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
“Our visitor’s back.” Mia Tucker indicated the sullen figure in the corner with a nod of her head as Liz Savoy tied on her apron. Truth was she had a full night of studying staring her down, and she hadn’t thought of their “visitor” since the last time he’d been in, which by her quick calculations had been at least a week.
“Got his computer, too,” Liz said, noticing the dark-coated figure hunched over the small black laptop at the table in the darkest corner of the coffee shop. It was the corner with no windows, and the one he always chose.
“Wonder what he’s working on.” Mia, the ever-intrigued one, watched him at Liz’s side. “I say it’s top secret CIA stuff.”
“CIA? Really? I’ve always thought he was planning to blow up some country somewhere.”
It was a running thing with the two of them, scoping out coffee patrons to analyze and come up with what they did in real life. There were the regulars, like the lady with the big hats and Geoff, the guy they could swear had a crush on Mia because when she took his order, he always spilled something or messed up his own order. Then there were the irregulars like the guy currently huddled over the laptop. They’d been analyzing him for a couple weeks or more, ever since Liz had gotten back from summer break. She didn’t remember seeing him before that, but with as low of a profile as he liked to keep, she could easily have overlooked him.
In fact, she wasn’t even sure now who had first noticed him— her or Mia, but he had been a favorite topic of conversation ever since.
“I’ll take it this time.” Liz grabbed up the coffee pot. Although you could get any style or flavor of coffee imaginable at The Grind, they had come to know that laptop guy only drank his stark black, no added anything. The fact that he came in at seven at night, when he came in, and stayed until just before closing time at eleven, drinking at least six cups while he was there always made Liz wonder how he managed to get any sleep on those nights at all. She strode over, wishing she could just ask him rather than constantly guessing. “Hi, there. Would you like a refill?”
The explosion rocked Jasmine, throwing her to the ground in a crumpled mess of hurt and pain, and she knew her life would never again…
Jake McCoy was somewhere amidst the lost jungles of the Amazon concocting the next horrible thing to befall poor Jasmine Van Ongevalle’s life. She had already been poisoned, strangled, lost at sea, nearly drowned, and taken prisoner, but this one was the best ever. This one would surely be the break he needed.
“Uhm. ‘scuse me. Would you like some more coffee?”
With the trance of the story still clinging to him, he looked up and jumped when he realized he was not alone. “What?” Then he realized who she was and why she was standing there, coffee pot in hand. “Oh. Y-yeah. Sure.” He pushed his empty cup over to her, the words on the screen already calling his spirit back to them.
She tilted her head just a little to the side, not really being able to see the screen but almost looking like she might try. “Must be pretty interesting.”
His gaze jumped from the coffee she poured to his screen and back again. “Hm. Yeah. I guess so.” Carefully, he reached over and slid it from her view, hoping he could get back before he lost his train of thought.
However, when she was finished pouring, she didn’t leave. “Would you like something to eat with that? A donut or a bagel or something?”
Jake lifted the cup to his lips, scalding them because he hadn’t realized how hot it would be. “Oh. Ow. No. Thanks. I’m fine.”
A moment more and she nodded. Then the smallest of smiles graced one side of her lips. “Well, if you need anything, I’m right up there.” She pointed over to the counter, and Jake cleared his throat, put down the cup, and pushed at his black jeans as nerves attacked him.
She nodded again as if she could divine the secrets of his soul if she looked at him long enough, and then she simply turned and left.
The whoosh of air leaving his lungs felt good. Why was it so frightening for her to simply stand there like that? He couldn’t quite get a handle on it. In fact, that was why he had several Wi-Fi hangouts on his way home from work. That way no one had the chance to make a connection and want to talk. He hated talking. He much preferred the make-believe worlds that spun in wild colors around across his mind. For Jake, imagination had always out done reality. Always.
“Did he say anything?” Mia asked. He had become something of a game with them. Both of them trying to get more than a few syllables out of him.
“Nothing. Unless you count, thanks.” Liz set the coffee pot down and glanced back at him, already hunched back over that computer, tapping away. Why did he intrigue her so? He came in about once a week very rarely more, drank gallons of coffee as he worked, and then left. Just disappearing into the tangle that was New York City, leaving only the charge plus two dollars, every single time.
Pushing it and him out of her mind, she went back to work, cleaning the cabinets and resetting the Danishes which would be trashed in another two hours. Tuesday night, last shift was mostly clean up, save for the few customers who came in for night caps after dinner or entertainment elsewhere. That was fine with her. She didn’t mind clean-up or the late hours. It was better than eight a.m. frantic which she only worked every other Friday because she didn’t have class until noon.
The counters done, she grabbed a spray bottle and a rag. Might as well get a jump on cleaning up.
Jasmine pulled herself upright, the sticky, red blood trickling down from the wound in her head. Flames licked the sky as the car in front of her continued to burn. The evidence in that car was gone and that meant so was her only chance of nailing Pepper Japsim to the wall.
Jake’s gaze jerked from the words on the screen over to the lithe figure spraying down the booth table next to him. Tight jeans hugged the generous curves hidden only nominally by the burgundy tank top and small celery green apron that all the coffee shop girls wore. Her hair was an array of colors— dark and then darker and lighter highlights that hung down in strips.
Ugh. He shook his head at his lack of concentration and refocused. Putting his fingers to the keys, he searched his brain for what came next. Blank. Absolutely blank. That was but one of the cruxes of why he was a failure at writing. The big moments like the explosion were easy, what came next was a mystery. “Come on, Jake.” He put his elbows up on the table and his fingers to his chin and his lips. “Come on. Think. See it. This used to be so easy.”
Frustration crawled over him as he rubbed his hand back and forth over the copious whiskers that always lined his jaw and face by this time every evening. “Think. This can’t be that hard. Scene, sequel. Scene, sequel. The car just blew up, the evidence is gone, Jasmine’s hurt. This is the perfect set up, so do something with it.”
But his gaze betrayed him and pulled up to her again. Two tables away she was dancing to the soft jazz music floating from the speakers hidden somewhere in the walls or ceiling. Her feet bounced softly, slowly, and she swayed to the music that seemed to fill the air around only her. To anyone not really watching her, they would never have noticed movement, but he noticed, and it annoyed him. Her ash-and-dark, blonde-streaked hair was chopped to half a dozen unequal lengths. He hated blondes. They were far too peppy for his taste. Not that she was really blonde by most blonde standards, but she was close enough. Besides that, women in general were a complete mystery to him, one best left to the strange realm of reality they inhabited.
He took a sip of the coffee, not seeing it but glad she had refilled it. With a hard breath and a scratch of his head, he angled his gaze back down to his screen with determination. The red and green lines that snaked across what he had already written snatched his attention for one second, but he pushed that away. He would deal with those later. Nailing his gaze to the screen, he drilled into concentration. This was it. The manuscript that would pull him out of obscurity and thrust him into the literary limelight. He could see the adoring throngs already, waiting, lined up to get in to buy his next book. Of course it had
slathered generously across the cover because his name had been selling millions of books rather than the title or the publisher for years. All he had to do was convince some big-time publisher somewhere that his writing was worth putting a million dollar campaign behind.
Granted, he had a stack of rejection letters saying just the opposite, but that was beside the point. They just hadn’t yet recognized his staggering talent, his worth, the lasting significance of his literary genius. He put his fingers to the keys again and read back over what he had just written. “Okay. She’s down, Jake. Now what? Maybe some bad guy knows she’s there. Yeah. Yeah. That’s it.”
Movement in the bushes behind her told Jasmine that she wasn’t alone.
He rubbed his hands together in excitement. “Yeah. That’s good.”
Then he stopped and thought that solution through.
Who could it be in the bushes? Who would have followed her there? Who even knew about her appointment with Defcon One other than… Pepper?
For one second he liked the idea. “Yeah. What if it is Pepper? What if he knew about it all along?” Jake put his fingers to the keys and then stopped. No. That couldn’t be right because Pepper was still back in New York. He had established that before Jasmine left for the Amazon. Jake grabbed for his coffee as his mind spun away. Okay, true, the New York thing could have been a ruse to make Jasmine think Pepper wasn’t following her. That could work. But then again that messed up the whole thread and timeline about Pepper and the gangsters in New York. And if he wasn’t there, he couldn’t be about to…
A low growl crawled out of Jake as the all-too familiar frustration took over. His attention slid up again as the world of Jasmine and Pepper tilted away from him. The waitress with the dancing feet moved to the table right in front of him, and try as he might, he couldn’t stop watching her. She transferred the condiments to the table behind her, never so much as glancing at him before spraying a generous amount of disinfectant on it. He hadn’t even really realized how intently he was watching her until her soft hazel gaze chanced up and caught his. Her smile lifted only one side of her mouth, and panic gripped him hard, yanking his gaze back to the screen. It swayed in front of him as white hot heat scorched through him, searing every cell it found. She was going to think he was a stalker or something, which he totally wasn’t. He didn’t even really know who she was, just that she worked here, and he had seen her a couple of times. Still, ugh. He ducked his head down farther, wishing he could disappear altogether. Why was it so hard to keep his gaze on the screen and away from her still standing there, dancing, still wiping that table? And where, oh, where had the breath in his lungs gone?
“Concentrate, Jake. Concentrate.” Blinking hard, he raked in a long, slow breath. Sometimes that helped. “You need to get at least three pages written tonight, and you’ve already wasted almost an hour.” He heaved a sharp sigh, cleared his throat, pulled himself forward on the plastic chair and re-anchored his gaze to the screen. “She’s down. Explosion. Ka-pow! Bang! Blood everywhere. Fire. Danger. What comes next?”
Liz turned from the little table in the back with just a touch of disappointment trailing her to the counter. He was kind of good-looking in a weird stalker kind of way. Dark hair, long angular features, nice nose. She could have asked why she had bothered to notice so much about him, but she didn’t want to overanalyze the jump her heart gave at that rare jolt of connection when his gaze had met hers. Brushing all of those feelings aside, she reached under the counter.
“I’m going to get some reading done.”
Mia, who was already reading at the counter, nodded. “Might as well get something productive done.”
“I hear you.” Liz took her three books over to the far booth and slid in. That was another thing she liked about the evening shift and Mia being manager. Study time. Every minute now was one less she would have to slave over when she got off.
It was strange, most of the time Jake was wonderfully glad when there was no action at the coffee shop. Tonight, however, the dead quiet broken only by the soft jazz that never stopped playing was grating his nerves. He should have brought his headphones. That might have helped him block out the jazz or the quiet, and he wasn’t sure which was bothering him more. It was so dead the waitresses had even abandoned bringing him refills. The coffee in his cup was now cold and unappealing, which meant he didn’t even have that distraction to help him over the wordless humps.
True, most nights he would even be grateful for them ignoring him like they usually did. That was probably owing to his glitteringly wonderful conversational skills. He shifted in the chair, put his hand to his neck, and drilled his gaze to the long blank, glowing, white page in front of him. Chapter Two, with a nice red line under the “two.” With a sigh, he fixed it and closed his eyes as the well-worn frustration crept into his spirit. Three pages had sounded so doable when he had sat down.
Maybe he could click over to the writer’s group he had joined the year before, just to see what was going on. That was the other benefit of the coffee shop— Wi-Fi. He worked the little mouse on the computer and had the site pulled up in no time. With no effort he perused the current topics: Point of View, Back story, Pulling Your Reader In, Rising Conflict, One Sheets, Conference. Down the list he read slowly. Finally he clicked on “Back story.” He knew the general details of that one from conversations past. Limit back story, keep the story going with conflict, don’t bore your reader with meaningless info dumps, keep the conflict in the here and now, and when in doubt, blow something up.