A Light in the Darkness
The Faith Series, Book 3
by: Staci Stallings
Never underestimate the power of the light
You hold. It can light not just your way
But also the way of
Holly Jacobs hit the off button on the little silver cell phone and sat back into the deep, black leather seat of the black stretch limo. Melancholy settled all through her spirit. Although Boston and her friend Rebecca Avery were just across the country, it felt like the moon would be closer. Rebecca and Emily Vasquez had gotten an apartment together for the summer. By the time Holly got back, it was likely she’d have to find a new roommate—if she did go back. That thought pulled her even lower. Her gaze fell to the expansive floorboards at her feet.
She hated leaving Boston for more reasons than she could name. Of course Boston had its rough patches too, but it was more home than any home she had ever known. Certainly more home than the one she was getting inexorably closer to right now.
Her gaze drifted out to the hills of green covering Napa Valley, California. Tears of unwanted frustration threatened, but she beat them back. She hadn’t been here two hours, and already she hated it. She didn’t belong here. The thought that she didn’t belong anywhere cut through her spirit like a sharp dagger.
The little phone beeped to life, dragging her away from the thoughts. She glanced down at it. With a sigh, she touched the on button and lifted it to her ear. “Hi, Mom.”
“Oh, Holly. Good. So you’ve landed then?”
There was no pause to let her answer, and she didn’t bother to try. She knew there wouldn’t be one.
“Listen, Luke will be at the mansion when you get here, so please try to make yourself presentable before you get here. I hope you’re not wearing jeans. Jeans are so tacky.”
Holly looked down at her butterfly jeans helplessly. Like there was anything she could do about that now.
“And do not bring in that tattered thing you call a purse either. Leave it in the car if you have to. Give it to Rio, the driver. We’ll get it later.”
The sigh said more than she’d been able to so far. “Fine, Mom. Anything else?”
“Yeah, be sure to put on some lip gloss. Not lipstick. Just gloss. We don’t want Luke to think you are a tramp or anything.”
No, that would be your department. Her mind had ways of betraying her at the most inopportune moments. But she said nothing.
“How long before you get here?”
Holly’s gaze slid to the vast expanses of emerald beyond. “I don’t know. I don’t really even know where we are. Everything is just hills of green.”
“Good. Then you can’t be more than 20 minutes out. Freshen up your makeup, and get yourself together. When you get here, I’ll be waiting upstairs. Ring the doorbell, and I’ll let Rosa get the door. That will give you a good entrance.”
“I’ll see you in a few. Be sure to freshen up.”
“Okay.” Ten more words, and Holly signed off. She didn’t want to, but she pulled the little compact out and checked her makeup. Her hair was a wreck, but then what did she expect after missing a flight and having three layovers in various venues from Boston to California? All she wanted was to find a nice, soft bed and sleep for a month.
Nonetheless, dutifully, she dotted the dark circles under her eyes with concealer. Fortunately she had left her small makeup bag in her purse. Her gaze chanced to her purse, and hurt filled her heart. It was a Christmas present from Rebecca the previous year. True, it wasn’t New York stylish, but it meant that someone cared enough to think about her when they didn’t really have to. Yes, transferring to Boston Central was the best decision of her life. Her mother still didn’t understand why she’d transferred—nor why she’d changed her major four times, but that was to be expected.
Her mother never understood. Mostly because she was too busy messing up her own life to get terribly involved in the details of her daughter’s. And now, her mother had hooked up with some rich wine grower from California.
Lovely. Just lovely. It was about as great as her life always turned out. She unclipped her long blonde hair from the back of her head and brushed through it. Thanks to sleeping on floors and in planes, the shoulder length locks hung ugly and flat. There wasn’t much doing to it. She ran her fingers through it once more. It wasn’t great, but it would have to do.
The car slid through the gates of the estate. The two-story Victorian stood stately at the top of the hill, couched in verdant green so lush it was possible it was painted on the ground rather than growing. Holly clutched her purse as her gaze traveled up, up, up the gray and dull rose façade. The grandeur of the place was overwhelming. Her mother had certainly done it this time.
Holly sighed wearily as her gaze dropped to her lap. She hadn’t wanted to come. By some miracle, she had gotten out of it at Spring Break, hoping that by summer this would all be a distant memory. But summer had shown up before the inevitable, and now here she was expected once again to be something she truly hated. More shows to put on to impress everyone so they didn’t get thrown out. More being someone she didn’t even want to know. More hearing from her mother how every single thing she did in life was wrong.
Joy. Joy. This summer should be the best one yet.
“Hey, look.” Timothy Delgado stopped his work to gaze up at the looming gray mansion which looked down on the little garden work shop from the hill above. “The ice princess has arrived.”
Gabriel Cabrales glanced up from his work on the lawn mower that was doing anything but cooperating. Mowing the lawn. It had sounded so easy three hours ago. He beat the edge of the mower with the hammer to dislodge the debris from underneath. “You ought to go up there and introduce yourself. I’m sure she’d love to meet you.”
“Yeah, kinda like her mother, the Wicked Witch of the West.” Timothy twisted a wrench around his finger—the motor he was supposed to be fixing forgotten. It was another of the chores Gabriel should have finished last week, and he would have if his father hadn’t fallen out of line three weeks before. Ever since the heart attack had sidelined his dad, Gabriel had taken over as foreman of the grounds crew. There were only three of them now, which did nothing to make the job easier. Nonetheless, foreman was a job he didn’t take lightly.
The clanging of the hammer on metal shook right through him. Still he hit it all the harder. The job, normally manageable, had morphed in the last two months into the worst job on the planet. It started when the Ice Queen showed up, and it had gone down hill from there. In fact, he was sure his father’s heart attack could be directly attributable to her arrival.
“Well, lookie what we have here.” Timothy leaned on the door of the work house which was shrouded by the vast trees towering above them.
Gabriel was positive Mr. Teracini had no idea the house could be seen so plainly from here. If he did, he would surely have constructed a concrete barrier to keep them out in the past four years since he had become the owner.
Timothy straightened, his eyes growing wide. “Wow. She may be an ice princess, but she sure is easy on the eyes.”
Wiping the grease and dirt from his hands, Gabriel joined his friend at the door. Although they were more than a 150 yards away, the sight whipped his breath from him. Clothed in a pure white flowing top, fitted and then flared jeans, the ice princess brushed the sun-kissed blonde hair from her angelic face. Of course she was beautiful. You had to be to fit in up there.
Disgust drained through him. “Come on, Delgado. Since this is as close as you’ll ever get to her, you might as well get some work done while you gawk.”
However, Timothy didn’t move even as Gabriel went back to the mower.
“They say she’s a debutant from Boston. I bet she has a boyfriend. You know one of those jerks who will kick dirt in your face just to show you he can.”
“Like it matters.” Gabriel hit the mower with a clang, and a chunk of dirt fell to the ground underneath. “Girls like that won’t give guys like us a second look—if they bother to give us a first look.” Exasperation over all the work they had to do and that he was the only one actually working overtook him. “Tim! That motor ain’t going to fix itself you know.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” Timothy shook his head, but his gaze never left the blonde up the hill. “She sure is pretty.”
“Well, you’re going to be pretty broke if you don’t get to work. I’ll personally tell Mr. Teracini to dock you for looking at his new stepdaughter when you should be working.”
Timothy pushed away from the door. “Oh, boo-hoo. Why do you always have to be so work happy?”
“Because being work happy is the only way I’m ever going to graduate from being out here with the lawn mowers and you guys to being up there.” Gabriel nodded toward the mansion.
Tim’s laugh was sardonic. “You are such a dreamer. Gabriel and his dreams of owning the place one day.” Timothy bowed low. “It’s such an honor to be working with the future owner of Teracini Winery. Hey, Gabe, when you own the place, can I say I knew you when?”
The taunts crawled through Gabe’s gut. They didn’t believe him, but someday, he would be up there, on the top of that hill, in that mansion. He would show them all.
“Ms. Linda, Miss Holly has arrived,” Rose, the middle-aged Hispanic housekeeper, called up the steps.
Holly stood awkwardly in the entryway, fighting not to fidget. The stairs curled three steps one way, banked another six steps at an angle to the first ones and then disappeared up the opposite direction to the unseen floor above. The mahogany hardwood floor at her feet shown so brilliantly, the sun made it resemble a mirror. In the center of the entry a little table stood on a rose and cream circle rug. Topped with a white vase of flowers, the table shown with the same glow as the rest of the room.
“Holly, Darling.” Her mother swept down the stairs, floating more than walking. Dressed in a white silk pantsuit with white gauze trailing from her shoulder, she looked like a 40’s movie star making her grand entrance. “I’m so happy you made it.”
That should’ve been obvious. Holly shifted feet, not wanting to break her mother’s grand entrance but embarrassed by it just the same. “Hi, Mom.”
Her mother slid up to her, kissed first one cheek then the other. However, before she let her go, she whispered, “Call me ‘mother.’ It sounds better.”
“Oh.” The gasp was involuntary. Holly had to shake out of the shock to get more out. “How are you Mother?”
“Splendid. Come, let’s sit in the parlor.” Her mother linked her arm through Holly’s and turned her. “Rose, would you please tell Luke we’re in the sitting room?”
Rose bowed slightly. “Yes, Ma’am.”
Linda breathed in the statement. “Ma’am.” She ducked her head secretively to Holly. “Isn’t it wonderful? Oh, darling. I’ve fixed us for real this time. I mean look at this place. Isn’t it gorgeous? Oh, and look at the ring he gave me.” She held out her hand upon which sparkled an oval rock. “Isn’t it fabulous?”
There were so many questions Holly wanted to ask. She started with the most obvious one. “What happened with you and Dan?”
Horror coursed through her mother’s features. “Dan? What does he have to do with this?”
“Hello. You were married to him. Remember?”
Her mother waved a French manicured hand at her dismissively. “He was a rung I outgrew.”
The sitting room featured a fireplace, more mahogany furniture, and full rose-colored carpeting. They hadn’t made it to the wine-sheen couch when there was a noise behind them. The transformation of her mother’s turning was truly difficult to comprehend. She almost literally became a different person.
“Oh, Luke, darling. I’m so glad you could tear yourself away for a few minutes.” She spun Holly with her and presented her. “This is my beautiful daughter Holly Marie.”
Never, not one single time had Holly ever felt so much like a trophy.
“Well, Holly, it’s very nice to meet you.” Luke, a tall, handsome, dark-haired man in his early fifties bowed gallantly, taking her hand with him. He kissed it, completely grossing her out. When he straightened and let her go, she had to force herself not to wipe his kiss off her hand. “Please, please. Have a seat.”
Holly followed them to the little enclave and sat in the wing-backed chair. Luke and her mother sat right next to each other on the couch, and she tilted her gaze downward at the thought of Dan. How could her mother shift gears so quickly, seemingly never so much as looking back?
“So, tell me about school,” Luke said, laying his hand on her mother’s. The gesture made Holly sick, and his thick Italian accent wasn’t helping. He sounded as pompous and full of himself as he looked.
“Oh, I’m out for the summer.” She nodded for no real reason. The smile hurt. “Summer break.” The nodding was getting annoying even to her. She looked around. “Nice house.”
“Why thank you. It came with the estate when I moved from Italy.”
The comment gave her the opening to ask the question she’d been thinking since he’d first walked in. “So you’re not American then?”
“Holly!” Her mother’s sharp rebuke stabbed into her.
“No, no. It’s okay, Linda,” Luke said. “I have done business in the States for many years. In fact I’d been looking for a winery to buy for almost ten years. When this one came available, I jumped on it. I’m now a dual-citizen—Italy and the United States.”
How nice for you. Holly fought to restrain the words so they wouldn’t find the air. Her foot bounced as she searched for something else to say, but nothing was coming.
“Did you have a good trip?” Luke asked.
The look her mother turned on him yanked sarcasm from her. The only reason Linda was in the room was to show off her daughter to her fiancé and her fiancé to her daughter. The pretense was stifling.
“Oh, didn’t mom tell you?” Holly caught the look her mother shot her, but she continued just the same. “I missed the connection in Chicago, so I had to go through Dallas and then Albuquerque. That’s why I’m such a mess.”
Luke’s smile was hardly condemning. “You are anything but a mess, my dear. But you must be exhausted. Did Rio bring your bags in?”
“They’re at the front door.” Holly stood, and the two of them followed.
The nod Luke gave her held hardly any real movement. “I’ll call Yuri. He can take them up.”
Her mother raised her eyes to make sure Holly was suitably impressed. However, Holly’s head was starting to send nausea signals to her stomach. She wasn’t at all sure if it was because she was hungry, tired, or just sick of life.
Luke called for the maid who appeared almost immediately. “Rosa, will you call Yuri to take Holly’s bags up to the first guest room?” Luke turned to her as Rosa bowed and departed. “You will have a full bath, and a full suite to yourself. Enjoy. And if you need anything, please feel free to ask.”
How about a bag to throw up in? However, she simply nodded. He bowed as it seemed they all were wont to do and strode off down the hallway. The moment he was out of sight, her mother linked arms with her and squealed in a whisper.
“Isn’t he dreamy? Ugh. I knew the first time I saw him this was going to work.”
Holly removed her arm from her mother’s. “I’m shot, Mom. Can we talk about this later?”
With her usual flair, her mother looked at once frustrated and hurt.
It was a pattern Holly had learned long before. “No, Mom. We’ll talk. I promise.” She put her fingers into her hair which felt like a dry weed. “I’m just a mess right now.”
The shoulders slumped. “Fine.”
“So, how is it?” Rebecca asked over the phone.
Holly collapsed on the yellow daisy bed and sighed. Even the warm bath in the claw-foot bathtub hadn’t washed away the melancholy. “Wonderful. Isn’t it supposed to be wonderful? He’s rich. Mom’s in love. What’s not wonderful?”
Rebecca paused, clearly searching for something to say. “Did you talk to her about the job?”
“Huh. She was too busy showing off.” Holly rolled to her stomach and twined her feet behind her. “Man, I wish I was back in Boston with you guys.”
“You and me both. We’ll be praying for you, okay? Don’t let her get you down. This is your life. Remember? You get to choose now.”
If only it was that easy.
“Miss Holly.” The knock on her door brought her full up. “Dinner is being served.”
Holly spun to sitting in one motion. “Oops. Gotta go. Tell everyone hi for me.”
“Will do. And Holly, we’ll be praying.”
“Thanks.” She clicked the off button and let the phone drop to the bed. She was going to need more than prayers. Pushing up off the four poster bed, she traipsed to the door and down the stairs. At the entryway she listened and followed the noises to the formal dining room. Clearly the mahogany thing was a staple of this house. The mahogany furniture in the dining room was set off by celery green walls and gold decorations.
“Holly! Oh, my.” Her mother jumped up from the table in horror. In seconds she shoved Holly into the hallway. “What are you thinking? This isn’t proper attire for dinner.”
The proprietary tornado hit her so fast, she was taken totally off guard. She looked down at her clothes which were nothing out of the ordinary. Her nicest jeans and a fitted, purple top. It wasn’t like it was Las Vegas showroom material. “Proper…?”
Her mother leaned in menacingly. “First of all, you’re late and now you show up looking like trailer trash. What are you trying to do—ruin everything?”
“Linda?” Luke called from the dining room.
“Just a moment, Darling.” In hushed but urgent tones she targeted Holly. “Don’t you have anything but jeans and T-shirts?”
“You know what I mean. Now get up there and change, and do not let me see you in those again. You hear me?”
Beaten and defeated, Holly’s head fell. “Yeah.”
Her mother squared her shoulders and shook back her hair-sprayed stiff light brunette hair. “The answer is, ‘Yes, Ma’am.’”
What could she say as her shoulders slumped forward? “Yes, Ma’am.”
It was after ten when Gabriel pulled out of the front gate. The mowing was done by no small miracle. He shifted in the seat of the old, beaten up brown and gold Chevrolet pickup. His mind slid down the list of things to do until exhaustion took over even that. He let out a breath and ran his hand from his forehead to his chin.
His curly black hair was caked with dirt and grime. No wonder Timothy thought he was crazy. But Timothy didn’t know—not all of it anyway. As headlights went the other direction down the winding road, Gabriel fought to settle his surging spirit. It was crazy to tell them the things he knew deep inside, about the signs he’d received, about the things he had read. They wouldn’t understand. Worse, they would think he was insane. Sometimes he wondered if he was. How else could anyone explain the things he saw, the things he now understood almost as an instinct?
The pickup chugged into the driveway of the little house, and Gabe killed the engine. He slid out and made it all the way to the sink just inside the back door when he heard the shuffling.
“Gabriel, I thought you would be home hours ago.” His mother, a woman well into her sixties, hunched by the work load she had carried her entire life, appeared in the doorway. “Your supper is cold.”
Gabe grabbed the towel to dry his hands. “It’s okay, Mom. I can heat it up.” In very few steps he was at the microwave. That was one thing about a small house, there was only a modicum of stress getting from one room to the next. “Is Dad in bed already?”
He popped open the microwave and shoved the plate into it. Beep went the button.
“He’s supposed to go back next week, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.”
His mother spun her arms over themselves. “Do you think that’s a good idea?”
The whirring of the microwave gave way to another beep, and he took the food out. Without bothering to move more than to get a fork, he started eating. “Do you think it’s a good idea?”
She sighed. “You’ve seen him. He can barely get from the chair to the kitchen. How’s he supposed to run a whole operation?”
It was a good question, and in it he heard the unspoken plea. “Well, if he needs more time, I could talk to Mr. Teracini. We could probably handle it a while longer.”
This time she shook her head, and Gabriel was starting comprehend what she wasn’t saying.
“He’s just so weak, Gabriel. Not like he used to be.” She paused, soft dreaming touched her voice. “No, not like he used to be.” The dream snapped, and she looked up. “He’ll be 71 next month, you know. 71.”
Gabe tried to push the thoughts of his parents’ age away as much as possible. He was their surprise child, their one and only, conceived long after they had stopped trying because it was declared hopeless by every doctor they’d gone to. That’s why they’d named him Gabriel because Gabriel was the angel who had brought the good news of a child not only to Mary but to Elizabeth as well.
It was a story he had memorized. One that had always made him feel special, hand-picked, hand-sent. Yet now the lonely years ahead stared him in the face. At 24, he was hardly more than a teenager. The thought of losing one or both of his parents frightened him in ways that few things did, and he spent a good deal of energy trying not to think about it.
But there were times, like this one, that denial was not an option.
“Well, what’s the money situation if he does quit?” Somehow that question catapulted him into full-fledged adulthood.
Her faded green eyes, so much like his until age and wear had taken their toll, fell closed. “It’s not great. We’ve got some social security we can count on, but it’s not much. Of course the house is ours, but… well…” She shrugged. “I guess we’re lucky to have made it this long, but how are we going to live now? What will we do if he cannot work?” The gray covered head shook slowly. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
Careful not to make noise, Gabe set his plate on the stove, stepped to her, and put his arms around her. “It’s okay, Mom. We’ll figure something out.”
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