Authors: Kristin Wallace
Nate's gaze drifted across the cab of the truck, landing on Emily's colorful shorts. She had rainbows on herâ¦
t go there, man.
Nothing good would come of thinking about rainbow patches. Not when he had too much going on in his life to think about what might be under those distracting shorts. He shouldn't be thinking Blackie was one lucky dog, either.
“It's nice knowing someone enjoys me touching him so much.”
He prayed silently.
Is this a joke? One more test I have to endure?
Nate glanced at his new passenger again. Emily Sinclair was cute. Goofy, but cute nonetheless. She had hair like an old penny. Copper with a hint of red. Dark lashes framed robin's egg blue eyes. She'd gazed at him with wariness in those eyes before finally agreeing to get in the truck. Wariness that had him wanting to protect and shelter her. Only Nate had enough people in his life needing shelter and protection right now.
Still, she'd made him laugh.
After the morning spent at the doctor's, and receiving the gut-clenching prognosis, being able to smile was nothing short of a miracle from God. To tell the truth, Nate couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed. Then Emily Sinclair had pulled him out of the pit with her off-the-wall speech about dead cells and dead imaginations. Whatever that meant.
Then she'd jerked the air from his lungs with rainbow patches. And a handshake.
Nate flexed his hand against the steering wheel. Tried to concentrate on something mundane. Something boring. Something without rainbow colors. However, colors were his world and Emily came in every shade imaginable.
With that hair, her skin should have been pasty white or covered with freckles. Hers was golden and smooth, and since she'd paired the rainbow shorts with a canary yellow tank top, he could see a lot of golden skin. Even her feet were multicolored. Fire engine red polish covered toenails peeking out of blue sandals.
“So where are from, Emily Sinclair?” he asked, trying to distract himself.
“New Haven originally, but I've been living in Baltimore since college.”
“You're a long way from home. Where were you headed? There's nothing much out this way.”
“Is that a town?”
A deep sigh. “No.”
He tapped a finger against the steering wheel, searching for something to say. Then he remembered the one word he'd managed to understand in her crazy speech. “It's Covington Falls.”
Her head whipped around, and she blinked like an owl in the night. “Huh?”
Man, those eyes
“You're in Covington Falls, Georgia.”
Her frown disappeared, only to be replaced with another one. “Why does the name sound familiar?”
“Addison Covington lives here now. Maybe you saw the papers awhile back. There was a pretty big dustup when the press found out she'd fled here from Hollywood.”
“Right,” Emily said, snapping her fingers. “I remember reading she'd directed a musical at the high school. Hard to believe someone like Addison Covington would choose to live here.”
“She's nothing like the character she played on TV.”
“I guess not.”
Nate wracked his brain, trying to come up with something to say, but in the end Emily filled the gap.
“What do you do, Nate?”
“I'm a painter.”
“Oh.” She sat up straighter and twisted in his direction. “Do you paint landscapes or people? What's your medium? Oils or acrylic?”
He chuckled. Did he look like the kind of guy who made oil paintings? Wouldn't his crew have a good laugh?
“Not that kind of painting,” he said. “Houses. Exteriors mostly.”
“Houses? How interesting.”
Her voice dropped, and her lashes flickered down as she shifted again. Nate got the feeling she was disappointed. Blue collar must not be worth much in her eyes. She might be flaky, but her fancy sports car and the cat with the smashed-in face advertised she came from a refined world. Pride stiffened his shoulders, and tension squeezed the back of his neck.
He'd tried going down a similar road before and ended up broad sided and spun into a ditch. His foot pressed harder on the pedal as he willed his faithful truck to hurry. He needed to deposit Rainbow Shorts at the repair shop and concentrate on more important things.
Like how he was going to tell his brother their mother was dying.
Nice going, Em.
Way to insult your rescuer.
re as bad as Wordsworth.
Seemed her manners had gone the way of her imagination. She'd just been so excited to meet a fellow artistic soul. Writers, artists, sculptors, actors. They all shared a bond. A bond born of the unstoppable need to create something. The struggle, the blood, the tears. The stupid brain freezes. Nate probably wanted to shove her out the door. Emily wished a giant hole would swallow her up.
A couple minutes later, Nate made a turn.
Right back in time.
Her head came up. Before her eyes stretched an honest-to-goodness Main Street straight out of a 1950s' era television show. Adorable shops lined the street and each featured a colorful awning. Yellow ones, blue ones, red ones, canvas ones, striped ones. Shop windows announced summer was in full force, and flowers exploded all over the place. They filled every window, as well as the planters hanging from old-fashioned street lamps.
She'd lived in metropolitan cities around the world, visited fourteenth century villages in Europe, and her sports car had motored through back-of-nowhere towns across the United States, but nothing she'd seen had ever come close to Covington Falls' slice of Americana preserved.
As they topped the hill a church came into view. White and sparkling, with a tall silver steeple stretching up into a cerulean sky.
“Ohâ¦” She took in a deep breath breaking the silence. “Look at it!”
“There are three more,” Nate said, unbending enough to smile. “North, south, east and west. The one I attend is at the opposite end of Main Street.”
“Like a circle of protection.” She liked the image of a God who wrapped His arms around His people. She'd never seen The Almighty as a benevolent caregiver. She'd never pictured Him much at all, but if she did, she was more likely to conjure up the Old Testament, fire and brimstone version of God. The God of Judgment Day.
Nate's gray eyes darkened like clouds rolling in before a thunderstorm. “We don't enjoy protection from everything in Covington Falls.”
He didn't offer any further explanation and since Emily was still kicking herself about the insult she'd leveled on her rescuer, she didn't push for one. Instead they drove in silence to the end of the block until the truck rattled to a stop in front of an auto repair garage.
. How quaint. Emily conjured up an image of good ole' Fred. Nate jumped out and walked around the truck. Emily knew he was coming to open the door, but there was no way she could handle touching him again so she scrambled out.
Nate's mouth quirked as he stopped, hand already poised to grab her door. Ignoring him, she spun around and grabbed Wordsworth's carrier. She straightened and saw Nate had trained his eyes on his boots. So, no sneaking a look at her rainbow patches again. Maybe she wasn't the only skittish one.
Behind her, a door swung open. A young girl about ten years old ambled out of the repair shop. She was dressed in faded overalls paired with a gray T-shirt and a ball cap out of which sprang two shoulder-length blond pigtails.
“Hey, Kara,” Nate said.
Kara's bow-shaped lips curved up in a ready smile, and two dimples appeared in her cheeks. Emily's mind took a trip into the future, and she determined tomboy Kara's father would one day be beating boys off with a stick.
“Hi ya, Mr. Cooper,” Kara said. “Has Old Bertha conked out on ya? I could take a look. I've been practicing, and Daddy says I'll be a pro soon.”
Nate chuckled and tugged on a braid. “No doubt, but it's not Bertha who needs fixin'. This lady's car is stuck out by the lake.”
Kara swiveled her head and studied the newcomer. Then her big brown eyes widened in astonishment. “Oh wow!”
Nate's brow furrowed. “What?”
Kara punched him in the arm. “Why didn't you tell me who she was? Holy sauerkraut!”
“This is Emily,” Nate said.
“No, it's E.J. Sinclair!” Kara cried.
Kara ignored him. “You are, right? You're her!”
Emily's wounded pride expanded like a hot air balloon and she nodded. “I try to be.”
Kara clapped her hands together and jumped up and down like she was going for a world record pogo stick run. “Oh, this is so cool! I can't believe you're here. I can't wait to tell Evie Stevens I met you. She'll flip out! You are so cool!”
Nate glanced between the excited girl and the blushing woman. “Againâ¦
Kara jumped in with explanations before Emily could do the honors. “E.J. Sinclair. She's like the next J.K. Rowling.
Kingdom of Dreams
is one of my favorite books. And
Sword of the Dark
was great, too. Oh! Are you on a book tour? It's been ages since you wrote anything.”
The balloon deflated, leaving Emily's resurrected self-esteem flattened in the dirt. “Tell me about it.”
“You're some kind of a children's book author?” Nate asked.
“Uh-huh!” Kara cried. “She's amazing!”
“Thank you,” Emily said. “That's sweet.”
“So, are you coming out with a new book?” Kara asked.
Emily shook her head. “Nope. Just passing through.”
Kara continued to stare like she'd been hit on the head with a frying pan in a
“Kara, Miss Sinclair needs to see about her car,” Nate said.
She grinned. “Oh, sure. Dad's inside. I can show her.”
“Thank you. I need to get back to work.”
Emily's heart skittered at the prospect of being left alone. She gazed at Heathâ¦ erâ¦ Nate for a moment, not knowing what to say.
Nate solved the problem. This time he held out his hand. “Good luck, Emily Sinclair. Hope you find what you're looking for.”
Goodbye and so long. A strange heaviness settled over her chest. One she was hard pressed to explain. She reached out. Watched as his large fist swallowed up her tiny one for the last time. Tears stung her eyes.
What was wrong with her? She was becoming a basket case. She tried to pull her hand away, but Nate held on a second longer. Her chin flew up and his now-polished steel gray eyes seemed to suck her in like a whirlpool.
“Are you comin', Miss Sinclair?” Kara called out.
Emily and Nate both jumped like they'd touched a live wire. Nate released her.
“Thank you for the ride,” Emily said.
He hooked his thumbs in his belt loop again. “No problem. Take care of yourself.”
He spun on his heel and headed back around to the driver's seat. Emily watched as he pulled out of the lot, fighting the urge to chase him down. Talk about putting the icing on the cake of her crazy lady act.
“Miss Sinclair?” Kara's voice pulled her back again. “You comin' or not?”
Emily straightened her shoulders. “Comin'. I'm comin'.”
“I wish I'd brought my books with me!” Kara said. “You could sign âemâ¦”
Emily smiled as Kara babbled on about making some other girl eat her shorts with envy. The words washed over her, but she didn't pay any attention to them. Her mind stayed on Nate's rust-mobile.
Which had to stop. Maybe she'd started an early midlife crisis. She was only twenty-eight, so it seemed unlikely, but something had to explain her bizarre reaction to a complete stranger.
All thoughts of Nate disappeared when she met Fred, who turned out to be a strapping, blond hunk, with shoulders like a linebacker. Emily blinked, but Fred's image didn't waver. Where was Covington Falls growing such fine specimen? His attire mirrored Nate's in form and concept, except Fred had grease all over his hands instead of paint.
Kara tugged Emily further into the bowels of the repair shop. “Daddyâ¦ look!”
Daddy, with a matching amble shared by his daughter, reached them in a few steps. “What's up, pumpkin?”
“Daddy! It's E.J. Sinclair! The writer! Her car is stuck out by the lake. Mr. Cooper gave her a ride here. Isn't this the coolest ever?”
He chuckled and flicked his daughter's ball cap. “Sure is.”
“The name's Emily,” she said when he switched his gaze to her.
“Mitch Baker,” he replied.
She paused as confusion settled over her. “I thought you were Fred?”
He flashed even white teeth. “Fred is my dad. Retired now, but he still comes in almost every day to tinker around.”
She nodded. “Oh, well I do have a car stuck out by the lake. I was hoping I could get a tow truck to retrieve it.”
“We can get a truck out there, but it'll be awhile. Gus â my driver â is out at the Russell place helping old Avery's cow get out of a ravine.”
“You use your tow truck to rescue livestock?”
He smiled, acknowledging the odd vagaries of country life. “Around here we do. It's my only truck and there's no telling how long it'll be before they manage to get Belinda unstuck.”
Her heart dropped to her feet. “What should I do until then?”
“The Old Diner is right down the street,” Mitch said. “You could get some lunch.”
Emily didn't figure she had much choice. “Can I leave my cat here for awhile? He won't be any trouble.”
penetrated Kara's consciousness, and her eyes lit up. She stooped down to peer into the carrier. “Oh, he's beautiful. I'll watch him for you.”
“Go on and take Miss Sinclair's cat up to the house,” Mitch said, “It'll get too hot in here for him.”
Kara reached for the carrier and walked away, cooing nonsense words while Wordsworth rubbed against the crate door in apparent ecstasy.
After getting directions, Emily thanked Mitch Baker and left the shop. At the corner, she hung a right and headed back to Main Street. She found
he Old Diner
with no trouble and admired the vintage feel of the place with its black-and-white checkered floor, red vinyl booths and gorgeous photos of classic screen legends. She sat at the counter on a red vinyl swivel stool and ate a hamburger and fries. Washed it down with the most divine chocolate shake she'd ever tasted.
And wished the entire time she had even a fraction of her old imagination. She knew there could be a story in here. Shoot, the entire town was ripe for inspiration.
Hoping some of the magic would rub off, Emily went exploring after her meal. A dress boutique caught her eye and she came to a halt. A display of yellow sundresses had been arranged in the window. She stepped closer, gazing in feminine appreciation at the splendor.
The next shop,
, was a bridal consultant business. Emily's skin prickled and her breath hitched. She hurried to get past the store, only to stop again when she noticed the window display. A wedding dress was draped over a chair in front of an antique vanity. She could see a pile of hairpins, a pearl necklace, and earrings piled on the vanity top. Her eyes drifted down and she paused. Clothes were strewn across the carpeted floor. First a pair of silk hose, followed by a man's cummerbund and bow tie. The last item before the trail led off beyond the window was a tuxedo shirt.
Emily blinked in astonishment. If she wasn't mistaken, someone had already started the honeymoon. What in the world?
Despite her newfound aversion to weddings, Emily couldn't help but smile at the cheekiness of the frankly sensual display. She wondered who had put it together.
Her walking tour took her past a hardware store and a flower shop. Then she spotted
across the street. She froze.
Just go right on by, Emily Sinclair.
t torture yourself.
As usual, she ignored her own inner warning and stepped off the curb.
She gasped and jerked back onto the sidewalk as a car breezed by. She took a few calming breaths. A normal person would have taken almost getting killed in a quest to rip open her own personal scab as a sign. Not her. The near-death experience didn't stop her impulse to cross the street to the bookstore.
The bookseller was busy with another customer, but she waved a greeting. Emily tucked her head and fled down one of the aisles. She found the children's section at the back. Tiny tables complemented by wooden chairs painted in vibrant colors were scattered around the space, and soft beanbag chairs lay in the corner. She had to search for her books as they were shelved among the hundreds of other offerings, unlike the wooden display to her right featuring all seven books chronicling the adventures of the boy wizard.
Once upon a time, her books had graced a similar pedestal, but she tried not to think about that.
Kingdom of Dreams
from the shelf and stared down at the cover. Wondered what she would have to do to recapture the creative spark she'd once known.
“Sorry I wasn't able to greet you when you came in,” a voice said from behind her. “Can I help you find something?”
Emily jumped and turned around. The small, rounded woman she'd seen at the front of the store hurried over.
“Sorry again,” the woman said, her smile exuding friendliness and goodwill. “Didn't mean to startle you. I'm Lauren Nelson, the owner.”
“Nice to meet you, Lauren.”
“So, can I help you with anything?”
Emily shook her head. “I only came in to look around.”
“Do you have kids? I can recommend something.”
“No kids. I've just always loved the children's section.”
Another warm smile blossomed on the shop owner's face and she winked. “It's my favorite, too. I assume you've read the Potter books?”