With the police investigation underway, all attention soon points to Jorja Rose, the local art shop owner. Trouble is the police inspector happens to also be her best friend. And what he doesn’t know, is that Jorja isn’t who she says she is and that she knows exactly who the killer is and why he is in their town.
Desperate to prove her innocence and right her past wrongs, Jorja confronts her secret past head-on. Only to be further entangled in a deadly plot for revenge that leaves her overwhelmed with moral questions and a deep longing for redemption. Will her conscience stop her from doing whatever it takes to finally be free from her past?
If you enjoy pulse-pounding contemporary Christian fiction with heart-stopping, twisty endings, this first-in-series page-turning Christian suspense thriller will leave you begging for more of Jorja Rose.
Deuteronomy 32:35 - “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.”
They say the truth shall set you free, but that's a lie. Her truth had not set her free at all. Jorja Rose was in captivity. Held prisoner by her conscience. Perhaps even guilt.
Her mind was in an unyielding state of war as she fought a never-ending battle between good and evil. A battle she did not know how to win, or even if she could ever win. She was trapped. Caught between the person she once was and the one she had worked so hard to create. For nearly twenty years she had battled a secret war she had buried deep within, hidden from all who now knew her, pushed into the darkest corners of her soul, where no one could ever see it.
There were days—one too many if she was honest with herself—where she found herself missing her past life. Almost yearning for it, at times. The adrenaline that surged through her veins, the rush of tempting fate, and the victory that came at the end. Memories of what she once had, were sweet, as were the bitterness and despair of what could have been.
Now, her life tended toward boredom at the best of times. Sometimes she hardly recognized the person she’d been forced to become. But it was what needed to be done, to keep her alive.
Ironically, her deception was also what snuffed the inner torture and led her to discover that there was a higher power, a God who knew it all and cling to the hope it could bring—one day. But surrendering all meant that her secrets would be unveiled, her truth exposed and the precise retribution she had been running from all these years, unleashed.
And so it continued. The perpetual loop of her past was holding her back from experiencing a future in true freedom. Blocked and trapped in a grip that would never let her go.
But then she also knew she was not ready to let go. There was too much she still longed for. Too much she still missed. But, this life had chosen her. It was the bed she had made and she had found respite in that, built her hedge around her, locked the past away, and stepped into a world of pretense.
To all who had come to know her in the tranquil English fishing village she'd called home for more than two decades now, she was as close to God as anyone on earth could strive to be. But in the deep corners of her soul Jorja knew the truth, the whole truth. She was a fraud. Someone who lived a twisted lie and deceived those who had taught her what it meant to truly love—and be loved. Like a festering sore it had eaten away at her soul, slowly devouring her, leaving her living in fear instead of freedom. The kind of fear that leaves you looking over your shoulder, always expecting the worst, waiting for your day of reckoning. By man... or by God.
Even there, in the hidden corners at the very edge of Cornwall, England, she had never felt safe. Nor did she know if she ever would again.
From behind the white marble counter in her small art gallery, she stared through the large window at the man who stood across the street. He'd been standing there for hours, watching her shop. At first, she’d thought he was admiring the painting in her window—a large oil-painted scene of a young woman staring out across the rugged Cornish coastline. It was easy to get lost in its beauty and not unusual for visitors to stop and admire. But something about this man seemed odd. She had lived on the peninsula long enough to know he wasn't one of them. Nor was he one of the regulars who visited their village on weekends or during the summer. He was tall, at the very least six foot, but if she had to guess, closer to six three. Someone like that stood out from the crowd. And it left her unsettled. There was something dark about his stance, threatening, foreboding.
His camel-colored coat draped snugly over his broad shoulders and beneath it, he wore a black button-up shirt and matching black slacks. From where she stood, she could not quite make out his face but his bald head was unmissable.
She fumbled with the sticky tape between her fingers as she wrapped the last piece of tissue paper around the eight by twelve-inch watercolor canvas in front of her. Why did this man make her so nervous? Deep in thought, she botched a strip of tape, tearing the corner of the wrapping paper as she shot another cautious glance at the man across the street.
"Is everything all right, Jorja?" Myles Brentwood inquired. "You look a little on edge this afternoon." He would know. He was a regular at her shop and the art teacher at their local secondary school. Of average build and in his mid-sixties, Myles grew up in St. Ives and happily worked the same teaching job he had started back in his late twenties.
"Yes, yes, I'm fine, sorry. Must be the cold that's getting to my fingers," she replied, flashing him a sideways smile as she grabbed a new sheet of paper.
"Indeed, fall has come very early this year it seems. I had hoped to squeeze in a couple more trips to capture the new school of seals on Godrevy Island, but as we all know by now, these winds could turn on a dime and leave me stranded out there with Henry for who knows how long. God bless the boy but he is too much of a talker when he takes that rusty trawler of his out to sea. My desire to capture the island's magic on canvas is great, but not that critical. Art is best enjoyed in silence, you know." He chuckled. "Which reminds me, I was hoping you could stop by my class next week to give the kids your thoughts on our friend, Da Vinci? This year's kids are brimming with potential, an intellectual bunch if I dare to venture so early in the academic year."
Jorja didn't answer as she slipped his neatly wrapped monthly purchase into the gift bag and handed it to him.
"So, would you?" Myles pushed again when she didn't answer.
"Would I what?"
"Impart your wisdom to the class. Did you not hear a word I said, Jorja? You seem a little distracted. Are you sure you're not coming down with something?"
"Of course, sorry, yes," she spluttered, knowing full well his suspicions were spot on. She was distracted, by the man across the street.
She tore her attention back to her customer.
"I'll be happy to pop by anytime, Myles. Now that most of our visitors have left I can slip away from the shop for an hour or so."
"Excellent, that'll do just fine, thank you. If they don't bombard you with questions you should have it wrapped up in under forty minutes."
He turned toward the exit, parcel in hand, then suddenly turned back to look at her.
"You know, Jorja, I don't think I've ever told you. I think everyone was very wrong about you back then. This town of ours is blessed to have you. I don't know why we all gave you such a hard time when you first got here. Before you came along this town was dead, but this little gallery of yours gave us all life, put us on the map, so to speak. You have been nothing but a strength to our community. Small-town mentality is what it was. Or, if I'm brutally honest, it might have been your leather attire that had you looking like you were up to no good." He chuckled then continued. "But you've certainly proven these gossiping geese wrong, haven't you?" He winked as if he had just told her a secret.
"Well, I'll be off then." He turned back to the door as he muttered, "Got a dreaded faculty meeting in fifteen minutes. Always so much talking at these things."
The wood-framed glass door shut behind him and she watched as he crossed the street to where he briefly paused in front of the strange man opposite the shop. Almost intentionally, Myles looked him square in the face then said something she couldn't make out. Knowing him it was most likely a hearty welcome since he served on the town committee and was notorious for making their visitors feel welcome.
The stranger didn't reciprocate and instead, promptly walked off in the opposite direction. As he did so, Myles looked back at Jorja and tipped his head forward in the slightest of nods as if to say she shouldn't worry, he had taken care of her. A quick wave of her hand thanked him before she watched him settle into a steady stroll back in the direction of the school.
Yes, Myles Brentwood was an old soul, but a wise one nonetheless, and his alert observation was so typical of how the residents of St. Ives always looked out for one another.
But, while knowing that her safety in the village should have provided her with peace, it didn't.
She glanced at her watch. There was another hour or so to go before closing time, and she had intended on stopping by the supermarket to pick up a few groceries before heading home. If she waited until then, she would be walking home as dusk set in. Ordinarily, that would not have deterred her, but today, she wasn't sure she was prepared to risk it. Deciding she would close the shop early, she rushed over to the door, glanced up and down the street to make sure the man was gone, then dashed back behind the marble shop counter to find her purse. Her heart had snuck into her throat where it quickened to a pulsating sense of dread.
"Stop it!" she admonished herself out loud, setting her purse atop the counter as she shut her eyes and took a deep breath in an attempt to pull herself together.
She told herself it wasn't possible. It had been too long. She was halfway across the world and not even her parents knew she was still alive; a deliberate choice she’d been compelled to make. For her own protection, and theirs.