Home :: Christian :: Family Heirlooms Series, Book 5: Shards of Ashley by Karen Wiesner (Inspirational Romance)

Family Heirlooms Series, Book 5: Shards of Ashley by Karen Wiesner (Inspirational Romance)

Family Heirlooms Series, Book 5: Shards of Ashley by Karen Wiesner (Inspirational Romance)
 
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Book Five Family Heirloom: Learning trust

In order to reconcile her past, she must face the terrible truth she buried long ago...and, in doing so, she gambles with her heart and the salvation of her own soul.

Ashley Savage grew up in a troubled home with a competitive, pampered sister and an abusive, ridiculing mother who played at being a Christian when she needed to...and led Ashley to more addictions than one child could handle. As an adult, Ashley tells herself she's put the extreme fears of the past behind her, but she spends most of her time repairing the crumbling wall holding back the horrors she's not willing to face ever again. She's become a woman against the world.

The one man who has the annoying habit of getting through her defenses is Jay Samuels, a military chaplain and soon-to-be pastor. Much as Ashley wants to leave him behind like she believes she has the rest of her past, Jay is ambitious to a fault where she's concerned. He hears only what he wants to hear--and he doesn't want to hear that she doesn't love him as much as he loves her.

But even Jay doesn't realize the extent of all she's buried deep inside her own subconscious...and what keeps her from giving herself willingly to the God she knows is drawing her inexorably to Himself, to the one place she can't run, where she can no longer hide...

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Family Heirlooms Series, Book 5: Shards of Ashley by Karen Wiesner (Inspirational Romance)
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Sample Chapter

Family Heirlooms Series:

Nuggets of faith can be passed down as family heirlooms from parent to child, sibling to sibling, spouse to spouse.

Book Five Family Heirloom: Learning Trus

Part I: Counterattack

Prologue

"I can't stay long," Ashley Savage announced as soon as she entered her therapist's office. "I'm picking Jay up at the airport."

She strode across the room without bothering to remove her elegant black trench coat. Dr. Tyler was waiting for her in his usual chair, notepad and pen in hand. Wordlessly, he watched her take a seat across from him, set her briefcase with a drapery sample book down beside her purse, then cross her legs and arrange herself precisely before she faced him.

She'd been coming to Dr. Tyler sporadically for many years. He'd been ancient and grandfatherly then and gratefully had continued along that course in the time since. Pride filled her at how very little he'd gotten to know her in the duration. She gave almost nothing away in the short time she was here each appointment. Though she had a very deeply entrenched distrust of men in general, something about him was less intimidating than the others--possibly because of his age combined with a Santa Claus appearance. He reminded her of the innocuous counselor she'd grown up meeting with in church. Jay's father, Pastor Samuels, had tried to befriend her after she was brought home against her will when she was fourteen. When he'd realized she wouldn't speak in anything but minimal word responses, the old man had seemingly lost all power to "help" her. She prided herself in how easily she'd rendered him harmless.

And that was precisely what she needed, then and now. Visits with Dr. Tyler allowed her to construct her armor. Combined with the many hours she'd spent this morning getting ready to see Jay, with flawless make-up application, donning the utterly sophisticated yet feminine soft pink skirt-suit, and the untouchable chignon she wore her hair up in, this visit would aid her in keeping Jay Samuels out of all the places he didn't belong. She'd spent her entire adult life avoiding the advances of anyone in the male species whom she had reluctant contact with.

"How long will Jay be home this time?" Dr. Tyler asked.

"He has leave for a week and will be staying with his youngest sister while he's here. On Monday morning, he'll be leaving. I'm sure he called me because he needed a ride from the airport."

"I'm curious, Ashley. Is there some reason he always asks you to pick him up? After all, you've made it clear that the two of you are...or rather, were...only friends in high school."

Ashley shrugged, downplaying the significance. "I'm closest. I live in La Crosse. Everyone in his family lives in Peaceful. Everyone except an older brother who's a medical missionary in some other country. But you know that."

"Yes, I know that. Is it possible that Jay sees you as more than a former friend from school?"

Ashley ignored the warmth filling her face. She struggled to remain passive when she said, "He might. But Jay is confusing at best. How should I know how he sees me?"

"How do you feel about him? You've never said."

Ashley's jaw tightened. Ironically, she didn't come here to talk. She'd learned that it was easier to face Jay's tenacity after she'd been through an intensive round of fielding questions with only the most generic answers.

"I've never said because there's nothing to tell," she said coolly. They'd graduated high school, and she'd promptly moved to La Crosse. He'd attended Bible college before joining the Marines, following his father's example almost to the letter by going into the military to get his pastoral training. In this time, Jay's behavior had been nothing if not bewildering.

"I find that difficult to believe."

"I don't see why."

"Because, Ashley, we've had an appointment once a week every week for the past three years, yet the only time you actually keep your appointment is when you have to pick up Jay from the airport. You come just before you have to pick him up. There is a connection, and I've spent this time trying to come up with your rationale in this situation. I believe I finally have an answer."

Ashley's spine straightened even more. "I don't know what you mean, doctor."

"He upsets you. Maybe he throws off your rigidly maintained equilibrium. I think we can safely say that's true. And there must be a reason he asks you to pick him up every time. Surely anyone in his family who lives in the area would gladly do it for him if he asked them. But he doesn't ask them. He never has since he joined the military. He wants to see you, first and foremost, whenever he comes home on leave. And he spends the majority of his time while home with you. Isn't that right?"

She shrugged. "For all I know, he has a girl in every port. I'm not one of them. There's no reason to believe it's more than that for him."

For a long, stretched moment that made Ashley grit her teeth, silence reigned in the office and she felt positively thrust under a microscope.

"Tell me about your relationship with Jay while the two of you were in high school."

Ashley frowned. This wasn't the first time Dr. Tyler had posed the question. Why did he keep asking the same things? "We were...friends." For lack of a better description.

"Friends? How did you become so? Were you always friends? You said your family attended his father's church."

She fought the urge to close her eyes and block out the images that sprang into her mind with his words. "He started talking to me in math class. Jay is good at math. I've never been."

"And he remembered who you were outside of school?"

"Yes. He always knew. My mother dragged--brought me to church. Sometimes. Sometimes every Sunday for months. Then not at all for just as long. But, well, Pastor Samuels attempted to counsel me for a long time as well."

Dr. Tyler's expression looked far too amused at her words. Clearly, he realized he'd been as ineffective as her previous therapist. Over the years, Dr. Tyler had been shooting missiles at the target--her mind or heart--and she'd easily detonated and defused each and every one. Am I losing control of this session? Dr. Tyler knows nothing about me. Pastor Samuels never knew anything either. And Jay...Jay knows a few things only because he was there at the time. But I've never been willing to share much. He knows me and he doesn't know me. That's always been the safest way.

"So, the two of you began talking in math class?" Dr. Tyler urged.

"That class and others. After school. In church sometimes." In truth, every single time Mother hauled me there. If I had a reason for attending, it was Jay.

"The two of you talked and got to know each other during these times."

Ashley couldn't seem to deny the heart of the matter. "He talked. I...listened...to his voice. I read his voice."

"His voice. You read his voice?"

"Read... See, he kept a journal of his thoughts, his musings. Sometimes he'd leave it lying around. He'd leave the room for a few minutes. And I would read what he'd written. Later, after I was brought back home, I would sometimes write questions in his journal--mostly questions about God and His unfairness. When I went to read the journal later, I would find Jay's responses to my questions. I would read his voice."

Dr. Tyler nodded his understanding, seemingly unaware that her throat felt nearly closed up. Jay's voice. There was no way to hear or read it and remain unaffected. Oh, how she'd hated that! But she'd needed to hear his voice, whether in speech or in writing, sometimes more than she'd ever needed anything else. She found herself speaking, trying to sort out her own quiet, insane desperation in this regard. "Back then, I didn't think I could live without his voice. Not even for a day. I tried. God, how I tried! And maybe it was part of the sanity I found during that time. Maybe I couldn't have rebuilt..."

Shut up! He doesn't need to know this. No one does. No one needs to know anything about who I am and where I come from. I don't want to remember. My past is gone. It's dead. I buried it myself. Gratefully.

Why do I talk about Jay when I come here? If only I could avoid the subject of Jay altogether. But this is the only place I can...God, the only place I can discuss the problem I've been having since I fled home when I was seventeen. Jay. Jay Samuels is the problem I've been having since then. Our separate lives and my strength in living successfully without his voice for so long should make me victorious. But Jay won't leave me alone, no matter how hard I try to push him away.

She wasn't in the least bit surprised when Dr. Tyler said what he did nearly every session: "You've come here for more than three years, Ashley, yet I know nothing about you. You--the inner you, your past, what led to your trust issues."

Ashley didn't react, expecting him to close the session the way he always did on that sad note. But then he added something new that threw her. "And I suspect Jay knows nothing about that person buried deep inside you either. Why do you come here, Ashley? Why?"

"I don't know," she answered automatically, her tone stiff and uncooperative.

"You come here before Jay visits. Never after. Not while he's there, away from you once more. Only before."

"What are you implying?"

"In all this time, you've resisted every implication that Jay sees you in the context of girlfriend--his only girlfriend. You come here before he visits, always looking utterly untouchable--encased in oblivious ice, as it were."

"Excuse me?"

"Isn't that the projection you're striving for? That you're made of ice. That you've locked yourself in a cage where he won't be able to touch you. That you can't feel anything at all."

Ashley didn't dare even breathe. Anything she did or said would confirm the truth to him, the truth she knew and hid from. Every single time she saw Jay, she had to fight him. There was no other option. The alternative... No, she couldn't give herself to Jay Samuels. Never Jay. Anyone but him. Because, if I let him, he'll consume me.

Dr. Tyler spoke softly. "Perhaps you have feelings for him that you won't admit to yourself or him. And perhaps he has feelings for you that you refuse to acknowledge because it feels safer to you to keep him outside."

Ashley struggled not to let go of the manic laughter in her head.

"Trust is fundamental in any relationship. From what you've told me, or shall I say what little you've told me all these years, it's obvious to me that you don't trust anyone, Ashley. In some ways, you don't even trust yourself. But you must realize that human beings can't survive without basic trust. Frank Crane said, 'You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment unless you trust enough.'"

Shards of ice seemed to fall directly into her conscious mind, giving her the piece of armor she needed to defend herself. "Stephen Leacock: 'Men are able to trust one another, knowing the exact degree of dishonesty they are entitled to expect.'"

Her therapist blinked as if shocked. "Touché," he murmured sadly an instant later.

Trust? What is trust? I've lived without it all my life. If I ever trusted, it was for a nanosecond and then I knew exactly why I shouldn't trust. Because trust leaves a person naked, bleeding and vulnerable to further attack. Why should I trust now? I'm strong. No one can touch me. And I come here to make myself strong before I have to face Jay. Dr. Tyler doesn't get to me--or he never has before. He's always helped me construct my armor instead of face things I'd rather not see or remember.

From the very first time Jay had returned home on military leave, Ashley had been aware that she would fall apart in degrees throughout the time. One week or less she could handle, but it wasn't easy because Jay refused to allow her to drive him away. Plain and simple, he would not leave. He made a joke each time, as if he didn't believe for one second she might want what was between them--the thing, for lack of a better description--to end.

The thought of an end, of never seeing Jay again, caused equal parts of pleasure and pain to erupt in her. She'd never understand what had happened the first time Jay kissed her. A part of her had died that day. Or, more accurately, had run and hidden from any implications about why he would want to kiss her that way--kiss her and expect her to kiss him back. Ironically, she always came back to the fact that he knew her and didn't know her. Knows too little and too much. If he found out the truth, she didn't have a single doubt he wouldn't want anything to do with her ever again. Considering the little he did know about her... Why does he kiss me? Why do I let him? Why does he come home...to me?

God! Don't think about it. Stay inside the cage where you're safe. The cage that Dr. Tyler has accurately assessed is built on the strength of never trusting anyone, not even myself.

"Ashley, does Jay's voice still affect you the way it did when you were a teenager? Do you still need it? Can't live without it?"

She drew in a deep, fortifying breath. "I can live without it. He's gone for months at a time. We don't communicate in any way during that time. And when he's here...we don't do that thing with his journal anymore."

"You're saying you can live without his voice temporarily at least. How long before he's discharged from the military?"

Swallowing with difficulty, she tried to make her voice level and casual. "In about six months. He's resigned his commission. He's going to pastor the church his father founded. Pastor Samuels retired about three years ago, and they've only had interim pastors since. Jay will be the permanent pastor once he's officially released from his commission."

"And how do you fit into all that?"

She stared at him in disbelief. "I don't."

"Are you sure Jay sees it that way?"

Ashley tamped down on her bark of amusement. "Of course. Believe me, no one is ever going to mistake me for pastor's wife material."

That Dr. Tyler could look genuinely surprised and distressed was even more laughable. "Why do you feel that way?"

"I'm all wrong for that life. It would be wrong for me to be in that role."

The therapist frowned. "Because you have no plans to make a commitment to Jay?"

"You're implying he wants a commitment with me. You couldn't be more mistaken. It's not like that between us." I won't let it be.

"What would you do if he asked you to marry him?"

Okay, this was getting crazy. She had to end this. "He wouldn't. That would never happen. And that's not even the reason why I can't be a pastor's wife. I'm just not...holy enough."

Comprehension dawned in Dr. Tyler's face. "Ah. So you're prepared to live without him, without his voice, in your life permanently?"

Ashley closed her eyes to that particular stinger missile. She rebuilt her armor, diverting any pain from its intended course, and forced it to fly right by her without making contact. "I have to go."

"Of course. But perhaps you'll consider coming to our next session. For the very first time, I feel we've made some progress here."

Even more reason to have my assistant reschedule the next appointment, like always. Maybe indefinitely.

After she gathered her things, Ashley couldn't prevent herself from glancing at her therapist. She could see in his expression that he knew she'd reschedule. She even considered that he suspected her sanity depended on doing so.

Rushing out to her car, she shoved her briefcase, sample book and purse inside, closed the door after her and poised the key at the ignition. A strange sensation descended on her. With only that as a warning, sobs crammed into her throat. For the first time in years, she didn't have the strength to push back the horror leaking through a crack that had opened up inside her.

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