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LIFE LESSON THREE...
"Can't you just feel the presence of Christ!" Daddy flung his arm up toward the ceiling, fingers spread wide and he grinned, his brown eyes shiny with the spirit. "Can I get an Amen?"
Yanked from bed before dawn to attend Daddy's special "Celebrate Christ at Dawn" Christmas sermon, Madison scanned the sanctuary as several vociferous "amen's" circulated. Hiding a yawn behind her hand, she did a little eye-roll because all this hoopla seemed a little over dramatized. And she felt the presence of nothing. Nadda. Zippo. Zilch. So either these people were piling it on thick, or Christ skipped her, which wouldn't be surprising since she was such a sinner damned to Hell.
One of the Brannon brothers winked at her and she did a double take. A slow, amused grin dragged Nolan's lips into a roguish curl. When Marcus realized they held her attention, he joined his brother's exploits and blew her a tiny kiss, but an even more blatant wink. Unsure what to make of their attention, she knew but one thing, they were trouble with a capital T. Twins, so double the trouble. Single, with dark brown hair and smoky eyes, good-looking, tall and exceptionally well-formed physically. They were in their early twenties and usually a scarce commodity around Daddy's church. From her untrained eye, they attended church for but one reason, to meet ladies. They were definitely not godly men.
She snapped her gaze forward and she thought one of the brothers nudged the other brother. A small and barely discernable snicker followed from their direction, proving her suspicion. No way did she want Daddy catching any wink or grin the Brannon brothers sent her way. She didn't wish to serve pittance on this one day a year Daddy could usually be found in a boisterous mood.
Antsy to vacate church, Madison shifted from foot-to-foot as they sung a ga-billion songs, did a bunch of praying and thanking the Lord for His gift of Christ. Madison would thank him a lot more if he'd guarantee her a spot in Heaven instead of the hot seat Daddy was convinced she'd receive. She didn't understand why they had to work so hard for it or why everything was so sinful.
I mean, sheesh, thinking a sin is as good as committing the sin. How unfair! Especially when she could think things she would never dream of actually doing.
One freaking rule and she was already sunk! Those kinds of rules left her thinking she might as well embrace her fiery resting place. She just hadn't worked up the nerve to be as bad as Daddy thought she was yet.
Maybe instead of carving R.I.P. on her tombstone, someone would be clever enough to carve R.I.F. for Resting In Fire. It'd be poetic in nature, right? Knowing Daddy would disapprove of her thoughts, a tiny mental smile flickered bright in her mind's eye.
Finally Daddy called for the closing hymn and invited church members to join him at the front in prayer. And wouldn't you know it, more than three dozen members trickled down the aisle. The congregation sung Victory in Jesus until her eyes crossed and she sounded like a marathon sprinter at the victory line. The entire congregation sounded breathless by the time Daddy called for a halt and wished everyone a safe and Merry Christmas. In their house, Daddy insisted they say Christ-mas instead of Christmas because Christmas took Christ out of the holiday. Apparently, she didn't have Christ in her heart, so what'd she care who was celebrated on Christmas?
As Daddy strode down the aisle, he motioned with his finger for her to join him. In her haste to scuttle off the bench after him, she dumped her purse onto the floor and the contents scattered. She sent up a prayer of thanks that it wasn't that time of the month and no personal hygiene products were dispersed into plain view.
With a swipe of her forearms, she dragged all the pieces toward her. Not wanting to give Daddy any reason to be angry—if he wasn't already because he never beckoned her to join him immediately after a service—she crammed the items hurriedly into her purse.
"Yours, I presume," a male voice said.
Madison noticed his hand first and her pink lip gloss in his open palm. She realized he knelt between the pews with her and she followed the arm to a face that left her breathless and...
Speechless, she stared at a face wrapped in agelessness, so void of the subtle nuances of time not even the corners of his eyes were marred by laugh lines. Silly poetic gibberish maybe, but true nevertheless.
How could she not have noticed him when he sat down beside her? To say he was blonde haired and blue eyed, didn't do him justice. But she finally understood the meaning of a wide sensuous mouth. No harsh angles spoiled his countenance; he would never be accused of a handsome ruggedness.
Dressed in what looked like a navy blue Armani suit—Momma was a fashionista when it came to labels, so she knew a thing or two about high-priced designer suits—the color suited his complexion and enhanced his amazing shade of beautiful blue eyes. Arctic blue ice would be envious of the color, and she thought Daddy's prized angels would brawl for the opportunity to look as good as he did for a measly hour.
In every language she knew—which was a lot given her bizarre talent for tongues—his gaze didn't whisper, but hollered he coveted her very inappropriately. Madison licked her lips as a mysterious malady sucker punched her low, very low, in the gut. The feeling wasn't bad, just disconcerting in her inability to identify its origins. She'd be remiss if she didn't admit she liked the way he gazed at her.
A smile tweaked the edges of his much too wicked mouth. The smile hinted of familiarity or pride, she couldn't decide which. And it hinted he knew her or would come to know her intimately, which was highhanded on his part, but…she kind of liked that too. Weirder than that, a tangible hum prickled her flesh kind of like a wispy breeze. Nothing as bold as a caress. His presence induced an even weirder sense of wellbeing, which tugged at her need for security and acceptance.
For a brief moment she let her mind fantasize what it'd be like to have those lips on hers. He'd be a strong kisser, maybe a little rough, a lot demanding because something about him said he wouldn't know how to coax anyone gently.
Madison gulped at her inappropriate thoughts in church and in the presence of Christ—or so Daddy said he was here. Not wishing to press her luck, she blanked her mind and retrieved her lipstick. Liquid fast, heat trekked from her belly into her limbs as her fingertips connected with his palm. She froze, felt caged, spellbound by some unexplainable lull. Unable to blink, she stared into his eyes as erotic flashes of soft sighs and naked flesh imprinted on the back of her eyelids.
A hard gasp lodged in her chest and burned the back of her throat as she coughed it back. She yanked her hand away and his knowing smile grew wider.
"I'm Nikolas," he said low and raspy—a bedroom voice, perhaps?—an inflection she shouldn't have noticed because she had no experience to draw on.
Clutching the lip gloss between her breasts, she stared at him, flummoxed by the idea he knew what just traipsed through her mind. God, she hoped he didn't know!
"I'm…outta here!" she said and bolted after Daddy. No way would she give him her name.
The chatter in the sanctuary clattered to an abrupt halt. Madison glanced about—taking special care not to look at him!—and realized the entire congregation stared in awe at him. She cast a quick peep in his direction and her heartbeat tripped. He stared at her with such satisfaction it bewildered her, especially since he didn't even know her. Before she turned away, Momma sashayed to his side and laid her palm on his shoulder. He didn't spare Momma even a twitch of a glance as she spoke to him—what she couldn't make out—but, he nodded and kept his gaze pinned on her.
A shiver coursed down her spine and Madison resisted a wiggle to work the shiver out. Flustered, she clenched her purse strap and went to help Daddy say goodbye to his parishioners. She numbly set her tongue and vocal chords to repeat "Merry Christ-mas!" in as chipper of a voice as she could manufacture. All the while praying he wouldn't come through her line on his exit out of church. The bawdy imagery troubled her too much to face the blonde hottie, so much she'd probably blush when she looked in the mirror.
Again she possessed no visual expertise of sex to draw on for such images to even penetrate her subconscious. Daddy didn't allow her to watch movies or television that glorified sex—which meant pretty much everything was off limits—so for her to actually envision such carnality…oh, God, she was the tramp Daddy said she was. And to make matters worse, her fingertips still tingled in awareness from touching…Nikolas!
A name to haunt her…but she had a feeling the man would torment her more.