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Authors: Gail Sattler

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BOOK: Secret Admirer
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“For bringing up a touchy subject here, where it had no place. That was poor timing on my part, and I apologize.”

His cheeks reddened. “I appreciate it, but I think I'm the king of bad timing. Please don't think you ever owe me an apology for anything.”

Shannon grinned at him. “Too late. I already apologized, and it's too late to take it back. By the way, I heard you did a great job in calming down one of the customers today.”

“And I hear you cleared up a big muddle after Bryan messed up Jason's time sheet.”

In contrast to the previous half hour, the lunch break flew by so fast Shannon didn't know where the time went.

She also had a feeling the week would be short, too. She didn't know if it was smart to invite Todd to her church, but she couldn't rescind her invitation. So she would make the best of it.

❧

Todd smiled as he worked. It still wasn't a date, but going to church with Shannon was the next best thing. Especially since she was the one who invited him.

He began entering a new pickup into the computer when he heard Shannon's name come up in Gary and Rick's conversation behind him.

Todd made a typo, backspaced, and kept typing, slowly, paying more attention to their words than to the pickup
instructions. He didn't want to hear Gary telling Rick
what
he would like to do on a date with Shannon, but he could
n't stop listening. Something about his words gave Todd the impression it sounded less like a fantasy and more as if Gary thought it was a real possibility Shannon would participate.

In fact, the more he listened, the more it sounded as if Gary and Shannon had a date planned.

Todd's stomach churned. They'd just shared their lunch break, and Shannon hadn't told him she was going out on a date with Gary. If she had, he'd have told her a few of the things Gary said behind her back.

As Todd finished typing the entry, Gary appeared beside him.

“I thought you'd like to know Shannon's falling for it. One day soon, I'll have her.”

Todd spun around to face Gary. “I don't think so. Shannon's not that way.” He opened his mouth, wanting dearly to snap at Gary that Shannon had high moral standards, something Gary didn't, but self-preservation stopped him. He was still in his initial probation period, Gary was his boss, and Todd desperately needed the job. He scrambled to reword his statement, without pointing fingers. “You do know Shannon goes to church every Sunday?”

Gary's eyebrows rose; then he made a sly smirk. “You never know, but maybe one day I'll be going to church, too.”

Gary spun on his toes, laughed heartily, walked into his office, and closed the door.

Todd's mind raced. From what he'd seen so far, Gary would never set foot in a church. But he'd also seen that Gary was wily. He didn't know what was so funny, but he had a feeling he had to find out. While he would have liked to see Gary open his heart to spiritual things, he wouldn't put it past him to attend church solely to impress Shannon. Gary had already used his position and authority to threaten him, without saying so directly. Todd feared he would also try to pressure Shannon in the same way, and he didn't want to see that happen. Gary's decisions carried a lot of weight. He worried Shannon might weaken if Gary turned on the charm; but he also feared what might happen if Shannon didn't do what the man wanted and he didn't take it well.

What made the situation worse was that Gary wouldn't have tried to get Shannon now if it hadn't been for his seeing Todd's Secret Admirer note. The whole thing was his fault.

Somehow, Todd had to find out what Gary was planning and warn Shannon.

He hoped she would listen and take him seriously. He'd told her so often why all her dates and boyfriends were wrong; he wasn't sure she would listen to him anymore.

Until he could find out a way to get Gary to confide in him so he could tell Shannon, he could only advise her to be careful. Then, on Sunday, he could take her out for lunch after church, and finally, they could have their first date. Maybe, if the time was right, he could tell her how he felt, and he wouldn't have to worry about Gary anymore.

Todd smiled. He could hardly wait until Sunday.

Ten

“Hey, Shan. It's me. Todd. Let me in.”

The buzzer sounded. Todd hurried to catch the elevator and was soon standing in front of Shannon's apartment door.

The door opened. Shannon stood in front of him wearing jeans and a T-shirt. A towel was wrapped around her hair. He smiled as he inhaled the heady aroma of her apple-scented shampoo, stronger than ever because her hair was still wet. As if he didn't think enough of Shannon, now every time he smelled apples, he'd think of her even more.

“I was getting ready to go out. What are you doing here?”

His smile disappeared. “Where are you going?”

Her brow creased. “It's Thursday night. I'm going to Bible study.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“Do you go at your church? I know there are several groups to choose from.”

“Yes. But I go Wednesday. Craig and I went last night.” He had come because he didn't want to wait for Sunday and had wrongly assumed she also attended her home group on Wednesday night.

“Since you're here, do you want to come with me?”

Todd followed her as she returned to her room and started blow-drying her hair. “Sure. I'd like that. If I'm invited.”

“Anyone is invited.”

He didn't want to contemplate the impersonal nature of her invitation. He only wanted to talk to her in private.

But since he couldn't talk while she dried her hair, Todd sauntered into the living room and sat down on the couch. Accompanying her tonight wasn't what he had planned, but it wasn't a bad thing. He would still be alone with her for part of the evening, and in that time, they could still talk. A few days ago, when they'd taken a late lunch break and were alone together, he'd had a very enjoyable time, and unless he was mistaken she had, too.

He could see the start of a beautiful relationship, and he wanted to start it today.

Shannon emerged from her room, her hair fluffy and bouncing with the natural wave he liked so much. “We have to leave in ten minutes. I hope you had something to eat before you got here.”

“Yes, I did. You don't have to worry about feeding me. I just thought—”

The buzzer for the door cut off his words.

Shannon picked up the telephone. “Come on up,” she said as she pushed the button.

“Who's that?”

“It's Craig. I have to talk to him about something, and he said he'd come with me. Now you're coming, too. This is going to be a regular party, isn't it?”

He tried to smile. “Yeah. A party.”

Until they started working together, every time he'd been out with Shannon, it was because she'd tagged along with Craig. While he hadn't minded being a threesome before, today he wasn't in the mood to share her with her brother.

Shannon opened the door to let Craig in. Immediately, Craig turned to Todd.

“I thought I recognized your car in the visitor parking. Long time no see, huh?”

“Yeah,” Todd muttered. “Since about this time yesterday.”

“Look at this—the three of us together. Just like old times.”

Todd didn't comment. He didn't want old times. He wanted to make new times. Without Shannon's brother hanging over his head, watching him, protecting his little sister.

“Do you remember the last time the three of us were together?”

“Yeah. We were at church.”

Craig shook his head. “That's different. I was thinking about that time just before Shan moved out. We were at the mall.”

As best he could recall, the last time they were together in public they had been shopping and bumped into Shannon and her friends. It was so long ago he couldn't remember anything about the day, except that it had been good for their male egos to spend the afternoon with Shannon and five or six of her friends.

Shannon's eyes narrowed as she turned to stare at Todd. “I remember that. We all went into the coffee shop together for lunch.”

Todd tried to remember why that detail would have been important.

Her eyes narrowed even more. “You went into the aisle, got down on one knee with a drink in your hand, and started singing Happy Birthday at the top of your lungs. That would have been bad enough, but it wasn't my birthday, and you knew it.”

Suddenly, it all came back. Shannon had wanted a piece of chocolate cake, and she hadn't had enough money in her wallet to cover both lunch and dessert.

He pasted on a grin that he hoped wasn't as phony as it felt. “I was just trying to get you a free piece of cake.”

“I can't remember the last time I'd been so embarrassed. But of course, the last time would also have had something to do with you.”

All thoughts of how much progress he'd made in obtaining a wee bit of forgiveness evaporated.

Craig laughed out loud. “That was so funny! You should have seen your face!”

Todd smiled sheepishly. Back then, her face hadn't looked too cheery, nor did it now. In fact, Todd was glad they were going to a Bible study, where he hoped it would be stressed that God desired people to forgive those who hurt them.

Todd cleared his throat. “I think it's time to leave. Whose car are we taking?”

“Yours. I'm almost out of gas.”

During their ride down the elevator, Todd wished Craig would run out of gas. Craig, in his wisdom, brought up another “amusing” trip down memory lane. Then he detoured on yet another memory in the car. Before Craig retold a fourth instance which involved Todd's humiliating poor Shannon, Todd managed to change the subject. However, he feared his efforts were too little, too late.

Throughout the lesson, Todd sat beside Shannon because he was the only one present who had not brought a Bible. He remained cautious in his comments and questions and tried to honor Shannon in his behavior.

When they returned to her apartment, Craig sat down on the couch, ready to talk about whatever it was Shannon had called him for in the first place. Todd took that as his cue to leave.

She walked Todd to the door.

“Before I go, I wanted to talk to you about something.”

She glanced back at the opening to the living room, then back at him. “Go ahead, but remember Craig is waiting for me. I have to talk to him, and we all have to get up early for work tomorrow.”

He stepped closer and picked up her hands, holding them gently while he spoke. “I just want you to be careful about Gary. Make sure you pray about it before you do any
thing. I really don't think he's your Secret Admirer. Be care
ful with him.”

Her voice skipped. “Of course. . .”

“I'll see you tomorrow, and I can hardly wait until Sunday when I go to your church with you.”

Before she could tell him she changed her mind, Todd turned and left.

❧

“Hi, Shannon.”

Shannon laid her pencil down and folded her hands on the desk in front of her. “Hi, Gary. Is there something I can do for you?”

Gary crossed his arms, leaned on the edge of her desk, and grinned. “Yes. You can join me for dinner tonight.”

Shannon studied Gary. Within the company, he was above her on the corporate ladder, second in command at their branch. While he didn't have any direct authority over her, she knew he was in a position of influence with the company. On the personal side, she knew Gary was young to be in his position, which was a good testimony to his management skills. While she didn't know his exact age, she guessed he was eight years older than she was.

Being a non-Christian, that also meant he had much more worldly experience than she did, both in the dating arena and in dealing with people in general. Gary's reputation preceded him, and his reputation told her this was a situation she didn't want to get involved with. Shannon tended to keep to herself and stayed within her church circles. She wasn't unhappy doing that. Instead, she felt safe and comfortable in her protected circle of friends and Christian family.

Secret Admirer or not, she made her decision.

“I don't know if going out for dinner with you is a good idea. We have to work together, regardless of what happens, if you know what I mean.”

He leaned closer. “I know that, but I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. I know you go to church faithfully, and I was wondering if I could go with you on Sunday. But first I have a few questions.”

Shannon's eyes widened. “You do?”

Gary nodded. “Yes. I thought you'd be the best person to ask.”

Shannon often prayed she could be a good witness at her workplace, to be able to live in a way that people wouldn't write her off as a religious fanatic, yet still live her life to God's glory. She thanked God she could see the fruit of her efforts when someone like Gary could be interested in learning more about Jesus Christ as his Savior.

“I'd be happy to answer any questions you have, although here in the middle of the office isn't the best place.”

“I know. That's why I thought we could go out for dinner.”

Shannon checked the page on her calendar to be sure. “I actually have plans for tonight. Saturday, too. But I can still pick you up on Sunday morning.”

Gary's smile dropped. “I don't know. . . .”

Shannon smiled. “Don't be shy. There's nothing to be afraid of. Give me your address, and I'll pick you up about a quarter to ten.”

“I would prefer to pick you up.”

Shannon forced herself to keep smiling. She thought it would be a good idea for her to be the one providing transportation, because if she were transporting him, it would be harder for Gary to change his mind at the last minute. But for now, she had to take any opportunity she could find to get Gary to church.

She scribbled her address on a piece of paper and slid it across the desk. “Okay. You can pick me up at a quarter to ten.”

Gary grinned, winked, and tucked the note into his pocket. “See you then,” he said as he returned to his office.

Shannon glanced to the dispatch area where Todd was. While it was good to bring a newcomer to church, this did present a complication. She had already arranged to pick up Todd for church on Sunday; but now she wouldn't have her car, and she'd also be with Gary. She thought Todd, a fairly
new Christian, would understand. In fact, Shannon was cer
tain Todd could relate to where Gary was now, since it wasn't that long ago Todd was searching for answers and found them.

She returned to her work. Tonight she planned to have dinner with Craig and some friends from her old church. She figured she'd see Todd there also, so she could talk to him tonight. She was sure Todd would be as happy as she was to know Gary would be at church on Sunday.

❧

“Pardon me? Did I hear you right?”

Shannon leaned closer to Todd so the rest of the people at the table wouldn't hear. “Yes, you heard me right. Isn't that exciting? He even said he has questions.”

She backed up to gauge Todd's reaction, but instead of the smile she'd expected when she told him Gary would be coming to church with her, Todd's face turned to stone.

“I'll believe that when I see it.”

All the joy seeped out of her. “I can't believe you aren't excited. The only thing is that he wants to take his own car, so I can't pick you up as we agreed. I hope that's okay.”

Todd blinked, laid his fork down, and stared at her. “I can't believe you've suddenly turned gullible. He doesn't want to learn about God. He wants to learn about you.”

“You don't know that.”

Todd's eyes narrowed. “Yes, I do.”

“Don't you think it's possible for him to listen if God is poking him and telling him to check out his options? Even murderers and people in jail can have a change of heart.”

“I suppose.”

“Then it's possible for Gary to want to discover God, too, don't you think?”

Shannon waited for Todd to say something. She didn't think she'd asked him a hard question. She'd prayed for Todd fairly often after overhearing about his mother, but she'd also prayed for him over the years because God told everyone to pray for their enemies. She wouldn't have thought it possible for him to open his hardened heart and become the man he was today, unless she'd witnessed the change herself. If it was possible for Todd, then it could happen with Gary.

Other people in their group chatted gaily, and the quiet murmur of voices echoed through the restaurant. But between her and Todd, the silence was so thick it shouted. When Todd was silent too long, Shannon crossed her arms and glared at him.

His voice dropped to a disgruntled whisper. “I guess,” he muttered, barely loud enough for her to make out his words.

Before she could rebuke him for his bad attitude, Craig leaned forward from across the table. “What's going on?” He turned to Todd. “If you're doing something to upset my little sister, I'll have to take you outside.”

Both of them stared at Craig.

“I'm not your little sister anymore, Craig.”

He smiled. “Until we're both old and gray, you'll always be my little sister. All I know is that you two seem to be spending a lot of time together lately, and I don't mean just at work. If he's causing you trouble, I can take him outside and beat him up for you.”

Shannon continued to stare at her brother. When she talked to Craig about her job and the possibility of his meeting Faye, Todd had come up in the conversation. She'd let it slip that she'd bumped into him at the bookstore, then again, mentioned being together when all her workmates went out for dinner. Plus Craig had seen Todd at her apartment yesterday.

Of course she didn't tell him about the time she hit the dog with her car and Todd kissed her. She knew Craig was only kidding about beating up Todd. However, she had a feeling that if she told Craig he'd kissed her, it would come to blows between them, friends or not.

BOOK: Secret Admirer
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