Authors: Kiah Stephens
Anchor of Hope
Kiah Stephens 2015
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Printed in the United States of America.
First printed in 2015.
This is a work of fiction. All characters and other entities appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons or other real-life entities is purely coincidental.
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First and foremost I would like to thank God for giving me an abundance of grace, mercy, love, and hope.
Secondly, my husband and children - for always encouraging me and supporting me every step of the way.
I'd also like to thank my editor, Iola Goulton, for her countless hours correcting my work and gently encouraging and guiding me to refine my manuscript.
Next, my beta readers - Angela, Faith, Gemmah, John, Julie, Marie, Megan, Nancy, Rachel, Samantha and Trish. Without your feedback, suggestions, constructive criticism, and encouragement this book would not be what it is now, so thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
Thank you to Abigail, for my cover art. You are one talented girl.
And last, but certainly not least, you - the reader. Thank you for taking a chance and reading my book. I hope that it entertains you, makes you smile, and brings you joy.
“We have this hope as anchor for our soul, firm and secure.”
Hebrews 6:19 (NIV)
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, they are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (TLB)
Table of Contents
Ashley Harper shuffled backwards in the elevator, bumping into the man standing behind her, trying to create more space for Madeleine, the heavily pregnant fashion and lifestyle reporter.
“Sorry, got room for one more sardine?” Madeleine squeezed in, holding her purse flat against her chest above her bulging belly to try to create more room—as if that was possible. It
feel like they were all squished into a sardine tin. Ashley tried not to notice the inevitable bouquet of body odor from many people confined in a small space in the middle of summer. She drew her shoulders inwards, her left arm pressed hard against her friend, Tania’s.
Ashley was a design layout editor at The Brooklyn Times, but she had always envied Madeleine’s role—fashion reporting seemed much more glamorous and entertaining.
“Why didn’t you take the stairs, Madeleine?” the guy standing beside Madeleine teased.
She let out a small laugh. “If I took the stairs, I’d
be waddling down by the time you all got back here on Monday.”
“You must be feeling the heat?” he asked, somewhat sympathetically.
“Oh, yeah.” Madeleine nodded.
July in Brooklyn was hot. The air conditioning in the building effectively concealed the heat wave they had been experiencing the past few weeks.
Tania flicked her long blonde hair over her shoulder and leaned even closer to Ashley. “You coming out for some drinks tonight? I think a few of the crew from the sports department are coming.”
Ashley shook her head. “Not tonight. I have an early flight tomorrow, so I need to finish getting organized. And tonight is the only time I’ll get to spend with Steven.”
“Oh, that’s right; I completely forgot. A whole week off of work with no Dianne breathing down your neck, saying, ‘
I need it done, and I need it done yesterday!
’ Where are you going again? Idaho or something?” Tania fished around in her bag for something, obviously not minding that she was poking and prodding the man standing in front of her as she did so.
“Oregon. Sweet Home, Oregon.”
“I still can't believe there is actually a place called ‘Sweet Home.’ Hilarious.”
“Home, sweet home.” Ashley’s lips curled into a faint smile and she raised her eyebrows, remembering how her dad would always say that to people visiting the area.
“Do they have roads there?” Tania applied some hot pink lip gloss.
Ashley glanced at her with a raised eyebrow. Was Tania joking?
“I mean, I know they have roads, but are they just, like, dirt roads? I’m picturing tumbleweeds blowing across dirt roads and a whole heap of country folk.” She pronounced ‘country folk’ with an exaggerated accent, and waved her hands in front of her as if creating an imaginary scene. Ashley laughed.
The doors opened, and they finally escaped the overcrowded elevator and headed towards the building exit.
“Yeah, it has paved roads, buildings, schools; the usual small-town stuff, I guess. They have an annual country music fair that’s pretty big. Lots of farming, which my brother adores. He’s into all that organic, non-GMO, nature stuff. It’s all so . . . I don’t know . . . slow, unprogressive—”
“Your mom couldn’t have gone somewhere exciting for the wedding? The Bahamas didn’t sound appealing to her?”
“Unfortunately, no.” Ashley laughed. “Not my mom’s style.”
The thought of returning to Sweet Home made Ashley’s stomach churn and her head spin, but she
missed her family. She had said good riddance to Sweet Home eight years ago, and if it were up to her, she’d never return.
They stepped outside of the building and were immediately blasted with the stifling afternoon air. It felt like opening a hot oven door.
“All right, hon, I’m headed this way.” Tania smiled and pointed to the left, tossing her purse over her shoulder and flicking her hair again. “Have fun, stay safe and look out for banjo players—I’ve seen Deliverance. Oh, and if you come home with the name ‘Billy Bob’ tattooed across your back, I’m disowning you as a friend!”
Ashley laughed and shook her head. They hugged briefly then went their separate ways.
Ashley’s apartment in Prospect Heights was two miles from her office in Brooklyn. She had managed to pick up pace over the past few years and could now walk the route in over twenty minutes.
At 5:30 p.m. the evening air was warm and welcoming in the buzzing city. Commuters crowded the streets and walkways, hurrying home or out for Friday afternoon drinks with their colleagues, which, more often than not, lead
to late-night drinks.
Ashley adored these sounds and smells—street vendors selling a myriad of different foods, people laughing and chatting with relief that the busy work week was over, and the general hustle and bustle of a city full of vibrancy, full of life.
The usual weekend invasion of tourists were easy to spot with their ‘I LOVE New York’ merchandise, and the fact that they stopped to take photos of random things every few seconds. Ashley smiled to herself as she watched a middle-aged man try to get his wife and embarrassed teenage daughter to smile for what Ashley could only imagine was their hundredth photo of the day.
As she was turning the corner her phone rang. Jane.
“Hi, Sweetheart. How are you? All packed and ready for your flight?”
“Yeah, I have my bags ready to go. Heading home now, going to have a quiet night. Steven said he’s going to call sometime after work tonight, whatever time
“Tell him I said to take a break every now and then, otherwise he’s going to burn out. It’s a shame he won’t be able to make the wedding next weekend.”
Ashley smiled at the thought.
Steven? Take a break? Never!
“I know. He’s disappointed he won’t be there. Oh, that reminds me, did you get his gift? It should have arrived by now.”
“We did. It’s lovely! I left a thank you message with his receptionist this afternoon. A 1979 champagne—it’s older your brother! Piper-Heidsieck. Am I saying that right?” Jane chuckled. “Won’t it have turned into vinegar by now?”
“No, Mom. But if it has, it will be the world’s most expensive vinegar.”
Ashley turned another corner and walked through the entrance to the block of apartments where she lived. Hers was only a small building, ten apartments in total. She shared her two-bedroom apartment with Hallie, whom she’d met through a newspaper advertisement for a roommate when she had first moved to Brooklyn.
Ashley began walking up the steps, still talking to her mom. “Are you sure you don’t want me to bring an outfit for the wedding? I have a ton of dresses sitting in my wardrobe. Is there anything you want me to pick up for you before I leave in the morning?”
“No. No, thanks, darling. Gran and I have your dress ready. We need to get you here for the measurements, so Gina can alter the gown for you.”
Ashley had previously offered to get her measurements taken in Brooklyn and sent to Jane, but her mother had insisted Gina would do it. “
t trust anyone else,”
she’d said. “
Gina is the best of the best. We
ll see her first thing Monday morning.
” It frustrated Ashley. She hated surprises, especially when it came to fashion. She had a specific taste, and with designer clothing lines at her doorstep, the thought of having to wear a dress from the outdated country town of Sweet Home seemed absurd. But it was her mother’s wedding, and if she wanted Ashley to wear a specific outfit, then so be it. She could deal with it for one day.
“Don’t forget Bryan will pick you up from the airport,” Jane said, “11:15 isn’t it? And it’s a.m.? Make sure you double-check.”
Ashley laughed. “It’s a.m., Mom.”
“Are you sure? Because I thought it was meant to be a six-hour flight, and that doesn’t seem to make sense to me. If you leave at eight a.m., you shouldn’t be arriving until much later.”
“Mom, it’s the difference in time zones,” Ashley rolled her eyes, aware her mother couldn’t see her. “Just trust me. I’ll be arriving in Portland at 11:15 a.m.”
“I don’t get it, but anyway, you should also take your own snacks on the plane too. Their food is ridiculously overpriced and bad quality.”
“OK, Mom. I’ve got everything under control. Don’t worry. I better go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“OK, Honey. See you then. Love you.”
“You too,” Ashley replied, then hung up and continued along the corridor towards her apartment.
She got her door key out and as she slid the key into the lock, the door opened.
Hallie stood on the other side.
Ashley gasped and raised her hand to her chest. “You scared me half to death!”
Hallie laughed. “I’m sorry. About to head out for work. I was afraid I’d miss saying good-bye before you left tomorrow morning. What time are you heading off?”
“My flight leaves after eight, so pretty early.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be up before midday tomorrow. I hate working Friday night shifts during summer. It’s totally crazy.” She pressed her lips together.
Hallie worked in a sports bar in Manhattan on the weekends. During the week, she was a sales assistant in an upbeat fashion store.
“Umm, so I guess I’ll see you next week? I hope you have a great time.” Hallie gave Ashley a tight hug and kissed her on the cheek, then took off.
Ashley moved inside and dumped her bag and keys on the entry table. She pulled out her hair tie, kicked off her heels, and walked over to the kitchen counter to check if there was any mail for her.
Her phone rang. Steven.
“Hi,” she said, pleased to hear from him so early.
“Hi, are you home yet?” he asked.
“Just walked through the door. Are you still planning on coming over tonight? You want me to pick up something for dinner?” Ashley opened the fridge door, pulled out a bottle of Shiraz, closed the door with her bare foot, and began to pour herself a glass.
“Well, actually, I was thinking we could go out somewhere for dinner.”
“Uh, OK, sure. Where did you have in mind?”
“It’s a surprise. Dress nice, and I’ll pick you up—in oh, let’s say an hour—about seven, OK?”
Ashley smiled. “What have you got planned?”
“Just do it. Love you. Bye.”
He hung up before she had a chance to respond.
Ashley stared blankly at the phone in her hand. It wasn’t unlike Steven to be pushy and demanding, but that was all part of his charm and personality. He knew what he wanted and he wasn’t afraid to ask for it, and he certainly didn’t care if it didn’t come across as being polite. Some people thought he was rude, but Ashley knew Steven was just being Steven. She took a sip of her wine, then dashed off to her room to pick out an outfit.
It was almost seven when her phone rang again, startling her. She had finished applying a coat of lip gloss. It was her brother.
“Ashley! How’s it going?”
“Good, good. Mom called earlier. She said you’re going to meet me at PDX at 11:15?” Ashley slipped on her heels as she spoke.
“Yes, I’ll be there. Hopefully, I won’t be running late. I need to meet with a supplier in Wilsonville beforehand.”
“Thank you so much for the ride. Are you sure you want to drive all that way? It’s a long way to go. I can wait around and get a flight to Sweet Home later on that day if that’s easier.”
“Wait around at the airport? No way—that could take hours. I don’t mind the drive. We haven’t seen you in ages, and Mom’s excited to see you. Wait till you see the café. You haven’t been back in what, ten years?”
“Eight! I know. She told me not to eat the plane food.” Ashley giggled.
“That’s actually not bad advice. It could be GMO and full of artificial chemically-laden rubbish.” Bryan sounded serious.
“I’ll pack a bag of snacks for the trip.” Ashley smiled. “You guys worry too much.”
“Well, someone has to look out for you. I better go. Harley is trying to drown Coco in the bath, and Jess is about to lose it. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Ashley had to cover her mouth with her hand to keep herself from laughing out loud as Bryan ended the call.
Jess was Bryan’s wife. They had three children: Meika aged nine, Coco, who was seven, and two-year-old Harley. Bryan was Ashley’s only sibling. He was a few years older than her and had always been one of those over-protective big brothers. Sure, they had their fair share of fights and disagreements, mainly during their teen years, but for the most part they got along. They only saw each other every few years, so they were never near each other long enough to get on one another’s nerves.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Ashley grabbed her purse and keys and opened the door. Steven stood there, dressed in a fitted grey shirt, navy blue tie, and dark grey suit pants.
He flashed a dazzling smile. He was tall with a slim, athletic build; caused from a combination of good genetics and running track throughout high school and college. Ashley had met his mother once, at a wedding. She was beautiful and it was obvious she had paid a substantial amount of money to remain that way. But she was cold and distant, and currently on her third husband since divorcing Steven’s father.
Steven Cole was an attorney at the law firm of Cole, Irving and Paxton. His father had co-founded the powerhouse firm when Steven was a boy, shortly after his parents were divorced and Steven was sent off to boarding school. Steven had studied business law at Washington College of Law before becoming a junior at his fathers’ firm.
“You look beautiful,” he said, his eyes running up and down her.
She tucked a golden blonde strand of loose hair behind her ear. It was shoulder length, with a soft wave. Growing up her brother had teased her about her freckles, pointy chin and dark eyebrows, but Steven had always told her it made her look distinguished.
“Shall we?” He held out his arm and she tucked her arm through his as they exited the apartment.
His driver was waiting for him on the street and Steven held the rear door open as Ashley climbed in. He settled in beside her.
“Why won’t you tell me where we're going?” she asked, secretly relishing the fact that he had gone to the effort of making plans for them.
He gave her a mysterious smile and shook his head.
A short time later they arrived at the restaurant. Ashley could hardly believe it as she stepped out of the car. It was the restaurant Steven had taken her to on their first date. Le Bernardin, an exquisite French restaurant with an exotic oriental twist—one of the best in the city, and almost impossible to get into on short notice.