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Home To You
By Cheryl Wolverton
Steeple HillCopyright © 2005 Cheryl Wolverton
All right reserved.
Thirty-two-year-old Dakota Ryder quickly finished the report he was reading and scrawled his signature across the bottom. He leaned back in the dark brown leather chair, grimacing as he heard it squeak. He needed to get that oiled, he thought, but then immediately dismissed the idea as yet another thing to do later, when he had more time. He glanced at the clock over the sofa and sighed. Pushing back from his mahogany desk, he grabbed up the papers he'd just finished and stood. He was running late.
He strode across the deep, thick, mauve carpet, pausing only to pull open the door before leaving his office. At Sherry Anne's desk, his assistant, who was busily creating next Sunday's bulletin on her computer, he hesitated. Smiling at the middle-aged blonde, he dropped the reports he'd signed into her in-box on the corner of her small desk.
"Can you see that these get mailed to headquarters?" He twisted his wrist to look at his watch, confirming that the time was the same as the clock in his office. "I'm going to be late for my meeting with the contractors."
Sherry Anne picked up the papers and checked the address. "Sure thing. Jacob and Marlene called about their counseling appointment. They want to change it to next week."
"Fit them in." Looking again at his watch, he muttered, "I'm going to be out the rest of the day. Lock up when you leave."
"Sure thing, Pastor." Sherry Anne turned back to her computer screen. "Don't forget your 9:00 a.m. meeting tomorrow with Mr. Bennett. He wants to talk to you about the finances."
Dakota groaned. "Thanks." Zachary Bennett and his wife, Georgia, were huge contributors to the church — and somehow they felt that gave them the right to tell Dakota how to spend church money.
He headed through the foyer. The dark red carpet muffled his footsteps as he passed between the two long middle rows of white pews. The padded seats matched the red of the carpet.
How many times had he looked out over the congregation who filled these pews three times each week? He mentally calculated as he hastened toward the back door and to his appointment. Seven years, nearly three services every week too many to count.
He continued down the aisle, hearing the air-conditioning turn on. Pausing by the thermostat, he clicked the switch to off. The band had forgotten to turn it off after practice earlier. He made a mental note to mention it to them.
Life was too short, he thought, making a list of things he needed to do. He never had enough hours in the day to get things done. The church currently had no associate pastor, so Dakota was trying to complete all of the pastoral jobs himself. Except for the youth. They did have a great youth pastor — who was still in his office working right now, as a matter of fact.
Just like Dakota was working, even though he was leaving the church. Just like he'd be working late into the night on a load of reports he'd stashed in his car earlier.
Heading out to his little compact sedan, Dakota tried to think of a time since returning from seminary that he hadn't been busy working on one project or another. There weren't many times, lately. At least he was busy doing God's work, he thought as he pulled out his keys to unlock the door.
But that didn't leave him time for anything else. Glancing at his watch again, he noted he was going to be late-late-late. He pulled out his cell phone as he unlocked the car, and struggled to balance the phone against his shoulder.
"Call, Chandler Contracts," he spoke into the phone. The sun was shining brightly today, even though it wasn't hot. Summer was past and fall had finally arrived. The wind whipped at his hair as he finally managed to get the lock turned in the door. Ah, the wind. There was nary a day without it on the plains of Texas.
The phone on the other end began to ring.
He slid into the silver Honda and slipped on the gray seat belt.
He loved his hometown and all that went with it; the weather was great, he knew everyone, it was small enough to get anywhere pretty fast, but it was still big enough to have most of the stores and businesses he might need — like the contractors he was about to hire.
"Chandler Contractors. How may I direct your call?" The deep baritone voice came across the line clearly.
Dakota started his car. "This is Dakota Ryder. I have an appointment with Harry Chandler regarding an extension to our church. I'm running about ten minutes behind. I need you to let him know."
He could hear typing in the background and then, "Very well. Thank you for letting us know, Pastor Ryder."
He shook his head with a slight smile, realizing the young man on the other end of the phone must know him. "No problem."
Clicking the phone off, he dropped it in the empty seat next to him and then pushed the gearshift into Reverse with one hand while twisting the wheel of the car with the other.
Glancing over his shoulder as he backed out, he shook his head. Life couldn't get any more hectic.
Chase Sandoval paused as he set the porcelain figurine over the hearth of the fireplace.
They'd been back barely a week in Shenandoah, Texas, and he had finally started unpacking things beyond the basics they'd needed to survive.
This was why.
The porcelain figure was of a woman wearing a long dress. Her long, wavy hair was pulled back with a blue bow. On her lap sat a tiny child, and the mother stared down lovingly at the child, her arms protecting it carefully.
He'd gotten the figurine for Ruthie when she'd found out she was pregnant with their child.
Sarah was eleven and his precious Ruthie was gone. Chase's heart contracted and his hands shook. Cancer.
Chase and Sarah had watched Ruthie fade away before dying.
Why hadn't she gone for checkups more often? Why had she ignored the signs? More important, why hadn't she told them about her secret?
Angry at first, Chase had finally sunk into acceptance. However, as acceptance had come he'd realized their house in Fort Worth was too empty without her. His job, which had kept him gone so much, now hindered his ability to raise his daughter.
If he'd been around more, perhaps he would have noticed the changes in his wife before it was too late.
But he hadn't and his wife was dead and his daughter was on the road to becoming a juvenile delinquent. She didn't want to be around him or talk to him. She'd started hanging out with some of the bad kids and running the streets. He'd had to find some way to head it off, and quick.
The house was too empty, his job hours were too long, and his daughter was acting more like eighteen than eleven
How he had wished he could capture his own childhood and share it with her.
And that's when the idea had struck him.
It'd only taken a few weeks to get a reply back from the local sheriff's office about jobs and then a few more weeks to sell their house.
Then, he'd come back home, to Shenandoah. This was a place where he could raise his daughter, a place to help her find good influences for her life, a place to start over and try to do things right this time. It was a place where they could heal.
Chase hugged the figurine to his chest, and then, with a sigh, reluctantly released his grip on the tiny porcelain figure as he tried to release past pain, setting it upon the hearth just as he tried to set aside the grief and leave it in the past.
The oak hearth was beautifully crafted, the intricate designs made by loving hands. A mirror stretched above the length of the hearth, reflecting Chase's own short, dark brown hair and deep brown eyes. He looked a bit haggard — he needed to step a bit closer to the razor that morning.
He turned his gaze from the mirror, glancing around the room. The floors and ceiling beams were also made of wood and shone as if freshly oiled. The walls were white and the windows were tall and narrow, covered by curtains left by the last owners, who'd said they fit these windows and wouldn't go with their new house.
He appreciated their generous gift.
Still, at moments like this, Chase wondered why he'd bothered with such an elaborate house. There was no one here to care for it, no wife to see that those curtains found matches in furniture or knickknacks.
But he knew.
It was because of Sarah that he'd bought the house. She needed a home in a good neighborhood with good schools.
The people who had lived here before him had built a fort out back and had a permanent swing set made of wood cemented into the ground. There was a great climbing tree with a picnic table under it. All were constructed with good craftsmanship. He should know — in his spare time he used to build things. He'd gotten some experience here in Shenandoah, working for a carpenter. He loved building and thought Sarah would love the sturdy, beautifully crafted equipment out back, as well as the large spacious room and the quiet small-town feel of Shenandoah.
It would be a place for Sarah.
Staring at the beautiful, though painful, reminder of his beloved wife, Sarah's mother, he decided he'd done enough unpacking for the day. He was going into town for lunch.
He and Sarah could unpack together later. Maybe they'd order a pizza tonight and pop in a movie.
But being in this house, alone, with all of the memories —
Turning away, he headed to the door, scooping up his keys on the way, and leaving the pain for later.
Carolyne Ryder sat in the old-fashioned, padded rocking chair, holding her four-month-old grandson, Joshua. He'd been fussy and unable to go to sleep, while his twin sister, Julie, was resting like a little angel in the crib across the room.
Joshua was asleep now, but Carolyne continued to rock back and forth, back and forth, patting the child's back.
Her daughter, Susan, didn't really need her here. She'd come to that conclusion about three weeks ago. She had a live-in housekeeper who doubled as a nanny and who was there to take care of the kids. Cokie did a great job.
Still, Susan and her husband, Johnny, had insisted that Carolyne stay as long as she wanted. These were her first grandchildren, Susan had only returned to work six weeks ago, and the kids needed a grandmother there for a while longer
So Carolyne had stayed.
But she was restless. Montana was getting cold, a cold Carolyne wasn't used to, and this just wasn't her home.
Excerpted from Home To You by Cheryl Wolverton Copyright © 2005 by Cheryl Wolverton. Excerpted by permission.
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