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Mark watched the Houston traffic snake around his building like a lazy, lethal predator. Smog drifted outside the wall-to-wall window, the glass impenetrable and sterile.
Turning to the velvet box on his desk, he opened the lid and a marquise diamond flashed at him. The gem was small, but flawless. He'd paid high dollar to make sure no internal flaws, no yellowish hue, marked the stone.
Amanda deserved at least that much.
A discreet knock sounded at the door. Mark palmed the jewel box just as James Montclair poked his salt-and-pepper head inside the office.
"Show time," James announced. "Ready, buddy?"
"Sure thing." Mark gathered his jacket and slid the treasure into an inside pocket, tapping it once for security.
Downstairs, he greeted a thousand faces. Perfumes and colognes and mothballs stained the air. The fine whir of silk and wool defined movements. Sit, rise, stand and sing.
Lights dimmed and the pews filled like a Broadway theater, anticipation broken by muffled coughs. Ten-thousand-dollar screens lowered to highlight PowerPoint images and cue the congregants to the next hymnal page.
Mark approached the stage with grace. He strode toward the podium and adjusted his tie microphone. "Good morning, everyone. Welcome. I'm Mark Reynolds, associate pastor here at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church and your host for today's services."
Morning worship ran smoothly, a well-oiled machine orchestrated to perfection. James Montclair, senior pastor, spoke from the pulpit like a middle-aged Billy Graham. Poised, beautiful even. His sermon on grace, punctuated with a guest testimonial from a former drug addict, jerked plenty of tears.
"Well done," attendees praised afterward, shaking James's hand as they withdrew in elegant fashion.
"Excellent devotion this morning," one matron complimented Mark. "You'll be taking over before long, I imagine."
"That's the plan." James chucked Mark on the shoulder. "I'll have to retire someday. We've got a fine runner-up here."
The praise flushed Mark's cheeks and made him feel even taller. To be James's successor, to helm this kind of megachurch, the biggest and fastest growing in Houston, had been his heart's desire since the day he entered seminary.
To actually work with a man like James Montclair, multipublished and nationally known, had been more than he could have hoped for.
When the last convert from the altar call slipped away, still sniffling into wadded tissues, James and Mark headed for the elevator to the executive-level offices.
"I meant that, you know," James said. "About you taking over. With the last book doing so well, they've mentioned more speaking engagements. Makes it tough to be here Sundays."
Emotion clogged Mark's vocal cords. "When?"
"It's all conjecture right now, and we're still a couple years out. But I thought I'd give you a heads-up. Course the board will have to approve."
"Of course," Mark said.
"But between you and me"-James grinned-"you're the man. Providing that you want it."
"You know I do."
"All right, then." The elevator shot upward, lit numbers dinging a faint rhythm. Muzak piped in through the speakers, instrumentals of the latest Christian pop.
Mark dreamed of future Sundays. He would helm the pulpit, and fill James's shoes to capacity. Maybe even better. The congregation would love him. The board would adore him. And his wife, his future wife, Amanda, would stand beside him.
He felt the ring in his pocket. His future started today.
"Where's Amanda?" James asked, as if reading Mark's thoughts. "Didn't see her this morning."
"Not sure," Mark said. Though Amanda made it a point to attend Pleasant Valley, her Presbyterian upbringing gave her full freedom to play hooky every now and then, guilt free. He almost envied that in her. "We're supposed to have lunch."
"Want to go with us? Sarah should have the kids wrestled into the van by now." Watching his reflection, James loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top of his dress shirt.
"No, but thanks. I better check on Amanda."
Back in his office, he autodialed her phone number. No answer.
Not at church, not home at her apartment, sick. Where?
The park. Watching people from her bench in Memorial Park, scribbling in that journal of hers. On a day like today, sunny and still cool for spring, she probably hadn't been able to resist the temptation of a morning outdoors.
He'd have to find her. He couldn't wait one more day. Not one more hour.
He'd waited too long already.
At the park, Mark slung his jacket over his shoulder and surveyed the grounds. Streams of sweaty joggers clogged the trails. Going against the flow, his size worked to his advantage, unpadded shoulders slicing through their disgruntled waves.
Then he saw her. In her favorite spot, away from the path next to a lush, landscaped area. He slowed, enjoying the chance to catch her unaware. Her copper hair shielded her face. Sunlight echoed off the waves in amber sparks. Legs tucked underneath her, she wrote furiously in the black book on her lap.
Amanda Thompson had the worst handwriting in the world. Mark often teased her that she had the laugh of a child, the lips of a goddess and the penmanship of a serial killer.
He inched through the grass, oxfords glinting in the dew. How close could he get before she noticed? "Mandy."
Startled, she slashed her pen stroke, running over the scrawls. "Oh. Mark." She sat straight, pushing her feet into the gravel. Pink polish sparkled against green flip-flops.
His girlfriend never wore socks, but kept an impeccable pedicure in five-dollar sandals.
"Hey, you." He brushed the concrete next to her and sat down. Her head still only reached his shoulder. "Where you been?"
"Here." She shifted, touching knees to his and pulled the hair away from her face.
Freckles winked up at him from her nose. He'd memorized their pattern, spread out over her cheekbones, frail and high. He traced them now, the sweetness of the curve.
Her eyes fluttered closed, dark lashes against her cheeks, letting his hands love her this way.
"Missed you this morning," he whispered.
"Sorry." Her blue eyes shone like hot glass. The corner of her lips tugged up for a half second, then disappeared. "I'm glad you came." She squeezed his hands. "I figured you would find me."
Such strength, in those little hands. He loved the passion within her. How she laughed loud and cried hard and joked with him. She'd never hurt him, and her pure kindness wrapped around him until everything about her sang in his veins and made him alive and whole.
Belonging. She made him belong.
Two 10-speeds clicked by on the path. A car backfired on the busy road just over the bridge and a siren sounded in the distance.
Not exactly the piano serenade he'd planned in the upscale restaurant. But this spot was her oasis. The place she ran to. She'd read him a poem here one afternoon, from one of her ever-present books. Clear honey, her voice poured over him. Because he loved her, he hid his hatred of poetry and simply watched her as she read. Craving her nearness while he casually discarded the words.
Yet, one day, from a skinny volume of Yeats, the lines surprised him. They took life and crept inside his apathy, inscribed themselves into his heart.
I whispered, "I am too young,"
And then, "I am old enough";
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
"Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair."
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.
She finished the last part theatrically, twirling her curls at him. Then she'd tossed the book aside, slapped her hands together and dug in the picnic basket. "What's for lunch?"
While his heart, invisible, lay twisted at her feet.
Now the rightness of it clicked inside him. Her oasis, he thought. Brown Penny. This was the right spot. The perfect spot. He should have trusted she would lead him to it.
"I've got something I want to ask you." He closed his hand around the box in his pocket. The box he'd hidden in his sock drawer for months. Bought and paid for. Ready.
Fear had kept him from giving it to her. Fear had kept him waiting for the right moment. Fear had paralyzed him. That she might say no. That she didn't love him enough to marry him, not enough to step down from her rich family to be a preacher's wife.
But today was the day. He knew it in his soul. I am too young. He pushed the whispers aside. I am old enough. He grasped her hand and felt no fear. To find out if I might love.
"Mandy." He set his face, his game face from a thousand football fields, and tossed the penny like he tossed the ball, far and sure and spiraling. "Will you ..."
His hope shot forward with all the power he possessed, swirling high and perfect. The sun crisp on his shoulders, the roar in his ears the roar of the crowds. Confidence surged through him, he'd timed it just right and she'd catch his heart and make him whole....
She put a hand on his arm. "I'm pregnant."
Excerpted from Potter Springs by Britta Coleman Copyright © 2005 by Britta Coleman . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted August 14, 2009
Potter Springs is a touching book that reminds us that we are all human and that "life happens" to everyone, even Christians. It reaffirms that we all have the ability to forgive and be forgiven. Before I knew it I was completely engrossed. This is a wonderful book that I would recommend to any one. The characters are so likable and down to earth that you can't help but be drawn in. Anyone who has ever suffered a loss will be able to relate to Amanda and Mark. This is Britta Coleman's first book and I'll be eagerly waiting for more from her.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2005
Potter Springs was a great read. We can all relate to having things not play out the way we had planned, and Britta Coleman has embraced the very human emotion behind unmet expectations. We have all met the townspeople of Potter Springs in our own lives, and I feel that Ms. Coleman made them so familiar to the reader that we could spot them as we walked down the streets of town. I have enjoyed my visit in Potter Springs very much!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 19, 2005
Potter Springs is one of those books that is a great read, beginning to end. It's beautifully written, the descriptions are wonderful, the settings are true to life, and the message is uplifting. I was drawn into the lives of this young couple from the beginning, and by the end of the book felt like they were friends or neighbors. Potter Springs as a truly west Texas town--a great place to sit a spell and take in a story!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 14, 2005
I just finished reading Potter Springs and now have a new favorite author. After reading just a few chapters I fell in love with the book and the characters. As someone who has suffered a loss like Amanda's I could totally relate to her feelings and reactions. This is a book that will stay with you long after the story has ended. I am getting several copies to give to my friends. I can't wait for Ms. Coleman's next novel.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 9, 2005
This author weaves an engaging story and literary prose into a novel worthy of the highest praise. Potter Springs will touch the heart of anyone who has nearly lost the thing most precious to them. Miss Coleman brings her characters to life with a charm that makes the reader want to hang over the fence and gossip about them. Expect to see this Author on the bestseller list.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 11, 2005
Posted June 7, 2005
These characters touch your heart. Britta Coleman knows how to write a compelling story full of humor and emotion. You'll keep turning the pages to see what happens next.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 1, 2005
I had the privilege of reading an early copy of this novel and can't say enough about how wonderful it is! Britta Coleman tells a story of love and loss, mistakes and forgiveness that resonates with true-to-life characters and the quirkiness of small-town life. Readers will grieve along with Amanda and Mark over his humiliating demotion, as well as over the loss of their child. You'll ache as their marriage begins to crumble, and cheer them on as they struggle to rebuild it. Potter Springs is a touching and powerful debut!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.