As always, this is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, after I edit and rewrite it, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE.
Let me know in the comments what you think. Or don’t. That’s okay too. *wink*
If you would prefer to read the book when it is all complete, you can pre-order a copy HERE on Amazon. It releases January 31, 2023.
Ben greeted Leona and Adam inside, offering a quick ‘hello’ to Angie and William as Amelia dragged him into the kitchen to show him the paints and doll. After a brief conversation with Leona about his parents and work, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, want to come out to the barn and see the blueprints for the shop?” Adam grinned. “My brother dropped them off this morning.”
“Sure. That would be great.”
It would also him get out of the house and away from Angie and William who were sitting next to each other on the couch, talking in hushed tones. Probably wedding planning, which made his stomach turn.
Out in the barn, Adam led him to a small office built to one side, toward the back.
Ben rubbed his chin. “Hmmm. This wasn’t here the last time I was here. When did you have this built?”
“Built it myself,” Adam said with a shrug, opening the door. “Didn’t take much.”
“I thought you were supposed to be taking it easy.”
“Ah, no big deal. Few boards and some nails. The boys carried my dad’s old desk and a couple filing cabinets out and we were ready to go.”
“And you’re doing okay?”
“I am. Taking the medicine they gave me, plus taking more breaks has helped the blood pressure and the heartburn. My new cardiologist says my heart is looking good too. I hate that I scared the girls, though.”
Adam unfurled the blueprints and spread them out on the desktop. “This is the preliminary blueprint, but I like it so far. We’re going to have a showroom right up here in the front and in the back a workshop area. We’ll have storage in a separate area over here and hopefully a parking lot right here, if we can get the permits, which shouldn’t be a problem since it’s going to be right next to the Tanner’s Farm Store.”
“Oh wow. That’s a great idea. Their customers could potentially be your customers.”
“That’s what we’re thinking and Rob’s going to sell us the land at a discount. He’s excited to help us out and we’re excited to let him.”
Ben nodded, still looking at the blueprints. “Looks great. What’s the timeline?”
“Probably three months to clear the land and start construction and maybe another six months to complete the construction. Rob’s opening up a pumpkin farm this year and next year we’ll be able to market together to bring in more customers for us both.”
Ben studied the blueprints as Adam gestured. “These look great, Adam. This is really great for you.”
“It’s great for the entire family. We’re certainly excited.” Adam looked up from the prints. “Hey, I didn’t even think to ask you why you stopped by. Did you have something you wanted to talk to me about?”
“No. Not really. Honestly, I just wanted to see for myself how you were doing.”
Adam sat in the chair behind the desk. “That’s nice of you. As you can see, I’m doing well.” He leaned back in the chair, propping his arm on the desk. “I’m sure getting a glimpse of my daughter was a plus too.”
Ben held up a hand. “Adam, for one, she’s engaged and for two, she hates me.”
Adam cleared his throat. “Ben —”
“Hey boys!” Leona called from outside the barn. “Amelia wants a ride in that fancy car so William is going to give us a lift into town. Angie’s got a headache and staying home. There’s room for one more. One of you want to ride with us?”
Adam jumped up from the chair, stepped around the side of the desk, and teasingly pushed Ben aside. “Me! Me! Shotgun!”
Ben laughed as the man good-naturedly patted him on the chest on the way by.
“Have a nice ride, I’m going to head out actually. I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow.”
“Listen, though, I think we should talk first,” Adam said as they walked across the yard toward the driveway.
“Hurry, Pop-Pop! The train is leaving the station!”
Ben was surprised at how far Amelia’s little voice carried.
Adam snorted a laugh. “That’s what I always say to her when she’s taking too long to get ready. It’s not as funny when she turns it around on me.”
“Have fun,” Ben said. “I’ll stop by another time for that talk.”
Adam opened his mouth to say something, but Leona spoke instead. “I’ve got your coat, hon’. We better get going before the stand closes for the night.”
“Better head out,” Ben told him. “We’ll talk later.”
William held out a hand before sliding into the driver’s side of what Ben guessed was a very expensive sports car. “Ben, take care.”
“You too,” Ben said, shaking his hand.
He stood and watched the car disappear down the driveway then headed for his own car, feeling like there was a rock in his gut.
“Ben.” He turned his hand on the car door. Angie was standing on the top step of the porch. He allowed himself a quick glance at her tan capris and white v-neck shirt under a beige sweater before focusing on her eyes as she spoke. “You need to know something.”
He turned to face her, sliding his hands in his front jean pockets. “Okay.”
She folded her arms across her chest and took a deep breath, her voice calm. “I’m not who I was in high school or college. I’ve changed. I’m not the girl who falls all over the star baseball player anymore or thinks she has to sleep with someone to be worth something. I’ve grown up and I have someone else to think about now.”
He waited for her to continue, but when she didn’t he gave a quick nod. “Okay. Thank you for letting me know. Anything else?”
A breeze caught her hair, pushed strands into her face. She pushed it aside, hooking it behind her ear. “I just wanted you to know where I stand if you’re going to keep showing up here. I don’t mind you coming to see Amelia or her seeing you or your parents, but you need to know that I am not going to fall in love with you again.”
He tipped his head down and kicked at the dirt with the toe of his shoe, then looked back up at her. “Okay. I understand. Thank you for letting me and my parents see Amelia.”
He did wonder, though, how much longer they’d have that chance with Angie eventually marrying William and them all moving back to Lancaster.
She hugged her arms tighter around her. “You’re welcome.”
They stood in awkward silence for a few minutes before he finally said, “If that’s all, I’ll be heading out now.”
“That’s all you’re going to say?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know what else you want me to say. I mean are you telling me you’re not going to fall in love with me for my benefit or yours?”
“Well, do you want me to know, or are you reminding yourself?”
Her nose wrinkled and she scoffed, waving a hand at him. “Go home, Ben.”
She turned to walk back into the house, and he stepped toward her, hands clenching at his side. “I’m just asking because if you don’t want to fall in love with me again then why even have this discussion? Why put up the disclaimer? Why not just yell at me and tell me to get lost and never come back?”
She turned back to face him, arms out to her sides. “Because Amelia loves you, okay? Because she’s your daughter and she should have some sort of relationship with you even if you are a jerk.”
“Was a jerk. I’ve changed too Angie.” He relaxed his hands, and took a deep breath. “The only thing that hasn’t changed is that I still love you. I have a feeling that maybe, deep down, you still love me.”
Her eyes flashed as her jaw tightened. “Do you really think I could still love someone who has never even apologized for walking away from me and our daughter?”
He snorted a small laugh. “How was I supposed to apologize?”
“Like how any human being apologizes when they screw up. A phone call, a visit, a carrier pigeon. Anything but cutting off all contact.”
“I didn’t cut off all contact. I sent money and gifts —”
“That’s not apologizing, Ben. There were no words exchanged, no —”
“How was I supposed to apologize for what I did, Angie? How?” Tears stung his eyes. “How do I say I’m sorry for walking away from you during one of the scariest times of your life? How do I say I’m sorry for —” His voice broke “God forgive me. For telling you to murder that beautiful baby girl before she was even born?” He looked at her, voice trembling, tears escaping down his cheeks. “I buried myself in work for almost five years, so I didn’t have to think about what a monster I was. So I didn’t have to remember everything I did wrong and how there was no way I could go back and ask you to forgive me.” He shook his head, dragging a hand across his cheek, and looked away from her. “I can’t even ask it now. I have absolutely no right to.”
A silence fell between them that only the breeze playing with the dying leaves above them filled. He stepped back, wiping the tears away with the back of his hand.
“I don’t even know why we’re talking about this anyhow. You’re engaged to William.”
Her gaze drifted across the yard, toward the faded blue hills in the distance. Her voice was barely audible. “I’m not engaged to William.”
“What do you mean? You said that day here at lunch —”
“I know what I said.” She looked at him again. “I’d broken it off with William but didn’t tell anyone and I certainly wasn’t going to tell them in front of you.”
“Then why is he here?”
“He only came up here to check on dad and so we could talk to Amelia about us not being together anymore.” She pulled a strand of hair away from her face again. “I couldn’t marry him. I seem to have lost trust in men along the way. Who knows why. Ha. Ha.”
Ben swallowed hard and raked a hand through his hair. “Listen, I should go. We’re not getting anywhere here. Exchanging insults isn’t going to help anything.”
Angie took a step forward, arms still folded across her chest. “You asked God to forgive you just now. Was that real? And you said you’d pray for my dad. Did you mean that too? Are you really praying to God? If so, which God?”
He let out a quick breath. “The God of Abraham. Elohim. Jireh. The God you and I were raised to believe in but ran away from for so many years.”
“You want me to believe that you suddenly turned over a new leaf and to God?”
A faint smile tugged at his mouth. “No, not suddenly. Gradually.” He tossed his hands out to his side and then dropped them again. “You don’t have to believe me. I know where my heart is. I know that God has been guiding me to peace in my life. I don’t have to prove that to you, even though I wish I could somehow.” He placed his hands at his waist. “I wish I could show you what God has come to mean to me. I wish I could show you how much I still love you in one big gesture, but I can’t. There will never be a gesture big enough to show you how much I’ve loved you all these years.”
She lifted her chin slightly. “Even when you slept with Bridgett?”
He made a face. “I never slept with Bridgett.”
“Your friend Sam told me you did.”
“That I did what? Stayed over at her house?”
“He said you spent the night with her. I know what that means.”
He laughed softly. “Yeah, that I spent the night with her. Asleep. On her couch. While she slept in her room. I was drunk. I showed up at her place, thinking I could forget you if I slept with someone else. She sent me to the couch, woke me up the next morning and told me to get out and get my act together. She also told me to go find you and apologize for being the worst boyfriend in the world because it was clear I was still in love with you.”
“She thought that?”
“She knew that.” He focused his gaze on her eyes. “I was still in love with you and I still am. How many times do I have to say it?”
“You’ve had a funny way of showing it,” she said, hugging her arms tighter around her.
He walked slowly toward her, closing the gap between them. “You would never have believed me if I’d come to you back then and told you anything that I’m telling you now and I doubt you even believe me now.” Standing a couple of inches from her, he reached up and cupped his hand against her face, taking in a sharp breath at the softness of her skin against his hand, at touching her for the first time in almost five years other than that day in the barn. “Do you believe me, Angie? Do you believe I still love you?”
Her gaze dropped to his mouth, and he took that as a sign that she was comfortable with him standing so close, maybe even with him kissing her. He wanted desperately to kiss her.
He moved his head slowly toward hers, testing the water. When she didn’t pull away but instead closed her eyes, he lowered his mouth to hers, capturing it gently, seeking her permission with his action. He expected her to pull away, maybe even slap him, but she didn’t. She let him kiss her and when he pulled back slightly, she opened her eyes, looked at him for a few seconds, then leaned forward again and pressed her mouth to his, sliding her arms around his neck.
He moved his hand to the back of her head, buried his fingers in her hair, and slid his arm around her lower back, pulling her against him. The second the kiss deepened, though, she pulled back, dropped her hands to his chest and pushed him gently away from her.
“No. I can’t do this. Not right now. I mean —” She shook her head slowly, looking at the ground, as if trying to wake up from a dream. “I need some time to think.”
He nodded once, sliding his hands into his jeans pockets again. “Do you want me to stay away?”
“No. You can come to see Amelia and my parents. Just — Just give me some time, okay?”
“Yeah. I can do that. I’m sorry — I shouldn’t have —”
She held her hand up, taking a couple steps back. “No. It’s okay. I just need some time to process.”
He watched her walk back into the house, fingertips to her lips, and wondered if the kiss had affected her as much as it had him.