In Plain Sight by Michelle Sutton

Desert Breeze Publishing
ISBN:  978-1-936000-51-7

Copyright © 2010 by Michelle Sutton

Prologue

The moment Kurt Smith sat down and peered into her intense brown eyes he knew she was the one. Five years of searching had brought him to her table. Yes, fate had chosen this petite woman to replace his wife. She wasn’t as attractive as his Mary had been, but this woman looked so much like her they could have been sisters. The urge to reach out and stroke her cheek made his fingers twitch, but he held back. Now was not the time. That would come later, once he’d won her trust and her heart.

Her face flushed red and she cleared her throat. She’d caught him staring at her. She asked him in heavily accented English, “May I take order for you, sir?”

Scanning her from head to toe, he nodded his appreciation. This adventure would be sweet. He was sure of it. His beloved Mary had never listened to reason, but he had a feeling this woman would do whatever he asked. As he searched her eyes he sensed some weakness from her past, like she’d tried to please a man before and failed. The hint of distrust in her eyes told him she’d paid for her mistakes. He would teach her how to please a man and succeed this time.

Smiling softly, he answered her request and pointed at the menu. “Yes, I’d like the number one special. The short stack with two eggs over easy and hash browns on the side.”

He saw her glance at his ring finger as she wrote his order on the tablet she carried. She was fighting her attraction to him. He sensed that as strongly as he could smell the bacon cooking on the grill. He would accommodate her desires, but not in a way that she would expect. No, he’d be patient and slowly win her over until she begged him to meet her womanly needs. He was a bit older than her, but up until now that had worked to his advantage.

“Can I get something for you drink?” She bit her lower lip and peered at him with a wary look in her eyes.

He’d screwed up things by holding her gaze too long. She couldn’t suspect his motives or she’d be afraid of him. That would never work. He had to win her devotion.

“Coffee would be good, ma’am.” He swallowed hard and summoned buried pain from the day he’d been forced to kill his wife to shut her up. He hadn’t cried then, but he’d do it now if he must.

“I’m sorry if my staring makes you uncomfortable. It’s just that you remind me so much of my baby sister. I really miss her.” He brushed a fake tear from the corner of his eyes.

“Is okay.” She touched his arm and smiled so sweetly he nearly groaned from the pleasure it brought him. Waiting for this woman was going to be a daunting task.
Closing his eyes a moment, he rested his hand on hers and added, “Bless you for your concern.” Ugh. Now he sounded like a priest. What kind of crap just came out of his mouth?

Her eyes sparkled as she squeezed his hand. “You very welcome.”

As she left to place his order, it struck him in the solar plexus. Religion… of course! That’s how he’d get to her. He’d tap into memories of his dead wife’s faith, painful as they were, and bring up everything about God that he could remember. Even the things that ultimately made him take her life. If religion would win this young woman over, then so be it. He could stomach it for a while if the end result would make her fully his.

Someone else delivered his breakfast. He gobbled it up without tasting it as he waited for her to come by and give him his check. He rubbed his hands on his jeans and smiled as she approached him.

“Pardon me, ma’am, but how do you pronounce your name?” He pointed at her nametag.

“Jovana. Jovana Trajkovski.” She rang up the tab and returned with his change.
“What a beautiful name. I will pray for you. Would that be okay?” He slipped her a note with a five-dollar tip. Nothing threatening. Just enough encouragement to put her more at ease with him.

She blinked several times as if in shock. A smile slowly covered her face. “Yes. Is good.”

He grinned in reply. Surely he would win this woman’s heart. It was just a matter of time.

Chapter One

Jovana clocked out once the lunch crowd left. She smiled to herself and sighed. She’d just finished her first week on the job and already she’d met a man who was simpatichen, nice. He’d said something about his sister and missing her. She didn’t understand the exact meaning of his words but knew the pain in his eyes meant that he was sad, so she responded with one of the phrases she knew well, “Is okay.”

He must’ve understood her because he’d patted her hand and said, “Bless you.” The kind look on his face told her this response was a compliment. She remembered years ago seeing a religious man on television say bless you as he touched the worshippers’ heads. This man must be a religious man, too. But he was also very mashko, masculine, and he smelled so good – like soap and spices — that it made her pulse race when she stood near him. She closed her eyes for a moment and thought about what it would be like to kiss this man who didn’t know her, yet treated her with such kindness.

As a new Christian she realized her budding faith hadn’t erased her problems or her past, but getting to know a man with similar beliefs was something she yearned for. Something she wanted to believe in. His kindness and attitude told her that God was very important to him. She could tell from the look in his eyes that he was attracted to her. But other than handing a small note to her with her tip, he didn’t make any moves on her, which she respected. A man who was able to control his urges was a man she wanted to know better. Plus, he didn’t wear a wedding band, which meant he was available.

At first the man’s friendliness made her a bit nervous, but then he’d mentioned prayer. Surely a man who had faith in God would be safe to get to know, right? At least he wasn’t a gypsy, like her former boyfriend had been. Georg wanted nothing to do with God. He’d nearly killed her. At the time, Jovana didn’t care about God either, so they were a good match until he started hurting her. Her brother would not understand if he found out she’d met someone because of her past relationship with Georg. He would remember her past abuse and be afraid that she had met another man like him. As much as she hated to be deceptive because her brother had helped her so much, she would keep this one secret from him if she must. The incredible pull this man had on her was difficult to resist.

Now she needed to figure out who would read the note to her and not tell her brother. She carried a rechnik in her pocket to help her with words, but the Macedonian to English dictionary didn’t help much when it came to translating sentences or concepts. It was better than nothing, so she would try it and see if the dictionary’s translation would be useful.

She hid in the bathroom, and wrestled with translating the words on the paper until she grew so frustrated that tears filled her eyes. The handwritten words on the note he’d handed her were strung together with so many loops that it made the note indecipherable. Typed words were much easier to read that words written in cursive. She worried that she would never learn enough English to make friends or be understood by people other than her bratko, her brother.

A light tap on the door startled her. “You okay in there?”

“I am fine.” This was another one of the few phrases she had perfected.
The faint sound of retreating footsteps told her the person had believed her and left. She splashed cool water on her face and looked in the mirror. While not as gaunt as she’d looked when she first lost her baby, she needed to gain more weight to look healthy. Pinching her cheeks to add some color, she exited the bathroom and grabbed her purse.

Her shefe, her boss, who happened to also be the restaurant manager, smiled and waved from across the room. Randy Strong was only a few years older than she was and so far he’d been very patient as she learned the many tasks required by her waitressing job. He also knew a little bit of Macedonian and Greek from working with her brother back when her brother had first moved to Arizona. But he was not skilled enough in either language for them to have a real conversation. She would study English day and night if it would help her to communicate with the man who gave her the generous tip. The only reason she had a job in the first place was because her brother, Bojan, had recently purchased The Diner where she worked. Even though the United States economy slogged through a recession, he’d asked her to work for him because he could not find enough good help in their town.

Since she had wanted to leave Macedonia because of her painful past anyway, she was more than willing to come and help him get his new business established. In order for her to stay in the Soedinetite Amerikanski after Bojan’s wedding, she needed to have a job and be able to support herself. Their arrangement had worked out perfectly… so far.

As she pulled on her jacket she couldn’t help wondering… Were all Americans as friendly as the man she’d met that morning at breakfast? This was only her third week as a resident of Arizona. So far she enjoyed living in the high desert, but sometimes she missed her home country and her grandmother. Despite the painful sentiments she thanked God that she was able to stay with her brother’s fiancée, Laney. She enjoyed helping the couple prepare for their long-awaited wedding.

Jovana offered her shefe a cursory wave. He gestured at her to come to him, so she did.

“Take this home with you.” Randy offered a kind smile as he handed her a warm paper bag. The contents smelled heavenly, liked potatoes and salt. While he was not as attractive as the man she’d served that morning, he had a kind personality that she found hard to resist.

“Eve ja dajende.”

She giggled. He was trying so hard to speak her language correctly. She didn’t have the heart to tell him when he used a wrong pronunciation or strung his words together incorrectly.

“Blagodaram. Thank you.”

“Molam. You’re welcome.” He winked.

Peeking into the paper bag, she spied a Styrofoam container. She took a whiff and inhaled the scent of french fries. She glanced up and feigned a shocked expression. “You think I slab?”

Randy blinked. “No, I don’t think you’re a slob. Why would giving you fries make you a slob?”

She winked at him and used a pet phrase he’d taught her. “Gotcha, Man. Slab mean thin, or weak. Is funny, yes?”

He laughed and said, “Yep, you got me.” He eyed her from head to foot and added with a smile, “You’re not too thin by American standards. I think you’re just right.”

She felt her cheeks warm at the compliment. “Is American womens looking like chicken legs and bony ribs?”

Randy chuckled louder. “I have no idea what you are saying.”

“American womens is thin, yes, like how you say… skeleton?”

“Some. But nowadays most American women are a bit overweight.”

She teased him by frowning and glancing at him from the corner of her eye. “You say I am fat? Is this true, Ron-dee?”

That statement couldn’t be true because she didn’t have an extra pound on her, though she wanted to remedy that. The fries would certainly help.

His puzzled expression made her grin. She pressed her fingertips against her lips.

“No. Not at all.” He flashed a contrite smile that revealed perfect white teeth.

The tiny flutter in her stomach made her pause. She enjoyed playing the word games with Randy, but she could never date her boss. He’d told her he wanted to learn her language better so she teased him about it every chance she got. Sometimes she would say something funny just to see if he knew the meaning of her words. Most of the time he didn’t get her jokes, but he was learning.

“Thank you, again, boss man.” She winked at him to let him know she wasn’t offended.

“See you tomorrow. Enjoy the fries.”

Jovana popped a few in her mouth and chewed. Delicious. “How much must I pay?”

“Nothing. It was a botched order. I would have had to throw them out anyway.”

She had no clue what he meant by botched, but she did understand that nothing meant she didn’t have to pay and that throw away meant he would have put them in the trash. Americans wasted so much food. When she thought about how she’d nearly starved to death when Georg had abandoned her in Macedonia, it made the fries taste even more delicious. She opened the front door and waved over her shoulder. “Chao. Bye-bye.”

Glancing around the parking lot for her ride, Jovana smiled when she saw Laney’s SUV parked off to the side. While Laney waited she chatted on her cell phone, most likely with Bojan.

The moment she saw Jovana she honked the kola’s horn and waved. Americans had such nice cars. She wished she could afford one of her own. Even an old one would suit her fine. Her bratko had offered to buy her a car, but she wanted to earn her keep.

Besides, she wasn’t ready yet to take the driver’s test. She didn’t read English and she doubted they’d have a Macedonian version of the test. Better to accept rides for now and be grateful she didn’t have to walk.

Once Laney and Bojan were married and her brother moved into Laney’s house, Jovana planned to rent his fifth wheel from him and then she could walk to work. He’d told her that the rent for the space was only two hundred American dollars per month. Since he owned the fifth wheel he refused to let her pay for anything else. By the end of her first week of work she’d earned almost that much in tips, so paying her bills shouldn’t be a problem.

Jovana stepped over to the passenger door of Laney’s car and climbed inside. She couldn’t contain her smile as she thought about the many ways God had blessed her since she’d arrived in the United States. And today had been an amazing Friday morning. She’d tricked her boss again and she’d captured a handsome admirer’s attention all in the same day.

Laney tapped on the face of her cell phone and turned it off, then returned her phone to the front pocket of her purse.

Laney glanced at her and smiled wide. “You look tickled pink. Did you have a good day?”

“Tickled pink?” Jovana felt her cheeks to see if they were hot. “This means emotion? I mix up sayings.”

“Yes, it means happy.” Laney laughed. “I can’t believe how much you’ve learned in just a few weeks.”

“Is very good, yes?” She reached into her pocket and fingered the note. Maybe Laney would help her translate the message.

“That’s excellent. Your bratko was a slow learner.” Laney chuckled. “Then again, he might have been faking it just to spend more time with me.”

Jovana loved how Laney spoke slowly and enunciated every word to give her time to translate the words in her head. While she studied the language every night before bed, she had a ways to go before she’d become fluent enough to be functional. “You say my bratko do something faking to be with you? What this means?”

“Faking it means that he played dumb with me. You know, like acting stupid?”

She couldn’t help smirking. “How you know he fake stupid?”

“Ooh, I’m not telling Boki what you just said.” Laney snickered as she pulled out of the parking lot.

“Is good you not tell my brother.” Jovana touched Laney’s arm. “You help something, please?”

“Sure. What do you need?”

Jovana waited until Laney pulled onto the dirt road leading up the mountain to her house and handed Laney the paper. She prayed that it was a good message.

“I cannot read note.”

Laney checked the rearview mirror and pulled off to the side. Opening the piece of paper, Laney smiled and read the words out loud. “Keep up the good work. See you next week.”

“That is all?”

Laney nodded and her brows lifted in question. “What did you hope it would say?”

“Nothing. Note comes with tip. I could not read words with this writing.”

“Sounds like the person appreciated your service. That’s a good thing.”

Laney glanced over her shoulder, then drove slowly to avoid potholes, something they had an abundance of in the town where Jovana’s parents’ lived outside of Skopje.

Jovana did her best to hide her disappointment. She had hoped the note would contain something a bit more romantic. She supposed she should be grateful that it didn’t say anything personal that Laney might tell her brother. “Yes. Is very good.”

*****

Randy resisted the urge to hit his head on the counter and punish himself for acting so stupid. He’d promised himself he would not hit on the boss’s sister and here he was winking at her and teasing her like a love sick kid from junior high. Could his attraction to her be any more obvious? His boss would kill him if he tried to date her, especially after he’d promised Bojan he would look out for his sister and make sure that no strange men put the moves on her. So here he was doing the very thing he was supposed to help her avoid.

But try as he might, he couldn’t seem to stop flirting with her. When she wasn’t at work he couldn’t get her out of his mind. Those lips of hers reminded him of Angelina Jolie’s and that accent that clung to every word she spoke gave him the most delightful shivers. She was so feminine and modest, very unlike most of the young women he’d met over the years. A few of those women had tried to get him into bed, but they weren’t successful. So far he’d managed to keep himself pure by avoiding pushy women. Plus, he refused to date and fall in love with a woman who didn’t go to church.

No doubt being raised in another country had influenced Jovana in a positive way. Bojan had told him once that he had been raised in the Orthodox tradition. He also mentioned in passing that Jovana had put her faith in Christ last year. That encouraged him, though they had yet to discuss matters of faith. So far she had not brought it up, and the timing never seemed right for him to ask her about her beliefs. One day soon they would address this. For now he just wanted to observe her.

He just couldn’t imagine Jovana pushing herself on a man. She acted too shy and polite to be aggressive. And that sexy accent of hers was enough to make him drool. Sometimes he would ask her something just to hear her say his name. She always pronounced it wrong, but it sounded so cute when she said Ron-dee that he would never correct her.

There was also something vulnerable about her that made her all the more attractive to him. Like he would with a child, he longed to protect her from the ugly things in life. It really bugged him that a middle-aged guy watched her work that morning long after he’d finished his breakfast. Sure, she was pretty, but normally that didn’t make a customer sit and sip coffee for a full thirty minutes after finishing their meal just to watch their waitress serve other customers.

She’d obviously enjoyed the attention because each time the man spoke to her she flushed bright red. Plus, he noticed her peeking at the man from the corner of her eye when she was in the dining area. A sensation — like hot metal searing his chest — burned through him when he thought of anyone else wanting her and possibly taking advantage of her innocence.

He tried to brush the disturbing thought from his mind. No doubt the man acted that way with a lot of women. From the way he watched her, he seemed like a real playboy. Unfortunately, someone as sweet and innocent as Jovana would undoubtedly get pulled in by his charm.

Something in his gut told him the man was bad news, but he didn’t want to overreact and say anything to her or to her brother just yet. He’d keep an eye on the guy just in case… but figured the man was passing through town. He didn’t recognize him from the surrounding community, so he saw no sense in getting Bojan riled up over the situation.

How he wished Jovana would look at him the way she’d gazed at the stranger that morning. His stomach burned with jealousy when he thought about how she responded to that playboy. Should he say something to warn her? Part of him really wanted to, but the more reasonable part decided to let things blow over. That way he wouldn’t risk upsetting her over what was probably nothing.

One thing he knew for sure about Jovana was that she did not want Bojan protecting her. She made it clear during one of her recent arguments with her brother. Randy couldn’t help overhearing them even though they yelled at each other in Macedonian.

The phone rang back in the kitchen. Randy went to answer it knowing in advance it had to be Bojan. No one else had the new number and it wasn’t in the phone book yet. “What’s up, Boss?”

“Is Jovanichka at work?”

“No, I let her go home early. Things slowed down so she asked Laney to come pick her up a half an hour before her shift ended. Why? Did you need her for something?”

“I must talk to her about family stuffs. I will try house. Fala.”

Uh-oh. Not family issues again. He prayed Bojan’s grandmother hadn’t passed away this time. When she’d gotten sick a few months ago they all thought for sure she wasn’t going to make it, but Bojan had said his grandmother was tough. He hoped things were okay with her because if she were sick, that would take him out of town right before their wedding. In just a few weeks his boss planned to take his new bride on their honeymoon to Paris, the most romantic place on earth.

Randy sighed. He had saved up money for the past three years so he could buy a house and spoil his future bride. So far he hadn’t met the right woman. Not unless Jovana was the one.

As much as he wanted Jovana to be attracted to him, it looked like God would have to do a miraculous change in her heart for that to happen. From what he could tell she didn’t see him as anything more than an older brother. She’d pretty much said that the one time he dared to hint that he might like her the way a man likes a woman. She’d even referred to him as her bratko in Christ. And while he knew that all Christians were brothers and sisters in Christ, he couldn’t help suspecting that there was a hidden meaning in her words. Otherwise she wouldn’t have looked him straight in the eyes when she’d made her declaration the other day.

Randy shuddered, jarring him from his musing. A shiver pebbled his skin and the hair rose on his arms. The sense that something evil lurked nearby made him rub them several times, and a strong desire to pray grabbed hold of him. Without knowing the exact reason, he uttered a prayer for Bojan, his family, and especially his little sister, Jovana. If any of them needed protection, they’d get it from the heavenly hosts if he had anything to say about it.

He waited until the frightening sensation passed. As he grabbed the garbage bag and tied the sack, he finished up his prayer for peace. With a grunt, he lifted the heavy load and hauled it over to the Dumpster in the alley. From the corner of his eye he saw something slip around the corner of the restaurant. Whether it was an animal or a person was hard to tell from his peripheral vision because it moved so fast. After tossing the bag, he walked over to the side of building, but he didn’t find anything obvious out of place or anyone hanging around in the alley.

He shuddered and told himself to stop being so paranoid. But just in case, he touched his S&W 9MM to make sure it was still secured at his waist. Every morning he got up and right after he dressed for the day he added the gun and slipped it inside the holster. He concealed it under a vest so no one could rob him and get away with it this time. His concealed weapons permit allowed him to carry the needed protection. He thanked God regularly for the Constitution and his right to bear arms.

The back door banged as it slammed shut behind him.

Without thinking, Randy grabbed his 9MM and spun on his heels. Clutching his weapon with both hands, he crouched, ready to shoot. His heart hammered so hard it hurt like he was having an actual heart attack.

Shep jumped back, his arms raised in surrender. Relief washed over him like a gust of cool wind and he lowered his gun. “Don’t freaking scare me like that! I could’ve shot you.”

Shep squinted and fisted his hands on his hips. “Scare you? What the heck are you doing out here with a gun?”

“Just taking out the trash like you’re supposed to do. It was overflowing onto the cement floor in the kitchen. So where were you?”

“In the bathroom. I am allowed to use it, right boss?”

He grunted his agreement. “So what are you doing scaring the flipping stuffing out of me?”

“No need to get jumpy. I just wondered where the schedule was posted. I can’t find it and I need to ask you for a day off next week.”

“You can’t find it because I haven’t posted it yet. Just fill out your request and put it in the box like everyone else.” Randy forced himself to take a deep breath and relax. Shep wasn’t the enemy. He was asking a simple question, which required a simple answer.

“So why do you carry a gun? Because of what happened in Tucson?”

“Maybe.” He sighed and squeezed the back of his neck, which now ached. ”Probably.”

“Was it bad?” Shep squinted at him like he wanted to know more, but didn’t dare ask.

“The worst.” He rubbed his forehead, not sure he wanted to share much with this man he hardly knew, but thinking it might benefit him to talk about it at the same time.

“I’ll bet. For you to pull a gun on me–”

“Sorry about my reaction, but I get jumpy when I’m alone.”

After being robbed and left for dead, he swore to himself that he’d never be vulnerable again. If he’d been armed he would’ve been able to defend himself during the robbery and protect his female employee. Then one of those robbers wouldn’t have been able to sneak in the back door and nail him in the skull with a tire iron while the other guy raped the waitress who had stayed late that night to help him close the restaurant. He could have protected her and chased them off. If he’d had a gun…

“The boss had said something about an armed robbery up in Tucson that happened before he hired you to run The Diner.” Shep pulled out a cigarette and a lighter and lit up. He took a long drag, and slowly exhaled. “He said you were a good manager but nearly got killed at that Greek place he used to own.”

“What else did he tell you?”

“Not much. Just that after the robbery you quit for awhile and then he sold the place.”

“I couldn’t stomach working there after what happened to Melody. She didn’t deserve that.” His voice cracked. He suppressed the ache welling up before it spilled over and he embarrassed himself.

Shep blew several smoke circles and looked at him from the corner of his eye. “You didn’t deserve to get your head cracked open either.”
Randy clenched his fists as the acrid smoke irritated his nostrils. “But she got it worse. I could hear those dogs raping her and I couldn’t move or do a thing about it. I couldn’t even open my eyes.”

His employee watched him, silent as he took another drag. This time Shep was careful to blow the smoke away from him when he exhaled.

Randy swallowed his tears. When he thought about her cries for help he got choked up all over again from the guilt. Would the pain from that night ever lessen?

His employee pulled another drag from his cigarette and released it through his nostrils in little puffs. The guy reminded him of Puff the Magic Dragon. “You ever miss Tucson?”

He rubbed the back of his skull. At least once a month he got a wicked headache in the same spot where the tire iron had knocked him out. “Nah. I like Sierra Vista better. It’s smaller and there isn’t that much crime. Not that I know of anyway.”

Shep stared at him for a moment then glanced away. He finished his cigarette and ground the butt under his heel. Without saying a word, he walked toward the back door and stepped inside.

Randy’s skull throbbed again. He winced as he watched Shep close the door. The enemy of his soul seemed to enjoy torturing him with memories that most of the time he successfully blocked out. What he thought he’d seen in the alley was probably nothing.

Just his imagination running amuck again.

His former pastor would call his overreaction a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He didn’t know what he suffered from, but he hated feeling on edge from every little noise. His symptoms were the worst late at night. Probably because that was the time of day the robbery had occurred. Things were always safer in broad daylight. That was the reason he’d taken on this new job. The Diner was never open at night. So far there had been no daytime crimes reported in Sierra Vista other than the shooting he’d read about that happened at the park in the middle of the afternoon last week.

He hoped the shooting was a freak situation, because even though he had a gun and wore it everywhere he went, he still prayed he’d never have to use it. Closing his eyes, he asked God to keep him from ever having to kill anyone. But, Heaven forbid, if he did have to use his gun to protect a young woman like Jovana, he wouldn’t hold anything back. He’d make that person regret ever being born. ❖
________________________________

Buy Michelle’s In Plain Sight  at:
Desert Breeze Publishing
Amazon

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Michelle Sutton is the author of more than twelve edgy inspirational novels releasing through 2012. She lives with her husband of twenty years and her two college-bound sons in sunny Arizona.

Link to video trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcRi6wP1Iy4

Website:http://www.michellesutton.net

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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.

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