The new temporary pastor of Hope Community Church was everything Mara Zimmer was trying to avoid. Jacob Durand was young, good-looking and interested. She was terrified that if he learned about her tragic past, he'd turn his back on her, too.
Jacob didn't know what Mara was hiding, only that somehow she'd managed to steal his heart. Yet, he had no right to feel the way he did. Soon his tenure as pastor would be over, and he'd move on to greater opportunities. How could he leave behind the woman he longed to marry?
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"The commitment is for six months."
Jacob Durand gripped the arms of the green leather chair. Dread slithered through him and settled in the pit of his stomach. "Six months!You want me to go to Washington State for six months?"
Leland Campbell steepled his graceful hands on the expansive oak desk. His lined face took on a settled expression and his dark eyes assessed Jacob. "Yes, I do."
As a boy, Jacob had squirmed beneath that intense stare, but now he sat straighter and met it head-on. "I thought we had this all worked out. I'd come on board here as a junior associate pastor."
"I've been praying about that. You know I would love to have you on staff at Shepherd's Way. But I need you to do this for me first."
Leland sat back, and the black leather captain's chair silently moved with him. "I received a call from my brother Ben a few days ago. Actually, on the day of your graduation from seminary. It seems the pastor of their community church has gone home to be with the Lord. They are in need of an interim pastor until a permanent replacement can be secured. I want you to go."
Jacob recognized the expression on his grand-father's face. Pastor Leland Campbell had made up his mind, and nothing would make him budge.
All of Jacob's plans skittered away. Disappointment oozed through his veins. Through four years of college, two years of grad school and three years of seminary, he'd looked forward to finally working and learning from his grandfather. He glommed on to the first excuse that came to mind. "I'm not ready to pastor a church on my own."
"Nonsense. And I doubt you'll be there for the whole six months. I'm sure a permanent replacement will be found sooner than that."
Mentally scrambling, Jacob asked, "What will the associate pastors of that church think, having someone so young and inexperienced assigned to lead their church?"
"You will gain experience, Jacob. Don't worry about what anyone else thinks."
Jacob stared at the full bookcases behind his grandfather. His heart raced as he examined the thought of leading a small community church. Terrifying, thrilling. A perfect opportunity to prove to his grandfather, to his father—and to himself—that he was ready to be up front.
This just might be a good thing. It would certainly accelerate his plans. Readjust and forge ahead. His plans lined up again. "All right. I'll go."
The pleasure in his grandfather's expression made Jacob determined to do a good job. Leland Campbell had been Jacob's hero since he was a child. Jacob wanted to be just like his grandfather, much to his father's criticism.
It wasn't so much that William Durand had disapproved of the church or his father-in-law. He'd wanted his only son to follow in his footsteps, to take over the successful business he'd started before Jacob was born.
That wasn't Jacob's dream, and the opposing goals between father and son created tension in the relationship.
Jacob rose to leave, his mind whirling with all the details that he'd need to take care of before heading north.
His grandfather came around the desk and put a hand on his shoulder. "Remember, Jacob. Don't put God in a box. He can do more than you can imagine."
Three days later, Jacob stared at the cedar-sided box of a structure that housed Hope Community Church in the small Pacific Northwest town of Hope, Washington. Majestic cedars provided shade for the lush green lawn and meticulous flower beds.
A far cry from the state-of-the-art world of Shepherd's Way located in the heart of the marina district in San Francisco.
With a sigh of resignation and a reminder to himself that his time in Hope was a means to an end, Jacob climbed from his SUV and headed up the walkway. He took a moment to absorb the outdoors. Fresh April air filled his lungs, revitalizing in its crispness. The only sound he heard was a distant bird. A calm peacefulness filled his soul.
He opened the wood door of the church. Stale air hit him as he stepped inside. The dark, small vestibule had one lone table that supported a single unlit candle in a pewter holder. The inner sanctuary was equally dark. Heavy damask curtains covering the floor-to-ceiling windows were drawn closed.
Jacob gamely drew back one curtain to allow sunlight to brighten the room. Surprisingly, no dust rose to tickle his nose. At least the place was clean.
Wooden pews, enough for a hundred people, give or take a few, filled the narrow building. The platform at the front was raised a few feet up with wooden stairs on one side. A podium and an organ with a matching bench was the only furniture on stage.
Jacob sighed again. "Well, this should be interesting."
The squeak of a hinge reverberated through the quiet sanctuary. A short, heavyset older woman bustled out from a room to the right of the platform. She stopped, blinking owlishly at him from behind her thick tortoiseshell glasses.
Her lined face broke into a wide smile. "You must be Pastor Durand! You look just like Ben. At least, how he looked as a young man."
She hurried over and touched his arm. "I say, it will be nice to have some new blood here in Hope. Don't get me wrong, old Pastor Anders was a good man. Just rough around the edges and well, old. Like me."
She laughed, a trilling sound that echoed in the church. She gave his arm a pat. "Here now, I'm doing all the talking and I've yet to let you get in a word. My husband Ed tells me all the time I talk too much. If I do, then it's just a gift the good Lord has seen fit to give me." She took a breath.
Amused, Jacob interjected. "I am Pastor Du-rand." He liked that sound of that, but quickly amended, "I'm only here temporarily. And you are?"
She beamed. "Grace Stephens. I'm the church secretary."
A dry laugh escaped as he compared Grace to his grandfather's secretary, Carol. There would be no stiff and formal greetings from Grace. "That's wonderful. Can you show me my office?"
Little creases appeared between her gray eyebrows. "Your office isn't here in the church. It's next door in the cottage."
"Where you'll be staying and where you'll have your office. Pastor Anders didn't like traipsing over here every day, so he moved his office into the front bedroom of the cottage. It's set up real nice."
Jacob vaguely remembered seeing a small house set off to one side of the church property.
He pointed in the direction from which she'd emerged. "Then what's back there?"
"Why, my office. If you want to call it that. And Sunday School rooms and the restroom. Would you like a tour?"
Not yet ready to orient himself with this new, unplanned life, he shook his head. "Later. For now I'll just head over to the cottage. When would it be a convenient time to meet with you and go over the services and other information I need before Sunday?"
Her brows rose nearly to her hairline. "You want to meet with me?"
"Well, you are the secretary."
She grinned. "I'm the church secretary. I keep attendance, handle the finances, make sure that we have greeters and ushers for services. I attend all the baptisms, birthing and weddings to record everything for prosperity. I distributed the sermon notes that Pastor Anders gave me on Sunday morning. I take all the calls for the church and direct the calls to where they need to go. I—"
Jacob held up a hand, cutting her off. "What about the associate pastors? And helping to organize the sermons?"
"Oh." She waved a hand. "You want to talk with Mara." She tapped her index finger against her lips. "Let me think. Hmm. I don't know when she'll be back in. She's already been here this week. I could look up her number. I'm sure I have it. If not, I could tell you where she lives. It's not far, just a few blocks."
"Why don't you look up her number and get back to me?"
She brightened. "I'll do that. And I'll arrange for a church council potluck at my house on Saturday evening." She clapped her hands. "What a wonderful excuse to have my house cleaned."
She beamed at him. "Your uncle Ben is on the council along with my Ed and Dr. Hanlin. And there's Luke Bryer—he's a teacher over at the high school—and Martin Lessing—he owns the drugstore downtown. And I know I'm forgetting someone...."
"That's fine. I'm sure you'll work it out," he said. "I'm going to head over to the cottage right now."
"Good, good. I'll start making arrangements." Jacob watched her disappear back from where she came. He shook his head in bemusement. Yep, this sure wasn't anything like his grandfather's church.
He went back to his car and grabbed his cases then headed the short distance to the cottage. The small country-style house was quaint in a story-book kind of way.
Yellow with white trim. Empty flower boxes sat beneath the windowsills. Sheer curtains covered the double-hung windows.
He pulled out the key he'd received in the mail, but realized the door was slightly ajar. He pushed it open and stepped across the threshold into the entryway.
The smell of cleaning products burned his nostrils. A rhythmic noise came from down the hall. He set his stuff by the antique sideboard. An old fedora with a red feather sticking out of the band sat on the scarred top as if waiting for its owner to swing by and pick it up on the way out the door.
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