Two Weeks Later
Grace glanced at the clock on the wall in her kitchen and groaned. “Not again.”
She was late.
Or rather, she was going to be late. To church. Again.
She had been eating her pastry she’d gotten the afternoon before at the bakery across the street, and listening to Jeremy Camp on her phone, and somehow, 7: 30 had turned into 8:15, and she hadn’t even had a shower yet, never mind getting dressed. Now that she was ready to fly out the door, it was already 9:40, and she had to drive halfway across Hamburg to get to church.
Grace Saint-Dreyfus, par for the course.
It didn’t help that she was still looking for a church she could feel at home in. She’d grown up attending the same church, back in Boston, and really didn’t know anything else. She’d loved that church. Finding somewhere to fit in, here in Germany, wasn’t quite so easy. She had made a couple friends at the orchestra, but not all of them were Christians—Germany was much less religious than America, she had come to realize. She’d tried out the church with the English services for a while, and enjoyed meeting others who had the same accent as her, but if she was ever going to fit into Germany, she needed to meet real Germans, and her German would never improve listening to English sermons.
Besides, they only served to remind her of what she’d left behind.
She missed her parents and grandfather. Sam had only been gone for three days, but she missed him incredibly, too, and, more than anything, Henry. Even Germany couldn’t keep her thoughts off of him completely, and she missed the way he would wrap his arm around her and pull him into his side, cocooned in his embrace during the church service. She had loved how she felt closest to God when she was closest to Henry.
Now they both felt so very far away.
She grabbed the piece of paper on her stove—rapidly written directions to a German church in Hamburg from one of the little old ladies at the English-speaking congregation—and her purse and rushed out the door.
She was off on another German adventure.
If only she could find some pleasure in it.
‡ ‡ ‡
Benedikt felt an almost giddy peacefulness welling up in his heart as he pulled up the familiar drive to his church’s parking lot, lined by stately European beech trees. It wasn’t a massively large congregation, but larger than some. Hamburg prided itself in its atheism, and Benedikt was simply happy to have a congregation he enjoyed, period, much less with such a beautiful setting and building. One of his best friends from his childhood—Tobias Zimmermann—was now the pastor here, and he’d grown up in this church. He had visited many churches, all over Germany, and even the world, but none felt quite as much like home as this one did. His faith came alive here, and, much like his friends from St. Bonifaz, or the German football community at large, this place felt like home.
He pulled into an open parking spot, and turned off the ignition, content to just sit and absorb the day. The heavy sound of the rain pounding into his car, the peacefulness of the morning. Just inside were many of the people he held most dear to his heart, and today would be a good day. His mother had dragged him back to America, only a couple days after the win against Bayern, for his grandmother’s 83rd birthday celebration, and, before that, all his time had been occupied by St. Bonifaz, who had been kept busy with away games before coming home for the final match against Bayern München, which, of course, had little time for church, period, but no time to travel back to Hamburg. He’d visited other churches when he could, but it wasn’t the same. He’d been looking forward to an unassuming day at church, recharging, for more than a month now. Now it was finally here, and he was going to enjoy it.
After a few more seconds of peace, he pushed open the door to his car and stepped out, sprinting to the front door. He had tried to shield his head with the cover of his Bible, but it did little in way of protection. He had thought that it was just a little bit of rain, but he’d underestimated how heavy the downpour was, and by the time he reached the glass double doors, he was nearly soaked through.
He yanked open the front door, surprised no one was there, waiting to hold it open for him, but as he ran his fingers through his hair and shedded his suit jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves, he realized why.
“I don’t think it’s going to kill you.”
He looked up and laughed at her deadpan response. The little old lady sitting only a couple meters away was grinning up at him, proud of her own joke, as if sarcasm was a form of humor she’d only just discovered, and he tossed his jacket on the bench and was hugging her a second later. “Frau Werner!”
He sat down next to her, took her hand. “How are you?”
Anna Werner was much like the German grandmother he’d never had—his father’s mother passed away a couple years before he had been born—and he loved her dry sense of humor, the way she loved him as if he was her own. Anna and her husband, Helmut, had never been able to have children, and now that Helmut was gone, Benedikt worried for her.
She smiled over at him bravely. “I’m here.” He wondered how much that meant she wasn’t telling him, but he didn’t think he could get her to complain—honestly—about what was wrong if he tried, so he let it go. “But, Benni, just this once, can you finish for me today? You know my knees aren’t what they once were. And the guests need a strapping young man to hold the door for them and rescue them from the rain. Just like you.”
She patted him affectionately again, and he laughed. Sometimes he wondered who wanted to see him turn into a perfect gentleman more—his mom or Anna Werner. His mom would say that chivalry was dead in Germany, but it was just a different culture. Most people just expected people to open doors for themselves. And while Anna didn’t grow up on American manners, she sure seemed to support them as soon as she’d found out about them.
He helped her to her feet. “C’mon. I’ll take you into the sanctuary so you can listen to the lesson.”
She smiled at him gratefully and wrapped her arm around his waist, holding on. It pained him to see her arthritis affect her so badly, but there was really nothing else he could do, besides help when he could. He wished she’d had her own son, to look after her when he couldn’t.
He returned to his post, watching as the rain poured down. He’d looked forward to joining the young adult class that met in the basement, meeting up with some of his friends, soaking up the lesson. He always loved the way the man who led the class brought the Bible—and his faith—to life.
He shrugged it off. There would be next week. Training for the next Bundesliga didn’t begin until early July, which left him a little over a month of time to himself.
‡ ‡ ‡
Benedikt stood at the door to the church’s foyer, staring off into the rain. It was a peaceful sort of morning, and he enjoyed taking advantage of it. He heard snippets of the Bible study taking place in the sanctuary several meters away, and he was so relaxed and at ease that he was nearly falling asleep there, standing at the front door, waiting for someone to come.
About 20 minutes before the church service was scheduled to start, a silver Jetta pulled into the small parking lot, and Benedikt pushed his shoulder off the door jam and started to push the door open a few centimeters, curious to see if he knew who it was or not. A few moments after she pulled into the parking spot, the woman turned off her car and stepped out, and, as that beautiful dark hair and twinkling bright blue eyes registered, Benedikt’s eyes grew wide in shock and let the glass door slowly slide shut in front of him.
It was her. The girl in the stadium.
Where had she come from? And how did she find him?!
He peaked back around the artificial ficus plant standing in the corner, by the front double doors, just to be sure. And there she stood, in all of her glory, her long, dark hair and pretty, girly sundress shielded from the rain by a bright, floral umbrella.
And, like the coward he was, he slunk back behind the ficus. He’d been having a nice morning, listening to Herr Arnt speaking about Jesus’ passion, thinking about how unexpectedly passionate Jesus was, while he enjoyed the peaceful hum of the rain and the quietness of the morning. No football practice, no demanding fans, no pressures to be the kind of footballer the Bundesliga wanted him to be, no fame. It was just he and the rain and Jesus and the word of God, and he had soaked it up. In the pressure and fast pace of the Bundesliga season, he often forgot how freeing a morning such as this could be.
Until she showed up, catching him off-guard and out of his element, with no idea as to what to say to her. He’d been hoping for such an opportunity as this—to apologize, to see her face-to-face—but this was totally unexpected and he had no clue what to say. The day of the game, he had been running scenarios through his head from that sickening moment he’d realized he’d broken her nose right up until that nurse had told him that she had already gone. He’d thought he didn’t have a hope of talking to her again. How could he possibly make it up to her? Maybe, he could get lucky, and, by some miracle of God, stay hidden behind this ficus bush without her finding out at all.
As she reached for the door handle and cast a glance his way, right past the ficus and straight into his eyes, he knew his chance for oblivion had completely passed him by. There goes my miracle, he thought, with a deep gulp.
‡ ‡ ‡
Grace reached to pull open the door to the church, surprised there was no one manning the door, and she stopped short when she came face-to-face with live-and-in-the-flesh Benedikt Breslau. Her breath froze in her throat, and wow, okay, he was sort of gorgeous. As soon as she had told her friends from the orchestra that it had been Benedikt that had broken her nose, Julia and Ariana had squealed in delight, and Julia had babbled on and on about the dreamy footballer, but she hadn’t really paid her any mind. Now she knew what she had been talking about.
Grace’s eyes were glued to him, all six feet and one inch of him, dressed in charcoal dress paints, a fitted periwinkle-lavender dress shirt, a deep plum tie, and a matching charcoal vest, and wow, he cleaned up well. His shirt was rolled up to his elbows, and even the conservative shirt couldn’t hide his toned arm muscles. His dark blond hair was messy—probably from running his hands through it too many times, trying to keep the rain out of his eyes—and he stood there, frozen, seemingly horrified. His mouth was parted open in shock, and she found she’d unintentionally backed him into the corner, behind the ficus. It almost looked like he had been hiding behind it.
She knew, from Christian (and numerous newspaper articles), that Benedikt had been the one to break her nose, but she hadn’t known him, and honestly didn’t hold it against him. She’d had a good story to tell her friends. Besides the perfect opportunity to date one of the most eligible bachelors in Hamburg, Ariana and Julia had thought it hilarious, and Julia wanted to know how many reporters had tried to track her down. Emmy Patterson, her best friend back home in Boston, wanted to know how much Sam had wanted to track the man down and pummel him.
But honestly, it was football. She knew there were risks involved, and surgery hadn’t even been required. She was mostly better—a few lingering bruises, and she still had to play it safe while playing her violin—so why hold it against him? She had much more important things to worry about.
He appeared to have come out of his stupor, and with the most contrite face she’d ever seen in her life, he whispered, “I’m sorry.”
‡ ‡ ‡
Benedikt felt like a total tool. A class-A jerk. Not only had he broken her nose—he’d also hid from her when he knew he should have gone out to her with the umbrella, helped her inside.
And then maybe not let her go until she accepted his apology.
And my goodness, was she beautiful up-close and in-the-flesh. Dark brown hair that reached halfway down her back, pulled out of her face by a little braid that framed her beautiful face. Bright blue eyes the color of the Caribbean Sea. That adorable pug nose, still slightly bruised from the game (it made him sick all over again). A shy, half-smile gracing her lips. She had a beautiful smile, and it wasn’t even full-fledged yet. She was wearing one of those floral sundresses he had grown to recognize her by.
And his words froze in his throat. What could he possibly say to her, that would make it all right? Benedikt blushed as he allowed himself to peak around the branches of the ficus bush.
“I’m sorry,” he blurted out, and instantly blushed even more. He recognized that the words had come out of his mouth before he could filter them, make them sound less lame. For a national football icon, he sure crumbled into idiocy quick. It wasn’t that he didn’t mean the words—he really was sorry—but he had hoped to find a way to say them that sounded less lame, more like he wasn’t a total societal misfit. Why couldn’t he have the gift of eloquence where it mattered?
He just stared at her then, waiting for her reaction, and then he realized she surely needed an explanation before she could grant forgiveness. Dummy! he berated himself. His cheeks blushed crimson, and he just wanted to sink behind the ficus and die.
“I mean—I didn’t mean—I mean, you probably—you can’t possibly know—you’re m—I mean—I’m—” His eyes widened in horror at the sounds coming out of his mouth, and he clammed his mouth shut right there, dropping his head in shame, as he groaned to himself. He let his head fall back against the cool glass of the window as his eyes fluttered shut. He was a total idiot. And he couldn’t let himself risk even one glance at her. Oh my goodness, idiot, shut your mouth before you make even more of an idiot of yourself. Why couldn’t he just say I’m sorry like a normal person?
What was wrong with him?! Use your words, Benedikt! he told himself.
He slowly lifted his head, half afraid she wouldn’t even be there when he did, and saw her, right where he’d left her before he had made a total fool out of himself. She was trying desperately not to laugh at him, her hand over her mouth.
And he smiled back at her, an I-know-I’m-such-an-idiot-and-I’m-sorry smile, and he held out his hand to her apologetically. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Benedikt Breslau, the footballer that took out your nose a couple weeks ago. I’m sorry. Both for your nose, and for not getting the door for you earlier.” He sighed as he gauged her reaction. He sighed in self-deprecation. “That’s what I was trying to say.”
She really did giggle then, the most innocent and lighthearted sound he’d ever heard in his life. And then she clapped her hand even harder over her mouth, and her eyes grew wide like saucers. She reached out and grabbed his forearm, as if she thought he really would run away. “I’m sorry!” she squeaked out. “It wasn’t funny—but… well, that was the strangest apology I’ve ever received in my life.”
At least she was laughing about it. He wanted to run down the hallway and hide under the table in one of the children’s rooms.
When he relaxed under her hold on him, she smiled softly as she studied him deeper, seemingly moving past his words to his heart, on the inside, and he wondered if she could really see him so easily. She had a funny look in her eye, and he didn’t know what to make of it. Finally, she dropped his arm, as if convinced he wouldn’t cower out of fear anymore, and she said, “I know who you are. My friends are rather obsessed with my fifteen minutes of fame.” She offered him a gentle smile. “And don’t worry, Benedikt Breslau. I’ve forgiven you long ago. Sam might be another story, but you and I are fine.”
Benedikt’s heart seized with worry. Her boyfriend. “Sam?” Why couldn’t something go in his favor just once?
She grinned, loving the look of terror on his face. “Yeah. Sam. My brother. The guy that was with me at the game?”
Benedikt sighed with relief. She didn’t have a boyfriend. But her brother was still mad, apparently, which didn’t necessarily bode well, either.
Grace laughed. “But he’ll get over it. Sam’s harmless.” She lifted her nose to the light, so he could see the remnants of the bruising. “See? Just a little bruising still. It’s barely affected me at all.” She grinned at him.
She offered her hand to him, this time. “I’m Grace Saint-Dreyfus.”
He accepted her hand and offered her a wan smile. He still couldn’t believe she’d actually forgiven him, was half-afraid to think it a hoax, but she seemed sincere enough. “Pleased to meet you,” he responded, focused more on the way she’d said Dreyfus—more like the French dray-foos than the German drye-foos, and the way she’d stumbled over the word fame. He studied her a bit more closely. “You’re not German, are you?”
He had assumed, all this time, that she was, but she blushed a little at his observation, and he knew he was right. “Guilty,” she said with a smile. “I’m from the United States, but moved to Hamburg last fall when I was given a really good work opportunity.”
He smiled back at her, somewhat relieved the conversation was on better feet. “Well, welcome to Hamburg, Grace Saint-Dreyfus of the United States of America.”
She smiled weakly. “Thanks.” She appreciated the sentiment, but she wasn’t sure even this important, internationally-known footballer could make being in Germany—or anywhere, really—a happy place without Henry.
But boy, would Julia and Ariana freak out when they heard about this.
Benedikt’s eyes narrowed slightly at the dip in her friendly front. Grace Saint-Dreyfus appeared friendly, gracious, kind, happy, but, in a moment, he saw it for the façade it was. What had he done to cause the dark cloud cover over her heart?
‡ ‡ ‡
Benedikt felt a little hand on the back of his thigh a second before he heard that little voice he knew so well. “Bonjour!”
Benedikt turned and lifted Amélie to his hip, planting raspberry kisses on her cheek. “Hi, baby,” he said affectionately, and she wrapped her little arms around his neck tightly.
Benedikt turned back to Grace. “Sorry,” he said. “This is—”
But Amélie beat him to it, interrupting him. “Je m’appelle Amélie!” she squealed, her laughter pealing through the foyer as Benedikt tickled her sides.
Grace watched, with a smile, as the little girl wiggled in his arms and threw back her head in laughter. They were obviously close. She wondered at Benedikt’s relationship with the little girl—Julia hadn’t said anything about Benedikt having a daughter, but it certainly wasn’t out of the question. A niece, maybe? Or just a member of the church he was close to?
Benedikt sobered up enough to turn to explain to Grace. “This is Amélie Schuster, Pax—erm, Pascal Schuster’s—daughter. He’s the head goalkeeper for St. Bonifaz, and one of my best friends. Amélie, here, has adopted me as her uncle,” he said with an affectionate smile down at the little girl as he gave her a little shake. She grinned up at Benedikt, as if sensing that he was talking about her, and wrapped her arms around his neck in a vice-grip hug.
Grace smiled at the interaction between the two. They were obviously close, and it was sort of adorable that a little four-year-old had wrapped a big, macho, national footballer (okay, with a huge shy, geeky streak) like Benedikt Breslau around her little finger. In Benedikt’s defense, though, Amélie Schuster was adorable. She was already falling for her, a little bit, and they’d only just met.
“Salut, bébé,” Grace said, with an affectionate smile more wide than all the happiness Benedikt thought she had in her entire soul. Hello, baby. “Je m’appelle Grace.” My name is Grace.
Amélie shot up, ramrod straight, in Benedikt’s arms, and they both stared at her with a look of utter shock. Amélie turned to Benedikt, and, with eyes, wide as saucers, she whispered, “Elle parle le français?!”
Benedikt laughed at the comical expression on Amélie’s face, and pressed an affectionate kiss to her temple. “Apparently she does,” he said, studying Grace, not for the first time, in awe of her contradictions and the unexpected surprises hidden in who she was. She was an enigma.
Grace, however, only had eyes for Amélie, and was already saying, in French, “Can I hold you?”
Amélie apparently had no qualms switching alliances, and Benedikt watched, not sure how he felt, as Grace took his best girl into her arms. He’d never had to share Amélie before—besides with Pascal, and Nathalie, when she’d still been alive. Nathalie had been killed in a tragic accident a week after Amélie had turned one; she had taken Amélie back to France, to celebrate Amélie’s birthday with her family, who lived in Montpellier. Pascal had a game, that week, in Amsterdam—a friendly between the German and Dutch national teams—and had been unable to go with them. He returned home to their apartment to find a policeman knocking on his door, just in front of him. Amélie had been virtually unharmed—a couple bruises—but the head-on collision with the semi-truck had totally destroyed the first half of the car, and, even after they’d been able to get to Nathalie—the car smashed around her body as it was—she had been injured almost beyond recognition. She had been long gone, even before the police had arrived on the scene. He told himself it was a good thing, that Amélie was getting the affection of a good woman again, even if it only was for five minutes. He just couldn’t help but feel a little twinge of jealousy.
“I love your dress,” Grace said, tapping the skirt of Amélie’s poppy sundress, grinning. “See? We kind of match.” She held out her own skirt, so Amélie could see. “Do you like flowers, too?”
Amélie grinned and nodded with an exaggerated swoop of her head, although Benedikt thought she’d agree to anything, really. Amélie loved anyone and anything. She poked one of the flowers on Grace’s shoulder. “This one’s my favorite,” she said, and Benedikt bit back a laugh. Amélie rotated through favorites—of everything—faster than she could slip down out of Grace’s arms and run away.
For the next five minutes, Grace and Amélie discussed everything from favorite colors to the picture Amélie drew in class to Pascal and Benedikt to where Amélie lived and all her favorite subjects, the most prevalent, of course, being “bébé Jonas.” More than anything, Amélie loved babies, and “bébé Jonas,” the little baby brother of two of her friends, Mia and Lotte, was the best, probably because he was the only baby she knew well.
Once she’d exhausted every topic of conversation she could possibly think of, she slipped down to the ground and called, “Au revoir!” and gave Benedikt a good-bye kiss before skipping around the corner, probably in search of her father. Amélie had the personality of a little butterfly, and she flitted out of his life just as quickly as she crashed into it.
At least he knew he hadn’t completely fallen from Amélie Schuster’s good graces.
As Amélie scampered off, Grace stared off at her with an affectionate smile, but Benedikt just stared at Grace. Who was this woman, and what’s she do with the sad, stoic, quiet woman he saw in the stands every week? At every turn she was a surprise, and now, he added trilingual American to the list.
She was incredible.
When Grace noticed he was staring at her, in somewhat of a stupor, she smiled politely at him. “She’s adorable.”
Benedikt was shaken out of his reverie by her words, and he glanced behind him, where Amélie had disappeared. “Oh, yeah. I like to think so.”
While his back was turned, Grace let herself laugh at his antics. Just when he was starting to act like a human being again, these dorky aspects of his personality came out, and it was possibly the funniest thing she’d seen in Germany yet. She really wouldn’t have expected a German footballer—particularly one so well-renowned!—to have such a simple problem as talking to a human being, but at least she didn’t feel self-conscious about being late anymore.
When he had turned back around he just stared at her again, as if he couldn’t believe her. “You speak French,” he blurted out, more like a statement than a question, but she was just so unexpected. He had to know.
She laughed. “Yes. My grandfather is French, and he and my grandmother lived with us growing up. He still refuses to speak to me in anything other than French, even though he knows how to speak English full well.”
Benedikt thought about the fact that he’d never met his German grandparents, and had only met his American ones a handful of times. “That must be nice.”
Grace snorted, and he found it unbelievably unlike her to do so.
She smirked, and then explained. “Well, my grandmother is English, and my mom fully Danish, and they all had the same idea. Growing up trilingual isn’t as easy as you’d think.”
She was unbelievable. She spoke Danish, as well? So she was quadrilingual? He was about to tell her that maybe she could talk some sense into Christian, teach him a little German, when the gentle music playing over the speakers ceased, and a man stepped up to the podium.
Grace glanced through the double doors to the sanctuary, and smiled at him apologetically. “I think that’s my cue,” she said, picking up her umbrella that she’d had resting against the wall, and shuffling everything to her left hand so she could extend her right one. He took it in a handshake. “But it was very nice to meet you, and thank you for not making me feel like a total loser for being almost an hour late.”
He laughed. Funny, too. In a sort of self-deprecating sort of way. “You’re welcome.”
She held up a hand in farewell as she walked into the sanctuary, and he groaned. Dummkopf! he berated himself. He was such a loser. What must she think of him?
At least he could add gracious to the growing list of intriguing qualities that Grace Saint-Dreyfus possessed.
‡ ‡ ‡
Benedikt ambled over to the open double doors leading into the sanctuary and leaned his shoulder against the side of the door, peaking in and listening as the service began. He could hear if anyone pulled up—probably—and he planned on glancing behind him every little bit to be sure he wasn’t missing anyone. Germans were almost excessively punctual, and he didn’t expect anyone else to come in, anyhow.
As the recorded music playing over the speaker system faded out into silence and the elder walked up to the podium again, Benedikt glanced around at the fairly small congregation, and his gaze stopped when he reached his parents, two rows ahead of where he stood at the door. They were still as smitten as the day they’d met, over thirty years ago, and he knew that because they still acted like love-struck teenagers, and even now they held hands and whispered to each other like they’d been apart for all of ten minutes and it had been killing them. Peter and Annie Breslau. His father was the most generous man Benedikt knew, and his mom the most affectionate, which easily made them the heart of the church, no matter who came and went.
Somehow, Benedikt wasn’t surprised to see Grace Saint-Dreyfus seated a few meters away from his mother, taking in her surroundings. She seemed to soak it all up, as if a German church service was a million miles away from an American one. Though they hadn’t yet talked, it put him at ease, thinking his parents would be there if Grace should be alone or confused. Somehow, it mattered that she enjoyed this church service, that she enjoyed Germany, period.
He would have loved to see his mother’s face when she realized the girl sitting three meters away from her was an American. An American herself, she seemed to collect Americans in the country with an uncanny ability, but she never stopped being excited to see someone from her home country. He wondered, not for the first time, what she’d given up in the United States for his father.
Peter Breslau turned to glance behind him, and smiling warmly when he saw his son, and Benedikt nodded with a grin. He almost pushed off from the door with his shoulder, went to greet his parents, but an elder now stood up at the podium, and called into the microphone in German, “Good morning, everyone!”
Benedikt took the opportunity then to push off the door, and wander back toward the two glass double doors that led out into the parking lot. An opening prayer and the announcements would be next, and he didn’t mind keeping his eye on the door during those. He stared out at the rain, still coming down at a steady, soothing pace, and he absently listened to the elder talk about the upcoming church gathering and the food collection for the needy in Hamburg.
He had zoned out, and, before he realized it, the voice had changed to a middle-aged woman whom he only knew marginally, announcing that it was time for the song service, and that, sadly, Frau Barfeld had come down with the flu, and would not be able to play. She was the only pianist in the congregation, Benedikt knew, so that meant there would be no music, period. “But,” she said brightly, “let that not keep us from giving thanks the Lord for His provision and blessings, anyway!”
But, before a beat of a second had passed by, a voice called out across the sanctuary, “Ich kann Klavier spielen!”
Benedikt strode over to the opening to the sanctuary, surprised to hear someone calling out in the middle of the service, and even more stunned to realize that it had been quiet, demure Grace that had been the cause of it all. He could see that everyone else had been just as astonished as he, and all eyes were now on Grace. She squirmed uncomfortably in her seat.
“I play first-chair violin for the Philharmoniker Internationale,” she explained, smiling sheepishly and a bit shyly. “But I play the piano, too. If you need a pianist, I can play for you.”
Benedikt stared, in awe, as the church as a whole seemed to embrace Grace and usher forward, and she slipped out the pew, around his parents, and up to the baby grand that sat just to the left of the podium in front. “What’s the first song?” she asked the song leader, quietly lifting the lid of the piano and sliding her fingers along its keys, almost reverently, as if this was a common occurrence, and Benedikt wondered how he could have ever thought she was German.
She was nothing like a German, all guts and determination and inner strength, all American boldness, all unexpected spontaneity, and he wondered how he could have thought she was quiet and demure.
She had handled every song the song leader had thrown at her, and was now playing an arrangement of Fairest Lord Jesus while the deacons took up the offering. She had played Mozart during the children’s offering, as well, and he couldn’t help wondering if there was anything gutsy, tenderhearted Grace Saint-Dreyfus couldn’t do.
Benedikt’s eyes had closed, of their own volition, as he took in the healing sound of the music coming to life under Grace’s fingertips—he could almost feel the music that way—when he felt an urgent hand shaking his shoulder, pulling him away from the sanctuary and into the empty foyer. “Benni!”
His eyes fluttered open, and he looked around, slightly disoriented. Florian Schiffer stood before him, both worry and insistence equally flashing in his eyes, leaving no time to remember where he was. He nodded toward the parking lot. “C’mon. I just got a call from Matthias. It’s Ronan again.”
Dread filled in his heart, and he guided Florian to the door. Ronan Breckenridge was another one of his best friends from the football team, and had been hitting the bottle hard lately. Ronan’s mother had been killed a little over four months ago, in an accident involving a drunk driver, in Ronan’s native Ireland, and while he was playing football in Germany, no less. It had affected Ronan more deeply than anyone had thought or expected, and he had gone off the deep end, falling into a tailspin of alcohol and regrets. Before the accident, Ronan—or Rory, as they’d started calling him (Jack had an easy tendency to give them nicknames, and somehow, they all stuck)—would have refused to even enter a bar, and now, Benedikt was rescuing him from them nearly a dozen times each month.
Right before he stepped through the double glass doors, Benedikt glanced back at the sanctuary doors. He didn’t want to leave Grace alone—plus, he’d wanted to talk to her again, after the service was over, tell her how beautifully she played, and maybe see if he had a chance of staying in her life. Somehow. But his mom and dad were there, and one of his best and most reliable friends, Tobias, their gentle, understanding, compassionate pastor. She was in good hands.
And Rory needed him.
‡ ‡ ‡
She was magnificent.
Benedikt sat in his seat, spellbound. Who was this woman? Half the time she seemed so sad, so serious, so withdrawn, and then the next moment, she was so fully alive that he didn’t know what to think. Out of all the people in the world he’d met—and as a footballer, he’d met a lot—he’d never seen anyone like her. She was a study in contrasts—brilliantly happy, but bone-deep sad. Vibrantly alive but quietly withdrawn. Bold and brave but quiet and unsure. And inside it all, he was convinced she had the most beautiful, good, kind heart he’d ever seen.
In this orchestral hall—seemingly as old as Germany itself—even the air itself sizzled to life under the power of Grace’s bow. She was… glorious. Vivacious, really, was the better word. If he hadn’t come across her so many times before, over the past few months, he never would have believed that she could be reserved and bookish, sad and shy, timid and safe. He would have believed her capable of anything. He would have bet that she could slay dragons and hypnotize the United Nations with that violin of hers.
He couldn’t help the smile that inched up his face as he watched her. He loved watching the twinkle in her deep blue eyes, the hint of a smile at her favorite parts, the hint of a scowl at the difficult parts. He even thought, once, that he saw her little pink tongue stick out between her lips in concentration, about halfway through her solo. He had never met someone so completely, adorably, beautifully honest. He wasn’t sure she’d have been able to hide her emotions, even if she had tried.
She was so beautiful tonight.
He hadn’t been able to take his eyes off of her. He’d come because he loved the orchestra, but also because he’d wanted to see her live-and-in-the-flesh, comfortable doing what she was best at. He hadn’t really expected to see more of her, after he’d had to leave early to rescue Ronan, but he’d come on a whim. Even after the accident, and receiving her gracious forgiveness, she still intrigued him.
Grace finished her solo with a flourish, and beamed first at the audience and then back at the orchestra before she curtsied and returned to her seat, speaking to the violinist next to her in quiet whispers as she prepared for the next song. My goodness, she was amazing, he thought, and, not for the first time, he wondered if she realized it.
‡ ‡ ‡
Grace was grinning to herself as filed off the stage with the other musicians, violin and bow in hand. Today’s performance had gone well. Really well. It had been the sort of performance that had left her giddy on the inside afterward. The air in the auditorium had been electric, and the orchestra had been on fire. She’d been worried about this solo, and tonight had been their first time performing it in front of a live audience, but it couldn’t have gone any better, even if she’d tried, and it reminded her of every reason she’d stuck to orchestral violin rather than pursuing a solo pianist career. She loved playing for an orchestra—feeding off of the others’ passion, the camaraderie… She loved playing the piano, but she hated being alone.
Julia Gottfried, one of her best friends from the orchestra, was chattering on about something, and Ariana Esposito, a cellist from Italy, slid her arm through Grace’s affectionately while she listened to Julia. She’d been in a horrific accident when she was eleven, which had caused more painful injuries than Grace thought she’d ever fully know about. But the worst part had been that a tracheotomy had gone wrong and stolen Ariana’s voice from her forever. Somehow, Grace thought, good-hearted Ariana said more in her silence than chatty Julia said with her voice.
Grace slipped her arm through Julia’s, too, and laughed at something Julia said. Though moving to Germany had been the hardest thing she’d ever done, moments like these, with Ariana and Julia after a good concert, made it so much easier. She turned them down the hallway toward the practice room where they’d all left their instrument cases.
“Miss Saint-Dreyfus!” a voice called from just behind her, and Grace turned to look. One of the stage hands, Stefan, was holding a bouquet of lilies out to her. “A gentleman left these at the front desk for you.”
Julia looked first at the flowers in Stefan’s hands, then at Grace, and cooed, grinning mischievously, “Ooooh-ooh.” Grace shot her friend a look, but it didn’t seem to faze Julia in the least, who only grinned wider.
Julia and Ariana pressed closer as she accepted the flowers with her free hand. “Danke, Stefan,” Grace said, taking a step back in hopes of some breathing room. Sometimes, despite their best intentions, Ariana and Julia could make her claustrophobic.
As he nodded and walked off, Julia cooed, grinning mischievously, “Ooooh-oooh. Gracie has a boyfriend…”
Grace clenched her jaw, and had to check the unexpected surge of irritation at her friend. Julia and Ariana didn’t know about Henry, didn’t know that the subject of boyfriends was a touchy subject. She told herself she should just enjoy the attention such a well-known footballer was paying her, enjoy the teasing of Julia and Ariana, but she knew they’d take it as far as she let them. And even if she wanted to tell Julia and Ari about Henry—how could she? She could barely afford to think about him, herself, much less share the big, gaping hole in her heart with her friends. It made her sad to think she’d never be able to share this—the gossiping about boyfriends, the talking about crushes, the squealing and laughter she’d shared with Emmy as her relationship with Henry had developed. Sometimes she wanted to hate Henry—for letting himself be taken (or whatever had actually happened), for not coming back to her sooner, for making her love him, for his loving her so much. For not letting her move on with her life. Until she had proof that whoever had taken her boyfriend had killed him, she was incapable of moving on—which meant that she would either have to tell her friends about Henry, or suck up and deal with their excitement every time an attractive guy looked her way.
She felt bad as she studied their expectant faces, and she pushed the dark thoughts away. She’d been happy, a couple of seconds ago, with her two friends, and she didn’t want any more darkness overtaking her life.
According to Ari and Julia, Benedikt Breslau was one of the most eligible bachelors in Hamburg, and they were living—or rather, trying to live—vicariously through her. She couldn’t blame them—not really—and it was sort of adorable how excited they were. Benedikt was certainly attractive. He just couldn’t be her attractive guy. That spot was reserved for Henry, and only Henry.
Julia leaned down and breathed deeply of the flowers, sighing melodramatically, and Ariana came around on her other side, and started inspecting the flowers, lifting the leaves to look underneath, and Julia exclaimed, “Good point, Ariana! There may be a card!”
A slow smile slid up Grace’s face. Even if Benedikt had absolutely no shot with her, it was almost funny to watch her two friends’ reactions, in their passion for the supposed development in her non-existent love life. She allowed herself to be taken along by Julia’s antics.
Ariana grinned at Grace, sharing a patronizing look as Julia pawed through the flowers for a card. Despite the fact that Ariana mostly just knew Italian, and Julia predominantly spoke German, they understood each other well enough, and Julia had dubbed herself Ariana’s spokesperson. Ariana, in her grace, had let her. Everyone—except for Julia, perhaps—knew that Ariana could easily take care of herself, and speak her own mind, but she could sense Julia’s desire to help where she could, and, in her mercy, allowed her to.
Grace swatted Julia’s hands away good-naturedly, and handed Ariana the flowers so she could look for a card. When she did, she pulled it out.
Grace, you were stunning tonight. Benedikt
Ariana read the card with wide, twinkling eyes, and before Grace could anticipate the question in her eyes, Julia snatched the card out of Grace’s hands as she squealed in delight. She read the message again, and her eyes twinkled mischievously. “Ooooh,” she cooed again, and Grace scowled, snatching the card back.
Grace hadn’t known he was here, tonight, honestly. In fact, she was surprised he knew what she did at all, because she hadn’t told him she played violin for the Philharmoniker Internationale, and he had been gone when she’d emerged from the sanctuary, at the end of the service. In fact, she really hadn’t expected to meet him again, unless she returned to his church—which, honestly, she was considering. She’d felt more at home there than she ever had, anywhere else, and, after playing the piano for their song service, the entire congregation had practically adopted her. She had liked the pastor—his name was Tobias, she thought—he had preached a sermon on the Sermon on the Mount, and she couldn’t help thinking that Jesus might have preached a lot like Pastor Tobias had. Simple words and thoughts, down to earth, but convicting. Challenging. After the service, when he’d shaken her hand and thanked her for playing the piano, he’d made her feel like she belonged. He’d invited her to stay for the fellowship meal afterwards, and she’d only agreed because Amélie dragged her down to the kitchen. They’d made her the guest of honor during the meal, and Amélie had been her emissary between her and the congregation, which, in itself had been hilarious, because Amélie didn’t understand them at all, and half of them didn’t understand her, either. So maybe she’d be back. At least she’d felt more at home there than she had at the English-speaking church.
“It’s not like that,” Grace said defensively, and Julia grinned widely at her in turn. “He’s a national football star.”
Julia’s eyebrows quirked in amused disbelief. “Sure, it’s not,” she said, laughter practically flowing from that knowing grin.
Grace took the bouquet of pale pink lilies back from Ariana, blushing. “It’s not. I swear. He’s just a nice guy. Sort of dorky, but… nice. He’s not interested in me, and even if he was, I’m not interested in him.”
Julia stared up at Grace through raised eyebrows with a dubious look, but just rolled her eyes and walked off toward the practice room. “If you don’t want to date the most dreamy-looking footballer in the whole country of Germany, that’s not my problem. I tried to tell you he’s dreamy, but would you listen to me? Noooo, nobody ever listens to Julia, even if she’s right. You’re in denial, but if you don’t want to admit that you want to date Benedikt Breslau von Swoonsburg, then that’s all on you…” Julia muttered to herself, not bothering to try to even look over her shoulder.
Grace and Ariana turned to share amused glances, and, as Julia disappeared into the practice room, they burst out into laughter.
Grace stepped into the room and slipped her violin and bow into her case, right by the door, and turned to hug Ariana. “I know I was going to take the train with you, but I just need a minute. You can go on without me—I’ll see you on Monday at practice.”
Ariana nodded, seeming to understand something was up. She seemed to intuitively understand that Grace still battled demons, and when she was ready, Ariana would be there to listen. It was one of the reasons Grace was growing to love her so much.
She tiptoed out of the room and headed down to one of the individual practice rooms down the hallway. She ducked inside and flipped on the light, propping her violin against the wall, before she sank onto the piano bench, still holding onto the flowers. They were her favorite kind of lilies—white around the edges and blushed pink at the center, with a smattering of those dark magenta freckles and the warm yellow center. She recognized sprigs of lavender and baby’s breath, too, and a slow smile lifted the corners of her lips as she lifted the flowers to her nose and breathed deeply. She loved the smell of lavender.
This was a really nice gesture, she thought. She’d really only had one experience with Benedikt Breslau, and he’d played the bumbling idiot pretty well. It had been pretty adorable, actually, but seeing him like this, sensitive and dashing, was totally different, and she wondered who the real Benedikt was. She realized, with some surprise, that she wouldn’t really mind him sticking around, popping up randomly in her life. She could use another friend, especially when Germany felt so big and sometimes she felt so small and lonely.
As long as he didn’t try any funny business.
She was sure, one day, Benedikt Breslau would make one woman a very happy wife. But that could never be her, and she hoped he didn’t ever start to think it would—or could—be.
‡ ‡ ‡
He watched from across the street, in the shadows, as Grace emerged from the Philharmoniker Internationale’s historic theater, this time, alone, violin case in one hand and a bouquet of lilies in the other. His venomous anger stretched taut every muscle in his body, but he refused to let himself take action. His anger was all he knew anymore. Besides, much as he’d like to take out his revenge on her, he had to know who else she’d told, who else might be after him. Them. It was only then that he could use her, one more tool in his arsenal of revenge. It had long been dark out, and he watched as she walked to the nearest Hamburg U-Bahn entrance, and he let her go.
She had a new friend. He’d be watching him much more closely from now on. He would have said the only useful tool Grace Saint-Dreyfus had at her disposure was her big mouth, but, uncannily, she always managed to find herself in their backyard, and that was how he knew she was trouble. Her “plan” didn’t look like any plan at all—it never did—and yet, somehow, it always got her the results she wanted—and needed. So if Grace was befriending a footballer, even if it seemed innocent and backwards, there was one thing he knew.
He knew it was a ruse.
It wasn’t backwards, and somehow, it played into her diabolical plan, and somehow, that footballer would be their demise.
There was only one reason Grace Saint-Dreyfus would follow them to Hamburg, and it wasn’t the prestigious job offer. She played the part very well—wounded girl starting afresh, completely unawares. He didn’t buy it for a second. If there was one person in the world who could sabotage their plans, it was that girl, and he couldn’t let his eye off of her for a second.
How much did the footballer know? If she chose to align herself with Benedikt Breslau, it wasn’t for his chaste romance and American manners, or even his world-sized heart or awkwardly winsome personality. She had a purpose in using Breslau, and he would figure out what it was.
Involving a footballer, though—taking risks with such a national icon—could make things a lot worse for them, and suddenly, he saw her logic behind it—or, at least, a portion of it. They’d have to be a lot more careful, from here on out. Grace Saint-Dreyfus and her footballer were trouble.
He’d bet all his money on it.