When Emma returns home to Serenity following her sister's untimely death, she must confront Sam and the feelings she never fully dealt with after their broken engagement. A strange clause in her sister's will forces Emma to stay and work with Sam to restore her sister's old house. As they work side by side, the promise of love blooms again.
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Roses Will Bloom Again
By Lori Copeland
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2002 Lori Copeland
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE PHONE shrilled, piercing her sleep.
Emma stirred, vaguely aware now of a dog barking in the distance. She dragged the second pillow across her head to shut out the sounds. The phone jangled again and she groaned at the annoyance. Outside it was still dark. Tossing the pillow off her head, Emma reached out, walking her fingertips up the base of her bedside lamp. One eye opened to peer at the clock: 6:10 A.M. Who on earth?
She fumbled for the receiver. "Hello?" Her voice was a croak.
Emma didn't recognize the gruff voice on the other end of the line. She fell back onto the pillow, holding the phone to her ear.
"Miss Emma Mansi?"
"I'm sorry, ma'am."
The solemnity in the man's tone suddenly brought her wide awake. Something was wrong somewhere. Sitting upright, Emma ran one hand through a tangled mane of thick, auburn hair.
Work? Had something gone wrong at work? Had the heaters quit in the greenhouses? Seattle temperatures had been predicted to drop into the low twenties. The small bedding plants could have been hurt.
"This is the sheriff's office in Serenity, Colorado. I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this ..."
Serenity? She hadn't been to Serenity infifteen years.
"It's your sister, Miss Mansi."
"I'm sorry. There's no easy way to say this. She was found dead this morning."
The words struck Emma like needled ice pellets. Lully? Dead? That was impossible. Lully was only thirty-five years old. Thirty-five-year-old women didn't just die.
"We don't know, ma'am. Right now there doesn't appear to have been any foul play involved. An autopsy will be conducted later this morning."
"An autopsy." The words weren't making sense.
"You need to come to Serenity. As soon as possible."
"Today?" She couldn't think straight. Her bedroom took on a surreal atmosphere. The furniture, the white wicker-everything familiar blurred.
"Yes, Miss Mansi. Today, if possible."
"I-I don't know." There were so many arrangements to be made-
"Someone will need to identify and claim the body." The man's voice softened. "I'm sorry. This is always difficult."
Claim Lully's body? Yes, someone would have to do that. There was no one else but Emma. An image of a room filled with stainless-steel drawers and cream-colored walls flashed through her mind. Shadowy corridors. She'd seen morgues on television. The scenes had always given her the willies.
"I'm sorry," said the voice on the phone.
"I'll be there by evening-as soon as I can get a flight."
Emma's thoughts swirled after she hung up. She had to call Sue Rawlings, her employee at the greenhouse Emma owned. Most of the bedding plants would be okay. Nothing her caretaker Ed couldn't handle for a while. It was late fall, so most of the growing season was behind her. The poinsettias were set for the Christmas season. Emma covered her eyes as tears spilled over. Lully. Oh, Lully. Her beautiful sister. Dead? It wasn't possible.
Emma slid out of bed, wincing when her feet touched the icy hardwood. Flannel leggings bunched at her knees; a long-tailed white shirt caught at her legs as she stumbled across the floor, bumping into the wing chair that sat beside the bed. Lully. Lully. Dead.
The last person she loved. The last-gone. Too young. She was abandoned again. No, she'd heard a radio preacher sermonize just yesterday morning that death was never premature; it was always God's timing.
She hadn't talked to Lully in years, but she always knew her sister was there. She could reach out to her if she wanted. It seemed only yesterday that they had been children-laughing, playing, drinking tea from miniature china cups in the shaded tree house Dad had built behind Mother's perennial garden.
Faint light seeped beneath the bathroom shade. Emma's hand fumbled for the faucet. Water splashed onto the front of her shirt. She stared at the widening blotches with morbid fascination. She was only vaguely aware of tears running down her cheeks. Tears. She hated to cry. She couldn't remember the last time she'd cried. Wait, yes, she did. The last time was when Sam had abandoned her. She'd vowed then to never cry again, but now Lully was gone. Lully had abandoned her too.
Straightening, she dashed water on her face and then turned on the hot water full blast. No more crying, Emma Mansi. Never again. Understand? You are truly on your own now. You have to act like a big girl.
No more crying.
* * *
Emma's eyes were red when she arrived at the greenhouse. She was the first there, first to put on the coffeepot and turn up the heat in the small office.
Sue Rawlings would be the next to arrive. She was more than an employee; she was a friend whom Emma cherished. Sue was a fifty-year-old mother of two who seemed to be in perpetual motion. Medium height, a little plump, brown hair streaked with gray at the temples-stripes she said she'd earned honestly with two teenage boys.
When Emma, new diploma in hand, had been hired for a position at The Cottage Greenhouse & Gifts, Sue had welcomed her like an old friend. Later, Sue wanted more time for family and furthering her education, so she made Emma part owner, and eventually sold her the whole business. Sue liked to keep her hands in the nursery business so she worked two days a week.
Active in her church, Sue had invited Emma to services many times but was never upset when Emma had one reason or another for not going. God wasn't someone with whom Emma had a relationship. God hadn't answered her prayers when her mother died nor when Dad had disappeared. And he certainly hadn't brought Sam back to her. Obviously God didn't concern himself with Emma Mansi, so Emma hadn't concerned herself with him for the past fifteen years.
Emma unlocked the greenhouse and stepped into the familiar space that was more home than any place she'd ever been. The smell of damp earth and leaves greening teased her senses. She automatically checked the plants as she moved down the rows, snipping a brown leaf here and there. At the end of a row she dug her forefingers into earth and rubbed it between her fingers.
How she loved her work, the care and growing of beautiful plants. She enjoyed planning and executing the landscaping of a new home or commercial building, but it was the miracle of a flower or bush or tree grown from a sprig or cutting that she loved.
"Emma." Sue's voice came to her from the door leading into the gift shop. "You're even earlier than usual."
Emma turned, wishing she'd had more time to think about going to Serenity. Going home after fifteen years. How could she do it?
"I wanted to check on a few things." Emma wiped her hands on a cloth. "Sue?"
"I need to talk to you."
Sue's smile faded as Emma entered the gift shop. "What's wrong?"
"I need a few days off."
"This isn't a vacation, is it?" Sue asked, her look penetrating.
Setting a flowerpot aside, Sue smiled. "I'll pour the coffee. It sounds serious."
The combined greenhouse and gift shop was half of a converted World War II barracks-each room dedicated to a different type of gift or décor: clothing, cards and stationery, crystal and china, scents, creams and bath salts. The greenhouse added a nice touch with green plants and perennials in the spring. A variety of aromas permeated the shop as Emma and Sue walked to the tiny space that was Sue's office. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee met them. Emma suddenly remembered that she'd forgotten to eat breakfast.
Sue poured a mug of coffee for Emma and handed her a glazed donut. "Here. Sit and tell me what's going on."
Emma set the donut aside and wrapped cold fingers around the mug. She sipped gingerly, hoping the hot coffee would warm her inside. "I got a call this morning. My sister has died."
Sue's hand automatically reached out to cover Emma's. "Oh, Emma. I'm so sorry! What happened?"
"They don't know. The sheriff's office called." Emma sipped her coffee again. Whose voice had that been? Familiar-yet not. "She was found sitting in her porch swing."
"She lived in Colorado, right?"
"Yes. I haven't been home in a long time. We haven't been close-" Emma's voice caught at the thought of all the wasted years.
"I'm so sorry."
Guilt washed over Emma. She had resented Lully's interference in her life, her sister's part in destroying her dreams. But in spite of that, she'd always known there was at least someone who cared about her. Now death had claimed the last link to family.
"She was only thirty-five. Why would a woman of thirty-five just ... die?" Tears stung Emma's eyes. I'm not going to cry, she reminded herself.
"You need to go and find out," Sue said quietly. "Family is family. It doesn't matter that you haven't been close."
Emma choked back a sob. "Lully was all I had."
"Then you go." Sue waved a hand in the air. "Heaven knows I can run this place while you're gone. You've hardly taken a day in the eight years you've worked here. Take whatever time you need. We'll hold down the fort while you're gone."
"Yes," Emma conceded, "I need to do that." Though her sister's death was the last thing she wanted to confront.
"What can I do for you?" Sue gently helped Emma to her feet.
"There's nothing to do. I have a flight booked for noon."
"Are you packed?"
"No. I thought I'd do a few things here-"
"You are invaluable to us, but everything here can survive a little while without your attention. Ed can handle the greenhouse; I'll hire a temp to help me in the gift shop. You've taught Ed well, Emma. Trust him."
Trust didn't come easy for Emma. She could trust only herself. Experience had proven that.
"Go," Sue said. "Go pack, then come back here. I'll take you to the airport."
Emma knew Seattle fairly well, but in the fifteen years she'd lived here she hadn't taken a flight. "You don't need to-"
Sue set her mug aside with a thump. "Yes, I do. For me. I need to do something. Go." She took Emma's hands in hers. "Go do what needs to be done-for your sister and for yourself."
Emma went. Half of her wanted to go to Serenity to learn what had happened to Lully. But the other half wanted to stay in Seattle and pretend nothing had happened. Pretend that her life went on ...
On the way home she stopped at the halfway house that had become her pet project after Sue had almost twisted her arm to visit the women there. Over the years Sue had taught the women about caring for plants and home gardens. These were women who had run afoul of the law in some fashion and needed education on how to do a number of things that most women took for granted-how to dress and apply for a job, how to plan goals and work toward them. Part of that education included how to create a pleasant atmosphere in the home, which is where Sue had insisted Emma fit in.
While Emma had gone reluctantly at first, soon she became involved in spite of herself. One of the women she'd been drawn to was Janice Carter, a small, fair, blue-eyed, flaxen-haired woman who didn't have a clue about men.
Janice had been with a boyfriend who robbed a convenience store. She had waited in the car, unaware of what the man was doing, until the police stopped them. The prosecutor's office had charged her as an accomplice. Fortunately, her boyfriend had corroborated her story that she hadn't known what he was doing, and the judge believed her. Still, Janice was sentenced to two years probation, which were to be spent at the halfway house, and she was to make a concerted effort to turn her life around. Janice had agreed readily to the terms. She had, she'd told Emma, always chosen the wrong kind of man. Now thirty years old, she was ready to get her life in order.
Janice's story touched Emma. A friendship had sprung up between them, and now Emma visited Janice every week. She needed to let Janice know she was going to be gone for a few days.
"It must be awful, losing your sister like that. I don't have any brothers or sisters. Wish I did." Janice took Emma's hand between hers.
Emma smiled. If only she had been as close to Lully as she was to Janice. "I'm okay. I'll be back in a few days."
Emma hated leaving when Janice was making progress in gaining self-confidence. She looked and acted like an entirely different woman than when Emma had first met her. She'd taken all the classes Sue had given on makeup, how to dress, how to eat in a restaurant-things Emma had to teach herself. Perhaps that's why she was drawn to Janice; Emma had had to learn how to make her way through life on her own, just as Janice was now attempting to do.
Emma had read aloud-at Sue's insistence-the list of Scriptures Sue had given Janice, trying to make sense of the words. But all that stuff about God's love didn't register with Emma. The meaning of the divine messages seemed more relevant to the women at the shelter than to her.
In a few months Janice would be able to leave the halfway house and begin life anew. Emma hoped she could get her life on the right track and not fall for the wrong man again.
* * *
It didn't take long to pack enough personal items for three or four days. Emma was back at The Cottage in plenty of time to head for the airport and check in for the noon flight.
"You don't have to do this," Emma repeated as Sue hurried her to the company van.
"Thought we'd settled that."
Emma stared out the window as Sue maneuvered the van over the freeway to Sea-Tac. Traffic was heavy this time of day.
"You haven't seen your sister in a long time?"
"Not for fifteen years." Emma was grateful that Sue had never pried into her background. She was reluctant to talk about Lully, or Serenity, or why she'd never intended to go back there. "I never thought about Lully dying."
"No one likes to think about death. But we should. Not as a thing to be feared but as the beginning of an eternity, if we have a relationship with God. Was your sister a Christian?"
Emma thought back to those days right after their father had disappeared, leaving only a note on the kitchen table and twenty-five hundred dollars in a bank account in Lully's and Emma's names.
Though at the time the two girls were scared, fifteen-year-old Lully had been sure God would take care of them. Lully's concept of God came from Mother, who had taught them some Scriptures. Lully didn't seem to have a clear idea of who God was, but she'd clung to the idea that he cared about them. Emma hadn't been so certain God even knew who they were.
Excerpted from Roses Will Bloom Again by Lori Copeland Copyright © 2002 by Lori Copeland
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.