When Becka Janak returns home to Shiner Texas to care for her favorite aunt, Helen, she’s hopeful she can patch up her own heart in the process. A nasty break-up with her fiancé has her desperate for a change of scenery. Unfortunately, she didn’t factor Dr. Jake Wolters into the change equation.Jake’s life has been turned upside down by a divorce he didn’t see coming, and everything else has faded into the background—that is, until Becka arrives on the scene and stirs up feelings that demand every bit of his attention.When a bitter enemy drops dead suspiciously, Jake is confronted with the pain of his past and the uncertainty of his future. Will he ever be able to escape his failures and invite God back into his life? And can he forgive Becka when he discovers the secret she’s been hiding?God has His own plan for their love, and it’s far from random that He brought the two of them together…but will Becka and Jake choose to trust Him and follow His intended path? And will His plan eventually lead them back to Saints Cyril & Methodius, the beautiful, historic Painted Church in Shiner, Texas? God only knows…A Painted Church of Texas Novel: The Painted Churches of Texas were built in the 19th century by German and Czech immigrants striving to succeed in a new country and still preserve the value and culture of their homeland. From the outside they look like many of the other American churches built around the turn of the century. But once you enter, you’ll be entranced by the bright paintings, elaborate murals and wooden columns and baseboards that shine like polished marble. The churches (20 of which are listed on the national Register of Historic places) were recently listed as #12 in a Texas Monthly magazine article entitled, “Bucket List: 63 things all Texans should do before they die.” Saints Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church, located in Shiner, Texas is featured in this novel, but words alone cannot describe the majestic beauty and spirit of God that will surround you the moment you walk through the wooden doors…
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Read an Excerpt
Random Act of Love
A Painted Church of Texas Novel
By Carol Voelkel
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Carol Voelkel
All rights reserved.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.
There's no greater nightmare for a man to endure than a woman with a bee buzzing around in her bonnet. For Dr. Jake Wolters, his nightmare had a name: Becka Janak.
From the moment she arrived on the scene a few days earlier, she'd been unreasonable, demanding, hard-headed—and downright impossible to deal with. It wasn't his fault her aunt had chosen to keep her cancer a secret. That was her decision, not his. But Becka didn't see it that way. She went out of her way to make her low-down opinion of him crystal clear.
Jake stood alone at the nurse's station, his head lowered, studying a chart when she strolled into the small, rural hospital where he was working early one Sunday afternoon. The moment he spotted her, he took a deep breath and counted to ten backward. He'd only made it to up to the number six by the time she stalked up to him.
"I didn't realize you were such a tattletale," Becka muttered close to his ear.
Becka's brows narrowed as her hazelnut eyes met his. "My cousin Kyle called me this morning and gave me an earful."
"You tell me. You're the one who talked to him." Becka plopped a cardboard to-go box with the name Friday's scrawled on its side next to his chart. "Can you please put this behind the counter?"
Jake's stomach growled with hunger. He'd skipped both breakfast and lunch, and Friday's was his favorite place for home-made kolaches.
There weren't a lot of other bakeries to choose from in Shiner, Texas, but as far as he was concerned, Friday's could compete against the finest establishments in Houston.
"You brought me lunch?" Jake reached his hand over to lift the lid. "I take back every mean thought I've had about you in the last couple of days."
"It's not your lunch." Becka's hand went to her hip. "It's apple strudel for Nurse Virgie. I sweet-talked Kathy into making it especially for her because I know it's her favorite. You're aware it's her birthday today, right?"
"Of course I know it's her birthday." Jake dropped the lid closed and placed the box behind the counter. He'd coax a piece out of Virgie later. "In fact, I'm expecting a fresh bouquet of flowers to be delivered at any minute."
Becka smirked. "Since when did the floral shop start delivering flowers on Sundays?"
Jake straightened and grinned, determined to maintain his good mood. "You're not the only one around here who has connections."
Becka rolled her eyes and lifted her chin before she turned and marched away.
Jake shook his head, unsure if he should be amused or annoyed. He found it difficult to reconcile the tall, beautiful blonde with the sweet, young girl he remembered from his youth. Her braces and denim cutoff shorts were long gone, but in their place was a chip on her shoulder the size of Mount Rushmore. He had every intention of knocking it off.
Against his better judgment, he followed her. The sound of her heels clicking on the tile must have drowned out his soft-soled pursuit. She gasped when he reached for her arm and pulled her into an oversized storage closet and flipped on the light.
"What do you think you're doing?" Becka jerked her arm out of his grasp.
"It's about time you and I had a private little chat."
"I have absolutely nothing to say to you."
Becka tried to move around him but he blocked her path. "Good. Then maybe you'll listen for a change." He turned the lock on the door handle.
"Let me out of here or I'm going to scream." She brought her hands to her mouth like a megaphone. "And don't think I won't."
"Oh, I think you will all right." He reached for a roll of surgical tape sitting on the shelf next to him. "But not for long." He sent her a lopsided grin.
"You wouldn't dare."
"Want to bet?" He ripped off a piece of tape and held it up.
Becka shifted backward, and her legs met with a portable hospital bed that sat in the middle of the room. "I don't understand what Aunt Helen sees in you."
"I could say the same of you. You're a spoiled little princess, but she evidently chooses to look past that."
Becka clenched her teeth. "Fine. Our dislike is mutual."
"It's not fine. Not to her, it isn't." Jake forced himself to remember that her aunt's illness had to be a strain on Becka. "And not to me either. But you're too selfish to see that."
Becka's expression didn't change.
Jake rolled the strips of tape into a ball and threw them into the trashcan. "I'm wasting my time here." He turned and marched toward the door.
"Wait just a second." Becka hurried after him and grabbed his arm.
Jake whirled like a wind vane in a tornado. "What?"
Becka took a step backward. "I'm not being selfish. I just want her to have the best care possible."
"Of course you do. And so do I. That's one thing we can agree on, at least." Jake squared his shoulders. "Tell me exactly what she's not getting that you think she needs. Give me one example—something, anything."
Becka remained silent.
"That's what I thought." Jake let out an impatient breath. "Just so you know, I'm out of here after today. I volunteer every other weekend when I'm in town from Houston to give Dr. Giles a break. But he'll be back on Monday."
"You're leaving, just like that?"
Jake felt an unwanted twinge of self-satisfaction upon hearing the disappointed tone in her voice. Was it possible she might miss him after all? He leaned his head toward her. "I thought you would be thrilled with the news."
"I am." Becka put her hand to her neck. "But what if something happens during the week and we need you?"
"We?" For a split second, the word sounded good. But this was Becka, not a woman who tickled his fancy.
"All right then. What if Aunt Helen needs you?"
"She knows how to get in touch with me."
"Well, that's great." Becka rushed around him and tried to open the door, but when she turned the handle, the lock held it closed. Jake reached past her, and their hands touched. An unexpected static shock erupted off the doorknob, and they both jerked their hands away.
"I hate it when that happens." Jake reached for the handle a second time and unlocked it.
Becka lifted her chin a notch. "I can think of a lot of things I dislike much worse than that." She tried to move past him, but he blocked her path.
"I assume you're referring to me?" Jake's level stare lasted for what seemed an eternity.
Becka blinked and angled her head away from him. "You're an intelligent man. Figure it out."
"I've tried to figure it out, and it doesn't make any sense. What exactly have I done to make you come after me with both barrels blazing?"
"Other than the fact that you kept Aunt Helen's cancer from us? I'd say that's more than just cause."
Jake wasn't satisfied with her answer. He folded his arms across his chest. "There's something more going on, something I can't quite put my finger on." He stood perfectly still as his mind whirled with possibilities. "But what could it be? I haven't seen you in years."
Becka's eyes flashed imperiously. "You saw me last year when I flew home for Aunt Helen's retirement party."
Jake shuddered. He remembered that day well, and the memories stored somewhere in the back of his mind weren't ones he chose to replay on purpose.
"You don't even remember, do you?" Becka pressed her lips together. "Don't ever lecture me again about being self-absorbed."
Jake tried to remember if he'd seen her that day, but all he could recall was the anguish he felt at the time. Everything else blurred in his mind. "I'm sorry, Becka. There were things going on that day that—"
"Don't waste your breath, because I really don't care." She waved her hand as if dismissing a servant. "Just leave. Go home to your pretty wife and your perfect little life, and I'll take care of Aunt Helen myself."
Becka reached for the knob, but Jake leaned against the door. "Wow. That was very revealing." He stared at her cotton t-shirt with the words "What happens in Shiner, Texas, stays in Shiner, Texas" scrawled in glittery letters across the front. "I think I might have just figured it out."
Becka glanced up at him, blinking rapidly. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Oh, yeah?" Jake tilted his head to the left and studied the dark emotion in her eyes. "If I didn't know better, I would say you were jealous."
"Of what, exactly?"
"That I didn't marry you instead." He threw it out there, wanting to know if it was possible. "I seem to recall making that promise a long time ago."
Becka sprang forward and pushed at his chest, trying to propel him away from the door. "Get out of my way."
Jake didn't budge. Her hopping mad reaction told him everything he needed to know. "I nailed it, didn't I?" The unexpected warmth that surged through him caught him off guard. He'd known Becka for as far back as he could remember, but it was almost as if he were seeing her for the first time.
"What you're suggesting is ridiculous." Becka took a step back, and her hand reached for the antique gold locket hanging around her neck. Jake remembered the day she received that necklace, on her twelfth birthday, the same year he graduated from high school. He watched as she twisted it with her fingers.
"It really is ridiculous, considering we were just kids when I made that promise." His eyes clung to hers, analyzing her reaction. "Besides, you dropped off the face of the planet when your daddy sent you off to that hoity-toity boarding school in California."
"I came home for every holiday," Becka said in a rush of words.
"But I was already away at college by then, wasn't I?" Jake straightened, and an unwanted swell of regret rose to the surface. "And when I came home, I was pretty wrapped up in dating Nancy."
Becka eyed him with cold contempt but didn't comment.
"I seem to recall a time when you thought I hung the moon."
"Yeah, well, I was only twelve at the time. I'm twenty-nine now and well past the age of hero worship."
"Hmm, and now that I've reached that thirty-something mark, I guess my superhero days are over, huh?" He moved closer, until there was no room left between them. His voice softened. "Did you really think I would keep that promise?"
Becka shook her head. "I thought nothing of the sort."
"Good, 'cause you were just a kid. And if your Aunt Helen ever found out I was having those kinds of thoughts about you, she would have skinned my hide. Besides, she told me that you're engaged to some guy who's running for senator in California. Where's the ring, by the way?" He took her hand in his.
"I, um, forgot to put it on this morning."
That sounded strange to Jake. What woman in love would forget to wear her diamond? "Is that right?"
"Not that it's any of your business." She jerked her hand out of his grasp.
"You're right. It's not my business." Jake leaned his face closer to hers. "And just for future reference, when you think my personal life is your business, you should do your homework and make sure you have all of your facts straight."
Jake opened the door and strode calmly down the hall. It took every ounce of willpower to keep from glancing back.
* * *
Becka's hands continued to tremble when she entered her aunt's private hospital room a short while later. She wasn't one to drink or smoke, but she almost wished she'd acquired one of the habits just to have a vice to calm her erratic nerves.
Her eyes gravitated away from Aunt Helen, who was lightly snoring, to the plain, white walls covered with hand-drawn pictures from students of the elementary school where her aunt had been principal for many years. It brightened the room, made it a little less dreary. Too bad it didn't help with the antiseptic odor that lingered throughout the entire hospital. Not even the cherry-blossom candle she'd gotten permission from the hospital staff to light could stifle the smell.
Becka glanced at the small table next to the bed and noticed an elegant vase filled with long-stemmed yellow roses that hadn't been there when she visited earlier in the day. Jake. She thought he'd been bluffing about flowers being delivered. She strolled over and plucked the card from the holder.
Praying that each new day brings you renewed strength and a healthier, happier you. Get well soon.—Jake
Becka huffed at his sweetness toward Aunt Helen when he'd been such a pain in the neck toward her. She pushed the resentment from her mind but couldn't escape the replay of their earlier conversation. It jangled around, tormented her with a mix of disbelief, anger, and hurt. She'd been in love with Jake Wolters her entire life, and he'd never had a clue. Or maybe he did. Now. She wasn't sure how she felt about the subtle unveiling of those feelings.
She slid the card back into the holder before she dropped into the plastic seat next to the bed where she'd left it a couple of hours before.
Her aunt's eyes immediately popped open. "Goodness, sweetheart, you startled me." She shifted in the bed. "I guess I must have fallen asleep."
"You need your rest." Becka rose from the chair and sat on the edge of the bed instead. "How are you feeling this afternoon? Any better?" She leaned over to kiss her aunt.
"Better than I've felt in days." She kissed Becka's cheek in return.
"I'm so glad to hear that." Becka glanced down at the crossword puzzle on her aunt's lap, which she'd evidently been trying to solve before she dozed off. "Are you having any luck?"
Helen peered at her over the rim of her glasses. "What's wrong, sweetheart? You're as white as a ghost." She reached for Becka's hands. "And as cold as ice. I hope you're not coming down with something."
"I can't remember the last time I was sick." Becka squeezed her hand.
"I'm much more worried about you."
"I'm fine, just ready to go home." Her voice cracked with each word. "Jake is waiting on my blood work, and if it looks okay, he's going to release me tomorrow morning."
Becka took in her aunt's appearance. Her bald head glistened in the artificial lighting of the room, and her tawny brown eyes, which usually twinkled with mischief, were listless instead. Cancer had aged her, made her vulnerable, but her most recent bout with pneumonia, which was what had landed her in the hospital, only added to her ongoing pain and suffering.
"Are you sure it's not too soon?"
Helen closed the flimsy puzzle book, leaving her mechanical pencil inside, and then situated it on the table next to the flowers. "I've been here over a week."
"I know, but ... I'm just concerned for you; that's all." Becka leaned in to give her aunt a hug. "I wish you had chosen to go to Houston instead of staying in Hallettsville."
"They've been wonderful to me here, so stop that." Helen wrapped her arms around her niece.
"You're right." Becka had to admit the staff treated her aunt like royalty. Her squabble was with Jake. "They've taken very good care of you. It's just that Jake—"
"Has also been very good to me." Aunt Helen completed her sentence and pulled out of Becka's arms. "But I have noticed some tension between the two of you."
"Yes, well, I haven't forgiven him for not calling me sooner about your cancer."
"I asked him not to, Becka, so blame me, not him." Aunt Helen squeezed her hand. "All of that aside, I'm really glad you're here."
"I am too."
Becka looked down at her aunt. "And I'll stay with you for as long as you'll have me."
Helen leaned her head back against her pillows. "But what about Doug's senatorial race? With the election being so close, doesn't he need his campaign manager there?"
"Doug is more than capable of handling things while I'm gone." Becka reached for the edge of the blanket, twirled it between her fingertips. "You're much more important to me than an election."
"But you've worked so hard, devoted every second of your life to that campaign." She put her hand on Becka's arm. "Is there something you haven't told me?"
Before Becka could answer, a knock sounded at the door. Jake poked his head in, and the memory of their recent encounter unnerved Becka. She avoided his eyes.
"I've got good news and bad news, Helen. Which do you want first?" He walked further into the room, giving Becka a quick glance before returning his gaze to Helen.
Becka wished she didn't notice how handsome he looked even in an unflattering white lab coat. His compassionate blue eyes; his thick, dark hair tapering neatly at his collar; and the confident set of his shoulders all captured her attention and wouldn't let go.
Excerpted from Random Act of Love by Carol Voelkel. Copyright © 2014 Carol Voelkel. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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