Tempers flare and sparks fly when Summerset Junior College's hip band leader and Peaceful Rest Church's prim choir director are teamed up to organize a musical for a college celebration. It seems opposites do attract. Soon Grace Thompson and Caleb Jackson are meshing more than just their music.
Make a Joyful Noise
Bradley Rhodes knows that the Peaceful Rest Church choir is his ticket back to the big time, but he arrives at the church to find that the current standout voice in the choir stands out for all the wrong reasons. Yet as he helps Desiree Coleman, her music starts to work on his soul and his heart.
Reverend TC Holloway, Peaceful Rest Church's most famous alum and a renowned television evangelist, finds a second chance at love at his reunion with Carys Shaw. Can TC's and Carys's musical talents combine to create a love song that will last forever?
Jacquelin Thomas is the national bestselling and award-winning author whose many adult novels include Defining Moments, Saved in the City, Soul Journey, A Change Is Gonna Come, The Prodigal Husband, and Singsation. Her short fiction is featured in the anthology Have a Little Faith. A driving force in the world of Christian fiction, she is the founder and producer of the annual Faith-Based Arts Conference, an event showcasing authors in the field. Visit her website at JacquelinThomas.com.
Caleb and Grace, I have wonderful news. Summerset's city council wants you to work together to put on a gospel concert for Summerset's Annual Harvest Celebration," Harold Jenkins announced with a broad grin on his angular face.
Caleb Jackson barely kept his jaw from dropping at the Summerset Junior College president's announcement. He didn't have to look at Grace Thompson sitting stiff-backed beside him to know she was experiencing the same difficulty. For some reason she was the only professor in his music department who hadn't immediately supported him during his first year as chair. From the polite but distant way she'd treated him since the beginning of the fall semester three weeks ago, the rest of the year didn't promise to be any better. However, she was one of the best and most conscientious teachers he had.
"Took you by surprise," President Jenkins continued jovially, his hands loosely clasped on top of the polished oval conference table. "I don't mind telling you that the Board of Regents and I were very pleased and honored that the city council chose to recognize two of our teachers for their talent. You two continue to make us proud and put Summerset Junior College on the map. I can't wait to see what you come up with."
Murmurs of agreement and approval came from around the oblong table where the dean and the chairs of the other fine arts department were seated. Caleb tugged at the knot in the black tie he kept in his office for "official" meetings. With President Jenkins smiling like a proud parent and knowing he had heeded Caleb's advice and helped push through the increase for Caleb's department's budget for the current school year, Caleb was trapped. There was no way he could say he'd rather walk barefoot through a briar patch than work with Grace, and the feeling was mutual. "We'll do our best," he finally managed to reply.
"This is an undeserved honor," Grace mumbled.
Caleb's head snapped around to stare at her sharply. Was she taking a swipe at his musical talent?
"Well, I better let you two get to it. The celebration is less than two months away." Standing, President Jenkins shook their hands. "As I said, I know, as always, you'll make Summerset Junior College proud."
"Yes, sir," Grace said, another of those polite but strained smiles on her heart-shaped, cinnamon-hued face.
"Thank you," Caleb felt obligated to add as the other people in the room crowded around to offer their own congratulations.
Trying to keep his own smile in place, he opened the conference room's door. Grace shot him a narrow look as she passed. She must really be aggravated. No matter how much he'd sensed she was annoyed with him in the past, she'd never let it show, keeping her emotions under tight control.
"Professor Jackson, I think we should discuss this," she told him as soon as he closed the door, the usual soft cadence of her East Texas drawl sharp with disapproval.
"Let's talk about it without an audience," he said, glancing around the busy hallway as staff, faculty and students passed them in the administration building. He'd ceased trying to get her to call him by his first name as everyone else at the school did when they were not around the students. But in that, at least, she wasn't singling him out. "Room C should be available."
Nodding curtly, she headed down the hallway toward the exit to the fine arts complex, her back straight and her head high, disapproval in every line of her slim body. A body that Caleb had thought on more than one occasion was put together rather nicely. Repressing another sigh, Caleb shoved his hands into the pockets of his well-worn jeans. Grace probably hadn't liked it that he had shown up in jeans for the meeting instead of a suit. Letting him dress casually was another concession by the president and the Board of Regents.
He'd always been the laid-back, casual type. On the other hand, he'd never seen Grace wearing anything except a suit or a dress with a jacket. The suit she wore today was navy blue and white with a straight skirt. He felt hot just looking at her.
The temperatures during summers in East Texas could easily reach a hundred degrees. Grace never seemed bothered by the heat. She'd never been anything but perfectly dressed and she was usually perturbed that he wasn't. They were direct opposites in too many ways to count. He wasn't looking forward to their conversation, but there was no way around it. Lord, give me strength, he thought as he followed her toward the Meadow Fine Arts Building.
Arms crossed, Grace waited for Caleb in the soundproof music room, the toe of her low-heeled navy-blue pump tapping out an irritated rhythm. That man is as slow as molasses, she thought. The only time she'd seen him move with any degree of speed was when he was directing Revelation, the school's nine-member Christian ensemble. And in her opinion, he showed too much enthusiasm. She was pleased for the college to finally receive statewide recognition for its music department, but she was troubled by the music's upbeat tempo.
Caleb apparently had the ability to inspire and galvanize his young students, but he didn't have to do it with that finger-popping, earsplitting music or by trying to dress hip and act like them. He refused to lead by example, something she had always been taught by the teachings of the Word.
She could hardly believe her eyes when she'd met him at the reception to introduce him to the faculty last summer. He'd worn jeans and a tan, raw-silk sport coat like some rock star and had been unapologetic for doing so. He was nothing like his predecessor, Dr. Abbot, a kindly man whose demeanor and dress were always respectful and above reproach. Just as important, Dr. Abbot had been as dependable as the sunrise and as steady as a rock. You never knew what Caleb would do or suggest.
Summerset Junior College had lost a wonderful teacher when Dr. Abbot retired after forty-five years of teaching. He'd been with Summerset since its beginning thirty-five years ago. He'd worked tirelessly to build and increase the prestige of the music department. It seemed almost unfair that an arrogant man like Caleb was able to do in a year what Dr. Abbot had never accomplished.
The door opened. For an endless moment she and Caleb stared across the room at each other. She attributed her increased heart rate to her growing annoyance. Her gaze lowered to his long legs disgracefully encased in revealing blue jeans. Dr. Abbot always wore a bow tie and a suit. That it was a bit rumpled was endearing. He wouldn't have dreamed of meeting with the president in his shirtsleeves.
You'd think Caleb could dig up a jacket and a pair of dress slacks from wherever he'd gotten that pitiful black tie. She'd learned early that he didn't defer to anyone. "I've been waiting five minutes. I have class in thirty minutes."
Releasing the door, he let it swing shut. "Since as chair of the department, I help make and approve the schedule, I'm well aware of yours, Grace."
Her lips pressed together for the briefest second, then she forced herself to relax. She would not allow Caleb to upset her. She'd get this over with, then do what she had done in the past, stay out of his way unless absolutely necessary. "Knowing how busy you are as chair, I'll be happy to take on the entire gospel concert by myself."
Caleb folded his arms across his wide, white-shirted chest. "No way."
"If you're worried about me taking all the credit, I assure you that wouldn't be the case," she told him. She'd always thought he liked being in the limelight.
"You mean you'd lie?"
Grace gasped. She was so shocked, so incensed that for a moment she couldn't speak. "Of course not!" she retorted. No one had ever questioned her integrity, but then she'd never met a person who provoked her as much as Caleb Jackson.
His long arms slowly dropped to his sides. "Then how do you plan to explain my absence at the practices if President Jenkins or one of the regents or city council members just happens to stop by?"
She didn't have an answer, but she wasn't ready to concede defeat. "Perhaps you could come to a few."
"No dice." He came to stand within a foot of her. "You're not jeopardizing my job or my reputation because you and I disagree on how the music department should be run. You're not a band director and you would be lost trying to fill in for me. The only musical instruments you can play are the piano and the organ. I play several others."
Her mouth firmed. He would have to bring that up.
"Get used to it, Grace. We're stuck with each other until this is over."
Her worst nightmare. Her dark head fell forward. "Please, Lord, give me strength."
"Same thing I asked."
Her head snapped up. She couldn't decide if he was teasing her or being sincere.
Dimples winked in his handsome nut-brown face as he grinned down at her. "Thought I was a heathen?"
She thought of Caleb as little as possible. "I have to go or I'll be late."
"That would be a first," he said. "Revelation has practice tonight at seven. You can come before we get started and we can tell them together. Then, if it's all right with you, I'll drop in on your choir practice tomorrow night and we can tell them."
Her eyes widened in surprise. "You know my gospel choir has practice on Tuesdays?"
His expression held a hint of long-suffering. "The schedule again. You weren't able to teach classes at night last year or this because of your obligations at church. You're doing the early evening classes instead."
Caleb had taken up the slack both times. It was unusual for the chair of the department to have night classes even at a small junior college. She'd thanked him, but she didn't like being obligated to him. She hadn't felt the same way when Dr. Alton had allowed her to not teach night classes. "I'm still trying to see if another teacher will take the class. In the meantime, I appreciate your sensitivity. My church means a lot to me."
He looked at her strangely. "Church means a great deal to a lot of us. I'll see you tonight."
Grace frowned. She almost felt that he was taking her to task in some strange way. "I'll be there."
"Good." He stepped aside. "Who knows, we might find it's not as bad as we think."
"Or worse," Grace grumbled softly as she left for her class.
Caleb shook his dark head as the door swung shut.
Why not you?
Caleb's mouth twitched. He could practically hear his mother's voice as clearly as if she were standing there with him. Growing up with his sisters in Dallas he'd asked that question a hundred, a thousand times when he didn't want to do some chore around the house or one he thought Heather and Cynthia, his older and younger sisters, should do. He couldn't recall a time when complaining had helped. Now they were both married and living in Dallas with families of their own.
When they'd all been together last month for his mother's birthday, his family had wanted to know when he was finally going to marry and have a family. He had given them his usual answer: he was in no hurry. He figured when God wanted him to get married, He'd send the perfect woman to Caleb. Until then, Caleb would continue making a name for himself in the music industry.
Going over to the baby grand in the corner, he began to play "How Great Thou Art," a song that had always soothed and helped him to take himself out of the equation and let God lead him in the direction He wanted Caleb to go. Caleb's mouth twitched again. God had surprised him when He sent him to Summerset. Other jobs kept falling through or just didn't seem right. But from the time he'd dropped over the hill in his vintage Corvette and seen Summerset in a little valley, he'd felt this was where God had been leading him for the time being.
He'd tried to fight it, of course. He was a city boy, born and bred in Dallas where there was always something happening. In Summerset, the biggest industry outside ranching and farming was the tire factory. But God had never promised following Him would be easy.
Yet, Caleb felt that there was something else God wanted him to do here. Caleb just hadn't figured out what it was yet. He had thought it was helping to bring young people to the Lord through his music ministry, just as Frank Hemphill, the youth pastor at his church, had helped him. And although there was a definite increase in attendance on the two Sundays a month Revelation performed at chapel services, he still felt that he was missing something right before his eyes.
Shrugging, Caleb continued to play. He'd learned through the years that God had His own time schedule. In the meantime, Caleb would use the newest opportunity to tell of God's unconditional love and redemption through music.
Done right, and Caleb didn't intend otherwise, the gospel musical would mark another milestone in his career that would lead him to his next position. He enjoyed teaching and the students at Summerset, but he knew in his heart that he wouldn't stay. He would continue to work with young people and help as Pastor Hemp-hill had helped him, but Caleb had always felt that his destiny was in a larger venue where he could reach the masses and where the sidewalks didn't roll up at ten.
He'd lost count of the times he'd been busy with his music or preparing lessons and let time slip away and hadn't been able to find anyplace open late to eat. He would sure be happy when he returned to a city with all-night restaurants and more than one movie theater.
Until then, he'd do the work the Lord had set before him. He was going to put on a gospel musical that would bring people to their feet in praise with or without Grace's help.