothes and run her hands over those delicious-looking muscles and defy the likes of Miss Beulah Grady to peep through a hole in the fence and label it bad. In the small eternity his hands were touching her, the thoughts reeled through her mind, and she knew she would have yielded to those impulses if he had not been a minister. So much for going by the rules. How long had she been in his company before her maverick nature had her flouting convention and wanting to do the socially unthinkable? All of ten minutes, she decided. No, she would never forget that he was a man. But she also would not forget that he was a minister. Paul lowered his hands and shoved them deep into his pockets. He balled them into fists and strained against the fabric so hard that it was a wonder he didn’t rip holes in his jeans. He hoped she had no idea how close she had come to being kissed. Don’t push too hard and too fast, he warned himself. Give her time to get used to the Idea. Curb that impatience that’s been growing inside from the moment she fell from the oak tree into his marigold bed. She reminded him of foxfire, and he knew that foxfire glowed only for those who were patient enough to wait for the right moment. “When I make a pastoral call, I’m usually invited in,” he said, steering them away from dangerous conversation and even more dangerous passions. “For a neighborly cup of tea?” He was waving a white flag and she gladly accepted the truce. “With a generous dollop of cream.” “Will milk do? I never keep cream.” She led him into her kitchen and cleared the yogurt shake from the table. “Since this is going to become a neighborly tradition, I’ll bring my own the next time.” He leaned back in an antique chair and stretched his legs. “Or perhaps we can train your puppy to go through the hole in our fence and fetch the cream from my refrigerator.” She put the water on to boil and joined him at the table. “I think Baby has done enough fetching to last a lifetime. I’m really sorry about your socks.” “Don’t worry. I’m sure Aunt Agnes will give me some more. Purple socks are her stock in trade. Baby is an interesting name for a dog. How did you come to name her that?” “I always use baby talk with my animals. When I got her, she was so small and cuddly I addressed her as Baby. The name stuck.” “That was before you moved to Pontotoc?” “Yes. Baby was my going away gift from Booty Matthews. We were in Albuquerque at the time.” “He must have been a good friend of yours, this Booty Matthews.” Paul almost held his breath, hoping she would not say that Booty Matthews was more than a friend. “He was and still is. And he’s a really good musician. I traveled with Booty a year, singing in his band.” Martie stuck out her chin. He might as well know every detail of her tarnished past. Maybe then he would stay on his own side of the fence. She watched the struggle on his face as he tried to decide just what her relationship with Booty had been. It almost made her giggle. Booty was pushing sixty, had the voice and build of a grizzly bear and the personality of a pussycat. He had been a father to her that year, and it had been Booty who had noticed the restless stirrings in her and diagnosed them as a longing for roots. “He’s partly the reason I came to Pontotoc.” “I hope I can thank him someday.” Martie was saved by the whistling of the teapot. The preacher was incorrigible, she decided. One minute she felt on safe ground with him, and the next she was spiraling into that volcano once more. It was almost as if— “Ouch” she cried as she sloshed water on her hand. Paul had crossed the kitchen before she even knew that he’d left his chair. “Let me see that,” he said as he took her hand and gently rubbed the reddening spot. The hot breath of the volcano spewed over her, and she tried to remove her hand from Paul’s. “I’m okay,” she said. “Really. The water wasn’t that hot.” He kept a firm grip on her hand as he reached into the refrigerator and got a piece of ice. “Sometimes these things can get nasty. Where’s your dish towel?” Martie nodded in the direction of the towel holder. As he wrapped the ice and applied the cold compress to her hand, she tumbled over the edge of the fiery furnace, felt the molten heat pour through her body and settle in the apex of her thighs. “Now isn’t that better?” His thumb traced shivery circles in her palm as he held the compress in place on the top of her hand. She thought the kitchen floor might be even better than the grass in her backyard for a seduction. Oh, help. If she didn’t get out of this state of mind soon, she would start a scandal her first week in Pontotoc. “Did they teach this bedside manner at seminary, Reverend?” He kept the compress on her hand, but the erotic circling in her palm stopped. “I learned first aid from my mother. I have six brothers and two sisters. One of us was always burned or bashed or bleeding. I think that’s why Theo became a doctor. It was pure self defense.” He still didn’t release her hand. “And why did you become a minister?” It was more than an idle question. Suddenly Martie wanted very much to know why this man had chosen the ministry. “To serve, Martie,” he said simply. “To serve God and my fellow man.” The honest simplicity of his answer took her breath away. She forgot about her burn and his hand on hers. “I don’t run a honky tonk,” she whispered. “I never believed that you did.” “I teach Jazzercise. That was the music Miss Beulah heard. I practice every evening. My ad will be in next week’s paper.” Still holding her hand, Paul led her to the table and pulled out her chair. “Now that the air is clear between us, let’s have that neighborly cup of tea,” he suggested. “You sit there and I’ll pour.” Without protesting she acquiesced and watched him move about the kitchen. He was surprisingly graceful for such a big man. He brought the teacups to the table, and they talked of inconsequential things, of the weather in Pontotoc, of Saturday night auctions, and of small community doings. And beneath the surface of their conversation swirled seductions and volcanoes and heady carousel music. Suddenly Paul asked her, “Do you like baseball?” “I love it,” she replied enthusiastically. “Once when Dad and I were living in the south of Georgia, I played first base on a neighborhood team. There was nothing to do in that town except play ball and fight mosquitoes. They didn’t even have a movie theater. I’ve been a baseball fan ever since.” “Great.” Paul unfolded his long legs and stood up. “I’m taking you to the Indian summer picnic this Saturday.” “How do you know I want to go?” “You just said you love baseball. Besides, it will be a good chance for you to meet people. Thanks for the tea.” And he was out the door before she could say yes or no. She twirled around in her kitchen, her hair flying around her in the sunshine. “Well, heck, why not?” she asked the cat, who had just come in to see what was going on. “What can one little picnic hurt?” The next day Martie alternated between elation and moodiness. Why hadn’t she just told him no right away? She really shouldn’t allow herself to get close to him: he was too sexy. She whizzed around her newly purchased turn of the century home, attacking cobwebs on the ceiling and dust balls under the beds. She had a tug of war with Baby over the mop and finally managed to salvage enough of it to clean the kitchen and bathroom floors to a shine. Pooh-poohing the old adage that Rome wasn’t built in a day, Martie waxed her wooden floors and washed her windows, stopping only long enough to hold off starvation with a tuna sandwich. The sun was sinking into the western horizon when she finally took a breather. She sat on her rickety back porch steps and listened to the cricket songs in her yard. After a few moments Baby nudged her leg to catch her attention and proudly dropped a prize at her feet. “Well, hello, you old cuddle bum,” she cooed, scratching behind Baby’s ears. “What do you have now?” The minute she put her hand on the soggy, dirty object, she knew it was Paul Donovan’s purple socks. Or at least the remains. Smothering her laughter, she scolded her pet. “What am I going to do with you, you scalawag?” For an answer, the golden retriever puppy licked her hand and then bounded off to chase a grasshopper. Still smiling, Martie jumped up from the steps, shoved the socks into her blue jeans pocket, and raced to the oak tree. She climbed rapidly upward until she was a part of the brilliant sunset sky. Inching her way along a fat limb, she traversed the fence and flattened herself out on the branch just above Paul’s former marigold bed. A ring of fragrant tobacco smoke drifted around her head as she parted the leaves . . . and looked directly down into a pair of quicksilver-gray eyes. Paul removed the pipe from his mouth. “The Cheshire cat, I presume?” he asked, smiling. “No. Just Baby’s messenger mistress. I’m returning your socks.” “Remind me to thank Baby.” “Don’t be too hasty with the thanks. Just wait until you see the socks.” She clutched the limb, already regretting her impulsiveness in climbing up the tree. She was just asking for trouble. The best thing to do would be to drop the socks down to him and inch back across the limb to her own yard. Cautiously she let go with one hand and tried to reach into her pocket. “Aren’t you coming down?” Paul asked, obviously amused. “No,” Martie replied firmly. “This is not a social call. Just an errand.” “Then perhaps I should come up,” he suggested. “There’s room on this limb for only one.” “Pity.” “Besides, what would Miss Beulah say?” “She would probably be upset…” “That’s an understatement” “. . . because she’s missing all the fun.” One of Martie’s legs slipped off the limb and dangled in the air. Deftly, Paul reached up and caught her ankle. “Don’t worry, Martie,” he assured her. “I won’t let you fall. You can turn loose the limb.” Falling was the least of her worries. What really bothered her was how she could keep the flames that were licking along her leg from setting fire to the tree. “I’m not worried. You can let go of my leg.” “And be responsible for you breaking a bone? Not a chance.” He gave a tug and Martie came tumbling off the limb into his arms. The electricity of the contact surged between them, and their eyes widened with the knowledge. For a breathless moment they clung to one another, marveling in the rightness of the touch. Martie molded herself to his broad chest and knew that she was courting disaster. The shape of her burned itself forever into Paul’s memory, and he wondered if discretion were, after all, the better part of valor. For the first time since becoming a minister he railed silently against the strict code of conduct that kept him from whisking her off to his bedroom. Reluctantly he lowered her to the ground, knowing that he would be on his knees a long time trying to reconcile himself to the agonizing slowness of developing his relationship by the rules. He shoved his pipe into his mouth, seeking solace in the familiar routine. Martie was thankful that the waning daylight prevented Paul from seeing how flustered she was. She didn’t quite understand it herself. For Pete’s sake, it wasn’t as if she had never been with a man. But not even Rafael, the scintillating Spaniard who had taught her to fight bulls by day and introduced her to fireworks of the flesh at night, had made her feel like this. All trembling expectation and joyful music inside. And she and Rafael had been engaged. Well, practically. She stuck her hand into her pocket and brought out the abused socks. “I’m afraid these are beyond repair,” she said apologetically. “Baby thoroughly chews every gift she brings to me.”“I noticed that about the marigold you had tucked in your hair the day we met. Why don’t we just give these purple socks a decent burial?” he suggested. “That’s your line of work, isn’t it?” Paul took a long draw on his pipe and stood quietly for a moment before answering. “Partially. Marriages, too. Would you like to talk about my work, Martie?” “Why do you ask?” “Because my work seems to be a stumbling block to our . . . friendship.” “Nonsense,” Martie declared with a toss of her head. “I’m as friendly as a puppy. I even climbed a tree to return your socks.” “So you did. And also to tell me about the marigolds.” She loved the smile in his voice. The fragrant smell of his pipe tobacco blended with the music of crickets in the October evening, and the peacefulness of the small town wrapped around Martie like a benediction. She could almost believe that she and Paul didn’t have irreconcilable differences. Almost. “We even shared tea.” “But not ourselves. I want to know why you climb trees instead of going on the sidewalk the long way around. I want to know what makes you love animals and bright clothes and why you retreat when the conversation gets personal.” “I do not retreat.” He chuckled. “No. But you do make a flamboyant exit.” “Flamboyance is my style. Not. . .” “Not what, Martie?” he asked gently. “Convention? Dullness? Stodginess?” “Those are your words, not mine. Furthermore, if you’re going to preach, I’m going home.” The rich rumble of his laughter filled the evening air. “It’s habit, I guess. Sometimes I get carried away.” He shoved the socks into her hand. “Here. You hold these while I get the shovel.” He disappeared into the growing darkness, whistling. “I’m not staying for the burial,” she called after him. There was no reply. She looked down at the tattered socks. “Well, shoot. Pushy preacher.” But she was smiling. Paul returned with the shovel and started digging in the marigold bed. “I love these Indian summer evenings. Especially in Mississippi. Did you know that Pontotoc is an Indian name?” “I thought this was a burial. Is it going to be a history lesson, too?” “You don’t like history?” he asked, leaning on the shovel and smiling at her. “Yes,” she replied, momentarily blinded by his smile. “I do. As a matter of fact, my mother was a history teacher. The thing I remember most about her is holding her hand as we walked through the enormous stacks in the library.” She paused. “But I don’t want to talk about history this evening.” “What do you want to talk about?” “Nothing. I want to be still and listen to nature’s music and just be.” “Sometimes that’s the best communication of all.” They worked together silently, with Paul turning the soft earth and Martie bending down to place the socks in the shallow trench. Their silence lent a kind of dignity to the ludicrous occasion. Paul marveled that he was standing in a warm, tag-end-of-summer evening burying socks when he would ordinarily have tossed them into the garbage can. Instinctively he knew that the woman standing beside him was the reason. She made everything an occasion. Just being with her was a celebration.Finally he stopped shoveling. “All done,” he announced. “That was such a lovely ceremony I think I’m going to cry.” The moon sliver suspended in the darkened sky illuminated tell-tale moistness in her violet eyes. Paul looked at the upturned face, and the shovel in his hand slowly drifted to the ground, forgotten. “Martie?” It was half question, half plea as he lowered his head toward hers. Nothing touched except their lips. The first tentative sweetness blended and washed over them, and in its wake came a yearning that ripped through them with the force of a tornado. Martie pulled back as Paul reached out for her. “I think I'd better go.” He stood for a moment, collecting his senses and gathering his patience. “I’ll walk you home.” “No. I’ll take the short cut.” She turned and headed for the overhanging limb of the oak tree. Then, realizing that she couldn’t reach it, she looked over her shoulder at Paul. “If you’ll just give me a boost.” Without speaking he put his hands around her waist and lifted her onto the sturdy limb. He heard the dry leaves rustle around her as she moved back across the fence. And then, out of the darkness, he heard her voice. “Goodnight, Paul.” He stood at the fence listening to the sound of her feet running lightly across the yard, and only when he heard her screen door slam did he respond. “Goodnight, angel.”CHAPTER THREE A pile of discarded garments lay on the floor. “What do you think, Aristocat?” Martie asked the gray-blue Siamese sitting on the windowsill washing his face. “Too funky?” The indigo cotton shirt she wore hung almost to the knees of the baggy knickers, and when she held up her arm, the raglan sleeve fanned out. “Can’t play ball in that,” she muttered. Ripping the shirt over her head, she tossed it onto the colorful heap of garments. She stepped out of the knickers, kicked them aside, and walked to her closet. “You’d think I was going for an interview with the queen instead of to a picnic,” she grumbled, pulling a red flight-style jumpsuit off the hanger. “If I hadn’t already said I would go, I can tell you that I would stay home.” Martie zipped the suit almost up to her neck, then leaned over and lowered the zipper a fraction. She brushed her hair until it shone and then wove a scarlet ribbon in the fat braid that she let hang over one shoulder. “But I guess one little picnic can’t hurt.” She stepped into a pair of red tennis shoes and whirled to face the cat. “This is absolutely, positively the last time that I see Paul Donovan,” she told him. The cat switched his tail and jumped off the windowsill. “That kiss last night should never have happened. I don’t care how good it felt, it’s just not right. Can you imagine me with a minister? I’d smother to death in boredom.” Obviously bored himself, the cat padded across the room and out the door. “A big help you are,” Martie called after him. Still mumbling to herself, she gathered the clothes off the floor and hung them back in the closet. She’d half a mind not to go, but that would be cowardly. And she was not a coward. She might as well get this behind her and then forget about the preacher. She shook the indigo shirt vigorously and shoved it into the closet. Yessir, that’s exactly what she would do. She banged her bedroom door shut and bounded down the stairs singing, “I’m just a gal who can’t say no.” “I certainly hope not.” The Reverend Paul Donovan looked up at her and smiled. “The door was open. As a matter of fact, the cat let me in.” Martie clutched the railing with one hand and tried to remember that she was already in the process of forgetting this devastating man. “He hates strangers,” she said. With a haughty switch of his tail and a baleful glare at his mistress, Aristocat stalked across the spacious hallway and wrapped himself around Paul’s legs in a shameful display of adoration. Martie watched her cat with amazement. “Judas cat,” she scolded, laughing. “Why don’t you introduce us? Then we won’t be strangers.” Martie descended the stairway and peeled her cat from around his legs. “Aristocat, meet the Reverend Paul Donovan.” He solemnly shook the cat’s paw. “You can call me Paul.” Aristocat acknowledged the greeting by purring loudly.“First my dog makes me a thief, and now my cat makes me a liar.” Martie set her cat in the hallway and gave him a playful shove. “Scat, you shameless old reprobate.” Martie and Paul loaded her picnic basket into his steady brown Ford, then laughed all the way to the church grounds. The red brick Faith Church with its white Corinthian columns sat in a grove of trees beside a winding gravel road. Many of the picnickers had already gathered, and festive sounds of laughter and excited chatter filled the air. The sun cast heated rays on the browning patches of grass, and several people had already abandoned their sweaters. Heads swiveled in their direction when Paul helped Martie from his car. The buzz of conversation ceased for a moment, then started back with renewed vigor as they made their way across the picnic grounds. In her red outfit, Martie stood out like a cardinal at a convention of sparrows. Paul stopped along the way to make introductions, and a curious crowd of children tagged along behind them. She turned to smile at the children and instantly became their heroine. They gazed with round-eyed adoration at her beautiful face and hung on every musical word that flowed from her lips. “I think you’ve made some new friends,” Paul observed, nodding with satisfaction from Martie to the children. “I hope so. I’ve always loved children. We understand each other.” He laughed. “I don’t doubt that. There are a few trees around here if you and your new friends want to climb.” “Don’t think for a minute that I wouldn’t if I wanted to.” He held up his hands in mock surrender. “Not even for a second.” A handsome young couple leading a chubby, curly haired two-year-old between them stopped beside Paul and Martie. Paul introduced them as Bob and Jolene Taylor and their son, Mark. Bob took Martie’s hand between his. “I’m so glad to see the Reverend enjoying the company of a beautiful woman,” he said warmly. “It’s about time he got out of that study and had some fun.” “Don’t let Bob fool you, Martie,” Jolene warned, laughing. “His idea of having fun is staying in the field two more hours to plow the back forty.” Bob shrugged his shoulders and grinned. “What can I say? I’m guilty. But I’m not without my social graces. I grill a mean hamburger.” He paused. “Hey Why don’t you two come over next Wednesday? After we eat we’ll play cards.” “That’s a great idea” Jolene said. Martie’s eyes widened as she looked at Paul. How could she tell these two sincere people that this was just an interlude, that after today the Reverend Paul Donovan would be out of her life? “Paul?” “Give us a raincheck on that,” Paul said smoothly. “Martie’s still moving in.” Jolene sensed that there was more to the interchange between her beloved pastor and the delightful woman at his side than met the eye. She took Martie’s elbow. “Here,” she said. “Let me show you where to put this picnic basket, and then I’ll introduce you to my Thursday morning sewing circle.” She gave her husband an affectionate pat on the cheek. “Keep Mark occupied, darling, while I show Martie around.” Taking command of the situation, she led Martie to a chattering group of young women. “I hope you can do English smocking. We’ve been dying for somebody to join our group who can teach us how.” “I hardly know which end of the needle to thread.” “That’s all right. You can join us anyhow and tell us how you got that perfectly fabulous figure. I might even give up chocolate for a figure like that.” Martie was delighted with Jolene. If she hadn’t come to the picnic, she would have missed the opportunity of making this new friend. “I’m starting a Jazzercise class next week. Perhaps you’d like to join.” “Can you promise that I’ll discover my waistline?” Jolene asked wistfully. “Only if you lay off the chocolate.” Jolene led her into a lively group of young women, some with young children, some newlyweds, and some still looking. “Let me introduce you to six more sisters in chocolate crime who haven’t seen their waistlines in fifteen years.” “Speak for yourself, Jolene,” a boisterous redhead called Sam piped up. To Martie she said, “You’ll have to watch out for Jolene. First she’ll get you into the sewing circle and then before you know it she’ll have you roped into five different jobs at the church. She’s director of the youth department.” Jolene’s brown eyes sparkled as she looked at Martie. “Do you sing?” “Some,” Martie replied cautiously. “I thought so. We’ve been searching to high heaven for a director of our youth choir. I’m so glad you came today.” Paul appeared behind Martie and casually draped his arm across her shoulder. “I see Jolene’s already drafted you.” The heat of his arm on her shoulder combined with the warm rays of the sun made Martie feel flushed. “Oh, dear. I didn’t say yes, did I?” Her eyes were wide with appeal as she looked around the circle of women. “With Jolene, you don’t have to say yes,” Sam told her. “If you’re breathing, she takes it as an affirmative answer.” Paul laughed. “That’s right. We’re trying not to let Uncle Sam get wind of her. Just think what she could do for the draft, let alone detente.” Playfully he flicked Martie’s shining braid. “The baseball game is getting ready to start.” “Good.” Martie clapped her hands with delight. “I want to play first base.” Sam and Jolene exchanged glances. “Didn’t you tell her, Reverend Donovan?” Sam asked. “Tell me what?” demanded Martie. “The women are always the spectators,” Sam said dryly. “Why?” Martie put her hands on her hips and looked from Paul to the circle of women. “Tradition, I suppose,” Paul explained. “That’s the way it’s been since I moved here five years ago.” Martie thrust out her chin and looked defiantly up at Paul. “Hang tradition. I came here to play ball.” “Then why don’t you play on my team?” Paul asked her. He admired her spunk. There was no doubt that this turn of events would make a few waves among the more conservative church members, but perhaps that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Churches, like people, could become too tradition bound. And when that happened, growth stopped. This spunky, high-spirited woman was not only the best thing that had ever happened to him, she just might be the best thing that ever happened to this church. “Anybody else want to play on my team?” he asked the group. “I’m going to let Martie pave the way,” Jolene said. “Maybe next time.” “Well, shoot,” Sam grumbled. “If I had known I was going to be let in on all the fun, I would have worn something besides this tight skirt and these dad-blamed fussy shoes.” She punched Martie affectionately on the arm. “Go get ‘em, girl. Hit a home run for me.” “Don’t worry. I intend to.” Martie tugged Paul’s arm. “Come on, Preach. Let’s play ball.” Martie didn’t hit one home run. She hit three. She was like a match in a warehouse full of fireworks: she ignited the entire assembly of picnickers. The children went wild with cheering for their colorful new heroine; the liberals, mostly young men and women with a sprinkling of old-timers here and there, felt revitalized; and the die-hard conservatives, led by Miss Beulah and egged on by Miss Essie Mae, searched their vocabularies for new and appropriate ways to pronounce sin and disgrace. “Did you see the way she slid into home plate?” Miss Beulah sniffed, fanning herself vigorously with a funeral parlor fan. “Just like a man. I do vow and declare that I don’t know what this younger generation is coming to.” She nearly toppled her lawn chair as she turned to look at her companion, Essie Mae Bradford. “Pass me that lemonade, Essie Mae. I think I’m having a prostration attack.” “Lord, Beuler” Essie Mae always pronounced Miss Beulah’s name with an r. “Hang on. Somebody’ll have to issue mouth-to-mouth.” Her protrusive eyes began to water at the thought. She had never seen mouth-to-mouth, but she had always fancied that it would be rather erotic. Hastily she poured the lemonade and nearly dropped the glass as she passed it to her friend. “Lord, Beuler Would you just look at that” The ball game had ended, and a jubilant Martie had flung her arms around the Reverend Paul Donovan’s neck. “If that zipper of hers comes down one more hair, she’ll be showing everything she’s got.” Essie Mae leaned forward in her lawn chair to get a better view. “Shameful Right in the public view. Lord, Beuler” She clutched her companion’s arm. “I do believe the preacher likes it” And indeed he did. The woman with the smudged face and the sparkling eyes who had catapulted herself into his arms for a victory hug reminded him of a delightful, slightly naughty child. He squeezed her briefly and set her on her feet, but that fleeting contact was enough to banish all thoughts of Martie as a child. She was all woman, and she'd set his pulse racing. Quickly he turned to accept the congratulations of the men on the losing team, but his eyes followed the sprite in the red jumpsuit. Her laughter floated back to him like music as she became the center of an admiring crowd. As soon as he could, and with what would probably be construed as indecent haste, Paul made his way to Martie. He knew his life came under close scrutiny because of his position. Sometimes that bothered him, but not usually. His faith kept everything in perspective, and through the years he had developed a remarkable patience that allowed him to weather minor storms of controversy with a minimum of damage, either to himself or to his work. He linked his arm through Martie’s. “I hope you worked up an appetite. This Indian summer picnic is famous all over northeast Mississippi for the food we spread.” “I could ruin that reputation in one fell swoop. How do you think your parishioners will feel about tofu and alfalfa sprout sandwiches?” she asked mischievously.He hesitated. “It sounds . . . intriguing. I can’t speak for the rest of the congregation, but being a loyal fried chicken fan I’ll have to be won over.” Martie picked up her basket and looked around the picnic grounds. “Now what?” “Everybody puts the food on those tables under the oak tree, buffet style. Then you can choose what you want. I highly recommend Jolene’s chocolate pie.” As Martie placed her sandwiches on the table, she watched Paul with his parishioners. He stood as solid as a rock in their midst, chatting, counseling, sharing a joke, sharing a burden. His quick laughter and peaceful spirit drew the people toward him, and Martie knew that she was seeing the man at his work. Ministry was not a Sunday morning job; it was seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Paul was a heart-thumpingly appealing man; no doubt about it. But he was also a minister, and that was something that could not be left in a briefcase at the office. Martie heaved a big sigh for what might have been. She had no illusions about the unsuitability of a relationship with a minister. As a free spirit—a maverick of sorts—she knew she was impulsive and unconventional to a fault. And that couldn’t be packed into a box and stowed somewhere, either. She unwrapped her sandwiches with unnecessary vigor. Sometimes life just didn’t seem fair. “Those sandwiches look . . . unusual.” Miss Beulah’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “What are they?” “Tofu and alfalfa sprouts,” Martie told her. “Alfalfa Like they feed cows?” Miss Beulah swatted the air with her funeral parlor fan, and the red roses on her dress jiggled up and down. “That sweet little Glenda the preacher used to date always brought fried chicken.” Martie’s heart plummeted. Paul had said that he was a fried chicken fan. He was probably a Glenda fan, too, and she had just dreamed all this magic between them, and why did that matter so much because, after all, she was going to forget him after today, and Miss Beulah had just made her as mad as all get-out. “It’s health food, Miss Beulah,” she explained sweetly, “but occasionally a cow does eat my sandwiches.” “Well, I never” Miss Beulah made a beeline for Essie Mae to share Martie’s latest transgression. Martie grinned wickedly, even through the blessing, and she was still grinning when Paul led her to a quiet corner under a copse of pines. “This is my favorite spot on the church grounds. Sometimes when I need to think, I leave my office and come here.” He spread the blanket he had retrieved from the trunk of his Ford and sat down with his heaping plate. “It would be a wonderful place to make love,” Martie observed, her violet eyes sparkling with devilment. Paul choked on his bite of fried chicken. What was she up to now? He could see the imp peeping through her eyes and decided that silence would be the best response. Let her have enough time to vent whatever was on her mind. “Once down in Tijuana I did the fandango on top of Rafael’s bar. I was dancing so hard my earrings fell into the guacamole dip. Afterward everybody at the party drank champagne from my slippers.” He still didn’t say anything. “Aren’t you shocked?” she asked, turning to look at him. “Am I supposed to be?”

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