Margaret Ellington is not only grief stricken after her husband dies, but guilt ridden as well. Her solution? To run away. Hoping to escape the memories of her failure as a wife, she vows never to marry again, not even if it's Lukas North, her first love who's now returned. Lukas North is determined to reclaim the love he threw away ten years ago. He's willing to give Margaret time to recover from losing her husband, but letting her go is not an option. Margaret is wary of another long-distance relationship with Lukas-after all, it didn't work the first time-and when she discovers he's been keeping a secret, she panics. After the mistakes they made in the past, can their relationship be rebuilt on anything less than complete honesty? Can Lukas prove his devotion, and can Margaret learn to trust that both Lukas and God want only what's best for her?
The doorbell echoing through the house was the last straw…as if the pounding hadn’t been enough.
“I’m coming already,” Margaret Ellington snarled. Whoever was banging deserved whatever came out of her mouth. Pushing hair out of her eyes, she snapped the lock and yanked the door open.
Margaret’s face froze. Oh, Lord, help me.
Sky blue eyes stared back at her—Lukas North.
His lopsided grin would have suited a ten-year-old boy after getting away with some mischievous prank. Eyebrows raised, he lifted a cup of coffee from the crook of his elbow and held it towards her. Pink lettering on the cup showed the logo from the coffee shop around the corner. The bright morning sun set red-gold highlights aglitter in his hair while his eyes crinkled at the corners. A dimple dipped into his cheek.
Margaret forced her gaze back up to his. “What are you doing here?” She groaned at her own rudeness, a moment later remembering his pounding on the door. He always had brought out the best—and the worst in her. She pushed the screen open as he continued to hold the cup towards her. Fingertip to fingertip, Margaret felt the tingle shoot up her arm. She took the coffee and let the screen door slap closed between them as she gripped the door frame.
Not Lukas. Never again. Ten years...Lord, help me. I can’t deal with him today. Leaving is hard enough. Please, Lord, give me strength. She shivered then glanced up and down the street, refusing to meet his gaze. Lukas had always seen too much—as if he could see straight into her soul.
Margaret lowered her head and sighed. A peek at her watch and she looked down the street again, hoping for a savior in the form of a moving van. They should be here in about fifteen minutes.
She stared at a van parked on the street. Why is he here? Why isn’t he saying anything? Silently, she raised the coffee towards her mouth and a waft of steam touched her lips. She lowered it without taking a sip.
The vehicles in the driveway distracted her from Lukas as a third pickup pulled in. The door of the red van parked out front opened. She looked from one vehicle to the other trying to see who was in them. What are these trucks doing in my yard?
Jamestown, California was still a small town where everyone knew everyone, at least the faces that belonged, even some that passed through, often on their way to Sonora. And the people gathering in her yard belonged here. They had been friends with her and Peter for years. But they all said goodbye at the party last night.
She turned back to Lukas. He stood patiently watching, waiting…
Before she could ask, he waved a hand towards the driveway. “Your caravan awaits.”
Margaret’s brow furrowed. “The moving van should be here soon. I told you yesterday that I was all set.”
He took a sip of his coffee and glanced over his shoulder. “What? You don’t think we have enough help here?” He turned back towards Margaret, his blue eyes frowning at her.
She glanced away, her fingers digging into the foam cup. “I don’t want to put anyone out. It would just be easier…”
“Easier for you, maybe, but we’d like to help. A lot of us will miss you and we want the chance to show you how we feel.” He held her gaze, his voice soft spoken.
Margaret stared into his eyes, mesmerized by what she thought she saw there. Heat—a slow burn, a smoldering fire. He couldn’t possibly still…She shook herself and looked away. His problem. He’s the one who walked away.
She cleared her throat then looked at her watch again. “Remember the small going away party last night?” She pictured him manning the grill, spatula in hand. That was supposed to be their goodbye. The kiss at the end of the night had been enough of a surprise to keep her tossing and turning for hours. She didn’t need any more unexpected surprises like that. “What am I supposed to do? Leave the moving company a note that I’m all set?” Once again, Margaret lifted the cup for a tentative sip.
Lukas raised his brows and grinned.
Oh, that grin. She could feel her lips twitching, wanting to answer in kind.
“Not to worry. I already took care of that.”
Margaret narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean, you took care of it? They are still coming, right?”
He shook his head.
Can’t he at least have the decency to look a little bit ashamed?
“I cancelled them yesterday after I talked with you.”
“You what? There’s a fee for cancelling. If I’m paying them regardless, you better believe they’ll be providing their services.” She clenched her fist. Some things just never changed. He always did think he knew what was best. How dare he? She wanted to stomp her foot at his high-handedness—slam the door in his face. Oh, she was tempted. Lucky for him God had made a new woman of her. He was the only one holding back her temper, she was sure.
“I took care of that, too.”
She rolled her eyes. “Wonderful. So I guess that makes it all right.”
“No, I’m just saving you the expense since it wasn’t your doing.” His tone was steady, the smile falling flat when his gaze met hers.
He sounded so reasonable. Just who does he think he is? As if he has any say in my life anymore. You gave up that right a long time ago, buddy. She shook her head, trying to quiet the argument going on in her mind. She glared at him, tilting her chin. “And what if I want the moving company to come, anyway?”
He quirked a brow and didn’t respond.
Margaret sighed and closed her eyes. “Look, I don’t want anyone getting hurt moving my stuff. The furniture is heavy and I would really rather the professionals take care of it. And what if something gets broken? I don’t want anyone feeling responsible for any damages. The movers have insurance for that kind of thing.”
“We’ve all helped friends move at one time or another. We know how to lift stuff. No one’s going to get hurt and nothing will be broken.”
“You can’t guarantee that.”
“No, but I can guarantee that no one would hold it against you even if they did get hurt. I can also guarantee that no feelings will be hurt by you accepting the help that’s offered. No such guarantees on a refusal.” His stare bit into her.
Her gaze broke away first. How neatly he boxed her in with his words…and what a shrew she would look like if she sent everyone away—if they would even leave. Plus, it was probably too late to reschedule the movers, and she had to be moved out today. The new owners would be here tomorrow.
“I’m sure they don’t want to waste a whole day out of their vacation schedule just to help me move. With Christmas just past and getting themselves ready to head back to school I’m sure they have better things to do.”
He stared at her and raised his eyebrows.
Darn the man. She sighed. “Look, the new house is an hour away from here, in Solsta.” She glanced at the vehicles in her yard, then back at Lukas. “Let me at least pay for their gas.”
Lukas shook his head.
Margaret slapped a hand on her hip. “What difference does it make? I would have been paying the movers.”
“Nope. We’re all here to help a friend,” he answered calmly. He took a sip of his coffee and looked over his shoulder. “Oops, looks like the gang’s all here.”
A blue car pulled up. Great. The principal and first grade teacher. They stepped out and waved, smiling as they started up the walkway.
Lukas rubbed the back of his neck and grinned.
“Hi.” Her smile quivered as they approached. She lifted a hand to brush the hair away from her eyes again. “Thank you so much. I really didn’t want to put anyone out, especially just after Christmas like this.”
“And Peter, God rest his soul, would have skinned me alive if he knew I didn’t help you with your move.” The principal came halfway up the walkway and crossed his arms over his chest, planting his feet apart. “Matter of fact, he would never forgive me for letting you go to begin with.”
He was right. Peter, her husband, would have told her, in no uncertain terms, that these people cared about her and that she should let them help. They were her friends.
As a matter of fact, if Peter were the one speaking, he would tell her she couldn’t run away from it all, that she would carry it with her no matter where she went. He would also have told her that God had a plan and that she ought to pray to understand what His will was in all this.
Oh, Lord, I know that, but Peter’s gone home to be with You. I have to go. I can’t stay here. After two years of stumbling around and mourning her half-hearted attempt at marriage, she couldn’t live with the grief or the guilt anymore. She knew God had forgiven her, but she didn’t deserve it.
I’m so sorry, Peter, sorry I wasn’t the wife I should have been…sorry I didn’t love you as much as I should have…sorry I never gave you the child you so desperately wanted.
Margaret took a deep breath, blinking her eyes until the watery vision cleared. Worrying her bottom lip, she looked from one face to another, then cleared her throat and sniffed. “Well, I guess since you’re here, and the movers aren’t coming…” She looked pointedly at Lukas. “…I’ll have to put you all to work.” She pushed the screen door open. “Come on in. We might as well get started.”
Lukas held the door and stepped in last. He stood beside her and looked around. “No stray Christmas decorations that you might have missed?”
Margaret turned away and stepped towards the kitchen. “I didn’t put any up this year.” Or last year...
She looked around at everyone. They seemed to know just where to start, so Margaret continued into the kitchen. Lukas glanced at the boxes and nodded towards them. “Why don’t you finish what you were doing? We’ll load the furniture and by the time we’re done you’ll have those ready to go. Is that the last of it to be packed up?”
Margaret nodded, and then watched everyone find their place with well-choreographed steps, each person going where they were needed. Jokes and laughter filled the house as they loaded her life into their trucks.
Margaret wandered back to the kitchen to pack the pan she used for breakfast this morning, plus the few other items still in the cupboards. A half hour later, after checking all the cabinets and drawers one last time, she taped the final box closed and lifted her head in time to see a lamp sliding towards the floor.
“Whoa, easy there,” Lukas said from the doorway, his gaze colliding with Margaret’s. He turned back to the job at hand. “Nice save.”
She released her breath and looked away, brushed off her jeans and walked down the hall without a word. Wandering from room to room, she double-checked everything. Closets were empty, no boxes forgotten. The shadows on the walls outlined stark reminders of where pictures had been. The unfinished projects—a cracked floorboard, chipped molding, a small hole in the plaster, all stared at her accusingly.
Margaret closed her eyes as she clutched the doorframe. Oh, God, why Peter? He was the good one.
I’m so sorry, Peter. A tear splashed onto the carpet. Margaret took a deep breath, wiped her cheek, and stepped into what had been Peter’s sickroom. She walked to the window seat and stared out into the backyard, arms clutched around her middle. There would be no sound of children playing, no sitting on the glider growing old together. She put a hand on the window. If only I could have loved you more—
“Any more, Megs?” Lukas’ footsteps grew louder as he came down the hall.
She wiped away another tear as it dribbled down her cheek.
“Oh, hey, there you are.” He hesitated in the doorway, resting a hand on the frame. He lowered his voice. “You OK?”
She chewed on her bottom lip and nodded, afraid that if he came near her she would collapse in those arms; arms she knew were strong enough to hold her up. Arms she had missed for years. She hated herself for wanting to feel them wrap around her again.
A glimmer of a smile creased his lips, as if sharing her pain. She remembered other smiles, other glances across different rooms. She sighed and looked back outside.
After ten years, the memory of Lukas disappearing from her life still haunted her. She had worn his engagement ring through the last half of their senior year. Then a month before their wedding day, he left. No goodbye, just a letter—as if that was enough. Then poof. He was gone.
She gave the ring to her mother and never saw it again.
The pain of lost love still lingered. It was best left in the past, but she had never figured out how to let it go. God knew she tried.
The contradiction tore at her heart. Losing Lukas hurt worse than anything else in her life, but the love never died. If only she could have loved Peter with that same fervor, instead of the half-hearted love she had given him. Oh, she had tried, but it wasn’t the same.
Margaret took a deep breath. Her gaze lingered on the backyard for a long moment. Straightening her shoulders, she led the way down the hall, stepping silently past Lukas.
Q1. Have you ever walked away from your faith because of something that happened in your life? Been unable to forgive God for something He allowed to happen?
Q2. If so, what brought you back?
Q3. Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?