Spiritual malaise permeates the hearts of the residents of a scenic small town with a troubled past, tenuous present, and an uncertain future.
In the town of Sterling Lakes, stained-glass artist Cascade Preston has overcome a dark childhood deeply wounded by domestic violence. When she’s approached to design new windows for a refurbished church in town, she ignores the request…until the no-nonsense project manager Dan McQuay appears looking for the window plans. Suddenly, the project takes on a whole new light.
Cascade has built a protective cocoon around herself, refusing to forgive the town that ignored her family’s abusive situation, but can Dan break through and shine new light into her heart?
GENRE: Inspirational Romance ISBN: 978-1-922066-52-7 ASIN: B009RMKW14 Word Count: 52, 410
The afternoon class at Tanglewood Women’s Prison was filled with tension, as separated and splintered as a light spectrum refracted through a prism. Cascade Preston held her student’s template assignment up to the overhead light and spoke carefully on the quality of the stained glass project.
“With two lights, or openings, Brenda, I would say your idea of a church window for this one would be correct.”
Sighing in relief, the student replied, “So you think I’m making progress?”
“Of course.” Cascade tossed her honey-colored curls behind her shoulders. “Don’t you?”
Brenda snorted. “Heck, no. I’m in here for domestic assault. What do I know about progress? My life is over.”
The hopeless comment stopped Cascade in her tracks. “Not to downplay the seriousness of sin, but we all make mistakes and God forgives us when we ask and genuinely repent. Sinners are encouraged to flock to Him. That’s comforting, don’t you think?”
Brenda shrugged. “God has His own agenda. We’ll see what the parole board says about mine in two weeks.”
“For now, let’s focus on next week’s class. Bring me a flower for that one.”
“Where are we supposed to get a flower?” someone muttered.
“Draw one, stupid,” Brenda answered.
Cascade shook her head with a smile. “Bye, ladies. Take care.”
“See you.” Brenda gave her a high-five as Cascade walked past her.
Heels clicking efficiently with her every step, Cascade made her way from the holding room to the shuttle alongside her beefy escort. Once inside her Corolla, she said a prayer in her head: I hope I’m doing some good here, Lord. I pray none of these women go through what my mother went through. She tried to block the images of her mother’s bruises from her mind, but they wouldn’t go away. They never did.
The drive back into Boston passed by quickly without too much traffic. “Lean On Me” blasted from her audio system, and she sang along with all her heart. At twenty-seven, she knew the song was technically an oldie, but to her the lyrics were fresh and filled with meaning. As she sang, she wondered what it would feel like to have someone to lean on. She’d always been alone.
“There’s only one thing that could make tonight perfect,” she mused inside her head as she pulled into the parking area for her condo complex, “and that’s not going to happen, for sure.”
Images of her long-gone fiancé, Kevin, came into her mind and heart. Where was he this fine June evening? More importantly, why were things so much better for him without her in his life?
Her eyes narrowed as she noticed someone walking toward her car. She didn’t recognize the big guy crossing her path. Shading her eyes from the late day sun, she saw dark hair with outdoorsy looks. Nope don’t know him. But I might want to.
Hopping from her car, she said, “Can I help you?”
“If you’re Cascade Preston, you sure can.”
He folded his arms across his chest. With all those muscles moving, Cascade could only imagine the stress put on the seams of his light blue, cotton shirt.
“And you are…?”
“Dan McQuay.” He extended his arm towards her. “From the site.”
“Hi.” Cascade pumped his strong hand, lost in his sky blue eyes. “What site?”
He tilted his head. “The construction site.”
“I’m not following you.”
He looked at her steadily. “I’m project manager for the retrofit on the church in Sterling Lakes. The one you’re doing the windows for.”
Cascade’s heartbeat quickened. Just hearing the name of the town where she grew up made her anxious and tense. “It seems there’s been a misunderstanding. No way am I working on anything in Sterling Lakes.” She started to bustle past him. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
“Don’t run away, Ms. Preston. There’s a problem here.”
His tone of voice got her attention. He sounded like he cared…about her. That was crazy. She was a total stranger to him.
She nodded. “Apparently, there is a problem. You’re right about that. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Like I said, I’m not doing any work in Sterling Lakes, and I never will. That’s the last place in the world I would ever go.”
He gave a slow whistle. “Well, that’s a loaded speech if I’ve ever heard one.”
In spite of herself, she smiled. “I didn’t mean to get all hot and huffy, but that’s how I feel, and I have good reasons.”
He eyed her intently before he finally spoke. “Understood. The thing is, your name is on the plans I have, and my crew’s ready to get going. We haven’t heard from you, and we need to have a job meeting. Mostly, we need your specs.”
Cascade noticed the strong line of his jaw when he spoke, and oh, those bluer-than-blue eyes of his were so easy to get lost in. She swallowed. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not contracted for that job. Your project executive should be able to answer your questions.” She toyed with the zipper on her shoulder bag as she watched him frown. “Look, why don’t you give me his name? I’ll check things out at my studio in the morning and get in touch with him. Maybe I can get to the bottom of this.”
“Yup.” He took his hands out of his pockets. “Here’s my business card, and here’s his. Try and remember, ma’am, every day is money to me.”
“I own a business myself, so I get it. But I know every job I’ve undertaken, and this isn’t one of mine. Let me see if I can find out why I’m on the list of subcontractors for this project…if I really am.”
“I shouldn’t be, so there’s a big mistake. I never even sent in a bid.”
“At least we found out something tonight,” he said with a shrug. “Other than you being a whole lot prettier in person than in the pictures all those magazine articles and newspaper stories print about you.”
Cascade’s face warmed up at his compliment. “Now you’re trying to butter me up.”
“Just stating the truth, plain and simple, like I always do, Ms. Preston. That’s my way. Thank you for your time.”
He started walking over to his truck. “Talk to you tomorrow.”
“Right. And there’s one more thing.”
He cast a questioning look in her direction.
“You can call me Cascade.”
He gave her a nod and hopped into his truck. Her smile lingered as she watched him drive off. If things were normal, it might not be that bad to do a job with Dan McQuay. He seemed down-to-earth, nothing like the suave politician that her former boyfriend, Kevin, had been. After all the drama he’d lived with day and night, she found the contrast refreshing. If she discovered drama with Dan McQuay, too…
Don’t go there. Bad enough that the job is far from normal. Being in Sterling Lakes, it’ll never be anything like routine.
* * *
Great, thought Dan as he drove along Route 9 back to his hotel. Another fruitcake artist type who isn’t in touch with reality. Not a clue. He sighed.
Yet Cascade Preston seemed completely together, despite that she seemed to have no memory of her name being on the list of those who’d bid on the project. She clearly had tons of talent, was both well-spoken and successful. Not to mention those gorgeous green eyes and honey-colored curls. What could be the glitch?
He hit speed dial on his cell phone. Mike Davis, his project executive, had to know. After two rings, Mike picked up. “Davis here.”
“Hey, Mike, it’s Dan. Remember I asked you to check on that stained-glass artist, Cascade Preston? You know, that famous one who hasn’t been showing up to the job site in Sterling Lakes?”
“We checked up. She’s on board, Dan. Signed everything.”
“Yeah, okay. The funny thing is, I just met her and she didn’t know what I was talking about. I can tell she’s leveling with me.”
Mike snorted. “What can I say? She’s it. Unless someone else signed her name and didn’t tell her.” He chuckled. “See you.”
Red flags waved in Dan’s mind. Why hadn’t he thought of that? Someone else had signed Cascade’s name to those papers. But who would do that?
“Thanks, Mike,” he said.
Nothing’s ever easy. All I want to do is finish the job, get my money, and move on. No ties, no drama, just the money for Mom’s care, and then I move on to the next job, the way I always do. Forged papers plus a possible lawsuit with a world-famous artist spelled disaster for his project plans. They’d better have another glass artist lined up because this one didn’t sound like she was willing to do it, and the schedule had to be kept no matter what.
Thirty-one years old. I need this hassle?
In his mind’s eye, he saw his mother lying in her bed in the rehab center, helpless and unresponsive, no longer the loving, vivacious woman he remembered from his childhood. Doctors always said the patient might–might–be cognizant of who was there with them. I have to believe that or I’ve already lost her.
His job was a priority because he wasn’t the only one who benefited…or suffered…when there was nothing coming in.
He signaled for the exit off Route 9 and, as he drove west facing the beautiful twilight, Cascade’s smile flashed in his mind’s eye. Seemed like a shame she wasn’t really on board. Might not be that bad to do a job with her. But, the way things were shaping up, he’d be better off just chalking it up to another “what if” and forgetting all about the lovely Cascade Preston.