Defending Glory by Anne K. Albert

ISBN: 978-1-935407-95-9
Vanilla Heart Publishing

ebook available 9/30/2010
Print available 2/2011

Copyright © 2010 by Anne K. Albert

CHAPTER ONE

Aidan “Mac” McKeown palmed the bullets doctors removed from his right thigh and stared out his office window. Daffodils, tulips, and marsh marigolds lined garden paths beyond the alleyway at the back of the building. The fragrant scent of lilacs sweetened the air. Robins chirped on their endless hunt for worms. It was a perfect Thursday morning in northern Minnesota. The kind his partner would have cherished.
If he were alive.
A true hero and all around good guy, Ben should have been the one to survive the ambush. He had every reason to live. A loving wife. Two adorable children.
Mac’s fist tightened around the spent ammo. If only he could remember what went wrong that day. He had snippets of blurred images, fragments of shouted warnings, but nothing concrete. He woke up in the hospital two days later, and at the grand old age of thirty one learned a valuable lesson. There was no grand scheme. No master plan. And most certainly, no merciful God in heaven.
He tossed the bullets into the middle drawer of his desk. Why rehash the past? If Ben were alive, he’d order Mac to snap out of it and focus on the here and now.
“Pay attention,” Ben would say. “Never let your heart rule your head. It’ll get you every time.”
Exhaling slowly, Mac began to sort through a stack of bills. He divided them into two piles. Those he could pay and those he could not. Topping the former was the rent for the century old, red brick building that housed his office on the ground floor and a small two-bedroom apartment he called home on the second. After that he could pay the minimum amount required on the electric and telephone bills. The rest would have to wait until next month.
Or the month after that.
The recent downturn in the economy affected everyone. The good news was he did not have the added responsibility of a family to take care of, but many of his creditors, local entrepreneurs like himself, did. That bothered Mac. His bills were more than just a bunch of numbers or tallies of services rendered. They were mouths to feed and bodies to clothe. He had to find a solution to his cash flow problem before it became their problem, too.
A warm breeze whooshed through the open office window, whipping the items he’d pinned to a cork bulletin board on the wall opposite his desk. One photograph and accompanying article snipped from the local newspaper caught his attention. Written less than a year earlier to coincide with the grand opening of McKeown General Contracting, it told readers how as a young boy he had worked with his grandfather, a master tradesman in Minneapolis. Fond memories of their fishing trips to Piedmont Island spurred Mac to move north and open his own business.
He had felt so confident then. So certain he’d made the right decision. But with few construction projects on the horizon, and cash so tight he could not afford to paint his company’s name or phone number on the side of his truck to attract future clients, it was doubtful he’d still be in business by the end of summer.
Then what?
The buzzer inside his shop blared. A quick glance at the wall clock provided a spark of hope. 8:00 A.M. on the dot. Someone must need his services to come by so early in the morning. Reaching for his cane, he pushed himself up from the chair, and headed to the front of the building. A couple stood near the counter with their backs toward him.
“Good morning,” he said. “How may I help you?”
They turned to face him and his optimism fizzled. Although he did not recognize the woman, he was acquainted with the man. The pastor’s appearance inside his shop could mean only one thing. They had no desire to save his business. Their only concern was his soul.
Pastor Rick Wainwright’s eyelids flickered as he spied Mac’s cane. “How’re you today?”
Mac forced a smile. “I can’t complain.”
“I’d been under the impression you’d purchased tickets for last week’s church supper, but I don’t recall seeing you there.”
“I had other plans.” And he did. He rarely missed Monday Night Football. “I gave the tickets to my landlord. He and his wife said they had a lovely evening.”
“Ah.”
The single word spoke volumes, making Mac wonder how far the pastor would pursue it today. He found the minister’s concern for his welfare irritating and unwarranted. To his relief, Wainwright gestured to the woman by his side.
“I’d like to introduce you to Glory Palmer. Glory, this is Aidan McKeown. The man I told you about.”
Mac groaned inwardly. He could only imagine the things she’d heard. Besides skipping out on church suppers and declining repeated invitations to attend services at the Piedmont Community Church, he’d also refused to provide any details about his life prior to moving to the island.
Nonetheless, he extended his hand. “Pleased to meet you. And call me, Mac.”
She gave his hand a quick, but firm shake. Her straight, strawberry blonde hair swished against narrow shoulders. A tiny gold cross at her throat shimmered in the soft fluorescent light.
“I own a cottage at Hanover Point,” she said. “Are you familiar with it?”
“I’ve motored past a couple of times when I’ve been out that way fishing.”
“It needs a major overhaul.”
Well, well, well. Perhaps he had been a little hasty in assessing the reason for their visit. She had a renovation project and the pastor had obviously recommended him for the job. Mac did a mental arm pump.
“It needs a new kitchen,” she said. “But I’m unsure what else to do.”
If memory served him correctly, the building was approximately twenty years old. “It depends on how often you plan to use it.”
“Year round. I’m going to live there.”
At Hanover Point? He did a double take. Dressed in navy slacks and a white silk blouse, the petite young woman had ‘city girl’ written all over her.
“It’s isolated,” he pointed out. “During winter the road is often closed due to blowing and drifting snow. You could be stranded for days without heat or hydro.”
She arched a brow, as if to suggest it was no concern of his. And she was right. Still, he could not deny how he felt. Imagining her alone and at the mercy of the elements kick started every protective cell in his body. Or was it something else? It had been a very long time since he’d fallen under the spell of a pretty woman. And Glory Palmer definitely fit into that category.
“My family’s owned the property for years,” she continued. “But until last fall I’d never had any reason to visit. This may sound silly, but from the moment I arrived I felt as if I’d come home. This is where I belong.” Her eyes darted to the pastor. “My future’s here.”
Mac saw the flash of emotion in her eyes. The realization she and the minister could be more than friends bothered him. Yet it made perfect sense. Otherwise, she would have come alone to discuss the renovations.
“We’ve spoken to a number of your clients,” the pastor said, as if reading Mac’s thoughts. “Everyone is more than pleased with your work and highly recommends you.”
“I give each project my all, and strive to complete it on schedule. And within budget.”
“That’s precisely why we’re here.” Glory smiled, adding, “The pastor and I were on our way out to the cottage to assess what needs to be done immediately, and what can be put off until next year. I was hoping you’d come along. I’d appreciate your input.”
He did not hesitate. Business was business. He grabbed a notepad, his cell phone, and followed them outside.
After he locked the front door, he heard her say, “I also have another project in mind, but there’s a catch.”
His fist tightened around his cane. Of course, there would be a catch. He should have seen this coming. She intended to finish what the pastor had begun, and save his soul. He shifted his weight to the other foot. Regardless of how much he needed this job and the income it would provide, he had no choice but to make his position clear.
“If it has anything to do with attending church,” he said, looking pointedly at the pastor, “you can count me out.”
If Glory had not seen the transformation with her own eyes, she would not have believed it possible. One moment Mac was professional and congenial, the next dark shadows cloaked his features. It was as if he’d suddenly become encased in a block of ice.
Pastor Rick had warned her of Mac’s aversion to religion. The pastor had even suggested he remain in the background until after construction began, but Glory refused.
“Your involvement,” she argued, “should have no bearing on his decision. One construction project is the same as another to a general contractor.”
“He’s a troubled man, Glory. Think hard before you hire him because once you do, you’ll have to deal with him on a daily basis. Is that what you truly want?”
She paused to give it some thought. It saddened her anyone could be so afraid of letting in the light. Or worse, believe coercion could ever force acceptance of the Lord. Then, an image of Logan flashed inside her head. He needed her. Now more than ever. She refused to let him down and would deal with a hundred McKeowns if need be.
“I want the most qualified person for the job,” she told the pastor, “If that’s McKeown, then yes. He’s the man for me.”
An elderly couple passed by on the street. Their friendly greeting and warm smiles brought her back to the present.
“Let me explain,” she said, looking Mac straight in the eye. “Renovating my future home is important. It’s a necessity even, given the climate. But my first priority is the establishment of a Christian retreat.”
“A retreat?”
“Three, two-bedroom units. I hope to add three more next spring, but time will tell. I’ve picked out a potential building site slightly to the west of my cottage. I think it’s perfect, but I’d like yours and Pastor Rick’s input before I make a final decision.”
“You want me to build three homes, and call them a Christian retreat?”
“Not exactly. Initially I’d planned to act as my own general contractor.”
Before he could point out the folly of her ways, she raised her hands in surrender. “As foolish as that may sound, I’d expected to spend the entire summer on the island, and with nothing else to do I honestly thought it was feasible. Unfortunately, certain,” she paused to search for the right word, “obligations require me to spend a good portion of next month elsewhere. This means I need someone to take charge while I’m away. I’d like you to be that person.”
Mac fingered his key chain.
The faint jingle jangle set her nerves on edge, and evidently Pastor Rick’s as well. He began to fidget. It didn’t take a mind reader to be privy to his thoughts. It was written all over his boyish, freckled face. He’d warned her Mac would back out, and suggested she find someone else to do the job.
What the pastor didn’t know was she’d already spoken to a number of contractors. Most lived and worked out of Duluth, the nearest city. None were willing to commit to the project. They cited her desired completion date unrealistic for three separate units. They also considered the drive a major deterrent. The commute would eat up four hours each day, and possibly delay the project further.
Mac pocketed his keys. “What exactly do you want from me?”
She pursed her lips. “I need you to start work on Monday.”
“That’s four days from now.”
“Uh-huh. And there’s one more thing I should mention.”
He narrowed his gaze.
“It’s imperative the retreat be finished by the end of August.” There. She’d said it.
Whatever Mac was thinking, he kept hidden. The blank expression on his angled face would have made Stonewall Jackson proud.
“I’ve spoken with a number of local tradesmen,” she said, hoping to prove to him that she had some inkling of what was involved. “They’ve agreed to be available and on site whenever you need them. All they ask is that you phone the day before to give them a heads up.”
“How did you manage that?” he asked.
“The majority attend our church,” Pastor Rick explained. “They’ve a vested interest in the construction of the retreat. Most will likely make use of its facilities when it’s completed.”
“Let me get this straight,” Mac said, returning his attention to Glory. “Starting on Monday you want me to update and winterize your cottage, plus begin construction on a grouping of three more homes that will be used as a Christian retreat, and you expect me to have everything completed by the end of August?”
“Yes. Well, not so much my home, but the retreat, yes.”
“And that’s the catch? The August deadline?”
She nodded. “It’s not like you’ll be working all on your own. I’ll help anyway I can when I’m here. So will Pastor Rick.”
“What do either of you know about construction?”
“Not much,” Wainwright admitted. “But I know a thing or two about people. What motivates them. And what spurs them on to do great things in the name of the Lord.”
“I see,” he said, but Glory suspected he did not.
“And I can make phone calls, place orders, arrange deliveries,” she added. “Whatever needs to be done. Please say you’ll be my general contractor.”
When he did not immediately respond, her heart did a flip-flop inside her chest. Pasting what she prayed was an optimistic smile on her face, she pointed across the village street to her blue VW beetle. “Tell you what. Why don’t you hold off on your decision until after you’ve surveyed the building site? Shall we go? I’ll drive.”
“No–”.
“Please. I need you.” She reached out to touch his forearm, and then seeing him flinch, immediately removed her hand. She felt her cheeks burn. She’d never begged before. Nor had she confessed to a handsome stranger she needed him. But she did, and now that she’d finally met Mac McKeown face-to-face, that terrified her more than she cared to acknowledge.
He peered at her for what seemed an eternity, and then he smiled. A soft, easy smile that added a sparkle to his eyes, and somehow lifted the weight of the world from his broad shoulders. The insides of her mouth felt dry as unbuttered toast, while her pulse pounded double time. Etiquette screamed for her to break off her gaze–she was after all staring, but her eyes remained fixed on the man.
He tapped his cane against his leg. The dull thud of wood against jeans and flesh penetrated the fog inside her brain.
“I need more leg room,” he said. “I’d rather drive my own truck.”
“Oh!” she stammered. “We’ll meet you at the turnoff, then.”
* * *
Mac climbed into his red, Ford pick-up and questioned his sanity. Why had he changed his mind? He’d been all set to walk away from the project. Being that he and God were not on speaking terms, he figured it was for the best. That, and Glory’s August deadline. In theory, it was doable. Barely. But delays were the norm rather than the exception in construction, and he wasn’t about to make a promise he could not fulfill. Then, he’d taken one look at her pale green eyes when she’d blurted she needed him, and he’d done a one-eighty.
He wanted to tell himself it had nothing to do with the woman and everything to do with the fact he desperately needed the job and the money it would bring, but he knew it was a lie. Something was troubling her. He’d seen it in her eyes. Heard it in her voice. Felt it in his soul. He wanted to make the problem go away. He wanted to promise her everything would be all right. Then, take her in his arms–.
Mac scowled, then cranked on the ignition and headed toward Hanover Point. What was he thinking? The last thing he needed in his life was someone to care about. He’d already lost everyone that had ever mattered. He didn’t have the stamina or strength to do it again.
He’d agreed to look at the cottage as well as the retreat’s location, but that was as far as he was prepared to go with Ms. Glory Palmer. He’d tell her the truth. He wasn’t the right man for the job. She would have to hire someone else.
Twenty minutes later, he spotted her VW bug parked at the side of the road. Pastor Rick stood next to the vehicle, but Glory was nowhere in sight.
“Where is she?” he asked when he reached the pastor’s side.
“Over that ridge.” He pointed toward Lake Superior. “She saw some wildflowers and said she just had to pick them. I said I’d wait for you.”
“I appreciate it.”
A late model, black, GM truck towing a fishing boat zoomed past. The rear tire of the trailer swerved off the pavement and dusted them with a splattering of dirt and gravel. Rather than slow down, the driver, hidden behind tinted windows, stepped on the gas.
“Is he crazy?” The pastor brushed the debris from his sleeve. “He could’ve killed us.”
“Or himself.”
The vehicle disappeared around a curve in the road, but not before Mac memorized the license plate number. Some habits, he realized, die hard.
The pastor started down the laneway that led to Glory’s cottage, and Mac followed his lead. They passed a cluster of tall pines. Their majestic branches rustled in the breeze, filling the air with a clean, fresh scent.
“How long were you in the special forces, Mac? Or was it law enforcement?”
The question came out of nowhere, cutting deep. “Never said I was.” He sidestepped a puddle, a reminder of the previous night’s violent thunderstorm. His cane sunk deep into the mud. “My past is no one’s business but my own.”
The pastor stopped at the crest of a knoll, and stared off into the distance. “That’s exactly what my brother used to say. He served three terms in Iraq. Didn’t return from the last one.”
He spoke so quietly Mac had to strain to hear what he was saying.
“Action like that changes a man,” the pastor added. “I wasn’t there for my brother, but as God is my witness, I’ve vowed to be there for others. I want you to know you can count on me if you ever need to talk. I’m a good listener.”
In his mind’s eye, Mac could almost see the company shrink prodding him to accept the offer. He’d sat in on a few sessions after the shooting, and found it a relief to share some of his story. But he’d never entirely opened up, and doubted he ever would.
Or could, given his memory lapses.
Since moving to Piedmont Island, Mac had concentrated on building his business rather than forging friendships. Ben’s death had taken its toll. Mac missed the camaraderie, the bantering back and forth. Out of the corner of his eye, he studied the man next to him. Pastor Rick was close to Mac’s age, and their religious views aside, they might actually have something in common. How would he know unless he gave the red haired minister a chance?
“Do you follow the NFL?” Mac asked.
“Oh, yeah.” They talked about football for a few minutes, and then the pastor asked, “Are you going to enter the fishing derby next month?”
“I’ve been thinking about it. You?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Last year one of the boys from our youth group caught the winning walleye for his age bracket. This year nearly everyone has signed up. The only problem is we have more boys than equipment.”
“I have a couple of extra rods you can borrow.”
“That’d be great.”
They continued along the path, past a maple bush where the pastor spotted deer tracks in the moist dirt.
“Looks fresh,” he said.
“So do these.” Mac nudged the imprint of a tire tread with his boot. Its size indicated a large truck. Perhaps it belonged to one of the tradesmen Glory had contacted. He made a mental note to ask her about it. And then remembered he intended to walk away from the project.
And her.
Using his cane like a golf club, he knocked a rock out of his path. That decision should have put him at ease, but it didn’t. Why?  ❖
________________________________

Buy Anne’s DEFENDING GLORY at:
AMAZON.COM: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0045JL61E
AMAZON.UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0045JL61E
ALLROMANCEEBOOKS: http://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-defendingglory-469016-151.html
OMNILIT: http://www.omnilit.com/product-defendingglory-469016-151.html
SMASHWORDS: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/25757
VANILLA HEART PUBLISHING: http://www.vanillaheartbooksandauthors.com/Anne_K.html

___________________________________

Anne K. Albert has taught high school art, sold display advertising for a weekly newspaper, and worked for a national brand water company, but now writes full time. A member of the Romance Writers of America, Anne loves to write books that chill the spine, warm the heart and soothe the soul.

Website: http://anne-k-albert.blogspot.com

————————————————-

Advertisements

About Vicki Hinze
USA Today Bestselling and Award-Winning Author of 40+ books, short stories/novellas and hundreds of articles. Published in as many as 63 countries. Featured Columnist for Social-IN Worldwide Network and Book Fun Magazine. Sponsor/Founder of ChristiansRead.com & CleanReadBooks.com. FMI visit www.vickihinze.com.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: