Here is an excerpt from my Christian romance novel, “Clouds”. For more information on the background of the story, see “Clouds” book page. This is the unedited cut, so if there are typos, please forgive them.
Later, just when the lunch rush began to dwindle down, Tabitha was in the kitchen and about to head back out to the dining area to check if any tables needed cleaning when suddenly she tripped. She had been so immersed in her own thoughts that she hardly noticed the leg that extended out in her path at the last minute.
Tabitha fell forward and whimpered as her elbow broke her fall against the ceramic tile. She rolled over and saw that the foot belonged to one of her coworkers who was coolly cleaning some dishes at the sink. He turned and laughed at her with no remorse or sympathy.
She sighed and tried to get back up. But, as she did, another foot came flying up and hit her in her stomach from out of nowhere, knocking the wind clean out of her. She grunted and fell back to the floor.
When she turned her eyes up to look at her new attacker, she saw it was Jack, one of the servers. Jack may not have been as bad as Mark, but he was a close second. Apart from minor scrapes and bruises that she received at her job, Jack was the one that caused the most bodily harm to her. And he always got away with it.
Jack was tall and lanky, with hardly any muscle to speak of but he could move fast and dish out a blow harder than Mark did. Tabitha was convinced that pure hatred and malice was behind every kick, every punch she got from him and that’s what made it hurt so much more. His cold eyes never looked upon her with favor, only a malevolent scorn that made her blood turn to ice in her veins.
He was the best server the restaurant had, always clean cut and professional with his brown hair cropped short. He was the hero of all the guys and the favorite amongst ladies – so he claimed anyway.
Jack and the coworker that tripped her were both laughing now, barking out insults that Tabitha had learned to tune out long ago. What she couldn’t ignore was Jack’s spit in her eye.
She rubbed away the saliva and tried to get up again, but Jack’s foot swung again and hit her in the spine. Tabitha cried out in pain and stayed on the floor a little longer, enduring more of their slurs. She caught the words “whore”, “scum”, “fool” and “vermin” amongst their abuses. By now a small crowd had formed in the kitchen, congesting the flow of traffic for the servers and cooks. But no one wanted to miss the chance to watch the Christian be ridiculed.
Tears breached her eyelids and flowed freely down her face. She wanted to fight back, yell at them, but she knew she couldn’t. A work camp wasn’t worth a reprisal. She simply had to suffer through it.
Tabitha bit her lip and pushed herself up onto her knees, even though both her elbow and her back ached badly. Her heart may have gotten used to the beatings, but her body couldn’t.
Jack wasn’t done with her. He slammed his boot into her lower back and pinned her down onto her stomach, digging his heal into the tiny bones of her spine. She wailed softly at the excruciating pain. If he applied more pressure, she was sure he would break something.
“Jack, let me go, please?” she pleaded breathlessly, her voice shrill from the pain.
“Oh, no. Not until you say something,” Jack mocked as he crouched down over her, putting even more pressure on her back. “Say I’m a sinner.”
Tabitha knew better than to call a Gadrian by any name, especially that one.
“Jack, please let me go?” she repeated urgently, feeling something snap.
“Say I’m a sinner and I’ll let you up.”
Tabitha squeezed her eyes shut and prayed for a rescue. Jack’s body shifted a little and she felt more snapping in her back. She winced and whimpered, but she refused to open her mouth. She knew he wouldn’t let her up, it was just a trick to give him more reason to hurt her.
Just then, the kitchen door from behind them opened.
“Jack! Get off of her!” a strong voice boomed, the whole kitchen trembled at the sound of it and rang in her ears sharply. She knew exactly who the voice belonged to.
Jack immediately hopped off of Tabitha. She was relieved to have his heavy boot off of her, but she wondered if she could even move to safety. Every motion shot pain through her hips and back, but she pushed through until she was on her hands and knees.
“Jack, if I see you pull a stunt like that again, I’ll report you to Mark for assault against a fellow employee. The same goes for you, Ken.”
“She’s just a Christian,” Jack argued with a shrug of his shoulders.
Tabitha looked up to see the angry fire that blazed in Luke’s eyes and the smug grin on Jack’s face.
He grabbed Jack by the collar of his uniform and slammed him against a tall cabinet with such force that even Tabitha jumped a little. Jack’s feet dangled inches above the ground with only Luke’s tight grip on his shirt to keep him from falling.
She hated to admit it, but the fearful glint in Jack’s eyes was gratifying.
“She’s not a rag doll to be thrown around. She’s indispensible to this company and if she isn’t able to work because you broke her back, then you are held liable. I repeat, if I see you harassing her again, I’ll see to it personally that you’re fired and you won’t work in any restaurant in this town again. Am I understood?” Luke growled, a fervor that exuded from him that commanded respect, even from Jack.
Jack made a sour face and nodded.
Luke pushed Jack against the cabinet once more and dropped him. “Now, get back to work, all of you!” he addressed the audience that were watching his slightly unethical disciplinary tactic.
They all quickly turned and went back to whatever it was they were doing before the fight broke out. Tabitha stared wide-eyed at her defender. No one had ever stood up for her like that. No one had ever told Jack off either. Luke was certainly a gentleman, untouched by the cruel society that surrounded him. It was just unimaginable that he could be so perfect.
He stood still for a moment, making sure that everyone had moved on from the scene before turning to Tabitha. He bent down and gingerly helped her to her feet. “Are you alright?” he asked in a tender whisper.
Tabitha nodded, half dazed as he escorted her out of the kitchen and down a corridor that led to the manager offices. He led her into his private office. In the middle of the small room sat a tidy wooden desk with a chair pushed up underneath it and a few cabinets that were lined up against the far wall. Some inspirational posters were tapped up onto the wall, but other than that, the office was pretty bland and colorless.
He loosened his grip upon her arm and guided her into his chair. The effort to sit down was agonizing, but she managed to do it without anymore crying. She didn’t like the idea of crying in front of Luke, or anyone else. She may have been weak, but she didn’t want anyone to know it so plainly.
Luke opened his drawer and pulled out a water bottle for her. “Here,” he said, “take a break for a while. Are you sure you’re ok?”
Tabitha took the bottle and cracked it open to take a sip. “Yeah, I’ll be alright. I’m more shaken than anything.”
“Has he done this before?” Luke’s eyes drew down over his eyes, shadowing them in the bright florescent light.
“Not this exactly.”
“But he’s hurt you before?”
As much as Tabitha wanted Luke to exact revenge on Jack for her sake, she knew it wasn’t right. “Only a few times,” she fibbed.
Luke sighed heavily and folded his arms over his chest as if to keep in the rage.
After taking a long swig of the water, Tabitha looked up to him. “You know you could get arrested for helping me like.”
“Yeah, so?” Luke replied with a roll of his powerful shoulders.
“Don’t you care that you could get in trouble for standing up for me?”
“Not really. I know I did the right thing.”
“No, it wasn’t the right thing. It was a foolish thing to do. Why did you do it?” Tabitha knew she was speaking out of turn again, but her and Luke now had the kind of connection that made it only a little acceptable.
“Because I refuse to put up with that kind of rude behavior in this restaurant. I don’t care how Mark runs this place, but I want all my employees to feel safe while they work.”
“Everyone else is safe, besides me.” A shadow passed over Tabitha’s face at those words. They both knew it was the truth.
“Well, then I’m going to work to keep it safe for you.”
Luke seemed so calm, so collected and at ease that she wanted to scream at him. She didn’t care if she was arrested, but she cared if he was. Tabitha could never live with herself if she knew that it was all her fault that Luke was behind bars for simply helping her.
“Take all the time you need,” Luke said as he sauntered towards the office door. “There’s a bottle of pain pills in the top right drawer if you think you’ll need them.” He turned to face with his hand on the doorknob.
Tabitha’s gaze swept over him and she felt her stomach tighten once more. Luke was the whole package; kind, compassionate, strong and handsome. If only it were the eyes of a Christian that gazed back at her with such feeling and warmth.
“If I were in charge, I’d have you sent home to recover, but that’s not my call. I wish it were. Just take all the time you need and I’ll cover for you.”
Without another word, he opened the door and disappeared back into the hall.