Book 1.5 of The Abundance Series
The first boy she ever kissed just walked back into her life—and crashed into her plans.
Music teacher Becky Hamlin is seeking harmony–both in the blended voices of her students and in her small hometown of Abundance, Missouri. But after last summer, when her bad judgment left the town vulnerable, things have felt off key. Becky hopes to make amends by holding a benefit concert for the local food pantry. If the event is a success, she might even have a shot at her dream job. And now that her former crush, Seth Williams, has moved to town, she could really have it all–a great concert to benefit the community, a more secure teaching position, and a chance at love.
Seth Williams has his hands full, raising his sixteen-year-old half-brother and starting a new job as an interim high school principal. When he realizes that the gorgeous local choir director is the girl he fell for at church camp years ago, he’s more determined than ever to convince the school board to make his position permanent. But the faith Seth once shared with Becky is no longer common ground.
As the logistics of her concert cause problems with his job, will the discord make a relationship impossible? Or will their renewed love, along with God’s abundant grace, allow them to overcome every obstacle?
Read An Excerpt: Chapter One
With every new calendar year and every new school semester came a chance to begin again, to become the person you were meant to be. Or the person you once had been but somehow lost.
Yep. Seth Williams nodded. Today, January 7, was the first day of a new semester at a new high school, and it was time for Tony, his half-brother, to get back on track.
Seth was starting over as well. His new job as interim principal at Tony’s school meant big challenges, but they were challenges he was willing to face if it meant Tony might get his life straightened out. Stepping in mid-year—after the previous principal, his secretary, and the athletic director had been fired for misappropriating funds—would require flexibility, which was not Seth’s strongest suit.
He rose from his desk, straightened his tie, and walked out of his office, right into a stampede. Only worse. In a stampede, all the cattle headed the same way. Here, kids plowed four directions at once, and the beige concrete-block walls reverberated with loud conversations and the clang of lockers.
“Is that the new principal?” a red-headed girl said.
“He kind of looks like we should salute, doesn’t he?” replied a girl who had to be her twin. Both wore too much makeup and showed too much skin for a northern Missouri school day in winter—or, really, a school day in any season.
He ignored the twins—for now. But they were in for a rude awakening during the third-period assembly, when he would introduce himself to the student body and set forth some straight-forward rules, starting with a dress code.
Call him old-fashioned, but Seth had made it clear to the school board that if he ran the high school, things would change. He wouldn’t promote the “Christian values” one board member had suggested, but he would expect the students to show respect for themselves and for others.
He passed the twins and almost collided with a boy carrying a tuba case.
The boy detoured around him.
Seth pulled his phone from his pocket and checked the time. Five minutes until the bell and still no text from Tony.
After much begging, Tony had been allowed to drive to school in the ancient pickup truck Seth had bought him as a gift for his sixteenth birthday, a symbol that Seth really believed Tony was going to make a fresh start. But if Tony didn’t text to say he’d arrived, tomorrow he could come in an hour early with Seth or ride the bus.
Seth shoved the phone back in his pocket.
Twenty feet ahead, the hallway made a T. From down to the right, someone let out a gleeful cry—“Fight!”
A second later, a chant began, the students sounding as bloodthirsty as the Romans at the Coliseum. “Fight. Fight. Fight.”
Seth set his jaw, hurried around the corner, and looked over the students’ heads. A beefy blond kid was holding a dark-haired boy on the floor and landing solid punches.
Students ringed the pair, but teachers from the nearby classrooms were nowhere to be seen.
Seth pulled a police whistle from the pocket of his khakis and blew on it long and hard. “Break it up!” he shouted. “Now.” He pushed his way through a trio of girls in leggings and T-shirts.
The blond boy paused, fist raised, and looked at Seth with wide eyes.
The dark-haired kid took the opportunity to slam a punch into his opponent’s nose.
Seth gritted his teeth. The past week had been so quiet as he settled into his office and prepared for the semester. He’d only rarely seen a student pass through the halls for basketball practice.
That honeymoon was over.
He grabbed each of the boys by the arm and yanked them to their feet.
The blond slumped, head down.
The dark-haired boy spun toward Seth with his jaw clenched and his fists tight. Then the kid looked up.
At six-four, close to two hundred pounds, and still mostly muscle from his days in the Navy, Seth could break up most fights with one glance.
The boy was tall but thin, no match for Seth. The kid lowered his fists. His square jaw, though, didn’t relax.
A jaw that looked exactly like that of Seth’s boss, Superintendent Roscoe Grange.
“Boys, I’m your new principal, Mr. Williams,” Seth said. “And you are?”
“Johnny Driscoll,” the blond mumbled.
“J.W. Grange,” the dark-haired one said with a note of defiance.
Just as Seth had feared. Suspending the superintendent’s grandson on the first day of class was not the best way to start a new job.
A group of girls whispered, and one pointed down the hall.
Roscoe Grange was walking straight toward them. Familiar square jaw, buzz-cut gray hair, unreadable steel-blue eyes.
Seth’s chest tightened. He couldn’t guess how the man would react, so Seth had to go with his gut. Which said that this group of high school students shared several traits with a pack of wild dogs. There might be consequences later from Roscoe, but Seth had to show he was in charge. “My office after school for detention,” he said to the boys. “One hour, every day this week.”
“But I can’t miss basketball practice.” J.W. glanced toward his grandfather. His voice rang with an assurance that he was above the rules.
“I’m seeing your coach later this morning,” Seth said. “I’ll explain that you’ll be late. Be grateful it’s my first day. Once we go over the new student handbook during the assembly, fighting will get you an automatic two-week suspension. Understood?”
“Understood,” Johnny said.
J.W. shot a look at Roscoe, his eyes hopeful.
Seth glanced at Roscoe as well. He really didn’t want to have to find out if his old job teaching Advanced Placement Physics was still available in Tennessee.
Roscoe’s bushy gray eyebrows pulled together. He glared at J.W. and shook his head, once right, once left.
J.W.’s face fell. “Understood,” he said to Seth.
Roscoe walked over to Seth and said under his breath, “You’re doing fine.”
Seth’s chest relaxed. “Thank you, sir.” He turned to the two boys. “You stay here. The rest of you, get to class.”
“I left those papers we talked about on your desk,” Roscoe said. Without another word, he left.
Seth took the boys to his office, determined that their fight was caused more by hot heads than by a significant issue, and sent them to class.
One crisis resolved.
And he hadn’t been fired. He still had a shot at making this interim position a permanent job.
He checked his phone again. Still no word from his brother.
But Tony hadn’t been one of the boys fighting. That was a plus. And if he had a problem driving, Seth would have heard. Maybe the kid was nervous, being at a new school, and forgot to text.
Seth could wander down the hall and take a peek in his brother’s homeroom.
No, that wouldn’t go over well. Too controlling.
He forced himself to take a deep breath and let it out deliberately. He needed to relax. Everything was fine.
A loud metallic crunch, followed by a clinkle, echoed across the parking lot.
Becky Hamlin stopped at the doors of the Abundance Community Church and squinted back over her shoulder, into the winter-white sun, at her car.
Just past the side yard of the church, in the lot it shared with Abundance High School, a full-size pickup was stuck to the front bumper of her cute little blue Toyota. After a few seconds, the truck backed up slightly and stopped. The vehicle, once green, sported some white replacement body parts and had seen better days. The crash, however, appeared to have barely scratched it.
And the tall, blond boy climbing out appeared unharmed.
“Are you all right?” She retraced her steps along the icy sidewalk until she reached the parking lot.
“Yeah, I’m fine, but”—his voice grew thin and nervous—“I’m sorry about your car.”
Becky hurried over. So much for being on time to her meeting. She’d even gotten up half an hour early to go through the new drive-thru donut place to get Pastor Corey’s favorite, a sour cream cake donut. And of course, a donut for herself, which she’d accidentally already eaten.
“I can’t believe I did this,” the boy said. “I was late and—”
“Let’s see how bad it is before we get too upset.” She bent down and checked her front-passenger-side headlight.
Pretty much how the boy looked.
She stood, brushed some flecks of powdered sugar off her red coat, and looked down at a baggie caught on a crack in the pavement.
A baggie that held what looked like a tiny bit of pot. Inexperienced drivers weren’t the only downside of the church sharing a parking lot with the high school. Pastor Corey had shown an educational video so the whole church staff could understand the drug problem.
At least the pot didn’t seem to belong to the kid who’d just hit her car.
She turned to the boy. “I’m Becky Hamlin.”
“Tony Williams.” He glanced at her Toyota and zipped up his gray jacket.
“These things happen,” she said. “We just need to exchange insurance information.”
He leaned into the truck and returned with a brand-new notebook, a pen, and an insurance card. A minute later, he handed her a sheet of paper that he’d carefully ripped along the perforations. “I wrote it all down, like they taught us in driver’s ed.”
“Thank you.” Tony sure was polite. And, though she didn’t think she’d met him before, there was something familiar about him. She used his notebook and pen to write down her information.
The first-period bell rang at Abundance High, loud and clear in the parking lot. The private school forty miles south in Columbia, where she taught music, might not return from winter break until tomorrow, but the Abundance public schools were back in session.
“You’d better get to class now,” she said. “I’ll call your folks later.”
“It’s my brother. He should be here any minute. I texted him. He’s coming over from the high school.”
Becky scanned what the boy had written down. Tony and…Seth Williams? She looked at the boy more closely. No wonder he seemed so familiar. “All right. I’ll wait.” Despite the circumstances, a tingle of excitement zipped through her heart. She’d read in the paper that Seth had taken a job in Abundance, but she hadn’t seen him since all those years ago at church camp. And now…
Clearly today had been the perfect day to wear her new red coat. The color set off her dark hair and brown eyes and matched the red boots she’d found on clearance.
“I read about your brother in the paper.” Becky pulled her hair out from where it was caught inside her scarf. “New principal, huh?”
“Yeah.” He leaned against the truck, and his face tightened as if his stomach hurt. “That’s my brother, My-Way-or-the-Highway Williams.”
“Oh.” My-Way-or-the-Highway? That was not the Seth she’d known. “And you just moved to town?”
Poor Tony. Today must be his first day at a new school.
“The kids here are going to love me.” Tony’s words were thick with sarcasm. “Everybody wants to be friends with the principal’s brother.”
She gave him a sympathetic smile and peeked at her phone. Her meeting with Corey should have started about the time that bell rang. He had the local ecumenical leaders’ breakfast at nine, but had said if she came in at eight thirty, they could talk for fifteen minutes. She slid off her right glove, decided it was too cold to take off the other one, and awkwardly tapped out a text with one finger. Not her usual Sorry, running a bit late because she’d gotten too caught up talking with someone, but Someone hit my car. Be there soon. Can’t wait to tell you my idea.
An idea she thought was brilliant. The perfect way to make up for how she’d let the town down. And it might even help her land her dream job—teaching music in the Abundance public schools.
“There.” Tony pointed.
A man in a navy ski jacket strode across the parking lot from the high school.
From a distance, he looked a bit like her cousin Jack. Brown hair and a beard. And tall. The man walking toward her had to be over six feet and had shoulders like a football player. The Seth she’d known had been fifteen, skinny, and barely taller than her own 5’3”. It didn’t matter. She’d have recognized him anywhere.
“Tony.” Seth’s voice was deeper but still familiar. “How bad is it?”
Tony winced and gestured to her car. “I gave her the insurance information and your cell number. And got hers.”
Seth took the paper Tony offered, glanced at the two vehicles, and turned toward her.
She stood up straighter, glad the red boots had heels, and tried to suck in the five pounds she’d gained since the new donut shop opened.
“Seth Williams.” He shook her hand, then looked down toward the plastic baggie in the pothole. He jerked his head toward his brother.
Seth had barely looked at her.
Of course he’d be more concerned about his brother if he thought the boy might be involved with drugs. But Tony didn’t smell like pot.
“I’m sorry,” Seth said, now facing her. “I’ll call our insurance company as soon as I get out of my first meeting. I thought he was doing okay driving, but…I take full responsibility, ma’am.”
Ma’am? Becky’s heart shriveled into a raisin. Seth called her ma’am? Granted, she’d read he’d been in the military, and she was thirty-two. But his blue eyes hadn’t shown even a glimmer of recognition. Had she changed that much since she was sixteen and he’d given her her first kiss?
“I hate to rush off,” he said. “But I’ve got a meeting, and I don’t want to be late.” His lips narrowed, as if being a little late now and then was a crime. “Let me know if I can do anything.”
“I will,” she said.
Seth reached down toward the baggie just as a gust of wind caught it and swirled it away, high out of reach. He watched it a second, then took a step sideways, half-turning toward the school. “C’mon, Tony. You better run by attendance and get a tardy slip.”
Tony looked once more at her car, gave her an apologetic shrug, and followed him.
A second later, Pastor Corey drove up next to her. He pointed at his wrist, where someone might wear a watch, and drove out of the parking lot.
Becky pulled her phone out of her purse. Eight forty-five. Corey was on his way to the ecumenical breakfast, and she’d missed their meeting. Completely.
All to find out that the man who she’d been so excited to see didn’t recognize her. Because he was too busy to even look at her.
Talk about rude.