Stirring Up Strife (Hope Street Church Series #1)by Jennifer Stanley
WELCOME TO THE HOPE STREET CHURCH…where good folks study The Good Book, but everyone loves a good mystery!
Cooper Lee can repair a copy machine—but can she repair her life? That’s one of the many Big Questions that lead this newly single Richmond girl to Sunrise Bible Study at the Hope Street Church. Cooper hasn’t attended/i>/b>… See more details below
WELCOME TO THE HOPE STREET CHURCH…where good folks study The Good Book, but everyone loves a good mystery!
Cooper Lee can repair a copy machine—but can she repair her life? That’s one of the many Big Questions that lead this newly single Richmond girl to Sunrise Bible Study at the Hope Street Church. Cooper hasn’t attended church in ages, but after getting dumped by her long-time boyfriend—and moving in with her family—she could use some new friends, and a new outlook on life. Happily, the members of the Bible group are anything but cookie-cutter, which suits Cooper just fine. There’s a blind folk artist, a playboy meteorologist, an investment banker with a sweet tooth, an ambitious realtor, and a cute shy web designer who just might be “the one” for Cooper. But the member of Hope Street Church who invited Cooper to join this motley crew—an office worker who got her wedding ring stuck in a copier—is something else altogether: She’s dead And her husband is suspected of murder!
The Sunrise gang jumps into action, vowing to solve this unholy mess—with God’s guidance—and Cooper’s snooping…
Includes heavenly recipes from Mrs. Lee’s kitchen!
Read an Excerpt
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
Psalm 25:16 (NIV)
Cooper Lee was more comfortable with machines than with people. She drove all over the city of Richmond to fix them. By the time she got to these copiers, laminators, or fax machines as they waited in their offices, hospitals, or schools, they were broken. Broken and quiet. Cooper would arrive and meticulously lay out her tools, and as she did so, the machines didn’t raise their brows in surprise or barely concealed amusement that a woman worked as an office- machine repairman. A thirty- two- year- old woman dressed in a man’s uniform shirt didn’t seem odd or funny to them at all.
Most importantly, they never stared at her eyes.
Her left eye wasn’t worth a second look. It was a fl at, almost colorless blue. No one would have dreamed of comparing it to sapphires or deep seas or cloudless summer skies. But the other eye, the eye Cooper had received through ocular transplant surgery after being smashed in the face with a field hockey stick in junior high, was a shimmering green. It was exotic—invoking images of lush jungles flecked with fi refly light or the green shallows of tropical waters, in which sunshine was trapped just below the surface.
That single moment at field hockey practice, when a girl on Cooper’s own team had accidentally swung her stick too high as she prepared to hit the ball with incredible force, made Cooper more self-conscious than other teenagers. Still, she wanted what most people want. She longed to have one close friend, to be loved by someone she could grow old with, and for her life to have purpose. Cooper thought she had found all of those in her boyfriend, Drew. Until he dumped her.
Shaking off her gloomy thoughts, Cooper cut a piece of crumb cake for breakfast, wrapped it in a paper towel, filled her twenty-eight-ounce travel cup to the brim with milky, unsweetened coffee, and tossed a banana onto the passenger seat of her truck. She drove east on I-64, the sun blinding her most of the way. According to Bryant Shelton’s weather report, there wasn’t going to be a cloud in the sky this April Friday. For once, it appeared as though Bryant might be right, though it didn’t matter much to Cooper. She’d be inside offi ces most of the day, but could enjoy brief moments of sunshine while driving the work van from one destination to another.
At ten minutes to nine, Cooper pulled into the parking lot belonging to one of a dozen corporate buildings resembling silvery LEGO blocks. The Make It Work! headquarters was on the fringe of an area called Innsbrook in which hundreds of different companies, replete with an abundance of office equipment, depended upon Cooper and her coworkers in order to operate smoothly.
“Mornin’, Coop!” Angela called out a chipper greeting as Cooper approached the reception desk. Angela’s smile, combined with a vase filled with plump, yellow roses, created a warm welcome. Few people visited the offi ce as most of Make It Work!’s transactions were conducted via telephone, but Angela bought a dozen roses every Monday, claiming that a good workweek always began with fresh flowers. Angela was in charge of setting up appointments and billing. She was at her desk every morning before anyone else, wearing one of her vintage sweaters, a pencil skirt (both of which were always too tight), and a pair of sexy heels. Angela’s platinum hair, powdered face, and fire-engine-red nails and lipstick were supposed to call to mind an image of Marilyn Monroe, but Angela was older and plumper than the late actress had ever been. Still, Angela was the heart and soul of their small operation. Filled with pluck and boundless optimism, even the frostiest customers thawed once Angela worked her magic on them.
“You’ve got an emergency waitin’ for you, sug.” Angela examined her reflection in a small compact that was never out of reach. “Some poor lady has gotten her weddin’ ring jammed in the insides of a copier.” She held out a pink memo pad and ripped off the top sheet with a fl ourish.
“Capital City, huh?” Cooper said, reading the message. “I have to go over there anyway. They’ve ordered half a dozen Hewlett-Packard 7410 multifunction printers and I’ve got to bring them to Building F and hook them up.” She grinned at Angela. “A wedding ring, you say? I wonder how she got it stuck inside.”
Angela shrugged. “You know folks like to try to fi x things themselves. You’ve fished stranger things out of those machines. ’Member the bologna sandwich last year?”
“Do I?” Cooper laughed. “That mayo was everywhere. And that obnoxious executive tried to blame it on his administrative assistant. What a jerk.”
“That’s why I like workin’ for Mr. Farmer. He’s just as kind as he can be.” Angela’s eyes, beneath their curtain of long, fake lashes, twinkled as they always did when she mentioned the boss’s name.
Cooper buttoned up her gun-smoke gray Make It Work! uniform jacket and grabbed the keys to one of the company’s two vans. Ben, the other repairman, was already off on his rounds. He came in an hour earlier than Cooper and was out of the door by 4:00 p.m. He was obsessed with developing his naturally thin frame into a walking mass of muscle, so he spent two hours at the gym before heading home to his wife—a woman that no one from Make It Work! had ever laid eyes on. Ben never spoke about her either.
“Can you grab some Mexican from Casa Grande for lunch?” Angela asked as Cooper opened the front door, wiggling the van keys until they sounded like metal castanets.
“Sure. What would you like?”
“Chicken quesadillas for me, something for yourself, and a Pan Filo burrito for Mr. Farmer. He said he needed to be more like Ben and watch his weight but I told him that a little stuffing makes a nicer pillow.” Angela giggled, placed a twenty-dollar bill on the desk, and pushed it toward Cooper. “Lord, he turned beet red when I said that!”
Cooper thought about her introverted boss being complimented by the effusive Angela. He was a man of few words and usually hid in his offi ce, drooling over the latest issues of Technology Review, Pop u lar Mechanics, and PC Magazine. Cooper couldn’t fathom why Angela found their short, balding, hermitlike employer so captivating. It was like having a crush on Danny DeVito.
“See you in a bit, Angela.” Cooper saluted the other woman with her coffee cup and headed out to the van.
A Mrs. Brooke Hughes of Capital City, one of the nation’s largest credit card companies, had placed the call regarding the lost wedding ring. Cooper could tell that Mrs. Hughes was either an administrative assistant or an investigative agent in the Fraud Protection Division by the fact that the copier in question was located on the third floor in Building C. The Fraud Protection Division took up most of that floor, with the exception of a large fi ling room Cooper had never had reason to enter.
The second the elevator doors opened on the third floor, Mrs. Hughes leapt forward and latched onto Cooper’s arm like a barnacle.
“Thank goodness you’re here!” she exclaimed. Then, she looked down and realized she was held clamping onto Cooper’s arm with a viselike grip and that the younger woman was politely struggling to reclaim her limb. “Oh, I’m sorry!” Exhaling loudly, she released Cooper and then displayed her hands, which were coated with black toner. “I’ve really made a mess of things, I’m afraid.”
Cooper could see that the woman had also smeared toner on her ivory blouse and berry-colored skirt. Mrs. Hughes, though agitated, had a friendly face and kind eyes. “Don’t worry, ma’am,” Cooper assured the woman and then introduced herself. “We’ll get your ring back. Which machine is it stuck in?”
“Oh, please call me Brooke. The copier’s right outside my offi ce.”
Although she wore a name tag, Cooper thought it only polite to speak her name aloud since her client had established a friendly rapport, despite her distress.
It turned out that Brooke Hughes was the head of the entire department. She had her own assistant and a full- sized six-thousand-dollar Sharp grayscale copier at her disposal. The chair at the assistant’s desk was empty and her workstation was covered with mounds of wadded tissues and untidy stacks of paper.
“Cindi, my assistant, called out sick today. Again.” Brooke’s eyebrows shot up and down suggestively. “I’ve been trying to wrap up this case I’m working on and I just needed to pull together a few more documents.” She gestured at Cindi’s desk. “I was attempting to make sense of that mess when I came across a document that was very, very incriminating . . .” She trailed off, looking abashed. “I’m sorry to go on about all this to you.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “It’s just that it was crucial for me to make multiple copies of this, ah, report so I could quickly store it in more than one location as soon as possible.”
Brooke nervously picked at her cuticles and lowered her voice even further. “I’m concerned that the original document could suddenly disappear.” Her voice returned to normal as she continued. “But then the copier jammed and I was so desperate to make copies that I tried to fi x it. When I reached under that panel”—she pointed inside the machine and Cooper noticed that the woman’s fi nger was trembling—“and tried to rip out the paper, my ring slipped off my finger and fell down in there.”
“Were you able to make any copies?” Cooper wondered, concerned about the woman’s apparent anxiety.
Brooke shook her head and made a visible effort to pull herself together.
Wordlessly, Cooper rolled the copier away from the wall and scanned the carpet. She couldn’t see the ring anywhere, so she knew that meant she’d have to unscrew the back panel from the machine. Retrieving a fl ashlight from her toolbox, she asked Brooke, “Has this copier been acting up lately?”
“I think so. Cindi’s cursed quite loudly at it a few times. I also think she’s given it a few solid kicks.” Brooke winced as though she hated snitching on her assistant. “I’m afraid she’s not too good at following directions. Mine or a machine’s. But she’s a single mom and I just don’t have the heart to let her go.” She laughed humorlessly. “I swear I do both our jobs most of the time.”
Unused to being watched as she worked, Cooper began loosening the screws that secured the back panel to the main body of the copier.
“Unlike poor Cindi,” Brooke rambled on, “I’ve been blessed. My husband is my best friend. We were high school sweethearts, raised a terrifi c son together, and are celebrating our thirty-year anniversary tonight. That’s why I’m so desperate to get my ring back today.”
Cooper glanced up at Brooke’s face. She was gazing out a window beyond Cindi’s desk, a small smile playing around the corners of her mouth. “Wesley, my husband, is picking me up after work today in a white limo. We’re going out to dinner at this little hole-in-the-wall where we had our first date. He doesn’t know that I know, but he also reserved the bridal suite at the Jefferson.” She shook her head dreamily. “We couldn’t afford anything like that when we got married, so I guess he’s trying to make it up to me, but I wouldn’t trade our first years of struggle for anything.” She grinned at Cooper. “Are you married?”
“No, ma’am,” Cooper answered without taking her eyes from her work. “My boyfriend of over five years left me six months ago. Really suddenly,” she added and then instantly clammed up. People didn’t usually speak to her once they had directed her to the machine they needed fixed so she was surprised to find herself sharing such an intimate exchange.
“I’m so sorry,” Brooke answered sincerely. “Five years is a long time. Many marriages don’t survive that long, so you two must have been doing something right.”
“I thought so.” Cooper sighed. “And I’d do anything to have my life with him back. All that time, he was my only friend, my whole world. I’m living with my parents again and just trying to figure out how to start again.”
Brooke put her hand on Cooper’s shoulder. “You’re young and pretty and I can tell you must be awfully smart to be able to do what you do. Once time heals your wounds a bit, you’re going to find that men will line up around the block just to take you out on a date.”
“Really?” Cooper looked over her shoulder. “Where’s the front of that line?”
Brooke smiled. “If you can laugh about your pain, you’re on the road to getting the best of it. And I have an idea about a place that might help you in the whole recovery process. Hold on a sec.” She pulled open a desk drawer, retrieved a marigold-colored brochure, and handed it to Cooper.
“This is the church I go to. I would love for you to attend a service with me. Come as my friend. Any Sunday you’d like. Just walk on in and find me and we’ll sit together.”
Cooper stared at the yellow brochure. It was from Hope Street Church and simply had the church name, address, and the words Welcome Friends on the cover. Brooke’s invitation was filled with warmth and hospitality, but the idea of attending an unfamiliar church wasn’t something Cooper could immediately agree to. “I’ll think about it. Thank you, ma’am.”
“Please do. And no more of this ma’am stuff. We’re just two women trying to make our way in the world. Brooke and Cooper.” She pointed at the brochure. “Take a look at that when you get a chance and feel free to call me if you have any questions. Now”—Brooke tugged on the bottom of her stained blouse—“I will stop blithering away like a chatty magpie and let you work your magic. I’ll be in my office, so please let me know if you need an extra pair of hands—to hold the flashlight for you or something.”
“Thanks, but I’m like an octopus when I’m working.” Cooper grinned and watched the other woman walk away. She then folded the Hope Street brochure in half, tucked it in her pants pocket, and returned her focus to removing the bottom paper drawer so that she could get a better view of the copier’s underbelly. After she detached the tray, she directed the powerful beam of her Maglite into the cavity and swept the light all around the base. A twinkle in one of the far corners alerted her to the presence of Brooke’s ring.
Plucking the ring from the dark, Cooper cleaned it off using a fresh rag from her toolbox. A dozen tiny diamonds embedded in a band of yellow gold glistened as Cooper wiped away spots of toner and dust. As she rubbed the inside of the ring, she noticed an inscription. It read Forever, I Corinthians 13:13.
Cooper knew that I Corinthians 13:13 was a popular biblical quote to use for wedding ceremonies. Sitting on the floor of the quiet office, she called to mind the cover of her younger sister, Ashley’s, wedding program. It showed the bride and groom as children inside a heart-shaped cutout. Above the photograph were two doves fl ying toward each other and the words, And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Folding the ring carefully inside another clean rag, Cooper set the precious package next to her toolbox and began the process of removing the jammed sheets of paper. She made a pile of torn strips of paper along with an anthill of bits and scraps that had likely collected inside the copier over the last few weeks. It only took her a few minutes to restore the machine to working order. She checked under the lid to see if Brooke’s original document was still laid out on the glass. It was, so Cooper programmed the machine to make five duplicates in order to test the copier. It ran them through without a hitch.
Cooper didn’t even glance at the pages that were so critical to Brooke Hughes. She had never examined the contents of a single document in her four years as a repairwoman and didn’t plan to start now. Clearing her throat, she stood in the threshold of Brooke’s offi ce and unfolded the rag containing the wedding ring.
“Here’s your ring, ma’am—um, Brooke. No harm done to it either.”
Brooke plucked the ring from the rag, pushed it on her finger, and threw her arms around Cooper. “God bless you! I can’t tell you how much this means to me!”
Though surprised by the woman’s quickness, Cooper still managed to press the documents against her thigh so they wouldn’t get crushed by Brooke’s embrace.
“Your copier’s back in order too,” Cooper declared once Brooke had released her. “I made five copies just to test the machine, but you’re good to go if you’d like to run off some more.”
Excerpted from Stirring Up Strife by Jennifer Stanley.
Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer Stanley.
Published in January 2010 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproductionis strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
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