tagIllustratedShepherdess without a Flock Ch. 01

Shepherdess without a Flock Ch. 01

bytangentjoker©

The characters in this work of fiction are all over the age of 21.

This series can be read on its own, although Frank Melar from The Happiest Day of Her Life makes an appearance in this chapter.

Votes and polite comments are appreciated.


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Dani Van Cleef sat on the plane absently staring out the window and twirling her long golden blonde hair around her index finger. She didn't do things like this, she thought to herself. She couldn't believe she was flying down to Miami to meet a man she'd met only once before.



Dani tried to remember the last few months to figure out how she'd gotten here. In May of this year, Dani received her Master's Degree in Divinity from Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Since the families of the graduating class of the seminary could not fit in the school's Bahnson Center, the Graduation was held at Central Moravian Church, which was almost the other end of Main Street from the seminary, about a mile away. It was actually called the Moravian Mile. Dani wasn't Moravian - she was Presbyterian - but she felt welcome at the seminary. Dani's mother was very proud of Dani. Their hug seemed to last for hours and still was not long enough. Dani's father, as usual, was unable to make the event. Dani was happy, though, to see her younger sisters and her step-father.

Dani's friend, Tori, had already accepted her first call and Dani promised to visit her at her new church in Seaford, Long Island, New York. It was a small church, but the congregation loved Tori. The first night of Dani's visit, in June, Tori invited her and a woman named Beth to a humongous bar in Wantagh called Mulcahy's. That was where Dani met Frank. While Tori and Beth were talking to Frank's friend, Chloe, Frank and Dani were on the dance floor. They danced for over an hour. Frank was also visiting Long Island, even though he was originally from there. They danced, they talked and they laughed. Before she thought things through to stop herself, Dani gave Frank her phone number. Since neither of them was living on Long Island, Dani never expected to hear from Frank.

Frank called her ten minutes after she interviewed with a church. Dani had just gotten back to Pennsylvania from Long Island the night before. The church itself was in New Jersey, but the drive wasn't that bad. Dani was still amped up from the interview when Frank called. She didn't recognize the number, or even the area code, displayed on her phone but answered anyway.

"Hello?" she asked as a greeting.

"Danielle?" asked a voice she didn't recognize. "This is Frank. Frank Melar; we danced together on Long Island the other night."

"Oh, yes, Frank," replied Dani, very glad he introduced himself the way he had. "What are you up to?"

"Just enjoying the beauty of the Sunshine State," he said amiably enough.

"You're not one of those Floridians who wears a very heavy coat in sixty degree weather are you?" she asked with a smile he could hear.

"No, of course not," said Frank. "In sixty degree weather I wear a hoodie over a thick sweater. I don't put on heavy coats until it gets to the high fifties."

"Lord help you," Dani said with a chuckle. "Fifty-eight degrees is still tee shirt weather up here."

"Uh huh," said Frank. "Where's 'up here' again?"

"Well, I live in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania," said Dani, "but I'm just leaving a job interview, actually a second interview, in New Jersey."

"Oh?" asked Frank, "where in Jersey?"

"Williamstown," said Dani. "You've probably never heard of it."

"I've never heard of it," admitted Frank. "What's it near?"

"Oh, let's see," said Dani, consulting her map, "Sicklerville, Glassboro, Turnersville, Sewell, Vineland..."

"Stop," said Frank. "You're not helping me. Is it near any big cities? Anything I may have heard of?"

"Hmmmm," Dani hummed as she loudly rattled her map and looked. "Have you ever heard of Cherry Hill, Camden or Philadelphia?"

"Yes, I have," answered Frank. "Oh, so you're in south Jersey. You're not driving, are you?"

"I was," said Dani. "I pulled over before I answered my phone."

"Oh, good," said Frank. "That's safe. I guess I shouldn't keep you too long, though. When's the best time to call you?"

"Wednesday nights around seven, I guess," replied Dani.

And that was how it began. Frank called her at exactly 7pm every Wednesday night for three months. It was a little creepy at first. After week five, it was expected and normal. He was "there" for her highs and lows. He called the Wednesday she was hired as the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Williamstown. He called the Wednesday before she was ordained. He called the Wednesday before she moved into the Manse. He called her new number the Wednesday after she got it. He called the Wednesday before her installation as pastor. He called the Wednesday after her first sermon bombed. He called the day her father died. Frank was always very supportive. Dani appreciated that about him.

Dani's family wanted her to lead her father's funeral service. She wasn't sure if she should be so emotionally connected to her first funeral service. In the end, she gave in. Frank called her the day of the funeral to see how she was holding up. She had been frazzled all day, but the gesture of the phone call really helped to pick up her spirits. The elders at the Williamstown church, realizing what their new pastor just went through in burying her father, gave her two weeks off. Frank, upon hearing this the following Wednesday evening, invited her to his semi-private island off the coast of Miami.

"What is a 'semi-private island'?" she'd asked.

"There are only three other houses on this island and it's big enough that months go by before I see my neighbors," Frank explained.

She didn't know why she accepted. She'd met him once, despite how often they spoke on the phone. He was a stranger. Also, he was a single man inviting her to his home on an island. The obvious implication was that he wanted sex. Dani was not a virgin. At the age of 19, she was the proud recipient of the worst night of sex ever. Her then boyfriend rammed into Dani like he was trying to do permanent damage and lasted an astounding two minutes before he fired his load into the condom he used and soon thereafter fell asleep. In pain and unsatisfied, Dani had no idea why everyone else seemed to like sex.



Dani didn't look forward to sex, but thought she might as well give it one more try. After all, it didn't do for a pastor to be one sexual experience away from her virginity. She was the spiritual leader of a small church in New Jersey. Counseling sessions about sex would be awkward if Dani didn't know what she was talking about. Also, and Dani didn't want to feel she was naïve about this, but the possibility existed that he didn't want sex. There was the possibility he was trying to save her the money a hotel would've cost. Yeah, right, she thought. He was so concerned with how much she was spending and sex never entered his mind.

Dani napped briefly on the flight to Miami. Some of the fun had been taken out of air travel, she thought. Dani could remember how magical a plane ride used to seem when she was ten. She could remember the excitement flowing all through her body. These days, the emotion most connected to flying was annoyance. Every little thing related to flying was annoying. The lines, the security, the other self-absorbed travelers who insisted on making their presence known as often as possible; it sucked the fun out of the whole experience.

The plane touched down smoothly and there were people clapping somewhere behind her. Dani smiled and was tempted to join in on the applause. She chose not to. Dani followed the other passengers as they headed towards baggage pickup. She saw one of her bags busted open with tape wrapped around it and rolled her eyes. The other bag seemed ok. She'd have to take a look at the damaged bag later to determine what, if anything, was missing.

Dani walked to the exit and saw a familiar looking gent holding up a sign with Dani's full name on it. It was Frank, she remembered. Frank was 6'2" and tan. He had a wide smile and large hands. Dani noticed the hands right away. He had broad shoulders and it was obvious in his tee shirt and shorts that he was physically fit. His dark brown hair was neatly parted to the side and there was the faintest bit of scruffy hair on his chin. Dani told her friends she preferred clean shaven men, but there was something about a scruffy man she had to admit was sexy.



Dani walked up and gave Frank a friendly hug. She didn't intend to, but Dani smelled Frank's hair. He smelled good. He smelled really good. Dani released Frank from the hug and Frank reached for the handles of Dani's luggage. He moved slowly enough that she couldn't misinterpret his movements. Dani held on to the damaged bag.

"They busted open one of my bags and I want to check it as soon as we get to your car," Dani explained serenely.

Frank furrowed his brow and said, "I don't have a car here. We wouldn't be able to get to my house by car."

"Wait," said Dani, "you brought the seaplane you told me about?"

"Well, I do call it that because it's easier to say," said Frank with a sheepish grin, " but technically it's an amphibious plane. It has retractable landing gear as well as pontoons."

"So," said Dani, "I just got off one plane and you're going to stick me on another one?"

"This flight won't be as long," said Frank, "and you can sit next to me if you want."

Dani was very nervous about sitting next to the pilot of a plane. She mulled it over. She realized she would be nervous wherever she was seated on a small plane. There was a panic, ineffable to be sure, radiating through Dani's belly. After a great deal of thought, she found herself buckling in right next to Frank. It really was the only polite place she could sit. She'd be able to carry on conversations, at least.

It was interesting for Dani to learn that something could be exciting and tedious at the same time. This was the sort of paradox she regularly sought out to use as an example in a sermon. In this particular case, preflight checks were both exciting and tedious. It was an amusing contradiction. Dani thought she could look at the controls here for ages and never understand what half of them did.

A few hours earlier, Dani was sitting in coach on a large plane and did not really enjoy the takeoff as she felt as though her stomach had been left behind. At this particular moment, however, as Dani watched what went into a takeoff she was mesmerized. There was something enigmatic and fascinating about a man willing a large metallic craft into the air. Dani sat silently transfixed as Frank pulled back on the stick and got the bird up. Once he leveled off, Frank began talking to Dani and they chatted casually.

It was fairly surreal to be talking so nonchalantly while this veritable stranger almost literally had his life in his hands. It was astounding to Dani how casual they both were. She had to admit that Frank was easy to talk to. He was also very easy to look at. He had a very commanding presence as he flipped switches and tapped gauges. For all Dani knew, Frank could have been doing a ton of things that looked impressive but had no practical function. She was still very impressed. He hadn't mentioned he was a pilot when they met at Mulcahy's bar. If he could leave out something so incredible, what else did she not know about him? That thought made Dani pause, but she chose to focus on the positives.

The secret he kept from her, piloting, was a good thing. Hopefully, since she did know some negatives about him, any other secrets were also good things. She looked through what she could only call the windshield and saw the gorgeous blue color of the ocean. She didn't see the ocean very often in Williamstown. The good news, on that score, was that Ocean City was not very far away. She'd been to Ocean City, New Jersey, as a child and looked forward to taking day trips there. Typical, Dani, thought. She was on her way to a semi-private beach island and she was daydreaming about the boardwalk on the Jersey Shore.

She broke out of her daydream as she realized the plane was descending. She looked around for land and saw the beautiful island getting larger in front of her. She wondered what she was getting herself into, but was not frightened or nervous. She was trusting a stranger, yes, but she worked in a profession based on faith. Dani had faith that Frank would not turn out to be a date rapist. She had faith that God was there with her; protecting her.

Dani watched unblinkingly as Frank made the preparations for his water landing. Since they were getting closer to one house in particular, it became obvious that this was Frank's house. She couldn't see the entire building. What she could see was astonishing. The house was perfectly placed on a huge, nearly pristine, beach. Between the house and the beach was an Olympic sized pool. She looked carefully at the pool and discovered it went right up to the house and kept going. The outdoor pool connected to an indoor pool. Between the pool and the beach lived a volleyball court and a fire pit. There was serious money spent here and that was just the exterior.



The plane splashed gently into the water and coasted to the docks set up for the plane. The docks extended from the shore in a long strip. They walked the pier towards the house and Dani noticed Frank setting her luggage down and taking his shirt off.

"Excuse me," she said to him, "what the hell are you doing?"

"I'm stripping down to my swim trunks so I can get in the house," he replied calmly.

Dani looked at him incredulously and asked, "You're doing what, now?"

"The entrance over here is through the pool," explained Frank. "It's either swim our way into the house or go all the way around to the front door. Which would you rather..." Frank paused, seeing the look on Dani's face, and carried her bags to the front door.

The front of the estate was nearly as impressive as the back. There was a well-tended lawn that was larger than any yards Dani could remember seeing in her life. Off to the side, there was a tennis court. Dani thought it was strange that the only entrance on the beach side of the house was through the pool. She would later learn that wasn't at all what Frank was saying. The pool was the only entrance on the southeast corner of the house. The next closest entrance was in the front on the northeast corner. There were other entrances on the south side, but they were further away.

"This place is huge!" said Dani enthusiastically. "It's just you here?"

"Pretty much," Frank said. "I mean, I do have some full time staff who reside here."

"Do you have a butler?" asked Dani.

"I do," said Frank. "This house didn't always have a butler, though. My father had this... um... fetish. He staffed the house with buxom women in fairly revealing uniforms. He staffed every house he owned like that. Since his death, whenever a position opened up, my brothers and I generally filled it based on experience rather than appearance."

"Yes, experience is a much better qualifier for a job," Dani agreed. "So, where's my room?"

"Second floor," said Frank. "Right across the hall from mine."

Dani felt instantly better once she realized they would not be sharing a room. This meant that sex was not assumed. Her body relaxed and Frank noticed.

He smiled. He knew it would have been a colossal mistake to rush things. Besides, with a house this large, there really was no reason Dani couldn't have her own room. Frank carried the bags up the stairs and brought Dani directly to her room. He turned on the overhead lights with his elbow and set her bags at the foot of the bed.

Dani looked around at the enormous bedroom. The room was styled perfectly. The dark tones in the room worked well with the light pinks and violets that worked together throughout the room. The centerpiece of the room, obviously, was the four poster canopy bed. There were two recliner chairs, one on either side of the bed, that matched the color scheme beautifully. There was an impossibly large flat screen TV facing the foot of the bed. There was a writing desk and a chair over in one corner. There were two doors in the room, other than the entrance they came through. Surely, they couldn't both be closets? Dani walked toward the closer of the two doors and opened it to reveal a walk-in closet. It was immense. She could lay down in this closet and still have plenty of room. Dani went to the other door. Thankfully, it was a bathroom.

"Could you excuse me, please?" asked Dani. "This is exactly what I need right now."

"Oh, of course," said Frank. "I'll, uh, just give you your privacy. I'll wait for you in the living room."

"That would be where?"

"The first room to the right of the stairs we used to get here," said Frank with a smile.

Dani was thankful for the time to herself. This was all lovely, but she needed to slow down and have a reality check. After finishing her business in the bathroom and washing her hands, Dani walked to the large bed. She sat down and enjoyed the softness of the bed. A wicked smile grew on Dani's face. She kicked off her shoes and stood up on the bed. The bed was so large that she did three bounces before she came close to hitting her head on the canopy. It was a very good stress reliever, but Dani stopped jumping on the bed.



Dani put her shoes back on and went down to the living room.

"Did you have trouble finding it?" Frank asked. He rose from his chair as Dani entered the room until Dani gestured for him to return to his chair.

"Nope," said Dani with a smile. "It was right where you said it would be."

"Are you hungry?"

Dani said, "Famished."

"Good," said Frank. "I had Chef make us a light supper."

"Thank you," said Dani. "That was very thoughtful."

"I'm just trying to be a good host."

"You're succeeding so far..."

"Thank you," said Frank. He settled into the chair he occupied as Dani took a chair that faced him. "So, do you prefer to be called Danielle or Reverend Van Cleef?"

"Well, it's actually 'Pastor Van Cleef," Dani said. "That's way too formal, though. Just call me 'Dani.' You're not one of my parishioners, so there's really no reason for you to use my title. I'm not used to being called 'Danielle' unless I'm in trouble."

"Ok, Dani," said Frank. "How's your mom dealing with your dad's death?"

"Well, they've been divorced for a long time and she's remarried," said Dani. "It really didn't affect her too badly. She only got involved at all to make sure I would lead the funeral service. She thought it would be a nice touch. My dad disappeared from our lives years ago. We'd already cried all of our tears. I tried to explain that to the elders at church, but they insisted I take time off."

"It's a lucky thing for me that they did," said Frank.

After dinner, Dani went up to her room and prepared for bed. She said goodnight to Frank before closing her door. She had no intention of seeing him again until morning.

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