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Authors: Sally John

A Journey by Chance

BOOK: A Journey by Chance
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“Where have you been all my life?”

“Oh, Gina.” Brady ran a hand across his somber face and took a deep breath. “Where have you been all my life?”

“California.”

“No. Now that I think about it, you've been here all the time. Since I was 19, anyway.”

“Nineteen? What are you talking about?”

“I remember you visiting the summer I was 19. You must have been 15.”

“Did we meet?”

“Not exactly, but I knew who you were.”

“That Lindstrom girl.”

“Mm-hmm. I watched you hanging out with Lauren and Liz. You looked like such a snob.”

“What'd I do?”

“Nothing in particular. You were just too cute to be for real. Between that and your heritage, I concluded you were a snob.”

“You thought I was cute?”

He chuckled. “Cute as a bug's ear with a Miss America smile.”

Her skin tingled. “Hmm, I see. And being cute made me a snob?”

“Well, all three of you were snobs. After all, you were Lindstroms.”

“I never stood a chance.”

“Not really…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

 

Sally John
is the author of several novels, including the popular The Other Way Home and In a Heartbeat series. She has recently coauthored a book with Gary Smalley,
A Time to Mend,
in Nelson's Safe Harbor series. A two-time finalist for The Christy Award and a former teacher, Sally lives in Southern California with her husband, Tim.

A JOURNEY
BY CHANCE

SALLY

JOHN

HARVEST HOUSE PUBLISHERS

EUGENE, OREGON

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible
®
, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
(www.Lockman.org)

Verses marked NEB are taken from The New English Bible, copyright © Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press 1961, 1970. All rights reserved.

Cover by Garborg Design Works, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Published in association with the literary agency of Alive Communications, Inc., 7680 Goddard Street, Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80920.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to events or locales, is entirely coincidental.

A JOURNEY BY CHANCE
Copyright © 2002 by Sally John
Published by Harvest House Publishers
Eugene, Oregon 97402
www.harvesthousepublishers.com

ISBN-13: 978-0-7369-2091-9
ISBN-10: 0-7369-2091-9

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
John, Sally D.,

A journey by chance / Sally John

p. cm.—(The other way home ; 1)

ISBN 0-7369-0880-3

  1. Women—Middle West—Fiction. 2. Middle West—Fiction. I. Title. II. Series.

PS3560.O323 C47 2002

813'.54—dc21

2001043632

All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, digital, photocopy, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher.

Printed in the United States of America

08 09 10  11  12  13  14  15  /  LB-MS  /  11  10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

 

 

This book is dedicated to those women who have been the
touchstones of my writing journey.

Thank you:
Irene Frank, for teaching me how to write fiction
Pat Teal, for nudging me into that first contest
Jere Johnson, for suggesting that my characters portray faith
Doris Fell, for your wisdom and trailblazing
Jill Carter, for smiling at that first manuscript
Elizabeth White, for prying loose my wings
Margo Balsis, for the critiques and prayers that carry me

A special note of thanks goes to Kelly Parrish
for enthusiastically sharing her expertise of horses.

Prologue

Thou hast traced my journey and my resting places,
and art familiar with all my paths.
—Psalm 139:3

“It's all settled then.” The young woman's determined tone lingered in the soft spring air. Cross-legged on the ground, she plucked at the short grass that clothed the grave.

“Yep.” The man unfolded lanky arms and legs and stood. The pronounced angles of teenage years contrasted with the mature weariness etched in his jaw.

She turned her petite face toward the barren cornfields. A light breeze played with her long blonde hair. “It's not what we planned.”

“But it's for the best.”

“I'm so sick of that platitude.”

He stuffed his hands in the back pockets of his jeans and twisted his mouth. “You're happy with the tombstone?”

“It's perfect,” she whispered, now studying the upright slab of white marble. “And you're okay with the name?”

“Mm-hmm. It's appropriate, the two last names.”

“Remember ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn'?” She looked up at him, a sparkle erasing the flatness of her eyes.

A corner of his mouth lifted in a half smile. “Senior English. I remember you liked it, and I got a D on the test.”

“It reminds me of that. The stone links us together forever, engraved with our names, but,” her eyes went dead again, “we're suspended there. Not together in reality.”

Neither spoke for a few moments.

“Maggie,” he said, “think of it as a road marker, pointing us in different directions. We traveled this far together, but now there's a fork in the road.”

“I like my ode better.”

“Bullheaded.” His tone teased. “I'll take you home.”

She stood and glanced at the nearby pickup. “Thanks, but I need to walk.” She patted the front of her loose overblouse.

“All right.”

There was an awkwardness in their stance as they looked at each other.

She swallowed, then shrugged. “Well, have a nice life, Neil.”

He held out his arms, and she stepped into his embrace. “You, too, Mags. You, too.”

One

Thirty-five years later

Gina Philips stood at the library's checkout counter and directed her words in a hushed tone toward the back of a small, gray-haired woman. “Excuse me?”

Bent over a desk just beyond the counter, the librarian did not respond.

Gina drummed her fingers on the wood surface. How badly did she want this novel? No, the question was—how long could she survive in Podunk without at least a mental escape? Four weeks of family gatherings stretched before her like a desert highway. At high noon. She swallowed the hushed tone. “Excuse me?”

Still the woman didn't budge.

There was always the hooch Great-Uncle Peter had supposedly hidden in the cellar. She wrinkled her nose at that preposterous thought and realized just how crucial it was that she have this book. She raised her voice to soccer fan level. “Excuse me!”

The woman twirled around and patted her chest. “Oh, my! You startled me.” She shuffled over to the counter, a distinct frown pinching her aged face, and pulled off her glasses. They dangled from a pearl chain. “We don't allow loud talking in the library. May I get you something
else?”
Her tone was polite enough, but her emphasis on “else” expressed an obvious displeasure.

Gina wasn't too pleased herself. This was her fourth request for help. Plunk her down in the middle of the University of Southern California's stacks—no problem. This one-room library, however, baffled her. She slid the novel toward the woman. “I'd like to check this out.”

“Do you have a borrower's card?”

“Not for this library. I—”

“What township do you live in?”

“Township? I don't know. I'm just visiting here in…uh… Valley Oaks.” She bit her lip. She absolutely had to stop thinking of it so rudely as Podunk. “But I have a driver's license and credit—”

“No, no, no.” The woman shook her head, enunciating each no with a twist. “It's against our policy to check out books to nonresidents.” She slipped on her glasses and inspected the book.

“But my aunt—”

“Where did you find this book?” she asked tersely.

“On the shelf. The new release section—”

“Tsk, tsk.” The woman's lips were decidedly pursed now. “Impossible. You could not have found it there. We have a very long waiting list for this book. It's a bestseller. It wouldn't be on any shelf.”

Gina clenched her jaw. “I didn't pull it out of midair! I found it—”

“Hattie,” a male voice interrupted from behind her. “I'll check it out for the lady.” A man stepped forward and flipped a blue card onto the counter.

Gina glanced to her side and saw a long, tanned arm beneath the rolled-up short sleeve of a white T-shirt. She craned her neck to peer at the rest of him.

Hattie tsk-ed again. “But I have to find the Reserved list first.” She rummaged through a drawer.

“Of course, Hattie. You certainly know how to keep this library humming smoothly.”

The woman beamed.

He tilted his head toward Gina and, beneath the peak of a dingy green cap, winked.

Unbelievable!
Was he attempting to pick her up? “Uh, that's all right—”

“Ah, here it is!” Hattie studied a piece of notebook paper.

“So,” the guy was addressing her again, “do you like his other novels?”

“Um, yeah.”

“He's quite a storyteller. This new one's received great reviews.”

“Oh!” Hattie looked up at the man with a confused expression. “Well,
your
name's next on the list.”

He winked now at the older woman. “I thought so. Just check it out on my card, and we'll let the visitor here read it first.”

“That's not standard procedure. Do you realize you're responsible for what happens to this book? Do you even know her?”

“Well,” he leaned forward, his elbow on the counter, and lowered his voice, “I know she's a Lindstrom.”

“As in Darryl?” Hattie stuck her head toward him and matched his conspiratorial tone.

“No. Martin.”

“Oh. That one that took off to California?”

He gave a slight nod. “Lottie's niece.”

“Probably here for the wedding,” she surmised.

Gina's eyes widened.

“Mmm.” It was a noncommittal grunt. He straightened and pointed to a cart behind Hattie. “You're holding another book for me. That red history one there. I ordered it from Rockville.”

The woman busied herself with the computer.

“Look,” Gina said as she inched backward, “it's your turn for the book. You should have it.” She slung her backpack over her shoulder and stepped behind him.

“Nonsense.” He swiveled around and thrust the book out, cutting off her escape. “I insist. Just make sure you get it back by the due date.” He grinned.

“Right.” She took it from him and bolted for the exit. “Uh, thanks.”

“Hey, are you—”

Gina let the glass door swish shut on his words, less concerned about making polite conversation than fleeing the eerie discomfort of listening to these people discuss her. She hurried across the library's front yard, shoving the book into her backpack. Her mother had warned her. Everybody knew everything in Valley Oaks, population 1,947. She had been in town less than 24 hours and already two total strangers knew exactly who she was and why she was here. Not only that, they discussed this information in front of her as if she didn't exist!

She hoisted the bag across her shoulders and pulled on the ancient bicycle's upright handlebars, loosening the wide tire from its anchor. The small effort sent rivulets of perspiration down the back of her neck. She hoped she had tucked a banana clip in her luggage. Her mother had warned her, too, of the Midwest heat and humidity. Gina assumed it was an exaggeration, but this late morning air was like a layer of invisible, sticky flannel, impossible to shake off.

“Thought the bike might be yours.” The guy was beside her again. “I'll give you a lift.”

“No, thanks. I'm not going far.” She straddled the bike. “But you probably knew that.” The words spewed out in a sarcastic tone, as if her manners were still tucked away in a suitcase, too.

“Yeah, I knew that, but it's going to storm.” He grasped a handlebar and held out his book. “See those clouds? I can toss the bike into the back of my pickup.”

She glanced at the sky. Sickly green clouds hovered. “I won't melt.” She held fast to the bike.

“We're not talking raindrops here. There's a severe weather warning, which means wind and lightning. And it comes up fast.”

As if validating his prediction, thunder rumbled and a raindrop pelted her head. She took the book from his hand and stepped away from the bike.

He slung it atop his shoulder, carried it to a cream-colored truck parked at the curb, and dumped it in the bed. “Get in!”

Gina stood on the sidewalk. A gust of wind whipped her hair across her face, adding to her discomfort with this whole situation. She didn't even know the guy's name. Why would she get in a vehicle with him? She'd never do this sort of thing in California. Crimes happened here, too, didn't they?

“Need some help?” He nodded down toward her leg.

He had noticed then. Noticed? Shoot, he probably knew the whole story about why her left leg couldn't quite keep pace with the right. “No.”

“Let's go then.” He climbed in and started the engine.

Gina marched her slightly uneven march to the passenger door. The injury really didn't slow her down all that much, but it was noticeable to others. The guy couldn't know the whole story, though. Her mother had promised not to tell the whole story to anyone in Valley Oaks.

She yanked open the door and came face-to-face with a large golden retriever. The dog tilted his head in a friendly expression. Ignoring him, she said in a bristly tone, “Look, mister.”

He peered around the dog.

“I don't even know your name. Why would I get in a truck with you?”

A horrendous clap of thunder exploded directly behind her and reverberated in her chest. She stuck her right foot on the running board, propelled herself onto the seat, and slammed the door shut, squishing herself against the dog.

The stranger burst into laughter and pushed the gear stick. “Lay down, Homer.” The dog obeyed, and he slung his arm across the back of the bench seat, looking over his shoulder. Still laughing, he maneuvered the truck out of its parking spot.

In spite of the cool air flowing through the vents, Gina felt unbearably hot.

His laughter subsided as he moved his arm to shift. The grin settled into a smile above a square jaw. His tanned face was narrow and angular, like the rest of him, and somewhat creased, as if he spent a lot of time facing wind and sun. A tuft of dark blond hair stuck out below the cap that proclaimed “Nothing runs like a Deere.” He glanced toward her and held out his hand. “Brady Olafsson.”

She snubbed the handshake, totally giving in to her edginess and not worrying about where her manners were hidden. “Where are you taking me?”

“Nice to meet you, too. I'm taking you to your Great-Aunt Lottie's.”

“Why?” She scratched the dog's ears and settled as best she could with the backpack mashed into her shoulder blades.

“Simple deduction. If you were staying at your Aunt Marsha's, you'd be out at the farm and not biking to the library. Your grandparents have passed away. Your cousin Lauren's apartment is small. Your uncles and numerous cousins are possibilities, but they all have families or live outside of town, whereas Lottie lives alone, three blocks from here, in a two-story. Hence the bicycle.”

She glowered at him.

He threw her a smile. “Common knowledge in a small town. I also know you're from Los Angeles.”

“Close. By the way, I am
not
a Lindstrom.”

“It's your mother's maiden name.” He lifted a shoulder. “That makes you one here in Valley Oaks.”

If she had to endure others like this guy spouting off her family history, the town would positively undo her fairly quickly. She gazed out the side window and berated herself once again for agreeing to this extended visit in Valley Oaks.

Valley Oaks. Now that was a misnomer. Those trees bending in the fierce wind were maples. Not one oak tree sprouted from land flatter than the Pacific on an ugly surfing day.

“Here you go.” He pulled into the driveway, scrunched the parking brake and hopped out.

The endless ride had probably taken all of two minutes. Gina shoved open her door into a privet hedge, patted the dog goodbye, and squeezed out.

With the bicycle balanced upside down on a shoulder, Brady loped through the drenching rain to the garage at the end of the driveway. He was rangy looking. Extremely long arms and legs.

The wind was howling now, flapping her hair in every direction. Fat raindrops ricocheted off the sidewalk and soaked her. She ran to the covered front porch as the guy raced past her and shouted, “See you around, Gina Philips!”

Her thanks caught in her throat as he slammed his door shut. He knew her name. What didn't he know?

Four weeks in this place was definitely, absolutely, without a doubt going to be way too long.

He wasn't surprised.

Brady drove down the two-lane county highway, the wipers furiously beating buckets of rain off the windshield.

He had been curious, but he hadn't really expected anything different. The snobby California 15-year-old he remembered had grown into a snobby California young woman. Still cute as a bug's ear, with thick, just-above-the-shoulder, milk chocolate brown hair and eyes the shock of brilliant, late spring green.

Absent, though, was the 1,000-watt Miss America smile that had caught his attention when he was 19. After all these years he could distinctly recall how it was nothing less than dazzling. Today he hadn't glimpsed even a semblance of a smile. And how in the world could she give poor old Hattie such a hard time?

“Well, Homer,” he addressed the dog snuggled against him, “for Aaron's sake we'll be nice to her. At least for wedding stuff, huh? It won't hurt me to walk Dr. Angelina Philips up and down the aisle.”

Now that he thought about it, didn't the groomsmen usually just wait down front? Lauren, his cousin's fiancée, had mentioned they would escort the bridesmaids up
and
down the aisle. He wondered if that had anything to do with the woman's limp? It was her limp—wasn't it?—that had tugged at him, prompting him to offer the book. And drive her the few blocks home.

He gave his head a slight shake and turned onto the gravel lane that led through cornfields. In the distance a leafy canopy of oak trees welcomed him home.

Wedding-related activities were obligatory, but they wouldn't consume the next four weeks. If he had to spend time with a Lindstrom, he'd just as soon keep it to a minimum.

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