Read His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage Online

Authors: Patricia Davids

Tags: #Fiction, #Religious, #Romance, #General

His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage (30 page)

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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“Will you put her in her outside kennel for me, please?”

“Of course. Come here, you naughty little girl,” she cooed as she took the bunny from him. Ruffling the rabbit’s fur, Jennifer continued to talk baby talk as she carried the offender away.

Lindsey watched the whole exchange, then raised one eyebrow. “Do you treat her that harshly each time she chews up a pencil?”

“I didn’t think I was too harsh.”

“You picked her up, petted her, gave her to Jennifer so that she could pet her and then sent her to the place she most likes to go—outside. In spite of all that she won’t stop chewing your pencils. Will wonders never cease?”

Walking to the desk, she picked up his pencil cup, opened the deep drawer on the right-hand side of his desk and set the cup in it.

“Have you tried this?” She stared at him as she closed the drawer.

Brian pursed his lips searching for a good reply. None came to him. Feeling sheepish, he stepped closer. “Is your advice to simply remove the temptation?”

Oh, what a temptation this woman presented. Her bright eyes were brimming with mirth. The subtle scent of her perfume filled him with a desire to hold her close and breathe in the freshness she brought to his life just by being near.

“You’re the animal specialist.” Her sassy tone was almost too much. Calling on every ounce of self-control that he possessed, he resisted the urge to take her in his arms and kiss her. He didn’t deserve to love another woman, but somehow Lindsey had a way of making him forget that fact.

Could that be the reason their paths had crossed? Was it time for him to move past the grief that had controlled his life until now?

He pulled open the drawer and set his cup back in its place in the center of his desk. “I like my pencils where they’re easy to reach.”

She grabbed a new one out of his cup and tapped it gently against her cheek. “I see.”

He knew he was in trouble the moment he saw the mischievous glint in her eyes.

“So, is this what a girl has to do to get some attention from you?” She grinned and placed the pencil between her teeth.

Her playfulness melted the last of the icy barrier that enclosed his heart. Reaching up, he took the pencil from her and dropped it onto his desk, then he took her by the shoulders and drew her into his arms. She stepped into his embrace and lifted her face. Lowering his mouth to hers, he tasted again the poignant sweetness that was so uniquely her.

After a long second, he pulled away. Tucking her head under his chin, he drew a ragged breath. “I’ve been thinking about doing that all day.”

“If I had known, I would have come sooner. Just don’t start apologizing again.”

“I won’t.”

“Good. You could give a girl a complex that way.”

“Somehow, I don’t see that happening to you. You’re much too sure of yourself and your place in the world.”

Resting in the comfort of his arms, Lindsey knew Brian was mistaken about that. She might sound sure of her plans, but more and more she had begun to question what she really wanted out of life. She had dismissed the idea of having a husband and children because she had seen how badly her parents had mismanaged their marriage. She never wanted to subject a child to that kind of pain. Only now, being held by Brian, she wondered if she had been wrong.

She drew back, determined to regroup her scattered wits. “I believe you asked me here for a reason. We seemed to have gotten sidetracked.”

“It wasn’t anything important, but I do owe you a cup of coffee.”

“Yes, you do.” She reluctantly stepped out of his embrace.

“We can make some here or we can go out to one of those trendy coffee shops that have sprung up all over town.”

“Yours will be fine. It can’t be worse than what Shane makes for us at the office.”

“Don’t be too sure about that. But you’re all dressed up. Are you certain you don’t want to go out?”

“I’m dressed up because I have a Bible-study class in about half an hour.”

“Is it on post?” He busied himself with filling the coffeemaker and adding heaping scoops of grounds to the filter.

“No, it’s at Grayson Community Christian Church.” She sat down on the sofa, remembering the gentle way he had cared for her the first time she had been in his office. So much about Brian Cutter was a contradiction. He often sounded gruff and uncaring, but the more she came to know him, the more certain she was that he was a man with a tender heart.

“I know that church. It’s on the road that leads to my house.”

“Is that where you worship?”

He paused in the act of pouring water into the coffeemaker. “I haven’t been to church since my wife died.”

“Did the two of you attend before that?”

“Emily was really involved with our church back home. She sang in the choir and helped out in the nursery. She even edited the newsletter for the pastor. She had such boundless energy. I attended when I could, but animals get sick and injured as much on Sunday as any other day. At least, that was the excuse I used.”

“Why haven’t you been back?”

“I blamed God for her death. I blamed myself. I can’t get past the anger.”

“Forgiveness is such a large part of our faith, Brian. You can’t truly love someone else unless you first love yourself. And you can’t truly forgive someone else unless you first forgive yourself.”

He didn’t answer her. He finished pouring in the water and pressed the on switch. She rose from the sofa and crossed to his side. Linking her arm through his, she laid her head on his shoulder. “Come with me tonight.”

“To Bible-study class?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t know.”

“Brian, we all struggle to find where we fit into God’s plan, but if you aren’t looking, you’ll never find the answer.”

“How can you be so sure that God
is
the answer?”

She straightened and cupped his cheek with her hand. “We use our head to make a lot of decisions in life, but some decisions have to be made with the heart. This is one of them. Do what your heart tells you is right.”

He covered her hand with his own. “My heart is telling me that kissing you again is the right thing to do.”

“See, your heart knows best,” she whispered as she leaned toward him. Their lips met and the kiss was everything she had dreamed it would be. After a long moment, she pulled away and placed her palm over his lips.

“Okay, my head is telling me that I’m going to be late for class.”

He kissed her palm, then drew her hand away from his mouth. “Smart, as well as beautiful. I never thought I could feel this way about someone again. I’m not sure this is real.”

“It’s real enough for me. I care for you deeply, Brian.”

“And I care for you, so where exactly does this leave us?”

“I’m not sure.” There were so many things to consider, but with happiness zinging through her veins, she couldn’t think of anything but how wonderful it felt to be in his arms.

“Lindsey, I want to keep seeing you.”

Smiling softly, she said, “That sounds like an excellent start.”

“I want to know everything there is to know about you.”

“Everything?”

He pulled her close and kissed the tip of her nose. “Everything,” he whispered.

“I’m just an ordinary girl.”

“Who happens to be a sergeant in the U.S. Army.”

“Is that a problem?” She held her breath, hoping he didn’t see her career as a roadblock to this budding relationship.

“I don’t know. Have you thought about leaving the service?”

She frowned and leaned back to study his face. “Are you asking me to do that?”

“I’m asking if you have considered it.”

“I will admit that I’ve been toying with the idea, but it’s something I would have to give a lot of thought.”

“Of course. I don’t want to rush you or pressure you into making a decision you’ll regret.”

“Thank you.”

“I know that I want to see more of you. I want to be a part of your life.”

“My life includes church, Brian. Can you accept that?”

“I’ll try. I can’t promise anything more than that.”

A small voice in the back of her mind pointed out that he hadn’t mentioned the word
love.
She ignored it by telling herself that things were happening too fast, for both of them.

Chapter Twelve

L
indsey let herself into her apartment a little after ten-thirty that night. She tried to be quiet, but Karen was a light sleeper.

“Lindsey, is that you?” she asked from the sofa.

“Yes, I’m home. Go back to sleep.”

“I will, but I’m supposed to give you a message. Dad wants you to call him.”

“Tonight?”

Karen sat up and stretched. “He said whenever you got home. You know how he likes to watch the late shows. He’ll be up.”

“Did he say what he wanted? Is something wrong?”

“I don’t think so. I got the feeling he wanted to discuss your next duty station.”

“Great. After years of ignoring me, he suddenly wants to pick my career moves.” She tossed her purse on the overstuffed chair in the corner and hung her coat in the closet.

“He’s trying to be a better father, Lindsey. Danny’s injury was a wake-up call for Dad. He knows he hasn’t always been there for you. Give him a chance.”

“You’re right, I’m sorry. It’s just that he was always so eager to hear about what Danny was doing, but I got the feeling that he thought my duties weren’t important.”

“You’ve been invited to participate in the Inaugural Parade. How many people ever get the chance to do something like that?”

“I know. I’m thankful for the opportunity, but it’s not because of anything I’ve done. Don’t get me wrong. I’m delighted to be able to honor Danny and all the other men and women who have given so much for us, but it isn’t like I’ve done anything special.”

“It’s because of you that Danny is working so hard in rehab. It’s only because of you that the army accepted Dakota. Don’t sell yourself short. What you do counts for a lot.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re home late—did your class run over?”

Lindsey settled on the sofa beside Karen. She needed to share her happiness with someone. “Brian went with me to Bible study tonight. Afterward, we stopped and had a cup of coffee together.”

“That’s wonderful! Did he like it? What did he say?”

“He said, ‘Double-chocolate latte, no foam.’ Or something like that, and he really seemed to enjoy it.”

Karen growled as she punched Lindsey’s shoulder. “I don’t mean what did he say about the coffee. I meant, what did he say about the class?”

Lindsey rubbed the tender spot. “Careful. That’s my only good arm.”

“It won’t be good for long unless you tell me everything.”

“He said it gave him a lot to think about.”

“That’s great. I’ll pray that he finds his way back to God.”

“I’m praying for that, too.”

“And I’ll add a special request that he ask you out on another date.”

“It wasn’t exactly a date.”

“Close enough. Oh, I can’t wait until Danny meets Brian. I think they’ll like each other.”

Lindsey took her sister’s hand and squeezed it. “They will, won’t they? I’m so in love. Does it show?”

“Yes. Oh, girl, I’m so happy for you.” She enveloped Lindsey in a quick, hard hug.

Lindsey returned the hug. “Thanks, sis.”

Karen drew back. “Now go call Dad and let me get back to sleep.”

Lindsey wanted to talk about Brian all night long, but she kept the rest of her happiness in check. “All right. Good night, kid.”

Alone in her bedroom, Lindsey sat on the side of her bed and dialed her father’s number. He picked up on the first ring.

“Hi, Dad. It’s me. Did I wake you?”

“No, I was up.”

“What did you need?”

“Nothing really. I just wanted you to know that we plan to be in front of the Hoover Building so you’ll know where to look for us.”

“I’m glad you’re going to be there.”

“I wouldn’t miss it. My daughter in the Inaugural parade. Makes me mighty proud just to think about it.”

She had longed to hear those words from him for so many years that she could barely speak. “Thanks, Dad. How is Danny?”

“He’s making good progress. How’s the arm?”

“I’m out of my sling. I can make a fist now, but my grip is still weak. I don’t know if I’ll be able to hold a flag.”

“You’ll be ready. I know you will. Say, your enlistment will be up soon, won’t it?”

“I’ve got two months left.”

“How long are you reenlisting for?”

It was the question she least wanted to hear. “I’m not sure.”

“If you give them eight years you can just about pick any billet you want. I’ve got friends here in Washington. A Pentagon job isn’t out of the question. That way you’d be close to Danny.”

Eight years—it sounded like an eternity. For the first time she gave voice to the thought that had been roaming around in the back of her mind. “There isn’t anything that says I have to reenlist.”

“What? Mandels have always been soldiers. It’s in our blood.” He sounded appalled that she would even suggest not reenlisting.

“It was just a thought.”

“I know you’ve taken Danny’s injury hard, but think how he would feel if you quit because of him. You’re not going to leave the service. Not my daughter. I raised you better than that.”

“Karen isn’t in the service.” Lindsey felt a fleeting touch of envy for the way Karen had always stood her ground on the issue.

“No, that one takes after her mother’s side of the family for sure, but I haven’t given up on her. You, on the other hand, take after me. You’d be lost in civilian life.”

Maybe he was right. She had wanted to be a soldier all her life. Just as she had wanted to earn her father’s respect all her life, she thought with sudden clarity. The two issues were so closely intertwined she wasn’t sure she could tell which was which, not that it mattered. But he was right about one thing—she couldn’t have Danny thinking she left the service because of him.

“It was just a thought, Dad. I’m sorry I said anything.”

“That’s more like it. You had me worried.”

“If you had left the army, would it have made a difference with you and Mom?”

He was silent for a few seconds, then he said, “There were a lot of things wrong with our marriage, Lindsey. Being in the service was only part of it. Your mother was miserable in our situation, and I knew I would be miserable if I got out of the army. In the end, we did what made us both less miserable. I’m sorry you kids were caught in the middle.”

“You did your best, Dad.”

“And it must have been good enough. Two of my children joined up and followed in my footsteps. A man couldn’t ask for more than that.” His obvious pride came shining through in his words.

“I’ll give some thought to working in Washington, D.C.”

“You do that. Wherever you decide to go, I know you’ll make me proud.”

Tears pricked her eyelids. “Thanks, Dad.”

“The army will take you places, kid. It’s a great life.”

The army had already taken her to the far-flung corners of the earth. Would it be so bad to stay in one place?

Not if it was the right place.

As she hung up the phone, she realized that the right place for her had nothing to do with a physical location. The right place would be where she could make a home and a life with Brian.

Were his feelings as strong? She simply wasn’t sure. He liked her, she could tell that, but his guilt over his wife’s death had a strong hold on his heart. She prayed she could help him find the forgiveness he needed.

* * *

Over the next week, Brian managed to make time to see Lindsey almost every day. One night they enjoyed quiet conversation over a delectable dinner at a small romantic café. On New Year’s Eve, he joined both Lindsey and Karen for dinner at their apartment. Lindsey freely gave Karen credit for the hearty cooking he sampled. While the sisters laughed together over stories of previous cooking failures, he was free to admire how beautiful Lindsey’s face looked when she was happy and carefree.

The following Friday night he took her to see the latest blockbuster action movie. The place was nearly empty with most of the students gone for the holiday break. Holding Lindsey’s hand in a dark theater, he paid little attention to the story unfolding on the screen. What he saw was a new chapter unfolding in his own life and he liked what he saw. He knew it was too soon to talk about marriage, but the idea took hold in the back of his mind and wouldn’t leave.

When he took her home that evening, they stood for a short while on her front porch and shared another sweet kiss full of promise and hope. Unbidden, the words, “I love you,” rose from his heart and crossed his lips.

Her luminous eyes widened and filled with joy. “Oh, Brian, I love you, too.”

“I could stand to hear those words every day of my life.”

“It would be easy to say them every day,” she said with quiet sincerity.

He wanted to say more, but found he didn’t yet have the courage. For now, it was enough to know that she loved him. In time, they would talk about what the future might hold for them together.

On Saturday morning, Brian was determined to enjoy a few quiet hours at home after his evening with Lindsey. The trouble was, he couldn’t stop thinking about her. In the light of day, it all seemed unreal. Had she really said that she loved him? Could they have a future together? The new year seemed to hold so much promise. Just thinking about it scared him witless.

All he wanted to do was to be with Lindsey. He wanted to see her eyes light up when they met his. He wanted to hold her in his arms and kiss her soft lips. He wanted to feel this happy every day of his life.

Their evening at the Bible-study class had given him a lot of food for thought. He wasn’t certain that he was willing to accept Lindsey’s version of a loving and caring God, but he was willing to listen and learn more from the energetic young pastor he had met.

Deciding it was better to work than to moon over a woman, he took out his seminar speech and began practicing it aloud. An hour later, Isabella went scampering through the living room past his chair toward the front entrance. She slid into the door panel then began to hop up and down.

He listened carefully and heard the faint clank of the mailbox closing. Limping to the door, he scooped up the excited rabbit and held on to her as he opened the door and fetched his mail. The grocery store flyers were exactly the kind of paper Isabella delighted in shredding. Back inside the house, he closed the door firmly before putting her down. Her recent escapes at work had made him much more cautious about keeping an eye on her.

Once she was on the floor, she darted to her special box, hopped in and then stood on her hind legs to peer at him over the rim. Her anticipation was obvious.

Sitting in his recliner, he quickly tossed the discount ads in with her. As the crackle and ripping of paper replaced the quiet of the house, he grinned and began to look through the rest of his mail. A small, pale blue envelope caught his attention. A painful spasm clenched his stomach when he read the return address. He glanced at his wife’s face in the photo on the table beside him.

“It’s from your mother.”

His in-laws had spoken to him only once after Emily’s death. Three days after the accident, his father-in-law had come to Brian’s hospital room to tell him they had arranged to have the funeral in their hometown sixty miles away the following day. Groggy from pain medication and still in traction for his shattered hip, Brian had begged him to wait until he could attend, but Emily’s father had walked out of the room without saying anything else.

No words could have conveyed more strongly the blame they placed on Brian for their beloved daughter’s death. He tried phoning, but they never took his calls. The few letters he wrote came back unopened. Now, after all this time, the note in his hand was the first contact he’d had from them.

Irritation battled with his curiosity. He had loved Emily and she had loved him. If her parents had offered even the slightest sign of forgiveness, perhaps he could have found a way to forgive himself, too.

He held the unopened letter over Isabella’s box, but he didn’t drop it. Instead, he tore open the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of pale blue stationery.

Brian,

This coming February will mark the fifth anniversary of Emily’s death, as I’m sure you are aware. Her father and I have planned a memorial service for the occasion. As the passing years have dulled our grief, we have come to regret the way we excluded you from our lives. You were Emily’s one true love and we know that you never meant to hurt her. Our excuse is that our lives ended with the death of our only child. Our grief and anger needed an outlet and it was easy to blame you.

I hope you will accept our invitation to attend her memorial service. Perhaps in this way we can begin to make amends for the way we treated you. Please join us as our family and friends come together to celebrate Emily’s life.

Grace and Emit Todd

Tears blurred his vision as he glanced to his wife’s face smiling at him from the silver frame. She would be happy to know her parents were making an attempt to repair their relationship with him. Noticing a thin coat of dust on the glass, he realized that he hadn’t held her picture close in weeks. Guilt cut deep in his heart.

He picked up the photo and wiped the front with his sleeve then pressed it to his chest. “I’ve been forgetting you. How could I do that? I’m sorry, sweetheart. I’m sorry about everything.”

It was because of Lindsey. Lindsey had turned his life upside down and made him dream about happiness again. How could he be happy when he had ruined the lives of so many people? Her life, their child’s life. Her parents were suffering still. What right did he have to any happiness in the face of so much sorrow?

The clock on the wall chimed twelve times. Today was his day to volunteer at Hearts and Horses. He was scheduled to be there at two o’clock. For a second, he considered calling to say he couldn’t make it, but that would only place more of a burden on his friend. He would go, but first he would answer the letter from Emily’s parents and tell them he would join them in February.

Later in the afternoon, Brian stepped out of his truck in front of the Hearts and Horses stable. He turned up the collar of his black overcoat against the chilling wind, then pulled his cane out from behind the front seat. As he made his way across the gravel driveway to the office door beside the barn, he glanced around at the well-groomed farm.

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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