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Swish. Swish. Swish. Jeremy Hamilton lifted the paint brush over his head, thinking his neck would be permanently damaged if he didn't get this room finished soon. The cream-colored paint refused to stick to the wall. Most of it was all over him--in his hair, on his old shirt and splattered across the aged, spotted drop cloth underneath the rickety ladder. Groaning out loud, he almost threw down the brush in defeat.
But Jeremy had never been a quitter. Well, not until a few months ago, at least. He stopped painting and held the dripping brush over the bucket perched precariously on the ladder, memories swirling through his mind just like the paint pooling under his soggy brush. Outside the wide double windows, a December wind howled and fussed, causing leftover fallen leaves to dance across the parking lot.
How had December come so quickly? And how had his life taken such a turn that even now, all these months later, he was still spinning in the wind just like those leaves?
With just a few words from his powerful father, Wallace Hamilton, Jeremy's whole life here in Davis Landing, Tennessee, had been turned upside-down. He'd gone from firstborn heir and vice president of a vast publishing conglomerate to being someone he didn't even know himself.
He wasn't really a Hamilton. His biological father, Paul Anderson, had died in a motorcycle accident before Jeremy was born, before his mother Nora could even tell her fiancé she was pregnant with his child. So for thirty-five years, Jeremy had been living a lie.
Worse, his parents, Wallace and Nora Hamilton, had also been living with that lie, even though they'd done their best to make agood life for their family. They'd worked hard to become pillars of the community, they'd been faithful to their church, and they'd done everything in their power to love and protect their six children, including him. Especially him, Jeremy reminded himself now.
Wallace Hamilton, once a wild playboy with a string of conquests, had fallen in love with delicate Nora McCarthy, and he'd married her knowing she was carrying another man's child. That endearing act and the devastating secret behind it had been the foundation of their marriage--a good, solid union in spite of its beginnings. But finding out the truth had rocked Jeremy's safe, secure world and shaken his own faith to its very foundations.
Wallace had been so ill with leukemia, and so unreasonable because of his helplessness, that he'd turned on Jeremy, taking out all his frustrations from his sickbed. How long has he secretly resented me? Jeremy wondered now, and not for the first time. That had been the burning question in Jeremy's mind since he'd learned the truth. How long had his adoptive father wanted to tell Jeremy that he shouldn't be a part of Hamilton Media? That he didn't really belong, after all?
Probably since the day I was born. Which was why Jeremy had left Davis Landing a few months ago to do some soul-searching, and to find out more about his biological father's family. That long journey hadn't brought him any answers, just more questions and more doubts. So many doubts. His paternal grandparents down in Florida had welcomed him, but they'd obviously had mixed feelings regarding his existence. After all, they'd been estranged from their only son when he'd died. Jeremy felt the parallels of that clear truth as he now thought about his estranged relationship with Wallace.
Did he really want to stay away, knowing his father might not make it? He'd never forgive himself if that happened, and yet, he hadn't been able to go and see Wallace since coming home a few days ago.
Knowing that Paul Anderson had died away from his family made Jeremy feel petty and small. Especially after he'd tracked his grandparents down. It had been an awkward reunion, but Jeremy was glad he'd made the effort. At least it had brought the Andersons some sort of comfort and closure. And maybe, a new beginning.
"You come back anytime," his grandmother Thelma had told Jeremy the morning he decided to leave Florida. She hugged him tight. "You don't know how much it means to me, to see you, to know I have a grandson. Your father...well, he was a rebel, a real handful. I wish I could have told him how much I loved him."
Jeremy had seen pictures. He looked just like Paul Anderson--dark-haired, blue-eyed, tall and angular. It must have been hard on his grandmother, seeing the image of her son in the flesh after all these years.
It seemed to be even harder on Chester Anderson. His grandfather had resented Jeremy, maybe because he'd been denied ever knowing he had a grandson. Chester had tried, but in the end, his silence and his condemnations of Thelma's quiet faith, had only caused the gap between Jeremy and him to widen.
"We'll go fishing next time," he'd said to Jeremy. "Maybe on a Sunday. I fish while Thelma does her church thing."
Jeremy had figured that was Chester's way of saying he'd like to see him again. And it had also been his ornery grandfather's way of telling Jeremy that he wasn't a believer like his wife.
So Jeremy had left, his doubt and his confusion scattering out into the balmy Florida breezes. Not even a vast ocean had helped him find the answers he'd needed.
And here he stood, different but hoping to be the same. He'd come full circle, and yet he was still very lost. He'd come home to find all his siblings either getting married or falling in love. Hoping to find some strength in his family, Jeremy had discovered that he was as alone as ever. That feeling of isolation echoed through his mind over and over, causing him to stay away from his ailing father's bedside. He wasn't ready for another confrontation, and he certainly couldn't take any more revelations.
He could see now what he hadn't been able to pinpoint growing up--he'd always had a feeling of being set apart from his brothers and sisters, a feeling of somehow being different, of not quite measuring up. Maybe because he wasn't really their flesh and blood. He even looked different, more like his real father, based on the pictures his grandmother had shown him. He was the half brother. He had no claims to the Hamilton empire. Except those he felt deep inside his heart.
Alone, aloof and isolated, he'd come home, hoping to find solace with his family, but he'd never felt more lonely. He shouldn't have come back, and yet, he'd needed to do that very thing. In spite of his doubts and frustrations, the road, and maybe God's gentle voice, had brought Jeremy home.
He had to wonder at the irony of being here now, inside the Northside Community Church, since he hadn't been very faithful lately. Maybe the Lord was trying to remind Jeremy of his real roots right here in this church and this town. Roots that ran deeper than blood or birthrights.
"By allowing me to waste paint and ruin my favorite old shirt?" Jeremy asked, his hushed words echoing out over the empty room. "You sure do have a strange sense of humor, Lord."
Jeremy slapped paint onto the wall, thinking he wasn't being entirely fair in thinking the worst of his parents. Wallace had married Jeremy's mother, first to protect her, but mostly because he loved her.And Wallace still loved Nora. Jeremy knew this in his heart, but that fact didn't soften the feelings of betrayal and distrust he'd experienced the day Wallace had called Jeremy into his hospital room to tell him the truth. He could still hear his father's weak, harsh words.
You have no right, Jeremy. No right to go against my word on how things should be run at Hamilton Media. Do you understand me?
No, Dad, I'm afraid I don't understand. Jeremy remembered his mother's pale face, her shaking hands. Her pleas. "Wallace, now is not the time--"
But Wallace had found the strength to come up off his pillows. "It's the perfect time. I might not make it, Nora. Things might change for good. And I won't have someone who isn't even my own blood ruining what I've worked so hard to build."
The shocked silence that had followed still haunted Jeremy's mind, silence that stretched out with only the beeping of machines to keep it from seeming like a bad dream.
"What did you say?"
Wallace had looked stunned himself, then embarrassed, his eyes went to his wife's face. "I'm sorry, son. We should have told you years ago--"
"We only wanted to protect you," his mother had interrupted, tears in her eyes.
"Protect me from what, Mother? What's going on?"