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
going to believe this!” he said, his feet more propelling him than walking.
Gabi gasped in surprise. “Andrew? Have you lost your…?”
He threw both hands out in triumph. “I’m staying!”
“Staying?” she asked in whiplashing disbelief.
“Meet the new Director of Services of the Pat McCullough Youth Center.”
“The what?” she asked in disbelief. “You’re kidding.”
“I am not kidding.” He grinned at her as Irvin jumped off his chair to congratulate him.
“In that case, you’re just the person I’ve been needing to talk to.” Irvin extended his hand. “Do you have a minute, Mr. Clark? There’s a matter that we need to discuss.”
Andrew arched an eyebrow at him and then at Gabi who smiled and hiked a shoulder. “Sure, Irvin. I’ve got all the time in the world. What’s up?”
The world was completely dark by the time they walked together out to her car.
“So, what do you think?” Andrew asked as he locked the door behind them, the keys for his new job ringing in his hand.
“I think I never thought I’d see you so happy about staying,” she said teasingly. “But I’m glad you are.”
“So am I.” Without questioning it, he put his arm around her and took Antonio’s hand.
“Does this mean you won’t be helping out in the four-year-old classroom anymore?” she asked, her steps ducking and dodging next to his.
“Not as much,” he said, and there was a hint of reluctance there, “but I hear the teacher in there is great. I’m sure she’s more than capable of handling it.”
She smiled at that.
“And I promise I’ll come by as often as I can,” he said softly, ducking closer to her ear as they reached her car.
At the car she turned to him. “Congratulations, Andrew.” Then she caught sight of Antonio. “Now, listen. You take care of Andrew, okay?” She opened her arms, and the child stepped into them.
“I love you, Gabi,” the little voice whispered.
“I love you, too, Antonio,” she said, and then she stood. “Drive carefully.”
Andrew nodded wishing with everything he had that he could just invite her to come home with him. But he couldn’t, and he knew it. He watched her get into the car and drive away.
“Well, we’d better get home,” he said willing himself to be excited again, but watching the other half of your soul drive off could sap the excitement out of anyone.
It wasn’t love that was hard, Gabi decided as she looked around the quiet apartment, the hard part was letting go. Antonio’s sweet, little voice rang in her ears, and she smiled through the tears. But even letting go was worth it when the prize was loving a beautiful, little child.
* * *
“Yes, I’d like an estimate for 20 gallons of Number A 17 Eggshell white.” Andrew looked across the desk at Irvin who sat with a checklist of supplies and a budget proposal. “Great. Thanks.”
He hung up the phone.
“$500,” Andrew said as he made his own note.
“K. So, if we can get volunteers to help do the work, we can come in just under $1,000 for the whole thing,” Irvin said, tallying the numbers carefully. “So, what do you say, Mr. C? Can we do it?”
Andrew nodded. “If you can find the volunteers, I think we can swing it.”
“I need another gallon over here,” James called from the ladder high up in the rafters of the gym’s stage.
“I’m coming,” Irvin called back as he lugged a five gallon bucket over to the paint pan.
“How’s this, Irvin?” Tonika asked as she covered the existing graffiti in eggshell white.
“Beautiful,” Irvin said, smiling at her, “just like you.”
She smiled back at him as if in total love.
“Hey, Irvin, what do you want to do with this?” Bryan walked up with an ancient scale model of a World War II plane that was practically falling apart and seemed to be covered with at least ten years of dust.
“I don’t know.” Irvin shrugged. “Uh. I guess put it in the junk pile.”
“Junk? Are you kidding?” Bryan asked in horror and disbelief. “How about I take it off your hands for say $25?”
“$25? You’ve got a deal.” Irvin accepted the money and clipped the cash Bryan to the clipboard he held.
“Hey, Greg,” Bryan called, walking away with his prize, “look what I got!”
Andrew watched her slowly layering the paint on at his feet, and his mind began to travel to different galaxies with her in his arms. He thought about the last week. Being around her again was pure heaven although he still wasn’t sure she felt the same. She wasn’t as distant anymore, but she did seem very, very sad, and that hurt his heart. He never wanted her to be sad again.
“Hey, watch it!” she said suddenly covering her head with her arms, and when he looked down, all he could do was laugh. In all his fantasies he had never pictured her striped.
“Sorry.” He reached for the towels. “Here, let me get that.”
But the moment his hand touched her hair, the only thing he could think about was running his fingers through that hair forever.
“Gabi,” he breathed as she stood and put her hand on his to take the towel from him. His eyes absorbed the simple beauty of her — the hair, the eyes, and the face that he had fallen so in love with as she leaned against a tree in the park. “Did I ever tell you how beautiful you are?”
She smiled up at him without saying a word, and suddenly as he looked down at her, he could no longer resist the temptation of her lips. In one heartbeat, he pulled her into his arms, and his lips found hers — paintbrushes totally forgotten.
“Hey! Hey! Hey!” Irvin suddenly materialized behind them. “Am I gonna have to be a chaperone, too? Come on, you two! Break it up already!”
Andrew released her, laughing, and she ducked her head in embarrassment.
“You’re supposed to be
, remember?” Irvin said in his best teacher voice.
“Yes, Sir,” Andrew said, saluting him. “Sorry, Sir. We won’t let it happen again, Sir.”
Irvin shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Teachers,” he said barely containing the laughter in his voice. Then he stopped laughing and became serious. “By the way Mr. C, Tonika was wondering where you’re gonna take us.”
“Take you?” Andrew asked as Gabi resumed her painting without ever taking her ears off the conversation above her.
“Yeah, you know. Wednesday’s the third. That’ll be a month.”
“Oh, yeah. Of course.” Andrew smiled. “How does Friday night work for you two? That way I can keep Gabi out past midnight.”
“Me?” she asked, jerking to look up at them.
“Yes you.” Andrew grinned down at her. “You didn’t think we’d go without you, did you?”
“Oh. Uh. Well, no,” she said as she returned her gaze to the wall in front of her and tried to focus on painting instead of on the thundering of her heart. “I guess not.”
The conversation continued above her, but Gabi didn’t hear any of it. Andrew was taking Irvin and his girlfriend out to a fancy restaurant, and he wanted her to go with them? She tried to wrap her mind around that information, but it wasn’t working.
“Okay.” Irvin morphed back into his commander role. He was getting good at that. “But I don’t want to see anymore funny business over here. Got it?”
“Aye, Aye, Captain.” Andrew saluted him again, and Irvin left to supervise someone else. Bending down to get more paint, Andrew leaned closer to her, and suddenly she didn’t even trust her own good sense. “Don’t tell Irvin this, but we’ve got reservations Friday at La Chateau de la Flours.”
And with that he stood and resumed his painting above her. But Gabi’s mind had suddenly spun in a trillion different directions, and not one of them had anything to do with painting.
Was he crazy?
de al Flours
! That was the fanciest hotel in the whole city! One meal there cost as much as she had ever spent on an entire outfit, and those you could enjoy more than once. She needed to talk to him, to tell him how crazy this was — she had to.
“Mr. C,” Irvin called from the other side of the gym, “our new recruits are here.”
She looked across the gym to where Irvin stood, and all thoughts of the restaurant ceased. Standing next to him were at least thirty people — all decked out in faded jeans and t-shirts. Mr. Harwood, Mrs. Phelps, and a myriad of students she only barely recognized from the center.
Disbelief was becoming her best friend, and Gabi shook her head in amazement as she watched Andrew stride over to help Irvin greet the new “help.” If there was anything he couldn’t do, she didn’t know what it would be.
* * *
Most of her clothes were scattered across the bed, the floor, the chairs, and every other conceivable spot in the room. She tried to remember where the last week had gone, but it was only a blur of little kids, dust, and paint. As if 12 and 14 hour days weren’t enough, now they had conned her into helping with the renovations of the old stage. Truth be told, it really did look amazing, and she was really proud of Irvin and Andrew. Together they made an almost unstoppable team.
But all the hours spent at the center hadn’t given her much time to get ready for Friday, and suddenly it was Friday, and she was standing in her room with nothing to wear and no time to do anything about that. They would be here in less than ten minutes.
“Okay, Gabi, get a grip,” she said to the empty room as she looked around in frustration. “There has to be something here.”
She rifled through the clothes stacked on the chair on more time, and finally grabbed one outfit that wasn’t absolutely horrible and went to put it on.
“Come on, Mr. C, you can tell us now,” Irvin whined from the backseat. “I mean it’s not like we’re not gonna find out anyway.”
“Well, that’s good because I’m getting tired of hearing you whine.” Andrew smiled at him in the mirror. “You just gotta have some faith, Irvin.”
“Faith? Is that what they call this?” Irvin breathed, rolling his eyes, and Andrew laughed.
They pulled up next to Gabi’s apartment building, and Andrew killed the car motor.
“I’ll be right back,” he said, hopping out and grabbing the single rose from the passenger’s seat.
“Don’t get lost up there,” Irvin called.
Well, she was as ready as she’d ever be Gabi thought taking one more look in the mirror just as the knock sounded on her door.
“This is it,” she said softly, and with one more look, she walked to the door.
With her hand on the knob, she exhaled once more to calm her nerves, and then she yanked the door open. But in the breath of second her whole world fell dissolved, and all she saw was him — a single red rose in hand, dark gray suit, white shirt, gray and blue striped tie, and those amazing green eyes.
“Hi,” he said as pure joy washed over his face and splashed in his eyes. His gaze traveled up and down her long, flowing skirt, and the white poet shirt she wore. “You look beautiful.”
She looked down at herself, and the spell was broken. She wished again for something better to wear, and suddenly her nerves took over. Here he was looking unbelievably incredible, and she was sure in that moment she was no competition for any other woman he’d ever taken to de la Flours. They were surely stylish and perfect. She was just three stone’s throws from the trash heap. “I uh, wasn’t sure. I mean… maybe... umm…” She pointed behind her back to the bedroom as the nerves took over all of her senses. “I could go change.”
“Gabi.” Like a gentle breeze he stepped into the room toward her, and she stopped her rambling and looked at him, fighting the hope that tried to take hold of her heart. It was like looking into the bottom of a lake and seeing only love reflected there. “I said you look beautiful, and I meant it.”
Receiving compliments was not in her repertoire. Dropping her gaze to their feet, she swallowed. “Thank you.”
“Oh. This is for you.” He held out the rose to her, and she took it as though it might break.
“Thanks. It’s really… beautiful. Uh, I think I’ll just go put it in some… water,” she stumbled, willing her mind to work, but he was so close, and the scent of him and the way he looked were sending her senses whirling like dandelion fuzz on the wind.
On unsteady legs, she walked to the kitchen, found a glass, filled it with water, and put the rose into it with care. It really was beautiful, she thought staring at it for only a moment more. Slowly she reached out and touched one soft petal. She could feel the beauty of it enter her heart, and she wished with everything she had that she could be just like this incredible flower. One perfect rose.
Suddenly she sensed him standing right behind her, and she turned, embarrassed for her thoughts.
“I’m..,” She began searching for something brilliant to say as she found herself staring at the expanse of his shoulders, unable to look up at him lest she fall and never be able to right herself again. “Umm. Are the kids in the car?”
If she could just get control… Then as a signal that she knew him asking her along on the occasion meant nothing, she took a giant leap and willed herself to look up at him. But his eyes had turned to liquid as he stood there not moving just watching her, and suddenly her heart wanted very much for this night to mean something.
But it didn’t, and she needed to remember that.
“What?” she asked in desperation as she felt his gaze go right through her into her soul. “What’s wrong?”
His gaze intensified. “I just need to get something straight before we go,” he said, and for all the screaming of her mind, she couldn’t tear her eyes away from his. “I don’t want this to be two teachers taking out two students tonight. As far as I’m concerned, I want this to be a date. A real date.”
A real date?
her mind screamed as her nerves ratcheted up several notches so they were zinging through her with incredible velocity. She couldn’t breathe. She had thought about this moment many times, and yet she had never truly thought it would happen. But here he was, asking her on a date, and for all the screeching in her head, she couldn’t come up with an answer.
“Gabi, I’m asking. Will you go on a date with me?” he asked, his gaze never wavering from hers.
She swallowed and forced herself to remember that he already knew about the dark corners of her past. He knew, and yet he still wanted to go out with her? How was that possible? And then as though it had a will of its own, new understanding crept into her brain.
This was it. This was what she had wanted for for so long. This was what love really meant. Knowing everything, and loving anyway. And at that moment, as she looked into his never ending eyes, she knew in the depths of her being that she loved this man. She loved Andrew Clark.
“Yes,” she said simply. “I’ll go out with you, Andrew.”
For one brief second, she thought he might cry, and then suddenly she was in his arms spinning in the air.
“Finally. I promise you won’t regret this,” he said as she slid back to the earth, but it had no hold on her anymore. She was floating on a cloud, and she never wanted to come down again.
When the car rounded the final turn, and the passengers in the back saw the hotel wrapped around the end of the block — glittering and luminous against the ebony backdrop of night, and even Gabi was having a hard time containing her excitement. She had never been to a place like this — ever.
“Whoa. That’s La Chateau de la Flours,” Tonika gasped as Gabi listened for their reaction, but Irvin never said anything.
Andrew’s smile could’ve lit up the entire city as he pulled to the front of the building.
“Oh. Mr. C, you’re not serious,” Irvin gasped as Andrew put the car into park, and a parking attendant opened Gabi’s door. “No. Not… No. This has to be some kind of a joke.”
“No, joke.” Andrew extracted himself from the car and pulled the seat forward for the teenagers to exit.
Gabi herself was having trouble taking it all in as the attendant offered her his hand, and she stepped from the car. The hotel was huge, and as she glanced around, she saw the limousines lining the driveway. This was too incredible to even imagine. Looking over at the kids, she realized her amazement didn’t even come close to Irvin’s.
He stood stock-still staring in awe at the opulence surrounding them.