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Authors: Merrillee Whren

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BOOK: Hometown Promise
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“You don’t have to worry about being a hostess for me. Unexpected guests should fend for themselves.”

Juliane shook her head. “Not in the household where I grew up. No one was ever made to feel unwelcome.”

When Juliane headed for her office, Lukas fell into step beside her. “I hope my messing around won’t keep you up. Besides the wash, I have to make some calls concerning the plant. I imagine everything in town has ground to a halt because of the storm.”

“You’re right.” Juliane sighed, thinking about what this storm meant for the store—probably another lost day of business. “Do whatever you have to do. I’ll have to call my dad to see what his plans are for the store, but I’ll do it in the morning. My folks go to bed pretty early.”

“So are you an early riser?” Lukas stopped in the doorway to the bathroom where a wad of clothes lay on the floor. He stooped to pick them up.

“Yeah, and Elise isn’t, but don’t worry about it. Do whatever you have to do tonight or in the morning.” Waving a hand in the air, Juliane tried not to let Lukas’s nearness in the close confines of the hallway suddenly make her want to run. “You can’t be any noisier than this wind.”

“Okay, then. I’ll see you in the morning.” Lukas started down the hall toward the kitchen.

“I’ll make up your bed and leave the light on.”

He stopped and turned around. “You mean like that motel commercial?”

Juliane couldn’t help smiling, and his joke lightened her heart. “Not quite. We don’t charge our overnight guests.”

“Thanks. Hey, before I do my wash I want to run something by you. I meant to do this earlier, but with all this storm business I forgot.”

“Sure. Go ahead.”

“I’d like to meet early before choir practice on Wednes
day and go over that duet we’re singing. Can you make it by six-thirty?”

Juliane’s stomach churned at the thought of meeting Lukas alone, even if it was at church. But she had to quit being jumpy whenever they made plans to spend time together. She didn’t have any store meetings to prevent her from getting there early, so she should meet him.

“If you can’t make it, I understand,” he said before she could respond.

She nodded. “I can make it. I had to think through my schedule.”

“Great.” Smiling, he turned toward the kitchen. “Good night. See you in the morning.”

“Good night.” She opened the door to the hallway linen closet and quickly found some bedding.

She scurried to her office and made the bed as quickly as she could. She didn’t want Lukas showing up before she had finished.

Tucking in the blanket at the bottom of the bed, she realized how her old impressions of Lukas had given way to new ones. She never would have felt safe with the old Lukas Frey staying in her home, but she had no qualms about the new one…other than to wish those unaccountable fluttery feelings he seemed to stir in her would go away.

As she hurried to her bedroom, she struggled with the confusion and uncertainty in her heart.

Listening to the wind outside, Juliane sat on the edge of her bed and looked at her Bible on the nightstand. She picked it up and rubbed her hand across the smooth leather. This was what was missing in her life right now. She’d prayed earlier, but it seemed as though her prayers were getting blown away with the blizzard. Right after she’d prayed she’d managed to have an argument with Elise.

She let her Bible fall open in her lap. She glanced down at the page from a chapter in First John. Her eyes fell on the ninth verse of the first chapter. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Why wasn’t she letting God help her deal with her mixed-up feelings about Lukas? She had to ask for forgiveness again as the verses said. She bowed her head and whispered, “Lord, forgive me for leaving You out of my life today. Please help me understand my feelings for Lukas. Help me with my relationship with Elise. And help me to remember we are all saved by Your grace. Amen.”

As she laid her head on the pillow, she vowed to do two things. Make every effort to get along with her sister, and invite Lukas to Elise’s welcome home party.

Chapter Nine

W
hile Lukas sat in Juliane’s kitchen and waited for his wash to get done, he punched in his grandfather’s phone number. He listened as the phone rang and rang and rang. Just when he was about to end the call, his grandfather answered.

“Grandpa, it’s Lukas. How are you doing?”

“I’d be doing better if you didn’t keep calling and bothering me while I’m trying to watch my shows.”

“I had to make sure you were okay. Why didn’t your answering machine pick up?”

“Oh, it quit working a couple of weeks ago, and I didn’t know how to fix it. And when I had to go to the hospital, I forgot to tell you about it.”

“I’ll look at it when I get a chance.”

“Why are you calling so late?”

“I called to tell you I’m still at Juliane’s place because I couldn’t dig my car out of the snowdrifts. I’m stuck here, and Juliane is letting me sleep on her pullout bed tonight. Hopefully I’ll be able to dig out in the morning.”

“I guess if I could not get you two together, God could do it with a snowstorm.” Ferd chortled.

Shaking his head, Lukas ran a hand through his hair. Should he even bother trying to refute his grandfather’s claim? “Grandpa, you know God didn’t send a snowstorm to push Juliane and me together.”

“You can’t know all the ways of God.”

“Well, neither can you.” Lukas sighed. “I wanted you to know that I wasn’t home. If you need me for anything or for any reason, you can call me on my mobile phone. You got that?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Good. And don’t get any crazy ideas about trying to shovel your walks or driveway. If I can’t do it, I’ll hire someone to do it.”

“Don’t worry about me. I’m doing fine.”

“Okay, Grandpa. Good night.” Ending the call, Lukas wished he didn’t have to worry about his grandfather, but Lukas never knew what the older man might do.

Lukas stared at his BlackBerry. He had to touch base with his assistant manager Tim Drake. They were probably going to be short on workers tomorrow because of the storm, if any of them could get there at all. Downtime at the plant meant getting behind on orders. Could they make up the lost time? Another worry he had to add to the list. He was grateful for Tim, who was a great manager and a good friend, but there was only so much either of them could do in this weather.

The whir of the spin cycle on the washer stopped. Thankful for something to take his mind off his problems, even for a moment, Lukas hopped up and put the clothes in the dryer. In the past, mounting worries like these would’ve had him downing a six-pack of beer—sometimes more. Grandpa may not have been right about the storm forcing him to spend time with Juliane, but being here to ride it out
put Lukas in a place where he couldn’t give in to the temptation to find a drink somewhere. He thanked God for that.

Lukas couldn’t let his current problems tempt him to throw away six years of sobriety. He had to remind himself that, despite his worries, his life was looking pretty good right now. He had a good job. He was making new friends. Grandpa was on the mend. Lukas couldn’t let Bill Martin down, or God, who had brought him out of the wilderness of alcoholism.

And Lukas intended to prove to Juliane, and to himself, that he was a changed man.

Lukas paced the floor while he made a few more calls about the plant. He and his assistant manager made some contingency plans that covered all scenarios. This kind of thing was a true test of his management skills. He had a lot of people to please, and he wanted to do it right.

Finally, the buzzer sounded on the dryer. Glad to call it a night, he plodded back to Juliane’s office with his pile of folded laundry. He laid it on the desk chair, turned off the light and slipped into bed.

But sleep wouldn’t come. He tossed and turned on the pullout bed. The bed wasn’t his problem. His mind was. He couldn’t shut down his brain and go to sleep. The whistling wind and rattling windows in the old house didn’t help, either. His thoughts tumbled around work, his grandfather and Juliane. All that time to think while he’d been waiting for his laundry had his mind too keyed up to sleep now.

Giving up any hope of falling asleep, Lukas turned on the light. He glanced around the room. A bookcase stood in one corner. What would he find there? Maybe something he could read to take his mind off the things that prevented him from sleeping. He perused the titles and saw a lot of books related to business, dealing with people and Bible study
guides. Juliane’s reading choices appeared to be all about serious subjects.

Then he spied a small paperback book tucked in between two hardcover books. He pulled the little paperback off the shelf and looked at it. A banner across the top read, “Heart-warming Inspirational Romance.” Maybe Juliane wasn’t all business. Did this little romance novel mean she had a lighter side? He let his thumb fan the pages.

When his thumb stopped on a page near the front, he wondered what he would find inside a romance novel. He opened up the page and started to read the lone paragraph at the top that turned out to be two verses from the Thirty-second Psalm. He read them out loud. “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”

Lukas let the words filter through his mind. Was this God’s message to him tonight? What kind of a romance novel contained scripture? His curiosity prompted him to start reading.

Three hours later he closed the book. Sleepy eyed, he pushed the book back into its place on the shelf. The little paperback’s message of love and redemption spoke to him more than he wanted to admit.

 

The next morning Lukas awakened with a start. Where was he? Then he remembered. Juliane’s house. Jumping out of bed, he snatched his BlackBerry off the desk and looked at the time. Only eight o’clock. Thankfully he hadn’t slept till noon after reading until three in the morning. He glanced at the little book that had kept him up too late last night. Wouldn’t the guys at work have a good time ribbing him if he told them he’d been reading a romance novel?

Light flooded around the miniblinds on the sole window in the office. Eerie quietness indicated the end of the storm. He opened the blinds. Although whiteness greeted him as far as he could see, the snow had stopped. He wondered whether the leaden sky indicated more storms on the horizon but there was no time for speculation now. Despite his lack of sleep, he was ready to dig his car out of the drifts and get to the plant.

First, he had to call his grandfather. Picking up his BlackBerry, he sat on the edge of the bed. He listened to the ringing on the other end and prayed that Grandpa would hear the phone. On the seventh ring, his grandfather answered.

“Hi, Grandpa. How are you this morning? Did you survive the storm?”

“Well, I am answering the phone, am I not?”

“You are. So you must be okay.”

“Doing great. Are you still at Juliane’s?”

“Yes.”

“How soon will you get home?”

“I don’t know. I have to dig my car out. Then I need to check the plant, but I can come by your place first if you need me.”

“No. That is all right. I am getting along fine. You take care of your business.”

“Okay, I’ll see you later.” Ending the call, Lukas wondered how much truth there was behind his grandfather’s I’m-okay routine. Right now Lukas had to believe what the older man said. Worrying about it wasn’t going to change a thing.

Then Lukas called his assistant manager to make sure the plans they’d made the night before were still in place. After a brief reassuring conversation, Lukas grabbed his clothes and hurried into the bathroom. He looked in the mirror. Bloodshot eyes stared back at him. He rubbed the dark stubble on his chin. The image reminded him of the way he’d
often looked when he’d had too much to drink the night before. He thanked God that wasn’t the case this morning.

He started to change but thought better of it and stayed in the sweatpants. There was no sense in getting his good clothes soaked again while he tried to dig out. Maybe when he finished that task, he might get a razor in order to shave. Right now all he wanted was a toothbrush. He hoped Juliane had an extra one lying around.

As he approached the kitchen the smell of brewing coffee wafted his way. He poked his head around the corner. Juliane and Elise sat at the kitchen table while they ate without talking. A small television on the kitchen counter broadcast the morning news anchor’s reports on the aftermath of the storm. “Good morning.”

Elise looked up first. “Well, Mr. Sleepyhead has decided to show his face.”

“Good morning, Lukas.” Juliane’s rather subdued greeting made him remember what he must look like.

He rubbed the stubble on his chin. “Yeah…well, I didn’t intend to sleep in, but I tossed and—”

“I shouldn’t have made you sleep on the pullout bed,” Juliane interrupted as she placed a hand over her heart. “I feel terrible that you didn’t get any sleep.”

“It wasn’t the bed as much as the storm. All that howling wind.” Smiling, Lukas shook his head. He certainly didn’t want to confess that his anxiety had resulted in his spending half the night reading one of her romances.

“Have some breakfast with us.” Juliane hopped up and went to the cupboard. “We have oatmeal, but if you don’t like that I have cold cereal.”

“Oatmeal is fine, but before I eat I’m in need of some toiletries—toothbrush, razor. I don’t know if you can help me out, but—”

“Oh, sure. I’ll see what I can do.” Juliane rushed from the kitchen.

Lukas turned around and looked at Elise. “Is she always this hyper in the mornings?”

Chuckling, Elise shrugged. “I’ve been gone for six years, so I don’t have a clue.”

“Oh, right.”

“My guess would be yes.”

“I’m going to see what she’s come up with.” Lukas wandered back toward the room where he’d slept.

Turning down the hall, he saw Juliane going into the office. He entered behind her as she set a brand-new toothbrush, a woman’s razor and a can of ladies’ shaving gel on her desk. She turned to go and ran into him.

He caught her by the shoulders with both of his hands. When she looked up, he could have sworn just for a second he saw panic in her eyes. “Whoa. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

She lowered her eyes as he dropped his hands. She stepped aside so he could enter and darted into the hall. Looking back through the doorway, she grimaced. “Sorry about the ladies’ shave gel and razor.”

Picking up the shave gel, he studied the label and chuckled. “I hope the guys at work don’t get a whiff of me smelling like a fruity mango.”

Juliane burst out laughing, then stared at him wide-eyed. “I’m sorry, but that struck me funny.”

“No need to be sorry.” Lukas enjoyed hearing her laughter. What would it be like to hear that sound every morning? His mind froze. He needed to stop thinking like that. Her close proximity, mixed with the snippets of the romance novel that floated through his mind, had him thinking things that threatened to derail his plan to concentrate on his grandfather and his job.

“While you get ready, I’ll fix your bowl of oatmeal.”

“Thanks,” he called after her as she scurried away.

A few minutes later, Lukas joined the two women at the kitchen table. He dug into his oatmeal and hoped he wouldn’t have any more crazy thoughts about Juliane. The news station from Cincinnati continued to report on the results of the storm. Lukas watched the reporter who stood next to a snowdrift that dwarfed her.

“Wow! I hope the drift my car is buried under isn’t as big as that.” Lukas turned to Juliane. “Have you been outside?”

“No. I tried to get out the front door, but it’s frozen shut. I couldn’t make it budge. And the breezeway is full of drifts just past the storage bin. I wasn’t going to tromp through those.”

“As soon as I finish this, I’ll see if I can get that front door open.” Lukas ate a spoonful of oatmeal.

Elise pointed toward the living room. “I looked out the window. I couldn’t even see your car.”

“Have you talked with your parents? Did they get their power back?”

“I talked to Dad this morning. No power yet.” Juliane got up and put her bowl in the dishwasher.

“How did they survive without any heat?” Lukas took another bite.

“Thankfully they have a fireplace insert and lots of wood. Mom said they slept in the family room to keep warm.”

“I remember doing that when we were kids.” Elise joined Juliane in front of the dishwasher. “Do you remember the time when the pipes burst and it took almost a week before someone could fix them?”

“Yeah, we had to buy drinking water and took our showers at Uncle Dave’s house.”

While Lukas finished his breakfast, he listened to the two sisters reminisce about past storms. He envied their cama
raderie. What would his life have been like if he’d had a brother to share it with, or even a sister? He had to admit that he’d been a lonely child, feeling out of place even in his own family. Much of that had been his own fault.

After reconnecting with his grandfather, Lukas realized he wanted a family life. Although his grandfather was sometimes cantankerous, Lukas enjoyed being with him.

He saw this with Juliane and Elise. They might not always agree, but he could tell they loved each other. Even now, when he was getting vibes that some unspoken disagreement was floating between them. Elise’s expression told him that she was trying to get Juliane to do something she didn’t want to do. Did it have something to do with him, or was he being paranoid?

Shaking the speculations away, he finished eating. After putting his bowl in the dishwasher, he took his coat from the hook by the back door, then glanced around. “Do you know where my shoes are?”

“Don’t worry about your shoes. I found something for you earlier this morning in the storage bin.” Juliane raced out the back door and returned, holding up a pair of big black rubber boots. “I hope these will fit you.”

“Even if they don’t, I’ll wear them. They’ll work better than my shoes.” Lukas sat on one of the kitchen chairs and pulled the boots on. “They’re a little big, but they’ll do.”

BOOK: Hometown Promise
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