Renee Lockhart has her eye on a lofty goal…to fill the open position of morning radio show host at the station where she works. When her co-workers sign her up for a local TV version of The Bachelor, Renee goes along with it in order to raise her profile.
Upon seeing her bumbling audition, Ben McConnell, one of the most eligible bachelors in town, insists that Renee be placed on the show. But Ben gets much more than he expected in Renee… he gets a girl who can’t seem to do anything right…and a girl he can’t seem to resist.
|Publisher:||Prism Book Group|
|File size:||338 KB|
Read an Excerpt
Late spring, 1961
Ellen Youngblood kicked off her shoes and nestled into a corner of the sofa. With her husband at a meeting and her daughters doing their lessons, she looked forward to a rare evening of leisure time. She opened a squeaky end table drawer to retrieve a well-worn fashion magazine. Oh, to have the First Lady's cool, elegant looks! Ellen absently touched her light brown tresses, neatly pulled into a bun. No, a pillbox hat needs a bouffant hairdo to look right. Ellen sighed. A new hairstyle wouldn't give me Jackie Kennedy's height. Or sense of style. And I'll never be that slender. A pastor's wife ought not to be so absorbed in fashion trends, anyway. The unexpected sound of footsteps on the porch interrupted Ellen's thoughts.
She threw open the front door. "You're home early. What happened?"
"The deacons voted down the land deal." Henry Youngblood came inside and sat hunched forward on the sofa. His handsome face was devoid of all expression.
Ellen closed the door, but continued to stand at the threshold. "I thought they were all in favor." She crossed the room and sat next to her husband. Putting an arm around him, she asked, "How could this happen?"
Henry exhaled and rubbed his face with both hands. "I don't know. Brad Roberts did most of the talking." He loosened his tie and rested his elbows on his knees, chin in hand. "Obviously there was another meeting — one I wasn't invited to — before we got together tonight."
Ellen listened to the sounds of pencils scratching in the dining room, hoping her teenaged daughters missed their father's abrupt announcement. She rubbed Henry's back, struggling to understand the situation. "What do the deacons want to do? Shop around for another piece of land?"
"They don't want to do anything," he said. "Sit tight. Take a wait and see attitude. Die on the vine." Henry shrugged Ellen's arm away and removed his suit coat. "I'm so sure it's God's will for us to build our new building in Buffalo Creek." He turned to face his wife. "Where have I gone wrong?"
"Oh, honey. This isn't your fault." She picked up his jacket. "Do you want me to fix you something to eat?"
"No. I'm too upset to think about food right now."
"Let me hang up your coat," Ellen said. Henry followed her to their bedroom, where she put his jacket on a hanger and smoothed out the wrinkles. Henry never stayed long at the churches he pastored. The usual end of his employment came when conservative church leaders opposed her husband's big plans. By now, the pattern was familiar. Henry would take on some small, half-dead church and double or triple the attendance within a year. With an overflowing sanctuary, he would begin to push for expansion or replacement of church facilities. The cost of Henry's recommendations would spark heated controversy, and soon theYoungbloods packed up and moved on.
"Did the deacons ask for your resignation?" Ellen asked.
"They didn't have to. I gave them notice on the spot."
She patted his shoulder. "Maybe you should pray about this."
"I have prayed," Henry said. "There won't be anything left of this neighborhood when that interstate highway cuts through here. God is leading us out to the suburbs, to Buffalo Creek. Where there's no vision, the people perish, Ellen."
"Did you ask how long we can stay in the parsonage?" She swept her eyes around the room. She would miss her latest home. It was their nicest house since Henry started preaching nine years and four churches ago. A spacious place with three big bedrooms didn't come along every day.
"We didn't talk about anything but the land," Henry replied. "I gave them three months to call a new pastor. If they find someone sooner, that's fine with me."
"Maybe this will all work out after everyone has a chance to cool off," Ellen said.
Henry drew his wife into an embrace and kissed her. "No. I've had it with these people. Tomorrow morning, we'll start packing and get ready to move. Somewhere."
"What do we tell the girls?" Ellen asked, turning her face to nestle a cheek against Henry's chest.
"There's nothing to tell until we figure out what I'm supposed to do next."
Ellen sighed. "We can't wait too long. People will ask questions Sunday, and the kids have to be prepared." The church would probably not offer to pay Henry any kind of bonus or severance, and he would be too stubborn to ask. Thankful she had a little money put aside, Ellen hugged her husband tightly. This is obviously not the right evening to break the news I'm pregnant. There's still time before I start to show.
Sixteen-year-old Pauline Youngblood whispered to her sister, "Did you hear what Daddy said?"
Staring at her language arts text book, Susan mumbled, "Maybe they'll take us out of school before the end of the year, like they did when we moved to Tennessee."
"Aren't you two through with your homework yet?" Henry asked as he walked through the dining room.
Pauline closed her math textbook. "I was just doing some equations for extra credit."
"Almost done," Susan added.
"Hurry up," Henry said. "It's almost bedtime. You know you're supposed to do your lessons as soon as you get home from school."
Pauline knew better than to remind her father that on Thursdays she and Susan had to put the church bulletin together before they began to study.
Ellen slipped out of bed and moved the alarm toggle to keep from interrupting Henry's sleep. After awakening her daughters, she began to cook breakfast. Ellen hoped the girls wouldn't have to give up the luxury of having a private bedroom in their next house. She tried to ignore the churning in her stomach brought on by the smell of frying bacon. "Where's Susan?" she asked when Pauline came into the kitchen.
Pauline turned around. "I'll check on her."
"Quietly. Daddy's still snoozing."
Pauline found her sister sound asleep. "Wake up, sleepyhead." She tugged on Susan's foot. "What are you doing back in bed?"
Susan moaned and turned away.
"Come on, Suzy Q, you'll miss the bus if you don't get a move on." Pauline shook her sister's shoulder.
Susan sat on the edge of the bed and groaned. "I hate getting up in the morning," she muttered.
"If you don't hurry, you won't have time to fix your hair," Pauline said.
Suddenly wide-eyed, Susan sprang from the bed and ran to the bathroom, pulling curlers from her hair as she went. Pauline grinned and smoothed the bedspread, making sure the rows of chenille dots were perfectly straight. While she was content to braid her platinum hair, Susan could fuss all morning with her blonde ponytail and a spit curl that absolutely had to rest in front of each ear.
Pauline sat at the dining table. She didn't understand how anyone could eat eggs or oatmeal first thing in the morning. Her breakfast was the same each day, a big glass of whole milk, along with crisp bacon between two slices of toast with jelly. She disliked jam because whole berries or clumps of fruit interfered with her sandwich's neatness. Taking care to spread her toast with a perfectly even coating of grape jelly, she asked, "Is Daddy leaving Calvary Church?"
Ellen stood still, not turning from the stove to face her daughter. "Yes." After a moment, she resumed scrambling eggs.
"Where are we going?"
"Your father hasn't decided yet." Ellen scraped the eggs onto a plate and wiped both hands on her apron. "What's Susan doing?"
"Fixing her hair. Will we have to move before school is out?"
After placing the plate of eggs on the table, Ellen brushed Pauline's bangs from her forehead. "We'll see. Why don't you gather up Susan's books for her as soon as you finish eating? I'll pack some breakfast she can have on the way to school."
Ellen gave each daughter thirty-five cents for lunch and stood at her front window to watch them walk to the bus stop. Dropping the curtain, she went to her bedroom and awakened her husband by kissing his forehead.
Henry roused slightly, and then jumped to his feet as if startled. "What time is it? Did I oversleep?"
"It's seven forty-five," Ellen replied. "But the only thing on today's schedule is getting ready to move, if you still want to."
Henry raked a hand through his sand-colored hair. "Oh, yes. I forgot. We have to go by the grocery store this morning and get boxes." He yawned and stretched, flexing his sculpted arm and chest muscles. He still did enough physical labor to maintain his carpenter's physique. "What's for breakfast?"
The couple lingered over coffee after enjoying their meal together. "I want to go ahead and get my personal belongings out of the church building now, before Sunday. Then you and I can take a drive out to Buffalo Creek," Henry said.
Ellen saw no reason for the Buffalo Creek detour, but she offered no argument. Unlike other pastors' wives she was acquainted with, she never felt a specific call to Christian service. Nevertheless, when her husband told her of his desire to enter the ministry, Ellen supported his decision without complaint. When Henry turned his thriving home-building business over to his partner, Ellen recognized the depth of her husband's spiritual commitment. She often wondered if his urge to expand church facilities was rooted partly in his lifelong love of construction.
As the Youngbloods began to transfer the contents of Henry's office to the back of their station wagon, Ellen selected a small, sturdy carton for Henry's collection of sermon outlines. She couldn't help laughing at his quizzical expression when he read the advertising on the side of the box. "Fresh Laid Eggs, huh? Good description." He ran a hand along the empty shelf of the oak bookcase he custom built to fill one wall of the small office. "May as well leave this," he said. "They'll never find another bookcase to fit such an odd-sized space. I guess their new pastor can have it."
While Henry walked through the church building to make sure he gathered all of his things, Ellen wiped down the office furniture. She wanted to be certain everything was in good order, not providing any excuse to criticize her husband. When the office was clean and swept, she went to the sanctuary. The sight of Henry kneeling at the altar, his face buried in his hands, brought tears to Ellen's eyes. He is not the easiest man to deal with, but there's no pastor on this earth who cares more for his flock.
After a few minutes, Henry came to stand by Ellen. "Well, this is it, I suppose." He looked around. "Only the Lord Himself knows how much I'll miss Calvary Church."
"We'll still be here for a little while," she reminded him.
Henry shook his head. "It won't be the same. We don't belong here anymore. I already feel it, and pretty soon everyone else will, too."
Ellen did her best to distract Henry with small talk during the twenty-minute drive to the suburb of Buffalo Creek. "There are a lot of new houses being built out here," she observed.
"Yes," Henry agreed. "Foundations are sprouting up as far as you can see. And not one church between here and Springville."
"I wonder where all the people are coming from," she said. "Isn't it interesting how they have laid out the roads? The blocks aren't square."
"That's how they're designing neighborhoods now, with curvy streets. No more right angle intersections. But notice how close together the houses are. I'd bet there's not more than thirty feet between some of them." Henry reduced his speed. "Look, there's going to be a new elementary school over there. Just a mile or so from the church."
There is no church, Ellen thought. Only a site where you once hoped to build one.
Henry stopped the station wagon at the curb and leaned on the steering wheel. "This is a beautiful piece of land," he said. "Let get out and walk around."
Though she saw no reason to do so, Ellen dutifully got out of the car and stepped onto the gently sloping field. To her right, houses in various stages of completion backed up to the property. In the other direction, a small creek angled from the street toward a new subdivision, defining a triangular expanse of trees and high grass. Henry took her arm, leading her along the perimeter of the tract.
"This is a branch of Buffalo Creek," he said as they reached a swiftly-moving brook about a yard wide and less than eight inches deep. Henry squatted and dropped a pebble into the water. "Best I can figure, this parcel of land was left over after they finished laying out the lots. Baxter Road was already here. There's not quite enough room to cut another street through this little field and still have space to build houses. Perfect size for a church, though." Henry stood and pointed left. "Education building over here." Swinging his arm to the right, he added, "Sanctuary closer in. Nice parking lot there."
Ellen smiled. "From your description, I can almost see it." She leaned her head against Henry's shoulder. "There will be a church here someday, if that's what the Lord wants. It just won't be the Calvary church."
"No, that bunch is going to stay put." Henry put his arm around Ellen, his eyes sweeping over the land. "You're right. If God is in this, it's unstoppable." He shook his head. "There are some good men at Calvary. I don't understand why they don't respond to the call I believe is so strong. Unless ..." He turned to look into her eyes. "It could be they're not involved, Ellen. Maybe you and I are supposed to build this church."
Pauline Youngblood loved Rutherford B. Hayes High School, where three thousand tenth through twelfth graders were bussed in from various outlying neighborhoods surrounding an old-money community. At school, she became Martha P. Youngblood, straightA student. When she melted into the pulsating mass of high schoolers, she felt a sense of belonging. No one knew what her father did for a living, that her family called her by her middle name of Pauline, nor that she'd never been on a date. Best of all, not one teacher ever lectured her about setting an example for other girls.
The apparent harmony of Calvary Church lulled Pauline into the complacent assumption she would remain at Hayes High School until her graduation. Now she knew she would be the new girl — somewhere — for her senior year. She sighed while spinning the combination lock to open her green metal locker.
At lunchtime in the school cafeteria, Pauline sat with her lab partner, Millicent. The girls were not fast friends, but did have a few things in common. Both wore glasses, always did their homework, and still had an appetite after dissecting a frog. "My parents' country club is having a cotillion," Millicent said. "Have you ever had to go to one?"
"No," Pauline replied, feeling suddenly warm with embarrassment.
"I go every year, but always before with a group of other girls." Millicent sighed and pushed at the vegetables on her plate. "What do they do to these green beans to make them taste so bad?"
"I think they boil them in bleach." Pauline speared a section of grayish-green bean, held it at eye level, and wrinkled her nose in disgust.
"My mother wants me to take her friend's son to the dance this year," Millicent said, shoving her plate aside and opening a Dixie cup of vanilla ice cream. "But I'm too embarrassed to ask a boy for a date. Mom's a little mad at me. I hope she doesn't make me do it."
"How can you stand to eat ice cream from that wooden paddle thing? It feels like sandpaper on your tongue." Pauline used her stainless steel spoon to take uniform bites of ice cream.
"So, would you do it?" Millicent asked.
"Do what?" Pauline asked, although she already understood the question.
"Call a boy on the telephone and ask him to go out with you?"
"I don't think so," Pauline answered. "I wouldn't know what to say, and I'd be afraid he wouldn't really want to go with me even if he said yes."
"That's what I'm worried about. He walks like a clodhopper, and I have a feeling he dances like one, too. You know what I mean?" Millicent ate another bite of ice cream.
"Sort of," Pauline answered. "Would you get a new dress?"
"I'd have to." Millicent licked her wooden spoon, sending a shudder through Pauline. "Unless my mom makes me wear the same one I got for the prom. Is your dress strapless?"
Pauline fixed her eyes on her ice cream and took a bite to delay answering. "I'm not going to the prom," she said at last, adding, "I don't have a date."
"I don't either." Millicent began to consolidate wrappings and dishes on her orange plastic tray. "My big brother is bringing me. He can pick you up, too, if you like."
"No, thank you."
"Come on, don't be a square. The prom will be fun." Millicent pushed back her chair and picked up her tray.
Excerpted from "Baxter Road Miracle"
Copyright © 2015 Carlene Havel.
Excerpted by permission of Prism Book Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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