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Authors: Lynne Gentry

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Reinventing Leona

BOOK: Reinventing Leona
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Visit Tyndale online at
www.­tyndale.­com
.

Visit Lynne Gentry’s website at
www.­lynnegentry.­com
.

TYNDALE
and Tyndale’s quill logo are registered trademarks of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Reinventing Leona

Copyright © 2011 by Lynne Gentry. All rights reserved.

Cover photograph of sky copyright © narvikk/iStockphoto. All rights reserved.

Cover photograph of woman in field copyright © WillSelarep/iStockphoto. All rights reserved.

Cover photograph of butterflies copyright © Rubberball/iStockphoto. All rights reserved.

Cover and title page designed by Ron Kaufmann

The author is represented by Sandra Bishop of MacGregor Literary Inc., 2373 NW 185th Avenue, Suite 165, Hillsboro, OR 97124.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version,® NIV.® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.
www.­zondervan.­com
.

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.

ISBN 978-1-4143-6657-9 (ePub)

To Lonnie, my knight in shining armor

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-­One

Chapter Twenty-­Two

Chapter Twenty-­Three

Chapter Twenty-­Four

Chapter Twenty-­Five

Chapter Twenty-­Six

Epilogue

About the Author

Acknowledgments

Good stories, like good people, never happen by accident. Many individuals invested a great deal of time and effort in this project and in the process became cherished friends. Lisa Harris, thanks for convincing me to write. Sandra Bishop, thanks for knocking on every publishing door, sometimes twice. To all the Tyndale staff, thank you for saying yes and for making this story shine.

Mom, your life inspired me to put one foot in front of the other. Diane, if every woman had a sister like you cheering her on, no telling what could be accomplished. Megan, Michael, Eric, and Lindsey, thanks for believing your mother can do anything. And to my husband and best friend, I say: Lonnie, I prayed for a prince and got a king.

Because of God’s grace, I am continually reinvented. To him I give all glory, honor, and praise.

Chapter One

“Living in the parsonage is not for sissies.” Leona Harper’s husband planted a kiss on the top of her head. “You knew that when you married me, darlin’.” He tucked his Bible under one arm and offered her the other. “You can do this.”

Leona considered the man standing before her. J.D. Harper was as handsome as the day they met some thirty years ago, even with the silver streaks traipsing across his well-trained waves. Folks often mistook him to be a successful CEO of some major corporation rather than the pastor of a dying church in a small Texas town.

“And if I don’t?”

“Maxine Davis wins.” He had her, and he knew it. “Is that what you want?”

Ignoring the righteous twinkle in his eye, she threaded her hand through the crook in his suit-clad arm. “I hate it when you preach at me, J.D.”

“If it weren’t for guilt trips, you wouldn’t go anywhere.”

“My point exactly.” Leona scooped up the Tupperware caddie that contained her famous chicken pot pie and set off to face yet another Sunday at Mt. Hope Community Church.

J.D. opened the door to the fellowship hall. The familiar aroma of coffee and casseroles assaulted Leona’s nose. If only she had a nickel for every meal she’d eaten in this dingy room, maybe they could pay all their bills, save a little for retirement, and even afford the little vacation J.D. had reluctantly agreed to take when the kids came home.

Leona headed for the kitchen, weaving through the scattered tables. Crock-Pots brimming with roast and carrots or pinto beans and ham lined the counter.

While J.D. checked the overloaded power strip, Leona deposited her contribution for the monthly potluck scheduled to follow the morning service. She glanced at the dessert table. Maxine’s coconut cake was not in its usual place. “I’m going to get a seat in the sanctuary.”

“You can’t avoid her forever.”

It wasn’t that she was afraid of the sour elder’s wife; she just hadn’t figured out the best way to address Maxine’s latest attack. Why God had seen fit to park them at a church where the chairman of the elder board’s wife loved only two things—having the last word and adding to her list of complaints against the Harpers—was first in a list of pressing questions she intended to ask God when she got to heaven.

“An ugly encounter with that woman would ruin my worship, and I’ll be hanged if I’ll let her take that too.”

J.D. smiled. “That’s my girl.”

Once the service got underway, Leona slid along the wooden pew that vibrated from the force of her husband’s praise. She savored the clout his resonant bass added to her rafter-splitting soprano. Clutching the worn hymnal, she filled her lungs to capacity, tightened her diaphragm, and nailed the descant of the final refrain with flawless effort.

Behind the large oak pulpit, the congregation’s homegrown song leader, Parker Kemp, formed an air donut with his thumb and middle finger, bringing pastor’s wife, organist, and sparse crowd to a synchronized close. His wink in Leona’s direction confirmed the young man appreciated a stellar finish when he heard one.

Despite her delight, the troubles Leona kept safely tucked from sight rumbled in her empty stomach. She glanced across the sanctuary aisle. Maxine Davis, blue from holding an off-key note, eyed her back. Realizing her nose was wrinkled, Leona quickly diverted her gaze, certain she’d just given Maxine more fodder.

“And the church said?” Parker flipped to his next selection.

“Amen.”

“Before the sermon, we’ll be singing all five verses of page 156. Please stand, if it is convenient.”

Solid oak pews groaned with grateful relief as the congregation lumbered to their feet.

Parker gave a quick nod to the organist, readying his hand for the beat. His expression morphed into that dazzling smile sure to land him the perfect wife someday. Leona loved the Sundays this radiant young fellow led. Unlike the steady diet of first-and-third-versers, their county extension agent sang every word of every verse. Hymns that once plodded the narrow aisles danced before the Lord under his direction. Parker’s ability to stir in a little spirit always gave Leona the distinct feeling rain had fallen upon her parched lawn, offering a smidgen of hope that if the congregation had a shot at resurrection, maybe she did too.

But Maxine claimed allowing such unrestrained expressions of
joy
during the song service might lead to who-knows-what in the sanctuary. Thankfully, J.D. had refused to succumb to this paranoid woman’s lunacy and had blocked the board’s removal of Parker’s name from the volunteer rotation.

The congregation fidgeted as Wilma Wilkerson attempted to prod some heft into the organ’s double row of yellowed keys and squeaky pedals. Leona used the extra time to beseech the Lord on Parker’s behalf. If God would see his way clear to give her matchmaking plan a leg up, she could have the boy married by Easter, especially with the recent addition of Bette Bob’s adorable niece.

J.D. reached for Leona’s hand and gave it a squeeze. Some pastors prayed before they took the pulpit. Most checked their fly. Mt. Hope’s preacher held his wife’s hand during the song preceding his sermon. Relishing her esteemed role of coworker in the Kingdom, Leona inched closer, her upper thigh pressed tight against her husband’s. Truth be known, there wasn’t a woman in the church who wouldn’t trade places with the pastor’s wife, not even Maxine. Of that she was certain.

Nestled securely against J.D.’s charcoal pinstripe, Leona could hear the throaty warble of the Story twins parked three pews back. The blue-haired-saint sandwich had a crush on her husband, but to begrudge these senior saints a little window shopping bordered on heresy. The old girls had suffered a series of setbacks the last few months, burying several of their shriveled ranks. What would it hurt if staring at her handsome husband gave them a reason to get out of bed on Sunday mornings? Besides, Widow’s Row vacancies were increasing at an alarming rate, and replacing these committed congregants seemed unlikely, given the current trend of their small town’s decline.

J.D.’s familiar grip throttled Leona’s errant thoughts. She patted his hand. Her husband felt unusually clammy this chilly fall morning. Was this a new development, or something she’d missed earlier because she’d been in such a twit? She felt her keen senses kick into overdrive. Out of the corner of her eye, she checked his coloring.

“Are you okay, J.D.?”

Her husband kept his eyes honed on Parker, but Leona knew he wasn’t just waiting for his cue to take the stage.

She tugged on his sleeve. “You’re still taking Thanksgiving week off, right?” Leona ignored the censuring daggers Maxine hurled across the faded burgundy carpet. She plowed ahead, forcing her words through a gritted smile. “You promised, James David.”

Her husband freed his large hand from Leona’s clenched one and slipped his arm around her trim waist, drawing her close. He kissed her temple then whispered in her ear, “Who by worrying can add a single hour to her life?”

His breath warmed the top of her color-treated head. A tingle raced through her body. “J.D., you need a break,” she whispered.

“All in God’s timing, Leona,” he mouthed back.

The upcoming holidays were going to be their family’s chance to reconnect, especially since both kids had agreed to come home from their respective universities. She was pleased that David’s and Maddie’s hearts showed signs of softening, but her stomach balled into an anxious wad when she contemplated the raw edges left to mend with her children.

The song ended, but the glow lighting the dark pupils of Parker’s eyes did not. “You may be seated.” The song leader gathered his list and songbook then left the podium.

J.D. ascended the stage steps as if he were king of some faith mountain. He removed the sermon notes tucked inside a leather-bound Bible and surveyed the crowd’s upturned faces. Leona recognized the tallying look in her husband’s eyes. He would know the dismal attendance count before Deacon Tucker posted the numbers on the wooden board in the back of the sanctuary.

J.D. unbuttoned his coat, ran his hand down his tie. He greeted his congregation of eighteen years with the same determined expression he had his first Sunday in this pulpit. Filleting the worn pages with a satin ribbon, he opened his Bible to the day’s chosen text.

The familiar rustle of people settling into their favorite pews rippled across the sanctuary. The Smoots’ tiny addition fussed in the back row. The newborn’s cry awoke the treasured memories Leona stored in her heart. She loved those days of diapers, sleepless nights, and planting kisses on the exquisite soft spot right below tiny earlobes. If only dispensing love could remain that simple and teething remain a mother’s biggest worry.

With an attuned ear aimed on the disgruntled infant, she offered a quick prayer for the fertile mother of four. Maybe the Lord would spare that young woman the mistakes of her pastor’s wife. Leona reined her wandering focus and aimed it on the dapper man standing before the congregation. No matter what became of her relationship with her children, she could always take comfort in the fact that at least she had J.D.

BOOK: Reinventing Leona
3.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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