Mary had not wanted to go – but her friends had dragged her out of her one bedroom apartment and insisted that she needed to get on with her life. It had been six months since her and Darrell had broken their engagement and he had moved on so she need to as well. She had gotten dressed just to shut them up – all the while grumbling that she had no idea what going to a church concert would accomplish. So she had gone and Claudette and April had told her that she kind of looked like her old self again.
The church was small and quaint and had a warm family feeling to it. There had been no available seats at the back so they had been forced to sit at the front and endure all the eyes staring at them.
The choir had been singing with a hot lead singer – the song: “Amazing Grace” and Mary had been transformed as he did the solo piece – the man can sing. Not bad for a white man! She thought.
They had fun. There was a skit depicting David and Goliath which turned out to be very funny and some poems and the choir performed several times. She wanted to hear him sing all the time. His voice was amazing.
There was a meet and greet outside the chapel and he was a part of it. He had taken off his choir robe and was in jeans and a T-shirt.
“I love your singing,” she told him as he took her hand in his.
“Thanks; to God be the glory,” he told her, holding onto her hand for a little while longer. “This your first time at Heaven’s chapel?”
“Yes,” she pulled her hand away from him a little self-consciously; fully aware that they were holding up the procession and she could see that her friends were looking at her curiously. “I attend The Baptist Church in town.
“So can we look forward to seeing you again?” he asked her, not in any hurry to stop talking to her. He was very handsome with dark brown hair and hazel eyes with ridiculously long lashes.
“I don’t know, I guess so.” Mary felt flustered and she wanted to leave immediately.
“I look forward to seeing you again.” He told her softly as he turned his charming smile on another visitor.
“What was that all about?” April asked as they made their way towards her car. Her friend had been the one to introduce her to Darrell and was determined to protect her from future heartbreak.
“What?” Mary opened the passenger side of the car and got in hastily, sneaking one last look at the cute chorister. He was still greeting people but for one moment their eyes met and held and he smiled and waved at her. Mary averted her eyes quickly, praying that her friends had not noticed.
“You know what,” April pulled away from the curb; sparing her friend a quizzical glance – “Did you notice how he held on to Mary’s hand longer than the others, Claudette?” she sought confirmation from their friend in the back seat.
“Of course I did, I also saw him reach under her blouse to fondle her breast.” Claudette said dryly with an impatient shake of her curly hair. “You read something into every little thing April. The man was just being friendly.”
“I know what I saw.” April sniffed in offense. “He was definitely checking her out.”
The other two girls refused to accommodate her and the short journey continued in silence much to Mary’s relief.
They dropped her off at her apartment and went on their way with a promise to meet up for lunch sometime next week.
Mary’s apartment was more serviceable rather than luxurious. It was quite small – one bedroom with a small balcony that she had used to plant tomatoes and green peas and some crocuses. There was a small table and two chairs where she had most of her solitary meals. Eight months ago she had expected to be married and moved to a three bedroom town house but that dream had evaporated into thin air when Darrell had told her that they were not compatible – he being a lawyer and she being a kindergarten teacher; they really had nothing in common. He had gone off to a big law firm and was now dating one of the partner’s daughters. So much for love; she thought wearily. But now that she stopped to think about it – had they really love each other? Or were they pushed together by their parents? Her parents had had dreams of her being married to a doctor or a lawyer and when Darrell had started attending First Town Baptist they had been in corporate heaven! He was a black man going places and she needed to go there with him, they had told her – they were right. He was really going places, without her! Suffice it to say, they had blamed her for the break up and told her how she had let a fine man like Darrell get away from her.
Kicking off her shoes she went into the tiny kitchen to make herself a cup of chamomile tea. Tomorrow was Sunday and she had Sunday school to teach and she needed her sleep.
Charles gave the table a final polish and stepped back to admire the sheen. He had acquired the antique cherry table at an auction and had decided that it was just what he needed. He was planning to put recent bestsellers on the table so that peoples eyes would gravitate towards it as they opened the door. His concentration was interrupted by the chiming of the doorbell. With a quick smile he put away his dust cloth and went out to meet his latest customer. His smile brightened as he realized that it was the girl who had been at the service last Sunday evening.
“Hi there! Nice to see you again.” He told her.
Mary gave a startled glance over at the sound of the voice, she had been doing a little browsing and admiring the quaint little shop and wondering to herself why she had never been inside before. It was him! She realized with a little quickening of her pulse – the singer from that church.
“Hello, fancy seeing you here.” She took his outstretched hand with a smile.
“I was kind of hoping we would run into each other again,” he said sheepishly; his charming smile crinkling his hazel eyes and those lashes!
Mary wished she had on something sexier than black pants and white dress shirt – which now after spending several hours with fourteen preschoolers looked bedraggled and a little wrinkled and she smelled of play dough and crayons. At least her shoulder length black curls were in a tidy bun on top of her head.
“Don’t tell me, you want to recruit me to be a part of the choir.” She grinned at him; and as before, she was the one who had to pull away her hand.
“That’s part of it.” He told her impishly, taking her arm and leading her to a small alcove by the window. “Coffee?”
“Now I know why this place is called ‘Books and Coffee’. Couldn’t come up with a better name?” she smiled, arching one delicate brow.
“I would have you know that this place have been around for generations of Duncan’s and the name suits.” He placed a steaming cup of coffee on the table in front of her along with cream and sugar. “That is how we have become the number one bookstore in this area. We treat our customers to more than books – a little hot beverage, internet browsing and excellent conversation.” He sat right across from her, his hands dangerously near to hers on the small table.
“You being the conversant, I take it?” she stirred the small amount of sugar into her coffee, more to give her hands something to do – he was making her jittery.
“What do you think?” he smiled that infectious smile at her that caused her to smile in return. Suddenly he leaned forward and brushed something off her cheek. Mary froze as the very simple touch of his finger felt as if he had touched her with his lips. Get a grip girl! She chided herself.
“Paint smear.” He told her casually. If he noticed her unusual reaction he showed no sign of it – reaching for a napkin to wipe his fingers.
“One of the hazards of being a kindergarten teacher,” Mary forced herself to be nonchalant. She must be some kind of a ninny to let a simple touch of a stranger’s fingers practically turn her into a mass of Jell-O! “My name is Mary Bennett, by the way and I actually came in to look for a New Revised Standard Version Bible.”
“Charles Duncan, at your service.” He gave a small bow as he stood up; moving away from the table; going to one of the bookshelves. “Charles Duncan, very nice to meet you.” He flashed her another heartbreaking smile. “So you are a teacher. How do you like it?”
“I love it.” Mary told him, her eyes lighting up in appreciation as she sipped her coffee. “This is very good coffee. Now I know what you do, if they don’t come back to buy books they come for the coffee.”
“Now you catch on.” Charles told her as he came over with the Bible she had ordered. “This the one?” At her nod, he went over to the cash register and rang up the sale.
“So Mary, any significant other?” the casualness of his voice belied the importance of the question. But Mary did not hesitate to respond; she had a feeling that her answer was crucial.
“No.” she said softly – her hands wrapping around the coffee cup as if seeking the warmth of it.
“Good,” he told her briskly, bagging up her purchase in a quaint little white bag that had the words emblazoned on it: “Books & Coffee” – We serve you in so many ways.”
“Cute,” Mary took her bag and handed him her credit card.
“I came up with the slogan” he grinned impishly as he took the card from her. For a little while she sat savoring the excellent coffee and the very handsome man with the ready smile. Another customer had come in and he was serving her – an elderly woman with white hair who seemed to be a regular customer. Every now and then he would look over to her and flash that smile, making her feel as if she was the most important person around. It was heady! She wanted to stay for a lot longer but did not want it to be too obvious – she felt relaxed and comfortable but she had lessons to plan and she really needed to go home; today being Thursday, she had activities to plan for tomorrow. Picking up her package, she stood up getting ready to leave. He immediately excused himself from the elderly lady and came over to her. “Leaving?” he asked her; his expression registering disappointment.
“I have to,” she took the hand he put forward and felt the same jolt of awareness as before but this time she let his touch lingered. “Lessons to prepare.”
“I hope you will come again and keep coming.” He told her with a gentle squeeze. “My business card is in the bag. – call if you suddenly decide that you need something to read or another Bible. Just write your number on this card, you know in case I come upon something that might interest you for the kids you teach.” He smiled as he handed her the paper to write her number. “And Mary,” he pulled away his hand reluctantly. “There is no other significant other for me.” He opened the door for her; his smile flashing automatically. She lingered a little before leaving with a reluctance that left her feeling confused. He was certainly getting under her skin!
She went home but preparing her lesson plan and creating some sort of activities was very far from her mind. She kept reliving the evening over and over again – his smile, the play of his feminine lashes playing on his cheekbones when he looked down and his touch! She found herself shivering just remembering his lingering touch on her hands and most of all how he had told her that he was available! He had not said it in so many words but she knew what he meant. She remembered his dark brown hair, curling slightly on the top and the way his shirt hugged his slight yet muscular frame – shrugging aside her thoughts which were suddenly becoming too provocative she deliberately turned her attention to the job at hand – she had rabbits to make and a collage of all her students to create. Thinking about Charles Duncan was not something she should be doing.
Also Available: The follow up to this story, another BWWM Christian romance story.
He called her on Monday. She was on her lunch break and was eating a sandwich at her desk when her cell phone rang. Wiping her hands on the napkin she pressed the accept button on her phone. “Hello?”
“I knew your phone voice would sound just as incredible.” His husky voice sounded so clear in her ear that she almost expected to see him standing in front of her.
“Charles?” she had to clear her throat to get rid of the huskiness and she felt the sense of relief that her children had all gone to the play area and she was alone in her classroom.
“Expecting someone else?” she could hear the note of amusement. “I have been thinking about you quite a lot and wondered if you want to drop by for coffee on your way home. I can include a slice of apple pie; my mother makes the best in town.” His tone was persuasive.
“Are you trying to bribe me?” Mary smiled indulgently, willing her heart to stop racing. This could be totally innocent – chances were he called all his customers and sweetened them up to keep them coming back.
“Is it working?” He quizzed.
“It certainly is.” Mary cradled the phone against her ear and leaned back against her chair. Thank God she had decided to wear her pin stripe skirt and white and pink blouse with pink and black accessories and her hair was in a smooth chignon at the nape of her neck. She did not feel in the least bit frumpy but felt like a sexy eye catching woman going on a date with the man of her dreams! She shook her head to get rid of the ridiculous fantasy. Really Mary! Way to go – behaving as if the man had proposed to her.
“See you later.” He told her. After a few more pleasantries he disconnected the call; leaving Mary staring into space, her half eaten sandwich all but forgotten. It was when she heard her students coming back from the play area and their footsteps echoing in the hallway that she put away the sandwich and stood to receive them. Later could not come soon enough!
He was looking out for her. He was standing in the doorway holding the door open for her. He was wearing dark blue dress pants and a baby blue short sleeve shirt that made him look achingly handsome. “You look great,” he told her, pulling her inside and closing the door. He turned the ‘Open’ sign around to say ‘Closed’ and locked the door.
“Thanks,” she sent him a puzzled glance; looking at her wrist watch – it was only four o’clock. “I thought you were open until late.”
“I am” he led her over, not to the little table by the window but one that was ensconced at the rear of the store. “But that’s the joy of being the proprietor. I can close shop anytime and this time I don’t want any interruptions and I don’t want you running away from me too soon.”
She was speechless at his frankness and she stared at him without a word. He indicated for her to sit on the padded wraparound seat and went to get the coffee. “When I come back with the coffee and pie maybe you will find your ability to speak.” He told her in amusement.
Mary blinked as if emerging from a deep sleep and blindly sat down; taking deep breaths to calm her jittery heart and waited for him to come back with the coffee and pie.
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