Saturday, September 26, 2015


Congratulations to Pam Zarate, winner of ANGEL SONG in last week's drawing!

Can two roadside crosses and two wounded hearts equal one precious love?

1st Chapter:

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. ~Psalm 147:3~ 

Kylie Jordan’s gaze swept to the roadside as her car idled at a red light. Soft music from the radio soothed and sunlight warmed her through the windshield, chasing a sense of sadness that crept in whenever she looked at the small white cross plunged into damp earth and set back just a bit from the curb. The painted wood was buried in weeds—easy to miss if you didn’t know it was nestled there.
She knew it was there, though—twenty-four seven.
The name carved into the weathered wood belonged to her older sister, Faith. Kylie thought of Faith now, as she always did when she came to this corner… tall and lithe and flashing the brilliant smile that lit up warm caramel eyes. Separated in age by merely eighteen months, Faith had been Kylie’s best friend. Kylie preferred to remember Faith before the accident that took her life, not the way she was for the few days that followed while she lay in limbo, still and shadowed like a house without its lights on.
Kylie thought of her own life as a play with two acts—Before and After. Before was bright and colorful, a canvas of happy times when Faith was there to share things with, to laugh and dream with. After was a sequence of mundane black-and-white photos…the rush of a chill after the laughter died. The sharing had ended abruptly when a drunk driver took Faith’s life—and the life of her unborn son. The “after” tugged at Kylie like a raw wound that just refused to heal, even though nearly a year had passed.
She was beginning to wonder if the pain ever would fade. Was she destined to live in this sepia vacuum while the rest of the world scuttled around her, racing toward its future?
She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel in time to the music and drew her gaze back to the road. As the light changed, she made a mental note to stop by the intersection within the next few days to weed the area at the base of the cross. The weather was turning warm again. Signs of spring burst all around. Bradford Pears danced along the neat row of shop fronts, tossing pollen into the breeze that made Kylie’s eyes itch, and the scent of lilac sweetened the air as she crested a hill going west along the four-lane road.
New Hope Church soared into view, its steeple a beacon against the cloudless blue horizon. Kylie smiled as a rush of warmth spread through her. This evening, same as every Thursday evening, she’d be among friends…people who understood and shared her sadness. The tight-knit group was like a family—the only family she had close now that Faith was gone and her parents had retired to the other side of the country.
Kylie turned into the church’s black-topped parking lot and slipped her sedan into a space near the entrance. The grief support group she led was due to start in half an hour, and Pastor Thompson had left a message for her to expect a new member tonight—a man from Knoxville who’d lost his brother in a horrible car accident nearly a year ago.
How ironic. She didn’t even know the guy, and already she felt a kinship with him. She looked forward to bringing another grieving soul into the fold. Together, God willing, they might find their way through the dark, cold tunnel of emptiness to sunlight that beckoned on the horizon beyond.

Mason Bennett switched off the car’s stereo and leaned on the steering wheel, letting cool air from the dashboard vent rush over him. His chest felt tight, and he drew a ragged breath as sweat pooled along his lower back where his T-shirt clung to the leather seat. Across the church parking lot, men and women made their way toward the sanctuary entrance. Their chatter, occasionally punctuated by laughter, drifted across the twilight.
Did people who’d lost someone they loved really still laugh as though they didn’t have a care in the world? So far, he hadn’t figured out how to do that. He hoped the support group would change things and guide him in a new direction.
If only he could pry his fingers from the steering wheel and go inside. The scar that crossed his forehead near his right temple throbbed, as it still did from time to time. The ridge of rough skin was a constant reminder of that night—and his loss.
A tap on the driver’s window startled Mason, and he turned to find a pair of large blue eyes staring at him. His gut gave a little jolt, coupled by an odd zap to his heart, and for the slightest moment, he wondered what the reaction was all about. The woman was
appealing, sure, but he hadn’t had any interest since the accident turned his world to shades of gray. So, what was special about this one? He sat back and lowered the window.
“You coming inside?” The blue eyes were capped by long lashes. Sleek blonde hair gathered into a neat ponytail that hung in one large curl to the middle of her back. As she spoke, his gaze followed the outline of glossed, full lips. “It will be lonely here in the parking lot.”
“Oh, yeah, right.” He pulled off his baseball cap and set it in the passenger seat, then ran a hand through matted black hair. He’d rushed through a shower after a quick workout at the gym, and his hair was still a little damp. “I was just…thinking.”
 “Uh huh.” She offered a hand through the open window, nodding. “I’m Kylie Jordan. I lead the grief support group here at New Hope. And you’re…”
“Mason Bennett.” He grasped the long, delicate fingers, felt the tiny jolt once again. Her skin was smooth and warm, and a dimple appeared at the corner of her mouth when she smiled. “I…it’s my first time.”
“I promise we don’t bite.” She laughed softly, letting go and backing up. His gaze followed. He couldn’t seem to draw it away. There was something about her, something almost…magnetic. Her eyes danced beneath the waning sun. “But I’ll walk you in anyway, if you’d like.”
Mason opened the car door and slipped out, unfolding himself to face her. The perspiration across his back caused a slight shiver as the breeze whispered over his T-shirt. She was tall—nearly as tall as him— and slender, like a dancer. And there was a familiarity about her, something that made him feel as if he’d seen her once before. He shook off the feeling and jammed his hands into his pockets. He’d remember those eyes—and that smile—if he’d seen them, even only once in passing.
“I didn’t bring anything? Was I supposed to?”
“No…just you.” She turned toward the church, the heels of her calf-high boots clicking along the pavement. The cuffs of stone-washed jeans were tucked inside, and she wore a peach-colored blouse that billowed in the breeze as he fell in step beside her. Colorful, beaded earrings dangled from her lobes. “We have coffee inside. Are you a coffee-drinker?”
“You bet.” His hands felt clammy, and he removed them from his pockets as Kylie neared the sanctuary entrance. He held the door open and she slipped through.

“Let’s grab a cup and I’ll introduce you to the group.” Her ponytail spilled like a waterfall as she tossed him a look over one shoulder while starting down the hall. “Tonight, Mason, your life is going to change. Are you ready?”

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Saturday, September 19, 2015


Congratulations to SHERYL SMITH, winner of last week's drawing!

Find love as sweet as the song of an angel…

1st Chapter:

Let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth. ~1 John 3:18~ 
Quinn Sanders juggled a full tray of breakfast platters in one hand and a coffee carafe in the other as she bustled along the crowded booths at Gus’s Diner. Outside, dark clouds lowered over the horizon like a blanket of lamb’s wool. Snow was imminent. Quinn thought of the bald tires on her weather-beaten sedan and cringed. She’d meant to have them replaced with last month’s tips, but then Linsey came down with bronchitis, and the doctor bills had drained just about every cent she’d earned. Maybe she’d win the lottery…if only she had the cash—and the time—to play.
“Miss, can I get a refill over here?”
Quinn turned to find Mr. Siefert rapping his coffee cup with the tines of a fork. He arrived at the diner like clockwork, the same time every afternoon, and Quinn was sure his purpose in life was to make her miserable. Despite her irritation, she plastered on a smile and nodded. “Decaf, right?”
“That’s right.” His watery gaze narrowed as he removed a battered leather hat from his head and set it on the seat beside him. “And, if it’s not too much trouble, sometime in this decade would be nice.”
“Of course.” Ugh. There was always one yahoo who pushed to make her day miserable. Quinn struggled to keep a pleasant tone of voice. “Coming right up.” 
“I’m not getting any younger.” No, he wasn’t. The thinning, grizzled hair, complete with comb-over, was proof. Quinn huffed out a breath and gritted her teeth as she turned away. How many more hours ’til she could go home to Linsey? She glanced at the clock on the wall above the cash register as she blew a stray wisp of hair from her eyes…still another two hours—two long hours.
Her feet screamed, her lower back wailed, and she felt the kink in her neck creeping up to invade her brain. It was barely noon, and already she’d put in half-a-dozen non-stop hours. The diner’s door flew open, ushering in a frigid gust of wind along with a trio of women carting shopping bags.
Black Friday. Ugh and double ugh! Didn’t all these people have anything better to do than rush through crowded stores and throw their money at overworked cashiers?
But then Quinn felt the heaviness that filled the pockets of her grease-splattered apron…cash tips— enough to replace the sedan’s tires and pay off the rest of Linsey’s doctor bill, with perhaps a bit left for a special treat for Linsey. She thought of the Christmas list she’d helped her daughter write just last night. There were only a few things Linsey wanted, but even those were more than Quinn could afford on her meager salary and tips from the diner. If only she hadn’t deviated from Mama Cantori’s teachings during college.
If only she’d stayed closer to home and been a bit less foolish.
If only…
Coins jangled in Quinn’s pockets, drawing her back to the crowded diner. Maybe the day wasn’t such a waste after all. A bell in the order window chimed, signaling another round of meals ready for pick-up. She nodded to Gus, the rotund owner and head cook, and held up a finger to let him know she was on her way. He offered his signature wink, coupled with a gap-toothed smile, in reply.
She delivered the platters in her hands and filled half-a-dozen coffee mugs as she made her way back to the service counter, thanking God along the way for Gus’s generosity. The kindly man had offered her a job when she needed it most.
“Busy day, huh?” Gus spoke in a thick, southern accent distinctive of someone who’d spent his entire life in the Appalachian area. He’d run the diner for nearly a decade, and could have retired as head cook years ago, but he loved keeping his hands busy. So he still manned the grill several times a week. Now, he smiled as he took the order receipt Quinn offered and clipped it along the wall above the serving line.
“Crazy busy.” Quinn grabbed the tray of meals and a carafe of decaf coffee. “And some people seriously lack the Christmas spirit.”
“Oh, don’t let Joe Seifert get the best of you. His bark is worse than his bite.”
“If you say so.” Quinn nodded and flashed Gus a weary smile before doubling back to fill the cantankerous old gentleman’s mug. She leaned into the booth, careful not to splatter coffee on the table as it splashed into the ceramic mug. “Can I get you anything else, sir?”
“No, but I think Jason’s trying to get your attention.”
“Jason?” Quinn turned toward the windows, where snow had indeed begun to fall in fat, sloppy flakes that blanketed the parking lot. A guy, tucked into the last booth in the corner, motioned with a single finger raised into the air. He offered a slight grin as if apologizing for interrupting her rhythm, and slipped from his jacket, setting it on the seat beside him. She tried not to notice the way his navy polo shirt hugged a terrain of muscles across the wide breadth of his shoulders. He sported disheveled dark hair, just long enough to make him look a bit dangerous, and eyes the color of blue topaz. 
“Oh, I don’t know how I missed him.” Quinn padded in his direction, her tennis shoes squeaking across the polished tile. As she approached his booth, she grimaced. “I’m so sorry—”
“Don’t be.” He brushed her off with a wave of his hand. “I see you’re packed to the proverbial gills in here. Just coffee, please. Make it strong and black.”
“Decaf OK?”
“For this round, if that’s all you’ve got. But I’d be beyond appreciative if the next round is fully loaded.”
“Sure.” She splashed a hit of coffee into his cup. For some reason her hands trembled as his eyes studied her, and her pulse raced like she was the one downing gallons of caffeine. She chastised herself as she bumped the creamer, splattering the table. She sopped up the mess as she distracted him with small talk. “Been shopping?”
“No.” He lifted the cup to his lips, drew a long gulp, then tilted his head and offered her a sidelong glance. “I wouldn’t be caught dead out there with all those bargain-hungry vultures.”
“Sorry for assuming.” Quinn’s mouth curled into a slight smile at his offhanded remark. Until now, she’d felt as though she was the only one who avoided the annual sale-hungry mobs. “You just look…”
“What?” He leaned back in the booth, his gaze slipping over her as he waited for her to finish.
“I mean, you seem a bit tired and…frazzled.”
“That so?” He scratched a spatter of stubble across the length of his jaw. His fingers, Quinn noticed, were long and strong. “So, now the coffee comes with a therapy session?”
“No.” Quinn backpedaled, stumbling over a chair. The coffee carafe bobbled in her hand, and she was glad she had a tight grip on the handle or the guy— Jason—may have been gifted with a scalding coffee shower. The song on the radio segued into a festive Christmas tune as she stuttered, “I’ll, um…refill your cup. Would you like anything else?”
“Nothing I can find in here.” He drew another gulp of coffee, his gaze drifting to the snow that began to engulf the parking lot and the two-lane road beyond. “So, no, thank you.” 
The aroma of french fries mingled with coffee and grilled chicken, making Jason Graves’s stomach lurch as he watched the woman juggle a tray filled with lunch plates. She wove her way along the string of booths, her cheeks flushed from the exertion. He hadn’t been by the diner in a while, but he knew Gus always scheduled at least three hostesses on a busy day such as this. Where had the others gone?
The woman was smaller than average, her hands petite and delicate. But she seemed to have no trouble juggling a quartet of plates. Steam drifted from a meatloaf dinner, filling the diner with the aroma of rich ground beef and brown sugar. Usually the meatloaf was Jason’s favorite. But not today—no, he couldn’t imagine trying to eat anything with his gut wound so tight.
Something about the woman seemed incongruous to their surroundings. She was too polished for the greasy diner, with a sassy blunt cut that skimmed her shoulders when she crossed by the wall of windows overlooking the snow-covered parking lot. Her eyes were a rich mahogany—a near reflection of her hair color—and he imagined she had a bite of temper to match the dark red hair; he’d noticed the look she’d given Joe Siefert, the old codger, when he clinked his mug and demanded more coffee. Yes, Miss Hostess could surely hold her own.
Jason hadn’t seen her here—or anywhere else in Landers Hollow, for that matter—before. She must be new in town. He watched her rush back to Mr. Jeffers’s table for the third time in less than a dozen minutes. Why didn’t she just leave the old guy his own personal coffee carafe and let him serve himself?
Coffee…ahh. The muddy liquid warmed Jason’s belly, chasing away nausea. This morning had been less than smooth, and the afternoon didn’t look much better. Now, the snow falling like a burst of confetti from a dark, ominous sky just further complicated things.
Mrs. Donaldson, his volunteer to help coordinate the church’s Christmas pageant, had been rushed to the hospital with a gall bladder attack just after midnight. He’d been to visit her, and though the surgery was successful, she’d be off her feet for the next few weeks. And there wasn’t another volunteer on the docket. It had taken Jason a full week to persuade Mrs. Donaldson to take the job in the first place. She was an expert at set design and had a way with the kids, too. The prospect of finding someone to replace her was less than bleak.
“Here you go.” 
Jason glanced up to see the hostess staring at him with voluminous eyes. She slipped a slice of warm apple pie, buried in a mound of vanilla ice cream, onto the table. Steam curled, carrying the rich aroma of cinnamon. The knot in his belly eased slightly as his gaze held hers.
“But I didn’t order that.” 
“On the house.” She smiled. “You look like you can use a little pick-me-up.”
Apples mingled with vanilla and Jason breathed deeply, feeling his blood pressure slack just a bit. Maybe the day would be OK after all. Maybe…
“That’s really nice of you.” He nodded, splaying a hand across his belly as it rumbled. Mortified, he glanced up to see her staring at him. “Sorry about that.”
“No problem.” She laughed and dimples deepened at the corners of her mouth. Jason noticed a cute little smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, too. Suddenly his pulse kicked up a notch.
What the heck…
“You’ll need this.”
As she handed him a spoon, he caught the scent of her perfume…something subtle and floral. 
“And I think you’ll need more than coffee, too.”
 “I guess so.” Five minutes earlier, his stomach had balked at the idea of food. Now, he found himself ravenous. He struggled to draw his gaze from her, and failed miserably. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” She nodded, and a few strands of hair skimmed her cheek. “It just came out of the oven. Enjoy.” 
Jason watched her retreat as he dug in, her hair swishing along her shoulders in time to the music that sang overhead. He didn’t know which was more appealing…her or the pie. Of course, the pie was delicious with warm apples and a perfect blend of the sweet, vanilla bean ice cream. But she was an appealing mystery, as well.
Jason shook the thought from his head as he washed down apples with a sip of coffee. What had gotten into him? He refocused on the task at hand— finding a replacement for Mrs. Donaldson. He took out his day planner and went through the list of contacts once more. There had to be someone who could help him out…someone who enjoyed being around kids and was willing to carry an extra load for the next month.
Someone who knew that the true meaning of Christmas held more than the thrill of hunting for the best deal on Black Friday.

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Saturday, September 5, 2015


Sometimes the last thing we think we need is exactly what God has planned...

1st Chapter:

She’d tried to kill him.

Jake swallowed an oath and cut the motor on the mower he wrestled through overgrown September grass. His heart thundered like a runaway semi as his gaze locked on the woman’s startling green eyes, framed by a wisp of sun-kissed blonde hair. She was shorter than he was—quite a bit shorter—and willowy as a ribbon in the wind, but the strappy sandals hugging her feet added a bit of height.

“Have you lost your mind?” The words tumbled out before Jake could get a hold on them. “I might have run over you, hacked off a few of your toes.” He quickly regretted his harsh tone when her smile wilted. Her gaze lowered to her feet, and she wiggled her pink-polished toes.

“But you didn’t, and I’m still in one piece. So…” She had a slight Southern accent, a soft lilting voice that he imagined could flash to a bite in an instant.

Jake drew a long, calming breath laced with the sweet scent of freshly mown grass as he swiped a forearm across his brow. Sweat trickled down his back, making his T-shirt cling to damp skin. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to sneak up on people when they’re working with dangerous equipment?”

“Of course.” Her gaze narrowed as she crossed her arms and lifted her chin. He imagined her lack of height was no deterrent to getting her way, and her tone might have scalded the first few layers of skin from him. “But I didn’t sneak up on you.”

“Could have fooled me.” He huffed out a breath and wished he wasn’t feeling so short-tempered. It gave the wrong impression, especially here at church, and with someone new. He tugged the collar of his T-shirt and hoped for a cool breeze, trying not to think about how he was in a hurry to pick up Corey, and that he didn’t have time for chit-chat. But he’d make time…he always did. It was part of his job. “I sure didn’t hear you coming.”

“I called to you, but you’re mowing.” She enunciated the word as if she thought he might be a few cards short of a Pinochle deck. “That’s most likely why you didn’t hear me.”

“Yeah, that’s just my point.” Jake’s restraint was sorely tested by the smug gleam in her eye. His gaze grazed her crisp linen jacket over a flowered sundress that caressed a lithe figure. She looked graceful and cool under the blistering glare of the sun.

Jake, on the other hand, was sweltering to the point of self-combustion. He hadn’t intended to mow the grass, but when Bill Rogers, the church caretaker, called in with a sick daughter, there wasn’t time to find help. So Jake stepped in to pick up the slack. He brushed prickly blades of mulched grass from his faded jeans and gestured toward the mower. “Care to give it a go?”

She took a giant step back. “No thanks. I’m not…properly dressed.” She surveyed him, shielding her eyes from the sun that burned from a cloudless blue sky. Her other hand disappeared into the tote slung over one shoulder. “Drink?” She offered him a bottle of water. “You look like you can use some cooling off.”

Jake reached for the water. His pulse rate was beginning to ease, and thirst won out over pride. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

She gaped as he uncapped the bottle and guzzled the cool water in little more than a gulp then swiped stray droplets from his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Do you need to sit down for a minute? You look…winded.”

“No. I’m almost done.” Jake wouldn’t have chosen jeans that morning if he’d known he was going to have to mow; cargo shorts would have been a better choice. The thick denim held heat against his skin like a sauna. “Ahh, that’s good. Do you make it a habit to carry bottled water with you?”

“Nope…it’s your lucky day.” She adjusted the tote over her shoulder, and he saw it was filled with papers bundled neatly together by an array of colorful, plastic-coated clips. “Who knew I’d stumble across a hot groundskeeper in need.”

Jake did a double-take when her smile turned down and her gaze flashed complete mortification at the unintended double meaning. He tugged his ball cap low over his eyes and crossed his arms as she stuttered through an explanation.

“I-I mean, you’re hot from mowing…” she gulped, shading her eyes from his gaze. “Because it’s so hot out here, and you need—”

“Wow.” Jake burst into laughter. He fought hard to regain his composure as tears stung his eyes and mixed with the sweat on his brow to blur his vision.
“Hey.” Her cheeks flushed and blonde curls bobbed haughtily as she crossed her arms, threw her shoulders back, and gave him a seething look. “Don’t you know it’s not nice to laugh at someone else’s expense?”

Jake coughed into a hand and dipped his head to hide his grin. “Sorry, but you stepped right into that one.”

A crimson splotch crept up her neck and crawled across her face. “OK, I guess I did. Anyway—”

“I’m Jake.” He wiped his hand on his jeans in an attempt to brush off some of the sweat and dirt before extending it to her.

“Carin.” She grasped his hand and gave it a tentative shake. The scent of sandalwood perfume clung to the humid air, and Jake inhaled deeply, his pulse easing down another notch.

“So, what brings you here today, Carin?”

She tucked a stray curl behind one ear and trained those pretty green eyes on him. “I need to speak with the pastor of this church. I was hoping you could help me locate him.”

“Maybe I can.” Jake leaned lazily against the mower. She was neat and tidy, all business, while he stood sweaty and covered head to toe in mulched grass that had been swept up on a breeze. Maybe it was the heat, or her smug expression, or perhaps the fact he was in a bit of a foul mood and only human, after all, but he decided to have a little fun. “Which pastor are you looking for—youth or senior?”

“I…um…I don’t know.” She caught her lower lip between her teeth, gnawed for a moment and then let go. “I didn’t think to ask. I suppose he must be the youth pastor. Senior pastors tend to be older, I assume.”

Jake stifled a groan. She’d conveyed the typical sentiment. By all accounts, he should be a balding, stooped over,

crotchety old man. The thought raised his ire even more. “Well, the youth pastor stepped out for a while. Meetings and planning sessions…you know how pressing church matters can be. Was he expecting you?”

“No, but…I was hoping to speak with him, confidentially.”

The disappointment in her gaze caused Jake a slight prick of guilt. His voice softened, and he remembered why he was here at the church in the first place. “Is what you need to speak about an emergency of some sort?”

“No!” Carin emphasized the word. “I mean, no, I wouldn’t want to worry him. It’s not pressing. I just need to…” The words died in her throat.

“Are you sure it’s not an emergency?” He couldn’t leave her hanging if it truly was a pressing issue.

“Sure, I’m sure.”

Jake debated. It wasn’t an emergency, and she’d be back in a day or so if he played his cards right. Then he wouldn’t be in a hurry to get Corey, and he’d have all the time in the world to talk with her—a better prospect, all the way around.

“Tell you what,” Jake coaxed. “Why don’t you come back Sunday morning for the ten o’clock service, when both pastors are sure to be here, and I can personally guarantee that following the service whichever pastor you need to speak with will give you his undivided attention for as long as you’d like.”

“You’re positive?” One eyebrow rose into a smooth little arch. “What I need to speak about could take a while.”

He nodded.

She jostled the bag on her shoulder and sighed, her gaze scanning the steps that led into the church. “Well…that’s just the day after tomorrow. I suppose it can wait until then. Ten o’clock, you said?”

“For the service, yes. And you can do your talking afterwards.”

“I don’t want to divulge the details.” Her forehead creased as her eyebrows knit together. “But perhaps I should leave a short message in the office, maybe a note with the secretary.”

“No need.” Jake tried not to glance at his watch. Corey would be waiting at the ball field, and who knew what kind of mischief he’d get into if Jake was delayed too long. “Besides, the secretary’s gone home for the day. But you have my word; the pastor will be OK with you showing up.”

“You’re sure?”

Jake eyed her…abundant ringlets of soft blonde curls, tidy appearance, and eyes that said she didn’t think he could possibly know anything about the pastor. The slight prick of guilt he’d felt fled. “I’m sure.”

“Well…” Carin wound a strand of curl around an index finger. “Thank you…I guess.”

“No problem.” The late-afternoon sun silhouetted her figure. She had to be a runner—or perhaps a dancer. Though her figure was slight, Jake noticed the definition of supple calf muscles below the hem of her skirt. He drew his gaze away. “I’d better get back to work now…unless you’d care to stay and help.”

She pressed a finger to the forehead crease and gnawed her lower lip again while readjusting the tote. “No. I’ve…um…got errands to run.”

Yeah, right, Jake thought as she backed away. You wouldn’t want to dirty those freshly-manicured nails.

“Well, the invitation’s open…anytime.” He swept a hand across the clipping-littered sidewalk. “There’s always plenty of lawn to mow.”

“I’ll…um…remember that.”

The mortified look on her face was priceless, and Jake grinned as she hastily retreated to her car. “Thanks for your help.”

“See you Sunday?” Jake called.

“Of course…if you’re here.”

“Oh, I’ll be here.”

“Me, too.” The way she said it, her voice lilting with a biting edge to it, made Jake wonder exactly what was up. Now he had no choice but to wait to find out. Guess that was the price he’d pay for letting the heat—and a bit of temper—get the best of him.

He thought about going after her, but the compact sedan’s engine rumbled to life before he had time to make up his mind. As the car puttered from the lot, Jake checked his watch and quickly turned his attention back to mowing. He crushed the empty water bottle and stuffed it into the back pocket of his jeans before double-timing it through the last section of lawn. Then he wrestled the mower back into the shed, brushed off his jeans, and went inside the church long enough to wash grass from his hands and check his voicemail. The last bit of mowing gave him time to reflect, and guilt gnawed at him.

He wondered what Carin wanted. He shouldn’t have run her off without asking. What kind of pastor was he, anyway? What if it was important? What if she didn’t come back?

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