The church loomed in front of her like Judgment Day.
Tiffany Grant swallowed past the tight lump in her throat and gathered up every shred of courage she had.
Maybe it was an old wives’ tale that when someone with a lot of sin in their life walked into a church the ceiling would fall down on them.
She was about to find out.
She’d bluffed her way through a lot of uncomfortable situations. Situations that were worse than setting foot in a church.
Her “friends” had always said she was cool as a cucumber.
She lifted her chin. On the outside, she was cool.
On the inside, it felt like there was a volcano erupting and people were running for their lives.
One foot in front of the other up the wide front steps. Her back to Lake Michigan, her front to her destiny.
Or death. If the ceiling thing were true.
Reaching the heavy wooden door, she almost lifted her hand to knock. Church wasn’t exactly where she felt comfortable, but she’d made a decision a few months ago that she was going to turn her life around.
She’d made a lot of decisions, made a lot of changes, but the one thing she’d been putting off was her vow to go back to church and help in every way she could.
The pastor was here—at least there was one vehicle parked in the lot.
She assumed it was his.
What did she know about churches?
She hadn’t been in one since she was eighteen years old.
Her old pastor was long gone, and she didn’t know the one who’d taken his place.
Her true friends, the ones who loved her whether she had money or not and who lived in Blueberry Beach, had told her his name was Pastor Kane and that he was a good man. Righteous, godly, and lived a life that could be an example to every congregant who darkened his door.
The type of man who was exactly the opposite of what she was.
The blood of Christ cleanseth us from all unrighteousness.
The verse went through her head, one of a few that she’d learned since she’d turned from the life that she had been living and held her hands out for the free gift that Christ’s death promised her.
It was a gift, and she’d received it, but sometimes she had trouble believing it was really true.
Faith is the evidence of things not seen.
Whatever that meant.
It was another one of those verses that she’d memorized that seemed to have significance at the time, but…that she wasn’t completely sure she believed. Or she believed it, just wasn’t sure she was living that belief.
How did one live something they didn’t really understand?
Straightening her shoulders yet again and pushing past the lava that lapped against her ribs, she put her hand on the heavy white door and pulled.
Whether the vehicle in the parking lot belonged to the pastor or not, the church was unlocked.
She tried to pretend she wasn’t disappointed. After all, if the church was locked, she would be able to say she’d done what she said she was going to do and been unsuccessful.
Now, she had to continue on, moving forward with the plan that would change her life. Or that would show she had a changed life.
The two got murky in her head sometimes.
Wishing she hadn’t sold all of her expensive clothes, had at least kept one pair of Gucci shoes, she ran a hand down her old college T-shirt and tried to pretend her loose pants didn’t make her look like a bag lady.
At least they were modest.
Modesty was more important than style in her new life.
Some people said the two could coexist, but Tiffany hadn’t given that much consideration when she’d been tossing clothes right and left.
She walked into the vestibule and pushed through the swinging wooden doors into the sanctuary, stifling a laugh.
The laugh was probably three-quarters because of nervousness, but the other twenty-five percent was because the swinging wooden doors reminded her of an Old West saloon.
Leiklyn, one of her friends who lived in Blueberry Beach and who owned the Indigo Inn with her, had told her that the new pastor was sincere in his calling, fervent in his messages, and had a heart to help people.
What Leiklyn had neglected to mention was the man was extremely good-looking.
He was also probably about their age.
Although she felt like she’d lived far more lifetimes than he had.
She’d seen things, and done things, that he probably didn’t even know were possible for people to do.
She fought the urge to turn around and run out of the church. She had never run away from anything, and she wasn’t about to start today. The changes she was hoping to make in her life were positive ones.
Running away felt like regression. Even if this was more change than she thought she could handle.
Who was she to think that she actually belonged in a church?
But the idea was short-lived, because deep brown eyes set in a darkly tanned face with a square jaw, and just enough stubble to be ruggedly appealing, looked up from the altar where he kneeled.
Part of her thought it was funny that the church was set up so the pews were facing away from the lake, while the pastor would stand in the pulpit, facing the big picture window in the back and the gorgeous view of Lake Michigan.
She supposed the view could be inspiring for sermons but distracting for people listening to them. It was probably a wise decision to set the church up like that, not that it mattered. Her brain was just going crazy because she wasn’t expecting the pastor to be…attractive. Or maybe more accurately, she wasn’t expecting to be attracted to the pastor, but this pull, this invisible tugging that made her feet want to move forward could hardly be anything but.
She wasn’t interested in attraction, physical or otherwise, nor in men in particular. She had come to Blueberry Beach to get away from men. After all, the ink was barely dry on her third divorce, and considering that she averaged less than four years per marriage, she was hardly eager to jump back into something she’d been such a failure at. It was part of turning her life around.
She didn’t need a man. She didn’t need marriage. But she did need to make up for the things she’d done and the person she’d been.
“Good afternoon. Welcome to Blueberry Beach,” Pastor Kane said, and his voice was the kind of voice she could listen to for hours. Perfect for delivering a sermon. She’d most definitely hang on every word.
“Good afternoon. You must be Pastor Kane,” she said, summoning the confidence that she’d been known for all her life.
She’d been confident in the things that she was good at. Now that she was turning her life around, she felt off-kilter, out of sorts, and definitely not confident.
“I am,” he said, standing with little effort and moving toward her with the grace of an athlete.
“I’m Tiffany. I’m here to volunteer.” Nothing like jumping right into it and forgoing the small talk. Not that it mattered.
She had time to make up.
His eyes blinked like her comment startled him. Isn’t that what people did in church? Do-gooders? They went around helping everyone? Why in the world would he be so surprised to have someone walk in and want to help?
“Nice to meet you, Tiffany.” His voice curled around her name, and a shiver traveled down her backbone.
She thought she’d outgrown reactions like that when she was about fifteen.
His hands clasped hers, and his fingers did the same thing to her hand as his voice had done to her backbone.
She managed to not snatch her hand away, but she could hardly believe this man was a pastor. She absolutely couldn’t believe that Leiklyn hadn’t mentioned how appealing he was.
Although, considering Leiklyn was in love with Ethan and had just gotten married a couple of months ago, she supposed it shouldn’t surprise her that Leiklyn hadn’t noticed.
Although… Willan could have said something.
Except Willan was in the same boat.
Maybe that was her problem, all of her friends were falling in love and getting married, and she couldn’t stand it. Normally, she was the one who was getting married.
But no. That part of her life was over. She wasn’t going to rush into a marriage again. Not for money, not for lust. Not for anything.
“We’re always looking for volunteers. Did you have anything in mind?”
“Everything. I want to help with everything. Sign me up, put my name down, and tell me when to show up. I want to do it all.”
“I see,” Pastor Kane said, nodding thoughtfully. If he was still surprised, he’d managed to contain it and had a serious look on his face like this was a conversation he had every day.
As Pastor Kane studied her, she fought the urge to squirm.
“What would you say you’re good at? Your strengths?” Pastor Kane asked, his voice serious and his look, while welcoming, also holding interest and consideration.
Like he was really going to listen to what she had to say.
There had not been too many times in her life when she felt like someone was actually listening to her, deeply and sincerely, as Pastor Kane was now.
But she didn’t know what to say.
She didn’t have any strengths. Nothing she could use at church anyway.
She could host a luncheon. Get a man to propose. Plan a pretty doggone nice wedding if she did say so herself, but none of those, except for possibly the wedding, applied to this situation.