Orchard Hill Residents - lock up your hearts! Pansy Parker and Misty Green are rivals in romance. Each believes she is the town's best matchmaker. Now, they're going to settle the question for once and for all. They're keeping track to see who can make the most matches in a year's time. No heart is safe in Orchard Hill - not even their own. Harmony Solberg is happy with her quiet, orderly existence. Then, widower Joseph Velasquez and his brood of noisy children, teenagers, and pets, moves next door, shattering her peace. Against her will, she is drawn into the children's lives. Soon she's sewing Halloween costumes and helping out with the church's fall harvest party. Harmony realizes that she'd rather have a loud, chaotic life with Joseph and family than go back to her lonely old life, but Joseph doesn't seem to think she's cut out for it. Will she be able to convince him, with a few tricks and maybe a treat or two?
Pansy’s stiffened her back and sat up straighter before swiveling her chair around to face Misty Green. “Hello, Misty. What brings you by the church office today? There’s no choir practice on the schedule.”
“Actually, I’m here to see you.”
“What do you mean?” What did this feather brain have on her mind now, Pansy wondered.
“I think it’s time we buried the hatchet.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
“I think we should forget the matchmaking contest. I’d like to declare a truce now that we’re going to be…” She swallowed and then choked out with obvious difficulty, “family.”
Pansy smiled. Misty must be worried. “Isn’t that an interesting idea?”
“It would be the perfect time to stop. We’re tied with three matches each. Four, if we count our own engagements.”
“Of course we can stop,” said Pansy, not bothering to disguise the smugness she could hear in her own voice. “I understand that you don’t want to be beaten by your future mother-in-law.”
That hit home. Misty narrowed her eyes and put her hands on her hips. “That’s not why I’m doing this. I thought for the sake of the two men we both love, that we might make an effort to get along.”
“And you didn’t think of this before you matched up Sarah and David?”
“I didn’t know you were engaged to my father then.”
Pansy abandoned her sweet tones and snarled out “No, you were too busy sneaking around with my son to notice what your father was doing.”
“He was sneaking around with you,” Misty shot back. She met Pansy’s glare with one of her own. “I don’t care what you do, but I’m quitting. The whole idea was silly to begin with.”
Pansy delighted in reminding her “It was your idea.”
Misty’s face darkened. My, she was in a state today.
“It doesn’t matter whose idea it was. I intend to make my marriage work even if it means stepping back and letting you pretend you’ve won this contest.”
Pansy arched her eyebrows. “So who’s pretending?”
Without another word Misty whirled around and snatched at the door knob. “All right, I did my best. I can’t help it if you’re determined to act so childishly.”
Pansy felt the vibration from the slamming door with satisfaction. She knew that no matter what Misty might say, she’d never be able to quit. No real matchmaker would.
It was time to start working on her next “project.”
God sets the lonely in families.
Even the sparrow has found a home and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young - a place near your altar.
She was standing on his doorstep when he got home. Joseph recognized her at once, but couldn’t imagine why Harmony Solberg would be at his house. He’d seen her television show once or twice, but it was hardly something he’d be a fan of, even if he did have time to watch TV. He’d also seen her at church since she moved to Orchard Hill, but they’d never been introduced. Unless you counted the little mishap at the Apple Festival. Joseph hoped she wasn’t counting that.
“Are you Joseph Velasquez?” she asked. Her tone was not friendly.
“Yes, I am.” He shifted the boxes of pizza he was holding and extended a hand to her. “You’re Harmony Solberg, aren’t you?”
She nodded, shaking his hand briefly and then dropping it. “Yes, and apparently, we’re now neighbors. I live next door.” She indicated the beautifully restored Victorian across the lawn. Joseph hoped his house would look that good one day.
“I’m guessing you aren’t here to bring us a casserole and extend a welcome to the neighborhood.”
Color flooded her cheeks. “I’m sorry, but no. This is about your daughters, the triplets.”
“They’re my nieces.” His heart sank. If this was about the triplets, it couldn’t be good. He remembered the scene at this year’s apple festival, the triplets knocking into the ladder he was standing on, the basket of apples he’d picked raining down on this woman’s head.
She must have been thinking along the same line as she said “I believe I’ve met both you and your nieces before, at the orchard, perhaps.”
“Yes, I’m very sorry for that mishap. I take it my nieces have added to your list of grievances against them.”
“You assume correctly.”
Joseph wanted to laugh at her prim attitude, but that would hardly improve the situation.
“I’ve just come back from a trip and found them in my garden, picking all the flowers. They ran away when they saw me. I believe you’ll have quite a bouquet to enjoy. My garden is practically bare.” She spoke the words lightly, but Joseph could tell Harmony was more than a little bit angry over the incident. “I was just about to ring the bell when you pulled up.”
“Would you care to come in and speak to the culprits yourself?”
“That won’t be necessary. In the future, please make sure they stay out of my yard. That’s all I ask.” The polite tone of her voice became strained, as if it was all she could do to keep her temper under control.
“Of course. Today things were a little hectic, with moving and all. Perhaps they weren’t as well supervised as they normally are. Would you care to join us for pizza?” What was he thinking? Asking the star of “Harmony at Home” to eat take-out pizza? He wasn’t surprised when she refused.
“I have some unpacking of my own to take care of, but thank you for the offer.”
Joseph stood and watched her for a few moments as she walked away. As far as he was concerned, she added quite a bit to what his realtor, Jeff Bradley had called the beauty and appeal of the neighborhood. Too bad she seemed so uptight. He should probably expect that in a woman who had hosted a show on the art of proper housekeeping. She was a perfectionist, no doubt. Definitely not his type.
It seemed strange to him that he would even be considering that. A few months ago, he didn’t think he’d ever be interested in dating again. Then, his sister, Hope, had talked him into taking out her friend Faith Fielding. He’d agonized about the date for days, even though he was just taking Faith to the Spring Fling that the youth group put on every year. But, he’d actually enjoyed himself.
Mostly it was because of Faith. A widow herself, she had assured him that she had no romantic illusions about the two of them. She’d really understood his reluctance to begin dating again, and told him that it was all right to wait until he was ready. After all, he was her first date since her husband had passed away ten years ago.
It didn’t take her long to get the hang of it again, Joseph thought. She was already engaged to her boss, elementary school principal, Andrew Thomas.
Strangely her understanding had him thinking about dating again rather than shrinking away from it, hiding deeper in the fortress he’d built around his heart since his wife’s death.
Joseph’s stomach growled, reminding him he was on a mission. He stepped into his new home—chaos central for the moment—and called out, “Pizza’s here.”
The sound of feet running from all parts of the house rumbled like thunder, and he was relieved of his burden seconds later. His sister, Hope, had gotten out paper cups and was pouring soda into them and handing them off to the kids, who carried everything into the living room so they could eat in front of the television.
“Don’t we have any milk?” he asked.
“They worked hard today,” she countered. “Let them have a treat. Besides, milk and pizza—yuck, Joseph.”
He let that go because he had bigger issues to deal with. “How were the kids while I was gone?” he asked. “Did they give you any trouble?”
Hope shook her head. “Nope. I think they’re too tired to cause any problems. Even the triplets were quiet.”
He gave her a look. Hope gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. “What did they do?”
Joseph told her about the confrontation with their new neighbor.
Hope’s mouth dropped. “Harmony Solberg is your next door neighbor! You’re really moving up in the world, Joseph.”
“Yeah, right. We’re going to get along great with her. I’m sure she’s the sort of person who’ll be delighted to live next door to a family like mine.”
Hope frowned at him. “There’s nothing wrong with your family.”
“Wrong, no. But we’re a crowd—a noisy, messy, extremely active crowd.”
Before they could take the argument any further, Shaun Thiesen, one of the employees from Joseph’s construction business and Oliver Laurence, Hope’s fiancé, clattered down the back stairs and into the kitchen.
“All the beds are put together. Everyone should have a place to sleep tonight,” Oliver announced.
“Is there any pizza left?” asked Shaun. Shaun’s wife had left him a couple of months ago, and he wasn’t dealing with it well, resorting to drinking to ease his pain. Joseph had coerced the young man into helping, thinking he’d be less likely to get into trouble if he was busy.
“The feeding frenzy is in the living room.” Hope handed them each a cup full of soda and sent them off. “The pizza won’t last long in that crowd.”
Joseph watched the two men thoughtfully. Shaun seemed to be doing better since Joseph had introduced him to Pastor Isaac. Isaac had gone above and beyond the call of duty, allowing Shaun to live with him after being kicked out of his apartment, but Joseph still wanted to keep an eye on Shaun.
And then there was Oliver, the man who’d breezed into town, humiliated Hope, made her an object of gossip, did everything he could to push her away, and then proposed to her. Yes, Oliver would take some watching.
“Stop brooding and let’s go eat,” Hope scolded him. “You’re just tired. It will all look better tomorrow.”
Joseph sighed. “You’re right, I am tired. Thanks for coming over and helping out, Hope.”
“Any time, big brother, any time.”