Breath of heaven, p.1
Breath of Heaven, page 1
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Breath of Heaven
a novel by Alana Terry
Table of Contents
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
I’LL WAIT A LITTLE longer. Then I’ll tell him.
Katrina tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear and listened at the door of her husband’s study.
“Absolutely. It’ll be done before church tomorrow.”
Who was he on the phone with now? And was this one of those calls that would age him another five years?
“Yeah, it was just that we ran out of salt the night before, and I forgot to get some from the store ... You’re right. It was slippery. I’m just glad no one was hurt.”
Katrina bit the corner of her lip, trying to guess who would have called to complain. Unfortunately, the suspect list was at least a dozen names long.
“I’m very sorry about that,” Greg was saying. Funny how he had apologized to every single member of the congregation in the past six months, but never to her.
Not even once.
“I’ve already asked Katrina to add it to the shopping list ... Yeah, I’ll tell her to get two. That’s a good idea.”
The parsonage was so cold Katrina was surprised she couldn’t see her own breath. Greg insisted on keeping the thermostat set at sixty to save the church any extra expense. One less thing for him to apologize over at those monthly business meetings while the treasurer read over the line items of the budget.
The door opened. “What’re you doing here, Mouse?”
Since she first met him as a teen in his youth group, Greg had been making her heart leap. She fidgeted with the small gold band of her wedding ring. “I was just ... I was on my way to ...”
Greg’s study sat at the end of an otherwise unused hall. Katrina threw her glance toward the pantry on the opposite side. “I was looking to see if we had any cans of cream of mushroom left.”
Greg frowned. The expression fell so naturally on his face.
Katrina bit her lip. “How’s everything going?” She wondered what it would be like to for once feel at home in her own house. Orchard Grove Bible Church’s house, actually. Certain members of the congregation liked to point out at every single business meeting how generous the church was to let the young pastor and his bride live there rent free. So why, they asked, was it so hard for the newlyweds to keep the walkways shoveled now that the snow was falling?
Greg stared past her shoulder. “Fine.”
“Who was on the phone?” She regretted asking the question as soon as the words left her mouth.
His jaw tightened. “Oh, it was nothing.”
She’d learned enough over the past six months that she didn’t ask for more information. They had moved to Orchard Grove right after their wedding, hopped in the car once the ceremony ended and honeymooned on the road from southern California to apple country, Washington. Not that Orchard Grove wasn’t pretty. It had a certain desert-like appeal, if you liked dry landscapes with plenty of rocks. The orchards were out of town, which would make for some nice Saturday drives if Greg actually got the weekends off.
Orchard Grove was colder than anything she had experienced in Long Beach, but she and Greg were trying valiantly to master shoveling snow, salting sidewalks, and driving on sheets of solid ice like everyone else. She tightened her sweater around her and let her eyes linger for a second or two on the thermostat dial. A quick turn, two or three degrees at most. But by the time Greg finished lecturing her about stewardship and a pastor’s obligations for fiscal responsibility, the extra heat wouldn’t warm her anyway.
“Are you ready for the decorating party?” Greg asked. It was strange how much mumbling he did at home, but as soon as someone called on the phone or he went to preach from the pulpit, his diction was clear as a newscaster’s.
Katrina pictured herself as she had rehearsed, spine erect, eyes focused, her entire being exuding confidence as she explained why she had chosen to stay home instead of helping the Women’s Missionary League hang lights and various greeneries around the sanctuary and foyer of Orchard Grove Bible Church.
“Well?” Greg leaned forward slightly, holding his hand to the doorframe as if his study were a vacuum ready to suck him back in at a moment’s notice. “You did remember that’s today, didn’t you?”
Katrina straightened her back. She mentally listed all the logical reasons that would excuse her from an afternoon with the ladies of Orchard Grove, the hordes of bustling, gossiping, back-biting biddies that seemed to make up the bulk of the Missionary League. She sucked in her breath. “I’m just running a little late. I’ll be ready as soon as I change my clothes.”
Greg was halfway back in his study before muttering, “You should probably wear your skirt or a dress or something. Don’t forget what happened last time.”
As if Katrina ever could.
“Yeah, I’ll see you this afternoon. I was thinking of using up the leftover chicken for dinner tonight.”
Greg didn’t respond. Katrina dragged her bare feet down the hall as her husband’s cell called him away. The sound of his ringtone laughed at her from behind his closed door.
“KATRINA, DEAR, THAT color goes absolutely stunning with your complexion,” exclaimed one of the women at the church. Several other ladies from the Missionary League voiced their agreement.
“You’re such a tiny little thing.” Rotund Mrs. Porter pouted and reached out a finger to stroke Katrina’s jawline. “And Pastor Greg, he must be a foot taller than you!”
Katrina forced a smile.
“You really should have saved that blouse for the Christmas Eve service.” Mrs. Porter rubbed the fabric of Katr
Murmurs of agreement assaulted Katrina’s ears. She fidgeted with her wedding ring, twisting the plain band around her finger, wondering how to divert attention away from her size, her blouse, her music.
“We’ve been so excited to hear you play again.” Mrs. Porter gave her shoulder an uninvited rub. “It’s not right for you to make us wait so long. You haven’t forgotten anything, have you?” Her smile sent a cold shudder racing up Katrina’s spine.
Another woman wrapped her arm around Katrina’s waist. “How could she forget? Playing a violin is just like riding a bike, isn’t it, dear?”
Katrina stared longingly at the boxes of Christmas decorations stacked in neat rows in the foyer. She pictured herself walking up to the closest one, tearing off the tape, and emptying its contents but instead held perfectly still, as immobile as the gaudy Christmas tree in the sanctuary.
“What are you going to play for us Christmas Eve?” Mrs. Porter asked, and several women broadcasted their suggestions.
Nancy Higgins, the church treasurer, offered a soft smile. “A girl has the right to keep a secret or two around here, hasn’t she?”
If Katrina hadn’t been so keenly aware of the League women staring at her, she might have rolled her eyes. Secrets. At a place like Orchard Grove Bible Church? The thought was too absurd to be funny. Two months before the wedding, she and Greg flew from Long Beach to Washington to show the members of Orchard Grove Bible why he was the best pastoral candidate for their church. She had no idea the congregation would scrutinize her just as thoroughly. They seated Katrina and Greg in front of the sanctuary and barraged them with questions. When were they saved? Did either of them struggle with lust? Had they kept themselves pure during their entire engagement?
The fact that Katrina played violin with the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra caused a bigger stir than she would have expected if Greg confessed to being a drug addict. Of course you’ll lead worship, everyone assumed, even though both she and Greg explained more than once that she didn’t sing. And the questions. With music being such a big part of your life, could you adjust to our little rural town? Do you plan to teach lessons? You do realize there’s no orchestra here, don’t you? Won’t you die of boredom? It had been Nancy Higgins who asked that, and now looking back, Katrina wondered if the woman had been giving her a warning.
The first Sunday of Greg’s new job, Mrs. Porter had stared at Katrina while she walked the entire fifty feet from the front door of the parsonage to the church entrance. “And where is your violin?” she demanded. Katrina had no idea the congregation expected her to play her very first Sunday, but Mrs. Porter and a vocal number of others insisted until Greg asked her to run home and grab her case.
Now, with Mrs. Porter’s arm tucked stalwartly around her waist, Katrina couldn’t even remember what song she had performed that day. It had felt so forced. So crude. A violation was how she explained it to Greg when they were safe at home after the service. He’d stared at her incredulously for a full ten seconds before asking if she was overreacting.
Now Katrina managed to slip her way out of Mrs. Porter’s grasp so the old woman wouldn’t feel her whole body tremble. Secrets. Well, there was one she still held. Last fall, Katrina had begged her husband to explain to the church that she needed a break from playing her violin. She feigned weakness in her wrists, not an outright lie. Even so, Greg had only managed to appease the disappointed masses with the promise that Katrina would play again at the Christmas Eve service.
What had he been thinking? It was too soon. She couldn’t pick up her violin. Not after what happened.
Katrina tucked her hair behind her ears.
“Well now.” Mrs. Porter clapped her hands, and the women of the Missionary League followed her like a flock of geese as they swarmed around the Christmas boxes. “We have a church to decorate.”
“WHAT’RE YOU DOING, Mouse?”
Katrina jerked her head up and shoved the photograph back into her diary. “Nothing.” Her face burned hot. She fidgeted with her wedding band and glanced at the journal in her lap.
Greg unbuttoned the top few buttons of his shirt. Worry creases replaced the laugh lines that had first made her heart flutter when she was a student in his youth group so many years ago. She bit her lip. What had happened?
“How’d decorating go?” He dropped his shirt on the floor and changed into a faded Lakers jersey. “I didn’t even hear you come home.”
Her fingers thumped against her journal, burning hot with guilt. “It was fine. Everything looks really nice.”
He sat on the edge of the bed and untied his shoes. This dressing down ritual each evening reminded her of Mr. Rogers, and she loved its peaceful monotony.
Greg stretched his arms above his head. He had lost most of his tan with the move but not his athletic physique. Katrina sat an arm’s length away from those strong, familiar shoulders. She could just reach out ...
“Oh, did I already ask you to pick up another bag of ice melt from the store?”
She searched his voice for signs of worry or strain, but he sounded surprisingly relaxed.
“I can do that.”
She held her breath as he leaned toward her, felt her face flush. His kiss was short, a peck if you could even call it that, but the softness of his lips on hers whispered hints of promise. She placed her hand on his chest, ready if he decided to give her another kiss, a real one this time.
“That’s a pretty shirt.” He fingered the soft nylon. “Have I seen you wear it before?”
“Probably.” She swept a strand of hair behind her ear, remembering the night years ago she had stayed late after the youth group Christmas party to help clean up. It was the first time she and Greg had ever been alone together. The first time she noticed his eyes held the same hopefulness, the same awkward embarrassment, the same frustrations that had stolen away any hope she had at a happy senior year of high school. It could never work. It wouldn’t be right. Yet still she had worn the new blouse her mom picked out for her and stayed late to clean up, wondering if he’d notice her, hoping he’d realize she was a young woman and not another silly teenager.
Greg laced his fingers behind his head and stretched himself out on the bed. Katrina curled up beside him automatically. Waiting. Just like she had so many Christmases ago. So uncertain. Greg was staring at her. They had only been married for six months, but she knew that expression. Hope swelled up in the pit of her gut, clashing with fear. The two emotions warred against each other, churning her stomach.
“I love you, Mouse.” Greg stroked her cheek.
She bit her lip and didn’t trust her voice.
He locked into her stare. “You’re so beautiful.”
She shut her eyes. Tasted his sweet, soft lips. Let out her breath and sighed into him.
His legs intertwined with hers. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” His kisses caressed her chin, her neck, her shoulder.
A tinny refrain grated her ears. He reached for his cell phone, glanced at the screen, and set it back on the end table. “They can wait.”
She relaxed in his arms. More like melted, really, as the phone protested with one more annoying whine and then fell silent.
THE CHICKEN WAS BURNED, but neither of them mentioned it. She sat across from him at their small folding table, and every once in a while his bemused smile sent a flush spreading across her entire face.
“What?” she finally asked, almost choking on a bite of rice.
“I love you so much.”
She couldn’t raise her eyes to his.
“I still don’t know how I ended up with a woman like you.”
She stuffed a forkful of veggie casserole into her mouth.
Katrina took a sip of milk.
He reached out and grasped her hand, twisting the simple band on her ring finger. “And now you’re all mine.”
She smiled behind her napkin.
“It’s gonna be our first real Christmas together, Mouse. You haven’t even told me what to get you.”
He had been pestering her for gift ideas for a month or more, and she still didn’t know how to answer. “I’ll need a new journal soon.”
He chuckled. “Another? How many do you go through in a year?”
She tried to match his smile, but her stomach flipped itself into a series of pretzel knots. A growing, gnawing emptiness with no hope for reprieve.
He was rubbing her hand. Smiling at her. The worry lines were gone. The phone hadn’t rung in over an hour. Christmas was less than a month away, their first Christmas together as husband and wife. It could be so perfect ...
He took a bite of chicken. Did he realize how dry it was? “If you need more gift ideas, I was thinking maybe Monday before the business meeting we could ...” A tinny, muffled ring. Color drained from his face. His eyes widened, and he thrust his hand into his pocket. “Shoot.”
Katrina wondered how many of his congregants would be appalled to hear their pastor make such an innocuous exclamation.
He jumped up from the table. “I left my phone in the bedroom, Mouse. I’m sorry. I’ll be right back.”
Katrina took another bite of casserole.
Greg was apologizing into his cell when he returned. “I understand completely. I’m terribly sorry ... No, I just left my phone in the other room, that’s all.”
Katrina paused with her cup of milk in her hand.
“I’ll be sure to let her know. Yes ... Yes, I understand the financial situation completely. I’m sure it was an innocent mistake. Of course she wouldn’t have ... Ok. Well, you too. All right. Good night.”
That familiar heaviness, the weary expression clouded Greg’s face. “That was Mrs. Porter.”
by Alana Terry / Christian / Suspense have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes