Authors: Kim O'Brien
utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the permission of Truly Yours, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., PO Box 719, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683.
Our mission is to publish and distribute inspirational products offering exceptional value and biblical encouragement to the masses.
All scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.
PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.
“You don't have to be perfect for God to love you perfectly.” Pastor Bruce Burke raised his arms as if in confirmation from above. Hundreds of eyes followed his gaze to settle on the basketball scoreboard above his head. Although Good Faith Community was one of the largest churches in Destiny, Texas, it was also one without its own building. Sunday services were held in the gymnasium of the local high school.
“If you will take out the yellow insert in your bulletin,” the pastor continued, “I'd like you to jot down your deepest regrets. We're going to ask God to take away our regrets.”
Laney Varner reached inside the parrot-green straw bag at her feet. She smiled at Cinderella's likeness on the pen then clicked the spring and listened with astonishment as strains of “Someday My Prince Will Come” played softly but audibly in the silent gym.
Heads swiveled to see who was playing the music. Under the weight of their stares, Laney squirmed and wished her folding chair would swallow her. Pen in hand, she prayed the music would stop. Not only did it continue, but it also seemed to grow louder. She had to do something. With as much poise as she could muster, she sat on the pen.
She folded her hands in her lap and tried to pretend she didn't hear the muted notes rising beneath her. Her seven-year-old niece must have slipped the pen inside her purse the last time she'd babysat her.
Next to her, Rock, her fiancÃ©, solemnly handed her a pen and shook his head sadly. His nostrils flared, and his dark green eyes rolled as he let out a long-suffering sigh.
Blushing, Laney half-smiled in apology and concentrated fiercely on the pen in her hands. For a moment the sparkle of her diamond caught her eye. She frowned at it, never quite used to seeing it on her finger.
She recalled how, in the space between Rock's proposal and her sudden intake of breath, the ring had been planted firmly on her finger. If his proposal lacked sentimentality, Laney attributed it to Rock's job. As a district attorney, Rock was happier dealing with facts than feelings and more comfortable arguing for jail sentences than holy matrimony.
Laney's hair fell forward across her face, hiding the color she was sure must be blazing in her cheeks. Throwing herself into the assignment, she wrote quickly. The words came easily, embarrassingly easy, Laney thought as she covered the page without pausing.
Pastor Bruce pointed to a group of men who held large trash cans. “Okay, folks,” he said. “Now we're going to get rid of all that garbage we've been carrying around.”
When the usher came to her aisle, Laney reached to
throw out her paper. At the same time, Rock discarded
his. Laney's paper bounced off the rim and fell on the floor as her hand bumped into Rock's. The usher stepped forward, accidentally kicking Laney's paper through the folding chair and two aisles away.
Rock's hand on her shoulder held Laney in her seat as she rose to retrieve her note. “Don't move off that pen,” he said in a low growl.
Frozen in place, Laney mentally cringed at the thought of someone reading her private thoughts and laughing at her mistakes. She twisted in the chair, accidentally clicking the pen. The music started up again, and Laney hunched deeper into the seat with a sigh. Finally the service ended. Rock pulled her arm. “Let's get coffee.”
Laney nodded, smiling to herself because it wasn't the coffee Rock wanted. He liked to stand by the gourmet coffee table and compliment women. Demographic research had shown that winning the female vote was the key to election in Sutton County. Rock had political ambitions. “You go ahead,” Laney said. “I'll be a few minutes behind you.”
As soon as the church cleared a bit, Laney planned to spend the next few minutes on her knees, and it wouldn't be in prayer. She'd be looking for her note, a plan she knew Rock would thwart if he learned of it.
Laney waited until the church had nearly emptied then began looking for her assignment. Two rows behind her
she spotted a crumpled piece of yellow paper half-hid
den in a discarded service program. With a sigh of relief, Laney stuck the paper into her purse.
She didn't give the piece of paper another thought until later that evening when she decided to remove the Cinderella pen from her purse. Her fingers found the assignment she'd completed in church earlier that morning. Intending to review her past mistakes and pray for the chance to do better in the future, she was astonished to see unfamiliar writing on the page. Somehow she'd retrieved the wrong note!
As Laney read the words on the page, tears streamed
down her face. By the time she slipped into bed that
night, she had memorized the letter.
She knelt beside her bed, eyes closed, knowing the writer of the note needed help but unsure of what to do.
Lord, we both know my track record isn't very good, but please use me to help this person.
The tick of her alarm clock filled her ears, emphasizing the otherwise silent apartment. Somewhere else, someone was alone and hurting. Perhaps he or she, too, sat listening to an empty house. There had to be a way to help. When Laney opened her eyes, she saw a newspaper lying on her night table, and an idea formed.
A slender young woman walked over, breaking his concentration and stealing his solitude. “Hello,” she said, planting herself right in front of his view of the lake.
Detective Ty H. Steele raised his eyebrows. The last place he'd expected to see anybody was in the middle of a hundred acres of undeveloped land. “I must say, I wasn't expecting you,” she continued.
Ty fought the urge to look over his shoulder and see if she was addressing someone else. “What do you mean, me?” He frowned at the freckles across her nose and large blue eyes that stared at him intently. He'd come to the pond on Good Faith's land to be alone. He wasn't in the mood for company, much less for putting on the good face that being a candidate for sheriff required.
“I mean, it's good to see you,” the woman replied. She drew her hand through her hair. “I'm here to help you.”
Pretty but nutty,
Ty thought. “Help me?” He shook his head and held up the McDonald's bag. “I haven't needed help eating a burger since I was a year old.”
“Not with that,” the woman insisted. Her eyes opened wide in exaggerated patience. “You're here, after all.”
This she said as if it made perfect logic. He shifted his weight uneasily. “What are you talking about?”
Her straight, golden brown eyebrows lifted. “I'm talking about the classified in the
. I addressed it to the person who left his or her assignment in church last week. I found it.”
Ty slapped a mosquito and felt the blood smear on his neck. “Assignment in church? What are you talking about?”
“Oh.” Her eyes filled with sympathy. “You're embarrassed. Don't worry. I would never tell anyone what I read.”
He put his hands on his hips. “I didn't write any note, and I didn't come here to get saved by you.”
She chuckled. “If you didn't come because of the note, why are you here?”
“Because I wanted a spot to eat my Quarter Pounder.”
“Well, don't you think it's a pretty big coincidence that you show up at the right spot and the right time?”
His stomach rumbled loudly. “LookâI could stay here all day and argue with you, but I'd rather eat my lunch.”
“We don't have to argue,” the woman agreed. “We can talk while you eat.”
The only way to deal with her was to get rid of her. “We can talk on the way to your car.”
“Okay. Where do you want to start?” A slight frown of concentration formed on her lips. “How about with the washing machine incident?”
Ty stopped in his tracks. Nobody knew what he'd done to the machine. He hadn't even called a repairman. He'd intended to take it to the dump and get a new one before anyone saw it. Despite fifteen years of police work, Ty found his jaw dropping in amazement. He quickly raised his hand to rub the skin around his mouth to hide his reaction. “How did you know about the washing machine?”
The woman glanced up at him. Her left eyebrow arched. “How do you think I know? I haven't been peeking through your windows, if that's what you're thinking.”
Ty watched the silver turtle earrings dangle from her ears. On closer inspection, he realized the turtles were smiling. Usually he preferred his women with more conservative, tasteful jewelry. He could fault Anna Mae, his ex-fiancÃ©e, for a lot, but she'd had impeccable taste in jewelry.
“What else was in that letter?”
“You know,” she said. “Stuff about your relationships, your feelings.”
He stopped walking and touched her arm. Turning her to him, he looked long and hard into her eyes. “You've got the wrong man.”
“Sure,” the woman reassured him cheerfully. “People all over the county take out their grief on their washing machines.”
Muttering, Ty picked up the pace. Bright sunlight dappled the rutted ground, and a few birds called from the trees around him. The woods no longer brought him peace. Ty saw an old blue minivan just ahead. He hoped it was hers. “Hasn't anyone ever told you it's dangerous for a woman to meet strangers in the loneliest part of town?”
The woman nodded. “But that's why I chose this place.” She turned her head to look at him. “I know what it feels like to be completely alone.”
Ty released his breath in frustration. “You shouldn't be out here by yourself.” Even to his ears his voice sounded more like a worried parent than a policeman.
“Where God guides, God provides,” the woman said serenely.
“Sometimes He needs a little help,” Ty said flatly.
She frowned thoughtfully. “And that's exactly what I'm trying to do.”
When they reached the minivan, the woman hesitated. She extended her hand. “Don't give up on God, Detective. Believe meâHe hasn't forgotten you.”
“How did you know I was a detective?” he said.
The woman smiled. “Your campaign posters.”
Ty's eyes narrowed. His police instincts kicked in hard. “What's your name?”
The expression on her face froze. Ty, who had spent his lifetime reading faces, saw the look of guilt stamped across it. “Can I see some identification?”
“That won't be necessary,” the woman said. “My name is Laney.”
Hesitating briefly, the woman's chin lifted. “Laney Varner.”
Ty's eyes stopped blinking. “G. C. Varner's daughter?” As in G. C. Varner, sheriff of Sutton County? He studied her with a different view, recalling bits of office gossip. He'd heard she was cute but flaky, did something with animals, and was engaged to Rock Weyeth, the county's district attorney. His gaze fell to the fat diamond perched on her finger.
Laney leaned forward, her expression earnest. “I'll still help you.”
“I don't need your help,” Ty insisted. He stepped closer to her. “Did your father send you?” His eyes narrowed.
Laney shook her head. “He doesn't know I'm here. When you decide to accept my help, come and find me.”
Before he could reply, she ran to her minivan, pulled the door open, and slid inside to crank the engine. Ty winced at the sound of gears grinding. She wasn't much of a driver, he decided, and hoped she was an equally incompetent political spy.
The van disappeared. Ty looked down at the McDonald's bag, but he was no longer interested in the lukewarm burger or watery soda.
He got into his car. Blasts of hot air blew onto his sweaty face as he waited impatiently for the air-conditioning to kick in.
It was a coincidence, nothing more, he told himself. The truth in the note bothered him more than he cared to admit. He reconsidered the possibility she'd been spying on him.
The more he thought about it, the more the idea hit home. If he were being set up, he'd better find out exactly what was going on, because if she went public with that note, he'd look like an idiot, pulverizing washing machines. He would have about as much chance of being elected sheriff of Sutton County as penguins did of colonizing the Sahara Desert.
He knew what he had to do.