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By Felicia Mason
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLanding the job at Community Christian Church had been easy. Convincing some of the dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists that hand clapping and foot stomping wouldn't guarantee them a one-way ticket to hell was another matter entirely.
Matt knew he'd face resistance.
He just didn't expect it to come from a twenty-seven-year-old blond beauty. From across the table he watched Haley Cartwright shoot down every one of his ideas. Of course, she did it with such grace and sweetness he could almost forgive her the interference. Almost.
"When we lift our voices in song, particularly praise song," she said, "the melody should be one that would make angels weep."
Translation: That raucous noise you call music will be sung in here over my dead body. Matt had to smile. The lady had a way with words.
"I don't see anything funny about this impasse, Mr. Brandon."
"Call me Matt," he said. Again.
Everyone else had quickly done so. Well, everyone who supported him.
Tall and softly rounded, Haley Cartwright was what his grandmother would call a big-boned gal. Matt preferred to call her pretty. But right now, she was doing a fine job of frustrating him.
"And no, there's nothing funny about this." His gaze took in the other seven people at thetable. "I've been hired to direct the choir. That's my job."
An arched eyebrow rose over big brown eyes. She'd apparently picked up the not at all subtle message that since he was doing his job, she should do hers.
"Many of the young people in this church are also in my Sunday school classes," she said. "To see them influenced -"
"Haley, I think Matt has a point."
All eyes turned toward the man at the head of the table who'd quietly taken in every point of the debate.
Haley's shoulders slumped at the pastor's words. Matt bit back a grin. Having an ally had its merits, especially when the ally was Cliff Baines, the shepherd of the Community Christian flock. Since Reverend Baines declared this round a draw, Matt couldn't really claim a personal victory. But he'd won and that meant an inch in his favor in the tug-of-war with Haley.
"However," Reverend Baines said.
"However?" Matt echoed.
Across the table, Haley folded her arms and glared at him, but a flare of triumph danced in her eyes.
The pastor nodded at them both. "I think a compromise is in order. Introducing some of Matt's ideas into the service will be good for us. He's right. That's why we hired him. Community Christian needs a good dose of fire every now and then."
Matt resisted the urge to poke out his tongue in a "so there" gesture at Haley.
"However, taking it slow will be better than turning the worship experience completely topsy-turvy."
"I think that's an excellent idea, Reverend Baines," piped in Mrs. Gallagher.
Eunice Gallagher, church clerk, pastor's secretary and all-around terrific lady, had been in Matt's corner from day one. If now though, after an hour's worth of wrangling, she advocated a compromise position, Matt knew enough to heed the warning.
It galled him to say it, but he offered a concession he knew would appease them. "I can jot down the lyrics of the compositions so you can review them if you'd like."
"Well, that's a terrific idea, but I don't think that -"
Reverend Baines held up a hand. "Deacon Worthington, we've been up and down this road already. And we do have other agenda items today. I don't think it's necessary to have lyrics approved by council. This is, after all, a church. And we're of one accord on the gospel."
Matt gave a huge internal sigh of relief. The last thing he wanted to do was write music by committee.
And with this committee, the church council, his chances of getting anything approved ranged from slim to none. The church council consisted of Reverend Baines, Eunice Gallagher, Haley who directed the Sunday school, the heads of the deacon and trustee boards and two at-large members of the church. As the newly hired choir director, Matt represented the newest blood on the staid council.
Not for the first time since he'd arrived in Wayside, Oregon, Matt wondered why God had led him here. He glanced at the woman across the table. Haley Cartwright couldn't be the reason. She'd been nothing but the proverbial thorn in his side from the moment he'd stepped in the door. She had apparently taken one look at him and decided she didn't like him. Granted, his look was a little on the wild side for Community Christian.
"Reverend Baines," Haley said. "If not by advance approval, how do you propose that we keep that ..." She glanced at Matt and paused. "How can we ensure that the new music is appropriate for our services?"
"I'm glad you asked," the pastor said, a definite gleam in his eyes as he met the curious gazes of those at the table.
Matt suddenly got a really bad feeling in his stomach. He knew he wasn't going to like the plan or the proposal about to be hatched.
"A committee can do the deciding," the minister said.
Matt inwardly groaned.
Deacon Edward Worthington cleared his throat and raised his hand. "I'll volunteer."
"Thank you, Deacon," Reverend Baines said.
"But I think since Matt's work with the choir and Haley's work with the young people overlap, that they should be our committee of two."
"But ..." Haley sputtered.
Matt's head shot up. This was worse than he'd imagined. Couldn't Cliff see the woman had it in for him?
"What a wonderful idea," Eunice said with a clap of her hands. "You can come up with recommendations for us."
"Exactly," Reverend Baines said. "At next week's church council meeting, the two of you can make a presentation on how to best weave some new life into the service."
"But ..." Haley squeaked.
"What about this Sunday?" Deacon Worthington said.
The minister rubbed his chin. He glanced between Matt and Haley. "Let's just let our new committee handle that. Now, Eunice, I understand there's a conflict between the Smith wedding and the senior citizen's monthly luncheon."
With the council onto other business, Matt took a moment to study his new partner. Scratch that; his fellow committee member. Thinking about Haley Cartwright as a partner, of any kind, would land him in nothing but trouble. She was too intense, too dedicated and too pretty by far. In other words, too much of a distraction.
Excerpted from Sweet Accord by Felicia Mason Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.