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Reaching Her Heart: A Christian Romance (Callaghans & McFaddens Book 8) by Kimberly Rae Jordan (1)


Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23
 

 

CHAPTER ONE

Tristan Callaghan moved to the side of the long hallway to let a young couple pass, giving them a smile and a nod before continuing on. Stepping through the door of the large gym located in the school section of the church he regularly attended, he gripped the strap of the messenger bag on his shoulder and wondered what exactly he was doing there.

What on earth had possessed him to agree to teach Sunday School to seven and eight-year-old boys?

Oh, right.

Maya, one of the Sunday School coordinators, had asked him to help out since they were short of teachers, and if there was one person he had a hard time saying no to, it was his sister-in-law. Or maybe he should say sisters-in-law. It was the same with Avery, Belle, Grace, and Hannah. Funny how he had no problem telling his sisters, Sammi and Makayla, no, if he really didn’t want to do something, but he couldn’t do the same with the women who had chosen to marry his brothers.

Bedlam greeted Tristan as he moved further into the gym. The excited conversations of the kids who were already there echoed loudly, bouncing off the lofty ceilings and highly-polished wood floor. Wincing, he paused for a moment to give himself a chance to adjust. It wasn’t that he wasn’t used to chaos—there was no way to be part of a large family like his without learning how to adapt—but this clamor exceeded that by leaps and bounds.

He shifted to the side so that parents coming into the gym to drop their kids off could get past him. After scanning the large room, he spotted Maya and headed in her direction. It was the first Sunday of the church’s fall schedule, so some chaos was to be expected, but he hoped it wouldn’t be quite that bad in the coming weeks.

“Tris!” Maya’s face lit up with a smile when she saw him. After giving him a quick hug, she pointed to a section of chairs. “That’s where the seven and eight-year-old boys are. Once the first part of the hour is over, you’ll be dismissed with your group to your classroom.” She showed him a map of the school, pointing out where his room was located. Thankfully, Tristan was familiar with the school since he’d attended there in the later years of his schooling. “Do you have your books?”

Tristan nodded as he patted the messenger bag hanging from his shoulder. He’d gone over the lesson several times, trying to remember what it had been like to be seven and eight years old so that he could figure out the best way to connect with the boys whose parents had entrusted their sons to him for spiritual guidance.

“We’ll have some singing first, then we’ll dismiss for class time. When you hear the buzzer, that means you have five minutes to wind things down before we all gather back here for closing songs.” She reached out and squeezed his arm. “You’re gonna do great.”

Tristan appreciated the encouraging words because the nerves that had just been low grade before were kicking up now. Nerves over teaching seven and eight-year-old boys? That would be ridiculous for most other men.

His brothers would probably have taken the role in stride. Gabe, for example, would have been excited about it and likely would have wound the boys up. Tristan, however, was more reserved in his interactions with the world at large. He could do this though. He would do this.

“Hi, Tristan.” Standing next to the area Maya had directed him to, the woman greeted him with a smile. “Ready to wrangle some energetic kids?”

Tristan had known Sherry Willis for years. She had worked at the school, and, after being members at the church for as long as his family had been, she and her family were well known to the Callaghans.

“I’m just praying I come out of this alive,” Tristan said as he stood beside her, surveying the children who were wiggling on the seats, some turning to kneel on their chairs in order to interact with the kids behind them.

She laughed then said, “Just don’t let them see your fear. They can be like sharks smelling blood in the water.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Tristan said, his grip tightening on his bag strap.

As he watched the kids, his gaze fell on a little boy sitting on a chair near the end of the row. He looked smaller than most the other boys, and his hands were tucked under his thighs as his feet swung back and forth.

The kid next to him leaned over and jostled his shoulder. The smaller boy shrank back a bit, and Tristan tensed, but when nothing more transpired, he forced himself to relax. Still, Tristan kept his eye on the boy throughout the singing time, watching to make sure he wasn’t being targeted.

The kids’ Sunday School classes ran concurrent to both the adult services, allowing for more interactive learning at appropriate age levels. Thankfully, Tristan was only teaching in the second service.

“Here we go,” Sherry murmured as the person at the front gave instructions on what was going to happen next. When they got to their feet in preparation to lead the kids to their classrooms, she gave him a grin. “Good luck.”

“You too,” Tristan said then turned to look at the boys who were gazing at him with looks of anticipation. “Okay, guys, I’m Tristan, and if you are seven or eight years old, I’m going to be your teacher. Please follow me in a line to our classroom.”

The young boy he’d spotted earlier fell in right behind Tristan, and the rest of the boys formed a rather haphazard line behind him. They weren’t the quietest group, but Tristan let them talk, figuring that it might help them get rid of a little energy before the class started.

When they entered the room, Tristan fought the urge to groan when he saw the height of the table and chairs that had been set up for them. “Have a seat, boys.”

Once they had all claimed one of the primary colored chairs, Tristan grabbed one for himself. He hitched up his slacks then lowered his frame onto the chair, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his thighs as he held their study papers in his hands.

“I know you all have nametags, but how about we share our names and our favorite thing to do?” Tristan suggested as he looked around at the ten boys that were watching him. “I’ll start. As I said before, my name is Tristan, and I like to work on my computer.” He turned to look at the boy to his right. “How about we start with you and go around the circle. What’s your name?”

The boy regarded him with wide brown eyes framed with long dark lashes. His dark brown hair was cut shorter around the sides, much like Tristan’s, but his had a tumble of loose curls across the top. He wore a collared polo shirt in light green. After a quick blink, he said, “My name’s Timothy.”

“Hi, Timothy. What do you like to do?”

He hesitated for a moment then said, “Reading. I like to read.”

Tristan gave him a smile and a nod before moving on to the next boy. As each boy gave his name and what he liked to do, Tristan tried to memorize what they shared. There seemed to be an even split among the popularity of hockey, video games, and riding bikes as favorite pastimes, with Timothy being the lone avid reader in the bunch.

“That’s great. Thanks for sharing, guys.” Tristan took a paper off the stack in front of him and handed the first one to Timothy and then the next to the boy beside him. He leaned forward to hand one to each boy, saying as he did so, “Our lesson today is about Jonah. Can anyone tell me what they know about that Bible story?”

And so began a discussion filled with overlapping voices for the first little while until Tristan finally implemented a hand-raising rule. He wasn’t surprised that he didn’t make it through the entire lesson as it had been laid out in the teacher’s guide, but he was pleased with the progress they made.

He was less pleased with how things had gone for little Timothy. It was clear pretty quickly that the boy had an elevated intelligence. When Tristan had asked if anyone wanted to read the verse on the sheet, Timothy had raised his hand, and at Tristan’s nod, he’d read quickly and with ease, even the names that others might have stumbled over.

A few of the other boys had scowled at him as if realizing that he could read better than they could and not liking it. One of the boys had even whispered smarty-pants to him, prompting Tristan to stop the lesson to talk about how there would be no name calling in their class. Sadly, the name had apparently had its intended effect, and Timothy withdrew, doing the work as Tristan instructed but not saying anything further.

As he led the boys back to the gym for the closing song, Tristan struggled with how much of himself he saw in Timothy. It wasn’t just that Timothy appeared to be smarter than the other kids his age, but it was also his shyness and being smaller than the other children that resonated with Tristan. If not for Sammi, Mitch, Gabe, and Ryan, he would likely have suffered far more teasing, but his siblings made sure that the other kids knew they’d have to deal with them if they teased Tristan.

After the last song, the kids were instructed to stay with their teachers until their parents came to pick them up. Tristan remained with the group, smiling at the parents who came to collect their sons. When the arrival of a slender woman with light brown hair brought a smile to Timothy’s face, Tristan watched them closely. There was no sign of a father, but that meant nothing since she wasn’t the only parent picking up their child alone.

She bent to give Timothy a hug then straightened, taking his hand in hers. Timothy looked over at Tristan, and their gazes met for a moment. The corners of Timothy’s mouth curved up slightly as he lifted his free hand for a quick wave. Tristan returned the wave then looked at Timothy’s mother who gave him a small smile before leading Timothy out of the gym.

As he watched them go, Tristan decided that even though the lesson hadn’t gone as smoothly as he would have liked, it had gone well enough. Maybe next week he’d be able to coax a few more words out of the young boy. He kind of viewed it as a challenge, and it was the kind of challenge he thought he’d enjoy.

Maman!”

Shayna Coran closed her eyes at her son’s summon. Though she was exhausted, she’d made him a promise, and he was going to make sure that she followed through. Not that she didn’t want to, but it would have been nice to have been able to have a nap first.

“Hey, Bug,” Lisa, her roommate, said. “How about you let your mom have a bit of a rest? You know she worked late last night.”

The day Lisa agreed to move in with Shayna and Timothy had been a bright day in a very dark time. She’d willingly stepped in to meet a need Shayna had. Being left a widow with a young child, Shayna had needed help caring for Timothy so she could work in order to support them.

Lisa worked from home and had been more than willing to take on care of Timothy whenever Shayna worked. Thankfully, now that school was back in session, Lisa didn’t have to watch him as often. And that’s what the promised excursion was…a celebration for having the first two weeks of school under his belt.

“The show home opens at nine o’clock. We’ll be late.”

Shayna opened her eyes and rolled her head on the back of the couch so she could see Timothy and Lisa. The other woman reached out and ruffled Timothy’s hair.

“The show home isn’t going anywhere,” she told him gently. “It’s open until five. Let your mom get a little rest first.”

“She said we’d go first thing.” Timothy wasn’t being belligerent with his responses, just stating facts. That was how he was.

“When she said that, she hadn’t agreed to work the extra shift.” Lisa glanced over at Shayna. “Go lay down. You can leave at noon and still make it there in plenty of time.”

Timothy made a noise of protest but said nothing more as he slid his hands under his thighs and focused on the floor. Shayna hated disappointing him, but she was beyond exhausted and didn’t trust herself to drive until she’d had a little bit of rest. Even three hours would be better than nothing.

Pushing to her feet, she gave Lisa a smile of thanks before heading up the stairs to her small bedroom. She’d given the master bedroom to Lisa when they’d moved into the small three-bedroom co-op townhouse. It was the best they could afford on the salaries they each made. She as a waitress at a twenty-four-hour restaurant. Lisa as a freelance graphic designer.

Lisa insisted on paying half the rent even though there was only one of her and two of them. Because of that, Shayna had felt it was right that Lisa have the larger bedroom as well as the office space on the lower level next to the garage.

Tips were never that great on the overnight shift, but she’d worked it as a favor for a young woman whose boyfriend was having a birthday party the night before. And these days, she was picking up all the extra shifts she could.

In her room, Shayna peeled out of her uniform and put it in the hamper of clothes she’d have to wash sometime before her next shift on Monday. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she looked at the pictures on the nightstand and let out a sigh, focusing on the one in the cheap wooden frame.

Even now, six years later, she remembered the day well. She picked up the frame and ran a finger over the glass. They’d been at the beach that day. It wasn’t often that they had gotten out of the city, but it had been her birthday—her twenty-first—and Lorne had surprised her with a trip to a nearby beach as her present.

It had been a wonderful day, playing in the sand with two-year-old Timothy. Splashing in the water. Laughing as the waves came up to the shore. They’d had a picnic on the beach, and Lorne had captured the picture on his phone. Her and Timothy’s cheeks pink from the sun, their hair blowing in the breeze.

Timothy was a beautiful mix of the two of them. Her lighter features had mixed with Lorne’s—who had been of Aboriginal descent—to give Timothy lovely light brown eyes and dark brown hair with auburn highlights that sparkled in the sunshine. While his coloring was closer to Lorne’s, he had more of her in his features, his smiles.

Looking at the picture now, she wondered if she’d ever smile so freely again. It had been three years since Lorne’s murder, but still the memories—the happiest times of her life—were overshadowed by sadness and pain. So much pain.

Shayne’s shoulders slumped as she set the frame back on the nightstand. And it wasn’t just tiredness from the overnight shift. It was the weariness that she felt whenever it seemed she was failing Timothy. She couldn’t even begin to imagine how much worse it would be if Lisa hadn’t been there to help her.

After getting up to close the blinds to darken the room, Shayna set her alarm then crawled under the covers of her bed—only a full size because anything bigger would have been too much for her room. Usually she was the only one in the bed, but sometimes Timothy woke with a bad dream or was sick and she wanted him nearby. She missed the feel of Lorne in her bed, his large solid body beside her, his strong arms wrapped around her.

He’d been her whole world since she’d been fourteen years old, but now he was gone, and every time she woke, it was with the knowledge that he was still gone and would never again be there for her as her husband. Her best friend. Her protector. Her lover.

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