Prodigal Daughter

( 4 )

Overview

The Davis Landing Observer Page 5
The Gossip Guru ...hears Hamilton daughter Melissa, who'd disappeared not long after her father's first medical crisis, has finally come home--pregnant! This news certainly won't help her father, Wallace, as he once again recuperates in the hospital. Word is she's been staying at Hamilton Media attorney Richard McNeil's home, along with his sister, her husband and their kids. With all those people in the McNeil household, is there time for ...
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Overview

The Davis Landing Observer Page 5
The Gossip Guru ...hears Hamilton daughter Melissa, who'd disappeared not long after her father's first medical crisis, has finally come home--pregnant! This news certainly won't help her father, Wallace, as he once again recuperates in the hospital. Word is she's been staying at Hamilton Media attorney Richard McNeil's home, along with his sister, her husband and their kids. With all those people in the McNeil household, is there time for romance between prodigal Melissa and newly rededicated Christian heartthrob Richard? Keep checking Page 5 for updates!
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780373812868
  • Publisher: Steeple Hill Books
  • Publication date: 11/1/2006
  • Series: Love Inspired LP Series, #372
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Larger Print
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

"Y'all be careful up there, sugar." The elderly woman's rich Tennessee drawl slid off each word the way warm honey slips off a spoon.
Richard McNeil glanced down at his great-aunt. At eighty-eight, Lettie was still a spry lady who faced life with wit, humor and an abiding love for her family. Today, she wore her favorite pale blue cotton print dress and a thin blue sweater tied over her slightly stooped shoulders. Her snow-white hair was styled into old-fashioned waves, and she had a death grip on the side of the rickety folding ladder he stood on.
"I'll be fine, Aunt Lettie, but maybe you should move away...just in case."
She scurried to the other side of the camel back sofa with amazing speed for a woman her age.
"If you fall, you're likely to lie on this floor until the cows come home 'cause there's no way I can be picking up a man your size."
Richard replaced the burned-out light in the high ceiling fan and stepped down with a sigh of relief. He had lost a good twenty pounds after his doctor took him to task, but his six-foot-two-inch frame still carried plenty of muscle. The antique stepladder his great-aunt had pulled from the depths of her hall closet for the occasion had creaked and groaned, but held--this time. He would see that she had it replaced with a sturdy new one before the next bulb died.
"And the Lord said, "Let there be light," and there was. Thank you, my boy. That surely will help these old eyes to see the Good Book again."
"My pleasure, Aunt Lettie. Is there anything else I can do while I'm here?" He resisted the urge to glance at his watch. He enjoyed Wednesday afternoons with Aunt Lettie, but each time he came to visit, she would findexcuse after excuse to keep him from leaving. She was lonely, he understood that. More than once over the years, he had tried to convince her to move into a retirement home where she would have the company of folks her own age.
Lettie stubbornly refused to budge from the apartment over the shop in downtown Hickory Mills, Tennessee, that had once belonged to her and her husband. Their furniture store had long since closed and the space downstairs had been sold and converted into a shoe store, but Lettie wouldn't budge from her home. She always said that she had lived here for seventy years and the only way she was leaving was in a pine box. When it came to stubbornness, the good Lord had broken the mold after He fashioned Lettie Corbet McNeil.
Glancing around, Richard had to admit her home was cozy. The high, molded plaster ceilings made the place feel spacious while the tall arched windows with white lace curtains let in plenty of sunshine. Their gleaming panes were reflected in the polished surface of the cherrywood sideboard with its brass candlesticks and artful arrangement of old china plates and figurines. All of her antique furnishings shone with loving care, from the gilt-and-black-lacquer Regency writing desk in the corner to the massive oak pedestal dinning table with its ball-and-claw feet.
His great-aunt was, he realized, very like the things she owned--a beautifully preserved part of a bygone era.
The tiny woman laid a hand on her cheek and tapped gently as she considered what needed repairs. "Let me see. The front door gets to squeaking something awful when the humidity is high."
"I oiled it when I first came today."
"Oh, that's right, you did. Well, I reckon that's all there is, but you don't have to run off, do you?"
"I need to get back to the office."
"Don't you work half days on Wednesday?"
"Things have been a bit hectic lately. I have some paperwork to catch up on."
"Your papa would be so proud to see you in that fancy place over in Davis Landing. You might have come from humble beginnings in Hickory Mills, but you've made your mark in the world. And that house of yours! My, my! It's big enough to hold a dozen young'uns."
"It feels crowded these days."
"How is your sister getting along? Such a sad thing, her house catching fire like that. "Twas a blessing from the Lord that no one got hurt."
"Angela and Dave are doing okay. The girls are adjusting, but it's been hard on them. The renovations on their house should be done in another two months. I was glad to give them a place to stay, but I do miss my peace and quiet. Angela said to tell you that she and the girls will be over to visit on Saturday, as usual." He picked up his suit jacket from where it lay folded over the arm of the sofa and slipped it on.
"I'll be glad for their company, that's for sure. I reckon having those two little girls living with you is making you wish you had a family of your own.
It's long past time you settled down and got married. You're not getting any younger, you know."
"I'm thirty-four. You make it sound like I've got one foot in the grave."
She set her hands on her hips and leaned back to look up at him. "Like I said--long past time."
He leaned down and kissed her wrinkled cheek. "I'll get married when I find a girl who can bake a pecan pie as good as yours and not before."
"Oh, go on! Flattery will get you nowhere."
"I was hoping it would get me one more piece of pie."
"You take the rest of it home with you for those girls. And mind you don't go eatin' more than your share on the way."
Ten minutes later, Richard sat behind the wheel of his black Mercedes in downtown Hickory Mills and switched on his windshield wipers as drizzle began to fall from the leaden sky. If only he could have left Lettie's fifteen minutes earlier, he would have missed the jam of traffic that accompanied the local dock-workers getting off shift and the arrival of the afternoon bus. Visiting with Lettie was always a high point in his week, but he hated wasting time in traffic.
As he waited impatiently behind two taxis loading baggage and passengers, he noticed the Collin's Drugstore across the street was for sale.
The tall window cases were bare except for the red-and-white For Sale sign taped to the glass. He had worked there as a stock boy through most of high school. Several other stores on the block had closed over the past few years and hadn't found new owners. Graffiti marred the cinder block wall beside the bus station and trash littered the alley. It was sad to see his old neighborhood going downhill.
His cell phone rang and interrupted his musing. He pulled it from his pocket. His secretary's quiet voice claimed his attention.
"Mr. Delaney is here to see you, sir."
"Delaney? He doesn't have an appointment today."
"I told him that, sir." Margaret Woodrow's voice dropped even lower. "He insists you said it would be all right to just drop by any old time and add a codicil to his will."
Richard chuckled. "He probably wants to dis-inherit his ungrateful nephew again. Or is he adding him back? I can't remember--he's changed it so many times. All right, Margaret. I'm still in Hickory Mills. I'll be there in about twenty minutes. If he can wait, I'll see him."
He tucked his cell phone back in his pocket. The line of traffic hadn't moved, but at least the other lane was clear. He checked in his rearview mirror before pulling out and stopped short. Was that Melissa Hamilton leaving the bus station?
Turning his head to get a better view, he saw that he was right. She walked past him to the street corner. There, she set down her black duffel bag and raised a hand to sweep her long blond hair back over her shoulder.
She certainly was as lovely as ever. The overcast sky couldn't dim the taffy and honey brightness of her thick hair. It flowed in rippling waves almost to the center of her back. She was dressed in a flared skirt with big yellow sunflowers on a red background and a yellow blouse with short puff sleeves. Over her arms she had draped a red shawl with a yellow fringe. Pulling the flimsy shawl up to cover her shoulders, she shivered and turned her back to the wind. The late-October air definitely had a chill in it. As he watched her, the rain began in earnest. She glanced up, then lifted her shawl to cover her head.
Richard frowned. What on earth was the daughter of Wallace Hamilton doing coming into town on the bus?
Not that it mattered how she got here. The important thing was that she was home again. Wallace and Nora had both been worried sick about their youngest child. Melissa had left town with her boyfriend months ago and no one had heard from her since. That in itself was bad enough, but to disappear when her father was seriously ill seemed totally selfish.As the baby of the Hamilton family, she had always been overindulged and spoiled, but this time she had gone too far.
Wallace's publishing firm, Hamilton Media, was one of Richard's most important clients, but more than that, Wallace and Nora were his friends. He knew what a strain Wallace's leukemia and bone marrow transplant had put on the man and his family. That Melissa had run off without a word hadn't set well with Richard and a lot of other people.
He had always hoped the lovable but wayward girl would come around and grow up into a responsible adult like the rest of the Hamilton kids, but maybe he had been wrong about her.
He watched as she tried to hail a cab, but the taxis in line already had fares. She looked around as if she didn't know what to do next. Suddenly, he was struck by how fragile and bewildered she looked.
Vivacious and flirty was the way he would have described Melissa five months ago. She had always used her charm, including batting those big brown eyes at men, in order to get her way. Now, the woman shivering on the corner simply looked tired and lost.
It only took him a moment to decide what to do next. It wasn't the first time he'd helped Melissa Hamilton out of a jam and it wasn't likely to be the last. He pulled out around the taxis and stopped at the corner in front of her. He pressed the electric button and the passenger-side window slid open. He leaned across the seat and called out. "Melissa, do you need a ride?"
Melissa jumped, startled by the sound of someone calling her name. She clutched her shawl more tightly and leaned down to look in the car that had pulled up beside her. Her father's attorney sat behind the wheel of a shiny, black sedan.
She had to admit that Richard McNeil looked decidedly handsome in his charcoal-gray tailored suit and white button-down dress shirt minus a tie. It had always amazed her how such a big man could wear his clothes so well. With his rugged good looks, black hair and fabulous bright blue eyes, it wasn't surprising that she had suffered a crush on him in her teenage years. Maybe she still harbored a trace of it, she thought, if she were being honest with herself.
Of all the people who knew her family, why did Richard McNeil have to be the one to see her slinking back into town?
"Mr. McNeil, what are you doing here?"
"It looks like I'm offering you a lift."
She hesitated, not sure what to do next.
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