Are you looking for a heartfelt #weekend read?
Take a peek at this week’s From the Heart editor’s choice:
When Hearts Collide by Sara Beth Williams
About the Book
A reckless mistake landed Jacob “Jay” Mathews behind bars, but it was his inescapable guilt that led him to God. Upon his release, with the help of a spiritual mentor and friend, he strives to move forward with his life. Determined to graduate college, get a job, and follow God’s word, the last thing Jay needs or wants is a girlfriend. Until he meets Lacey Bennett.
When fervent prayers for reconciliation between her divorced parents go unanswered, and her older sister tragically dies, Lacey questions how God could allow such tragedies to befall her family. Turning her back on her past and God, she focuses on her future. College and theater are her ultimate goals; falling for the one type of guy she swore to avoid—a Christian—is not. No matter how much she wants to resist, Jay is irresistible.
As their relationship deepens, Jay struggles with Lacey’s unresolved anger and her unwillingness to even discuss faith. All he wants to do is reveal how God changed his life, but doing so would mean revealing his status as an ex-convict. Finally, as she begins to rekindle her faith, past secrets collide, threatening to destroy everything they’ve built. Now, Jay must rely on his faith more than he ever has before. Can they learn to forgive—or is their relationship fractured beyond repair?
Take a peek at Chapter 1
Everything smelled so fresh, like that new-upholstery car smell. Mixed with the sharp scent of new paint, the whole atmosphere of the theater embodied newness, change, restoration. Not just for the theater’s arts program, but for her as well. Amy would love this place.
Lacey Bennet’s lips curved into a grin as she scanned the high ceilings that housed catwalks and rafters. She lowered her gaze to the rows and rows of vacant seats yearning to be filled. She strode down the carpeted steps toward the wide apron of the stage, drinking in the hush surrounding her. Gradually, in her mind, the laughter and applause of a sold-out show replaced the buzz of the overhead lighting. Maybe tonight, she’d finally land a role to put her on stage and in the spotlight and not backstage assisting. Not that there was anything wrong with backstage work. But she wanted to shine.
Other students and alumni hoping to audition this evening trickled in, forming cliques of friends. Dressed in everything from jeans and T-shirts to sweater vests and slacks, they spread themselves to all corners of the wide-open theater. Quiet conversations rose, sprinkled with laughter. Her heart leapt with excitement as she joined a group of theater friends she hadn’t seen in the year since she’d changed her major.
As she chatted, Lacey spotted a petite college student with a shock of blonde hair enter the auditorium from the top left. Lacey smiled and waved. It would be great to see Tara again. Because of her class load and part time job, Lacey never had much time to hang out. Next to Tara, dwarfing her five-foot-three stature, stood a tall, handsome guy Lacey had never seen before.
Tara was all smiles as she talked with him and gestured toward the groups of students gathered below. Then, she pointed at Lacey and headed down the steps.
Breaking away from her group, Lacey approached Tara and her friend. “I’m glad you came!” She and Tara embraced. “I thought you’d be too nervous.”
Tara set her backpack on one of the seats nearby. “I’m being brave tonight. It’s great to see you. I feel like it’s been forever!”
Lacey stashed her purse next to Tara’s backpack. “I know, I’m sorry. I’ve been busy with so many things.”
“And now you’re trying out for the spring play?”
“I know, I’m probably overextending myself.” She laughed. It was only an audition, and rehearsals didn’t begin until next semester. She would have time to alter her schedule if necessary.
Tara’s glance slid up to the man next to her. “Lacey, this is Jay. He just started school here this semester. We have economics together.”
“Nice to meet you.” Lacey reached out her hand, and he accepted, giving it a firm shake. His light brown eyes matched the caramel shade of his curled hair, and his handsome grin could’ve melted chocolate. A flutter bounced around in her stomach.
Tara gestured between herself and Lacey. “We grew up together.”
“I see.” Jay inclined his chin in understanding.
Lacey tilted her head, studying him. “Is Jay short for something?” He opened his mouth, then closed it again without answering. He stood taller than Lacey by a few inches, rivaling her brother’s height of six feet; even through his baggy gray sweatshirt, she spied muscular arms. He seemed rather old to be a freshman in college. Working in the Student Union coffee shop, she saw enough freshmen to know and could typically spot them a mile away. “Are you a transfer student?”
At the sound of the echoing voice filling the room, conversation quieted, and everyone turned their attention to the apron of the stage. A slightly overweight, balding man wearing a collared shirt, tie, and slacks spread his arms wide open, as if inviting the entire group to embrace him. “I’m Eric Banks, your director for this year’s spring production. Welcome to the newly remodeled CSU Theater!” Scattered applause and cheering filled the auditorium. “Well, what do you think? Isn’t it beautiful?” Lacey added her own cheers and applause to the mix. “Everyone, please find a seat as close to the front as possible, and we’ll get down to business.”
Lacey retrieved her purse and invited Tara and Jay to follow her to where she sat with a group of friends. As they all sat down together, Lacey introduced Tara and Jay to the two people she knew from last year. Everyone exchanged waves of greeting.
When Jay sat beside her, she leaned toward him slightly. “So, what made you want to come and audition? Have you ever auditioned for a play before?”
He shook his head, shoving his hands into the pockets of his sweatshirt. “Nope.”
“Not even in high school?”
“Nah,” He propped a tennis shoe onto the edge of an empty seat in front of him. “I did read this script beforehand, though. I’ve heard that helps.”
She nodded. “It should.” She shouldn’t be surprised he’d never auditioned. Tara had never auditioned for anything in high school, either. While they waited, Lacey shrugged out of her long, green cardigan and draped it behind her over the back of the chair. “This will be my third audition in so many years. Last year I worked backstage, which was really fun.”
“Are you a theater major?”
“I was…” She pressed her lips together, contemplating how to explain the situation.
Director Banks, who now sat with his legs hanging over the apron, brought everyone’s attention back to him. “It’s so good to see both familiar and new faces. We have quite a turn out for auditions tonight, so be prepared to stay a while. We’ll be performing in groups of four to five, depending on which scene excerpt from the script you’re given.”
Two assistants shuffled down the aisles handing out partial scripts, which were passed down the rows until each person had one in their lap. While the director recapped the premise of the play, she flipped through her script and discovered a female role already highlighted for her. The main female role. Score! Suppressing a giddy giggle, she refocused her attention on the stage and listened to Mr. Banks.
“You’ll notice that each person has randomly received a highlighted character. Do with this as you wish. Swap around if you want to find the character you wish to play. Please arrange yourselves into groups of four to practice. At the end of thirty minutes, each group will have the opportunity to perform in front of the rest of us.” Once the director dismissed everyone to practice, people dispersed and scrambled to create groups.
“So, you’ve got Belinda?” Jay’s voice caused Lacey’s heart to skip a beat. She turned halfway and nodded. “I’ve got Spencer, and Tara has Rosie. Want to pair up?” He flashed a cheeky grin that said, Please?
One side of her mouth curled up, and she raised a brow. She’d desperately wanted to pair up with one of her old theater friends named David, because she knew he was a fantastic actor. However, this new guy intrigued her. He might be just the type to play Spencer. But has he ever even acted before? She hmmed to herself, indecision causing her smile to slip.
Tara leaned forward to speak around Jay. “Yeah, let’s partner up, Lace. Your talent will make us shine.”
While that was entirely possible, it could also go the other way—their lack of talent could drag her down.
She scanned the groups around the auditorium for a tall, skinny blond with his characteristic sweater-vest. She spotted David in the corner next to another girl wearing an I Heart Theater T-shirt and two other ladies in black skirts and colorful blouses. It appeared as though he’d already found his group. Oh well. She turned back to Jay and Tara and smiled. “Why not? Let’s do it.”
Tara examined her script. “We need another person, I think.”
“Yep. I’ll find someone.” Lacey left them in the front row and quickly scouted the groups again until she finally found another person who could fit the extra role they needed. Serena.
“Hey, my barista pal.” She approached Serena, who stood with two other girls in the back. “Please tell me you have the old innkeeper lady?”
“Why yes, I do. I was just trying to figure out how I could switch with someone.”
Lacey laid an arm around Serena’s shoulders. “Would you like to be in my group? We need you.”
Serena mock-groaned. “Fine.”
“Great!” They linked arms and walked back down the gentle incline of steps.
“You know, I was trying to get out of this role.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll do great.”
Serena laughed. “Sure.” Sarcasm dripped from her voice. She adjusted her large, faux-leather purse as she walked. “Hey, isn’t that your friend Tara?” She gestured toward where Tara and Jay sat.
“Is that her boyfriend?”
Lacey’s steps faltered. “I hadn’t asked actually. She introduced him as Jay.”
“Better ask her. The way she’s staring, if they’re not dating, she wants to date him.”
Lacey stopped altogether and studied Tara, the way her gaze never left Jay, the way she beamed when he paid attention to her. Exhaling, she quelled a rising feeling of jealousy that was completely irrational, as she’d barely met the guy. Forcing a smile, she picked up her pace, following Serena down the last of the steps.
Jacob Mathews pushed his hair away from his forehead, feeling his own grin tight against his cheeks as he observed Lacey wander away and converse with another group of girls. She stood almost as tall as him in a pair of high heel boots, shoulders back. She conversed with such confidence and ease, appearing relaxed and joyful. Her cheer seemed infectious. The entire room hummed with excited energy. Smiles, light laughter. Everyone else around them appeared thrilled to be here.
About the only person not smiling was Tara.
Her hiss cut through the atmosphere of joy he’d been reveling in. He glanced her way, noting her irritated frown, how she kept pulling on her blonde ponytail. His grin faltered. “Don’t know why you’re upset. You invited me. A couple weeks ago. Remember?”
She stuffed her hands into the pockets of her dark blue sweatshirt, her glare hardening.
Finally, Lacey returned with another girl, a slender, tan, young woman with a friendly smile. “This is Serena. We work together at the coffee shop.” Lacey retrieved her script, which she’d left on one of the chairs. “This is Jay, Tara’s friend.” He raised his chin and Serena smiled in greeting. “And you remember Tara.” Both girls waved to each other. “Awesome. Now, let’s do a quick read-through, and then we can talk about how to block and make other improvements as we go.”
Tara’s comment earlier wasn’t far from the truth. From the first lines she read, he surmised that Lacey had outstanding talent, and all she was doing was reading from a script. Her ability to convey meaning and emotion in her voice amazed him. He’d read a hundred different plays over the last several years, and even had the opportunity to listen to audio books of play scripts—the perks of working in a library—and her inflection, articulation, and emotion were nothing less than perfect. He could not wait to be on stage reading lines with her.
After the allotted half an hour of practice, they sat in the audience for an hour while seven other teams performed ahead of them. Though Tara fiddled with her phone, apparently having decided that she didn’t want to be here anymore, Jay absorbed as much of the others’ performances as he could, making sure to mentally note what worked and what didn’t. Glancing down, he scanned the actual stage directions from his copy and compared them to the blocking performed by the auditioning actors on stage. Some actors took liberties, while others stuck to the exact directions on paper.
When it came time to climb the steps on the side of the stage, though, nervousness rolled through his gut. Script reading was very familiar territory; acting things out was akin to sailing on uncharted waters. What am I getting myself into?
The bright lights of the stage shone hot on his skin as he turned toward the audience, most of whom he couldn’t even see with the lights glaring as they were. Lacey, as Belinda, stood behind a loveseat at center stage. Inhaling, she closed her eyes until the director called, “Action!”
Opening them, Lacey paced the length of a couch center stage. Stopping, she said, “I can’t do this.”
“Belinda.” Jay walked toward her and reached for her hand. One touch, just the tips of their fingers, sent his heart skittering. “It’ll be okay.” Had she felt that, too?
Get a hold of yourself. She’s an actor. You’re supposed to be acting, too.
“It won’t.” She yanked her hand away. “It was a mistake coming here.”
Jay glanced down at his script. “It’s just a place. Just a building.”
“It’s not!” She whirled on him. “It’s where he died!” The passion in her eyes, the fire, and the emotion in her voice evoked a desire from somewhere deep within Jay. Unexpectedly, he wanted to pull her in and comfort her—just as his character, her fiancé, was attempting to do.
He reached for her hand, regardless of the fact that the script did not call for it. Holding it, he squeezed and was tempted to bring it to his lips but refrained. “Look at me, Belinda. We can face this together. We absolutely can. You and I.”
“I don’t know if I want to face any of this.” She turned away from him and referred back to her script for the next line. “I don’t know if I can take over an inn when I know my father died just upstairs!”
With one finger, he gently lifted her chin until their gazes locked. He collided with a deep green hue and lost all ability to remember what he was supposed to say or do next.
After a moment, Jay dropped his arm as the old woman innkeeper entered with her daughter, played by Serena and Tara respectively, and the rest of the scene rushed past them. Everyone bustled around the stage to the best of their ability while reading lines from scripts they held. Two minutes later, the scene ended.
Tromping down from the stage to the smattering of applause below, Jay’s adrenaline surged within. How he had pulled any of that off was a complete and utter miracle. For the last several years, he’d spent his life confined behind bars, isolated from the outside world. To escape the boredom, the overwhelming anger and guilt, and the pit of loneliness, he’d devoured every book he could. At first, science fiction, fantasy, classics, plays, and later, the New Living Translation of the Bible along with what limited Christian fiction he could find in a prison library.
To actually have the opportunity to act on a stage was exhilarating and unexpectedly fresh. It wasn’t just an escape, but a new and different sense of freedom, one he’d only daydreamed of behind bars.
“You were amazing.” Tara’s cheeks tinged red as she grinned up at him. “You never told me you could act.”
“I’ve never done it before so…” He shrugged and folded himself into the narrow chair next to her, propping a foot onto the seat in front of him. Lacey and Serena followed suit and sat down. “Beginner’s luck?” He flashed Tara a grin.
“Whatever you say.” Tara’s ponytail shook as she wagged her head.
Lacey leaned toward him conspiratorially. “I think you’re bluffing.” The teasing lilt in her tone elicited a grin. “I think you were secretly an actor at some fancy academy of arts school.”
He laughed aloud, and then covered his mouth. If she really knew where he’d been during his “high school” years, that dazzling, adorable grin would not be gracing her face.
As another scene began on the stage below, Serena gathered her purse and stood. “We can probably leave now, you know,” she whispered. Tara rose, but hesitated, exchanging a glance with Jay as he remained seated next to Lacey. Personally, he wanted to scout out the rest of the competition, but before he could explain, Lacey spoke.
“There are only two performances left. I think I’ll stay and watch. Otherwise, they’ll have no real audience.” She gestured to
the mostly empty auditorium. “Besides, the director might call on people to read other parts. You never know.”
Directors did that? Cool. Jay angled a gaze up at Tara. Since she was giving him a ride, it was only fair to ask, instead of making her stay. “Do you have to go, or can we stay a little longer?”
Tara shrugged and sat back down. “I don’t mind sticking around.”
Serena shrugged. “I’ve got a lot to study, so I’ll see you at work,” she murmured to Lacey. Over her shoulder, she waved and mouthed to Jay and Tara, “It was nice to meet you!”
Jay raised his chin to acknowledge Serena’s departure, then returned his focus to the stage. The four actors on stage were excellent; this had to be one of the top three scenes, if he had to make an educated guess. He frowned as he weighed the unmistakable chemistry between him and Lacey on stage against the skill of the more advanced actors auditioning. His earlier exhilaration and anticipation began to dissolve, until Lacey leaned in close, her arm brushing against his. With one brow raised, she whispered, “I have a feeling we could be seeing more of each other.”
He turned toward her, quirking up one side of his mouth. “I’d like that.”
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About the Author
Sara Beth Williams is a contemporary Christian romance author, an ACFW member, wife, mother of two daughters, and dog mom of a lovable, old-lady pit and a spunky Pomeranian-Shih Tzu mix. She lives in Northern California and also works as a freelance publicist and marketing assistant. Her contemporary Christian romance A Second Chance Novel series includes When Hearts Collide, A Worthy Heart, and Anchor My Heart, and is available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. When she’s not held hostage by the keyboard, she enjoys playing guitar, reading, and spending time with her family.