Read Pearl of Great Price Online

Authors: Myra Johnson

Tags: #Christian Books & Bibles, #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Mystery & Suspense, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Contemporary Fiction, #Religious & Inspirational Fiction, #Christian, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Religion & Spirituality, #Christian Fiction

Pearl of Great Price (10 page)

BOOK: Pearl of Great Price
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The weirdo campers were interesting in their own way, but evidently spent most of their time making out, too, even worse than Mom and George. The sun-browned, half-clothed children running about the island didn’t seem to belong to any one set of parents—like kids in a commune.

After three days of those R-rated performances, Micah had decided he’d had enough and gladly took Rennie up on her offer. She’d load his skinny arms with a stack of fluffy white towels, and he’d sniff their crisp, clean aroma as he neatly and proudly hung them on the bathroom rods.

Then one summer Rennie introduced Micah to her baby sister, Jennifer Susan Pearl—an itty-bitty thing, scarcely fifteen pounds at nine months old. Born last September, a month prematurely, Rennie told him, smoothing the silky strands of pale gold hair covering the baby girl’s tiny head. Micah saw little of Mrs. Pearl that June—Rennie said the birth had been hard on her—and when she did show her face, it was mainly to yell at Rennie over some forgotten chore or a lodger’s complaint, all too often his own mother’s.

The next summer, Rennie told him her mother was still ailing and hardly got out at all anymore. Rennie didn’t have as much time for Micah, what with so many extra duties around the resort—plus looking after her baby sister, now toddling all over the place. Sometimes Micah volunteered to watch over the spunky, green-eyed little tyke, tossing plush toys to her in the playpen on the back patio while Rennie pushed the rumbling white maid’s cart from cabin to cabin. If they got lucky, Rennie’s mother would find the energy to play with Jenny for a bit, and Rennie would have an hour or so to swim in the lake with Micah. Towing a small cooler lashed to an inner tube, they’d dog-paddle out to the floating deck and then drink orange sodas and eat Fritos and bean dip while soaking up the sun.

By the time Micah’s family visited last June, Jenny had grown even bigger, Rennie’s mother was crabbier, and Rennie had become more restless than ever. She stopped being so much fun to hang around with, and Micah found himself left to his own pursuits more and more. Mom and George were over the worst of their honeymoon phase, and now when they went out in the boat, they did more fishing than smooching. The same band of drifters still sat around on the island in front of their little blue tents, smoking who-knows-what and drinking beer while their bikinis and jams dried on a rope strung between two pine trees. Each year George said it wouldn’t be long until the lake patrol ran them off permanently, but each year they were back, usually with a new set of wild-haired children toddling about, and the same yellow dog barking as fiercely as ever when boats ventured too close.

That was the summer that changed everything. The summer Rennie pleaded with Micah to help her get Jenny away from their mother’s insanity, as far away from Pearls Along the Lake as humanly possible.

The summer Jennifer Susan Pearl sank into the depths of Lake Hamilton and drowned.



Present Day

Early Monday afternoon, while I helped a customer load one of Audrey Guthrie’s “antique” made-in-Mexico lamp stands into the back of an SUV, a familiar maroon pickup cruised into the parking lot. The hair rose on the back of my neck.

“There you go, ma’am, fits just fine.” I helped her spread an old quilt over the lamp stand before closing the hatchback and tried not to let her see my hands shaking.

“Thanks for your help, miss.” She climbed into her vehicle and drove off.

I sauntered over to the pickup as Micah Hobart climbed out. Here on my turf, he looked even taller than I remembered—and at my height it takes a really tall guy to make an impression on me. Just looking up at him made my knees all watery.

“Julie Stiles, isn’t it?” He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. The sun reflecting off his Ray-Bans obscured his eyes.

“That’s—” I cleared my throat and lowered my pitch a notch or two. “That’s right.” I slid my sweaty palms into the pockets of my plaid capris and mimicked his stance.

“Your friend Sandy told me you got the dog.”

I figured that’s why he was here. Sandy betrayed me. “I couldn’t let her and those babies go to the pound.”

He looked away. “I didn’t want that, either, but I didn’t see another choice.”

Get me started on neglected animals and nobody intimidates me for long. I marched over, waving my finger under his arrogant nose. “You didn’t see another choice because you were too busy to find one. Didn’t take me any time at all—just a lot of patience and some TLC—before little Mama Dog was ready to follow me home. She’s the sweetest thing ever, and I’m going to keep her.”

He shifted his weight. “Are you through?”

I harrumphed. “Yes. I guess I am.”

He took off his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes. “You’re right, I have had a lot on my mind lately. I was rude to you the other day, and I tried to apologize then, but you left without giving me a chance.”

I raised an eyebrow. “So you drove all the way over here just to say you’re sorry?”

“Yes—no.” He chuckled, a gentle sound like the deep, low rumble of a waterfall, then glanced away muttering, “This is insane.”

“You’re telling
.” And yet he looked surprisingly cute standing there all tongue-tied. I crossed my arms and waited.

“Truth is,” he went on, “I didn’t believe Sandy at first when she told me you’d managed to cozy up to that scared old dog so quickly. You may not believe this, but I really had been trying, every spare minute I had.”

Something of the momentary kindness I’d glimpsed during our first encounter showed in the softening of his gray eyes. My heart made a strange flutter, like nothing I’d ever felt before, and for some wild reason I wished I could run upstairs and change out of this dust-smeared white camp shirt. I shifted my arms to cover the worst of the grime. “Like I said, you didn’t give her enough of a chance to trust you.”

“Believe me, the only reason I called the humane society was to get her out of there before the bulldozers arrive to start demolition. If she’d gone too wild, better an easy death than crushed by falling debris.”

“So it’s true—you are going to clear the land and start over.”

“That’s the plan.”

“Yeah, I heard Renata Pearl Channing gave you a hard time about that.”

He swiveled sideways and snorted a laugh. “I see my new assistant’s tongue wags both ways.”

My heart hammered. The last thing I wanted was to put Sandy’s new job in jeopardy. “You can trust her, I promise. She’d never let anything
confidential slip.”

“Now that’s comforting.” He glanced away with a shrug. “Anyway, it’s not like my dealings with Renata are any big secret.”

I swallowed over a twinge of guilt, thinking about the Internet research I’d done on him and Mrs. Channing last night. Yet here was my chance to get the facts straight from the source. I bit the tip of my ragged thumbnail. “I’ve run into Mrs. Channing a couple of times lately. She’s one strange bird.”

“To say the least.” A dark look clouded his eyes.

“Are you and her—I mean, it’s none of my business, but it sounds like you two have a . . . history.”

His shadowed gaze turned sad, even pained—not like I imagined a jilted lover would look (okay, so I’d read a few too many paperback romances). No, this was something far more intense. All he said was, “It’s complicated.”

“So how
you know her?”

He seemed to shake off whatever memories held him captive. Again, that rippling, waterfall chuckle. “Julie Stiles, you are way too curious for your own good. I didn’t come out here to tell you my life story.” He blew out through flattened lips. “Like I said, I came to apologize and to thank you for saving the dog’s life after I’d almost given up trying.”

His humility temporarily banished all thoughts of Renata Channing and Pearls Along the Lake. Before I realized what I was doing, I grabbed his wrist and tugged him toward the shop entrance. “You should come inside and meet her up close. I bet you won’t even recognize her. She’s all clean and brushed and de-ticked. And those pups—they’re growing like little piglets.” I knew I was babbling, but I couldn’t stop myself.

The brass bells clanged as we pushed through the door, and Grandpa looked up from behind the checkout counter to see what all the commotion was about. “Goodness’ sakes, Julie Pearl, just ’cause Mondays are slow don’t give you no cause to go draggin’ in customers off the street.”

My cheeks flamed. I dropped Micah Hobart’s warm, callused hand like it had sprouted cactus thorns.

“You must be Julie’s grandfather and partner in crime.” Mr. Hobart cast Grandpa a crooked smile. He extended the same hand I’d just released. “Micah Hobart. How do you do?”

Grandpa’s eyes narrowed. He reached across the counter to accept the handshake. “Otto Stiles. You got business out this way, Mr. Hobart?”

I’d never seen Grandpa treat a new acquaintance so coolly. Leastwise not since he was officially introduced to Renata Pearl Channing the other day at the resort. The tension between the two men hung thick as the matted fur I’d clipped from behind Brynna’s ears.

Mr. Hobart took the tiniest step backwards. “I, uh, thought I’d see how the dog and her pups are doing. I heard from Sandy Monroe that you’d rescued them.”

“They’re doing just fine.” Grandpa scowled and moved aside so Mr. Hobart could see Brynna and the pups in the playpen.

“Hey, girl.” Mr. Hobart’s mouth widened into a grin. “Glad to see you and those puppies looking so fine and healthy.”

Brynna gazed up at him and whimpered. Her tail thudded against the mat.

“She’s sorry and forgives you,” I translated, not even realizing I’d done it till the words were out of my mouth.

Micah Hobart turned and stared at me, and I glimpsed something otherworldly in his gaze, like I’d touched some deep, hurting place inside him. “That’s . . . good to know.”

Grandpa bustled around the counter. “All righty, then, if your business is done here, you best be on your way. We’re fixin’ to close up soon—got lots to do.”

My mouth fell open. “It’s not even three o’clock yet. We’ve got two hours till—”

“Now, Julie Pearl, what’s the point of staying open when we don’t have no customers?” Grandpa shuffled to the front door and held it open. “Like I said, you should be on your way, Mr. Hobart.”

Casting Grandpa a stunned frown, I followed Mr. Hobart outside. We stood by his pickup, and I waited with downcast eyes until the brass bells jangled against the closing door. “Sorry, my grandpa’s been a little edgy lately. He’s usually a lot friendlier.”

He scratched under his beard with the stem of his Ray-Bans, then cocked his head and glanced toward the building. “Did I hear your grandpa call you Julie Pearl?”

“Julie Pearl Stiles. That’s me. But it’s usually just the folks who’ve known me since I was little who use my middle name. It’s a southern thing, I guess, calling your kid by two names. But just plain Julie is what I usually go by, to other people, anyway, and—”

I could tell by the glazed look in his eyes that I was babbling again.

“So Pearl’s your middle name. Not a family name.”

“No. Yes.” I groaned. Was it Micah Hobart himself, or the possibility his lakefront property might have some connection to my past, that had me so discombobulated? “I mean, it’s my middle name. I don’t know of anyone else in our family named Pearl. Guess my mother just liked the name.”

“I see.” He blinked twice and slipped on his sunglasses, hiding those incredible smoky eyes from view.

He was about to get in his pickup when I came to my senses and realized he still hadn’t given me the answers I’d been dead set on prying out of him. I laid my hand on his arm. “You know, I—”

“I was just wondering—” he said at the same time.

We both hemmed and hawed for a few seconds. I pulled my hand back and stuffed it into my pocket, but the warmth from his suntanned arm and the feel of those dark, curling hairs tickling my palm lingered on.

“What were you about to say?” he asked.

“No, you first.”

“I, uh—” He stared at his boots and gave a nervous laugh. “Wow, this is hard.”

There went that twitter in my stomach again. “What? Just say it.”

“Okay, here goes.” He exhaled a sharp breath. “Julie, would you join me for dinner tonight?”



Somewhere in the Bible it talks about making friends with your adversary on the way to court. Not that I harbored any latent worries about Micah Hobart pressing charges against me for trespassing, but I couldn’t quite reconcile the person I’d met today with the bad-tempered man who barely one week ago had practically grabbed Clifton and me by the hair and hauled us off his property.

And anyway, did “making friends” include accepting a dinner date? Lingering over dessert and coffee while the sun sank over the rippling waters of Lake Hamilton? This unexpected conclusion to an otherwise average Monday seemed a lot closer to a scene from one of those cheesy paperback romance novels than I felt comfortable with.

Micah crumpled his napkin beside his plate. “I still can’t get over how easily you got that dog—Brynna, you named her?—to make up with you.”

I stirred another spoonful of sugar into my decaf. I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker, but having something to do with my hands took the edge off my nerves. And besides, nothing else goes quite so well with a slice of key lime pie. “Like I said, all it took was patience. And a couple of cans of gourmet dog food.”

He sighed. “Patience, I’m afraid, is not one of my virtues.”

“I kind of got that idea.”

“Okay, spit it out.” He laughed and lifted his hands in mock surrender. “What’s it going to take for you to let me off the hook for how I acted last week? I was a jerk and I admit it. I was already having a bad day, and you and your boyfriend caught me by surprise. What more can I say?”

“I told you, Clifton isn’t my boyfriend.” My lungs deflated along with my ego. Had I completely misread this dinner invitation? Was it only Micah Hobart’s extravagant way of apologizing for his rudeness? True, my life in Caddo Pines didn’t afford many opportunities for dating, but I normally didn’t consider myself

BOOK: Pearl of Great Price
13.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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