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Colin couldnít help but wonder if his past had finally caught up with the media. He wanted out.
Out of the room and out of this charity commitment. Now, before Miss Nikki Post plastered her suspicions across the front page of the paper.
Journalists need to get a life of their own, he thought. Suddenly he had the strongest urge to make a face at her, just like in fifth grade, when he decided girls were the worst invention God had ever made.
He looked back at Nikki, realizing how innocently right his thinking had been. How many times would it take before he learnedóbeauty is only skin deep?
When would the Lord introduce him to a woman whose heart led her life? One who didnít care where they ended up, as long as they were together? Still, the unexpected happened to those who least expected it. Did such a woman even exist?
wrote daily to a pen pal for ten years, yet writing as a career didnít occur to her for another two decades. ďMy first key chain said, ĎBloom where youíre planted.í Iíve tried to follow that advice ever since.Ē
Carol, her husband and their three children have planted their roots in Greeley. Together, their family enjoys sports, camping and discovering Coloradoís beauty. Carol has operated her own cake-decorating business and spent fifteen years providing full-time child care to more than one hundred children before moving on the other end of the education field. She is now an admissions adviser at a state university.
As always, Carol loves to hear from her readers. You can contact her at P.O. Box 200269, Evans, CO 80620. She would also love for you to visit her Web page at www.carolsteward.com.
Journey to Forever
You whom I took from the ends of the earth and called you from its farthest corners, saying to you, ďYou are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off;Ē fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
To Bette, who has been my spiritual mentor
and always my dear friend!
And to my family, for all your love and support.
Letter to Reader
Colin loosened the knot of his tie and glanced around the elaborately decorated office, pacing the floor as if it were a bad day in the dugout.
He couldnít imagine why his new employer wanted to meet him away from the radio station.
Ellis Chapman sauntered through the entrance and extended his hand. ďNice to see you again, Colin. Howís the shoulder recovering?Ē
ďI finished therapy last month. It will never be able to take the rigors of baseball again, but itís doing fine, thanks.Ē He had met the staunch icon of the community at several media functions over the years, before the career-ending rotator-cuff surgery forced him off the field. From there, he had moved into a temporary sports-announcing job, where heíd discovered his lifeís dreamóspreading Godís word over the sound waves.
ďAnd the job? Is it what you thought it would be?Ē
When he became bored with sitting on the sidelines during the off-season of baseball, Colin had accepted Chapmanís invitation to host a Christian radio show, where the spiritual and emotional challenges provided unexpected rewards on a daily basis. ďIím not missing sports nearly as much as I feared I might.Ē
His boss grasped Colinís hand and enthusiastically pumped his arm. ďGood,Ē he said, motioning for Colin to follow him into his private office. Colin sank into the soft leather chair and waited for the point of the meeting to surface. ďIíve been meaning to talk to you about one of the topics you discussed on your show. We have a few skeptics in the community who think Christian broadcasting is no place for a retired baseball player. I think youíve opened a lot of eyes to the fact that there are Christians everywhere, even in professional sports.Ē
Feeling as if there was more Mr. Chapman had to say, Colin straightened his back, suddenly thankful for the privacy. If he was going to be fired, he didnít want an audience.
Before Colin could cut in Ellis added, ďI have an interesting proposition for you.Ē
That didnít sound too promising. Anything that started with interesting had to mean trouble. He was likely being demoted to the minor leagues of radio. Whatever that meant, Colin wasnít interested in another career change.
Mr. Chapman rambled on about needing to boost the ratings for the radio and the readership for the newspaper. Apparently advertising had dipped into the danger zones on both.
ďWe need to do something to grab the audience, and timing is critical. The board has been tossing about ideas, which brought you to mind.Ē
Colin decided Mr. Chapman must have listened to his talk on ďFinancial Responsibility for Christians.Ē He supposed he didnít blame him for doing what he had to do in order to keep his acquisitions in the black. Cutbacks were common with the economy in a slump. Three years ago, the Denver Gazette had been on the verge of bankruptcy. Ellis Chapman had bought it and turned it around, adding newspaper publishing to his communications conglomerate. Failure wasnít in Chapmanís vocabulary and Colin highly respected him.
Chapmanís assistant slipped into the room and quietly filled crystal goblets with sparkling water. ďPardon the interruption, Mr. Chapman. Miss Postís car broke down and sheís going to be late. She sent her apologies.Ē
Chapman shook his head, but his expression indicated he truly cared about the misfortune of the woman, whoever she was. ďThank you.Ē He stood, stuffing his hands into his trouser pockets as he paced the room in silence.
Colin watched, his patience tested. How will I fit into Chapmanís plan? He realized the world of Christian radio might not appreciate his unconventionality, from his shaved head to his high-profile and highly competitive career. He knew it seemed unlikely that a believer could remain faithful when hit with so many temptations in the limelight. Heíd learned long ago that the best way to avoid false accusations was to keep focused on the Lord. He couldnít let doubt throw him a curveball now. ďI have to admit, your call piqued my curiosity. Is there a concern with my work?Ē Colinís question caught Mr. Chapmanís attention.
Was that humor Colin saw in Ellisís expression?
ďOh, no. As I mentioned, Colin, your show got me thinking about this younger generation. I listened to your discussion about commitment to giving in the community and took the tape to the board for their opinion. Which is why Iíve called you here today. I guarantee this is right up your alley.Ē Chapman, who was nearly as round as he was tall, leaned against the giant desk in his office. ďI recall your name being tied to several fund-raisers during your baseball career.Ē
Colin tugged at his tie, recalling the antics he had performed to raise money for charity. ďSir, I donít follow you. Do those pose a problem?Ē
ďIf there is anyone who can make news out of something so prosaic, itís you, Colin. And what absolutely galls me is the success you have doing it.Ē A smile crinkled his round face.
ďProsaic?Ē Not exactly a compliment. ďWhat does that have to do with anything?Ē
ďYour stunts were absolutely mundane tasks anyone could do, yet you drew the audience right in with you. Who would have ever thought pushing a peanut down the Sixteenth Street Mall with your nose or sitting in every seat of every professional ballpark in the country would bring in thousands of dollars? It shows that all of us can do something to help those in need.Ē
ďHas someone just found out about this? You had to have known my willingness to make a fool of myself for charityís sake before the board agreed to hire me. I happen to find helping others rewarding,Ē he said, unable to keep the anger out of his voice.
ďCalm down. Youíve got it all wrong. What we want to know is if youíre ready for another stunt.Ē He explained that the executive board had voted unanimously to ask Colin.
Relief washed over him. ďThatís what all of this is about?Ē
ďThatís it. Every year we do something to get involved with the community. We buy school supplies, coat drives, collect bedding, the usual. But this year, we want to boost our exposure and do something that will make a lasting impression on the community, so weíd like something with a bit of pizzazz. We immediately thought of you, if youíre willing.Ē
ďWhat do you have in mind?Ē
ďActually, weíre considering drawing the audience into that decision, if youíre game. Weíll give them two weeks to come up with the best stunt idea and theyíll win a prize. The board is meeting here in a few minutes, in fact. Iíd like you to be here.Ē
It had been three years since his last stunt, and it had taken months for his body to recover from that one. Heíd been in shape then. How difficult would it be now that he was no longer on a training schedule? ďThatís fine. When is the big event?Ē
A deep laugh rolled from Chapmanís chest as he stood and paced the perimeter of the room. ďThat depends on the event itself. But weíd like it sooner rather than later. I want the public to see you, to watch you and to be able to cheer you on. We need them to connect with this project.Ē
ďWhere is the money going?Ē Colin heard female voices outside Chapmanís office door.
ďSeveral agencies have approached us for donations, but Iím leaning toward Good SamaritanÖĒ Ellis said just as the striking blonde blew into the room like a tornado in search of a target.
ďItís dead! Just blew a water pump and some head gas thingies right in the middle of the mousetrap.Ē
Colin cringed at the thought of breaking down on the worst highway maze in the city.
ďI canít believe I drove that jalopyÖ.Ē She brushed the silky hair from her eyes and dropped into the chair, flying back to her feet immediately when she landed on Colin instead of the plush leather. Her eyes widened when she spun around and looked at him. ďOh dear.Ē
Colin didnít know what to say or do.
ďI didnít see you,Ē she said, backing away. She glanced at Mr. Chapman and covered her mouth with her hand. ďIím so sorry.Ē
ďNo harm done,Ē Colin said, wondering if she was always so easily flustered.
ďI didnít think the meeting had started yetÖĒ Her fair complexion turned a rosy pink. ďI, uh, Iím sorry I interrupted.Ē A quick glance at her watch brought a frown and she pulled her sleeve back over the shiny silver band.
He knew he shouldnít stare, but he had no choice. Her pastel blue pants were badly wrinkled and smudged with dirt. Frustration flashed in her ice-blue eyes. He stood and extended a hand. ďIím Colin Wright. Mr. Chapman and I were just discussing a few things, you didnít interrupt.Ē
She clasped his hand briefly and whispered hello, all the while eyeing him with a calculating expression.
Mr. Chapman cut her off before she had a chance to introduce herself, though even without the verbal notes, Colin had already concluded from her confusion and the smears of black grease on her chin that she was the unfortunate Miss Post.
ďThis is Nicole Post, an intern at the Gazette. Iíve suggested she might want to sit in on the board meeting, see another side of the business. Why donít you take a minute to freshen up, Nicole, and weíll meet you in the boardroom.Ē
She looked young and energetic, even if her car wasnít. Both her energy and an unreliable vehicle were typical of a college student, though she appeared slightly older and more mature than the traditional coed, though her actions called that into question.
ďIíll be back as soon as possible.Ē She backed her way to the door, trying to avoid looking at Colin.
Her embarrassment made his heart beat a little quicker. When their eyes met, he smiled. He should know better than to try to convince himself that he was simply being a gentleman by ignoring her inappropriate behavior. In most situations, barging into the CEOís office would be an automatic strikeout, not to mention sitting on an associateís lap, accident or not. Still, there was an innocence about Nicole Post that intrigued him.
As quickly as the thought entered his mind, he reminded himself that it would be career suicide to consider flirting with a fellow employee, even if they were in different branches.
Nikki rushed into the nearest ladiesí room and locked the door behind her. ďI canít believe I just waltzed into the office throwing such a tantrum that I didnít even notice a gorgeous man sitting there,Ē she mumbled. She lathered her face and scrubbed the greasy smudges from her cheeks with paper towels then splashed her face with water and touched up her foundation. There was no need to add blush, Mother Nature had given her an abundance of that already.
She wiped the wrinkled trousers with a damp towel and straightened the linen suit as her mind flashed back to Colinís smile. Unbuttoning the jacket so it wouldnít hug her derriere, Nikki glanced at her hair and dismissed the idea of making an impression on anyone, let alone a popular public figure like Colin. His deep-set smoky blue eyes had taken her breath away, and he probably knew it from the twitch of the muscle hidden beneath his five oíclock shadow. She glanced at her watch, realizing it wasnít even noon, so his whiskers were an intentional look. That figures, she thought. Heís a hometown kid riding the wave of his brief encounter with notoriety. Todayís news, tomorrowís heartbreak. Nikki tossed her head and raised her chin.
She slipped into the boardroom as the discussion turned to publicity. Finding only one seat left, across from Colin, Nikki felt him watching her as she sat.
Colin spoke quite eloquently for a baseball player, she decided as he agreed to participate in the fund-raiser.
She couldnít believe the board had actually agreed to Colin representing them. Just a few months ago, they werenít even convinced it was a good decision to have a professional athlete on the air. Publicity stunts were juvenile and immature. Surely the conservative board would veto the entire idea before someone took it seriously.
ďI appreciate your offer to help, Colin dear, but I donít think a Christian radio station should have to resort to frivolous stunts to bring in an income,Ē Mrs. Franklin said with her hands folded in her lap.
Nikki was pleased with the comment, suddenly realizing this might not have been Colinís idea. If he hadnít proposed the idea, who had? Was Chapman Communications in financial trouble?
The advertising manager shook his head. ďWeíre not keeping the money, Mrs. Franklin. Itís going to a charity. We benefit from the exposure, not the income.Ē
Nikki let out a mental sigh of relief.
A heated discussion about the impropriety of the idea broke out again, leaving she and Colin watching the arguments volley from pro to con.
ďIf I might add something here,Ē Colin interrupted. ďEver since September 11, non-profit organizations have suffered a terrible blow, as has our country. Efforts to help the victims were quite generous, and now it seems the public and the victims are ready to shift their attention to other needs that still exist elsewhere.Ē
Around the table, Nikki watched heads nod.
ďWhether the task seems trivial or not doesnít seem to matter. Pushing a peanut down the Sixteenth Street Mall with my nose raised $612,000 for medical research. Stadium-sitting raised nearly eight hundred thousand. Parachuting onto the pitcherís mound made a couple of hundred thousand for medical bills for a leukemia patient. We canít begin to underestimate the generosity of our community. Iím sure this will light a fire for giving.Ē
Nikki managed to subdue her shock at the total of Colinís efforts, though she instinctively glanced in his direction.
The director of publicity interjected more astounding and unbelievable facts. ďColinís stunts raised nearly two million dollars in the aggregate. It may not make any sense to all of us, but that isnít the point. We need something to garner more attention for the newspaper and the radio station while raising money for those in need. We should set an example for the community to follow.Ē
Nikkiís attention wandered to the man across from her. Colin didnít even have the decency to argue the embellishment. How could anyone have raised that much money if there wasnít something in it for him?
ďI believe Colin can help us meet that goal, as well as raise money for the homeless shelter at the same time.Ē
Something in the conversation finally provoked a reaction from Colin. His dark brows furrowed, accentuating his receding hairline. ďHomeless shelter?Ē
ďYes, Good Sam Shelter. Didnít I tell you that?Ē
Leaning his elbows on the mahogany table, Colin matched fingertips on both hands and shrugged slightly. ďIím sure you did. I must have missed the details, I guess.Ē He seemed irritated by the information.
ďThat isnít a problem, is it?Ē Nikki asked, to the surprise of everyone there, including herself. The words were out of her mouth before she realized it.
Colinís tan looked considerably paler than it had ten minutes ago. Despite the odd expression, he shook his head. ďNo. I canít think of a more worthy cause.Ē
Nikki determined then and there that she was going to find out the truth behind Colinís reaction.
Colin couldnít help but wonder if his past had finally caught up with the media. He wanted out.
Out of the room and out of this commitment. Now, before Miss I-Know-You-Have-a-Secret Post plastered her suspicions across the front page of the paper. He inhaled slowly, carefully freezing his face in a confident smile.
She hadnít actually rolled her eyes at the ideas posed during the discussion, but she had yawned more than once. Still, her smile seemed to brighten with his slip of the tongue. Maybe it was her eyes. Did eyes smile and taunt, like heartless children making fun of little boys when their lives fell apart?
Donít be ridiculous, Colin. Sheís just an intern, not a reporter.
Nothing had stopped him from helping others before. No one had ever questioned why heíd agreed to participate in any of the previous fund-raisers. He glanced back at Miss Post, feeling like her next meal. She had barely taken her eyes off him the entire meeting.
Journalists need to get a life of their own, he thought. Suddenly he had braces again and Molly with the big brown eyes and curly blond pigtails was staring at him, and he had the strongest urge to make a face, just like he had in fifth grade, when he decided girls were the worst invention God had ever made.
He looked back at Nicole, realizing how innocently right his thinking had been. God had created Eve as a helpmate, but sheíd turned out to be a temptress, responsible for Adamís fall. How many times would it take before he learnedóbeauty is only skin-deep?
When would the Lord introduce him to a woman whose heart led her life? One who didnít care if he ended up in a homeless shelter, as long as they were together. Not that he ever planned to let his life get so far out of control, but still, every day the unexpected happened to those who least expected it. Did such a woman even exist?
Colin smiled and waited for Nicole to glance his way again. It was the closest he could manage to making faces. Especially at this woman. Her broken-down car and a little grime did little to disguise her graceful poise and flippant attitude. He could feel his expression moving toward an unflattering scowl when Colin heard his name.
ďPersonally, I donít think we should take time for a contest to choose the events for a stunt. If the shelter is overcrowded now, surely we can come up with something Colin is willing to do. What if Colin walks across the state?Ē Mrs. Franklin asked in her shaky voice.
ďEvery organization sponsors walks.Ē Chapmanís smile disappeared as he leaned back in the leather chair and tossed out other stunt ideas, none of which impressed Colin.
ďPocketbooks are a lot thinner these days. And face it, Colin, the public expects more from you. The more outrageous the better.Ē
ďI agree, but Iím not pushing a peanut across the state. If we only do a ten mile walk, the event will be out of the publicís mind in a matter of an hour or two,Ē Colin said adamantly. ďThe focus of this should be on the needs of the homeless. Many of them live in their cars, or sell them for money to put food on the table forcing them to take alternative methods of transportation. I like the border-to-border idea.Ē
Mr. Chapmanís assistant handed the publisher and each board member a packet on homeless families, suggesting everyone take time to peruse the statistics and send Mr. Chapman ideas. Colin felt memories return as he glanced at the pictures in the brochure. He felt perspiration on his forehead.
ďDo you really think this is a good time for this?Ē Colin asked.ŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ