It was the happiest day of her life…
Until Heather Waters was cruelly jilted at the altar. Yet now that very church is a beacon of hope for the tornado-ravaged town. With her charity mission, Heather finally comes home to High Plains and faces the man she believes betrayed her trust that day: Reverend Michael Garrison. As they work together to restore the town's faith, Heather's own heart remains in tatters. Until Michael, along with his precocious niece, helps her realize she's truly found Minister Right.
About the Author
Award winning author, Annie Jones, has always been a romantic who used to read Bride magazine when all her friends were stuck on Tiger Beat. From the moment she finished reading her first romance novel she knew that she wanted to write stories like that. She has been doing so for 15 years now and each new couple she creates still renews her faith in happily ever after.
Read an Excerpt
Dust. The Holy Bible tells us God created human life out of dust and that in time we would all return to it.
Almost a full month after the tornado had ripped through his town, Michael Garrison felt as if everything he owned, wore or ate was still covered with the stuff. Whole neighborhoods now seemed like little more than dump heaps and sandlots. In so many places the storm had stripped away not only grass and trees but also much of the topsoil. Some of the old-timers likened it to a small-scale dust bowl.
His scuffed and battered tennis shoes kicked particles from the church's maroon-colored carpet even as he pushed the vacuum cleaner back and forth. The aging machine whirred loudly, practically wheezing and gasping for breath.
"Hang in there just a little longer, baby. We can't afford a new broom right now, much less a vacuum." He dragged it back across a spot he'd gone over and over and over before. "If you stay with me until we've got some sense of normalcy around here again "
The engine sputtered.
"Yeah, you're probably right." He kicked the off switch at the base of the old-fashioned upright to turn the thing off. "Normalcy may be asking for way too much these days."
"You're talking to the vacuum cleaner now?" His niece, dressed in a lavender shirt and overalls, her light brown hair in braids, poked her head in the door. At just five foot one and wearing the deceptively sweet and modest outfit that she had complained about all morning, she looked even younger than her fourteen years.
Michael squeezed his eyes shut and raised his head to call back to her, "Talking to inanimate objects gives me practice for talking to people who never listen. Like my niece, whom I asked to go to the store to get us sodas about three minutes ago."
"I'm going, I'm going, all right? I just"
"Whatever they have will be fine." He cut her off before she could launch into another list of excuses why she shouldn't have to go out in the heat. "Or if you want to stay here, you can vacuum and I'll go get us something cold to drink."
"Vacuum? With that antique?" She crinkled up her nose. "My mom never makes me do that stuff. I don't even know how. Besides, I think that thing is actually making the carpet dirtier."
"Don't you listen to her, old girl." He patted the bulging cloth bag on the old upright and was rewarded with a cloud of ultrafine powdery dust.
He liked hearing her laugh. She'd had a hard year and didn't laugh nearly as much as he thought a kid her age should. So he played up the scene for her enjoyment, waving his hands, pretending to stagger around unable to see, coughing.
More girlish laughter.
Spinning around, he grinned to himself. Sunlight streamed in around him. The play of shadows and light against one another made a spotlight in which specks and dots sparkled.
"I'll be back when the dust settles." The message Heather Waters had sent echoed in his thoughts again, as it had many times in the last four weeks.
He watched the residue drip and drift and glitter in the sunbeam for a moment. He gritted his teeth to stave off the pangs of unresolved emotions twisting in his gut. If Heather held true to her word, he might never see her again.
Hadn't he resigned himself to that fate ten years ago? He had kept his thoughts and feelings to himself, wanting only her happiness, when the only girl he had ever really loved wanted to marry John Parker. And then when that girl had fled from this church, hurt and humiliated by John leaving her at the altar, he had let her go because it was best for her and, in the long run, for him.
Now he had to do that again. He had too much work to do, too many people counting on him to allow himself the luxury of being distracted by something that could never be.
"Okay, how about I go for sodas and you do something else to pitch in around here?" He wasn't letting the girl slip free of taking some responsibility for basic chores.
"I said I'd get the sodas." She gave a huff.
Michael tugged free the hem of the well-worn multicolored T-shirt he had pulled from the pile of donated clothes. He'd tried to make sure Avery had clean laundry, but neglected to do the same for himself. He wiped his brow, then took a moment to look over the sanctuary.
It was a simple design. High, wooden ceilings with sturdy support beams arching upward. The style, he'd always been told, was meant to mimic the inside of a boat to remind them always that they were to be fishers of men.
He studied the long, tall, stained-glass windows, glowing in shades of red, blue, yellow and purple. Years ago their insurance company had required them to be encased in protective safety glass. That and the sturdy boat-bottom design had protected the sanctuary from all but cosmetic damage.
But not from dust and dirt and even trash that still blew through the streets and gathered like fallen leaves in corners and along curbs all over town.
"And I will get the sodas, if you want me to or whatever, but " Avery launched into yet another excuse for her not having done as she was asked.
"No." Michael sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. "I'll go. Why don't you"
"Why don't you tell me why you didn't go when I asked, Avery?" She spoke in a low voice, a booming imitation of him with one thumb hooked in the strap of her overalls.
In the next moment, she turned her shoulders, folded her hands in front of her and spoke in a soft, sweet voice. "I'm trying, Uncle Michael. Why won't you listen to me?"
Back to the imitation of him, she blustered, "That's because I'm a big grump like I've been all week, Avery. In fact, I'm so grumpy lately I've had to resort to talking to my cleaning supplies."
"Says the girl talking to herself," Michael muttered, even as he chuckled softly and began rolling the cord of the vacuum. "Guess we're all on edge a little lately. Kind of in a transition period, not really sure what to do or what will happen next."
"Well, maybe the person who's looking around out here can help with that." Avery pushed the door open and stood back.
"Heather?" Michael took a step forward.
"Wow. You do have dust in your eyes if you think " Avery looked at him slyly. "Hey, that's who you wish it was, isn't it?"
"No, no. She wouldn't I don't have any reason to " He looked up at the altar and sighed. "Yes. Yes, I've sort of been keeping an eye out for her to come back."
Avery rolled her eyes the way young girls do at someone old, in this case twenty-eight years old, like Michael. She clearly thought him totally inept when it came to relationships with members of the opposite sex. "Well, until she does"
"Yeah, I know." Michael put his hand up to forestall some cutting remark from the girl. His sister, Avery's mom, had struggled with the girl always having a flip answer for everything. Michael hoped to defuse that a bit by taking the fun and shock value out of her smart comebacks by beating her to the punch line. "Until Heather comes back I can always talk to my vacuum cleaner."
"I was going to say you should talk to this guy who's been hanging around the lobby the last few minutes."
"Oh. Uh a guy, huh?" Michael cleared his throat. He really wished he had that cold drink right now. "Who is he? What does he want?"
"Reverend Garrison?" A man who looked like he saw the world through numbers on the other side of thick but new glasses, barged in past Avery.
Michael came down the aisle and shook his hand. "Michael Garrison."
"Paisley," he said.
Michael glanced down at his grubby shirt and jeans. "Tie-dyed, actually."
"No, my name is Paisley. I'm here for the the " He reared back as if to give out with a great, whooshing sneeze.
Michael stepped back.
Nothing happened. The man cleared his throat and finished. "Temp job."
"Temp?" Michael shook his head. "I don't know who gave the idea that we're hiring, even on a temp basis, but"
"No, no. I'm an intake worker for a social service agency in Manhattan, and they are loaning me out for a few days. I was supposed to meet someone with a private organization looking for a place to set up a base of operations."
"Not anyone from our church," Michael assured him.
"Is it a lady someone?" Avery came into the sanctuary, took a seat in the last row, leaned both elbows on the pew in front of her and rested her chin in her hands.
"Yes, actually it is." He squinted at Avery as if sizing her up. "I got to town early so I've been going around to places I thought she might go. It's a Christian charity so I thought, you know, churches." He sort of wrinkled his nose as he said it.
Michael didn't know if the man was showing contempt or felt another sneeze coming on.
"Ask him," Avery mouthed as she pointed to the man heading for the door.
Michael shook his head. Avery was trying to make more out of this than it merited. Besides, Michael didn't want to know if Heather was in town or not. It didn't matter either way. He had his work to do and she had hers.
Mr. Paisley reached the door, paused and looked up.
This time to emphasize the urgency of her silent demand, Avery stood and gestured with both hands. Michael replied with his own emphatic gesture, slashing his hand across his throat to tell her to cut it out. He shook his head again.
The door creaked open.
"Heather Waters," Avery shouted just as the man crossed the threshold into the lobby.
"What?" He caught the door before it could swing shut and stared at the teen.
In a frantic, full-body gesture, Michael swung his arms out, brought them in across his body, then out again as though trying to signal an oncoming train to hit the brakes.
"The, um, someone you're looking for?" Avery glanced Michael's way, rolled her eyes and totally ignored his wishes. "Is her name Heather Waters?"
"Yes. Yes, it is. Do either of you have any idea how I can find her here in town?"
Heather. In town.
Michael dropped his hands to his sides. "No. I have no idea where she is. I doubt she'd seek me out."
"But he wants her to!" Avery called out even as the man nodded and went back out the door.
"Avery, that's enough," Michael snapped.
"What's the big deal? You're single. My mom always says, 'Michael's a minister, he's not a monk.' She says she wishes you'd find a nice girl but you're too hung up on some girl who " The girl's jaw dropped. She jumped up from the pew so fast she knocked a hymnal from the rack. "No way!"
"I said that's enough." He had dealt with far too much chaos these last few weeks. He did not need any more of it in his life, especially from an already-hard-to-handle teenager with a gleam in her eye and an impossible matchmaking scheme churning in her mind.
"But but she's the girl, isn't she?" Avery pointed to the door. "You should go. She's in town somewhere! You should go and find her and tell her"
"She doesn't want to hear anything from me." Though Michael wasn't sure why Heather felt the way she did, she had made herself perfectly clear. Michael had never wanted anything for Heather but her happiness.
If talking to him, or even just seeing him brought back old feelings that caused her pain, then Michael would do everything in his power to honor her wishes and make himself scarce around her.
"But if she needs a building as a base, maybe she could work out of the church. Then the two of you could"
"There is no two of us. Don't you get that, Avery?" He raised his voice to his niece in the house of the Lord. If just talking about Heather Waters did this to him, he was better off avoiding her anyway.
He clenched his jaw, then eased his breath out slowly. "I'm sorry. I You were right when you said I've been really grumpy lately."
"No problem," she said quietly.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really love this series, I'm so glad it's continuing. The first book took us through a town and lives ravaged by nature and a journey to build back up. This time around it continues w/that theme, but it's not as dramatic. The storm is over. However it was very romantic, new life and old love rekindled. I thought the 'courtship' and friendship btwn the two main characters was very sweet and heartwarming, and the minister was a very good one. It was inspiring as well as romantic. Also really enjoyed the supporting characters. I can't wait for the next one.