Gunshots ring out as Ann Jones enters the church. She hides in the bathroom until they stop, then stumbles into the sanctuary. The congregation lies dead in pools of blood. To rebuild the church, she starts True Light Guardians. At the first meeting, she’s attacked by a terrorist, but rescued by James Crawford. He melts her heart, cold from her father’s abuse, and they fall for each other. She’s afraid to commit to love that might grow angry later, like the type she knew as a child. James yearns to stop other attempts on Ann’s life, but can’t. Tormented by her constant risks, he breaks up with her. When an assault sends her to the hospital, an unlikely ally shares Ann’s plight with James, but he reveals a lead that puts all three of them in even more danger.
Copyright 2016 © Gail Pallotta
Ann Jones smoothed the front of her black skirt as she entered the narthex of the church.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty...
The powerful song resounded from behind the sanctuary’s oak doors. Late for the service again, Ann hurried past a flower arrangement of brown-eyed Susans on a mahogany table with a picture of Jesus above it.
A loud rat-a-tat-tat-rat-a-tat-tat ripped the air. Was that a gun? She shook her head. The noise commenced again. Screams echoed from the sanctuary, and another round blasted Ann’s ears.
She ran past the receptionist’s desk to the bathroom, ducked into a stall, and crouched on the cold beige tile floor. Tears trickled down her cheeks, and she shivered. More bullets rang out. She buried her head in her arms to hush the noise of hate and terrifying cries for help.
Finally, a siren whirred in the distance, and the shots stopped.
Shaking from head to toe, Ann placed her hands on the wall opposite the sinks and moved them up, one over the other, steadying herself as she stood. She took deep breaths, forced one foot in front of the other, and plodded out. Her knees almost buckled as she headed down the hall, the flowers blurring through her tears. She stepped to a door at the sanctuary and stopped in her tracks, her chest so tight she barely could breathe. She reached out to open it, and her hand trembled. What if she could help someone, and she didn’t? She crept inside.
Shattered stained glass lay at her feet in a pool of blood on the hardwood floor. She yelled, sank down on an oak pew, sobbed, and shook. Dead bodies of close friends and acquaintances littered the room, some still sitting in their seats, their lifeless eyes focused on the altar. Others lay flat on the floor in the aisles or between the pews. The minster was facing down in front of the altar. The choir members slumped in their seats behind him, their heads lowered. A hand touched her shoulder, and she jumped.
“I’m sorry, Miss Jones. I heard the gun as I gathered the trash can in the men’s room. I dropped it and came running. Before the shooter saw me I jumped in the closet and dialed 911.” The misty look in the janitor’s green eyes faded. Then everything went black.
Ann woke with a paramedic holding a damp cloth on the back of her head. He escorted her away from the massacre, but the memory stayed with her, nagging her day and night. A passion to prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again erupted inside her.