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 (33 page)

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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He said, “There’s a jump seat in the trailer. One of us should ride back here and keep an eye on him. There’s a walkie-talkie by the seat and one in the truck cab so we can keep in touch.”

“I’ll ride with him,” Lindsey said, and moved to climb in.

Karen caught her by the arm. “Oh, no you don’t. I’m taking the first turn with Dakota.” She pushed past her sister to stand in the open doorway at the rear of the trailer.

Brian could have kissed her. He walked to the front of the truck and waited beside the passenger door.

“Karen, you’re riding in the truck and that’s an order.” Lindsey’s low tone brooked no argument.

“I’m not in the military. I don’t take orders. Stop being a coward and go get in the truck or we’ll never get there.”

Lindsey considered jerking her sister out of the trailer, but decided she didn’t want to look that undignified in front of her men. Instead, she slammed the rear door shut, walked up beside Brian and climbed into the cab.

Moments later, he got in behind the wheel, started the engine and pulled out onto the road. Long minutes passed as they drove through the fort on the winding, narrow road. She didn’t say anything and neither did he.

It wasn’t until he pulled out onto Interstate 70 fifteen minutes later that she gave in and spoke first.

“I thought your big conference was the day after tomorrow?”

“It is.”

“You’ll never make it back from D.C. unless you plan to fly.”

“I can’t fly. I have to drive this trailer back.”

She looked at him in surprise. “What about your presentation? What about the bigwigs with money who will fund your research if you wow them?”

“They won’t be wowed by me. Hopefully, my research will speak for itself when I publish the study later on.”

Lindsey couldn’t quite get her mind around the idea that he had given up a chance for peer recognition and substantial additional funding...for her. A slim thread of hope began to bind up the shattered pieces of her heart. “Why are you doing this?”

He looked over at her. “Because my head said this was a crazy idea, but my heart said it was the right thing to do.”

His eyes, so intense and full of sincerity, begged her to believe him. A whirlwind of emotions swirled through her mind. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Then let me start by saying I’m sorry that I treated you so badly that day at Hearts and Horses. I know I have some explaining to do.”

She settled back in the seat and crossed her arms over her chest. “Yes, you do.”

“Until I met you, I had kept the pain of my wife’s death very much alive. The accident was my fault and I wanted—no, I needed—some kind of punishment for being the one to live.”

“Survivor’s guilt.”

“Is that what they call it?”

“Yes. That still doesn’t explain why you were so angry about my reenlistment.”

“I wasn’t angry about that. I was angry because I had allowed myself to fall in love with you. Your reenlistment was just an excuse to push you away. I would have found some other reason to stop seeing you. I didn’t believe that I deserved to be loved.”

She wasn’t sure she was ready to accept what he had to say at face value.

“You really hurt me.”

“What can I do to make you forgive me?”

“Groveling might be good,” she suggested.

He managed a small smile. “I’ll do that the first chance I get.”

“Telling the truth is always a winner, too.”

“All right, the truth. I have been afraid since the first moment I saw you.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Of living and loving and perhaps losing that love. I couldn’t face those risks, but I couldn’t forget about you, either, and that scared me witless.”

“All of life is a risk, Brian. Only God knows what lies in store for us.”

“I’m trying to accept that, but it’s hard to have faith in something I can’t see or touch.”

She reached across and laid her hand on his arm. “You can’t see or touch love, yet you still believe in it, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do believe love exists.”

“Then so does God. God
is
love.”

“Is it really that simple?”

“It really is.”

“Have I told you how beautiful and wise you are?”

“No, but I may allow you to do so for the next thousand miles.”

He chuckled, but quickly sobered. He took one hand off the wheel to clasp hers tightly. “Lindsey, I need to know that I haven’t ruined what we had between us.”

Her hand felt so small and snug in his grip. When she was eighty years old, would she still want to hold this man’s hand? “My feelings for you haven’t changed, Brian. I don’t expect that they ever will.”

“If I wasn’t driving seventy miles an hour I would kiss you, darling. I love you so much it hurts.”

“I love you, too, and we’re going to have to stop for gas sometime.”

He laughed out loud and squeezed her hand. “I promise to make up for lost time at our first pit stop. Sergeant Lindsey Mandel, will you marry me?”

In the sudden and telling silence, Brian glanced at Lindsey in concern. A second later his newfound bubble of happiness nose-dived toward the floor. “What? What’s wrong?”

“Oh, talk about being scared. Brian, my family have always been good soldiers, but we make lousy spouses.”

He sought for the words to reassure her. “You make your own decisions, Lindsey. What your parents or grandparents did doesn’t automatically determine what you will do. I don’t need an answer now. Think about it—that’s all I’m asking.”

“I will.”

He managed a smile and tried to recapture their easy banter. “Do I still get a kiss when we stop for gas?”

A grin pulled at the corner of her lips. “I’ll think about that, too.”

Brian settled back in his seat. There were a lot of miles to go and nothing to do but look at the passing winter scenery and think. Her decision was much too important to risk pressing her for an answer. Instead, he said, “Why don’t you call your brother and tell him that Dakota is on his way to the parade.”

The walkie-talkie crackled on the dash as Karen’s voice came over it. “I’ve already called him. He’s as excited as a five-year-old on Christmas morning.”

Brian chuckled as Lindsey grabbed the radio and demanded. “Karen, have you been listening this whole time?”

“I heard someone mention stopping for gas and that was all. I just turned this talkie thing on to report that Dakota seems happy as a clam in his snug, padded... holder thing.”

Lindsey looked as if she wasn’t certain she believed her sibling. “All right. I’ll trade places with you when we make our first stop.”

“How long will that be?”

Brian checked the gas gauge. “About three hours.”

“That long?”

“Yes, little miss busybody. Try taking a nap,” Lindsey suggested.

“Back here with a smelly horse? I don’t think so.”

Brian listened to their chatter and drew a deep breath. He had three hours to wait until he could collect his kiss. Three hours alone with the woman he loved. He looked down the long four-lane highway and smiled. He was determined to make the most of every minute God had given him.

For the next few hours, he talked about Emily, about Isabella and about his early years on the ranch. He listened to Lindsey’s stories of her childhood as an army brat and her worries about her brother and about Karen. When they finally stopped, he was rewarded with a kiss that was pleasant but far too brief.

After Lindsey took her turn in the trailer, he received a very different version of their youthful experiences from Karen. It was obvious that Lindsey found the military lifestyle to her liking while Karen didn’t. He tolerated some not too gentle grilling by Karen about his intentions and listened to some hopefully useful advice about Lindsey, as well. Every four hours they took a short break to let Dakota stretch his legs and let the women change places.

East of St. Louis, Brian finally gave up the wheel to Lindsey, and just outside of Cincinnati, Karen took over for a few hours while Brian rode with Dakota. It wasn’t until they were heading into Wheeling, West Virginia, that the weather began to turn bad. Brian didn’t know about the growing storm until they stopped to switch drivers at a roadside rest stop. As Karen walked the horse for a few minutes, Brian took Lindsey aside.

“This could slow us down.”

She looked up through the flakes that filled the night sky. “How much farther do we have to go?”

“A little over three hundred miles. Five, maybe six hours.”

She tilted her watch to see it better in the vehicle’s headlights. “We need to be at the staging area by ten at the latest. That’s six and a half hours from now.”

“We’ll make this Dakota’s last exercise stop. We go straight through from here. I’ll drive next. Dakota has been as quiet as a lamb so far. I think both you girls can ride in the truck from here on out.”

For the next hour, he drove into the swirling whiteness as Lindsey and Karen leaned against each other and tried to sleep. The excitement of the trip had worn off hours ago, and Brian struggled to stay awake. He couldn’t stop. He had promised Lindsey that Dakota would reach Washington, D.C., in time. He glanced at the clock on the dash and saw it was nearly five-thirty in the morning. They were falling behind schedule. From the radio forecast bulletins he figured they should be driving out of the worst of it soon. If the weathermen were right for a change.

Forcing himself to concentrate, he peered into the snow. After a few more minutes, he found himself blinking repeatedly. The thick flakes flying into his headlights were mesmerizing. He rubbed his face with one hand. The glare reflecting back from the snow was making it hard to focus. If only he wasn’t so tired. He closed his heavy eyes for just a second....

Chapter Fifteen

T
he sickening lurch of the truck woke Lindsey from her doze. She sat up abruptly, instinctively throwing her arm across Karen.

“Ouch! What was that for?” Karen said, pushing her sister’s arm aside and sitting upright.

“I’m sorry.” Brian’s voice sounded weary and defeated. “I hit a drift pulling over. We have to stop. The storm is making it too dangerous. I’m not risking your lives in this weather.”

He leaned forward and turned on the emergency flashers then leaned back with a deep sigh. Thinking of what he had told her about his wife’s death, Lindsey leaned toward him and took his hand between her own. “It’s okay. We tried. No one is faulting you.”

He looked at Lindsey and reached out to cup her cheek with his free hand. “I wish I could have gotten you there.”

“I know you do and I love you for that.”

She raised her face and met his kiss with only gladness in her heart.

Karen cleared her throat. “At least you two won’t freeze to death. The temperature on your side of the truck is rising fast.”

Brian slipped his arm behind Lindsey’s shoulders and jerked Karen closer by the sleeve of her jacket. “I’ll do my best to keep both of you warm.”

Tightly sandwiched between them, Lindsey enjoyed a feeling of rightness. She was disappointed they wouldn’t make it to Washington, D.C., but she was so very glad they had taken this trip.

She said, “Don’t worry about freezing, Karen. I’ve had survival training.”

“Can you make fire with two sticks?” Brian asked, his amusement clear.

“Doing it with two sticks is hard. I’d rather wait until the sun comes up and use a soda can and a chocolate bar.”

“What?” the other two said in unison.

“It can be done. I’ll show you someday. For now, I think we could all use a little sleep.”

“I know I could,” Brian said, leaning his head back.

Lindsey settled herself against his shoulder and drew Karen into the same position against her. This was where she truly wanted to be, held safe in Brian’s arms while the storm outside raged on. This was the one place that was the right place for her. She knew it in her soul.

Thank You, Lord, for bringing this man into my life.

Sometime later, she opened her eyes at the sound of a large truck rumbling past them. She looked at the clock. It was a quarter till seven. Brian sat up and pulled his arm from behind her. Flexing it, he grimaced.

“What was that?” Karen mumbled, sitting up and rubbing her eyes.

Brian turned on the windshield wipers and the white blanket enclosing them was swept aside. The first faint light of dawn tinged the sky to the east of them.

“Hey, it stopped snowing,” Karen said in delight.

Brian reached down and started the engine. “Yes, it has, and that was a pair of snowplows.” He looked at Lindsey. “What do you think?”

“I think we are closer to Washington, D.C., than to Kansas. Let’s finish the trip.”

He leaned forward. “Karen?”

“Finish what we started. Maybe we’ll get to see the tail end of the parade.”

“All right. I’m going to check on Dakota and then we’ll get back on the road.”

He stepped out of the truck and used his cane to find firm footing. When he closed the door, Karen jerked on Lindsey’s arm. “Well, what is your answer going to be?”

“I said let’s go to D.C.”

“Not that. Your answer to his marriage proposal.”

“You were listening in!”

“I promise you I wasn’t listening on purpose. I was trying to find a way to turn the silly thing off.”

“Right. Like the dial on the side that says Off is so very hard to find.”

“It was dark in the trailer, but never mind that. What’s your answer?”

“You’ll be the second—no, the fourth—person I’ll tell after I make my decision.”

“Fourth? I’m your only sister.”

“You’re a pain in the neck.”

Karen sat back with a huff. “I think you should say yes.”

“I’ll take that under advisement.”

Karen opened her mouth to say something else, but by that time Brian had returned. Thankfully, she kept what she wanted to say to herself.

Once they were back on the road, their spirits revived. Within an hour they had driven out of the snow-covered area and onto dry roads. Brian pushed the speed limit trying to make up some of their lost time.

It was eleven o’clock when they reached downtown D.C. and passed through the first of the security stops. It was then they got their first bit of good news.

The marine handing back their papers said, “The start of the parade has been delayed. It’s set to go for one o’clock.”

“Do you know why?” Brian asked as he took the forms.

“No, sir.”

Rolling up his window, Brian said, “Lindsey, call your Captain and tell him we’re almost there.”

“They aren’t going to wait for us.”

“Just call them and let them know we’re close.”

She dialed the number with hands that shook. “Lord, please don’t let him have turned off his cell phone yet.”

He answered on the third ring. “It’s about time you called, Sergeant.”

“Sorry, sir. I knew you would be busy.”

“Where are you?”

“We just passed the first checkpoint.”

“Okay. All I can say is hurry. We aren’t going to be able to wait if we get the order to go.”

“I understand, sir.”

At the next checkpoint, they waited as a police officer with a bomb-sniffing dog made a circuit through the trailer. Dakota lowered his head to check out the four-legged visitor, but the German shepherd gave him only a cursory glance before moving on.

Karen shifted from one foot to the other as she stood beside Lindsey. “Why won’t they hurry up?”

“They are doing their job.”

“They could do it a little faster.”

Lindsey turned from watching the search to face her sister. She put both hands on Karen’s shoulders. “It doesn’t matter if we don’t make it. Danny will still get a chance to see Dakota after the parade and he’ll get to meet Brian. That’s reward enough for me.”

“Oh, you’re just happy because you’re in love. Are you guys done yet?” She called over Lindsey’s shoulder. “The President is waiting on us.”

“Karen!”

“He might be,” she said defensively. “You don’t know why the start was delayed.”

“You’re all clear,” the officer said.

“Thank you,” Karen called sweetly, then hurried to climb in the cab.

Fifteen minutes later they pulled into the staging area and located Lindsey’s unit. They were all mounted except for the Captain. A drill team from a high school in Iowa was just stepping out, while their marching band was hurrying to form up behind them. The Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard was next in line. Shane and Avery dismounted and hurried toward the trailer.

Captain Watson motioned for them to hurry and then turned to speak to a parade official. Brian had already opened the door and was backing Dakota out of the trailer. He handed the horse’s lead rope to Shane. Avery grabbed the tack and began to saddle the big bay.

Brian moved to speak with Captain Watson then accompanied him back to Lindsey. She stood gazing at Dakota with tears of joy in her eyes. “Wait until Danny sees you. You behave yourself out there and make him proud.”

“Sergeant Mandel, you’re out of uniform.” Captain Watson stood scowling at her.

She looked down at her rumpled dress uniform in confusion.

“You heard me, change into the unit’s performance gear ASAP.”

“But I’m not riding.”

“Oh, yes you are.” Brian pushed her toward the trailer. “Is your uniform in your suitcase?”

“I’ve got it,” Karen cried as she hefted it into the back of the trailer. “Come on, I’ll help you.”

Captain Watson grinned. “Sergeant, you didn’t think you came all this way just to stand on the sidelines, did you?”

“Sort of.”

“No. Get dressed. That’s an order, soldier.”

Brian watched as a Lindsey snapped to attention. She saluted smartly and climbed into the trailer with her sister.

A few minutes later she emerged in period uniform as she pulled on a pair of white gloves. She walked up to Captain Watson.

“Sergeant Mandel reporting as ordered.”

“Give the order to mount up, Sergeant.”

“Sir, yes, sir.”

She barked out the command, mounted Dakota and rode out into the street. At the order to unfurl the colors, three flags were taken from their covers. Captain Watson took the American flag and handed it to Brian. “As a way to say thank-you for all you have done for this unit, would you please present this flag to First Sergeant Mandel.”

“It would be my honor, sir.”

Brian looked to where Lindsey sat and read the fear in her eyes.

Lindsey called on every ounce of inner strength that she possessed when Brian handed her the symbol of her country—the country her brother and so many other brave young men and women had given so much to defend.

She closed her hand around the staff, but her grip failed and the wind pulled it from her grasp. Brian caught it before it hit the ground.

“I can’t do it.” Tears sprang up in her eyes, blurring her vision.

“You can do it, honey. God didn’t bring you and Dakota this far to fail you now. Have faith, Lindsey. I have faith in you. Give me your hand.”

He placed the end of the rod into the metal cup on her stirrup and folded her fingers around the staff. “Which color in our flag stands for courage?”

“The colors have no official meaning, but to me, all of them stand for courage.”

“Show me that courage now.”

She closed her eyes and willed her grip to strengthen. An instant later, she heard the sound of tearing cloth and looked down. With the flag braced against his shoulder, Brian ripped a piece of tape from a wide, white roll and made a quick loop around her wrist.

“Open your fingers.”

She did and he made two quick passes around the staff and then back around her wrist. The tape blended with her white gloves. When she closed her fingers, it didn’t show on the pole.

“Now you don’t have to be afraid. You couldn’t drop it if you tried.”

“Brian, you’re a genius.”

“Be sure and tell Jennifer that when we get back.”

“I haven’t turned in my reenlistment papers,” she said quickly.

“Why not? I hope it wasn’t because of anything I said.”

“I love the service, but maybe it’s time for
me
to make a change in my life.”

“Whatever you decide to do, I’m behind you 100 percent. If you want to remain in the army, we’ll find a way to make it work for both of us.”

“What about your research? You love your work.”

“I do, but I love you more. If we are meant to be together, the Lord will show us the path.”

“Proverbs 16:9, A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.”

Grinning, he patted Dakota’s neck. “He certainly directed my steps to you.”

Looking into his love-filled eyes, Lindsey smiled. “Yes, he did. And the answer to your question is yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, I’ll marry you.”

“You will? But I can’t kiss you up on that horse. Lean down here.”

“Meet me after the parade,” she suggested with a wink. “I love you, Brian Cutter.”

“I love you, too. Now, go make me proud.”

Nodding, she touched her spurs to Dakota’s sides and rode to the head of the column.

“This is for you, Danny,” Lindsey whispered.

Suddenly she knew she wasn’t alone. The wind died away to a gentle breeze and a deep warmth surrounded her. An inner strength filled her and her grip on the flag’s staff tightened. This had all been a part of His plan.

Thank You, Lord, for giving me this day.

Captain Watson gave the command to move out. The Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard left the staging area and rode out to take their place on Pennsylvania Avenue.

As Brian watched her ride away, his heart was filled with more happiness than he had ever expected to know again. A second later, Karen was pulling at his sleeve.

“Come on. If we hurry, we can find Dad and Danny before Lindsey passes by. They’re going to be in front of the Hoover Building. It’s only a couple of blocks.”

Following her, he tried to hurry, but she soon disappeared into the crowd. Looking up at the tall, imposing structures lining the street, he wondered if he would recognize the Hoover Building when he saw it.

Just when he had decided to rest and watch the presidential detail passing by, Karen appeared at his side. “They’re right over here. Come on.”

“Right over here” turned out to be another block. He was gritting his teeth against the pain in his hip by the time Karen announced, “There they are.”

He slowed down to catch his breath. Karen hurried toward a man in a wheelchair stationed at the curbside and threw her arms around him. When the man didn’t hug her in return, Brian realized what a high price Danny Mandel had paid for the idea of freedom in a country half the world away. Karen knelt beside him and motioned to Brian.

Stepping closer, Brian nodded to the man about his own age held strapped upright in a specially designed chair. Karen quickly made the introductions to Danny, his wife and to Lindsey’s father.

Danny grinned. “So you’re the rabbit guy Lindsey is always talking about.”

“I’ve been called worse.”

Abigail extended her hand. “Dr. Cutter, I want to thank you for the information you sent about hippotherapy. We found out that the Old Guard has a program here. We’re looking into it.”

“That’s great.” Brian shook her hand then turned to the senior Mandel. Lindsey’s father was an imposing man. Brian could only hope he wouldn’t object to a civilian marrying his daughter. With his gray hair still short in a military buzz, he looked quite capable of holding his own in any kind of a fight.

“Thanks for getting my daughter and my boy’s horse here. It means a lot to us.”

“I’m glad I could help.”

“Oh, look, here they come.” Karen pushed Danny’s chair closer to the curb. Marching in a straight line, Lindsey’s unit passed by, pride evident in everyone’s ramrod-straight bearing. Lindsey was looking straight ahead, but Dakota swung his head toward them and whinnied loudly.

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