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"ARE YOU SURE you wouldn't like a ride home?" the Reverend Mr. Johnson inquired. "If you don't mind waiting a few minutes, I would be happy to drive you."
Mr. Johnson didn't look like a minister in his plaid shirt and khaki-colored pants. In his mid-forties, he resembled a fisherman who had strayed into church by mistake. In fact, he was an ardent angler, overjoyed that his Wisconsin parish was situated in an area with so many lakes, streams and rivers. He loved to state that while he was a "fisher of men" like the Lord, he was also a fisherman, an occupation and an avocation that he felt were ideally suited to one another.
"No, thank you, Reverend. It's a lovely evening and I'll enjoy the walk," Eve Rowland insisted as she slipped on her summer-weight coat of brown. "Besides, it isn't that far, really."
"Yes, but I don't like the idea of your walking alone after dark."
"Cable isn't Minneapolis or Milwaukee," she laughed. There were times when she even forgot to lock the front door of her parents' house, but she didn't worry unduly on those occasions.
"My city background is showing, isn't it?" he smiled at himself. "Thanks for filling in for Mrs. Alstrom at the organ tonight." She was the regular church organist. A minor crisis at home had kept her from attending choir practice and Eve had been asked to substitute for her. "I hope it didn't upset any of your plans for the evening."
"I didn't have any plans," she said, and didn't go any further in her reply. It was rare for her ever to have plans for an evening--social plans, that is.
"That's a pity." The minister's eyes darkened with sympathy, even as he changed hisexpression to give her an encouraging smile. "You are a warm and generous woman. Maybe I should whisper in the ears of the eligible male members of my congregation."
He meant to be kind but his offer had a demoralizing effect. Eve fixed a quick smile in place to hide her reaction. "That's a nice thought, but most of them are already semi-attached to someone else. You might as well save your matchmaking talents for another time." She started to leave, "Good night. And I'm glad I could help out."
"I'll see you in church on Sunday." Mr. Johnson lifted his hand in a saluting wave.
"Not this Sunday," she said. "We're opening the summer cottage on the lake, so neither my parents nor I will be in church."
"Oh? Which lake?" His fishing curiosity was awakened.
"Namekagon." Which was only a few miles east of town.
"Marvelous fishing there," he stated.
"I know. It's dad's favorite." She glanced at her wristwatch, a utilitarian piece with a plain leather band that made no pretense of being decorative. "I'd better be going. Good night, Reverend Johnson."
Leaving the church, Eve buttoned her coat against the invading night air. Although it was officially summer, the temperature in the Northwoods dipped to the cool range in the evening hours. The sky was crystal bright with stars, hundreds of thousands of them lighting the heavens. A moon, big and fat, competed with the stars; its silver globe was nearly a spotlight shining down on the earth. The streetlights along the main thoroughfare were almost unneeded.
As she walked along the sidewalk, her mind kept echoing the matchmaking offer the minister had made. Having lived in Cable for all of her twenty-six years--with the exception of four years spent at college in Madison--Eve knew virtually every single man in the area. Those she might have been interested in never noticed her; and those that noticed her she wasn't interested in. She was almost convinced she was too particular.
Her mother despaired that Eve would ever find a man who could satisfy her, and kept reminding her that with each passing year she was becoming more set in her ways. Eve had given up hope long ago that Prince Charming would ever come this far north, but she wasn't going to get married just for the sake of being married, no matter how nice and respectable a suitor might be. She didn't intend to marry unless she had, at least, a deep affection for the man. So far, no one had aroused even that. There had been boyfriends now and then. Most of them she genuinely liked, but not with any depth. It seemed she was always attracted to men who weren't attracted to her.
It wasn't because she was homely. She was attractive, in a plain sort of way. With brown hair and eyes, she had a flawless complexion, but her features were unassuming. Her figure was average, neither thin nor plump. She wasn't too tall or too short. She simply didn't stand out in a crowd. In a sea of pretty faces, hers would be the last to be noticed.
Eve was just as realistic in her assessment of her personality traits. She was intelligent, basically good-natured and possessed a good sense of humor. As a music teacher, she appreciated music and the arts. But she tended to be quiet and not quick to make friends. Her early years as a wallflower had lessened her inclination for parties. She preferred celebrating with a few close friends to attending a large social function. By nature she wasn't aggressive, although she wouldn't allow herself to be walked on.
There were some who suggested that, at twenty-six, she was too old to be living at home. When Eve considered the cost of living alone versus her salary, it became a matter of sheer practicality. Besides, she and her parents were good friends. She was just as independent as she would have been living in an apartment.
With all her thoughts focused inward, Eve didn't notice the tavern she was approaching. A window was open to let out the smoke and let in fresh air. Inside, a jukebox was loudly playing a popular song. Eve didn't hear it or the laughter and spirited voices. Her gaze was on the sidewalk in front of her feet.
Suddenly a man stepped directly in front of her. Eve didn't have time to stop or step aside. Her hands came up to absorb the shock of the collision. He evidently didn't see her, either, as he took a step forward and collided head-on. In a reflex action his arms went around to catch her, while his forward progress carried her backward two steps.
Dazed by the total unexpectedness of the accident, Eve lifted her head. She wasn't certain that the fault belonged entirely to either one of them. Too stunned yet to speak, she stared at the stranger she'd bumped into--or vice versa.
The light from the neon tavern sign fully illuminated his face. Nearly a head taller than she was, he had dark hair that waved in thick strands to fall at a rakish angle across his forehead. His eyes were blue, with a perpetual glint of humor in them. Tanned skin was stretched across very masculine features. He was handsome in a tough rakehell sort of way. A reckless smile showed the white of his teeth.
"What's this I've caught?" His mocking voice was matched by the laughing glint in his eyes as they traveled over her, taking in the brown of her hair and eyes and the brown coat. "I believe it's a brown mouse."