By Susan M. Baganz
One moment of sin leads to a path of pain ...and unexpected love.
Stephanie’s life hits a speed bump in the wake of her boyfriend’s sin. Splitting up with him, she faces a future of difficult choices shaded in shame. She wants to do what is right but the new man in her life leaves her fantasizing about a future that is now beyond her grasp.
Roberto finds his heart and professional world turned upside down by the beautiful bombshell. He struggles with his own inner demons and past so he’s not about to cast stones. When he is accused of immoral behavior, and temptation haunts him from every side, can he stand true to the calling God has given him?
Joining forces to face the future though comes at a high cost for them both as their individual pasts rise up to destroy them and their relationship. Integrity comes with a high price tag. With a deep faith in God and the help of friends at Orchard Hill Church, can they find happiness and love they long for?
Copyright 2016 © Susan M. Banagz
“Suck it up, Steph. You can do this,” she whispered to herself. A lame pep talk as she rubbed her shaking hands on her skirt. She’d always enjoyed her job, but today? Today, she prayed she’d be able to keep from running to the bathroom to throw up. She swallowed hard and pasted on a smile as she stepped forward to greet the staff of Every Child a Home by name as they entered DeLuca’s Cucina for their fundraising luncheon. She knew many of them from church and from having hosted this event in previous years.
“Miss Simson, how good to see you again.” Max Bixby, the President and CEO of the non-profit adoption agency approached her. By his side was a handsome man in his early thirties with straight dark hair parted slightly off center and falling down on his forehead. His sapphire blue eyes twinkled, probably made even bluer by the cobalt shirt he wore with his snappy charcoal suit. “I have a new associate I would like you to meet. This is Mr. Roberto Rodriguez from Harrington and Associates. He is serving as legal counsel.” He paused and looked around. “I see another benefactor coming.” Mr. Bixby walked away, leaving them alone.
Stephanie reached out her hand. The attorney took it and raised it to his mouth while maintaining eye contact. “A pleasure, Stephanie.” His voice had a rich, deep tone. She repressed the shiver of delight that coursed through her body as his lips touched her fingers. She forced herself to slow her breathing as she gave him a smile. He released her hand, and she froze—speechless. His eyebrow quirked before he spoke again, preventing any awkwardness to arise between them. “You appear familiar…do you attend Orchard Hill Church?”
Stephanie nodded. “Yes—for years, but I regret I’ve not noticed you there.” Oh, she wished she had. Given her present life circumstances, it was probably better she hadn’t. Nothing good could come of getting acquainted with any eligible bachelor at this point, no matter how handsome he might be.
“Not surprising, considering the size of the congregation. I moved into the Milwaukee area about two months ago.”
“Welcome. You chose a wonderful organization to collaborate with if you were seeking a ministry opportunity. Every Child a Home has been doing great work in this area for years and has a wonderful reputation.”
Mr. Rodriguez glanced over to where Mr. Bixby visited with some couples who had just arrived. “I’ve heard good things about them. How did you know I joined them for the purpose of ministry?”
“As legal counsel, I assumed your position was volunteer. I suspect most lawyers would not find working adoption cases to be highly profitable. Forgive me if I’m wrong.”
“Correct. But I’ll tell you a secret.” He leaned forward and whispered in her ear, causing a delightful shiver to course through her. “My wonderful Christian parents adopted me, and I want to help others because of the gift I was given by my birth-mother.”
His breath tickled her skin and she detected a scent of wintergreen. “What a great reason to serve, Mr. Rodriguez.”“Call me Roberto, or Robbie, please.” He stepped back, giving her space.
“Okay. Roberto. Lunch will begin soon, and I need to get everyone seated. I hope we can talk again. I would love to learn more about the work you do.” She took a step towards a group of people mingling nearby.
“Are you available for lunch on Sunday? After church?” He spoke only loud enough for her to hear.
She stopped mid-pivot, placed a hand on her chest, and tilted her head to the side. “Are you asking me out? We just met.”
He shifted on his feet, her only indication he might be nervous. “There’s no ring on your finger, so I assumed you were single. Forgive me if I was wrong, but yes, I am asking for a date.”
Stephanie tried to hold back a giggle and her hand moved to cover her lips for a second before dropping again to her side. “I accept. Sunday, after church. Shall we meet in the café by the fireplace?”
Roberto smiled, and she noted a dimple on his right cheek. What was it about Hispanic men that got her heart beating faster? Or was it just this particular one? Luis had never made her feel like this.
“Sounds good. I will let you get back to work, but first”—he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a business card—“in case anything comes up. My cell phone is usually used for work, so getting a call for any other reason would be refreshing.”
“Thank you.” She took the card and slid it into the pocket of her skirt.
“Till Sunday.” Roberto winked at her before he moved away to speak with other people who were arriving.
“Till Sunday,” Stephanie whispered.
She hung in the background during the luncheon, refilling water glasses and listening to the stories from those who had adopted through the agency. A birth mother talked about how she made the difficult choice to give up her child. Stephanie stood in the back of the room and moisture came to her eyes at this young woman’s story, so similar to her own. She rested her hand over her stomach. Could she be that courageous? She willed the tears away while scanning the tables and found Roberto watching her. He smiled, and she returned it as the heat rose in her cheeks.
She had made a date with this man. A stranger. At the same time, Luis, her ex-boyfriend and the father of her child, worked in the kitchen preparing the food for this event. She refused to talk to Luis for the past several weeks. He tried to approach her every Sunday, but she rebuffed him. He texted her daily, but she didn’t respond to his pleas intermixed with insults. He was the biological father of their child, but she could not envision marriage to him.
The man was egocentric and macho, and she was beginning to question whether or not he was even a Christian based on his actions, words, and especially how he had treated her. He had only wanted her for sex—sex she had refused. His greater strength prevailed. She experienced a shudder of revulsion at her remembrance of that night. She had been a fool and had never reported him, feeling somehow she was to blame for what happened. Shame had wrapped around her since and increased even more now that she was faced with the consequences of that experience.
Her eyes wandered back to Roberto Rodriguez. He seemed like a gentleman. Was it fair to accept a date with him? She was three months’ pregnant. An unwed mother whose life was upended, and she was undecided about what to do next. She wasn’t showing yet, but soon enough, she would be unable to hide the secret from a new beau, assuming one date led to another.
Physically, she found Roberto attractive. She already resolved that a kiss on the hand was fine, but not on the lips this time around. She would follow her friend Renata’s rules and not be alone in private with a man until she was married. She wanted a guy who would love her for who she was inside, not for her body. She sighed. Her body wouldn’t be looking so hot before long.
She would keep the date. What could it hurt? She fingered the business card in her pocket and smiled. God, what are you up to bringing a new man into my life now?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Susan M. Baganz chases after three Hobbits, and is a native of Wisconsin. She is an Acquisitions Editor with Prism Book Group, specializing in bringing great romance novels and novellas to publication. Susan writes adventurous historical and contemporary romances with a biblical world-view.
Her stories have been featured in in Splickety Magazine and in the I Choose You anthology with OakTara Press. This is her first contemporary romance novel in the Orchard Hill Series, the second, Salsa and Speedbumps, will follow. She is represented by Mary Sue Seymour for her adventurous Regency Romances.
Susan speaks, teaches, and encourages others to follow God in being all He has created them to be. With her seminary degree in counseling psychology, a background in the field of mental health, and years serving in church ministry, she understands the complexities and pain of life as well as its craziness. She serves behind-the-scenes in various capacities at her church. Her favorite pastimes are lazy...snuggling with her dog while reading a good book, or sitting with a friend chatting over a cup of spiced chai latte.You can learn more by following her blog www.susanbaganz.com, her Twitter feed @susanbaganz or her fan page, www.facebook.com/susanmbaganz.