Coming soon: The sequel to Heaven Sent, called:  

To Rule Britannia

Tanny (Britannia) Smith is great niece and namesake to stubborn Britannia Bender.  When Aunt Britt passed away, she left a last will and testament that threw Tanny's home town and church into a whirl of controversy.  

    Tanny Smith, nearly as stubborn and opinionated as her aunt, finds herself at the heart of the tempest.  While forces rage to overthrow Aunt Britt's will, Tanny struggles to find a compromise for the congregation.  She also resigns herself to the inevitable fate of most strong-willed women:  like her aunt, Tanny expects she will go through life unmarried, because there is nobody powerful enough To Rule Britannia.

        To Rule Britannia takes our characters north to Bracebridge, Ontario, and south to Ben Kirk, Pennsylvania, where lie some secrets to Britt's past.
 

Chapter One

 

        Britannia Suzanne Smith, "Tanny" to her friends and family, stood on the chancel of her home-town chapel, air-bouquet in her hands.  She took a breath and gazed up the aisle.

        There at the back of the church, glowing with happiness, stood Susie, Tanny's best friend.  Of course Susan was radiant.  Susan Rennie was about to walk down the aisle on the arm of the most incredible man God had ever created.

        Finding herself a maid of honour for the third time in her almost twenty-eight years, Tanny Smith suspected that she would never, ever get to be the bride.  She reminded herself that she was not jealous.

        What a wild week it had been.  What a crazy month.  In fact, nothing had been quite the same since the new assistant pastor had arrived on the church's doorstep in late November.  Fresh from the airport, he had poked his head in to watch the choir practice.  He had looked like a modern day Jesus leaning there on the door frame with that dark hair and beard.

        Then he'd said something in his unusual South African accent, and Tanny had been smitten heart and soul---soon to be joined by virtually every other female in the congregation.

        But the Reverend Jonathan Haley, from his very arrival, had only had eyes for Tanny's cousin, Susan.

        This was Susan's second walk down the marriage aisle.  Widowed at age twenty-four, and with twin girls in tow, Susie had been scooped up by the amazing new pastor before her twenty ninth birthday.

        Not that Susie even tried to attract men.  She was just quiet and sweet, and an absolute man-magnet.  Susan had the dark chocolate eyes that ran in the Bender family.  Tanny hadn't been so lucky.  Hers were an undecided hazely-greeny-muddy colour.

        Tanny sighed.

        So here she was, helping Susan prepare for a rushed Valentines Day wedding.  Sue's shy face glowed as she progressed down the aisle on the Jonathan Haley's arm.

        Good heavens, but those two will have gorgeous children, Tanny mused.

        The tall, South African looked down at his bride.  Tanny had to blink and look away.

        Will anyone ever look at me that way?   

        Across the chancel from Tanny, grey-eyed, sandy-haired Conrad Knapp also watched the approaching couple.  Conrad and Jonathan had become fast friends in the two months since the South African's arrival.  

        Tanny grinned.  Conrad was one of the kindest, most empathetic men Tanny had ever known.  She liked him an awful lot.  But Conrad Knapp, registered nurse, son of "Heinrich the Horrible," was . . . well . . . gay.  Nobody ever talked about it, but everybody knew.

        Just then, Conrad's eye caught hers and he smiled.  Tanny remembered then, the brief revelatory exchange they had had as they stood, arm in arm, the best man and maid of honour, waiting to practice their walk up the aisle.

        Jon had brushed past them to jog up to the chancel.  The two had watched the South African as he'd held a friendly exchange with their pastor.

        Upon a sigh from Tanny, Conrad remarked, "So.  You too?"  He hadn't looked at her.

        She'd been puzzled.  Was he teasing her for being yet another susceptible female?  Or . . . it had then occurred to her:  Does Conrad have a crush on Jon too?  Tanny had looked at the sandy-haired nurse.  His gaze had flickered slightly, and he'd looked away.

        So, it's true?

        Tanny had felt what? ---camaraderie, empathy, sympathy?   If he's saying what I think he is saying. . . .  Was Conrad confiding in her?

        And I thought I was lonely.

        From that moment, Tanny had felt an almost maternal protectiveness toward Conrad.  Neither of them might ever get married, but at least they could be good friends to each other.

        Tanny crossed her eyes at Conrad now, communicating humour over their situation.

        Conrad's eyes crinkled.  

        So she and Conrad were in the same boat.  How weird was that?

        Well, if there was one thing of which Tanny was certain, she knew that she herself wasn't gay.  Not even close!  She'd spent most of her girlhood going from crush to crush.  Her adolescent diaries seemed to hop from one unsuspecting youth's glorious attributes to another.  Good heavens, she'd found "The One" so many times, she concluded that she'd never recognize the real "One" by now, even if he tripped over her.

        Meanwhile, the current object of Tanny's infatuation was walking down the aisle on the arm of her best friend.

        Another sigh.

        Does the name "Britannia" curse the bearer to spinsterhood?

        Tanny thought about her great-aunt, Britannia Bender.  Britt had never married.  But unlike some women, Britt had never fretted about being unwanted goods.  On the contrary.  It was all the men around Britt that had been the unwanted goods.  What had she said?  "I will never marry until I find a man that I can't live without.  And so far, there isn't a man alive that I can't live without."

        Tanny understood Britt more and more over the years.  Oh yes, she got crushes!  But a few weeks into any relationship, she found herself bored.  Was there no man who was deeper than beer and hockey?  Was there any guy who would rather be with her, having a great conversation, than watching the Super Bowl?  Was there any guy that cared about her, instead of how many dates it would take to get inside her blouse?

        Tanny's mom entreated Tanny to "be more lady-like."  Her dad teased her regularly about being strong-willed and opinionated, saying it was her "American" blood in her coming out.  They implied that she should shut up and be meek and accepting, if she wanted to get married.  But, blast it all!  What about "just being herself?"  Couldn't a girl express her opinions?  If Tanny had something to say, she said it, especially if somebody was being blatantly idiotic.  And honestly!  Shouldn't a man love her just for who she was, just the way she was?  Was that so much to ask?  If getting married involved squelching all her own ideas and becoming a simpering air-head, she'd have no parts of it!

        Just then, Andrea and Alyssa, Sue's twin girls, stepped sedately up onto the chancel.  One dark, one fair, the seven-year-old twins took their places by Tanny and Conrad.  They turned to watch their mommy come down the aisle with Jon.  Andrea was the one next to Tanny---mouthy, independent, chin-to-the-world Andrea, with the brown, brown eyes just like her mother's.

        Oh, Andrea,  Tanny wanted to say to the little girl.  Don't turn out like Britt too.  Don't be so strong-willed that you end up all alone.

        The other twin,  blond, crinkly-haired Alyssa,  would probably be the man-magnet of the two.    

        Tanny scolded herself.  She vowed to stop worrying about being single.   Life certainly wasn't only about men, getting love, and getting married.   She had a budding career she loved, friends, a home....

        Sue and Jon approached the chancel steps, their dear faces a mixture of solemnity and joy. Sue's hand was tucked around Jon's elbow and he hugged it to him in a sweetly possessive gesture.

        Tanny's resolve wavered.  Is there really anyone for me?  Will there ever be?  

        Sue arrived, glowing, at Tanny's side, slightly teary, radiant.  Tanny abruptly hugged Susan, then solemnly accepted the bride's air-bouquet.

        These two people mean the world to me.  No matter what happens, Lord, Thank You for finally bringing them together.  I'll do anything to help them be happy.  I'll be a spinster all my born days without a peep of complaint if that is what it takes.  I promise.

        Tanny bounced slightly on her toes and grinned at the pastor.  If ever there were two souls that deserved peace and happiness, these two did.  Jonathan Haley and Susan Rennie had been through hell lately.  It had seemed as if the very universe sought to drive them apart. Tanny herself wouldn't have believed their story if she hadn't lived through it.

        But here they were, marrying quickly, before any new disaster struck.           

        The pastor smiled broadly at the couple, his grey eyes twinkling.   He began to review the service.

        Tanny mused about the "quickie" service.  The couple's plan was inspirational.  They had not wanted to wait another minute.  But the rush wedding meant there was no time for invitations or a big reception; and certainly not time enough for Jon's South African family to come.  So the couple was marrying now, in a quiet, simple dawn ceremony.  There was to be a small, breakfast reception, and they'd head off on their honeymoon. Then, in June, when there had been time enough to send out invitations and find dresses and hire a photographer; and for all the South African connections to book flights, they would go through the whole ceremony again, calling it "A Wedding Celebration."  That is when they would have all the trappings---the special music, the photos, the cake, the dancing---all the bells and whistles usually associated with the marriage ceremony.  Tanny looked at the little crew on the chancel.  It was just as well that Jon and Sue were putting off the grand celebration for a few months.  This was a pretty battle-scarred looking group for wedding photos! Though blond Alyssa was injury-free, Andrea still sported the marks of a terrible sledding accident.  And Sue had only just gotten stitches removed from her bruised face, while Jon's right hand was still heavily splinted.  

        It wasn't a sledding accident that had caused the adults' wounds.  Tanny grinned with guilty pleasure recalling the damage that Jon's hand had inflicted on Terry MacGregor's face.  It was about time that somebody had pounded Tanny's rotten brother-in-law into a bloody pulp.  That charming man, that upstanding member of the church board, had . . . he had---Tanny's mind could barely touch it---one week ago Terry had entered Sue's home and started to rape her.  Jon had arrived only just in time, and in the process of expressing his objections to Terry's intentions had broken some bones in his hand.  Terry's face had fared much the worse for the encounter.

        In the drunken struggle to overpower Sue, Terry had split Susie's lip, bruised her face and broken the pinkie on her left hand.

        How fitting a metaphor that this couple's wedding photos could have looked like war images.  Cliffside, as a congregation, had a lot to learn about "Christian" behaviour.

        Well, that splinted pinkie wasn't enough to stop the wedding band from sliding onto Susie's ring finger, Tanny observed with satisfaction.

        The Pastor was speaking about the ring exchange.  Tanny went through the motions of giving an imaginary ring to Sue.

        Tomorrow, when she walked down the aisle, she would have the real wedding ring around her thumb---Jon's wedding ring.

        What would happen if I just refused to give it up?  I'll just pop it on my own finger.

        She almost giggled. Bad girl!  "Thou shalt not covet.  Thou shalt not covet."  Then, looking at the dear and handsome face, Tanny sighed again.  Lord, why did you only make one of him?

        Tanny pouted just a little.  There's nobody else like him.  There can't be.  He's one in a million, and he's taken, and that's all there is to it.  Deal with it, Tanny.

        Stephen was suggesting,  "When you slide the ring on Susan's finger, Jon, take your time."

        I am not jealous.

        "Do it in stages as you say your vows.  Push it a little way, then stop, then push it a little farther, then stop again.  It will help you pay attention to the significance of your commitment to each other.  Really pay attention to what you are doing.  There's no rush."

        Tanny shivered.

        Jon was practicing now.  "In giving this ring, I wed you. . . ."

        Jon's face was a mix of emotions: wonder, joy, happiness, solemnity. . . .  Sue's cheeks were pink.

        Tanny blinked hard.  And this is just the rehearsal!

        Now Susan was taking her turn.  Jon's glance was tender as he watched his bride.  Tanny saw him swallow, visibly.

        They so deserve each other.  They so deserve this.  

        Stephen said, "Now you join your left hands like so, and I place mine over them and pronounce you man and wife."  His voice was solemn, his face wreathed in smiles.

        Lord, let me be the best friend I can be!  I'm sorry for the jealousy.  Please take it away.  I promise to try harder!  Just let me be a wonderful aunt to their kids and friend to their marriage.  Tanny determined in that moment to enjoy her life as it was---to stop longing for pastures greener than the one she was in.

        "Will there be a veil?"  Stephen asked.  The couple nodded and Stephen said, "Then this is when you would lift the veil and kiss her, Jon."

        Maybe acceptance of what is, is the key.  Maybe Britt's happiness came from accepting her situation and making the most of it.  Maybe that's what I need to work on.  After all, how can I ever be happy if I'm constantly wishing for something other than what I have?

        Tanny squeezed her eyes shut.  Lord, she prayed, give me a wonderful man just like Jon and I'll never ever wish for greener pastures again.

        "Tanny?"  

        Tanny jumped to realize that Stephen had had to say her name twice to get her attention.  He was looking at her.  He said, "I understand that it's your job to smooth the veil at the back and tug out any kinks."

        Tanny nodded.  Yes, she knew.  She'd done this several times before.  She was a veil smoother, not a veil wearer.  Got it.

        Tanny pretended to smooth Sue's imaginary veil as Jon gave his bride a tender kiss.  Tanny gave Stephen a thumbs up.

        "Okay.  This is where we would kneel for the prayer.  So, let's all kneel down."  Tanny juggled her two imaginary bouquets and tugged at the skirt she wore to practice in.  She tipped Andrea on how to adjust her skirt so that her heels wouldn't catch in her hem when she stood up again.

        Stephen, kneeling at his prayer bench said, "Now I would lead us in prayer.  When I rise again, Jon and Sue---you stay kneeling.  Everybody else can rise."

        Tanny murmured to Andrea, "So you want to watch that you heels don't catch in your hem, and try not to step on the front of your skirt either, as you rise."  Andrea rolled her eyes.

        Stephen had risen and was standing over the kneeling couple.  "I invite the guests to rise if they haven't," said Stephen, "and then I say a blessing on the couple."  Stephen laid his hands on their bowed heads and murmured, "Lord, bless these two darling idiots."  He was grinning.

        "Now you rise, Jon and Sue."  Everyone waited as the couple struggled to their feet.

        "This is where I bless the congregation, acknowledge the open Word, and send you off in peace.  And . . ."  he checked his notes, "that's it.  The music starts and off you go."

        Tim Galloway, the congregation's electronics guy was up in the church loft, leaning on the railing.  "Time for the recessional?  You got it."  He disappeared from view, and soon a gentle, jazz-style acoustic piece started over the church speakers.  Tanny wracked her brain to identify the familiar piece.  Jon and Sue had turned to face the pews, but were just standing there, gazing into each other's eyes.  The music was . . . Oh yeah, Kenny G!  A song with lyrics.  Susan had told Tanny about having to dance with Jon as this song had played, when things between Sue and Jon were in a hopeless deadlock.  The singer described wonder at finding love when all hope was lost.  Tanny shook her head.  Things had worked out miraculously for these two, just like they had for the singer.  The hopeless romantics.  

    Tanny took charge,  indicating to Andrea and Alyssa that it was time to head off down the aisle.  The sisters stepped off the chancel and skipped toward their grandma who waited at the back.  Jon and Sue stayed a moment longer, just gazing at each other.  Then, at some look from Jon, they broke their exchange and began their grinning stroll.  Jon murmured something to Susan that widened their smiles.  

        Tanny sighed.

        She gave Conrad a "well, it's our turn," look and they stepped together.  The music crooned in tango with a saxophone, the words describing despair about finding love, and God providing someone at the last minute. Tanny couldn't quite read Conrad's expression.  It wasn't particularly happy.    She squeezed his arm, and they followed the happy couple out of the chapel.

That's all for now!

Watch this page for the continuation of the story and

projected publication dates.