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Authors: Karen Kingsbury

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Return

BOOK: Return
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What readers are saying about
the
    R   E   D   E   M   P   T   I   O   N    
series

“After reading your book I will never read secular fiction again. I literally just finished the first book, and as I’m wiping my tears away with a tissue I write to you. God truly placed this series in your heart; that is very clear.”

—Tammi

“I have just finished reading your book
Remember—
it was fantastic! You have such a writing gift.…God really speaks to me through your work. I am dying to know when the next book is due out.”

—Tricia

“I just finished reading
Redemption,
and I just had to write and tell you how much I enjoyed the book. I feel as if I know the characters. Thank you for not having Tim and Kari ‘live happily ever after.’ I was pleasantly surprised to see the book end how real life ends…people wanting to serve God and do what He wants, but it isn’t always a storybook ending. Thanks again for making the Baxters so real.”

—Debra

“I cannot put your books down once I start reading them. The tip of your pen is truly anointed. Your books have changed the way I think about my own life…and the way I see others. I am learning to see people thru God’s eyes. I love your books!”

—Christie

“I love all your books, but the Redemption books are the best. It has brought me closer to the Bible.”

—Linda

“Karen’s books stir my heart and remind me of what’s important in life. She has such a gift. I’ve read every single one and can’t wait for the next!”

—Trisha

“I 100% LOVE your books! You are my FAVORITE author by far. I have laughed and cried in every single book (no exceptions!). Keep ’em comin’!”

—Cassie

“Thank you so much, Karen, for using your God-given gift to write Christian novels. I’ve read almost all your books and have a hard time putting them down once I’ve started. I think each book has made me cry! That means they’re good.

You have such a gift for wrapping your readers up in the feelings of the characters. I feel like I am right there with them, living their lives. You are truly an inspired author. Not only do I get involved with the characters, but in each book I have gleaned some wonderful spiritual lesson. God has given you a very unique ministry, because I feel that you are more than just an author in your works. Thanks for allowing yourself to be used as His vessel. You have become my favorite author.”

—Becky

“I love all of Karen Kingsbury’s novels! They make me laugh, cry, and grow stronger! She truly is an amazing author! When you read her books it’s like you’re sitting with the characters helping them through their pain and rejoicing with them when they’re happy! You know you have a good book when you want to read it over and over again. I have felt like that with all of Karen’s books!! She is my favorite by far!”

—Megan

“There are not enough words to describe what your books mean to me. God has truly blessed me through your talent and your love for Him. Your books are a balm for a troubled soul. God bless you always and KEEP writing.”

—Eugenia

“I love this series! It has really captured my heart, and the characters have become real.
Remember
really got to me because of the characters living through a time we all remember VERY well. Thanks, Karen, and please keep this series coming!”

—Heidi

“Karen, I only started reading Christian fiction a short while ago. The clerk in the store recommended your books above all others. So glad she did! I started reading with
Redemption,
then
Remember,
and can hardly wait for
Return
.”

—Barbara

“I am a new fan of yours—in fact, a new fan of fiction in general! I first began reading your books when a coworker recommended the Redemption series to me. I could not put either book down! No emotion was left untouched! The message of God’s love that is portrayed throughout the text is so uplifting and encouraging. I work at a local Christian bookstore, and I now recommend your books to ALL of my customers!”

—Elizabeth

“I didn’t think you could top
Redemption,
but I was wrong! Those two novels have touched me so deeply, and I can hardly wait to read the other three—I wish they were already in print! Thanks for spreading the word of God—you have a glorious gift.”

—Diana

“I fell in love with these stories, and I’m recommending them to all my friends; they’re wonderful!”

—Tricia

Visit Tyndale’s exciting Web site at www.tyndale.com

Copyright © 2003 by The Smalley Publishing Group, LLC, and Karen Kingsbury. All rights reserved.

Cover photograph of man copyright © 2003 by Tyndale House Publishers. Cover illustration © 2003 by David Henderson. All rights reserved.

Gary Smalley photo copyright © 2001 by Jim Lersch. All rights reserved.

Published in association with the literary agency of Alive Communications, Inc., 7680 Goddard Street, Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80920.

Designed by Zandrah Maguigad

Edited by Karen Ball

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the authors or publisher.

Some Scripture quotations are taken from the
Holy Bible,
New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Most Scripture used in this book, whether quoted or paraphrased by the characters, is taken from the
Holy Bible,
New International Version
®
. NIV
®
. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Kingsbury, Karen.

 Return / Karen Kingsbury with Gary Smalley.
         p. cm.
ISBN 1-4143-0403-X (Mobipocket)
1. September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001—Fiction. 2. Victims of terrorism—Fiction. 3. New York (N.Y.)—Fiction. 4. Indiana—Fiction. I. Smalley, Gary. II. Title.
    PS3561.14873 R48 2003
813´.54—dc21                                                                             2003011140
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

T
O OUR PRECIOUS FAMILIES,

who continue to give us countless reasons

to celebrate God’s faithfulness.

A
ND TO OUR
G
RACIOUS
L
ORD
,

who has, for now,

blessed us with these.

AUTHORS’ NOTE

The Redemption series is set mostly in Bloomington, Indiana. Some of the landmarks—Indiana University, for example—are accurately placed in their true settings. Other buildings, parks, and establishments will be nothing more than figments of our imaginations. We hope those of you familiar with Bloomington and the surrounding area will have fun distinguishing between the two.

The New York City settings combine real observation with imaginative re-creation.

CHAPTER ONE

R
EAGAN
D
ECKER’S HANDS
shook as she picked up the telephone and dialed.

The number was so familiar once, back in a time that seemed forever ago, before her world tilted hard off its axis and stayed that way.

She waited, her heart pounding in her throat.

One ring…

What will I say? How will they take the news?

Two rings…

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Baxter?” Reagan froze.

“Yes?” A slight pause. “Can I help you?”

“Uh…”
She doesn’t recognize my voice. I must be crazy to call after so long
. “This is Reagan. Reagan Decker.”

“Reagan…my goodness. It’s…been a long time, dear.”

Luke’s mother sounded strange, as though the mention of Reagan’s name had cast a shadow over the moment. Reagan considered saying a quick few words and then getting off. But that would never do. This was a call she’d had to make for one reason alone.

She couldn’t hide from Luke Baxter forever.

“Mrs. Baxter, I need to talk to Luke, please.” Reagan squeezed her eyes shut. A year earlier she’d been quick-witted and outgoing, but not anymore. The spark was gone from her voice. Luke’s mother had to notice. She drew a determined breath. “I have something to tell him.”

His past had sprouted legs and was chasing him.

That had to be it. Luke had no other way to describe the breathless anxiety marking so much of his time. Sometimes he could almost hear footsteps pounding the ground behind him, and on days like that he would even turn around. As though he might see a person or a being, whatever was after him. But no one was ever there.

The feeling was always accompanied by memories, so Luke finally convinced himself the thing chasing him was nothing more ominous than his past.

A past that colored today and tomorrow and kept him inches ahead of a suffocating fog, a fog in which his new freethinking life was all but impossible.

At first the feeling had hit him every few days, but now it was almost constant. This morning it was worse than ever. Throughout Economics and Political Science and now in Modern History, it made Luke so restless he couldn’t concentrate.

The professor was diagramming something on the board, but all Luke could see were images of himself and his family the last time they’d been together before September 11. Little Maddie holding her hands up to him. “Swing me, Uncle Luke, swing me.” His parents arm in arm in the background. “How’s school, Luke? Have you heard from Reagan?”

With broad strokes, the professor ran his eraser over the board, and the images in Luke’s head disappeared. The man turned to the class and started talking, but Luke heard Reagan’s voice instead, the way he’d heard it that awful night when everything changed forever.

“It’s okay, Luke; I’ll call him back tomorrow…it’s okay…”

But she never had the chance.

Luke squeezed his eyes shut. He was ready to move on, right? Wasn’t that what he’d been telling himself? Then why were these memories dogging him so? With all the freethinking he’d been doing, all the clubs and organizations Lori had introduced him to, he should be consumed with life as it
was
. Not as it had been.

The professor changed his tone. He was saying something about foreign arms deals, but Luke wasn’t paying attention. A conversation kept playing in his head, the one he’d had with his mother a few weeks ago.

“You think you have it all figured out, Luke, but the Hound of Heaven isn’t going to let you go this easily.”

“The Hound of Heaven?” Luke hadn’t even tried to hide his frustration. His mother knew how he felt about God, so why couldn’t she let it go?

“The Spirit of God, Luke.” Her voice held no apologies. “When someone strays from the Lord, it’s usually the Spirit, the Hound of Heaven, that hunts him down and brings him back.”

The Hound of Heaven, indeed.

As if God—if there
was
a God—would care enough about Luke Baxter to chase him. Luke tapped the eraser of his pencil on his notepad. No, that wasn’t why he felt this way. He narrowed his eyes and focused on the professor. What was the man babbling about? And why was everyone else taking notes?

A tingling worked its way down his spine, and he shifted in his desk.

Maybe it was culture shock. After a lifetime of holding to one set of beliefs, he’d done an about-face, and some kind of fallout was bound to come. That explained the pounding in his chest, the breathlessness that sometimes hit him square in the middle of a college lecture, and the constant stream of memories. Memories that had a vise grip on his mind and soul.

Sure, it was a setback. But no need to tell Lori. She’d only blame it on the mind control his family had held over him for so many years. And he didn’t care to discuss mind control with her. He didn’t like the way it sounded. For all their shortcomings, all their narrow-minded ways of thinking, his family had
not
performed mind control on him.

Not hardly.

He’d been a willing participant, and though their beliefs were off base, his family loved him back then. They loved him still. That much he was sure of. But he was just as sure that he wanted to move on, to explore a world without absolutes and—what was it Lori called it?—an antiquated morality system? Yes, he was ready to move away from that.

“Mr. Baxter, I expect you to answer me the first time I call on you.”

Luke jumped in his seat. Two students sitting near him stifled their snorts of laughter. “Excuse me, sir?”

“I
said—”
the professor’s voice dripped sarcasm—“perhaps you could explain the significance of specific arms deals made in the late seventies?”

“Yes, sir.” Luke did a desperate search of his mind and came up blank. His fingers trembled and he coughed to buy time. “Sir, I don’t have that information at this time.”

Another bout of muffled laughter.

“Very well, Mr. Baxter; then may I make a suggestion?” The professor lowered his glasses and peered hard at Luke.

“Yes, sir?” Luke’s throat was dry. It was all he could do to keep from running out of the room.

“Either get more sleep or get out of my Modern History class.” The man raised his voice. “Is that understood?”

Fire filled Luke’s cheeks. “Yes, sir.”

When class was over ten minutes later, Luke was one of the first to leave the room. Not only because he didn’t want any further discussion with the professor, but because he still needed to run, to keep moving away from whatever was chasing him. His past maybe, or his prior convictions. Perhaps his unfamiliarity with all he’d surrounded himself with.

But definitely not the Hound of Heaven.

Reagan didn’t visit Ground Zero often.

She looked out the back window of the taxicab as it rumbled south on Broadway, past boarded-up storefronts and American flags. It was late afternoon and she planned to finish up by dusk. A few more blocks and she’d be there. She narrowed her eyes and found a piece of the skyline far above.
Daddy, if you knew how much we miss you.

She’d attended two Ground Zero memorial services, and over time she’d come to accept that the pile of rubble and ash that once was the World Trade Center was now her father’s resting place. Still, as much as possible, she avoided going there. The roar of construction trucks and the meticulous sifting of debris didn’t seem to dim her gut-wrenching pain and emptiness at all.

But today was her father’s birthday. And since her mother wasn’t feeling up to the task, Reagan was going to Ground Zero alone. They rounded a corner and she could see the crater, the footprint the collapsed towers had left on the floor of New York City. Cleanup efforts were almost finished. Still, as far as they’d come in the recovery, they had weeks before they’d finish. Recovery crews were guessing they’d clear the area in May, some eight months after the terrorist attacks. But for now, a considerable crew still worked on the pile.

The cab was stuck at a light, and Reagan watched. Giant machinery growled, lifting sections of steel beams and crushed cement. Trucks pulled in and out of the area, hauling away one load after another. Her father had known his last moments here. She’d go to the strange memorial, the place where a cross section of steel beams had fallen in the midst of the debris and become a marker for all who passed by.

Since the collapse of the World Trade Center, the cross had been mounted on a platform near the pile of rubble. The place drew Reagan, as it had thousands of other mourners.

Her taxi pulled up as close as possible, and Reagan spotted the makeshift memorial. She paid her fare and stepped out. The cross stood out, circled with tattered teddy bears and bouquets of dying flowers. A few people stood nearby, heads bowed. Not far away was a bench, probably brought in by one of the volunteer groups, maybe left over from a memorial service. It was empty now, and Reagan walked to it and sat down.

She’d met her father here for dinner one evening and used her cell phone to call him from the street.

“Flash your light, Daddy, so I can see where you are.” She’d tilted her head back and watched. His office was on West Street, so she knew he was up there somewhere.

“Okay.” Her father chuckled and did just that. Three times and then three more times. “Can you see me?”

“Yes!” Reagan stared at the spot. “Now I’ll always know where you are.”

A nearby dump truck dropped its load with a crash. The ground shook beneath her feet, and the long-ago conversation faded. She still remembered the way her neck felt that day, bent just enough for her to see his office window.

Now she lifted her eyes higher and higher, until her neck felt the way it had that evening. She could see them still, the Twin Towers, even see the spot where her father’s office had been. Reagan closed her eyes so the tears wouldn’t come. They were inevitable, but she didn’t want them now. Not when she had so much to tell her father. So much to tell God.

God…amazing you and I are still talking, huh?

The slightest smile lifted her lips. How sad and different life had become. In many ways, she was closer to the Lord than ever before—a strange benefit in the wake of the death and tragedy surrounding her. What a shame Luke hadn’t handled it the same way.

Poor Luke.

Reagan heard herself sigh, and she opened her eyes. A bird drifted across the place where the south tower once stood, and a chill made its way down her spine. Every time she opened her eyes she expected them to be here, the Twin Towers standing tall and proud at the center of Lower Manhattan.

She blinked. How could they be gone? Both of them? She squinted as a memory played in her mind: the last time she and Luke had been up there, walking in the clouds, visiting her father in his office. A lifetime ago…as though it hadn’t really happened at all.

They’d been laughing about something—Luke’s dream of working there one day, wasn’t that it? Reagan narrowed her eyes a bit more. Yes. They’d been whispering about what type of office he’d have, and how it would be right down the hall from her father’s.

“I’ll have a water view.” Luke grabbed her hand, his chin high, eyes teasing as they stepped into the elevator.

“I’m sure they’ll offer you at least that—straight out of college and everything.” Reagan poked him in the ribs. “I mean, you’re Luke Baxter!”

Reagan blinked the memory away.

Now, instead of soaring towers, she saw only gray clouds. Rain was expected for that afternoon. More rain. After a gentle winter, the spring had been merciless—snow, freezing rain, and icy wind. So many days without sunshine had every New Yorker feeling the gloom.

“Where is he, God?” Her whispered question mingled with the smoky air and got lost in the relentless noise of a parade of dump trucks. “Why can’t we find him?”

Unlike some grieving people she’d talked to at church, Reagan didn’t need a body to feel closure. A ring, a wallet, a watch—
anything
of her father’s would be enough. Instead she had nothing. Just the certainty that on the morning of September 11, 2001, Tom Decker had been in his office some nine hundred feet in the air. And now he was gone.

BOOK: Return
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