Read And the Greatest of These Is Love: A Contemporary Christian Romance Novel Online
Authors: Staci Stallings
Tags: #Christian Books & Bibles, #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Religious & Inspirational Fiction, #Religion & Spirituality, #Christian Fiction, #Inspirational
And the Greatest of These is Love
By: Staci Stallings
Spirit Light Publishing
And the Greatest of These is Love
Copyright © 2015 by Staci Stallings
Cover design by Lynnette Bonner
of Indie Cover Design –
eBook Edition License Notes
This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Amazon Kindle Store and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
And the Greatest of These is Love
Table of Contents
Also Available from Staci Stallings
When you live a life of love,
time becomes meaningless,
limits are removed,
and you just want to open your heart
a little wider.
The amber light of the concrete parking garage cast an eerie glow as Andrew Clark walked slowly to the 30
pillar. He fought to calm his shaking nerves, but nothing was helping. This was it, the final meeting, and his entire future was riding on this one.
His steps slowed even more as he neared his destination, and his breathing constricted. Nervously he readjusted his glasses in a vain attempt to see better in the darkness.
“That you, Clark?” the hoarse voice Andrew had come to hear even in his dreams asked.
Andrew stopped in one-half step. “Yeah.” He swallowed, lest the fear in his heart transfer to his voice. “You got the tapes?”
“Yeah.” This time there was nervousness in the voice as well, and it didn’t so much as move an inch from its hiding place.
He breathed down the trepidation. “Where are they?”
There was a long pause on the other side of the pillar. “You know, Clark, maybe this is a bad idea…”
“Come on, Paul,” Andrew said, sensing his hold on this shaky source slipping through his fingers. “Don’t get cold feet on me now.”
Another long pause.
“How.... how do I know my name stays out of it?”
“You have my word.” He said it solidly and without reservation though maybe he shouldn’t have been so confident.
“Your word.” Paul’s voice faded even further behind the pillar. “That’s not much.”
“It’s all I have.” Andrew waited, and when Paul said nothing, he added, “You can trust me, Mitchell. No one’ll ever know who gave me those tapes... or the paperwork. No one.”
“I don’t know, Clark. I’ve gotta a job to think about... and a family...”
“Look, if you don’t tell me, Woodruff keeps taking pay-offs and putting criminals back on the streets. Is that what you want for your family?” Andrew asked, trying to control his anger and mounting fear. For all he knew this could be a set-up. Maybe Mitchell was in on the conspiracy; maybe he was the mob’s bait. Maybe…. The silence echoed off the myriad of cars surrounding the pillar as Andrew fought to control the fear that rose in his chest, leaving no room for air.
“Is that what you want, Paul?” he asked as if he wasn’t about to quake into pieces even as he willed his legs not to run. He glanced around as the calm he sought suddenly slipped from his grasp. This was taking too long — much too long, and behind any one of the unmoving pillars behind him could be…
“Okay. Okay. The tapes are in the front seat of the Nissan second from the end, but my name stays out of it. Remember that.”
“You got it.” Andrew breathed a momentary sigh of relief. “You won’t regret it, Paul.”
And just like that, the voice behind the pillar was gone.
Quickly Andrew turned to make his way to the indicated Nissan, but as he did so, his senses began to pick up on just how utterly alone he was. There wasn’t a single sound anywhere in the large parking garage — much less anyone to make one. With each step he heard the nervousness in the voice he’d just left behind him, and an understanding of why lurked just beyond the grasp of his consciousness, taunting him into sanity-shredding panic.
It was odd that Mitchell was skittish now. Why was he suddenly so nervous — or was he afraid? Was that what Andrew had heard in that voice? Did he know something Andrew didn’t? Was someone else standing there with Mitchell — listening to every word?
Suddenly Andrew had the overwhelming feeling that he had just made a mistake that could cost him his life. Why had he trusted Mitchell in the first place? It was true without Andrew, Mitchell had no story, but he knew too much. And if they found him dead in the morning, no one would even think of looking in the DA’s office for the killer.
He could see the black car at the end of the row, and just the sight of it made every nerve in his body stand on end. He felt like a mouse looking at the cheese in a trap, sensing the trap and yet inexorably drawn to the prize it held.
His steps slowed the closer he got. How did he know there was no bomb waiting for him in that car? How did he know that lifting that latch wouldn’t send him to his eternity? The feeling of being a mouse looking at the cheese in a trap overtook him again, and he tensed.
Slowly he stepped closer to the car, being careful not to touch it. In the dimness of the garage, he could just make out the outline of the box in the front seat. The tapes. His nerves frazzled as he reached for the door handle and lifted it. Slowly, slowly. The click of the handle rattled every bone in his body. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. In one motion he swept up the tapes and ran for his life across the emptiness of the lot.
Clay was everywhere. On the floor, on the chairs, in her hair. Everywhere but on the table where it was supposed to be. At the sight of it, Gabriella Treyvillion sighed. What a mess. So here she was, slogging through yet another late night at the center trying to get the place ready for tomorrow. She pulled the bucket off the shelf and began to mash the gray matter into it.
What this place really needed was a bulldozer and last rites, she thought, reminding herself again to petition Jerry to fix the duct-taped window. It would be getting cold soon, and money or no money, she wouldn’t keep four-year-olds in a room with no heat and no window. Somehow, some way they would just have to find the money.
The newsroom was quiet when Andrew returned. It was Friday night, and even Rob had gone home already. He was thankful for that. After the nerve-racking meeting, Andrew needed some down time, and somehow he needed to be here. With a few people around, he felt safer. Most of the reporters had long since gone home to be with their families, but fortunately he didn’t have to worry about that. No, he could sit here in peace and map out his stories for the next week.
A week he was sure would be the biggest of his career if not of his life.
“Working late again, Son?”
Andrew’s heart skipped a beat, but he got his nerves in check and looked up from his computer screen calmly before smiling at Bill Smith, editor-in-chief of The Herald.
“Almost finished,” Andrew said, his fingers poised on the keyboard.
“It’s almost eleven, Son, shouldn’t you be home with a wife — or out looking for one?” Bill shook his head at his own joke.
Andrew laughed. “Shouldn’t you be home with the wife you already have?”
“Very true.” Bill checked his watch. “Tell you what, Drew. Why don’t you take tomorrow and Sunday off? Rob and I can hold down the fort.”
Panic smashed into him. “Take off?”
“Yeah. You’ve been working three weeks straight. You need some down time. I tell you what — I don’t want to see you in this newsroom again until Monday morning.”
“Mon… But. . .”
“Gotta go, Son. Verbie’s gonna kill me.” Without waiting for the protest, Bill stepped onto the elevator. “I’ll see you Monday morning and not a minute before.”
“Yeah, Monday,” Andrew said dejectedly as the doors slid closed. Monday? Bill must be out of his mind.
The key turned in the lock with a loud click. Home again. Gabi entered and flipped on the depressing lamp light, which barely made a dent in the darkness of her life. She hated home. She always had. Home was supposed to mean safety, security and love, but it had never meant that for Gabi. In fact, she couldn’t remember even a single time when she had ever been excited about going home.
To be sure, this home was better than most she’d lived in. At least here for the most part her safety wasn’t in question — thanks to the two dead bolts and the heavy chain on the door. But with all that hardware, love had never found its way past her door either. However, she decided quickly as she pushed that thought from her mind, safety was much more important than love would ever be. And that trade-off to Gabi was more than worth it.
The television was on, but Andrew wasn’t paying any attention to it. He was too immersed with the story unfolding on his laptop to care about some forfeit lives on the TV screen. He had been working on this story for weeks, and only now was it coming together.
When it came to city news, this one was big. The biggest. It was going to leapfrog him to the lead investigative reporter for The Herald, and not even Rob would present a challenge anymore. He had worked for this, slaved for this for almost ten years now, and it was finally upon him, his defining moment. His time to shine.
Saturday morning dawned cool and crisp. Autumn was definitely here. Gabi pulled on tights under her loose-fitting skirt. She brushed her straight, mousy-brown hair into one long cascade down her back before grabbing her sketchbook. Maybe if she was very lucky, she could sneak away from the center and get some drawing time in. Maybe, if a thousand things didn’t go wrong like they usually did.
The printed story lay on the coffee table, and Andrew paged through it once again. It was a masterpiece. An amazingly good piece of journalism if he did say so himself. Bill would be pleased with this. No, Bill would be ecstatic with this. Smug pride came over him.
For a brief moment, Andrew thought about taking it over to Bill right now, but then he thought better of it. Maybe two days of rest before entering the next level of his life wasn’t such a bad idea.
He picked up the phone and dialed his brother. Maybe they could hang out together this weekend.
“Hello?” the angry, barely-controlled voice said on the other end.
“Bryan. How goes it?” Andrew asked, leaning back into the couch cushions casually.
“Drew. Just the person I was thinking about.”
“Don’t be. Listen. The babysitter’s off today, and Pam and I were both called in to work. Greg has this stupid soccer practice thing in the park. I was thinking maybe his Godfather would like to take him.”
“Soccer?” Andrew asked as skepticism overtook the casualness. “I was kind of hoping you and I could get together to play some b-ball or something.”
“I know, believe me I wouldn’t ask if this wasn’t important, but...”
With a sigh and trying to hide the dejection in his voice, Andrew sat forward. “Okay. Consider it done. I’ll be over in half an hour.”
“Thank goodness. You’re a lifesaver.”
Kids were milling about everywhere by the time Gabi made it to the center. The ones she recognized, she waved to or greeted, but most — too many — she had never seen before. That was the mystique about the center. You could come one day and be gone the next, and no one really noticed or cared.
She had been here six years, and it never changed. If she dwelt on it, she would end up getting depressed, so she didn’t. She kept her eyes focused on what she could do today and let tomorrow take care of itself.
“Hey, Jerry,” she said, knocking softly on his open door.
He looked up from the paper work strewn across his desk, sighed, and pitched his pen to the desk. “Gabi, come on in, and close the door.”
The door? Fear rose in her with one breath. Jerry had a strict open-door policy, and the thought of him closing that door made the hairs on her neck stand on end. However, she knew enough to know when things got as serious as he looked, you didn’t question it. She closed the door.
“Have a seat.” Jerry swiped the glasses from his face, pitched them to the desk with the pen, and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms.
Holding onto the chair all the way down, Gabi sat, clutching her sketchbook as if it would shield her from the coming bad news. It was bad. One look at her boss told her that much. “What’s up, Jerr?”
“I’m not going to lie. It’s not good, Gabi. It’s not. I’ve been going over the books, and I’ll be straight with you... I don’t think we’ll be opened by Christmas.”
“Christmas?” She relaxed with a breath. “Come on, Jerry, you’ve said that before, but you always find a way.”
“No. Not this time. I just got the Giovanni grant request back. It was denied. That was about half of our operating budget right there.”
“But what about the Foundation grant? I thought that was going to help.”
The word hung in the air between them as Gabi struggled for breath. This couldn’t be happening. They couldn’t shut down the center. Where would the kids go? An image hit her, and she struggled to push it down. If they didn’t get the kids, the pushers and the gangs surely would.
“There’s got to be something we can do, Jerry. I can work for half pay if I need to.”
Jerry smiled at her, his thin lips arching upward for a moment. She was barely making enough to get by as it was, and they both knew it.
“I can’t ask you to do that.” He shook his nearly bald head. “Besides, it wouldn’t be enough.”
Gabi already knew that, but her brain was searching frantically to find something, some hope to latch onto. “How much do we need?” she asked, dreading the answer.
“To stay open through the first of the year? About $75,000.”
“75,000… dollars?” she asked swallowing hard.
“Yeah, and right now it looks like we’re going to be about $74,000 short.”