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A Younger Man (The Bancrofts Book 7)

A Younger Man (The Bancrofts Book 7)

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Young, handsome, Pastor Vanley Bancroft had just gotten a church of his own, all he wanted now was a wife and a family to love. His first choice for a wife was Anita Parkinson, a woman that he had loved for years despite their fifteen-year age gap, but Anita had a secret, one that she could not reveal to Vanley. To tell him would change his feelings toward her, or force him to give up the ministry that he loved so much.
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"If anyone knows of any reason these two should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace."
The place was silent except for the rustling of the wind on the red and white streamers that were pinned to each chair. A seagull squawked in the distance. Vanley Bancroft grinned with the bride and groom in front of him, who seemed unconcerned that there would be any objection from the audience. They only had eyes for each other.
"Taj Jackson and Natasha Rowe, I now declare you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride, sir."
Taj lowered his head to Natasha and kissed her thoroughly. The kiss went on and on and had their one hundred and twenty guests laughing and clapping.
Vanley breathed a sigh of relief. It was over: his first wedding as an officiating minister. He had not made a blunder, and he was happy. He had made a terrible blunder at his first funeral; even now he shuddered to think of it. He kept on calling the deceased Anita Parkinson when the name was Agnes Bertrand. The two persons were unrelated, yet he was so stuck on the first name that he could not shake it from his mind.
One lady had taken him aside after the funeral and had asked curiously if Anita Parkinson was no longer the VP of Academic Affairs at Mount Faith. Vanley had been shocked to his core. Had his obsession with Anita gotten so bad that he had been calling her name at a funeral of all places?
Today he had taken extra precautions. He had tried not to think about Anita, which was hard because she was a guest at the wedding, sitting at the back in a flirty blue dress and a blue hat that she was constantly holding down because of the breeze. He knew every time she raised a hand to keep her hat down. Her nails were painted a pretty coral blue. He reckoned that he knew how often she had swallowed in the last half hour. Out of the corner of his eyes, he had registered every detail about her.
Taj and Natasha walked to the end of the gazebo to the sound of John Legend's song “Stay With You” on saxophone. Vanley shook hands with Pastor Peterson then stepped down from the gazebo. He zeroed in on Anita but saw that she was engaged in an animated conversation with his cousin, Kylie, and her husband, Gareth.
He walked to the side of the lawn instead and gazed toward the sea. It was a beautiful spot for a wedding; Taj and Natasha had chosen well. The venue was called Lovers Leap; so named because of a tragic love story that ended there. Two slaves, during the 18th century, fled to the edge of the cliff while being chased by the plantation owner. Rather than face being caught and separated, the lovers chose to end their lives by jumping to their death together.
In the past, Vanley would scoff when he heard the story of the slaves’ drastic action, but today, with the cool December breeze swirling about him, the nostalgic romance of the wedding, and his unshakeable obsession with Anita, he could see how a couple would rather die than be separated.
"You did well today."
Vanley spun around and saw that it was Anita. She had taken off the hat, and her hair, which she kept in a sleek bob, was swinging toward her face. She had a heart-shaped face and the biggest, sultriest brown eyes this side of Jamaica.
"Thank you," he smiled. He always smiled when she was around. Usually, he felt like a bumbling idiot and would blurt out something inappropriate. Last time it was, "Marry me, Anita.” Today he straightened his spine and kept his mouth shut.
Her response last time was to laugh at him. “You are too young for me Vanley.”
He was tired of her keeping him at arm's length. Fifteen years between them was not that big a deal, at least not in these times. It was five years since he first met her, five years of her treating him as if he were a boy, except for that day three years ago when she had passionately kissed him in her office. Vanley still relived it in his mind. She had not spoken to him about it, and she had been keeping him at arm's length since then. For her to approach him now was quite remarkable. He allowed his eyes to roam over her as she looked out at the view. She had a pretty face, smooth, dusky skin, finely arched eyebrows, and a rosebud mouth. Her well-toned body seemed like it didn't have an ounce of spare fat. She was body-conscious and loved to work out.
He could itemize her features without looking at her now. Like an obsessed maniac, he had memorized every detail of her features the first time he set eyes on her. She had turned her big brown eyes on him the first day that he stepped foot on Mount Faith grounds and he hadn't been the same since. She had been working out of his uncle's office building. His uncle had casually introduced her to him as a good friend of his. At that first meeting in his uncle's office, he had sat and stared at her like a lovesick puppy.
He often wondered how Anita had reached forty without getting married. She was perfect in his eyes. He had no confidence in the male population because they allowed her to go free for so long.
She glanced at him sideways and smiled, once again catching him in one of his deep perusals of her. He wished that time would dim his Anita fascination. He had prayed that his fascination would end or that something would happen so that they could finally be together, but nothing changed.
"It's a gorgeous day to be alive." Her voice was low-pitched.
He nodded, "It really is."
He cleared his throat, "Anita, I..."
She cut him off. "I heard you have gotten a church for yourself. I guess no more Mount Faith for you, huh?"
His eyes clouded over. No more Mount Faith? Not likely, not when you are still there, he thought.
"My new church is in Bramble. As you know, it's just fifteen minutes down the road from Mount Faith," he said softly, watching for any shift in her expression to indicate that she was glad that he would still be nearby. "I'll be around."
She didn't shift, and he watched again for any micro expression that would indicate something—joy perhaps? Instead, she changed the subject.
"I remember when you just came to school. You were so eager to be in the seminary and start doing what you said was your calling. I can see that the boy has grown somewhat and is maturing into a good man and pastor. Keep it up."
There she goes again with the ageism. He almost chuckled at her obvious attempt to emphasize their age difference once more and keep a firm distance between them. She loved to highlight the fact that he was a boy.
"I am twenty-five," he shrugged. "I've been a man for quite some time. I hoped you'd notice."
Anita swallowed and then turned her back slightly to him. "I noticed, but some things are not worth pursuing."
"Why?" Vanley asked. He touched her arm and wished he hadn't. His fingers trembled when they came in contact with her skin. He removed his hand and jammed them into his pockets. "Don't tell me about age Anita; I am tired of hearing it. My heart doesn't care how old you are."
Anita turned to him and smiled sadly. "It's not just age. There is a huge gulf between us where lies experience and life events. I have been on this earth a decade and a half before you; I am not perfect."
Vanley shrugged. "Neither am I. Just striving to be like Christ."
Anita shook her head. "You don't understand."
"Make me understand," Vanley said. His voice was hoarse, and he sounded like a broken record. They had had this conversation several times before, and usually, he left the conversation feeling disappointed. Today was probably going to be one of those times.
Anita shook her head. "No."
Vanley sighed. As usual, she made him feel unsettled and unsure of himself and his feelings.
He was happy when his sister walked up to them, and the conversation turned to general topics, but he couldn't shake the feeling of rejection that dogged him every time he was around Anita.