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The phone was ringing inside her apartment, but Rebecca McKaslin stepped out into the late-summer evening anyway. Thank goodness for caller ID. Why was Chris calling? He knew she wouldn't talk to him ever againmostly because she'd told him so. How many times would she have to let it ring before he got a clue?
Exasperated, she yanked the door shut and the lock gave a metallic click. See, this was the reason she'd adopted her newly instated No Man policy. Men, they didn't call when you wanted them to, but when you didn't want them to call ever, then, voilà, the phone rang off the hook.
Well, she was a free and independent woman these days and she wasn't even going to let the thought of her ex-boyfriend bug her. It was too bad that he had regrets, because she didn't, thank you very much. She went to hike her purse strap higher on her shoulder
Wait. No purse strap.
No purse. How had she forgotten it? It was right there by the door on the little hallway table where the phone had been ringing with Chris's number flashing away.
No biggie, she told herself and lifted her hand to sort through her keys.
Wait. No keys. She stared at her empty hand. Had she left her key ring inside, too? Oh, probably. Talk about being an airhead, Rebecca. If she wasn't careful, she was going to turn into her sister Ava who, as adorable as she was, forgot everything.
Okay, this was a major problem. How was she going to drive the car? Pick up the pizza? Get to her sister's house in time to babysit?
Good going, Rebecca. Way to start off the evening. She folded a stray lock of brown hair out of her eyes. She tried the doorknob just in case it wasn't really locked andthat click had been a figment of her imagination.
Nope. The knob didn't turn. Wasn't that just her luck? If she had her purse, she would have her cell phone and so a quick call to someone in her family would fix this in a jiffy. If it wasn't after five o'clock on a Friday, she could bother her neighbor Ephraim, but he was off at a church function.
So who did that leave? Asking a neighbor she didn't know to borrow a phone? She hadn't lived in this complex long. She didn't know her neighbors, other than Ephraim, but she was going to have to start knocking on doors. As she was shy, that was not something she was looking forward to. Although judging by the quiet stillness of the complex, most of them probably wouldn't be home.
On a brighter note, the phone inside her apartment had stopped ringing. Was Chris finally giving up? Getting a hint? Finding a clue?
A girl could always hope. Because she was done with dudes for goodor at least the next decade. Prince Charming could come walking around the corner and she would be Fort Knox. Her affections impenetrable. Her No Man policy was unshakable.
"You need any help?" A man's voice came out of nowhere right behind her.
Her heart jumped hard enough to make it to the moon and back. She turned around and clutched the porch rail to steady herself. There was a drop-dead handsome guy standing on her walkwayand not just everyday ordinary handsome, either. But twenty on a scale of ten. Really wow. She had to be dreaming, right? She blinked, but nope, the gorgeous guy was still standing there as real as could be.
He was a big athletic-looking guynot heavily muscled, but not lanky, either. He was tall with blond hair and a wholesome, guy-next-door grin. He wore a loose sport T-shirt and basketball shorts. Friendly looking.
"I saw you lock yourself out." He had a wholesome smile, too, one that brought out a dimple in his right cheek and an honest sparkle in his dark eyes. He was also carrying a cardboard box in the crook of his arm. "I wasn't peeping or anything. I was unloading my truck and I couldn't help noticing. I'm moving in next door."
"Oh, you're Ephraim's new roommate?"
"Guilty. You must be Rebecca. He's talked about you. Only good things, though. Said to look you up if I wanted to join a Bible study group."
"I'd be happy to give you the information, except"
"All your information is inside?"
"Isn't that always how it goes?" He flashed her a hundred-watt grin. "You look like you're on your way somewhere."
"Yep, in a hurry without the keys to start my car."
"That's gotta spell trouble." He was, as her sister Ava would say, super-duper.
But was she noticing? No. It was good to know her No Man policy was firmly in place. Talk about peace of mind. She crossed her arms over her heart like a shield. "Trouble? That's the least of it. I'm running late, and now this. It's just been one of those days of doom."
"Hey, I have those too now and then."
There was something about that friendly smile, Rebecca decided as she found herself smiling back. If there really was a Prince Charming, then this man would be him.
"A pretty girl like you is probably rushing out for a date, right?"
"I'm pleading the fifth on that one."
"I see." His voice was warm as if it was a smile all on its own. "I'm Chad, by the way. Chad Lawson."
"Well, Rebecca. Do you have a spare key lying around?"
"No. I'm not that organized." Mostly because she wasn't usually this absentminded. "And if I did, I wouldn't be standing here staring like I've lost my mind."
"That's not how I would describe you."
"Then you are too kind." She shaded her eyes with her hand. "I hate to bother you, but could I use your phone?"
"That would be no bother at all." There went that dimple, flashing at her. He had the knack of putting people at ease. "You're going to call a locksmith?"
"Or my sister for the key. It's her condo. I rent from her. She's not going to be happy with me. Katherine is pregnant and on bed rest."
"Is she going to be okay?"
Rebecca sighed. Right now she should start collecting all the reasons why she wasn't going to like Chad, but then he had to go and ask the perfect question. She had to like anyone who asked about her family. "It looks as if she and the baby will be fine, but you never know. It's some high blood pressure problem."
"I'll keep her in my prayers." He seemed sincere standing there with the sunlight bronzing him and concern on his chiseled face. "You don't want to disturb her by getting that key. I've got an idea."
"What kind of idea?" This ought to be interesting. She squinted at him, trying to figure out why he was being so nice. Maybe he was just a nice guyor liked people to think he was. A smart girl would be on guard for that kind of thing.
"How about I break in for you?"
"Break in? Uh, that has the word break in it."
"Sure, but not literally." There was something reassuring about him as he set down the cardboard box he carried on the concrete walkway. "I'm assuming that your unit has a sliding-glass door like ours does?"
"Then trust me."
Wow, he had the most honest eyes. Good thing there wasn't a single bit of interest. Nada. Zero on a scale of ten.
"Wait here. I'll be right back." He had classic features, a confident rugged air to him, tousled blond hair and wide shoulders. In short: gorgeous.
Didn't that spell trouble?
Not for me, she reminded herself. She wanted to find fault with him but she couldn't. She didn't want to like the way two dimples bracketed his friendly, open smile or the dependable line of his wide shoulders as he turned and disappeared around the corner of her condo.
Was he a locksmith or something? She checked her watch; she had called in a pizza order for pickup and it was probably about ready. She didn't want the cheesy sticks to dry out. How long did it take for a locksmith to pick a lock, or whatever it was that they did?
She tried not to think about how disappointed little Tyler was going to be if they didn't have the pizza night she'd promised him. Hey, she was going to be disappointed, too, because she loved her nights with the munchkins. Family was everything to her. Simply everything.
The warm wind gusted gently, bringing the scent of roses from the garden around back. She let the fragrance wash through her. Just the sweet old-fashioned scent soothed her. Why was she so tense?
It wasn't only from Chris's barrage of calls. He'd done this before when they were off again. She was managing through the stress. It would stop, if all went according to her experience with him. No, what bothered her was much more complex, and it troubled her every time she sat still long enough to feel it.
She ought to be moving forward with her life instead of being stuck in place. Everything felt off. She hated feeling like this, lost and at loose ends. Why was it still bugging her? Hadn't she come to a good solution last night in prayer?
Yes. She was letting go and letting God.
Another phone started to ring againshe recognized the electronic jingle of her cell phone muffled by the thick door. No doubt it was Chris again, persistent, as always.
I'm giving this up to you, too, Lord. She looked heavenward and heard the phone cut offand start ringing again. Not the best of signs, but her faith was strong. I trust You with this. I know You have a plan.
And speaking of a plan, where had the neighbor guy gone? There wasn't one sign of Chad. Then again, there wasn't the sound of breaking glass, either. That had to be a good thing.
Suddenly her doorknob rattled and turned. She startled in surprise as the door swung open to reveal Chad standing in her foyer.
"What? How did you" She leaned against the rail as he joined her on the porch. "What did you do?"
"I went to your patio and popped open the sliding-glass door."
That fazed her. "But it was locked."
"Yep. Don't worry, your door doesn't have a scratch on it."
"But how did you open it?"
"Trade secret. I used to work summers for my uncle. He owns a glass shop." Chad shrugged those wonderful shoulders of his. Washed in sunlight and charm, he looked like a wholesome, decent man. "You really should get a dowel for the track. That will keep burglars from doing the same thing I did."
"Great. I feel so much better knowing that."
His eyes had a nice, friendly sparkle to go along with his killer grin. The more handsome a guy, the more trouble he was. Chris had been gorgeous and look how that had turned out. She hated to generalize, because her sisters had all married hunky men and they were as happy as clams. She was happy for them.
She didn't have that kind of luck.
"I locked the sliding door, so you don't have to worry about it." He loped down the steps.
"So that's it? You're just walking off, your good deed done, and now you're going back to your unpacking?"
"That was my plan." He turned around and backed down the walk. "I don't want to make you late. You're obviously on your way somewhere. A girl like you has a boyfriend, doesn't she?"
"And what exactly is that supposed to mean?" She didn't want him to know the truth, so she gave him The Eye, as her brother called it. "A girl like me?"
"Pretty. Together. Smart."
"You are a shameless flatterer. My last boyfriend talked like you at first. He was good with compliments, but not so good with kindness and respect and following his Christian values, or so I found out."
"Hey, I don't want to pay for his mistakes." He came to a stop at the curb and winked at her. "I'm perfectly innocent."
"No guy is perfectly innocent."
"Well, you got me there, but I'm living my faith. My Christian values." He wanted to be clear about that. She's all right, he thought, and he liked that she made him laugh. He'd had a long day and a tough one. It felt good to smile. "You let me know if you need anything else. I'll be happy to come to your rescue."
"Like that's a comforting thought. I'm trying to stay out of trouble." She had happy eyes and a mouth that said she smiled often.
He liked that, too.
She was really lovely with those delicate features and heart-shaped face and the sleek, dark fall of her brown hair. It was hard to miss the gold cross dangling on a fine chain around her neck.
Faith was important to him, too. "You haven't answered my question. If you're not going on a date, then where are you headed?"
"And that's your business, because ?" She arched one slim eyebrow at him, as if she were taking careful note of his personality flaws.
He wasn't fooled. Not one bit. He'd been inside her place. Sure, he'd noticed the cross-stitch that was sitting half-finished on the coffee table, and the Bible and devotional on the kitchen table. He wasn't snooping, but a guy couldn't help noticing. It wasn't as if he could close his eyes and not see anything, right?