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Chapter One


Jeffrey heard the thunderous applause and shook his head sadly.  What would all those people crammed into the large auditorium think of their favorite Christian performer if they met the real Gabby?  Of course, he shouldn’t be judging her, but Jeff lived with Gabby and knew her better than anyone else, with perhaps the exception of her Mama.  Gabby was his wife, and most of the time he wondered what God was thinking when He brought them together.  Oh, he knew that God had a purpose for everything and that he was not to question His will, but accept it and strive to be the example he was meant to be.  Still, it was difficult at times.  Jeff took his marital vows seriously, and that meant there would be no divorce.  He just needed to impress that upon Gabby.  Jeff was sure she would have divorced him by now if not for the fact it would hurt her career.  Gabby was one for keeping up appearances.  Her fans thought her a fine example of living as Christ taught.  The fans didn’t know the real Gabriella. 

Gabriella waited for a few seconds and then took her curtain call and graciously sang “just one more”.  It was the song she always closed with, and it was soft and pretty, and by the time it was done, each and every person in the audience felt connected to Christ through her music.  The applause was deafening and she smiled sweetly and took one final bow before heading to her dressing room in the bus they called ‘home’ most of the year.  Gabby was careful to smile at everyone who worked behind the scenes as Jeff escorted her from the large concert hall to their bus, her hand tucked lovingly within his, and her smile the picture of happiness with her handsome husband.  She knew how easily rumors, once started, were difficult to deny and bury, and she wasn’t going to do one thing to damage her unspoiled image. It wasn’t until she was in her dressing room on their bus, with the door locked, that she stopped smiling.  “Did you hear the sour notes that came out of that alto sax tonight?” she complained.  “If Nix cannot control his people, then he needs to just say so and I’ll find someone who can do the job!” she continued to grumble.

Jeff quietly spoke up.  “Our regular sax player, Andy, isn’t with us this week, remember?  His mother died and he went home for the funeral. The sub only had one rehearsal with the band, and under the circumstances, I think he did remarkably well.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Gabby waved her hand dismissively.  “Did we send flowers to the funeral?” she asked, always worried about appearances.

“I took care of it first thing this morning, Gabby.  I also sent a card with a check made out to Andy to help with funeral expenses.  His mother didn’t have life insurance.”

“How much is that going to cost us?” she angrily demanded.

“We can afford it, Gabby.  Andy has been with you for six years now, and he deserves your support.”

“I suppose so,” she grudgingly stated.  “Where do we go from here?” she demanded.

It was a typical Gabby question.  She was already at her make-up table, removing her stage make-up.  The next thing out of her mouth would be an order to get her something to eat.  Gabby rarely ate anything during the day when she had to perform that night, and Jeffrey thought she was terribly underweight.  He intended to fix the problem.  Without her knowledge, Jeff had cleared her schedule for the next six weeks, giving her band members and the roadies a much needed paid vacation.  The only condition was that no one could mention the plan to Gabby. Gabby toured constantly, and she even worked through the holidays; she would view six weeks off as the end of her career and she would have a royal fit, which also was nothing new for the petite redhead.

“We’re going to Michigan,” he answered, telling her the truth.

“Ugh!  Another long drive.  Oh well, I’ll take some ibuprofen and go to bed while Bud drives all night.  Tell the band they need to sleep instead of staying up all night playing poker. I expect them to be on top of things tomorrow, and we are going to have a rehearsal just as soon as Gavin and the crew get us set up.”  She wiped one eyelid free of the sparkly eye shadow and then looked at him in the mirror.  “Get me something to eat, Jeff.  I’m starving.  Soup, if you can find some that is decent anywhere… Not broccoli cheese; no one makes it right.”

“I’ll get you some soup if you promise you’ll eat it all,” he said, smiling at her to take the sting from his words.  It didn’t work.

“I am not your child to boss around, and I will eat when I want to eat, Jeffrey Burns!”

“Cool down, Gabby.  I only want to see you healthy, and you do not eat right,” he admonished her.

“Oh, here we go again!  ‘You need to eat more, Gabby.  You are too thin, Gabby.  You are losing too much weight, Gabby.  Are you taking vitamins, Gabby?’  Would you just stop, Jeff!  You are not my keeper, and you are not my boss!”

“No, I am your husband.”

“Big deal.  I would change that in a heartbeat if I could without destroying my career.” 

She finally said the words aloud that he’d known she was thinking and Jeff felt his own temper starting to rise.  He carefully tamped it down and reminded himself that tomorrow would be soon enough to lay down the law to his errant wife.  Gabriella St.Clair was in for a rude awakening.

“You are tired, Gabby, and I am not going to argue with you.”  He turned and left the dressing room/bedroom to go to the kitchen.  He put some soup in the microwave and while it was heating, he took out some saltines and put them around the edge of the plate where he would sit the bowl of soup.  He took a spoon from the drawer, and he poured some juice into a glass and added some ice.  He would also fix Gabby some herbal tea with honey after she’d eaten.  It was important to take care of her throat, and Gabby rarely ate dairy products or indulged in soda.  Jeff knew it was difficult for her at times, but with the schedule she kept, she had to take care to avoid anything that would act as an irritant.

The microwave dinged, and he carefully put the bowl of soup on the plate, and carried it and the glass of juice to the back of the bus.  Gabby gave him an angry look when he entered.  He thought her beautiful without all the makeup.  “What kind is it?” she demanded, and he knew she was ready to pitch a fit.

“Cream of celery,” he answered, and waited for the explosion.

“I hate cream of celery!”  She didn’t disappoint him.  “You know I hate creamed soups.  I want some vegetable with barley soup!” she demanded with a pout.

“Then it is a good thing that is what I made for you,” he teased.  “You enjoy your soup, honey, and I’ll fix you some tea to help soothe your throat before you go to sleep.”

“That was not funny, Jeffrey!” she told him

“I thought it was.  You are predictable, Gabby.  You need to find something else to complain about.”

“Get out!” she yelled at him, looking for something to throw.

“If you throw that juice or the soup, you are going to clean it up,” he warned.

“No, I won’t!” she insisted.

He put his hands on his hips and looked at her, with her giving him her spoiled brat look.  He continued to look at her until she finally lowered her eyes to her soup.  Jeff was satisfied; he truly wanted to wait until he got her to the cabin to teach Gabby some manners, but he was serious about what he said.  He closed the door behind him once more and went to make Gabby’s tea.

Gabriella truly wanted to defy Jeff and throw the soup at him, but something in his dark eyes warned her it would be a huge mistake.  Maybe he had forgotten how they met, but she hadn’t!  In so many ways it seemed like years ago, and in other ways, it was like yesterday…

She walked outside their farm house and screamed in rage when she saw a male dog on top of her precious Saffron!  She’d been planning since before she bought Saffron with all of her saved babysitting money to breed the purebred German shepherd and sell the puppies.  It was one way to make money quickly, depending on how many puppies Saffron had.  Now it would be forever before she could breed Saffron!  And it was all that mutt’s fault!  Gabby ran inside and got her father’s gun from the desk drawer where he kept it.  Frank St. Clair was too intelligent to keep a loaded gun lying around the house without making absolutely certain his wife and daughter knew how to use it, and Gabby was an excellent shot.  She was also too angry for words, and she was going dog hunting!

Jeffrey was outside, chopping some firewood for his Mother, when he saw Rufus running toward home as fast as his four legs would carry him.  He also saw someone chasing his dog… with a gun!  He ran toward his dog when he heard the first shot being fired.  “Stop!  Stop!” he shouted.  “Don’t you shoot at my dog!”

“Your dog raped my Saffron!” she accused, still running and trying to get a good shot at the large mutt who’d ruined her finances for the foreseeable future.  She fired again, but missed.

Jeffrey finally reached her and tackled her to the ground, holding her gun arm carefully, so that her arm was outstretched, with the gun pointing away from them.  “You just calm down right now, little girl.”  The look in his eyes was as firm as the sound of his voice.  “Rufus is a dog, not a human being.  He was only doing what comes naturally.  If your dog is in heat, she shouldn’t have been left outside.”  Jeff reasoned with the pretty young woman, whose age had to be a few years younger than his twenty-two years.  “Are you calm now?” he asked.  She nodded, and like a fool, he believed her.

Once the handsome man allowed her to get up, Gabby pointed the gun straight at Rufus, and if Jeffrey hadn’t used his foot to sweep her feet out from under her, the hotheaded redhead would have killed Rufus!  Enough was enough, and before Gabby could catch her breath from falling so hard, Jeffrey wrenched the gun from her hand, setting the safety, and tossing it a short distance away.  He then flipped the young woman through the air so that she landed face down over his lap, and he started spanking the seat of her jean shorts with his hand, giving vent to his outrage that someone so pretty could be such a pain!

“Let me go!”  When that didn’t earn her release, Gabby completely lost her temper, cursing at him.

“I cannot believe you are foolish enough to use that kind of language while you are lying over my knee, little girl.  You certainly need this… in more ways than one!”

“You are hurting me!” she wailed.

“A spanking is supposed to hurt.  That is why a spanking works to tame a hotheaded brat like you!”

“I had every right to get angry!” she argued, but it was growing more and more difficult to keep an edge to her voice when he was systematically spanking away every bit of pride she possessed.  “Please stop now!” she finally begged.  “I won’t shoot your dog; I promise.”

“I heard that before,” he reminded her, and the shorts she was wearing were so short that he was able to spank her sit spots without any clothing at all to protect her bare flesh.

“Owwwww!  Owwwww!  OWWWW!  Stop!  Please!  I’m sorry!  I’m so sorry!”

“Are you now?”  He didn’t slow down the spanking for even one second.  He was trying his best to make an impression that the redhead would remember for the rest of her life.  “Do you realize that running around with a weapon in your hand is a good way to end up in prison?”

“I was after your da… darn dog!  He just ruined months of hard work!  Oh, stop!  I’m going to cry if you don’t!” she finally admitted, stinging hot tears filling her green eyes.

“Then you are going to cry, little girl,” he announced without the least bit of sympathy.  “We haven’t even begun to address how I feel about your language, not to mention that you lied to me when I asked if you were calm.”

“It’s not my fault that you believed me!”

“True, but I’m going to spank you six ways to Sunday for it anyway.”

Jeffrey was true to his word, and he gave the pretty Gabby the spanking of her life, which wasn’t hard to do since she’d never been spanked before.  It was a real shock to her system to realize that she couldn’t pout or temper her way out of the situation like she normally did.  She’d come up against a hard wall of man, and Jeff wouldn’t budge from what he thought was right.  His parents had raised him to be a man of principles. Her parents had raised her to be a spoiled brat, and even Gabby knew that at the age of eighteen.  Meeting Jeffrey was the best thing to happen to her.

That was ten years ago, but Gabby was smart enough to know when to back down.  Of course, Jeff hadn’t put a hand to her in that manner since her career skyrocketed.  Sometimes she wondered if a meal ticket was all she was to him.  He never mentioned having children, not like he used to.  And, he put up with her tantrums, unlike when they first married.  Things were not good between them, and Gabby found she couldn’t eat a bite of soup.  She went to bed, knowing that Jeff wouldn’t join her, even if she were to ask him.  While she slept, he worked, managing her career.

When Jeff brought Gabby her tea, she was sound asleep… or pretending to be asleep.  The juice and the soup were sitting untouched on the counter.  Jeff felt like slapping her bottom and telling her to stop behaving like a pouting child and sit up and eat, but instead, he cleaned up the dishes instead.  Tomorrow, when they reached the secluded cabin, would be soon enough to see if he could find the real Gabriella St. Clair Burns.

Jeff moved to the front of the bus to keep Gus company.  “Were you able to find the cabin on your GPS?” he asked the driver.

“No,” the man chuckled.  “I did get us in the general area, but you may have to hike a bit when I get you as close as I can.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Jeff assured the man.

Gus looked at him and chuckled.  “Might not be a problem under ordinary circumstances, but if Gabby has a tantrum…?  She’ll give you one heck of a fight.”

“It won’t be the first time,” Jeff answered softly, recalling how they met.  He related the story to Gus, and then said, “I’ve been careful to keep guns away from her ever since.”

“Yeah, in the wrong hands, they can be very dangerous.”  He thought for a moment or two and then Gus asked, “Didn’t her Daddy take up for her after you gave her a spanking?”

“He didn’t like me very much, that is for sure.  I think he did finally realize that I love Gabby and want to keep her safe, even if that is from her wild temper.  Her Mom has always liked me.  She asked me to handle the sale of her farm when she decided to move into a condo after Gabby’s Dad died,.”

“I’ve met Gabby’s mom, and she is a real lady.  I never felt she was talkin’ down to me the way some folks do.”

“You are a good man, Gus, and I hope you know that Gabby and I both think the world of you,” Jeff said sincerely.

“That’s why I’m still drivin’ this bus,” Gus said with a big smile, showing his ultra-white teeth.

Jeff thanked him, and then said, “You’ve earned this vacation, Gus.  I hope you enjoy getting to go home for a long visit.”

“I haven’t wanted to go before now,” Gus confessed.  “My family and I haven’t been on good terms for a long time, but I am ready now to go home and discuss things and see my Mother and make peace with her.”

Jeff was a good listener, and Gus’s story took a long time to tell.  Jeff asked pertinent questions, but eventually, they arrived on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Gabby having slept through traveling over the Mackinaw Bridge, which would have terrified her had she been awake and looking out a window. Jeff guided Gus until he knew it would be impossible to take the bus any further on the gravel road leading around the lake where the cabin was located.

“Time to face the music, my friend,” he said with a grin.

“Good luck.  I’ll see you in six weeks’ time,” Gus replied.  He listened, and just as he, the band, and the roadies expected, Gabby was not one bit happy at the idea of a vacation.