Will seeing beyond the present unite them or tear them apart?
Marriage . . . it’s more than a happily ever after. Eternally more.
Ainsley Meadows, raised by a hedonist mother, who cycles through jobs and relationships like wrapping paper on Christmas morning, falls into a predictable and safe relationship with Richard, a self-absorbed socialite psychiatrist. But as her wedding nears, a battered woman and her child spark a long-forgotten dream and ignite a hidden passion. One that threatens to change everything, including her fiancé. To embrace God’s best and find true love, this security-seeking bride must follow God with reckless abandon and realize that marriage goes Beyond I Do.
Ainsley’s stomach churned as she eased into the Whispering Hills Apartments parking lot. Broken beer bottles and other trash littered the ground. A few tenants had draped sheets across their windows. Other windows were boarded up. One was busted in, shards of glass held in place by silver duct tape.
Please tell me this isn’t where Marie Nelson lives. She compared the address Deborah had given her to the rusted numbers on the complex in front of her.
This was the place. And from the looks of it, the very place Ainsley shouldn’t be, at least, not alone.
Her phone chimed, making her jump. She glanced at the screen. Her fiance’s number flashed. She answered. “Hey, Richard. What’s up?” She shoved her purse and computer case under the passenger seat.
“Where are you?”
“Doing a favor for Deborah. Why? You need something?” She grabbed her pepper spray from the glove compartment.
As if she hadn’t talked about the woman countless times over the years. “Deborah Eldridge, the one who told me about Christ.” And kept her from going completely insane or spiraling into rebellion when Ainsley’s home life fell apart. “Sometimes I wonder if you ever really listen.”
A pack of muscular and hardfaced men gathered around a navy pickup watched her, causing her already queasy stomach to cramp. There were four of them, two dressed in black with thick chains draped around their neck. The tallest among themwas covered, neck and arms, with tattoos. She looked away, suddenly acutely aware of her shiny Honda Accord and department store garb.
Oh, Lord Jesus, please keep me safe.
“That Deborah. Right.” A keyboard clicked on the other end of the line. Most likely, Richard was working on final edits for his book. “Now I remember. So you’re in Smithville?”
“Not exactly. More like . . . ” She scanned her surroundings again, her gaze lingering on a used diaper decaying on the ground ten feet away. “More like . . . the Admiral Boulevard area.”
Richard made a choking noise, as if spewing coffee. “You’re where? Please tell me you are not in the crime center of Kansas City. You are, aren’t you?” He muttered something under his breath. “Why must you continue to jeopardize your safety like this?”
“And why must you treat me like a child?”
He sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m just worried. But surely you know how dangerous that area is.”
“I’ll be fine. It’s broad daylight. Besides, criminals and gang members aren’t the only people who live in this part of town. There are women and children, senior citizens.”
“Yes, I know. I’ve seen pictures of them flash across the evening news — after they’ve been shot.”
She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. This wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have. Not now, sitting like a bright, shiny target in an inner-city apartment complex’s parking lot. “Goodbye, Richard. I’ll call you when I get home.”
“Tell me exactly where you’re at.”
So he could come rescue her? “Listen, I’ve gotta go.” She ended the call then slipped her cell into her blazer pocket.
Her phone chimed again but she ignored it. Richard was much too sheltered by his high society friends. As her pastor often said, “If you don’t know any single parents or folks living in poverty, you need to get out in the real world, because Jesus doesn’t need any seat warmers.”
It was time she acted on that same advice. She stepped from her car, and a gust of wind carrying the scent of trash swept over her. Moving to her trunk, she glanced around. A man in a low- rider pulled up beside a girl in four-inch heels, a miniskirt, and bikini top.
Please tell me she’s not doing what I think she is.
Time to drop off her care items then get home. Grabbing her shopping bag filled with everything from cough drops to orange juice, she locked her car and hurried to unit number 478. A door covered in a thick layer of grime stood in front of her. Apparently, the only entrance into the complex.
There she stood, looking like a small-town librarian, about to enter into a danger zone. An area known for shootings, rapes, and robberies. So why was she still here and not back in her car headed toward I-70?
Because Deborah said this was important. The woman would’ve come herself, had she been able. And after all she’d done for Ainsley over the years, this was the least Ainsley could do.
Holding her overstuffed bag and pepper spray in one hand, Ainsley reached for the knob and turned. The door squeaked open, a thick stench of mildew and cigarette smoke permeating the air. Surveying her surroundings, bag clutched to her chest like a shield, she searched for an elevator. All she found was a dark stairwell that smelled of vomit.
A verse taped to her bathroom mirror came to mind: If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will find it (Matthew 16:25).
Lose her life, her rights, for Christ. That was fine when it meant holding babies in the nursery or bringing meals. She glanced at her Walgreens bag. Or medicine to shut-ins. She always said she wanted to live God’s adventure, but whenever the chance arose, her fears and insecurities held her back. Not this time. God was giving her the opportunity to put action to her words, and she was determined to see this through.
Finger poised over the trigger of her pepper spray, she climbed the stairs. Lord Jesus, keep me safe. Lord Jesus, keep me safe. Lord Jesus —
A door above slammed shut, and she startled, nearly dropping her bag. Holding her breath, she pressed against the cool cement wall as heavy footfalls descended toward her. A large woman carrying a poodle rounded the corner with a grunt. Ainsley’s jittery legs went slack as intense relief washed over her.
She offered the woman a shaky smile then faced the remaining stairs with renewed focus. Taking them two at a time, she arrived on the third floor out of breath, heart racing.
Marie Nelson’s apartment was three doors down on the left. From inside, a television blared. Ainsley knocked then waited, casting frequent glances down the hall.
No answer. She tried again, louder this time. Muffled yelling erupted from the adjacent apartment, followed by a loud crash. Ainsley knocked again, this time using the flat end of her fist, then her foot. Again, nothing. She started to leave when the television turned off. Once again, she knocked, the yelling in the next residence now louder, clearer.
“Can’t even cook fried chicken. What’d I tell you about burnin’ my dinner, you stupid cow?” A deep male voice. “You disgust me.”
There was a high-pitched cry followed by a thud.
Domestic violence? An urge to do something welled within her, battling against her fear. Should she call the cops? Absolutely, but first she needed to get out of here.
For more of Ainsley's story, read a free, 36 page excerpt here.
About the Author
Jennifer Slattery, author of Breaking Free, Beyond I Do, Intertwined, and When Dawn Breaks, is an inspiring contemporary novelist whose stories of hope, love, and grace resonate with real people. She also writes Christian Living articles for Crosswalk.com and devotions for her personal blog, JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com; Internet Cafe Devotions; and oversees the blog and social media accounts for Takin' It To The Streets, a ministry serving Omaha Metro's working poor and homeless. When not writing, she enjoys hanging out with her teenage daughter and real-life hero husband, as well as serving in her church.
In the Beyond I Do story, Ainsley is challenged to live God's adventure, but she realizes her fears and insecurities hold her back. Readers, have you ever experienced this? Please share your real-life adventure with my readers, and let Jennifer know your thoughts about her first chapter in the comment section below.