Ten years later, a phone call from father offers hope when he announces he may have a clue to the unsolved crime that forced her to run. She's scared, but encouraged. Maybe this will clear her name from slander in her small North Carolina hometown.
Before Lynette returns tragedy strikes. A fire destroys her childhood home and kills her father. While she sorts through the ruins and hopes to find the clue, Lynette meets the new pastor, Price Fletcher. She must face the two things that scare her most. The past and a man of God.
The past wants to stay buried. Will Lynette stay alive long enough to prove her innocence and accept the love that is offered?
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.48(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Sparks of Love
By Mary L. Ball, Susan M. Baganz
Prism Book GroupCopyright © 2016 Mary L. Ball
All rights reserved.
Lynette Cunningham tossed her severance packet on the table and kicked off her sandals. She rubbed her neck to knead the tension. The choices before her would wait. She was sad to be unemployed but excited at the same time. This was her chance to change careers.
Her cell phone chimed. She glanced at the number. "Hi, Dad."
"How did your last day go?" Her father's gravelly voice come across the airwaves.
"As planned. All of us employees received our final compensation from Express Sky. The airline closing has me thinking. I may settle in one place for a while."
"Honey, often things happen for a reason. The last time I came to see you, I noticed you seemed ready to make a change. Until you decide what to do, why not visit your ol' dad?"
"I don't know." Her words churned as slow as butter.
"Please, come back home. At least for a time. The town has changed since you went away."
Lynette's mind drifted to Freedom, North Carolina and the memories of disgust on the faces of the townsfolk when she walked out of the police station a free woman.
"Nothing's changed, Dad. There's always going to be talk about that bank robbery."
"Some folks enjoy the gossip, but you can't let narrow-minded people rule you. You're so much like your mother. She held on to a hurt for a long time, too, but I'm certain if Mom were alive, she'd tell you to give them another chance. You need to stop running from the past." Her father cleared his throat. "I've found something which may end all the suspicion."
Lynette gasped. His words danced around her ears like a buzzing fly.
"What? You discovered evidence to finally prove someone else is responsible?"
"I think so. I wanted to wait until you come back to take it to the sheriff. I realize it's always been important for you to clear your name from the scandal. Thanks to the Lord's guidance, this is a chance to help them arrest the real thief. Ten years is a long time for this to go unsolved."
Her chest rose with a deep breath. "I doubt the Lord has anything to do with it. If God cared, He would've helped me years ago. I'm on my own, except for you," she huffed.
"Darling, your negative talk bothers me. Sometimes, we must accept things and move on."
"Dad, what did you find?"
"I think someone's at the door. I'll call you back later and explain everything."
Before Lynette responded, silence met her ear. She laid the phone on the table and sat down, her mind on Freedom, North Carolina. As she debated her choices, Lynette drummed her fingers on the glass tabletop. The idea of dredging up the past unnerved her, but proving who was responsible for a crime she was accused of was appealing.
* * *
Max Cunningham smiled at the notion of his daughter returning home. He hung the telephone in its cradle and crossed from the living room toward the front of the house, listening to familiar sounds of creaking boards from his porch. He peered out the window but didn't see anything. He looked back at the binder he'd found earlier. Sitting on top was a photo of his only daughter taken the year she was accused of being a thief. Nothing to show she was innocent of that bank heist until now. "Lord, bring her home and back into the fold. No matter what happens, help Lynette find peace."
* * *
Lynette glanced at the hands on the clock as they ticked by. She went to the kitchen and washed her dirty glass and bowl from earlier. As she busied herself, she waited, anxious to know what her dad found to vindicate her name.
Late evening turned to night. She flipped off the living room light, picked up her cell, and strolled to the bedroom, recalling Dad usually stayed up to catch the news. Lynette tapped the icon on her screen to dial his number. Seconds passed while she listened. She counted one, two, three rings. After ten, she glared at her phone and sighed. No choice but to wait for him to call me back.
She lay on the bed and stared into the dark, contemplating the things her dad said. What kind of information had he found? Lynette lifted her head from the pillow and punched the padding. She flopped back down and pulled the sheet around her neck. She was wiser now, but that unsolved case back home still bothered her. People had gone through worse situations in their lives and many worse than her, but she hadn't been able to shake the misfortune of her youth.
* * *
Early the next morning, the telephone buzzed, waking Lynette. She glanced at the pink and purple case covering her cell and rubbed her eyes. Her dad was an early riser so she answered, anticipating his welcoming voice.
"Sheriff Eric Hardy from Freedom, North Carolina, speaking. May I talk with Ms. Lynette Cunningham?"
"This is she." Lynette stifled a yawn.
"Ms. Cunningham, I dislike contacting you this way, but it's about your father. His house caught fire last night."
She gasped. "Oh no. Is Dad okay?" Her heart fluttered as she rushed to stand.
"You'll need to come to Freedom as soon as possible. I'm very sorry, but Mr. Cunningham is dead."
"No!" Her voice cracked as she tightened the grip on the phone and pressed it close to her ear.
"Ms. Cunningham, I understand this is hard, but please try to stay calm. Is there someone you'd like me to call for you?"
"Just tell me what happened, please."
"A neighbor spotted the fire and called it in. One of the firefighters rescued your father from the flames, but he'd inhaled a lot of smoke. The house is gone but the blaze was contained before it spread across the yard to the detached garage. Ma'am, when you get in town, come by my office. We need to discuss some other things."
Lynette swallowed a lump in her throat. "Yes, I'll leave right away."
She ended the call. Her body quivered from her pain. But, she blew her nose, grabbed a suitcase along with a duffle bag, and threw articles of clothing inside the bigger piece of luggage. She selected a skirt and an outfit appropriate for a funeral, adding it to the everyday wear. Through the tears, she gathered cosmetics, jeans, and other personal items. Her hands trembled as she zipped the bag. Two tries later, she was finally able to secure it.
* * *
Lynette locked the front door and laid the dress and luggage in the back seat of her car. In her attempt to start the engine, she dropped the keys on the floor and fumbled to pick them up. When the engine purred to life, she inhaled a breath to steady herself for the eight-hour drive.
The hours of road travel from Tennessee to North Carolina ticked by. She rubbed her forehead to knead away a headache from skipping breakfast and lunch.
Miles passed while Lynette replayed times with her dad. How long had it been since she'd thought about those singing practices with him? Memories of the hymns they performed played in her mind, along with a few songs she'd sang with background music, all a lifetime ago.
A fast-food restaurant came into view. Lynette slowed and turned into the drive-thru, ordered a burger, and parked. In the lot of the Burger Shack, she bit into her sandwich. The conversation with the sheriff earlier made the cheeseburger taste sour. Dad. God, why? She slapped the steering wheel and wondered why she would even ask Him. She was alone, even more so now that her only kin was gone.
Lynette wiped a tear, stuck the half-eaten sandwich back in the bag, and tossed it on the passenger seat.
Three hours later, she turned onto the exit to her hometown and drove straight to the police station on Swannanoa Street. She parked close to the end of the little brick building, glanced at the picture window beside the entrance, and shivered. With every step toward the door, her body stiffened.
A man inside, dressed in a freshly pressed uniform, stood behind the desk. One quick glance at the name-tag on his pocket told her he was the sheriff.
"I'm Lynette Cunningham."
"Ms. Cunningham, I'm Eric Hardy." Sheriff Hardy reached out to greet her. "Thank you for coming so quickly. I'm very sorry for your loss. Please, have a seat."
"Sheriff, what caused the fire?" She slumped in a nearby chair, noticing a framed photo of him at a younger age receiving an award.
"It appears it was arson. We found parts of a combustible device. I promise to do my best to find out what happened."
"Can I stay in the rooms over the garage?" Lynette's voice wavered. "Assuming the smoke didn't cause damage there."
"Under most circumstances, that wouldn't be a good idea, but this is a small town. There aren't any motels here, and the only bed and breakfast is closed for remodeling. Since the house was a good distance from the garage apartment and it appears to be safe, I'll allow it. However, I must request a distance be kept from the debris until the fire department finishes the investigation and clears the scene."
"I will. Thank you."
He gave her a piece of paper with an address on it. "I'm sure you remember Freedom only has one funeral home, so Locke called earlier. I hope you don't mind, but I told them you'd stop by. Someone is waiting to speak with you about the arrangements."
Lynette thanked him and made her way to the car. Through tears, she glanced around at the yellow bell bushes which lined the front of the station and backed out, heading toward the funeral home.
The parlor designated for family seemed overpowered by the huge potted palm in the corner. Pastel gray walls and inspirational quotes meant to soothe decorated the room. Her throat stung as she swallowed. She stepped a couple feet to the water fountain and sipped from the tap. The director approached.
"Ms. Cunningham, I'm Jay Locke. Let me fill you in on the arrangements of the preplanned package Mr. Cunningham had. Your father's visitation will be here, but he made a change in the location for his memorial a few years back."
"I remember him mentioning he wanted to hold the service at Rock Street Church."
"Yes, ma'am. It's all here." He handed her a copy of the details. "You'll need to approve the casket flowers and the times."
One second Lynette was numb, the next, she wanted to crumble like a heap on the floor and bawl. After going over several details with the director, she ambled down the short hallway to the front parlor.
"Excuse me, are you Lynette Cunningham?"
A voice startled her. She jerked back. Lynette glanced up at a tall man wearing a tailored black suit. As he approached, her gaze locked on eyes the color of glossy pecans. Somehow, they comforted her. She drew a slow breath when he walked closer.
"I'm Pastor Price Fletcher from Rock Street Worship Center." He extended his hand.
Lynette accepted his greeting, remembering her father praising the leader of the church. "Pastor Fletcher. My father thought highly of you."
Wrinkles around his eyes appeared as sadness crossed his face. "Max was a special person and will be missed." He motioned toward a couple of seats beside the doorway. "Mind if we sit? I stopped in to speak with the director on behalf of someone else from the church and I realized you might want to talk about your father's service, unless you've made other plans."
Her eyes went to the man's praying hands tie clip. "No. Dad would expect you to do the memorial."
He nodded. "I'm honored. For the few years I've been pastor at the church, Max has been a helpful member. Anything in particular you would like to include?"
Lynette leaned back against the chair and considered his question. "If someone sung 'Abide in Me,' I'd appreciate it. It was Dad's favorite hymn."
At the end of their conversation she stood, shook the pastor's hand again, and walked outside. A heavy breeze blew across her cheeks and she swiped the hair from her face, got inside her car, and bawled.
* * *
Lynette traveled through Main Street onto Old Mill Road. A couple miles later, she passed the ruins of her family home and continued to the lower driveway where the garage still stood.
The evening light made it difficult to survey the extent of the devastation, but in the shadows, she could make out some of the destruction. Lynette left her suitcase in the trunk and picked up her overnight bag and dress. The smoky stench filled her nostrils. She clutched the bag, exhaled through trembling breaths, and turned her face away. Mounting the steps to the apartment came slow, as if a heavy weight rested on her shoulders. She reached in her purse and unzipped the pocket to get the ballerina key-chain Dad gave her years before.
Inside the space, Lynette turned on the lights and examined the room. The area was a mess. Items she remembered from long ago together with some new contents were scattered everywhere. Boxes lay in disarray. Lynette eyed the living room, kitchenette, and short hall which still held a stacked washer and dryer combination. She looked past the utility space, remembering the two doors at the end of the tiny suite. One led to a small bath, and the other a bedroom. She made her way to the shoe-box size sleeping quarters and hung her dress in the closet beside the entryway. A twin bed and a nightstand still stood in the room, just as it had years ago. She put her bag down before going back into the main living area.
Lynette removed a box off the sofa, laid it on the floor, and pushed the window beside the worn furniture partway open. Taking a seat, she leaned against the cushion and tried to get used to the idea of being back at her home and in the small rural town. She longed to hear her dad's voice and the details about the evidence he'd found. That's a lost cause now. Dad, only you knew what it was.CHAPTER 2
Rock Street Worship Center in Freedom had been the Cunningham family's church for as long as she could remember. Lynette glanced around and recalled the last time she'd walked through the foyer. The décor had undergone many changes, making the years away evident. Padded pews now lined the main worship area in place of the dark wooden seats. The old green carpet she remembered was gone.
Pastor Fletcher's homage to her father filled the room. "We all loved Max Cunningham, and the loss of someone as kind and considerate as he was will leave a void in our hearts. However, I believe Max would tell each of you, he's with our Savior and it's a wonderful place to be."
Lynette sat straight and still. The words echoed in her ears and slid past silent tears. She glanced down at her black dress and wondered, if she'd returned home sooner, if things would be different. It wasn't fair to expect him to always visit Tennessee. She was selfish. Too late now. Nothing could change the past. As regrets stampeded her mind, Lynette rubbed her arms and locked eyes on the preacher, trying to concentrate on the memorial.
"He enjoyed growing things. Max said he didn't have a green thumb. Still, he was constantly planting something in the hope it would flourish." The minister glanced around. "Since I've been acquainted with Max Cunningham, he's always been a faithful servant and enjoyed God's word. One verse I remember which seemed to offer him comfort was from the book of John 14:27. It says, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
The song, the eulogy, all the faces who offered sympathy, muddled together. In spite of Lynette's attempt to stay strong, grief engulfed her as the life-celebration ended.
After the service, she spoke to several people who approached her. A few reached out and took her hand, offering condolences. Some faces were new, but most she remembered from younger years. When she couldn't stand it anymore, Lynette stepped outside and started to cross the yard to her car where the minister caught up with her.
"Ms. Cunningham, please wait. I almost missed speaking to you again. I want to offer condolences for your loss once more."
"Thank you, Pastor Fletcher." She glanced around. "Dad thought a lot of the people here at church."
"Please, call me Price." His friendly tone offered encouragement.
"If I can help you in any way, I'll be glad to. There's a nice widow lady who will rent you a room while you're here." He reached into his front pocket.
"That's not necessary. I'm staying in the apartment over my father's garage while I oversee the clearing of the land and attend to personal things."
Price handed her a business card. "If you need assistance, don't hesitate to call. I hope you'll join us for refreshments. The ladies wanted to do something for you in your father's memory."
Lynette accepted the phone number. "Thank you."
"Excuse me. Would you help carry some snacks?" a woman asked.
The pastor nodded at a lady who opened her door to retrieve a box. "Certainly. Lynette, I'm sure we'll talk again soon." He walked away to take a bag from the church member.
"Yoo-hoo." The sound drew Lynette's attention to a woman much shorter than her, waving in the air as she closed the gap between them.
"I'm glad I caught you before you left. You may not remember me. I'm Polly."
Excerpted from Sparks of Love by Mary L. Ball, Susan M. Baganz. Copyright © 2016 Mary L. Ball. Excerpted by permission of Prism Book Group.
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