The Certain Hope, a novel by E.C. Jackson

January 21, 2019
The Certain Hope by E C Jackson

Book description

Love at first sight. It’s every girl’s dream. But Tara Simpkins is finding out it’s not as easy as it seems. Is this truly the man God sent to be her husband, or is she just desperate to escape her loneliness? The recent loss of both parents has left her reeling, and close friends don’t think she’s in any position to make major life decisions. She and her new-found love are convinced they can live happily ever after in the home of their dreams. His family thinks he’s moving way too fast and might disappoint the kind-hearted woman he’s fallen head over heels for. And then there’s Leah. Leah is supposed to be part of his past, but what if she decides she’s his future? Tara’s match made in Heaven may be over before it truly begins.

EXCERPT

Acknowledgments

My fourth book, book three of the hope-themed series, is behind me. Another labor of love is completed. I enjoy writing inspirational books that inspire me and encourage the people who read them. I thank my family and friends for their prayers and support, as well as my editors, book formatter and book cover designer. Without the team God has blessedly provided, I would be an unknown author. For at one time, we too were foolish and disobedient, deceived and enslaved by a variety of passions and pleasures. We spent our lives in evil and envy; people hated us, and we hated each other. But when the kindness and love for mankind of God our Deliverer was revealed, he delivered us. It was not on the ground of any righteous deeds we had done, but on the ground of his own mercy. He did it by means of the mikveh of rebirth and the renewal brought about by the Ruach HaKodesh, whom he poured out on us generously through Yeshua the Messiah, our Deliverer. He did it so that by his grace we might come to be considered righteous by God and become heirs, with the certain hope of eternal life. You can trust what I have just said, and I want you to speak with confidence about these things, so that those who have put their trust in God may apply themselves to doing good deeds. These are both good in themselves and valuable to the community. Titus 3:3-8 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB).

CHAPTER ONE

Tara Simpkins nibbled her balled fist, hoping to turn a rout into a win. Andy had spent three days installing her roof. He’d come into her life last Friday and was the perfect man. But unless she developed a way to keep him close, his exit would be speedier than his entrance had been. The handsome roofer had captured her attention his first day on the job. He had even appeared mesmerized by Tara. That had never happened before. Men ran from her, not to her. She couldn’t tell what prompted his interest in her, yet he continued to hang around. She loved the chase but was unsure how to get herself caught. And that dilemma wouldn’t get resolved soon. Andy seemed like her dream man.

He was adept at keeping a conversation going, even though she wasn’t. Plus, he’d seemed curious about his customer in a non-threatening way. He resembled an old friend. The charisma he oozed added to his appeal. Andy engaged her in conversation, despite her ignoring his charm. Thoroughly smitten, she downplayed his attention. Because of that, he seemed to slow the hunt. But he still knocked on her door each evening after the work ended. Tara had come to expect those knocks. How would she survive once they stopped?

Now, the dreaded last day had arrived. Could she keep from becoming an afterthought? The crew labored on the roof as Tara fretted on the sofa. She didn’t know how to reclaim the ground she’d lost. Ground she’d thrown away, she reminded herself. Her ruse of indifference had created a gap she didn’t know how to close. Of course she was interested in Andy. No sane woman rejected a personable man who wanted her. Especially if the interest was mutual.

She longed to cement a relationship, but she hadn’t spent time with a man on a personal basis. Because of that, Tara felt awkward making small talk while Andy made advances. Her insides quivered whenever he drew near. Her thoughts went haywire, and her stomach somersaulted against her ribs.

This was an unfamiliar situation for her thirty-two-year-old self. The man had eons more experience than she had. She had none. Thirty-something women shouldn’t feel awkward talking to magnetic men. Tara had taken three personal days off from work to snag him while he worked on her house. Instead of spending the time endearing herself to Andy, she’d daydreamed throughout the house. She couldn’t think of a coherent plan. Days had been wasted with moping. Her gaze was riveted to the window.

Knowing Andy was there consoled her. She sneaked peeks as he scurried up and down the ladder. At least the crew’s jovialness lifted her spirits. They sang and joked as they worked. The doorbell chimed what she termed his signature ring: one long peal, followed by two shorter ones. Saying goodbye might ruin her. Hair patted into place, she opened the door with an unsteady hand. Andy leaned on the rail, watching the door fling open. The six men who worked with him stood at his side. Silence reigned. They stood there, grinning at her.

Tara couldn’t resist returning the smiles. Their noisy camaraderie while they worked would be missed. “We’re finished.” Andy watched her closely, as if hoping she’d take the fiftieth chance to make it personal. A lump formed inside Tara’s throat. “Ahem. Ahem.” No reply croaked out. The workers’ gazes switched from her to Andy. Their eyes showed laughter. Their lips were silent. Tara wanted to sink through the porch. Andy winked at her. An impish grin spread across his face. “The men wanted to say goodbye.” Oh my goodness. The workers cared enough to wait and say goodbye.

So did Andy. Maybe there was still hope for a relationship with him. Uncontrollable joy pushed her into speech. “Thanks, guys. You all did an incredible job. Now I can’t see the sky from the third floor.” She laughed. And the men laughed with her. Their liveliness brought memories of good times in my life. My mind came awake with each song. Their playful words made me want to live again. It reminded me that everything good hasn’t been lost. “Goodbye,” the men chorused in unison. “See you in fifteen years,” the tallest man added. With a hand wave, they headed toward their vehicles, anxious to get away.

The crew was tired after three days of physical labor. Andy studied her as the group broke up. “Remember, flat roofs need a yearly wipe down for longevity.” Eyes gleaming, he paused and leaned closer. “But why wait? I’ll make a house call sooner if you ring me.” Tara felt like a tongue-tied five-year-old. Andy, make it simple. Ask for a date, if you want one. I’m uncertain, not disinterested. He sighed and offered the papers he held. “I look forward to the next visit. Don’t make me wait. A year is three hundred sixty-five days away.” With a salute, he left the porch and didn’t look back. Tara agonized over her next step.

She held up the papers he’d given her and shouted after him, “I’ll grab my checkbook. Jackie in your office requested payment upon completion. Hold on.” Andy turned toward her. “Don’t bother.” His gaze followed the vehicles driving off. He faced her in slow motion. “The ever-efficient Jackie will send a bill. I promise. See you later.” With a lopsided grin and another salute, Andy made his last exit. Tara closed the door, but held on to the doorknob. No plausible excuse to stop Andy from leaving hit her mind. Slumped against the door, she considered the options.

The truck pulled away while she reasoned with herself. She walked onto the sunporch and sat in her favorite chair. In the back yard, a cardinal perched on the birdbath and dipped a wing into the water. Watching it brought back memories. Observing birds frolic had been her mother’s favorite pastime. In the early morning, her mother would discard birdseeds in the feeder for a fresh batch. Then, she would refill the stone basin with fresh water, adding ice cubes in warm weather and an immersion heater in winter.

Tara supplied both water and food, but not daily—and no ice cubes or immersion heater. Her goal was solely to save the birds from hunger or thirst. She sighed into her hands. Her shoulders slumped. Andy. I missed the chance to see where a relationship might take us. He hadn’t made it clear what he wanted. She could tell Andy wasn’t a shy person due to the way he’d engaged her. But an interested man wouldn’t have given up. Had hitting on her just acted as entertainment while he worked? No. His conversation had remained consistent even after the job was completed.

*** That night, Tara rolled onto her back. A smile was pasted on her lips. Andy’s love-filled eyes bored into hers. Love rose within her heart. Their chemistry couldn’t be denied. If love dust existed, it had bound her and Andy. Forever. “I love you, Tara. You’re the woman I’ve waited for.” His intense expression unchecked her emotions. Battles raged within. Butterflies rippled her stomach. There wasn’t a way to quench the joy inside her heart. “I’m falling in love with you.” Tears sparkled in her eyes. “No. I’ve fallen. I love you, Andy.” Her whispery voice sounded breathless. “Andy …”

It happened in a snap. The man’s titillating smile vanished. Tara struggled to sit up in bed. Wide awake, she sighed into the silence. Confusion settled around her. Her hands slid up and down her arms. She stared around the darkened room. “It was a dream all along. Life, please, imitate my dreams.” A streetlight filtered brightness into the room. Her eyes closed. Maybe complete darkness would revive the vision. She replayed the scene in her mind. Romance thrived. She and Andy shared an intimate table inside a dimly lit café. His expression revealed what his words conveyed.

Love seized him, for the first time ever. Neither he nor Tara could speak or break away. Let it go. It was a dream. Nothing more. Eyes open, she brushed hair off her face. Lying to herself wouldn’t work. Dreams sufficed while asleep, but once awake … reality must prevail. Her mind dissected the real-life man. Andy’s interest had appeared genuine from the moment their gazes met. Even a seasoned actor couldn’t fake his obvious reaction. It marked the first time a man had looked at Tara with open admiration. His appreciation intensified her awareness of him. The bonhomie she’d just experienced had been a dream. Throes of love and admiration seeped away.

Tara still lived alone inside a three-story house, no longer teeming with familial love. A lone star outshone the other stars in the smoke-colored sky. Beautiful twinkling lights mocked the despondency that invaded her soul. She flopped to her other side, squirming on the full-size bed. Numerous times Tara had ignored her shyness to mingle with men. When reinventing herself failed, she kept to her current friends. This latest failure had wasted three personal days from work; it was time off she might need at a later date.

I should’ve hogtied Andy to the porch. Tara buried her face underneath the covers. Familiar teardrops seeped through closed eyelids. Her mind resisted further Andy notions. *** On Friday, Tara and a co-worker exited their office building, grumbling about the weather. Rain had Tara wishing for an umbrella. Their complaint fest continued until Shelli stopped beside her husband’s car. “Hello,” she said to the man who opened the car door for his wife. “We’re in for a storm.” He went back to the driver’s side of the car. As Shelli waved, hair raised on Tara’s neck. She eyed a stranger in the back seat of Shelli’s car, but the tinted windows obscured her view.

Her body trembled the way it had around Andy. Was it wishful thinking? She wasn’t sure, but she stood with her eyes focused on the shadow. Raindrops increased in volume and intensity. Tara stood without an umbrella in a downpour. Water streamed over her body and pooled at her feet. Her toes squeaked inside her sandals. Soaked clothing itched her skin. Drenched, she watched the vehicle round the corner. Only a thunderclap pushed her into action. While other people waited at the corner for the walk signal, she sprinted across the street in a dash to her car.

Tara didn’t stop until she reached her vehicle. Her keys fell into a puddle at the door, and after retrieving them, she slipped inside. Water dripped onto the cloth seat and muddied the floor mat. “Ugh!” Her palm whacked the steering wheel. What gives with me? I got soaked watching a bogus Andy. *** Luke Cassidy stared at Tara’s soaked body as Rick’s car pulled away. What was on her mind? That dramatic reaction validated his pursuit. Did she suspect he was inside the car? He was fascinated by her expression.

Luke considered the implications of whatever she’d been thinking. His friend’s wife, Shelli, had come to mind on his second day at Tara’s house. Tara had said she worked at the same multistate payment center for utility companies. Customer service, he thought. Could Shelli become a facilitator and permanent link to Tara? He hoped they were friendly or at least knew one another. A channel to Tara was essential now that her roofing job was completed. Shelli’s unrepairable car benefitted him. Rick worked the afternoon shift and escorted her home on his lunch break each evening. Luke asked to tag along on this trip in hopes of convincing Shelli to set him up on a date with Tara.

In case he saw Tara while they waited, he hunkered in the back seat to escape recognition. Plans had fallen into place with one master stroke. Only God could have the women walk out of the building together the day he was in Rick’s car. Discipline restrained Luke from speaking to Tara as she had peered into the back seat. Her perplexed expression had intrigued him. She’d worn that same look whenever he approached her. Tara appeared bereft. Luke watched her until the car turned the corner. Two days ago, he’d completed a life-changing roof job. When he’d driven to the residence to bid the work, he’d developed a crush on the house. It struck his fancy. He coveted the vintage three-story building. Every feature appealed to him. Wrought iron framed the porch, and gargoyles were etched into the bricks.

The house needed only a minor overhaul. He was the man for the task if he was able to buy the place. Luke enjoyed restoring old houses. Especially one he hoped to make his own. As he’d climbed the steps, he was assessing the fair market value. Then Tara had opened the door. Luke had fallen in love on sight.

Entrapped by her guileless smile, he’d eyed her ringless finger. Something about her says she’s single. Luke was hooked. There was no turning back. His attention now shifted to Shelli, who was talking nonstop to her husband. Goodness, woman, take a break. I have important questions. He bided his time until the conversation stalled. Luke spoke up quickly. “Who was that lady you were walking with?” “Tara. We work in the same office. I was asking how she’s getting along. She’s gone through hard times lately.” Hmm … Shelli enjoyed gossiping. What else does she know? Luke tried to extract helpful information.

He managed to learn that Tara’s mother had died last month and her father had passed away the previous month. Personal details were scant, but Tara’s tremendous loss affected him. He understood her reluctance to encourage a new relationship. No wonder indecision warred with obvious warmth. She’s reeling from the loss. Shelli peered around the car seat. “Are you listening?” “Thinking about your co-worker,” he answered. “I understand the tremendous loss of losing both parents. Does she have family support?” “I heard that only her parents’ friends were at their funeral. She’s an only child whose parents were only children. Both sets of grandparents had passed away.” Ten years ago, Luke’s parents’ death had altered his life.

Their departure left him with a family to raise and support. Despite the newfound responsibilities, that same family had made life worth living. Where were her friends? Tara can’t be all alone. Personable people had relationships. Did Tara? What is her mindset? Is she happy? Luke thought so. She was reserved and a bit withdrawn, but her behavior didn’t signal depression. He eyed Shelli. “Do you like her?” “I don’t dislike her. Sometimes we eat lunch together. She’s blunt, but nice about it. Just don’t ask her opinion unless you want to hear the truth.” “Pretty candid, huh?”

“She’s standoffish, but only at work. I once saw her eating dinner at a restaurant with a family. While she’s reserved on the job, Tara laughed and teased with the kids nonstop. Tara was the life of the party. It seems she has several close friends.” “And … what else?” She turned around, facing the windshield. “She’s nice to people even if she doesn’t really like them. She’s like that with my sister, Olivia.” Few people liked Olivia. Shelli could be annoying, but she wasn’t as vexing as her sister.

Loose-lipped herself, Shelli normally told the truth. Olivia seldom did. “Tara’s lack of family interests me. No grief compares to losing loved ones. Perhaps I can help her through the grief. Will you set up a date between us soon?” Luke scowled when her head shook. “No, for two reasons. We don’t talk about our life outside of work; Tara likes it that way. And, she’s not your type.” Shelli swiveled in her seat to face him. “Hey, come to the baseball game with us Sunday. My brother’s team is playing the Bobcats.

We’ll have a tailgate party in the parking lot before the game.” Maybe going will give me another crack at Shelli. While acquiring further information or lining up a potential date was a long shot, Luke accepted the invitation. “I’ll call Pete and Molli,” Luke said. “Her father was recently released from the hospital. She spends much of her time at her parents’ house. An evening watching a ballgame might take her mind off his sickness.”

*** On the afternoon spent at a local baseball field, Luke’s best friend, Pete, and Pete’s wife, Molli, provided a buffer against Olivia’s constant play for Luke. The bothersome woman plopped onto Luke’s lap as soon as he sat down. His reflexes automatically kicked in. Luke lifted her off his lap to a spot on the bench, as far away as his arms could reach. Stop acting brain-dead. A romance between us won’t happen. “Stay there. No game playing today.”

The gruff voice that came out of him was ominous enough to frighten even himself. Everyone laughed except Olivia and Shelli. The foolish woman grinned and scooted closer. Maybe I wasn’t harsh enough. How about this? “Down, girl. We’ve been a no-go since we met.” Molli left her seat on the far side of Pete. She crossed directly in front of Luke and sat beside him. Her action boxed Luke in between herself and her husband. Olivia rolled her eyes. “Protecting Luke, or making a play yourself?” Molli grinned. “You can’t be bold and stupid. Choose one or the other.”

That remark successfully blocked Olivia’s antics. Still, she simpered at Luke throughout the evening. At the end of the seventh inning, Luke’s ears perked when Olivia told Molli about Tara’s parents’ deaths. It was a clumsy attempt to reassure Molli about her father’s sickness. Luke’s antennae rose. It should be simple to ask Tara out himself, but she clammed up whenever Luke made the conversation personal. Shelli had declined to hook him up with Tara.

Olivia might, too, if she realized he and Tara had previously met. Olivia wanted him for herself. Luke strategized the path forward during the game. Even though her sister had refused to set him up on a date with Tara, Olivia would do it if only to have a pipeline to Luke. She would see it as a favor she could cash in. She was his last option to reach Tara indirectly. Once the game ended, Luke offered her a ride home so they could talk. “The woman you and Shelli mentioned. Tara Simpkins. It must be hard to live without family. Tomorrow, will you set me up on a date with her?”

Olivia glanced at Luke but didn’t speak. She slid inside the car and shut the door. Luke maneuvered the vehicle across the parking lot while he waited on her response. “Why suggest a date with a woman you haven’t met?” She twisted in her seat and stared at him. “She needs a friend. I’ve lived through a similar loss. I caught a glimpse of her Friday when Rick picked up Shelli while it was raining.” Olivia jerked her head toward Luke. “Tara isn’t your type. Besides, she doesn’t date.”

“Is that an assumption or fact?” he asked. “I don’t think she’s ever dated.” Her sneer imitated a grin. “And I’m not your water girl. Get someone else.” Her lips clamped together. Luke observed her inner debate. Contempt suddenly marked her curled lip. “Okay, I’ll do it. I can’t wait until you see her in person. A glimpse of her through a window during a downpour doesn’t count.

We’ll critique the big date over dinner.” Luke chuckled. “No. We won’t. You can refuse to ask, if you like.” “I said I’ll do it. So I will.” The spiteful grin exposed Olivia’s self-absorption. Her words welcomed a comparison between herself and Tara. That would be balloon-deflating time. Luke pulled in front of Olivia’s apartment building. Mindful of good manners, he walked her to the door. “Here’s a tip,” he said. “Enjoy the chase. The mystique ends once you give in to the moment.” Now let her figure that one out. After dropping off Olivia, Tara consumed his thoughts on the drive home. All roads led to her. She was the most gracious woman Luke had ever met.

Good thing he was free to do as he pleased these days. Familial responsibilities were behind him. His sister, Steffi, had tied the knot three months ago. She’d been the last sibling to leave the homestead. Luke’s family trials were over. His parents’ vision of seeing their children happily settled into adult life wasn’t snuffed out with their lives. Luke had placed his life on hold, relinquishing dreams of becoming a doctor.

Four days after they celebrated his medical school acceptance, the Cassidy family had planned a double funeral. That morning, a propane truck had exploded on the highway. The accident claimed their parents’ lives. The driver of the propane truck, newly married, had traveled with his wife. A rider in the cab might’ve caused a distraction, lessening the driver’s ability to react in emergencies. Due to that factor and others, their attorney had argued “contract breach,” and the settlement was substantial. Monetary compensation failed to eradicate the pain of losing their parents.

Nothing can replace loved ones. Luke had borne the news stoically that day. He then explored his options and took over the family’s roofing business. He’d worked in all phases of the job since his youth. He and his three brothers knew the roofing process inside and out. The family drifted into a workable solution. Their grandparents’ and aunt’s input provided a stabilizing force. Now his brothers had spouses and children of their own. Only Steffi remained childless.

Enormous responsibilities had hammered him for ten years. His siblings’ needs no longer topped his own. Luke would follow his destiny wherever it led. His number two thought gained traction. It was time to lease his suburban home; urban living beckoned. He welcomed new opportunities. And his future wife occupied his dream house.

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