Friday Sneak Peek – From Here On Out

Looking for a fun Christian romance to read this weekend? Check out this sneak peek of my book From Here On Out, which is available for just $3.99 on Amazon or FREE on Kindle Unlimited! You can find the book here.

fromhereonout

EEN

Kaitlyn Smith had never understood the appeal of a huge wedding.

A dozen bridesmaids, a five course reception meal, so many flowers that the floral scent would follow the guests home afterwards – it wasn’t very practical. And if Kait was anything, it was practical.

Her sense of practicality was why this wedding so thrilled her. The simplicity, the orderliness, the cleanness of it all – it was perfect.

Oh, and it also thrilled her because the bride was her baby sister.

Kait finished her drink, putting the glass on the bar with a gentle clink, and smiled to see Madison across the room, expertly ignoring their mother. That was no small feat as the woman who had birthed them and then filled their lives with one drama after another was loudly going on and on about all that hadn’t gone right during the small church ceremony. It wasn’t right unless it was a huge production, and it wasn’t grand enough, and blah, blah, blah –

Madison wasn’t hearing a word. She wasn’t hearing anything but all the things Grant, her new husband, was saying with his eyes as he held her in his arms.

The rest of the guests were gone. Only Kaci, Kait, and the happy couple lingered in Grant’s restaurant. There would be no grand send-off for the newlyweds as they only planned to go upstairs to the small apartment that they’d call home, so the rest of the guests had left already, on to their own lives.

Yes, Kaci had freaked out about that, too. No grand exit in a fancy limo with birdseed, bubbles, or other assorted hoo-haas being thrown at the couple. The only thing that had upset Kaci more was Grant’s footwear, as she insisted that a man couldn’t get married wearing sneakers.

He could. And he had.

“Mother,” Kait said, using her work voice. “I need to get to the airport.”

Kaci rolled her eyes. “Tonight? You couldn’t wait to fly out until –”

“Work is work, Mother,” Kait smiled. “I don’t call the shots. You know that.”

While she didn’t call all the shots, she called some. She could’ve waited until tomorrow, until a week from now, but this was one of her gifts to Madison and Grant – getting Kaci out of the building tonight.

“And I suppose you need a lift,” Kaci grumbled. “Your father couldn’t handle that, huh?”

“Nope,” Kait said, very simply. Their father had ducked out early with his own wife, eager to get away from Kaci as well.

This had been the norm for all the big moments in Kait and Madison’s lives. High school graduation, leaving for college, homecoming court, another graduation, and now marriage… all with Brent and Kaci and their drama.

“Oh, and Aunt Tracy told me to remind you to call her before you head out tonight. Something about having you pick up something for her before you leave town.”

“Oh, I’d nearly forgotten!” Kaci exclaimed, pulling her phone out of her purse. “Shoot! My battery’s dead! I’ll just charge it here, and –”

“No time, Mother,” Kait said, moving her along. “Gotta charge it in the car. Say your goodbyes to the newlyweds.”

Kaci frowned at her, then turned to Madison.

“Maddie,” she said, sighing, “I hate to run off like this, but your sister’s insane schedule has –”

“We know,” Madison answered, turning to face her mother, smiling as Grant slipped his arms around her waist from behind. “Thanks, Mom. For being here. I know it was a long trip, and –”

“Well, I wouldn’t have missed it,” Kaci said, looking back at her phone, hardly hearing what Maddie was even saying. “I’ve gotta bar, Kait! Look at that! Enough juice to get me to the car, at least!”

“Goodbye, Kaci,” Grant murmured to her retreating back.

“Come on, Kait,” she said, ignoring him, still angry about the shoes, obviously. “This battery won’t last long –”

“You go on out,” Kait answered. “I’ll be there in a second.”

And Kaci mercifully left, prompting the sisters to look at one another and grin.

“Praise the Lord,” Kait said. “I know I shouldn’t wish ill on the woman, but –”

“You’re a saint,” Madison said, moving away from Grant so as to reach out and embrace her sister. “For not wishing ill on her after all the drama she tried to create today.”

“She tried to instigate a fight with Paula in the bathroom. Told her that her butt looked huge in her dress,” Kait whispered, thinking on how their stepmother had very nearly punched Kaci right in the face. “And it did, which should have given Mom more reason to shut her mouth as Paula is big enough to beat the crap out of her skinny butt, right? I had to drag her out of there, even as the two of them were screeching at one another.”

“Well,” Madison sighed. “You can understand it… since Mom is insane!”

Grant laughed softly at this, prompting Kait to walk over to him and hug him close.

“You’re married into the insanity now, Grant,” she said. “But my Maddie is worth it. And I have a feeling you’re worth whatever insanity you’re bringing to the table.”

Grant looked over at Maddie and smiled again. “We’ll be okay. No matter what. Now that we’re together.”

And Maddie, still blushed and breathless, as she had been all afternoon, beamed at him.

Oh, the sap. It was really, really thick in here.

Kait suppressed a sigh, then took a breath. “And with that, I’m the only one keeping the two of you from heading upstairs and getting the honeymoon started, huh?”

Madison blushed even further at this… as did Grant, even as he smiled over at his bride.

Yeah. It was time to go.

“Will you come back for Christmas?” Madison asked softly.

Kait shrugged. “I’m not sure where I’ll be,” she said. “But we’ll keep in touch. Better than we have. I promise.”

There had been years of near-silence. Madison had been different, Kait had been preoccupied, and without stable parents to hold the family together, contact had been sporadic. But Kait hoped it was about to change.

So did Madison, apparently, if the tears in her eyes were any indication.

“Hey, I want to give you something,” she said. “Grant, I’ll be right back.”

“Sure,” he murmured, even as Madison kissed him lightly then took her sister’s hand and walked her up the narrow staircase to her new home…

… which was tiny.

The restaurant itself was a decent size, but the apartment upstairs was built for one. Well, almost one. There was a half kitchen, a bathroom, and a tiny all purpose room, which seemed to serve as a living area, bedroom, and workspace, with Maddie’s desk crammed into a corner.

“Wow,” Kait said, surveying the cramped space. “Living large, huh?”

“We will be,” Maddie said, smiling. “I’m moving in after the honeymoon. Most of my stuff is still back at my place.”

“Good grief,” Kait muttered, looking around. “With all of your stuff it’s going to be tight.”

“Just right for two,” Madison answered, going over to a box in the corner. “It’s not that huge house I was living in, but… I’m not taking royalties for my books anymore.”

Madison was a writer of… well, smutty books, quite frankly. Kait had often wondered how her sweet, innocent younger sister knew enough to write the stuff she had written, to act the way she acted to promote it all, and to be the woman behind the audacious pen name “Vivian Chase,” but she’d done so with raging success, all while Kaci guided her career. But Madison had come back to Christ this past year, and the quiet, shy, genuine woman she truly was underneath the fake persona had blossomed and grown.

She was Madison Smith again. Or rather, Madison Finn, now with Grant’s last name as hers.

“I don’t think it would be wrong to take enough to support yourself,” Kait argued.

“No need,” Madison said. “I’m still doing freelance projects. And, of course, there’s Grant. And the restaurant. And this.” She found what she was looking for in the box and handed it to her sister.

Kait looked down at the book. Cute cover. Cute title. Cute name. Madison Finn.

“You’re writing again?” Kait asked.

“Yeah,” Maddie nodded, smiling faintly. “New genre… obviously. But romance, still. Just a whole lot cleaner.”

“You know,” Kait said, studying the book, “I find it incredibly ironic that as you were writing some really spicy stuff earlier, you were living a rather chaste existence.”

“Completely chaste,” Maddie murmured, blushing.

“And now? Now that you’re writing clean stuff, you’re about to start living… well, living the dream, so to speak.”

Madison watched her for a stunned moment… and then, they both burst out laughing.
Good for Maddie, who had, even in her bliss and elation from the day, looked just a little high-strung and anxious as well. Kait could attribute most of what her sister was surely feeling to the thoughts they likely both had regarding marriage – how difficult it would be, how hard it would be, how there was no guarantee that Grant would be who he said he would be.

There was anxiety over this, likely. And then anxiety about the good parts of marriage, the enjoyment that Maddie and Grant had saved until vows were said.

“Kait,” Maddie said, clinging to her sister’s arms as they laughed, “I’m so nervous about tonight that I’m laughing at all the totally inappropriate moments, you know?”

“Is that why you started giggling when Grant was saying his vows?” Kait laughed at her, thinking of Maddie literally shaking with laughter as Grant regarded her with an amused, albeit confused smile, promising to love and cherish her.

“Yes!” Maddie giggled. “Like that time in high school when Eric Jones –”

“Tried to kiss you underneath the bleachers!” Kait yelled, thinking of the older boy and how nervous Maddie had been back then when he’d shown her attention. “And after all the time I took, coaching you through how you were supposed to stand, tilt your head, move your tongue –”

“Didn’t even know tongues were involved until you told me about it,” Maddie groaned, grimacing at the memory. “My big sister, handing out the advice that I would have been too embarrassed to ask anyone else. What with all of your experience –”

“Which I should have been embarrassed about,” Kait said. “The only reason I knew anything about Eric Jackson anyway was because I’d done far more with him than you’d have ever imagined when you were standing with him under those bleachers giggling like a fool.”

She swallowed, sobered by the images and memories this brought to mind. Of who she’d been. Of where she’d been. Of all that she’d been trying to fill, all the empty spaces in her heart, back when their father had left them.

Maddie met her eyes, understanding in them.

“Thank God for grace,” Kait said for them both.

“Amen,” Maddie murmured, looking down at her wedding band.

Redemption meant this for Maddie, who had gone a step beyond where Kait was.

Trusting a man, trusting him enough for marriage, planning a normal life beyond the hurts of childhood, the distrust built in them as young women.

Maddie had moved on. Maddie was moving on.

Kait couldn’t fathom how she could do it.

“Married,” Kait practically whispered. “You’re married.”

“I know,” Maddie murmured, just a hint of panic in her eyes. “I know, Kait.”

After a long pause, Maddie took a breath and smiled again. “So, advice. For your little sister, going into her wedding night.” Again with the giggling.

“Well,” Kait sighed, glad for the joy in her sister’s eyes, eclipsing the anxiety that would likely always be there. “Get the nervous giggling under control. The last thing Grant needs is you bursting out laughing when he takes off his clothes.”

This made Maddie laugh so hard she actually snorted.

“Yeah, that’s what he doesn’t need,” Kait laughed at her. “Pull yourself together, woman.”

“Okay, okay,” she said with several long breaths. “And then?”

“Well, I should’ve come into town earlier to take you shopping and make sure you had something cute to wear underneath that wedding dress.”

“Already taken care of,” Maddie said, smiling smugly.

“Good girl,” Kait nodded. “And then, just…” She fell silent as she looked at the joy in Maddie’s eyes, the shine of love on her face, the hope for the future.

“What, Kait? What then?” she asked, and Kait could have sworn she was thirteen again, sitting in the bedroom they shared growing up, begging for advice while a sixteen year old Kait doled it out, pretending to be an expert.

Boys are stupid, Maddie. And totally unreliable. What really matters is knowing who to kiss and when to kiss him so you have an in with the popular girls at school. It’s not about the boys, because boys? Are here one day and gone the next. Look at Dad.

He’d really done a number on them. Kaci, too. Praise God for redemption, grace, and being new in Christ, a transformation that had come for both sisters and had healed them from the past.

Well, mostly.

“Kait…” Madison whined.

“Oh, good grief,” Kait sighed, “don’t whine. I can’t stand the whining.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just been a really big day. And tonight…” Again with the giggling.

Kait rolled her eyes. “Okay, then. Advice.”

“I’m ready,” Madison said, finally ceasing the giggles.

Kait put her hands to her baby sister’s face. “What is it you love about him, Maddie?”

“Well,” she sighed, radiant joy in her voice, “he’s so godly and compassionate and protective and wonderful and… when I’m with him, I don’t think about all the things I want to do one day, all the places I’d like to go, all the things I’d like to be. Because when I’m with Grant? I’m already there. I have everything I want. I’m everything I want to be.”

“Wow,” Kait breathed after a long moment of silence. “That’s really sappy.”

“It’s the truth,” Maddie laughed. “Said in a sappy way maybe, but –”

“That’s why you’re the romance writer,” she said.

“Mmm.”

Kait smiled. “Just remember that. What you said about him. Remember that. Every moment. Not just tonight. But every moment from here on out. Remember who he is. Always have that look on your face when you talk about him.” She reached out and held Maddie close, her book in between them. “I love you, Maddie.”

“I love you, too. Thank you.”

“And,” Kait said, “I’ll be reading your book on the long flight.”

“Where to?” Maddie asked, wiping at the tears that had gathered in her eyes.

“Wherever they send me,” Kait said, winking before she finally turned to go.

 

“They” were thirty, older, rather overweight, white men. They made stupid jokes, were staunchly conservative, and put high stock in numbers. They were influential, opinionated, and almost always in agreement with one another.

They were the trustees – the mysterious “they” who ran the mission board.

When Kait was a little girl, her ambition had never been to sit in meetings with men like this, getting orders to go on number-searching missions all over the world, and reporting back to the powers-that-be exactly what was going on with the denomination’s money and doing their bidding with the personnel on the field. Her aspirations and hopes had never been towards any career like this one.

She’d wanted to be a pop star, honestly, jumping all over a stage with her curly red hair bouncing with her, shaking her stuff for the crowds, and getting a world’s worth of applause for her efforts.

But she had no talent for it, and by the time she’d aged enough to realize that, she was a boy crazy teenager who didn’t think beyond the next conquest, how far she could go without being a slut… and then, just not caring if she was a slut or not because any attention was better than being nothing.

Kait felt like nothing, thanks to an absent father, a mother who couldn’t stand her, and a sister who was just as messed up as she was. She had been heading down a dangerous road with her reckless living, her wild choices as a teenager, and her complete disregard for everyone and everything around her.

And then, Jesus had changed everything.

It sounded cliché. She knew it. But it had been truth for her, a reality she never would have expected, and an introduction to a man who was like no one else.

He was a shining knight called Faithful and True, risen from the words of life spoken over her by her college roommate, a man who had pursued her every moment that first semester in college, as she went to class, as she sat in lectures, as she partied, as she thought on Him, as she tried to ignore Him, as she thought about Him, as He pursued her even in her dreams. Kait had since heard miraculous accounts of Christ appearing to unreached people in their dreams, in places where the Gospel had not yet gone, but they had never seemed miraculous to her. Because she had lived it. In the hurting, bruised, and destroyed heart of a nineteen year old girl, where the Gospel had not dared to ever venture in any meaningful way, Christ swept in so powerfully, so honestly, and so clearly that there was no denying Him.

He was the only man she’d ever trusted, and in retrospect, she’d chosen very well, seeing as how He’d never let her down, not once, in all the years she’d been living for Him.
She’d taken life more seriously from that point on, leaving her burdens with Him and picking up His cause and His mission as her own. When she felt the call to ministry, she counted it as wonderfully resourceful of the Lord to use even her messed up past with a deadbeat father and a lunatic mother. Because things had been so bad, she had no qualms about leaving, about packing up and following Him, and leaving everyone behind. She rejoiced that she had no ties to anyone anywhere, that she was able to go anywhere and do anything. She’d made wonderful choices during college that established helpful connections to people in the board and had set herself up for a career on the mission field. What she’d thought would be a career planted in a remote jungle somewhere had turned into a position as a liaison for the board, traveling to the far reaches, meeting with personnel, and using her frank, honest people skills to fix problems.

Kaitlyn Smith. The mission board’s answer to personnel problems and their accompanying financial problems on the foreign mission field.

It wasn’t glamorous work. In fact, it was ugly work most of the time. But she did it as unto the Lord, and she did it with excellence. Sweeping in, cleaning up messes, righting wrongs, and moving personnel when they were no longer doing what the board needed for them to do.

She was in between assignments and eager to get intel on the next destination when she sauntered into the offices that next morning, a Dr. Pepper in her hand, her messenger bag across her body, and her phone held up to her ear.

“Well, that’s the most confusing thing I’ve ever heard,” she said simply. “And I’ve spent the last three months in a village with fourteen different dialects, not a one of them recognizable by the others.”

Her secretary’s eyes met hers, a question in them.

“All intonation differences,” Kait whispered, setting her drink on the desk and pulling some papers out of her bag. “Need a flight scheduled for tomorrow,” she murmured. “This destination. The visa came through. Finally.”

She picked the Dr. Pepper back up and pointed herself towards her office. “Yeah, I’m still here,” she said to the person on the other end. “Hold up a sec.”

And she made her way into her office, shutting the door behind her and letting out a breath. “Okay,” she sighed. “Privacy, at last. This next group of missionaries must be well known because I swear, everyone is staring at me today!”

They were. All the time. An air of dread followed her, even here. Every eye had been on her as she’d walked through the offices, so much so that she’d wondered if she had offended them all somehow.

She knew about offending people, unfortunately.

She was in charge of personnel issues, of course… as far as going overseas and delivering bad news went. That was where the ugly part came in. She didn’t make the decisions herself, but after the unfortunate decisions had been made, she was the one sent to deliver the details. They were hard decisions, unpopular decisions, and the board needed a scapegoat.

Hence the looks. Kait knew that’s who she was. The scapegoat.

Or one of two scapegoats. Mark was the other one.

Mark, who even now, lowered his voice on the other end of the phone from the other side of the world. “Maybe it’s the way you’re dressed. Have you gotten back into normal clothes?”

She put down her bag, smiling at this, even as she flipped on the radio on her desk. Country music, a little on the loud side, filled the office. “Yes, I am,” she said. “And it’s horrible. I hate clothes.”

“You’re not in the jungle anymore,” he said, laughing again, having had this conversation with her more than once over the years. “You’re at headquarters, where everyone is business casual.”

“Sure am,” she said. putting down her bag and pulling out what she’d need this afternoon as she made calls and booked everything for her next trip. “Seems kinda silly to be all dressed up like this, with the expectation that it’ll make my work more efficient. Because I’ve gotta tell you. Those women in Papau New Guinea worked ten times harder than I ever have, and they were half-naked.”

They had been. The missionaries she’d been sent to help out with some team conflict issues had resolved things quickly enough – a success story that didn’t happen often – which left her with more time to spend working alongside them, doing their evangelism and outreach with nationals.

Extraordinary, working like this, being the hands and feet of Christ in the farthest reaches.

But even then, even there, Kait had felt a pull back to the US, back to the next thing, back to whatever came next.

“You didn’t go topless while you were there, did you?” Mark asked, chiding in his voice.

“No, I was perfectly modest,” she said, sorting through the papers she’d pulled out of her bag. “The red hair made me enough of a freak there, and I didn’t figure I needed to add to that. Kept a shirt on, but I did allow myself some freedom underneath. Glorious. You have no idea.”

“I really don’t,” he said. “And we’ve been living two very different realities, Kait. I haven’t even seen a woman’s face in two months.”

Kait smiled, thinking of Mark dressed in a thwab, out in the hot Saudi Arabian desert, his Arabic so perfect that no one would guess he was a Westerner, especially if he wore sunglasses that hid his blue eyes. No one knew they had personnel there, and the workers had to be very discreet. The pressure was great. So great, in fact, that there were issues because of it now. In-fighting, conflict, divisions in the small group of missionaries, all there on visas for businesses that the government would never see as suspicious.
But there would be plenty of suspicion if the depressed, stressed missionaries couldn’t get it together. Which is why Mark was there.

“Haven’t seen a woman’s face in two months,” she murmured, thinking on how the whole ordeal was likely just as stressful for Mark, how stressful it would be for her. “That’s crazy.”

“I’d give anything to see your face right now,” he murmured back. And at this, she closed her eyes and thought it again… please, please, please Mark… don’t do this. Don’t make this weird. He was one of the few friends she had with her crazy schedule, and she didn’t want to lose him to more, to the expectation of more, to the hope of more, which she just couldn’t give.

Because… men. She could work with them and get along with them, but trusting them with more? Her mind went back to her father every time she felt herself feeling anything.

Thank you, Brent and Kaci.

Before Mark could say anything more, the call to prayer started up on his end of the line. Kait could hear it blaring through her phone. “Wakey, wakey, Marky,” she said. “Good morning.”

“Yep,” he sighed. “That’s my cue to get up and start another day.”

“How many more days do you have?” she asked, finally sitting at her desk and starting her computer, mentally calculating what she would be able to get done this late in the day after a long morning spent running errands around town.

“Another month,” he said. “I’m going to stay long enough to make sure they’re really okay. It’s so tough here.”

“I’ve been praying for them,” she said simply, imagining what it was like, given the details Mark has passed along to her. “I’ve been praying for you.”

“We should meet up halfway after I’m done here,” he said. “You’ll be at your next assignment for the next month, right?”

“And not a day later,” she said, hoping the job would wrap up that quickly. “We should definitely meet halfway then come back the rest of the way together.”

“A traveling buddy,” he enthused. “Someone to watch my stuff while I sleep in the airport.”

“I’ll totally be your stuff watcher,” she said. “We’ll make a plan. Europe. Pick a country, any country.”

“Where are you going that Europe is halfway home?” he asked.

“Sub-saharan Africa,” she said.

“Hey, losing some clothes,” he said. “Again.”

“You shut up,” she scolded, thinking of the research she’d already done on the destination. “And it’s not that kind of Africa. I’m going to a tourist community. On the beach.”

“You really suffer for Christ, Kait,” he said.

“And how,” she grinned, looking over the papers she now had spread out over her desk, all of them with greater details on where she was heading next.

“What’s the name of the place?” he asked.

“Namibia,” she answered.

“Never heard of it,” he said.

“Yeah, me neither,” she murmured, thinking of all that she hadn’t known until just recently regarding this part of the world. It wasn’t in her list of most coveted destinations, given that she, nor no one she knew, had ever even heard of it.
Namibia. The smile of Africa. The middle of nowhere.

“And what personnel issues are you clearing up there, Miss Smith?” Mark asked, in his best impression of a trustee voice.

And she took a breath at the enormity of what she’d be doing… and forced a smile anyway. Because this was work. This was ministry.

This was life for Kaitlyn Smith.

“I’m going there to tell two career missionaries that we’re cutting off funds. Forced retirement for…”

And she checked the names, willing herself to remember them…

“…Daniel and Sara Boyd.”

 

TWEE

A few days later, she was halfway across the world.

Every time she arrived at her point of departure airport, she set her watch for her destination. It was the fulfillment of a suggestion made to her back at the beginning of her career, when her passport was empty and she didn’t know what jet lag was. Now, every time, she would set her watch forward, ahead, backwards, behind, whatever the destination called for and called her towards.

So from the moment she boarded the plane in Richmond, she began tricking her body into believing that she was already in Namibia. It worked, oddly enough, and the tactic she’d been using for years served her well on this time around the world and over the equator.

She spent the Namibian nighttime napping, thankful as always that she was one of those rare people who can sleep on command, simply because her logic demanded it. She spent the Namibian daytime reading Maddie’s book, sipping water, and getting out of her seat every hour on the hour just to keep from getting all cramped up.

She was an excellent traveler by necessity and experience, clearly. So, it was no surprise that she left the last flight more refreshed than she’d been getting on the first one.

But it was surprising that she left that last flight with a silly grin on her face.

Maddie’s book. The story was sappy. Oh, wow. It was sappy. Girl meets boy. Girl has huge trust issues because she has even more gigantic daddy issues. Boy is just about perfect. Girl fights against falling for boy. Girl does anyway.

Happy, happy. Diamond rings, weddings, and babies on the way.

Cliché and predictable. But sweet. So sweet, even in the great improbability that life actually happened that like. Reading it made Kait feel like she’d been there to witness some of Maddie’s joy herself, as she’d so clearly written her own story, her own happiness, into her novel. And Kait now felt like she really knew Grant, fully and completely, as the male protagonist of Maddie’s little romance was obviously his fictional twin. His quirks, his habits, his passions, his hopes – all there in her book, written in such a way to make Grant Finn look like the most amazing and desirable man in all the world, sent straight from God to love her through all the issues and struggles it would take a lifetime to sort out.

She liked her brother-in-law even more after all that. He would be good to Maddie and would help her continue, through Christ, to piece together all that had fallen apart in her life back when their father and their mother had destroyed one another.

Good for him. Good for her. So, so good of God, to orchestrate it all just so.

Kait’s mind was on the sweet love story as she made her way to the line at immigration.

Though it went against everything in her rational and logical mind, everything that had taken years to build up and cement in her heart, Kait found herself wondering, if only for a moment, what it would be like if she was interested in a happily ever after for herself.

Not that she was, of course. And not like this was the time or the place, she noted, as she checked her phone to see what the coverage was like here in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.

Walvis Bay, Namibia. The middle of nowhere on the smile of Africa.

She moved quickly through the short line for foreigners at immigration, keeping her eyes open and pointed towards the arrival lounge, looking for the older missionary couple she had been assigned to reassign… to retirement.

Daniel and Sara Boyd, she reminded herself. Long term people. Him longer than her, appointed in a career status post-seminary decades ago, back when he was single. Then, she’d been appointed in a short-term capacity. They’d left the field six months later and had come back another six months after that, married and ready to work alongside one another.

That’s what they’d been doing now for almost thirty years.

They would be Kaci’s age, likely, and they would likely look unhappy to see her, as most missionaries were. She had a reputation, she knew, and she was prepared for unpleasantness as that reputation had likely preceded her arrival here, as she made her way into the lounge, tucking her passport back into her messenger bag.

These were never happy welcomes.

She grabbed her checked bags from the only luggage carrousel in the small airport and looked around again for the Boyds. No obvious matches there near baggage claim as the few people gathered in the area had already met up with their passengers and were making their way out. She picked up her suitcases and made her way to a more probable meeting place for the irritated missionaries, just outside of the baggage claim.

But as she exited into the main terminal, she didn’t see any grim faces. She didn’t see much of anyone apart from other exiting travelers and airport workers.

Hmm.

Was it so bad that they were going to make her call a cab? That they would refuse to come and give her a lift to… what was that town’s name again? Swakopmund?

And who even knew how far away that was? It would be an expensive cab ride. More mission board money, down the toilet.

She shook her head at this, making her way to the taxi stand, considering her options as she searched her phone for any other ways to get to Swakopmund. She was nearly settled on a solution, her bags at her feet, when she heard a deep voice behind her. “Uh… miss?”

“Yes,” she said, sighing with some relief, assuming that the voice belonged to her missionary after all. She turned, and without her permission, her eyes widened just a little and her mouth dropped open at the man who stood before her.

Older missionary? Older, angry missionary? Not hardly.

No, this man was young. And hot. Kait felt her defenses raise themselves up as she took him all in.

Every wide, impressive, muscular, tanned, glorious inch of his hotness, and –

Kait forced herself past this and shut her mouth, just a little mortified by her initial reaction. She chided herself as he watched her silently for a long moment.

Men were stupid. Unreliable and stupid. And just thinking of her father, of good old Brent, like she thought of Brent every time she started to find herself looking twice at a man, she frowned.

“So sorry,” he said, tentatively, apologetically, as she continued scowling at him. “Are you with the mission board? From the States?”

“Yes,” she answered tightly, wondering how this deeply accented young man, clearly not Daniel Boyd (as if his age hadn’t been enough of a tip off), knew this. It was sensitive information, who she and Mark were and who they worked for, traveling as they did to countries closed to the Gospel and missionary work.

“Oh,” he said, great surprise in his eyes, even as he lifted one eyebrow at her and crossed his arms over his chest.

Wow. He was really hot.

She frowned even more. “And you are…?” she hissed.

“Ag, man, I’m Pieter Botha,” he said, staring at her. “And you are a… well, you’re a woman.” He said this with disbelief as though she might also be amazed to know that she was, in fact, female.

Oh, so he was an idiot. That made it much easier to deal with him.

“Wow, Pieter Botha,” she said, condescendingly. “Your observation skills are astounding.”
He grinned a very cute little crooked smile at this. “Shame, man.”

Shame, indeed. That smile was distracting. She reminded herself again that he was an idiot.

“I only meant,” he said, grinning, unaware of the conflict this was creating for her, “that I was not expecting the mission board representative to be a woman. And a young woman at that. Well.” He took a breath. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch your name.”

He held his hand out to shake hers.

“Kaitlyn Smith,” she said, cursing her pulse for speeding up as she put her hand to his.

She took it back abruptly. “I was supposed to be meeting the Boyds.”

“Ja,” he said. “They had it on the schedule to come and fetch you, but we had a last minute mix-up with times and a conference from the States.”

“A conference?” she asked, wondering at this, thinking of her notes and the file the board had on the Boyds. It had all been left to her… or so she thought. “Has the board been corresponding with the Boyds while I’ve been traveling?”

“Oh, no,” Piet said, smiling again. “No, it was a bit more personal than that, this conference. A conference call, that is. It was a wedding. We were all attending a wedding. My brother’s wedding.”

She narrowed her eyes at the curiosity of this. “A wedding in the middle of the night?”

“Ja,” he nodded. “Well, I mean they weren’t here in Namibia. They’re in the States, like I said. We watched it on a laptop. But my mother insisted we all dress up like we were actually there and that we all get together and throw ourselves a party in my brother’s honor.” And he smiled. “And my new sister-in-law, of course. And we lost track of time, and the Boyds were chatting with friends at the wedding, so I volunteered to come and fetch you myself.”

“Fetch me,” she said, sorting through his lengthy explanation. Weddings, family celebrations, the Boyds right in the middle of it without any concern over a worker from the mission board arriving at their doorstep…

“Shame, man,” he said again. “Which is why I’m here. Have you more bags besides these, Kaitlyn?”

She smiled tightly, thinking to all the work ahead of her, of the surprise it would be to them all as they were hardly expecting upheaval as they went on living their lives like normal. “That’s it. And I go by Kait.”

“Kait,” he said, smiling at her again. “And I go by Piet.”

“Piet.” She let her eyes roam over him one last appreciative time.

Out of her system now. Hopefully.

“Ja, man,” he said, grinning at her and gesturing towards the dark parking lot. “Shall we?”

“Might as well,” she said, ready to get this all done.

 

He regaled her with facts and stories on most of the short drive from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund. On and on he talked, about everything, about nothing, about anything that would keep silence from reigning in the car. He pointed out sights and areas of interest as he drove, while she said very little in response.

Seriously. The man was an idiot.

Why was he an idiot? Well, first off, it was pitch black outside. She couldn’t see anything that he was pointing out. Absolutely nothing. But it didn’t matter to Piet. He kept right on with the tour, acting as though she could see it all.

And he also kept blabbering on about the wedding, his brother, the Boyds, all of it, until she felt like she knew them all personally, down to their shoe sizes and their most heartfelt, deepest dreams.

The man could talk.

She was grateful when he finally shut up long enough that she could properly think through a schedule for the next day and the next week.

Kaitlyn Smith, personnel manager for the mission board. This was what she did best.
She would deliver the news first. Tell them that they had done their job. Tell them that they had served Christ well. Tell them that they had reached senior level and were, as such, too expensive to keep around.

Tell them that they were outta here.

Easier said than done, likely… but she’d have to do it.

Then, she would have the Boyds walk her through what was going on at different locations throughout the country. What was viable without them (all of it, likely), what could be carried on without them (all of it, likely), and what property could be left and deeded over to the national believers who would stay here (all of it, likely).

There would be no need for shorter term (in other words, cheaper) personnel because the national workers could take it over. There would also be no need for long term younger (in other words, cheaper) personnel because the national workers had it all under control.

There would be, in other words, no reason for the mission board to continue pouring money into this place with such a small population when around the world there were megacities full of people who had never had access to the Gospel.

The money they would save here would go there.

More people saved. Done and done.

It just made logical sense.

She would explain this to the Boyds.

Then, they would take care of signing everything over during the next few weeks. Buildings, supplies, mission houses – all that the Boyds had done would be deeded to the national workers who would stay.

And then, Kait would have the Boyds sent back to the US.

Done. All of it. In less than a month.

She very nearly sighed at the relief she was already feeling, the pull she could already sense, back to the US, back to the next assignment, back to whatever came next.
It would be that easy to finish this up and leave.

“Kait,” Piet said softly just as they came over a hill and could see lights up ahead. Several dozens of them, illuminating what looked to be a small town. A lighthouse, rows and rows of houses, streets of shops and churches, the beach to their left, the dunes to their right, barely discernible in the faint light.

Swakopmund, hopefully.

Piet glanced over at her. “I don’t know about your arrangements for the night. Are you to stay with Daniel and Sara at the mission house?”

Well, that would start the process earlier than she wanted to start it, honestly. And if it went the way that some of her appointments had gone, it might find her on the streets in the middle of the night in a country she didn’t know, quite frankly. (Been there, done that.)

These things could get messy, after all.

“No,” she said, pulling up her phone again to check the name of the hotel she’d found, where a room was already booked and waiting for her. “I’m staying here.” She held it up for him.

He read it quickly, then directed his eyes back to the road. “Nice place,” he said. “Very expensive, though.”

“Not by US standards,” she noted, thinking that none of the places had seemed very expensive at all. “And I’ve got to stay somewhere.”

“I’ll take you there, then,” he said.

And after a few turns in the sleepy little town, they’d arrived at a rather opulent and grand hotel with a giant fountain out in front and lights lining the walkway to the open-air veranda. Piet met her at the back of the car, where he lifted her luggage out of the trunk for her and made a move to walk her into the lobby.

She stopped him with an upheld hand, which he regarded with a questioning look.

“Hey, Piet, thanks for picking me up,” she said, taking her bags into her hands and already turning to dismiss him.

“Pleasure,” he answered. “What shall I tell the Boyds about you?”

She stopped and looked at him, her mind already on taking a shower and getting into bed. “What do you mean?”

“Well,” he answered, uncertainty in his voice, “about when they’ll need to meet with you. Where they’ll need to meet with you… why they’ll need to meet with you.”

She studied him for a long moment. Why they’ll need to meet with you.

This was odd. Was it possible that the Boyds had no idea at all why she’d been sent? Not even an inkling? She’d figured maybe when Piet had told her about the party they’d all been having, but surely they’d discussed some of the reasons why the board was sending someone.

Or not. Was it possible that they didn’t have a clue what was coming? Was it possible that she was going to blindside them entirely?

“I need to discuss some personnel issues with them,” she said, being as vague as possible. No need to warn the troops and all. Better for her if they didn’t know anything beforehand.

“Oh,” Piet said, obvious concern washing over his features.

Well, then. Maybe they knew something.

She wasn’t sure if she had the upper hand here or not. With the way Piet was watching her nervously now, she wondered if he was thinking what she was thinking.

Maybe. Maybe not. Hard to tell.

“Maybe we should meet up tomorrow morning. At the mission house?” he asked.

“Sounds good. And I’ll be happy to walk over and meet them there,” she said, picking up her luggage again. “It can’t be far from here, right?”

“I could draw you a map,” he said, “but I’d much prefer to come and just fetch you myself and take you over there.”

“Fetch me,” she said again, not entirely liking this phrase as it put her at the mercy of someone else.

Which meant she didn’t have the upper hand.

“Ja, won’t be a problem,” he said, smiling again, obviously pushing aside whatever concern had him frowning earlier. “Shall I come around at nine then?”

And because it would keep her from losing another ten minutes of sleep that it would likely take for him to draw her a map, she agreed.

“That sounds fine,” she said. “Thank you… or, uh, baie dankie. Right?”

She’d picked that up. A quick perusal of a few phrases of Afrikaans, back in her office in the US, just so she’d feel more prepared.

She had no idea if this was even his language, honestly, but figured it was from the light in his eye as she said it.

“Ja, that’s right,” he said.

“Good for me,” she said, yawning.

“Lekker slaap, Kait,” he said softly. “Tomorrow will be a good day.”

She doubted this, given all that there was to do.

“We’ll see, Piet. We’ll see.”

 

He’d been late the night before, but he was early the next morning.

She’d been up for two hours already, popping out of bed effortlessly at the sound of her alarm, opening up her Bible, and getting right into Scripture.

Every day, started in His Word, just like this. Kait knew a whole lot better than most people out there that there was absolutely no good in her, apart from the grace and goodness of God, working itself out in her. Every morning, she began with this knowledge, that she came to Him with nothing and that every step from then on would have to be all Him or it would be all for naught.

She was entirely dependent on Him, and even with the time she spent in prayer and in study, seeking more of Him, laying herself before Him, and asking Him to work through her for His glory… well, she was still Kaitlyn Smith, quick with a sarcastic word and a bad mood. She’d often marveled at how rotten she still was, even sold out to Jesus, and wondered at how much worse she’d be if she was unredeemed.

“Thank You, God,” she found herself muttering, as she closed her Bible, docked her phone, and started up a playlist of her favorite songs. Country music wafted into the luxurious hotel room as she stood, stretched, and silently wished for a Dr. Pepper to get the day really started.

Oh, well. Some things just couldn’t be had half a world away. Still worth it, though, she thought as she began to get herself ready, praying for the day ahead of her, thinking of all that she was protecting in terms of finance, and all that her efforts were doing for eternity in the long run.

She was still thinking on this an hour later, even as she locked up her room and set her feet towards the task ahead of her.

Forced retirement. For the right reasons.

She made her way down the stairs, heading for the lobby and what she assumed would be a wait since it wasn’t quite nine o’clock. She was surprised to find Piet already sitting on one of the couches, wearing board shorts, a tank top, and flip flops.

Before she could comment on his beachwear, he stood, just as she stepped into the lobby.
He took one look at her and shook his head. “Um, Kait,” he said. “You might want to change clothes. We’ve added something to the agenda this morning, and Daniel asked me to let you know.”

“There’s an… agenda?” she asked. She really didn’t have the upper hand, did she? Without knowing much of anything about what was ahead, they were already calling the shots. And in a completely ironic twist of events, they were trying to micromanage their own termination, slotting her into a spot in the lineup of all they had to do and accomplish.

Well.

“Ja, man,” Piet said, grinning. “Busy day. And you’re not dressed for the first task.”

She looked down at her clothing. Business casual. Nice enough that they’d respect what she had to say as a professional, but not so stuffy that they’d wave her off as not being in touch with the culture around her. A perfect choice, actually.

“What exactly has been added to the agenda?” she asked. “And while we’re at it, what kind of agenda did we have?”

He grinned again. Still cute. Kait frowned at this.

“Ja, well, we were just going to meet with you, obviously,” he said. “And go over business for the week, head out for a few tasks. It’s what they do every week. Daniel and Willem and…”

And he didn’t say anything else. His face fell. Kait thought over her notes and all that she’d already learned about the nationals who worked alongside the Boyds.

She mentally added the third name. Riaan.

She wondered at the solemnity in Piet’s eyes as he left this name unspoken.

“But,” he said, his countenance brightening again, “this morning there’s a baptism, you see. Something that they’d not gotten to in all that has been going on these past few weeks. With my brother going back to the States, getting married, with all the visa issues –”

This? This set off an alarm.

“Visa issues?” she asked.

“Shame,” he said, uncertainty on his face, almost as though he were wishing the words back. “Not really issues, just…”

He watched her for a long moment.

“Shame, man,” he said.

Well, all of her radar was going off now. Something was clearly up with these missionaries. These missionaries who she hadn’t even met yet. These missionaries who were imposing an odd dress code on her when she was their employer.

She could feel herself on the verge of sarcastically telling Piet just exactly what she thought about all of this (all that time with Jesus was keeping her from saying worse, honestly), but Piet spoke before she could.

“But what we must be about this morning is the baptism,” he said, smiling, obviously pleased with himself for having changed the subject so seamlessly. “And Daniel wanted you to experience it along with the rest, along with the meeting and the planning session. Said if the board had sent a representative all this way, then the board needed to jump in with both feet. Metaphorically speaking. Or literally, I guess, since you will have your feet in the water.”

She nodded at this, wondering over what the visa issues could be.

She’d figure it out soon enough.

“Well, I’ll change, then,” she said simply enough.

And she turned from him, went back upstairs, and got herself ready again.

 

Ten minutes later, they were at the ocean’s edge, standing side by side and looking over the water together in silence.

After being such a talker the night before, Piet had been oddly contemplative and silent on the walk over. Kait had spent the time looking around at the small tourist community. Shops opening up, sidewalk cafes serving breakfast, cars driving through the streets with little urgency, all as the sound of the ocean, just steps away, provided a lulling soundtrack to all the activity.

Peaceful. Quiet. Not a bad place, this Swakopmund, especially now as the sun was touching all that Kait could see as she glanced around. Just as she was about to ask Piet about some of the buildings just farther up the coast, she saw them.

Two men and three women, all of them her own parents’ age, were coming from a small parking lot near the beach. Kait let her eyes travel over their faces, thinking of the information she had about the missionaries and the team of nationals they’d built over the years.

Daniel and Sara Boyd. The only ones on the payroll, so to speak. They’d won Riaan and Ana Marie Botha to Christ decades ago, right here in Swakopmund. Then Willem Kotze, who was married now to Sophie Kotze, had come to Christ and had jumped right in on the work as well.

One of them was missing from the group. Kait couldn’t tell who, couldn’t discern which member of the group was who, not as all of their eyes found Piet, one pair at a time.

He smiled at them. They smiled back.

It was a small team. Especially after so many decades of life here.

Once they came within a few feet of one another, Kait prepared herself for introductions, but none were given. The men pulled off their shirts and tossed them to the beach, even as they continued making their way into the water. Piet did likewise, smiling and motioning for Kait to join them.

So, she did, looking around and wondering where the person they were going to baptize was. One of the women (Sara? Sophie? Ana Marie?) began snapping pictures, as another held a tissue to her eyes. No one spoke, no introductions were made, and no explanations were given, as they continued into the water, and Kait was forced to turn her eyes back to the men, struggling to keep up with them as they pushed through the choppy waves at a brisk pace.

She had been all over the world working out personnel issues, had been counted as a missionary by convention officers, churches, and the denomination’s classification, but this was the first time she’d been in any baptismal waters, apart from her own baptism so many years ago at her university. Despite all the issues that were ahead in retiring these missionaries and despite the confusion over there just not being someone to baptize (seriously, where was the convert?), Kait felt the anticipation in the air and was glad to have been invited along to witness what was going to happen.

They were waist-deep in the water when she looked back to the beach to see who would be getting into the water to be baptized… and still saw no one. She turned back around to whisper to Piet, to ask him what was going on, and found her voice silenced completely by the sight that greeted her.

Both men had their hands on Piet, and both were praying for him. One in the Afrikaans that Kait could still barely recognize as such, the other in English.

“Jesus, we thank You that Your blood was sufficient for Piet, that it is sufficient for us all. We thank You that You took his place, that You took the shame and the condemnation that belonged to him, that belonged to us, and that You did so to the glory of Your Father. We thank You for dying in our place, for dying in Piet’s place… then for triumphing over sin, over the grave, over death itself. We thank You that You bring men out of death, out of eternity spent apart from You, and that You bring them to new life. We’ve seen it ourselves, we’ve experienced it ourselves, and we praise You that we’re seeing it happen in Piet’s life.”

The gospel message. Succinctly spoken and shared, here in the Atlantic Ocean, beside a sleepy town, in two languages, prayed over a man who was nodding and smiling at the truth of it, even as he held his hands together like a child praying, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he affirmed what was being spoken, whispering in his own language.

Piet was the convert.

Kait wasn’t sure what conclusions to draw from this all, even as the two men continued praying over him.

“We thank You that in Your timing and in Your way, You have reconciled our brother to Yourself, and we affirm Your hand and Your work in his life. As he publicly confesses what he knows to be truth, as he commits to living life for You and You alone, we covenant to be the men, the family of faith, that will lead him, walk with him, and follow You with him. We thank You for the years that have led up to this… for our brother, Piet.”

And they uttered amens together. The smaller of the two men, the one who had spoken English, nodded at this, as Piet looked at the bigger man and grinned. He grinned back, and Kait noted instantly that they had the same smiles.

Related somehow, then. Like an older and younger version of the same man, now that Kait was looking at them side by side like this.

“Piet, my boy,” he said, in a thick accent, “it’s been a long time coming, but it’s here.” He looked to the other man. “Go ahead.”

“It’s yours to do,” he said, his familiar accent identifying him immediately as an American.

Daniel. The missionary.

“Ja, man,” the older version of Piet nodded. “We’ll do it together.”

They put their hands to Piet and prayed again, proclaiming together that he was now buried with Christ, raised to new life, bought with the blood of Jesus, called to more than who he’d been, sanctioned and set apart for Him forever, from here on out.

And with Kait watching, her breath caught in her throat as she thought about what it meant to be set apart, just as she prayed to be every day, Piet came up out of the water with a triumphant shout, his fists held up in the air as the men with him cheered.

 

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