Copyright 2007 Christina M. Downs 

Shielded by maple trees and rhododendron bushes, Cassidy knew the man couldn’t see her watching him. But she certainly couldn’t help noticing him as he played with his dog–from a distance, possibly a terrier/retriever mix. Cassidy had always been drawn to people who liked animals.

Who are you trying to kid? she chastised herself, knowing full well God could read the deepest desires of her heart. There was no use hiding her thoughts from herself when she couldn’t hide anything from the Lord. The simple truth was, she found the man attractive. From his slightly long shaggy blonde hair and light beard to his well-built arms and confident stride, this stranger appealed to her.

It was more than his looks although Cassidy admitted they had drawn her attention. It was the way he played with his dog, so attentively, so lovingly, so boyishly. Running alongside the medium-sized canine, patting him on the head, scratching behind his ears. Man and dog were comfortable together.

Even so, there was something sad about the way they both moved. The way the man hunched his shoulders and sighed, often staring off into the sky thoughtfully. The way he rubbed gently at his temples between tossing a ball for the dog. The way the dog kept his ears half-lowered and his tail between his legs even when playing. Intrigued, Cassidy stepped a little closer, careful to remain behind the trees. How odd. Maybe the dog was sick, and she had just imagined the sadness in the man’s actions; he could merely be tired.

She wondered where they’d come from. She knew many people in the small Pennsylvania town of Latrobe, forty miles southeast of Pittsburgh. And she certainly knew their pets. She had definitely never seen this man or his dog before—she would’ve remembered. She walked to this park almost every day for lunch, sometimes even on weekends, with one of her dogs, and she’d never seen either of them.

She also would have remembered the sadness they exuded, the desperate need for something undefined and unattainable. That’s if she were reading them correctly. Cassidy knew that God had a plan for every one of His people and that sometimes that plan involved trials and tribulations. She had seen her share of heartaches so far in her twenty-eight years. This man very well could have recently ended a serious relationship or lost an elderly parent or relative–or he could just be having a bad day.

Both man and dog appealed to her on multiple levels, and that very fact intrigued her even more. Never before had she been so drawn to someone from a distance this way. It actually unnerved her a little, but God must have called these two souls to her attention for some reason.

The stranger bent to pick up the ball, and Cassidy turned away quickly with a blush at the view she’d received. It should be illegal for handsome men to wear jeans that tight! How was a woman to remain a good Christian with somebody like that running around town?

What was she doing wondering about some strange man, anyway? She had no idea who he was, knew nothing about him. So how could she presume how he felt about anything? How could she assume something had caused him to feel sad and lost? Just because she’d felt that way in her past, before she’d truly accepted Jesus as her savior, didn’t mean she could recognize that longing in someone else. Did it?

Finishing her sandwich, Cassidy turned from the sight of the man and his dog, suddenly feeling guilty for spying on them. She needed to get back anyway. If she didn’t return to her office soon, she’d have some very impatient patients. And her kind of patients could be real animals.

**********
Dr. Cassidy Blaine made it back in time to see her first two patients scheduled after lunch–a cat with an obstructed bowel, and a dog who had been hit by a car six weeks earlier. Both were progressing well. Her next appointment, a routine yearly check-up, wasn’t scheduled for another two hours. As her assistant Jeanie accepted payment from the pet owners, Cassidy slipped off her white doctor’s jacket and took a few moments to relax in her small private back office.

The first thing she did was pull out her Bible, which was in the top drawer of her desk under some patient notes. Leaning back in her large roomy chair, she flipped with practiced familiarity and reverence to one of her favorite passages, Galatians 6:9, and whispered it aloud, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Holding the open Bible to her chest, she closed her eyes and prayed silently, Thank you, God, for bringing me to this point in my life, where I can truly make a difference in this world. She’d just opened the practice six months ago, and it was already booming–-mostly through word of mouth-–she had a number of friends and relatives in town. Her prayers had been answered ten-fold.

A common saying–-Be careful what you wish for-–flashed through her mind. True, it had taken lots of years and sweat and even more tears to get where she was today. To have her own veterinary practice in the small town where she’d grown up.
Years of not living up to her parents’ expectations. “Honey, if you can make it through all that studying, why don’t you just become a doctor? Why a veterinarian?” Like she were some sort of second-class doctor; being a vet wasn’t good enough. Nothing ever was.

Years of trying to be somebody she wasn’t-–a mistake that had almost led her into a probably unhappy marriage and, even worse, had almost led her away from God.

Trying to live in the secular world, by non-Christian rules, had literally worn her out. But it had all been worth it, and the trials had shaped her as a woman and, even more importantly, as a Christian, a woman of God.

Now she knew what was expected of her. Only one thing: To have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as her Savior and gateway to Heaven. I am the way, the truth, and the life, John 14:6. Anything else was just icing on the cake.

The last few years, since she’d truly found Christ, had been the most peaceful of her life. Cassidy let out a satisfied smile. Having a personal relationship with God brought her such peace and joy every day of her life, and she would be eternally grateful that God had brought the Holy Spirit upon her at precisely the moment she needed to make a life-altering decision-–whether or not to give in to her fiancée’s demands and forsake her faith. God had known just when she needed Him, and He had helped her make the right choice.

She grimaced. Hence, the lack of a wedding ring on her finger. She knew it had all been for the best–-God’s plan and all that. But sometimes she still got lonely.

Jeanie tapped lightly on her office door. “Dr. Cass, you have a new patient. A walk-in.”

“Thank you, Jeanie, I’ll be right there.” Cassidy returned the Bible to her desk, slipped her white coat back on, and smiled at the Walk by faith, not by sight plaque on the wall behind her desk. Then she joined Jeanie in the check-up room to meet this new patient and his or her owner.

When she opened the door, speech left her momentarily. She couldn’t believe it–-her walk-in appointment was none other than the man and dog she had spied on in the park. She’d been right, the dog definitely had some terrier in him but was a little larger. Cassidy’s step faltered a moment before she reminded herself that she was a professional–-and that he hadn’t seen her watching him earlier. Yeah, that helped a little…

Smiling warmly, she extended her hand. “Good afternoon, I’m Dr. Cassidy Blaine.”

Close up, she could see that the man’s eyes were a deep fathomless pool of baby blue, almost incongruent with the tough-guy stubble dusting his jaw and the scar etched lightly into the left corner below his mouth. She wondered how he’d gotten the scar.

His hand met hers for a brief shake, but it was long enough to make her wonder how much rougher the scarred skin would be in contrast to the softness of his lips, a thought she quickly vanquished as he introduced himself. His voice sounded a little raspy, like she imagined a wrestler or someone who worked with his hands might speak. “It’s nice to meet you, Doctor. My name is Sam Weston.” He patted the dog’s head, and the dog thumped his tail in response. “And this guy is Max.”

“Why, hello, Max.” Cassidy petted his head and scratched behind his ears. “Are you a good boy?” Max’s tail thumped again, indicating his approval in this new person showering him with attention.

Once the introductions were made, Cass asked the nature of their visit. “Is this a routine check-up, or is there something specific you’d like him to see me about?”

Sam told her that he had just moved to town the week before, and that it was sort of a regular check-up, but that he had additional questions as well. “Max has been, well, depressed for a while, and I thought maybe you could help me figure out what to do for him.”

Bingo! Cass was pleased that she had been astute enough to notice the dog’s sadness from a distance. Now, did that also mean she’d been astute about the man’s frame of mind, as well? Shaking her head of short dark hair, she told herself it didn’t matter. She wasn’t treating the man, she was treating the dog. No matter how much she might like to treat the man as well.

Now where had that come from? Forgive me, Lord, Cass said a silent prayer of repentance for her impure thoughts. What on earth was wrong with her? She never got all mushy and tongue-tied around men!

Cassidy shook her head again to clear it and then smiled. “Well, we’ll get him his shots and look him over. Then we’ll see what we can do about his mood.”

After the routine duties were complete, she questioned Sam about why Max might be depressed. “Has anything happened recently to make him feel sad? A big change? Did it start when you moved–”

He gruffly interrupted her. “I know the cause.” At her raised eyebrows, he nodded at her as though meeting a challenge. “I know exactly why he’s been so sad.” He paused, hesitating for a few seconds, and Cassidy wondered if he was actually going to tell her. When he continued, in a soft reluctant voice, she understood why it had taken him so long to utter the words. “My -uh- my wife died last year. He’s been down since. It’s been hard on us–I mean, him.”

“I could imagine.” Cass said sympathetically, unsure how to proceed. Not with Max; she had some ideas there. But with Sam Weston. Why it should matter how she proceeded with a patient’s owner was beyond her.

Instinctively, she touched his arm, “I’m so sorry,” was all she could manage, in a small, weak voice before turning her attention from him. What she’d intended to be a brief, soothing gesture had rattled her.

She patted Max on the head and looked deep into the dog’s warm brown eyes. “Poor boy. Do you miss your mommy? Well, we’ll help you feel better.” She spoke in a lilting voice, as though addressing a child. Max rolled over for a belly rub, and Cassidy obliged.

“Wow, I can’t believe he’s being so friendly with you.” Sam shook his head. “Usually he just growls at everyone anymore. You know, since…”

Cass raised her eyes back to Sam’s. His deep eyes looked sad and lonely–and maybe a little angry, probably at the world–and her heart lurched for him. She cleared her throat. “Well, that’s a very good sign. The key is patience. And love, plenty of love. Sometimes depression can be treated with medication, but, if at all possible, I prefer to avoid drugs for emotional problems. Especially if, as you say, he’s improving a little.” She couldn’t help being skeptical. She knew sometimes owners imagined positive changes in their pets-–wishful thinking. Yet, Max did seem to be doing reasonably well, at least for now. “I would recommend gradually reintroducing him to other people. And it would be helpful if he could become attached to another woman again.” At the flicker of emotion in Sam’s eyes, she hurried on, choosing her words carefully. “Not as a replacement, of course; I know a bond that strong can never be broken and should not be taken lightly.” Looking into the eyes of this wounded man whose pain for some reason touched her soul, she silently asked God to help her find the right words. “But, if he and y-your wife were very close, then he very likely is missing female companionship.” His eyes bored into hers, but she couldn’t read the turmoil of emotions swirling within their depths. “Do you know anyone who could spend some time with Max, help him adjust?”

“Well, I’m staying with my aunt and uncle until my apartment is available. Shirley and Doug McIntyre.” She nodded in recognition, and his mouth twitched into what was almost a grin. ”But Aunt Shirley isn’t exactly fond of pets.” He shoved his hands in his jean pockets and looked down at his feet, avoiding her direct gaze. Then he looked up suddenly, and the intensity in his eyes almost overwhelmed her. “Do you — do you think maybe you could spend a little time with him?”

“Me?”

“Sure.” He looked into her eyes again, and again her heart lurched. “He’s really taken to you, and you’re obviously good with animals, being a vet and all.” He paused. “And, of course, you’re a woman.”

For some reason, the way he said that, and the way he looked away from her almost shyly, made Cassidy feel warm all over. She knew he had simply meant it in a practical sense, since she’d convinced him his dog Max-–not the owner-–needed female interaction. But, at that moment, something in his gaze made her feel very much like a woman, in multiple senses of the word.

**********
“You agreed to do what?” Jeanie laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, it’s just not like you to make special arrangements like that. I mean, you’re friendly and nice, but you’re also so business-like and proper.”

“You know I try to do everything I can to help my patients. Cassidy insisted. “Max needs female companionship.”

“And what does his owner need?”

Cass blushed fiercely. “That has nothing to do with me.”

“Oh, no?” Jeanie raised her eyebrows, and Cassidy blushed again. Thank goodness she didn’t have fair skin. Her dark coloring, from her hair to her eyes to her always-tan complexion helped her hide such embarrassing anomalies as blushing. Although it also helped that Dr. Cassidy Blaine rarely, if ever, did blush.

“No. Sam Weston has had a difficult year. The man lost his wife barely a year ago, Jeanie. I’m certain his dog is his only concern right now.”

“Maybe you’re right.” But her assistant didn’t seem too convinced, and even Cassidy found herself hoping maybe she was wrong. Cassidy frowned. God, what on earth is wrong with me?

Copyright 2007 Christina M. Downs

Copyright 2007 Christina M. Downs (Poem Copyright Aggie Ashbaugh, Used With Permission)

Shadow of Thy Wings

Prologue

“How do you think I feel about it, Chief?”

“It’s for your own good, Weston. And the good of the investigation.”

Sam glared at his boss, barely containing the rage that defined his soul. “What investigation? It’s been almost a year, and you’re still no closer to finding the bastard! I can’t sit back and do nothing!”

“Well, you’re going to have to. As of this moment, you are relieved of duty.”

“You can’t force me to back off – I need to get this guy.”

“You need to leave town for a while. Work on yourself, Sam.” The chief’s voice was calm, understanding, but firm. “By Friday, I don’t want you within one-hundred miles of Philadelphia.”

“Or what?” Sam taunted.

Again, the chief spoke quietly. “Or you’ll be arrested for obstruction of justice.”

“In my own case?”

“It’s not your case anymore, Sam.”

“Like hell it isn’t! Until we arrest the man who murdered my wife and see him burn in the electric chair, this is my case.” His voice was cold, hard; he didn’t even recognize it himself anymore.

“Go, Sam.” The chief’s voice remained soothing; he never lost his temper with his detectives. “Get some rest. We’ll call you as soon as we find anything. I promise.” He placed a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “You need to take care of yourself, son.”

Sam felt as though his heart had been wrenched out. Take care of himself? Christ, he hadn’t even been able to take care of his wife!

What the hell was he supposed to do now? Without Nancy?

He returned to his downtown Philly apartment to pack, with no idea where he was going to go. Sam wished he could just die and see the God who had let something like this happen.

No, there was no God, no matter what Nancy had believed, no matter what he’d thought he once knew himself. There was no God. He was as certain of that as he was that his wife’s killer was going to pay.

**********
You Kept Me (Poem by Aggie Ashbaugh)

I was born, Lord, You chose me.
As a child, You comforted me.
You Kept Me in the Shadow of Thy Wings.

I sang to You Lord, You warmed me.
In my youth, You protected me.
You Kept Me in the Shadow of Thy Wings.

All, I sinned, Lord, You pained me.
For a time, You couldn’t find me.
You Kept Me in the Shadow of Thy Wings.

I called to You, Lord, You heard me.
In the glass, You waved to me.
You Kept Me in the Shadow of Thy Wings.

Forgive me, Lord, Your tears fell from me.
Long ago, You died for me.
You Kept Me in the Shadow of Thy Wings.

I found You, Lord, Your voice within me.
For this day, You enlighten me.
You Kept Me in the Shadow of Thy Wings.

Now I know, Lord, Your love for me.
Forever, You, my Savior to me.
You Kept Me in the Shadow of Thy Wings.

I call to You, Lord, You will hear me.
In the glass, You wave to me.
You Kept Me in the Shadow of Thy Wings.

You Kept Me in the Shadow of Thy Wings.

**********
My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped. I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me. – Psalm 17:5-9

**********
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times… “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” – Matthew 18:21-35

**********

Copyright 2007 Christina M. Downs (Poem Copyright Aggie Ashbaugh, Used With Permission)

This blog is going to be a place where I post short stories or excerpts of novels or other longer pieces. Most of them will have a Christian theme or subplot. I’m doing this partly to get the stories out there, partly to help you get to know me better as an author and a person, partly to inspire and encourage and edify and minister to others, partly to (I hope) receive some feedback that will greatly improve these and my writing in general, who knows why else… I just like to write, and now I’m addicted to blogging! I also pray that everything I post glorifies God and makes people smile or cry or feel some strong emotion. God calls on us to reach others (the Great Commission), and the written word is the way I know how to do this. God has put a love for writing in my heart, and I honestly can’t NOT write. That’s how I know this is what I’m supposed to do in some way, shape, or form.

Please leave comments, as you are led to do so. I’ll use any suggestions to improve these short stories and novels before officially publishing them in print and/or ebook or before entering them in any relevant contests (which I don’t do quite as often as I used to). As I mentioned on the lead-in on my other blog (http://chrisdowns.wordpress.com/fiction/), I’m still considering what to start with (sweet inspirational romance or spiritual warfare, an excerpt of a novel-in-progress or a completed short story…). My initial plan is to try to post something about once or twice a month, and then I’ll visit more often to see if there are any discussions.

Thank you for reading. I hope these stories of plots and characters from the heart entertain, enlighten, encourage, and inspire you. God bless you! 

Thanks for stopping by!

– Chris