Saving GraceSaving Grace
Annie Jones
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Every year on the night of New Bethany's Splendor Belle Gala, reclusive Sera Grayson appears on her porch in a tattered gown, waiting for the man who deserted her over 50 years before. Rosemary, Naomi, Gayle, and Lucy decide to reach out and help her. But they soon discover that playing angels to an eccentric old woman may destroy the special bond they share. 364 pages, softcover from Multnomah.
     

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Prologue

Moonlight, as blue as her mood, cast a cool light from the large upstairs bedroom windows over Naomi’s heirloom wedding-ring quilt. The moon, looking like a silver coin tossed high into the darkened sky beckoned her. Gently she folded back the quilt, lowered her bare feet to the hand-loomed, old rug that had once been her grandmother’s, and tiptoed across the room.

The brass lock made a precise little click as she flicked it open with one finger. The wood of the window frame groaned in protest, then gave way to her effort and nudged upward enough to let the fresh, fall air inside. It tingled in Naomi’s nostrils as she inhaled deeply, her eyes shut.

It was the last week of October in New Bethany, Tennessee. The autumn colors had peaked, and now a gust of wind brought down a flurry of yellow, orange, brown, and sometimes red to spill out over everything below. Often on a tree-lined lane the blanket of leaves would be so thick that it became impossible to tell where the lawns left off and the pavement began.

When the Bible says the streets of heaven are lined with gold— this is what I picture.

Naomi could practically hear Mama say those words. Just the thought of Mama made Naomi’s chest tighten and her throat close. She felt like a little girl again, small and not quite sure of the things that lay ahead of her. This time, though, Mama’s hand could not take hers and make everything all right.

Naomi missed her. No matter how old or wise—or how many wonderful, terrible, or fascinating things the good Lord had in store for her—Naomi would always miss Mama until she herself went on to be with Jesus in heaven. And to make matters worse, the women she had come to look upon as a second family—women who had stood beside her through Mama’s death and whom she had seen through their own triumphs and turmoils—now seemed distant and beyond her ability to reach. The saddest part was no one seemed able to do anything to stop it.

Naomi clenched her fist and rested her forehead against the glass of the window. They were so different, these friends... with almost nothing in common but their faith. Even in that, they attended different churches, yet they had become friends through their struggles to revive the tradition of the prayer tree. Friendship had blossomed as they faced loss, found new loves, squabbled a little, and laughed a lot. And the prayer circles had survived.

This year three new trees stood in the community grove next to the small apple tree she, Rose, Gayle, and Mary Lucille had chosen the year before. However, while their little sapling and the seeds they planted in the new prayer groups seemed to be flourishing, their friendship was not.

Naomi understood it. Time and the demands of everyday life had taken a toll…it was only natural that the four of them would drift apart.

Naomi sighed deeply, and her gaze wandered to her bureau. The moonlight reflected on a white envelope: Gayle’s invitation for Naomi and the others to the Splendor Belle Gala at her country club tomorrow night. It was obviously a last-ditch attempt to keep them together, to strengthen their ties. Either that or—

Or it was a means to say good-bye.

Naomi choked back tile urge to cry her heart aching. She hadn’t felt this alone in this new hometown, the place she’d returned to eighteen months earlier, since Mama died.

"Buffalo Gal won’t You come out tonight?"

Naomi started and stared out the window. She turned quickly, hoping to find her husband of three months still lying in their bed, sound asleep. She hoped the image singing up to her from below was a mirage. The rumpled pile of quilt and linens on the empty bed said otherwise.

"Taylor Boatwright!" Her pulse thrumming, Naomi tried to decide if she was more shocked, upset…or totally charmed by her husband’s behavior.

With one petulant tug, she hoisted the window open as far as she could. A cool breeze whipped at the open collar of her cotton gown. "What on earth are you doing on the front lawn, Taylor?"

"Well, it seems the last couple nights the only thing that interests you is whatever’s out this window. I thought that might as well be me." He folded his arms over his dark blue robe and smiled up at her.

"Have you lost your mind?"

"No, but I seem to have lost your focus. That doesn’t speak well for someone married such a short time. Tell, me, what is it out this window that you find so fascinating?"

"The lunatic on my front lawn."

"There’s a lunatic out here?" He feigned surprise, gazing about him in first one direction, then another. "Where? I haven’t seen one."

"Then maybe you should come inside and I’ll show him to you—I do believe I have a mirror in here somewhere."

"I’d rather see myself reflected in your eyes." He folded his hands over his chest, playing it up big. The breeze ruffled his brown hair, giving him a tousled look—which only made his act more appealing.

"Reflected in my eyes, my foot." She clucked her tongue to keep from seeming to give in too easily to that beguiling Southern charm of his. She loved her husband, loved him like no other man she’d ever known, but there was still something in her that would not let herself surrender her trust too easily to any man. She had to show some spunk to guard herself a little, even if only in jest. "You are going to see yourself reflected in the shiny side of a frying pan if I have to come out there and drag you back inside for your own good."

"I’d rather you chase me round the block with that frying pan, Nomi, than give up before I find out what’s making you so blue these days."

Even from this distance she could sense the mischief in those gorgeous blue eyes of his. She could certainly see the deep lines that fanned out over his taut cheeks and framed his grin. Years of working in the sun, caring for grounds and trees and shrubs and gardens with his family nursery had left his face tanned as leather. Taylor Boatwright, in her humble opinion, was an enchanting mix of gentleness and toughened masculinity. Those were the traits he was displaying now, a subtle demand that she share her thoughts with him…a gentle urging that left no room for doubt as to what he wanted and expected.

"I’ve just been thinking about how much I miss Mama." Taking a precarious perch on the windowsill, Naomi hunched her shoulders enough to put her face in the open window frame. She kept her voice quiet, relying on the stillness of the late hour and the straight drop down to carry her words to him. "And maybe even more so, how I miss my friends."

"You’ll see them at the Belle Gala."

"Yes, I know"

"Then that's all that’s bothering you?"

All? To her it seemed huge. She inhaled the brisk air as a breeze ruffled the curtains and stung her cheeks. If only it would whisk away the sense of impending loss crowding her emotions. "Yes, that’s all. It’s nothing about you or the children, if that’s what you’re concerned about."

"Good to hear that. You know, when a man's married only a few months and his wife starts spending her nights stargazing instead of snuggled up asleep next to him, he starts to feel a little... put out."

"Well, you look put out all right—like a cat for the night." She waggled her finger at him. "If you are feeling neglected, then shutting yourself out of the house is hardly the way to remedy that, sweetheart."

"Lot you know" His smile never dimmed. He stuffed both hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth in his wool-lined slippers. "I’ve left the front door open."

"On a blustery fall evening like this? Why it’s liable to—"

Wham!

"Blow shut." She tried her very best not to giggle.

"Guess this means you’re going to have to come climb down from your tower, fair maiden, and rescue me."

"Guess again." This time a light laugh escaped her as the absurdity of the moment took precedent over her doubts and difficulties. "You were the one who was supposed to fix that door so it wouldn’t lock behind us. Looks like now you are reaping the fitting harvest of your own procrastination."

"Yes, but I only came out here to cheer you up. At least you could show me some mercy for that." He spoke it like a man who had no doubt that she’d relent and let him back in.

"Well, I’ll tell you what."

"What?" His grin grew wider. Clearly he expected some kind of mushy confirmation or show of appreciation for his actions.

"It worked." He’d get his show of appreciation and then some, but first she was going to have a little fun. "Because seeing you locked out, stranded on the front lawn in your night clothes? It surely has cheered me up to beat the band." She slipped from the sill and pretended to start closing the window.

"You’d better come down here and let me in, darling wife of mine, or I’ll be forced to start up my serenading all over again." He gulped in a big breath as if ready to belt out another chorus.

"And you had the nerve to ask me for mercy!" She laughed outright.

"Buffalo Gal—"

"Now, stop that! Stop it right now" It wasn’t his voice she objected to so much as the situation. "You’re embarrassing yourself."

"I’m not one bit embarrassed." It was revoltingly true. He looked as relaxed as a man settling into his favorite easy chair. He gathered another breath and launched into song again. "Buffalo Gal—"

"Then think of your daughter. If you wake up Ashley this way she will be totally humiliated by your behavior."

Taylor shrugged. "She’s fourteen. The very fact that I exist seems to be a source of perpetual mortification to her. What’s a little bit more at this point?"

Naomi cringed. While she and TayIor’s daughter, Ashley, had reached an understanding—even begun to form a fragile friendship for a while—the new marriage had put a strain on that. All was not smooth between them, and this kind of thing would not help matters.

"Buffalo Gal—"

"Oh, all right. Hush up. I’m on my way down there. But it’s out of respect for Ashley’s feelings and to save you from becoming the talk of New Bethany like poor old Grace Grayson-Wiley"

"Ol’ Grace? Whatever made you think of her?" he called up before Naomi could step away from the window.

"I don’t know. Timing, I suppose." She gazed up at the autumn sky "You know it’s this time of year that just about everyone in town who knows her story thinks about her."

"Sure, now and again they turn their thoughts to her, but do they ever turn their hearts to her? Do they ever try to do anything to see if they can help the poor old girl?" He snorted in disgust.

He had a point. People did just talk about Grace. They talked about her and gawked at her. Even Naomi had done that. But who had extended the hand of Christian love to the elderly woman? Naomi could not think of a soul. Not one soul.

If only...

Her eyes widened. "Oh, Taylor, that’s it!"

"What’s it?"

"The solution."

"What solution?"

"The solution to bringing the circle back together. Taylor Boatwright, you are a genius! A pure, unadulterated, I-could-kiss-you-for-thinking-of-it genius!"

"Well, you can’t kiss me unless you come down here and let me in—and when you do that, maybe you’ll be so kind to explain to me what you have got up your sleeve, my precious partner-in-life. Because from the tone of your voice I can tell you’re on fire with some kind of scheme and I’ve got the feeling it’s something that no one is going to talk you out of."


 
Excerpted from:
Saving Grace by Annie Jones, copyright 1998.
Used by permission of Multnomah Publishers. All rights reserved.