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Authors: Kathryn Springer

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Making His Way Home

BOOK: Making His Way Home
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You Can Go Home Again

The only thing Cole Merrick wants to do with the Mirror Lake property he inherited is sell it. And the sooner the better. The handsome pilot has no attachment to the place where he and Grace Eversea fell in love years ago. He never meant to break his promises—or her heart—when he left town without a word. Now, just in time for Mirror Lake’s 125th birthday celebration, he comes face-to-face with all he left behind, including Grace. And he wonders if he ought to give this town a second chance. If only he can convince Grace to do the same for him....

Mirror Lake: A small town where dreams of finding home come true

“Now you better get on over
to the Redstones’ place before Grace thinks you stood her up.”

“Stood her up?”

“You won her basket at the box social—you’re her date.”

“For the square dance?”

“For everything.” Before Cole had a chance to ask Candy to clarify that cryptic response, she marched to the door, grumbling. “The last thing a woman needs is a guy who won’t step up to the plate and do the right thing.”

The words had continued to cycle through Cole’s mind on his way to the parking lot.

He
had
done the right thing.

It was the reason he’d left Mirror Lake.

And Grace.

Books by Kathryn Springer

Love Inspired

  Tested by Fire
  Her
Christmas Wish
  By Her Side
  For Her Son’s
Love
  A Treasure Worth Keeping
  Hidden
Treasures
  Family Treasures
  Jingle Bell
Babies
*
A Place to Call Home
*
Love Finds a Home
*
The
Prodigal Comes Home
  The Prodigal’s Christmas Reunion
*
Longing for Home
*
The
Promise of Home
  The Soldier’s Newfound Family
*
Making His Way Home

*Mirror Lake

Love Inspired Single Title

Front Porch Princess
Hearts Evergreen
“A Match
Made for Christmas”
Picket Fence Promises
The Prince Charming List

KATHRYN SPRINGER

is a lifelong Wisconsin resident. Growing up in a
“newspaper” family, she spent long hours as a child plunking out stories on her
mother’s typewriter and hasn’t stopped writing since. She loves to write
inspirational romance because it allows her to combine her faith in God with her
love of a happy ending.

Making His Way Home

Kathryn Springer

In his heart a man plans his course,
but the Lord determines his steps.

—Proverbs
16:9

To Char

My friend who drives two hours to see me
when I need a sanity break (and brings lunch!)
and laughs at all the right places in my manuscripts. You’re the reason there will always be a
“Faye McAllister” in every story I write. Love you!

Chapter One

“T
he dress is adorable, Grace! I knew that shade of yellow would look perfect on you.”

Grace Eversea summoned a smile, trying to match Kate Nichols’s enthusiasm while she maneuvered her ankle-length skirt—and six inches of petticoat—through the narrow gap between the sofa and the coffee table.

Add a bonnet and a pair of button-up shoes, and people just might think she’d stepped down from one of the sepia-toned portraits hanging on the wall of the historical museum.

But then again, Grace acknowledged ruefully, that was kind of the point.

It had been Kate’s idea that everyone who volunteered to help with Mirror Lake’s 125th birthday celebration should dress for the part in clothing authentic to that time period.

Something Grace hadn’t found out until
after
she’d agreed to act as the official tour guide for the event, transporting people to unique historical landmarks and other points of interest scattered throughout the area. In a horse-drawn wagon.

Which posed a problem that apparently only Grace could see.

“I’m still not sure how I’m supposed to sit down while I’m wearing this...bustle.”
And breathe in this corset.
“I think every article of clothing they wore in 1887 was designed to pinch, itch or constrict.”

At the same time.

“That could explain why none of the women in those old photographs we found were smiling.” Kate chuckled as she reached for the garment bag draped over the back of a rocking chair. “I better get back to the café. Mayor Dodd wants to go over some last-minute details before the opening ceremony tomorrow. You’re welcome to join us.”

“Thanks, but I think I’ll—”
change clothes!
“—take B.C. for a dry run. I’m not sure how long it will take to complete the whole circle. We have to make five stops—”

“Six,” her friend interrupted cheerfully.

Grace blinked. “Six?”

“That’s the other reason I stopped by.” Kate’s clover-green eyes sparkled with excitement. “I sent the letter over a month ago but didn’t mention it because I didn’t want to get your hopes up. But then he called yesterday, out of the blue, and gave us permission to add the property to the tour....”

“You lost me.” Grace jumped in when her friend paused to take a breath. “Who called?
What
are we adding to the tour?”

“Sloan Merrick’s place.”

Grace’s breath snagged in her lungs, and this time she couldn’t blame it on the corset. “I didn’t think that property was still in the family.”

“I wasn’t sure, either. That’s why I went to the courthouse and did a little investigating.” Kate grinned. “Apparently Sloan left the house and land to his oldest grandson when he died.”

An image rose in Grace’s mind, swift and clear, almost as if it had been lingering just below the surface of her memories, waiting for permission to appear.

Shaggy hair the color of a midnight sky. Crooked smile. Eyes the rich, deep green of a fresh cedar bough.

Cole.

“Right.” Kate’s eyes widened and Grace realized she’d said the name out loud. “Anyway, he apologized for not getting back to me sooner. His only stipulation for letting people tour the property is that we check the cabin first to make sure it’s safe. Isn’t that great?”

“Great,” Grace echoed.

“I’m surprised you remember Cole,” Kate went on. “I don’t think he lived in Mirror Lake very long.”

“A summer,” Grace murmured.

And yes, she remembered.

A girl didn’t forget the first time she’d fallen in love.

Or the first time her heart had been broken.

But she didn’t tell Kate that Cole Merrick had been responsible for both.

* * *

“One hour and twenty-six minutes, B.C.”

The old draft horse stomped a platter-size hoof and tossed an aggravated look at Grace.

Okay, so maybe she hadn’t added in the ten minutes the wagon had been parked in front of the gravel road leading up to Sloan Merrick’s house.

Grace closed her eyes.

What was
wrong
with her?

Her yard bordered the Merrick property. She’d driven past this exact spot hundreds—no,
thousands
—of times on her way to work and hadn’t thought about Cole.

But over the past few hours, memories had begun to pop up like dandelions. Grace no sooner yanked one out than another one immediately took its place.

She couldn’t blame Kate. No one, not her parents or even her closest friends, knew that she and Cole had formed an unexpected bond when his family had moved in with Sloan the summer before her senior year of high school. At seventeen, Grace had been shy and bookish; Cole grieving his father’s death and angry at the world in general.

They’d come face-to-face one afternoon in Grace’s favorite spot—a boulder roughly the size and shape of a hammock that jutted out over the lake. Anxious to finish the book tucked under her arm, Grace had stumbled upon a boy trying to light one on fire. An English text, which made it even worse because that happened to be Grace’s favorite subject.

She’d rescued the book and ordered him to leave. Not only had Cole refused, but he’d also returned the next day. And the next. After several days of ignoring each other, a tentative friendship had begun to take root. And as the weeks went by, it had blossomed into something more.

They’d talked about their families. Their fears.

Their future.

That’s why Cole’s abrupt departure had come as such a shock. In the days and weeks that followed, Grace waited for the phone to ring. Checked the mailbox every day. Twice. In time, she’d come to the realization that he hadn’t felt the same way about her.

By the time her senior year of high school ended, Grace had stopped waiting for him. Not
thinking
about Cole had been a little more challenging, but she had managed it.

Most of the time.

“Come on, B.C. Let’s get this over with and go home.” Grace clicked her tongue and the mare obediently plodded forward, right between two rusty No Trespassing signs hammered to the oak trees that flanked the gravel driveway.

The two-story brick house wasn’t visible from the road, so she hadn’t realized how neglected the property had become since Sloan’s death four and a half years ago. The man had been meticulous in maintaining the spacious grounds, but weeds had taken over the raised vegetable gardens and branches from a recent storm littered the yard.

The original homestead, a rustic cabin with a crumbling layer of white chinking between the logs, sat at the edge of a small pond garnished with cattails. Lilac bushes scented the air with a heady, soul-stirring fragrance that rivaled the perfume counter of an exclusive boutique.

No wonder Kate had wanted to add the Merrick place to the tour. Even in its neglected state, there was something appealing about the structure. A simplicity that reflected a time when life had been the same way.

Grace hopped down from the wide plank seat and looped B.C.’s reins around the weathered pole of an old clothesline. She waded through the tall grass and circled the cabin, on the lookout for potential hazards to curious children and petticoats.

As she rounded the corner, her gaze drifted to a narrow opening between two poplar trees. And even though it wasn’t part of her scheduled tour, Grace was drawn down a path that only existed in her memory.

As the wooded area opened to a small clearing along the shoreline, she stopped dead in her tracks.

A man stood on the rock, hands in his pockets, facing the lake.

Apparently she wasn’t the only one who ignored the No Trespassing signs.

Mayor Dodd had warned everyone to prepare for an influx of visitors. Not only had people in the community invited their family and friends to attend the celebration, but Grace’s friend, Jenna, had also mentioned it in the weekly column she wrote for the online edition of
Twin City Trends
magazine.

As if he sensed Grace’s presence, the stranger turned around to face her, his face shadowed under the brim of a ball cap.

“Sorry.” She took a step back. “I didn’t realize anyone was here—”

“Grace?”

Her breath stuck in her throat.

Either her mind was playing tricks on her...or Cole Merrick was back in Mirror Lake.

* * *

Twelve years disappeared in the blink of an eye.

Cole was seventeen years old again, about to torch a textbook and sprinkle the ashes over the water, when a girl had stumbled into view. Eyes the color of dark chocolate had widened with astonishment when she’d spotted him.

Almost identical to the expression Cole saw on her face now.

Well, he was feeling a little shell-shocked, too, by this unexpected blast from the past.

Grace Eversea.
The last person Cole had expected to see.

He automatically took a step toward her.

Grace took another step back.

Cole frowned. He hadn’t changed
that
much over the years. A few crow’s feet fanning out from his eyes—ones he held Bettina and Travis and Sean, his twin brothers, directly responsible for—but other than that...no tattoos. No piercings. The reflection in the mirror remained pretty much the same.

“It’s me.” He yanked off his cap. “Cole.”

“I know.”

I know?

Those two words might have made Cole feel a little better. If Grace hadn’t tossed a quick look over her shoulder like she was searching for an escape route.

“It’s...been a long time.”
Because there’s nothing like stating the obvious, is there, buddy?

“Yes, it has.” Grace finally smiled, but it wasn’t the one Cole remembered. The one that had made him feel like he could conquer the world. This one was distant. Polite. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

It sounded almost like an accusation.

“Kate wrote to me,” Cole explained. “About Mirror Lake’s birthday celebration.”

And if everything went the way he hoped, in twenty-four hours he would be celebrating something else. Phase two of the expansion project for Painted Skies, his private air charter service.

“She mentioned that. Today.” Grace sighed. And glanced over her shoulder again.

Cole took advantage of the momentary silence to study her. At seventeen, Grace had cared more about books than shoes. Other girls their age knew how to flirt; Grace knew how to listen. She’d taught him how to skip rocks and hunt for literary symbolism buried in obscure passages of Shakespeare. A failing grade following his father’s death had sentenced Cole to six weeks of summer school, and Grace had saved him from a D in English Lit.

Who was he kidding?

She’d saved him from a lot of things.

Cole had never known anyone quite like her.

But if the wary expression on Grace’s face was anything to go by, she didn’t feel the same way. The conversation was beginning to feel like an awkward blind date instead of an unexpected reunion between two people who had once been friends.

Close friends.

In fact...Grace happened to be standing in the exact spot where Cole had kissed her for the first time. Right underneath that silver birch...

He heard her quick intake of breath and yanked his wayward thoughts back in line.

Grace pivoted away from him. “It was...nice...to see you again, but I have to get back.”

“Hold on.” The words slipped out before Cole could stop them. “I’ll walk with you.”

He hopped down from the rock and caught up to Grace as she reached the clearing. Her figure was still as slender as the reeds that hemmed the shoreline, but faded Levi’s hugged curves that hadn’t been there in high school.

They fell into step together, but Grace kept her gaze fixed straight ahead. The mane of glossy, sable brown hair was pulled back into a low ponytail at the nape of Grace’s neck, giving Cole an unobstructed view of her delicate profile.

Her steps quickened as the house came into view, as if she couldn’t wait to be on her way.

Cole, on the other hand, suddenly wanted to know more about her.

“Would you like to come inside for a few minutes?”

Grace looked shocked by the impulsive invitation, and Cole mentally smacked himself upside the head. Grace wasn’t the teenaged girl who’d turned his world upside down—and his heart inside out.

Not to mention there was probably someone who would be tempted to punch his lights out for asking.

“I can’t. I have to get B.C. home,” she murmured. “She gets cranky if she doesn’t get her oats at a certain time.”

For the first time, Cole noticed the enormous draft horse hitched to an old-fashioned buckboard.

The mare’s head swung around, and she whinnied a greeting.

Cole grinned.

At least someone looked happy to see him.

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