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Preacher Man

Excerpt

 
 
Chapter One 

 

Regan Samuels shifted in her ridiculously high heels, berating herself for her inability to say no — especially to her best friend, Liz, who had a knack for roping her into her insane schemes. 

Regan shifted again to keep first one foot, then the other from becoming numb, then stuck one index finger between the folds of velvet curtain hanging heavily from the ceiling, and pulled just enough to peer out.  Row after row of expectant spectators sat, waiting for the grand finale.  Regan felt a ball of fire dive-bomb into her stomach. 

The grand finale was her.   Well, partially.  How on earth did she allow herself to be talked into this? 

The answer to that question materialized, in human form, that moment.  Liz, sporting a big smile, sashayed over, her skirt swishing, heels clicking and her hair and makeup looking like she’d just stepped off a Hollywood movie set.  Her perfume arrived a few seconds before she did. 

“Ready?”  The single word was an excited chirp.

“No,” Regan groaned.  “These high heels are squeezing the life out of my feet.”

Liz’s smile faded as she glanced dubiously at Regan’s feet.  “Honey, those barely even qualify as heels.”

Regan grimaced.  Her left foot was pounding with discomfort and she didn’t know how she’d ever stroll across the stage.  “Give me a break.  Compared to the other shoes in my closet, they’re high.”

Liz executed a crisp runway saunter/turn, her own stilettoed feet looking like they hadn’t a care in the world.  “Now these are high heels.  See how they accentuate my legs?”

Regan sighed and shook her head.  “Forget it, Liz.  You’ve heard of a Glamour Don’t?  I’m a Glamour Lost Cause.”  She snapped her fingers.  “In fact, I’ve just realized that I’ve completely lost my mind letting you talk me into this, and I’m leaving now before I make a total fool of myself.”  She turned, determined to leave, but having lost some of the stealth she normally displayed in sneakers, she stumbled.  Liz grabbed her arm, blocking her escape.

“Be a sport.  You know it’s for a good cause.” 

Regan considered that for a moment, and had to concede that the long list of charities that would benefit from this auction was impressive.  Homeless shelters, orphanages, soup kitchens, programs for children and the elderly – all these and more were on the receiving end of funds from the hundreds of donated items that had been auctioned off all day.  “You’re right.  I forgot the real reason we’re doing this.  To raise money for charity.”

Liz darted her a glance and snickered.  “Well, that too.  I was talking about the chance at meeting Mr. Right.”

Regan glared at her friend.  “I don’t want or need a Mr. Right.”  She’d already had one, and he’d turned out to be Mr. Couldn’t-Be-Wronger.  Too bad it had taken fifteen years of marriage to figure that one out. 

Backstage was becoming crowded as the people who were joining Liz and Regan for the grand finale assembled in place.  It must be almost time.  Regan peeked through the break in the curtain again and saw that the auditorium was almost full.  There were even people standing in the back.  Another wave of nausea made its way down her throat and settled in her belly.

A microphoned voice boomed from the stage, “You’ve been a generous audience with the items we’ve offered here today.  Now, I ask for your continued support with our grand finale of the Charity Auction – Singles for Sale!”

A roar of appreciation rose from the audience and Liz, next to Regan, bounced up and down in her excitement.  She offered an exuberant high five, but Regan was too busy doing deep breathing exercises, trying to get her nausea under control.  That would be all she’d need when it came to her turn, “blowing chow” in front of an auditorium full of onlookers. 

“Remember folks, one hundred percent of your bids go to our Chicago charities.  So be generous.  These ladies and gentlemen have unselfishly put themselves on the auction block.  It’s now your turn to show your appreciation.  Let the bidding begin.”

Another solid wall of sound was heard – cheers and howls — and Liz looked like she wanted to do cartwheels.  Fortunately, Liz didn’t have to wait long.  When the announcer boomed out her name, she gave Regan a thumbs up.  Regan grabbed her hand and gave it a tight squeeze.  Liz threw her a wink and sauntered out on the stage as if she were born to be there.

On stage, Liz stalked back and forth, hamming it up like a model on a Paris catwalk.  Loud music sprang from the sound system, its rhythm and beat encouraging a bouncy step.  Liz’s short skirt bobbed as she moved and it didn’t appear for an instant that those insane torture instruments she called heels had the minutest effect on her balance. 

The announcer, meanwhile, read the information Liz had provided on a questionnaire. “This is Liz.  Age?  She says it’s none of our business.  Ah, a feisty one, it looks like, gentlemen.  Liz is a realtor here in Chicago, and enjoys skiing, scuba diving and cold evenings in front of the fire.” 

A whoosh of masculine cheers arose, and Regan watched Liz bob her head in time to the pulsing beat.  Regan sighed.  Why couldn’t she be just a little more like Liz? 

“We’d like to start the bidding at one hundred dollars for a date with Liz.  One hundred, gentlemen, do I hear a hundred?” 

So many men bid that the amount quickly grew to three hundred and fifty dollars.  When it seemed that the new bids had slowed to a halt, Liz stepped to the edge of the stage and flashed some teeth at the audience, did her perfect saunter/turn/skirt flip, and the bids rolled in again.

“Going – going – anyone else?  Gone, for the high bid of five hundred dollars!”

Liz shot her fist in the air and whooped in triumph.  She spotted the man with the winning bid and gave him a huge wink and a wave. 

She trotted backstage and threw her arms around Regan.  “That was a gas.  I loved that.  Did you see my guy?  I hit the lottery.”   

Happy as she was for Liz, Regan nearly forgot about her stomachache.  That is, until Liz smacked her lightly on the back and said, “That’s you, babe!  You’re up!”

Regan’s mouth dropped open, and then she heard it:  her own name, crackling out of the loud speaker, “Regan Samuels?  Are you back there?  You’re our next single.  Come on out.”

Liz squeezed her hand and mouthed, “Have fun!”  But Regan was paralyzed.  She couldn’t get her legs to move.  The only thing she could move, in fact, was her head, so she started shaking it quickly, about to insist on dropping out of the program, when Liz grabbed her shoulders, turned her toward the stage and pushed.

Which would’ve been fine had she been wearing her flat sandals or her Reeboks.  But in two and a half inch heels and a skirt that was just a little too tight, Liz’s push was the beginning of a disaster.  Regan stumbled a few steps off-balance and tripped, landing face-first into the folds of the heavy velvet curtain.  The fabric hugged her and she struggled, in vain, to loosen herself.  Heat surrounded her and suddenly she couldn’t see anything – all light was blocked out in the thick darkness.  She flailed through the fabric in a panic. 

Suddenly she heard a wave of sound, oh my, was it laughter?  Regan stopped flailing, closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  Then, she felt a comforting breeze of cool air.  She popped her eyes open to see that Liz had followed her into the curtain maze and unraveled her, enabling her to move freely onto the stage.  Which was the last thing she wanted to do after her embarrassing moment, witnessed by hundreds. 

She froze.  Liz pulled her to her feet, giving her an encouraging smile.  The glimpse of Liz caused the audience to roar again, and although Liz must have heard them, she kept her attention glued on Regan.  A glimmer of love for her best, flighty friend warmed Regan’s heart, and she allowed Liz to lead her.  When they reached the center of the stage, Liz motioned to the announcer, who brought the microphone over.

Liz grabbed it.  “Guys, this is my friend, Regan.”

Scattered clapping ensued.  Liz gave Regan’s arm a squeeze.  Regan shot her a panicked look and Liz left her out there in the middle of the stage, tottering uneasily on her heels with a red face, looking anywhere at all, except out at the people staring at her.

Taking over, the announcer cleared his throat.  He motioned to some unseen person backstage and the catchy music started again.  Regan flashed back on the memory of Liz flouncing gracefully around the stage in time to the music, and made up her mind.  If she stayed glued to one spot, she’d have the least chance of embarrassing herself again.

“Gentlemen, this is Regan.  Regan is thirty-six, and is a book reviewer for the Chicago Tribune.  She enjoys reading, needlepoint and spending time with her son.  A perfect evening is ordering pizza in and watching movies.”

Regan wanted to melt into the floor.  Sure, she had written that, but was she really that boring?  What did Regan have to offer a date for an evening?  A teen-aged son and an extra-large pepperoni?

Snore!

“Okay, we’d like to start the bidding at one hundred dollars.  Who’s first?  A date with Regan for one hundred dollars?”

The announcer, convinced now that he wasn’t going to get a $100 bid, took a different tact – “Okay, gentlemen, one hundred may be a little over your starting budget.  Let’s start with seventy five.  Seventy five dollars for a date with this beautiful lady, Regan.  It’s for charity, you know.”

Regan felt the blood rush to her face, followed by a dizzy tingling.  Tripping into a curtain, then fainting on stage.  What fun was in store for her next? 

Frantic whispers from backstage captured her attention and she gazed off to the right.  There was Liz, motioning frantically and shouting, “Move!  Walk around!  Go to the edge of the stage!”

Regan nodded and somehow convinced her legs to start moving.  Anything to get this over with.  She tried to let the music seep into her and move in time to the rhythm, covering a few feet’s distance to the edge of the stage, all the while praying that it would be over soon.

“Fifty?  Do I hear fifty?”

One more minute.  That’s all Regan would give it, before she turned tail and escaped backstage, opening bid or not.

And then it happened.  A man in the third row raised his hand and the announcer jumped on it, thrilled for some proof from this audience that they were actually alive.  “There we go.  Very good, sir.  We have an opening bid of fifty dollars.  Now, do I hear sixty?”

Regan gave an audible groan.  Some poor sucker felt sorry for her enough to fork out fifty beans.  Don’t push your luck, announcer, hoping for more.  Let’s just end this fiasco.

Regan’s internal ramblings must have made their way telepathically to the announcer, because he wrapped things up – pronto.  “Going once,” he recited, an unmistakable sound of relief in his voice, “going twice, gone!  To the gentleman in the third row.”

Regan never moved so quickly in her life, exiting the stage.  She held the tears in until the curtain whooshed shut behind her, blocking her from the view of the men who had rejected her.  Once she was safely backstage, they really started to flow.  Liz was there with arms around her in a split second.

“Come on, it wasn’t that bad.  And did you see your bidder?  He’s a real cutie!”  She patted and shooshed and made every possible attempt to sound encouraging.

“He just felt sorry for me,” Regan mumbled into Liz’s shoulder.

“No way.  He was glad to grab up the bid before anyone else did.”

Unseen by Liz, Regan rolled her eyes.

“It was your first time, honey.  It’ll be easier next time.  Besides, you should’ve let me read your info card before you turned it in.  Really, Regan, needlepoint?”  Liz reached up to pat Regan on the cheek, but Regan backed away.

“It’s over, Liz.” She hiked in the direction of the exit. 

Liz scrunched her forehead and followed her.  “What’s over?”

“This – you, me.  Trying to find the man of my dreams.  It isn’t going to work.”

Liz scurried over to Regan and put a concerned arm around her shoulder.  “No, you don’t mean that.” 

“Yes, Liz.”  Regan turned and gave her friend a stern look.  “I can’t think of anything I mean more.  I’m out.  Done.”

Sadness blended with panic on Liz’s face.  “Just like that, you’re not going out anymore?  So, are you going to sit at home and give up on life too?  Give up on love?  I can’t let you do that.”

Regan couldn’t help but soften at her friend’s passion.  Liz’s heart was in the right place, and Regan knew she couldn’t have a more devoted friend in her corner.  She was as tenacious as a dog with a bone.  Or, should she say pit bull. 

“Liz, I’m not giving up on life, believe me.  I have a son to raise — that takes up most of my energy.  Whatever time is left, I’d rather not spend it standing on a stage, praying that some strange man will bid on me.”

Liz shook her head, like Regan just didn’t get it.  “But how will you find the perfect man if you’re sitting in your living room?”

Regan shook her head.  “I appreciate what you’re trying to do.  But I’m retiring these heels.”

Liz sighed.  She fixed an earnest gaze on her friend.  “You sure you’re okay?”

Regan took a deep breath, trying to slow her racing heart.  She gave Liz a quick kiss on the cheek and nodded.  “Call me tomorrow.”  Then she went outside to call a cab.

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