Grace took a long look around the messy room. There was laundry in one corner, kids toys on the sofa and an antique desk that was mostly hidden behind stacks of papers and bills. Well, she thought, this will just have to wait - again. These days it seemed she only had time to make lists of the many things to do around the house, not to actually do any of it.
A quick glance at the clock reminded her that she had just 5 minutes to get to the school for her visit with the boys’ teacher. She picked up her purse and keys and absentmindedly ran a hand though her long auburn hair. At 32 she was still very attractive, but since her husband had passed away the year before she never really took the time to notice. She was part way out the door before she remembered the box that had arrived. She raced back to her bedroom to grab it when the phone rang.
“Hello”, she said in a voice intended to let anyone who would be calling know that this was not a good time to chat.
“We know you have the evidence.” The voice of the caller was gruff and distorted.
Grace looked around almost disoriented by these few words. “Who is this?” she demanded.
“Who I am is not as important as what you have. I need the evidence by the end of the week. Don’t be late, your boys’ lives depend on it.” The caller abruptly hung up. Grace fell back on her bed, and the room began to spin. What evidence were they talking about? How could they threaten her twins? Slowly tears began to form in the corners of her eyes. This wasn’t fair. Michael was supposed to be here, he was her rock when she did not know what to do. Why Michael, God? She had asked that same question many times over the past year. He should be there to see the kid’s growing up. He should be there to help her juggle all the parenting duties and he definitely should be there for something like this!
Reluctantly, she pulled herself together. She was in charge. She was an attorney for goodness sake; she could figure this out. She knew she needed help with this and even though it was going to be hard, she knew just who to call. But first she had to get to the meeting at the boys’ school. She was already late so she grabbed her things and raced for the door.
Cole loved days like this. His heart was almost singing as he finished the last page of the report for his client. He was a man of accomplishment and he loved to finish a project, especially a long project like this one had been. He had built his security firm from the ground up. He was still the sole owner, but now he had dozens of people working for him, several offices and hundreds of clients. God is good, he thought to himself. Now if he could just get in touch with his newest client, he would be able to clear off his entire desk and call it a day.
He stretched back in his chair and glanced at the clock. He was never a man to skip out just because the clock said five, but this last job had been hard and he deserved to kick back a little today. He decided that after work he would grab some dinner and sit out on the pier. Maybe he could even throw out a line and catch a few fish.
Cole smiled to himself. Although that sounded perfect to him he could just hear his friend Hunter picking on him for not socializing more. It wasn’t the fact that he didn’t like to go out, he did. It was just that there were so few women that he felt a true connection with. There were several that had tried. His most recent date had been with Amanda. He liked Amanda, but more as a friend. She had finally realized that he wasn’t interested in anything more and had abruptly moved to another town. She told him that there were no men in Cape Town that were worth pursuing. That had suited him just fine. He knew that God had a plan for him and that the right woman would come along eventually.
In the car Grace turned the telephone conversation over again in her mind. What could she possible have that would cause someone to threaten her? She was an attorney, but she dealt primarily in contracts. She hadn’t even had a criminal case come across her desk in years. Maybe the call was just a mistake. She brightened at the thought. Maybe it was intended for some other attorney. Waves of reality crashed in around her optimistic thought. The caller had threatened her boys. This was no mistake.
She pulled into the school parking lot nearly 15 minutes late for her appointment. She dashed in to the building and down the hall to the twin’s second grade classroom. “Ms. Fisher, I am so sorry that I am running late.” She started her apology even before she was all the way in the room. “I hope you still have time to see me. I really want to know how the boys’ are adjusting. “
Ms. Fisher smiled that half smile given by someone who is more than a little annoyed with the other person who is talking. “That’s fine Ms. Brandt, have a seat and we will go over their work. I am glad you finally had time to come and see me.”
Grace noticed the obvious sarcasm in the teachers’ voice, but she chose to ignore it and sat down. It had been so hard since Michael died to keep up with everything, but she was trying. “I hope the twins have not been too hard on you. As you know they have been dealing with a lot this past year and now the move to second grade seems to be shaking them up a bit again.”
With that the teacher softened. “Jake and Matthew are both really good kids. Their work is improving and I can see that they are adjusting. If we can just reinforce stability I think that their attention getting behavior will slow down. Jake is still trying to be the class clown and Matthew is still angry. He wants so much for his dad to come back that he can’t let anyone else in."
Grace forced back the tears that threatened to erupt. “What else can I do?” The words hung in the air for a few seconds.
Finally, the teacher smiled and gave her a small pat on the back. “Time, we just need to give them more time.” The meeting ended with a promise to check on their progress in a few weeks. Grace rushed to the car, happy to be back outside.
What a day this was turning out to be. Grace sighed and punched in her mother’s number on her cell phone. “Hi, mom. I just got done with Ms. Fisher.”
“Yes, the boys are doing fine, but I will have to tell you more later. I have to drop some contracts off at work and then I need to meet someone. I will be by to get them by seven. Thanks, mom.”
Her car drove the familiar path to work almost as if she weren’t even driving. She was grateful for the quiet of the afternoon because she needed time to think about this next phone call. More importantly, she needed to figure out what she was going to say when she talked to him.
He reached over to pick up the phone to try his new client, when the phone rang and startled him.
“Cole Davis here, what can I do for you?” Cole rushed the sentence, still startled by the sudden ring. He could hear someone breathing on the other end, but there was no answer to his greeting. “Hello, is anyone there?”
“Cole, is that really you?” The woman’s words came out in a gush of breath that sounded like she had just had the wind knocked out of her.
“Yes, this is Cole, who is this?” There was a familiarity to the woman’s voice but he could not put a finger on it. It sounded almost like Grace. But it couldn’t be, Grace had not spoken to him in years, not since the incident.
Grace closed her eyes and willed herself to continue speaking. She was only doing this because she had to, she kept reminding herself. The boys were in danger and she did not have a choice. “Cole, it’s me, Grace. I need your help.”
She thought of their past, of that night so many years ago. They had never spoken after that. He could hang up on her right now and leave the past buried. She really couldn’t even blame him if he did. God help me here, I need him to help us. Please make Cole at least listen. She prayed that he would hear her out. “Cole are you there? I received a phone call today that threatened my boys if I do not give them the some evidence that they think I have. I don’t know what they are talking about. I am scared, and I need someone to help me figure this out. Will you help me?” She held her breath again, waiting for an answer.
Cole swallowed hard. His throat seemed to be caught in his chest. It really was Grace! Why now, after all this time? He tried to concentrate on what she was saying, but he could not shake the lump in his chest, or the loud beating of his heart.
After what seemed like minutes, he managed to speak. “Hi, Grace. It’s good to hear from you.”
“Hi Cole. Did you hear what I said, will you help me?” Grace asked almost in a whisper, as if repeating it loudly would make it more real.
“Grace, you know I never could refuse you. I am not sure I understand what is going on though. We should probably meet somewhere and talk.” Cole was surprised by how confident he sounded. He certainly did not feel it.
“OK, how about Bearno’s Pizza on 4th street, in about an hour?” She asked timidly.
Cole sighed, obviously he no longer affected her the way she affected him. Well, that was probably the way it was meant to be. After all she was married and he was not. “Sounds fine. Will Michael be joining us?”
Cole heard the sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line. “No, Cole, he will not be joining us. Michael is dead. I will see you there.” Her words hung on the phone line even after she hung up. Michael was dead? That didn’t seem possible. He knew he had not kept up with the news for the last few years. After he and Grace’s incident he had left for an internship and the next thing he knew Grace was married to his ex-best-friend Michael. They had even had kids right away, talk about a slap in the face! He had decided then to concentrate on his business and forget Grace and Michael. He had started his company and had built it up to four locations. Of course, his newest location had brought him right back here to Cape Town and he knew he might run into them someday. He thought that he could handle it now, after all it had been almost eight years ago. But somehow hearing about Michael took all the wind out of him. He remembered how he and Michael had been so much alike. Or so he had thought. How could a best friend steal your girlfriend?
Grace’s stomach was already in knots. How was she going to react to seeing him again? She knew she was doing the right thing. But what if he found out her secret? She had avoided him all this time, but then until last year she had Michael with her. Would she be able to face the truth now?
Cole and Grace had met in high school. They dated throughout college and everyone assumed they would get married. Grace had lost her father when she was young and her mother had struggled to provide for them. When Cole came into her life he seemed to fill all the empty spots and made her feel complete.
Cole was a Christian and although Grace admired his faith, she could not believe in a God that would take her father away. At least, not then. After she had the twins God opened her eyes to what she was missing. Now she could not imagine life without him.
As she pulled into the restaurant parking lot, Grace whispered a prayer. ‘God, please help me. I don’t have the words. I don’t know who is threatening me and I am scared to see Cole again. I am not ready for him to know the truth, but I know you are the God of truth. Help me to see my way through this.’
Cole watched from inside the restaurant as Grace got out of her car. His chest tightened as she brushed her hair back and strode to the door. Why God? After all this time why does she still get to me like that? Cole rose to greet her as she found him across the room. He was not sure if he should shake her hand or give her a hug. It was so good to see her, but he was still angry about the way things turned out. He decided on the handshake. “Hi Grace, good to see you. You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Cole, it’s good to see you too. I am glad you came to help. Under the circumstances I would not have been surprised if you had said no.” Grace slid easily into the booth and motioned for Cole to sit as well.
“Grace, you knew that I would help. Although, I did spend a few years being mad at you for running off with my best friend.” Cole voice trailed off at the end, realizing he should not be pouring salt in her wounds. Michael was dead after all.
Running off with his best friend? He had a lot of nerve. As if he left her any other choices, she thought ruefully. Michael had stepped in when Cole wouldn’t. Cast not the first stone, daughter. Where had that come from? Grace looked around only to find Cole staring at her.
“Well, regardless of our past Cole, I know you have the best security firm around and I need help. This man threatened my children, and I need to know what they think I have.” Grace’s eyes began to tear up again as she spoke the words and recalled the threat. She wiped at the tears embarrassed to have him see her cry.
“Grace,” Cole’s tone was gentle, “I understand that you are afraid. I think I can help you, but you need to tell me everything you can think of about your life. We need to know what we are dealing with before we can protect you. I would also like to get a friend of mine who is a police officer to take a statement from you about the call. We need them to be aware of the threat in case this person tries to harm you.”
Grace felt reassured. She had made the right call. Cole would help her after all. “Well,” Grace began, “I am a practicing contract attorney. I suppose just being an attorney could put me in jeopardy, but I really can’t think of anything out of the ordinary. There are always a few people who are not happy, of course. But the man on the phone said I had the evidence, what evidence would I have?”
“You could be right, it may have nothing to do with your job. But maybe there was a contract that allowed something that was less than legal? Or maybe, a case that someone felt cheated by the results of the contract? I may be grasping at straws, but you need to think of the possibilities.” Cole stopped and sipped on his cola.
“I suppose you are right, I mean there are always people of questionable character, but I still don’t see what ‘evidence’ I would have,” Grace pondered.
“What about Michael?” Cole asked.
“Michael’s been gone over a year, why would something come up now?” Grace asked.
“Who knows. Just tell me about him. What did he do for a living, how did he die? Maybe there is an answer you are not considering.” Cole looked expectantly at her.
Cole’s look melted her heart and encouraged her to keep talking. “Michael worked as a computer engineer. He liked his job, but he worked very long hours. About a month before he died, those hours became even longer. He said he was working on some project. The night that he died he called to say goodnight to the boys and me. He never made it home. His car went off the road in the rain and he died instantly. I have often thought that maybe he knew somehow, his voice sounded so sad that night. Michael was a good man. He always stood up for what he thought was right. He even helped me find God after the boys were born.”
Cole’s eyes were moist after hearing about what had happened to Michael. It seemed so unfair. But then wasn’t it also unfair that Michael was even married to Grace in the first place? “Tell me about your boys,” he asked.
“Their names are Jake and Matthew and they are 7 years old. They are both spitfires, although their personalities are very different. Jake is a nut. He likes to lighten the mood, which has been nice since Michael died. He just doesn’t always know when to turn it off. Matthew is more serious then Jake. He is a good student. Ever since Michael died, Matthew has been angry. He gets mad at such little things. I know it is a part of grieving, but I wish he could just accept things the way they are.” Grace sighed and looked down at her cup. Cole should know the truth, she thought. Maybe after this mess was straightened out she could tell him.
“Obviously, you love them very much,” Cole said. “I think they are very lucky to have you. Where are they now?”
“My mother watches them after they get out of school and they are still there now. Actually, I should go pick them up. Where do we go from here with this call?” Grace was back to her matter-of-fact self.
“Grace, I don’t think you should go home alone when someone has threatened your kids. I could take you there and you could get your things or I could stay with you.” Cole looked at her sincerely.
Grace panicked. Stay with her? Was he crazy? But then again she couldn’t see keeping her kids in a hotel indefinitely. “We can manage. I don’t want you to go to any extra trouble.”
“I am not taking a ‘no’ on this, Grace. I can stay on your couch and make sure nothing happens to your boys. Let me go home and get a few things while you pick up the boys. Do not go in the house until I get there. I will call the police officer that I know on the way. He can meet us and get your statement. Give me your address.”
Grace rattled off her address. Maybe this would be better. The boys would be safe. She just wasn’t sure how safe she would be around him.
Cole turned the music up when he got in the car. He wanted to drown out the voice in his head telling him to be careful. She had hurt him once and she could do it again, right? Not if he did not get involved she couldn’t. He had to admit that he had been moved when she told him about Michael and about her kids. She obviously loved them very much. Then again, he had thought she loved him too.
Seeing her today had only proven that he had not buried the feelings he had for her. It was obvious that what she had felt for him was not strong. If it had been she would not have gone off with Michael. After he had left for his internship he hadn’t called her for a few months. He just couldn’t bring himself to deal with what had happened between them. Instead he had buried himself in work. When he finally did go back to talk to her, Grace and Michael were already married. He was just going to have to get over it once and for all. But first he would have to help her.
Grace pulled into her mother’s house at 7:30. Late again. She rushed into the house calling for her boys. She really needed to see them tonight.
Jake and Michael both came rushing at her with a force strong enough to take down a defensive lineman. She hugged them both and held them close, thankful that they were okay. “How was your day, guys?” she asked.
“Good, mommy. We get to take the class hamster home for break next week. Isn’t that cool?” Jake beamed from ear to ear.
“Yes, dear that is great.” Grace grimaced. She was not fond of hamsters or of anything that looked like a rodent. “What about you Matthew? Did you have a good day?”
Matthew shrugged his shoulders, the excitement of her return already leaving him. “I guess so. You’re late again. Can we go home now?”
Grace sighed; she wasn’t going to get the old Matthew back that easily. “In just a minute dear. I need to talk to your grandma for a while. Can you two go upstairs and pick up your things for me?”
She watched them retreat up the stairs before she turned around to go and find her mother. She found her right where she expected, in the kitchen. Rose loved to bake and she generally tried to bake away any bad mood. “Hi, Mom.” Grace stepped into the kitchen and kissed her mom on the cheek. “Sorry I am running late. You would not believe the day that I have had.”
“Is everything all right dear, you sounded rather upset on the phone.” Rose mopped her brow and looked at Grace. Grace knew she was worried. The past year had been almost as hard for Rose as it had been for Grace. Rose too, had a hard time with Michael’s death. Grace suspected it brought up too many painful memories of the loss of her own husband. She also had quit her job to help Grace with the boys.
Grace agonized over what she should tell her about the phone call today, or about seeing Cole again. She did not want to add any burden to her mother’s already loaded shoulders. She had often thought over the years that her mother knew her secret. If she did, she never let Grace know. Grace had always assumed it was because her mother agreed with her decision. What would she think now that Grace had asked Cole for help?
Grace decided that even though her mother would have to know all of this, she did not have to know it all tonight. “Something went wrong with one of my clients today, that’s all. I just need a little time to figure it out and I’m sure everything will be OK again.”
Grace tried to change the subject. “Ms. Fisher says that the boys are doing better. I just wish Matthew could open up. Well, as you say ‘all in due time’, right mom?”
“Grace, you know I will always be here no matter what. I get the feeling that you are not telling me everything, but God is telling me to let you work it out. Just know that I am praying for you. Your boys need you. Whatever it is, do what is best for them.” Rose looked as if she was going to add more to what she had just said, but instead she turned and walked the of the room.
Cole drove up outside of Grace’s house at the same time his friend Peter got there. Looking at the house Cole could not shake the feeling that this was supposed to be his house. It was just the kind of house he would have pictured living in when he and Grace were together. It was nice, but modest, with white painted trim and a neatly manicured lawn. Remembering that it was not just Grace’s house, but also Michael’s house, sent him quickly back to reality. Who was he kidding anyway? If God had intended for he and Grace to be together they would have been together. It obviously was not meant to be. Right now he had to focus on his job. He jumped out of the car to fill his friend in on the situation before Grace arrived home.
After speaking with his friend for a few minutes, Grace pulled in to the driveway. She got out of the car quickly and called out to the back seat, “Here we are guys.” Two little heads jumped out of the car and stopped to stare at the two men in their driveway. “It’s OK guys, these are some friends of mine that are helping me with a project at work. Jake and Matthew this is Cole and …”
“Mr. Drake, but you guys can call me Peter.” Peter stuck out a hand for the boys to shake. Luckily, Peter had been off duty, so he was not wearing his uniform. Although the boys might have enjoyed seeing a real police officer, he thought it would have probably made them wonder about their mom’s friends. Cole looked again at the boys who were talking earnestly with Peter. They were sure cute kids. Cole often wondered if he would make a good dad. These days he even wondered if he would ever be a dad at all. For I know the plans I have for you . . . The whispered voice seemed to speak right to his heart. Cole knew that the voice was right, God had a plan. He just wished he had a road map.
Grace got the kids inside and put them to bed. She walked downstairs and overheard Cole telling Peter something about her breaking his heart. She broke his heart? Something about this meeting with Cole was not adding up. She was the one who should be mad-HE broke HER heart! She decided to interrupt this conversation before it got any further.
“So, Mr. Drake, what can I do about this phone call?” Grace entered the room and took a seat across from the two friends.
“Well, Grace, until something is actually done to you or your property, we really can’t do anything. I am going to take a report to have on file if anything more comes of this. I would suggest that you and Cole find out why this person is targeting you. I understand from Cole that you two are old friends, but he is also one of the best in the business. He can help you figure this out.”
“I’d better be going. It was nice to meet you Grace, I wish it had been under better circumstances.” Peter rose and left the house, leaving Cole and Grace alone.
The silence between them spoke volumes.
Finally Cole broke down. “OK Grace, if we are going to figure this out, I need more information. Tell me about your cases, show me where Michael worked, maybe there is even something in this house you are not realizing is relevant.” He wanted to add, ‘tell me why you married him’, but he didn’t. He just wished he knew when it had become so hard to talk to Grace. She couldn’t even make eye contact with him. He guessed that’s what a guilty conscious did to a person.
Finally Grace spoke. “Well, I guess that best place to get an idea of what we did for work is to look at our office. It’s down the hall over here.” She led him to a small room at the back of the house. When she opened the door she covered her mouth to stifle a scream. She backed away from the door, pointing at the computer. Cole moved around her and entered the room. Taped to the computer screen was a printed sign that read:
DON’T FORGET OUR CONVERSATION.
GIVE US WHAT WE NEED. TIME IS RUNNING OUT.
Cole looked back at Grace. The color had drained from her face. This was serious. Whoever was after Grace had been in her house. Cole asked Grace if she had a bag to put the sign in. He would give it to Peter the next day. For now, he had to make sure Grace was all right and find out if anything was missing.
Together they secured the house and set up a bed for Cole in the family room. Grace offered to let him sleep in the spare bedroom, but Cole insisted that he be near the doors, in case there were any more unwelcome visitors. Secretly, Grace was glad that he chose to sleep downstairs. That gave them a whole floor between them.
By the time Grace went to bed that night she knew she would never be able to sleep. The phone call, Cole and intruders all in one day. She wanted to concentrate and figure out what the messages had been about, but her mind kept going back to Cole.
The night that had changed everything for her so many years ago had started out innocently enough. She and Cole had been dating for several years by that time and they spent almost all of their free time together. They knew that they wanted to be together forever, but Cole was a Christian. He believed that they should wait for marriage before they were intimate. Grace thought it was kind of cute the way that he would put her first in everything that they did. Her friend’s boyfriends were certainly not like that. When they would go out they would have rules about where they could be alone. Cole did not want to tempt himself. He often said that he would never forgive himself if he let things go too far with her.
That night they had gone to a movie, but when the movie was over, Cole was not ready to go home. He was leaving the next day for his internship and he wanted them to spend as much time together as they could. He had suggested getting some snacks and going back to his house to talk. They talked for hours about everything that they wanted in life and about how neither of them wanted to say goodbye for the few months Cole would be gone. As the night had grown longer, the two of them had grown closer. In the middle of the night their kissing had turned into much more and they both knew there was no going back. In the morning Grace awoke to find Cole looking at her with tears in his eyes. “What did I do?” he had asked.
That had been the last time she talked to Cole. He left for his internship and never called her. She was so hurt and confused that she did not know what to do. She tried to act like everything was OK, but her world was crashing down around her. Michael had called a couple of times to talk or to see if she wanted to get coffee at the place the three of them used to hang out. Eventually, she said yes. She needed to talk to someone who knew Cole and could help her figure this out. When she met Michael, he knew right away that something was wrong. She poured out the whole story to him and he listened. At first he was angry for the way Cole had treated her, but after talking for a while he told her there must be some misunderstanding. “Cole loves you,” he had said. “Go to him and figure this thing out before it’s too late.”
Grace had decided that Michael was right. She left the next day for Boston to see Cole. When she got there, she went to the company he was interning at during the lunch hour. She asked the receptionist where she could find him. “Cole Davis?” the receptionist had seemed puzzled. “He just went to lunch with his girl friend. He sure is a cutie. I am sure he will be back soon.” The words had knotted Grace’s stomach and she thought she was going to be sick. She ran into the restroom to catch her breath. It was too late. She threw up her breakfast and sat on the floor of the bathroom stall crying for several minutes before she could compose herself enough to walk out of the building. Maybe the receptionist was mistaken she thought. She was trying to think of a way to talk to Cole when she spotted him coming into the building. There was a pretty blond girl at his side that seemed to think that something Cole had just said was hilarious. The blond grabbed Cole’s elbow and the two of them disappeared down a hallway to the company offices.
Grace decided right then that she and Cole were finished. She cried all the way back home and did not talk to anyone for several days. When she finally let Michael see her, she was still not felling well. She was sure it was because of how upset she was, but Michael was not convinced. “I think we need to get you to a doctor Grace. Something isn’t right.” When that doctor told her that she was pregnant she knew she was being punished for the mistake she and Cole had made.
After she told Michael that she was pregnant, he had hugged her and let her cry for hours. He kept telling her that it would be all right, that he would help her. What he said next had really shocked her. He told her that he had always cared about her and that if Cole wasn’t going to step up and do the right thing then he would. He asked Grace to marry him right away and they could be a family and bring her baby up right. At first Grace had said no. After all, how could someone take on such a big responsibility that was not theirs? She did like Michael, but she did not love him. Michael insisted that God was telling him that this was the right thing to do. She thought about her own family and how her father had been taken away from them. She knew she did not want to bring a child up without a father. Eventually, she had said yes. They were married a few days later in a private church ceremony. Grace’s mom had been shocked at the news of a baby on the way, but relieved that Michael had married her. She had done her best to help the two of them and to make Michael one of the family.
A few months later when the baby turned into babies, Michael was still right by her side. She learned to trust him and eventually she fell in love with him. Although some in their town may have wondered what had happened to Grace and Cole, no one ever said it in front of Grace. Michael took on parenting the boys as if they were his own. And Grace always knew that in his heart they were his kids. No one but Michael knew her secret.
Grace had learned to forgive herself for the mistake they made that night, but she never had quite forgiven Cole for running out on her. The tears were still fresh on her face as she said her prayers and finally drifted off to sleep.
Cole awoke with a start when he heard a bump outside. His years of training had him on his feet and inconspicuously looking out the window in a matter of seconds. No one was going to hurt Grace or her boys, not if he could help it. After a few minutes of searching, he decided that it had just been an animal nosing around in the trash. He settled back on the couch thinking about Grace.
If only he had not left for that job, maybe he and Grace would have stayed together. In his heart though, he knew that wasn’t the reason they broke apart. It was because of what he had done. He couldn’t blame Grace. He was the man and he was a Christian, he was supposed to be in control of himself. Grace was the only woman he had ever loved and the only woman he had ever been intimate with. Seeing her again after all these years just served to remind him of what he had lost. Michael was not blameless in this either. He still did not understand what would have motivated him to start seeing Grace so soon after he had left town. As he drifted back to sleep, images of Grace kept drifting though his mind. It was hopeless. He wished he could tell his heart not to love her.
The next morning Cole rose early. He wanted to be ready before Grace’s boys were up. He was sure they were not used to a stranger in the house and seeing him sleeping on the sofa would only be that much more confusing for them. He decided making breakfast might be a good distraction for the boys. Those two boys had definitely had a rough time the last year. He felt sorry for them having to lose their dad. However he felt about him, Michael had been a lucky man. He had gotten Grace and a nice family all at once. Cole rummaged through the refrigerator, found the makings for some scrambled eggs and went to work.
Twenty minutes later, Grace and the boys emerged from upstairs dressed and ready for their day. The boys eyed Cole a little suspiciously, but obviously remembered him from the night before. Matthew moved protectively towards his mother but Jake spoke up. “Hi Mr. Cole. Were you here all night? Did you make all of us breakfast? I like eggs. We are going to the museum at school today. Do you think we will see a dinosaur egg?” Jake’s banter made Cole laugh.
“I don’t know what you will see at the museum, but you will have to tell me all about it. And yes, the eggs are for you. Eat up.” Cole smiled at Grace. “Good morning, sunshine. It looks like you didn’t get enough sleep last night. We will have to work on that problem today so that you can have a better night tonight.”
After breakfast Grace and Cole had agreed to tie up a few things at work and meet back at Grace’s house to try and figure out who was threatening her. Grace dropped the boys off at school and reminded them they would be going to their grandma’s again after school.
She headed to work and tried to clear her mind. She had to focus on what needed to be done, what needed to be rescheduled in order to have a couple of days to figure this out. Before she got out of the car, she noticed the box on the seat that she had received yesterday. It seemed like weeks, not just 24 hours, since she had gotten this package. She had not opened it yet. She knew that it contained the final papers from Michael’s estate. Even though it had been a year, it did not seem right to see the finality of those papers. She had intended to take them into work, but now she thought that she needed to have them with her. She needed to read them now; she needed to remember him now, especially with Cole here. She left the box on the seat and brought her other things in to her office. She did not notice the man in the next car that watched her and waited.
Once she had wrapped up her appointments for a couple of days, she worked on a list of possible client threats. She could not come up with many. This was going to be a very short suspect list. There was a partnership that had dissolved and did not go the way her client had wanted, there was also a civil case pending on the validity of a will she had drawn up for an elderly client. She did not think that either of these were going to help her find out what ‘evidence’ she had. She grabbed a short stack of folders she had pulled out and called her secretary into her office. “Mary, I am going to be out of the office for a couple of days. Something has come up that I need to deal with. I have already rescheduled my appointments, but please do not let anyone else schedule anything until I am back. You can reach me at home, but please do not give out the number to anyone.”
“Of course, Grace. Is anything wrong?” Mary seemed genuinely concerned for her.
Grace got the feeling that many at the firm were waiting for her to lose it ever since Michael’s death. She thought about telling Mary what was going on, and changed her mind. She did not need this to get any more out of control than it already was. “No Mary, I will be fine. I’ll check in with you this afternoon.”
Going out to her car she noticed the security guard looking in her car windows. “Ryan, is something wrong?”
“Ms. Brandt, someone was trying to get into your car. I saw them and they ran away. I just wanted to make sure they did not damage anything.”
“Thanks, Ryan. It was probably just some kids.” Grace tried to sound convincing, but she knew her heart rate had tripled. She needed to get home and figure this out quickly.
Cole got his business wrapped up quickly and got to Grace’s house before she returned. He parked across the street and was about to get out when he noticed a dark car driving by very slowly. He slid down in his seat and tried to jot the license plate down. He quickly called Peter and filled him in on the previous nights events and the suspicious car that was driving Grace’s neighborhood. Peter told him he would run a check on the partial plates Cole had obtained and would stop by a little later to get the note that had been left on the computer. Peter also agreed to send an extra patrol car though the neighborhood for the next couple of days. Cole breathed a small sigh of relief. After meeting Grace’s boys, he knew he could not let anything happen to their family.
He waited in the car another twenty minutes until he saw Grace pull in her driveway. He jumped out of his car to lead her safely into the house. After exchanging stories about their morning encounters, they fell into a comfortable silence. Grace seemed to be shaken and he could only imagine how hard this was for her.
“Grace, why don’t we start with the list you gave me. Then we can go over Michael’s files. There must be something here that they want. Maybe if we can find out what it is, we can figure out how to get you out of danger.”
They worked on her files for a few hours. They tried Internet searches on names and tried having Grace recall every detail about each case that she could remember. When it was time for lunch, they were both tired and grumpy and the information had gotten them nowhere. “Why don’t we go out and eat. We can clear our heads for a while,” Jake suggested.
Grace agreed, but she asked if they could pray first. That really took Cole by surprise. The old Grace would have never asked him to do that. “Yes, Cole I am a Christian now and I think we definitely need God’s help if we are going to figure out where this threat is coming from.”
“Of course Grace, I didn’t mean to seem shocked, it’s just, never mind. Let’s pray.” They joined hands and bowed their heads. “God, we are asking for your help and guidance for Grace. Comfort her and help her to find what she needs to keep her family safe. Let the truth shine out and be victorious over this threat in her life. In your name we pray, amen.”
While they ate, Grace tried to relax. She watched Cole eat and thought that he really was a very handsome man. His dark hair curled slightly and there was warmth in his deep blue eyes. She tried to stop her thoughts. Cole had not really loved her. She certainly did not need to bring up a schoolgirl crush again now. Even so, looking at him now she could almost believe that he really had loved her once, even if it was long ago.
Cole interrupted the silence by asking her again about Michael. “I still think that whatever is going on may have more to do with Michael than with you. I wish now that we had remained friends. I felt betrayed then, but I see now that he really was the guy that I thought he was. Tell me what you know about the people he worked for.”
“Well, the company was called Progressive Technology. He started with them a few years ago. At first he seemed really excited about the services that they were promoting. They set up computer software in doctor’s offices. He knew the software inside and out and he was often asked to train clients on it’s use. Just before he died, he was in the process of making a major upgrade to the program. He seemed to be distracted and not very enthused about the company any more. I think it was just because he was getting burned out. He started talking about moving after he finished with this project. He thought we needed a fresh start somewhere else. I was not happy about that idea, but he knew that I supported him if he needed a change. That’s the last I knew before he died. After his death, his company went out of their way to help the boys and me. They were very kind.”
She thought about whether there was any more to tell and remembered the box in her car. Her face clouded over. “Cole, I received a box yesterday that is from Michael’s attorney. I think it is just his estate papers. I wanted to wait and open it when I felt like I could say a final goodbye, you know? But if somehow what is in there has to do with this mess, maybe we better open it.”
“I agree. Let’s finish up here and take it over to your house. Grace, I want you to know that I truly am sorry that Michael is gone. You have both done a great job raising your boys and I know they will always miss him.”
Leave it to Cole to say just the right thing, thought Grace. It feels kind of like it did back then. But then again, back then hadn’t turned out so well had it?
They noticed the emergency cars from a few blocks away. There were several of them surrounding Grace’s house and the fire truck was spraying her garage.
Pete was directing the officers as Cole and Grace ran to him. “What happened?” Cole called out.
“It looks like someone tried to start your house on fire. Luckily, we had patrolmen watching your house periodically and they noticed it before the fire spread too far. The fire was contained to the garage, but you will need to be out for a few days while they get this cleaned up. Whoever is after you is serious, Grace. “ Pete looked at her solemnly, “Is there anyone you want us to call?”
Grace tried to process what was happening, but it looked like something out of a movie. “No, I’ll be OK,” she replied. She started to feel dizzy and spun around and landed right in Cole’s arms.
“I’ve got you.” Cole whispered the words in her ear. “It will be all right. God’s on our side in this one remember?”
They decided to go to Cole’s house. First, Grace called her mother and told her about the fire. She asked if the boys could stay with her. Her mother had been shocked, but she had readily agreed to the extra baby-sitting. She had asked where Grace would stay. Grace did not want to lie to her mother, but she was not ready to tell her the whole story either. She decided to tell her just that she was staying with a friend that was going to help her with the house.
When they got to Cole’s house, Grace started sobbing. “What if Jake and Matthew had been there, Cole? They could have been hurt. I don’t know what I would ever do without them.”
“Grace, I know you love your kids, but they are OK. We need to stay focused and figure this out.” Cole got two cups of hot tea and set them down on the sofa table. “Did you bring the package from your car? Let’s bring it over here and have a look.”
Grace got up and brought the box over to the sofa. She was still teary eyed, but she needed to steel herself to be able to do this. “I really don’t know if this has anything to do with these events.”
They sat together on the sofa and peered into the box. Grace took out the estate papers that she had thought were in the box. “See, it is just about the estate, we are back at square one again!” The frustrations of the past two days mounted and she threw the box at the wall. A small envelope fell out of the box as the box slid down the wall. Grace and Cole looked at each other. Cole jumped up and grabbed the envelope.
“It is addressed to you Grace. There is something inside it. Open it up!” Cole’s voice was rising with the excitement of the find.
Grace’s hands trembled as she tore open the envelope. Inside were a typed letter, a handwritten letter and a computer disk. She glanced at the handwritten letter. The handwriting was Michael’s. She desperately wanted to read it, but she also wanted to run. If these were Michael’s last words, she wanted to be alone to read them. Finally, she decided that Cole needed to hear whatever was in that letter too. Slowly she opened the typed letter first and began to read:
Dear Ms. Brandt,
Per your husband’s wishes we held the enclosed letter until his estate was settled. He asked that we deliver this letter along with the enclosed disk. We are truly sorry for your loss.
Hines and Hines
Grace’s hands shook as she unfolded the other letter. It was creased and worn as if Michael had carried in his pocket for a while before giving it to the attorney. She looked up at Cole, unsure if she should proceed with reading this letter. He nodded encouragingly and let her continue:
My Dearest Grace,
If you are reading this, I am in heaven. I want you to know that I tried to protect you from all of this mess that has been created. I asked for my attorneys to wait to give you this until my estate had settled. I thought that you would be safer if they did not know you had this information.
Always know I loved you and the boys and I would be there right now if I could. Grace, your faith has been an inspiration to me and it has made all the difference to me as I have made difficult choices lately. Please know that God did not take me away from you, forces of evil on this earth did.
I began to see problems in Progressive Technology several years ago. Recently, I was placed in charge of development for the newest version of their medical software. The program was plagued with inconsistencies that I began to realize were deliberate. I found an embedded program within the software that would capture all patient information as well as alter the inventory of drugs on hand that the computer accounted for. This added program allowed a company technician access to take out actual patient data relating to their prescriptions. I did not understand what they would want this information for, until I realized that they were selling the patients information, along with signed prescriptions, that would allow other people access to drugs under the patient’s name. Additionally, in some offices they were even able to steal the drugs directly from the physician because of the altered inventories in the computer.
One of the managers at the company knew that I was digging into the program data and threatened me to stop. I have taken the program, along with the names of those I believe were involved, and have copied it to the disk you should have received. It is your choice now, Grace. I know you will do the right thing.
One last thing Grace, since I am gone I want you to do me a favor. Find Cole and tell him the truth. I think he needs to know. Remember that God is on your side.
When she finished reading the letter, Grace could no longer see through her tears. She couldn’t look up either, because she knew that Cole was trying to digest the last paragraph of the letter. Her stomach hurt for Michael. He had carried around so many burdens that she did not know about. She could not believe that he was murdered or that his company could have done something so evil.
God, you have helped me find the answer. Please help me also to find the strength do the right thing for Michael and for Cole. Michael was right, Cole does deserve to know the truth.
Cole was shocked by the words in the letter. Michael had actually been murdered? How could a computer engineer end up in the middle of such madness? Michael had definitely tried to do the right thing though; he really was a stand up guy. What about the last part of that letter? Why would Michael mention him? And asking Grace to tell him the truth? What truth? That they had really been in love all along?
His mind reeled at the possibilities as he waited for Grace to speak. She looked like she was praying and the tears had not stopped flowing from her cheeks. He reached out and grabbed her hand, wanting desperately to comfort her. After a few minutes she finally spoke. “Obviously, we know where the threat is coming from now. We can call Peter and give him this information. Then you and I need to talk about our past.”
Cole was still puzzled but he agreed that calling Peter was important. He dialed the car phone number that Peter had given him. “Peter, this is Cole. We just figured out who is after Grace. Can you come to my house right away? Thanks Peter, we will see you soon.”
“OK Grace, what does all of this have to do with us?” Cole inquired when he was off the phone.
“Why don’t you sit down and I will tell you what no one but Michael has known.”
“I don’t know if I am ready to tell you this, but God is telling me that it is time for me to be honest.” Grace sat knee to knee with Cole, looking down at the ground to avoid his eyes.
“The mistake we made eight years ago was one of the most difficult things in my life. We had promised to love each other forever. Then we let things go too far and you never tried to call me or talk to me. I was heartbroken. I guess you thought I was no good after I was no longer your virgin bride.” Grace took a deep breath to continue.
Cole interrupted, “Grace you are so wrong. I did not think less of you; I thought less of myself. I had let myself down and I let God down. I didn’t know how to deal with that."
“Michael thought that might be true. He and I talked a lot after you left. He told me to find you and talk it out. So, I went to Boston to visit you, but you had already moved on.”
“Moved on, what are you talking about? You never came to Boston.” Cole looked really confused now.
Grace’s face went pale. Maybe it had been a mistake; maybe he really hadn’t gone on without her. “When I went to your office, the receptionist told me you were out with your girl friend. Then I saw the two of you coming back from lunch and I knew you did not want me anymore.” Grace’s eyes glistened at the recalled hurt of that day.
“Grace, I am sorry that you thought that, but you are wrong again. The woman you saw me with was probably my co-worker, Janet. She may have liked me as more than a friend, but I never felt the same. In fact, she eventually got tired of me talking about you all time and she moved on to someone else.”
Grace began to realize what a mistake she had made back then. Maybe they both were to blame. “Well, you never called. When I told Michael what I had seen, he was angry with you. Then when I found out I was pregnant, he decided he would step in for you and give the boys a family.”
Cole could not believe what he was hearing. Grace had really loved him after all and Michael had only stepped in – wait a minute. If Michael found out Grace was pregnant before they got married, then that meant… Cole looked stunned. “What did you say? You were pregnant from our time together? Does that mean the boys are mine?”
“I know you are probably mad at me for not telling you, but yes, Cole they are our sons. All these years I have been so worried about you finding out. And now, knowing that it was all a mistake I feel so free. If you don’t want to be a part of their lives it is OK, I mean you didn’t even know you were their father. “
Cole grabbed her face in his hands. His eyes shone with warmth and love. “They really are mine. I have sons’? I love you Grace; I have always loved you. I don’t know how this is going to work between us, but I believe that it will. God brought us back together and with his strength we can do anything.” Cole bent down and kissed her. He savored the kiss, wanting to remember everything about this moment.
A rapid knock on the door interrupted their kiss. Cole broke away from Grace to find Peter at the door. “I came as soon as I could. What did you find?”
Grace and Cole showed Peter the disk and the letter and told him to find the people at Progressive Technology that Michael mentioned on the disk. Peter looked strangely at the disk for a minute before he spoke. “This answers a lot of questions. We have had the FBI involved in looking into this company for several months now. They have not been able to get their hands on any hard evidence that would find them guilty of any wrongdoing. I suspect that someone in the company must have been warned that you might have this disk. You and your boys are lucky that they have not done anything to harm you.”
“Well, from now on I can consider myself twice saved. Once by God and once by Cole and Michael!” They laughed and Peter left, promising to contact them as soon as they had the suspects in custody.
“What do you say we go and tell my mother about all that has happened today and you can go to see your sons?”
“I think that sounds like a perfect plan.” Cole’s smile beamed from ear to ear. ‘For I know the plans I have for you . . .’ The whispered voice repeated. Cole held back a laugh. I know God, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Several months later they were all sitting at the dinner table when there was another knock on the door. It was Peter again, this time filling them in on the criminal cases against Progressive Technologies. So far, they had captured all the key players from the company. The overwhelming evidence against them was causing the company leaders to turn in the drug suppliers on the streets. The manager Michael had worked for had confessed to threatening Grace and the boys and to starting her home on fire.
“Michael would be proud. I know that he wanted to stop them himself. They may have gotten to him first, but he is still getting to have the last word.” Grace looked down at the new ring on her finger. She hoped that he would be proud of her and Cole too. They had come so far.
“Peter, are you coming to the wedding next week?” Cole asked.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” He smiled and asked the boys if they wanted to come out and sit in his police car.
The boys looked at Grace and Cole. “Can we please?” They asked in unison. Even Matthew was grinning.
“Now, how can we say no to that?” Cole looked at Grace, who nodded at the boys. They ran out after Peter.
“Isn’t it amazing?” Grace asked. “Who would have thought that the two of us would make it back to this place. We are together and the boys are happy. Who would have thought that something good could come out of our mistakes. I guess only God saw that one coming.” She wrapped her arms around Cole’s neck. “I love you Cole Davis.”
“Right back at you, Mrs. Davis.” They laughed and followed their sons outside.