Stopping Traffic (A Back to School Romance) (Love at The Crossroads) (14 page)

BOOK: Stopping Traffic (A Back to School Romance) (Love at The Crossroads)
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CHAPTER twenty

 

 

Candace squealed when a bouquet of flowers was delivered to her desk.

“Mine is bigger,” Solae good-naturedly teased. Hershel had sent her flowers earlier in the week. Her friend knew how to pamper them in such a way that they always looked fresh.  

Ignoring the dig, Candace closed her eyes and indulged in a slow cleansing whiff of the scent, then slowing exhaled. She couldn’t wait for his shift to end so she and Lindsay could see him again.

Moments later, she wheeled her chair to Solae’s workstation and anchored her elbows on the desk. With a slight pout, she eyed her friend. “I assume you’ll be seeing Mr. Kavanaugh soon. Sixteen hours and twenty minutes before Royce is off. Actually, I better tack on another ten hours for him to catch up on his sleep once he gets home.”

Candace bit her bottom lip. “I don’t want to wait that long to see him. I was thinking Lindsay and I could pay Royce a surprise visit at the station with a hot meal.”

“Work your plan, girl.”

The day sped by until it was time to leave for her crossing guard duty. Once she and Lindsay got home, she started preparing a beef stew for dinner with enough to take to the station. Actually, Candace cleaned up the mess as Lindsay chatted away. “Mommy, I love Mr. Royce.”

Her declaration didn’t surprise Candace as gave Lindsay a tender smile. “Me, too.”

“Do you think he loves me?” She looked up with a hopeful expression from working a word puzzle assigned as her homework.

“Yes, sweetie. I think Mr. Royce especially loves children because he likes to save them.” Candace wanted to be careful in her response. Royce was making it too easy for her and Lindsay to become attached to his presence. He hadn’t offered them permanency. Although she wasn’t opposed to that next step, she didn’t know how soon she would be ready, but that didn’t stop her feelings from growing.

“Since my daddy is with Jesus, I’m going to ask God to make Mr. Royce my daddy,” the five year old said matter-of-factly.

Oh boy
. Candace swallowed. “Lindsay, whenever we ask God for something, we’re to say, ‘Lord, if this is Your will,’ remember?” She nodded to prompt her daughter.

“Yep, but God loves me and He wants me to have a daddy.”

Candace left it at that as she added a bit of seasoning to the pre-cooked beef. God would definitely have the last word on that. 

Once the stew was ready and the store-bought rolls Lindsay had placed on the cookie sheet were done, she carefully boxed everything up.

“I like going to the firehouse, Mommy,” she said as Candace bundled her up before handing her the bag of warm rolls.

En route, Candace selfishly prayed there wouldn’t be a fire or other medical emergency before she and Lindsay got there.

Engine House Eight was one of the many newer fire stations that had been built in the last couple of years throughout North County. She had seen the majestic structure that reminded her of a boutique hotel many times in passing. Candace never would have guessed that she would one day be attracted to a firefighter that resided inside. Exactly thirteen minutes later, she turned into the parking lot and pulled into a spot on the side.

“Yay! Do you think Mr. Royce will let me see the fire truck?” Her eyes were wide with excitement.

“I don’t know, baby. Maybe, if he’s not busy.” Before getting out her car, she sent Royce a text
:
I’m outside, can you let me in? C

Steadying the pot in her arms, Candace walked cautiously to the massive front door with Lindsay trailing her. A blast of cold air made her pause. Royce was already barreling out the door, zipping up his jacket as he headed their way.

“Hey, baby.” He kissed her hair, something he did when Lindsay was around.  His lips curled into a sexy smirk. “I like surprises, especially beautiful ones.”

Candace blushed when he relieved her of the pot, then took Lindsay’s package before bestowing a kiss on her hat covered head. Her daughter beamed.

Royce ushered them inside the building and straight to the kitchen. After placing the items on the table, Royce helped Candace shrug off her coat. Lindsay waited patiently for her turn for him to assist her with her cap, gloves and coat.

“I’ve missed you. I know it’s only been two days, but I still missed you.” He warmed her ear with another hidden kiss.

“That’s why we’re here. We’ve missed you, too.”

“Me, too.” Lindsay grinned, boasting a gap left by a recent missing tooth.

“I was hoping you would be hungry, so Lindsay and I made a beef stew...”

Rubbing his abs, he towered over her head, staring. “I’m famished.”

“If you have time to eat now, wash your hands. Show me where the bowls are and I’ll fix it. If not, you can have it later.”

“If I eat now, will you stay?”  Royce lifted the lid. He closed his eyes as he inhaled.

“Just for a little while. I need to get Lindsay home and in bed.

The aroma must have sounded a silent alarm as two firefighters peeped their heads into the kitchen. “Did someone mention food?”

They laughed and Royce made the introductions before Candace explained, “There’s enough food for ten hungry men.”

That seemed to be a cue as almost that many came from out of nowhere and filed into the kitchen. Royce was the first to scoop the stew out the pot and grab a few rolls.

Sitting next to Royce, she was amused at the sounds of slurping and smacking around her while devouring her food. Lindsay was content to color until Royce was finished so he could show her the fire truck. Twenty minutes later, she had to pull Lindsay away from the big engine. With the kitchen restored and the leftovers put up, it was time to go.

Lindsay gave him a quick hug goodbye, Candace lingered a little longer in his arms for hers. “I’ll be praying for a peaceful and safe night,” she whispered.

“Be safe, baby, and call me when you get home,” he ordered.

She did just that when she walked through her door. Suddenly, sirens sounded in the background. Royce disconnected, barely saying goodbye.

Shaking her head, Candace smiled. Only Royce Kavanaugh could get away with hanging up on her. “Lord, keep him safe, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

 

 

 

CHAPTER
twenty-one

 

 

“Have I told you I love you today?” Royce whispered into Candace’s ear as they, including Lindsay, exited the Regal Theater at the St. Louis Outlet Mall.

Giggling like a school girl, she mouthed,
Every day
.

He winked. “Good, then I guess I’m doing my job.”

Who said a man couldn’t keep track of how long he had been dating a woman? Royce happily calculated that he had been taken off the market for two months and one week.

They were all dressed alike in their denim. He glanced down at Lindsay who was latched onto his other hand. “Did you enjoy the movie?”

With nothing less than worshipping eyes, she bobbed her head and then began to give him a recap of The Little Mermaid in 3D. “Hmmm-mm, did you see…”

Candace gave him one of those looks as if to say, ‘You asked for it.’

Lifting Lindsay in his arms, Royce carried her to the food court to grab a bite to eat before spending the rest of the day at Candace’s house doing absolutely nothing.

“Do you have plans for Thanksgiving?” she asked as he brought their trays with Subway sandwiches to the table.

Having Thanksgiving off came with a price. He was stuck working four twelve-hour shifts the day after. “It all depends. Things are always subject to change. Whenever our schedule permits, Hershel and I celebrate the holiday at Trent and Julia’s home after we all attend morning church service. Do you and Lindsay have some sort of tradition?”

“We usually go to Solae’s mom’s house.” She shrugged.

“Be my guest at my brother and sister-in-law’s house,” he stated. “I’m sure Hershel is bringing Solae.”

“You know you have a bad habit of inviting folks to other folks’ parties?”

Royce knew she was referring to his personal invitation for her to stay at his nephew’s birthday party. “And I would do it again. Don’t get me wrong, I love my nephew, but you were my focus. Please come.” Pulling out his smartphone, he punched in Trent’s number. “I’m bringing a guest for Thanksgiving.”

“I’m not surprised.” Trent snickered. “Candace and her daughter are more than welcome.”

“Great.” He disconnected seconds later and smiled. “See, you’re invited.”

Shaking her head, Candace chuckled. “That didn’t sound like an invitation to me, but rather an order. I hope your sister-in-law won’t mind, and I’ll bring a dish.”

“Julia won’t.” She was ecstatic when she got wind that he and Candace were a couple.

So a few weeks later, Candace and Lindsay accompanied Royce and Hershel to their church for Thanksgiving Day morning service. The choir sang a rendition of the old Walter Hawkins hit “Thank you.”

Once the congregation’s high praise ended, Pastor Reed preached his sermon. “As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, examine yourself. You should be so content in your present state that nothing more would add to your happiness. Your heart and mind should be convinced that you have what you need right in front of you. If you stay committed to Jesus, He’ll add to your happiness without you asking for it…”

Royce couldn’t help but think about the woman sitting near him, with only Lindsay separating them. He was actually in a contented place. His mind began to drift until Pastor Reed closed his Bible.

“Will you come today?” his pastor asked the visitors. “God’s mercies are new every morning. Be thankful in your heart for another chance to repent and to get your sins washed away in Jesus’ name. God will equip you with the Holy Ghost to live right. Won’t you come?” Three people heeded his call for repentance. Ministers prayed for them while another prepared for the baptism that two of them had requested.

Standing with the rest of the congregation, Royce reached for Candace’s hand as her eyes watered.

“This is the best part of the service. That’s one less soul the devil has control over.” Candace dabbed her eyes, witnessing two women be submerged spiritually dirty, then brought up gleaming sin free—redeemed.

Following the benediction, Royce and Hershel introduced the ladies to a few church members before heading to Trent and Julia’s house with Candace’s dish of potato salad and homemade rolls. Hershel wasn’t too far behind with the boys and Solae. His brother had raved about Solae’s desserts, so she brought sweet potato and pecan pies. Royce’s mouth watered. This was one Thanksgiving he would never forget.

“Welcome,” Julia met them at the door. Her eyes sparkled as she swallowed up Candace and Lindsay in hugs, then winked at Royce. As an afterthought, she gave him a hug. Minutes later, Julia repeated her routine with Solae.

Julia banished the Kavanaugh brothers to the family room to babysit the children. That translated to them watching a football bowl game on TV. When Trent’s baby fussed, he gathered Ariel in his arms. That caused Lindsay to sit next to Royce to play with her. Royce smiled. It was so natural between him and Lindsay. Strangers assumed they were father and daughter whenever they went into a restaurant or store, and he didn’t have a problem accepting that role.

Soon the aromas from the kitchen made Royce’s stomach growl while he strained to overhear the women’s conversation. Losing interest in the game, Royce angled his body to have an unobstructed view of the kitchen to match Hershel’s stare. He began to stroke his jaw in thought. “Are you thinking the same thing I’m thinking?” he asked Hershel without taking his eyes off Candace.

“What are
you
thinking?” Hershel countered.

He lowered his voice. “Thinking that it’s time to ask the most beautiful woman in there to marry me.”

“Solae is taken.” Hershel didn’t crack a smile. They stared at each other. Royce had wondered if his brother would ever allow another woman into life, not to mention in his heart again. Royce had his answer.

“You know I was referring to Candace. I think I’m ready.”

“Me too,” Hershel stated casually, as if he was about to purchase the same pair of socks Royce wanted, and just that quickly he turned his attention back to the game.

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER twenty-two

 

 

Candace and Solae were sitting side by side in the same pew they had occupied on Sundays for years while Sister Vanhorn read the morning announcements. From the upcoming fundraiser to choir rehearsal, nothing was sticking

Memories from spending Thanksgiving Day with Royce from the church service to the good night kiss at her door to the whispers of ‘I love you’ when he got home, saturated her mind, then Royce’s text that awaited her when she woke was on instant replay in her head.

Can’t sleep thinking about you and me—and Lindsay. I love you and miss you so much. I think we should do something about it. Pray for me at church. Love R

“What did Sister Vanhorn say about the Christmas play?”

“Huh?” Candace blinked and stared at Solae. “Girl, I have no idea. My mind was elsewhere.” She grinned sheepishly.

“Mine, too, but when she said something about the Christmas play, I thought about Hershel’s boys.”

Candace smiled, then chuckled. “Did you know Brandon has become protective of Lindsay at school when a classmate was picking on her?”

Solae snickered. “The big brother Lindsay never had.”

“Yeah,” Candace said softly. Lindsay would be an only child if she didn’t remarry. Years ago she wouldn’t have entertained that notion…now in love with Royce and his cryptic text message about “doing something” she didn’t want to assume he meant a permanent spot in her life. After all, they hadn’t been dating long.

As Sister Vanhorn continued to run through the church announcements in her monotone voice, Solae stared ahead, but mumbled, “Lately, I’ve been feeling Hershel watching me, and when I catch him, he just smiles.”

“And the problem with that is?” Candace teased.

“Oh, what I wouldn’t give to know his thoughts,” Solae said a tad frustrated.”

“Well, one, he’s attracted to you. Two, he does love you—”

Shaking her curls, Solae didn’t wait for her to make it to number three. “Will he ask me to marry him, especially…” She scooted closer to Candace and whispered, “I told him about my inability to bear children.”

Holding her breath, Candace swallowed. “What did he say?”

“He said it didn’t matter.”

Candace exhaled and squeezed Solae’s hand. “Then believe him. You said yourself that Hershel is completely different from the others. Maybe it’s because he’s already a father.”

“Please govern yourselves accordingly and make note of the changes for this week’s services,” Sister Vanhorn stated and stepped down from the pulpit.

Candace and Solae exchanged bewildered glances. “What changes?”

Missing the important stuff, it was as if God said, “That’s what you get for talking when you should have been listening in My house.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER
twenty-three

 

 

Just because was Royce’s reasoning for surprising Candace with flowers this morning.  Although he was off and they were to have dinner later, Royce couldn’t wait to see her.

He had calculated to be at her crosswalk about the same time the last school bell rang. Royce grinned, imagining her smile. He was almost there when the traffic snarled.

“Come on.” People were messing with his agenda now.

Moments later, sirens grew louder as an emergency vehicle whizzed by him. Like the other drivers, Royce cranked his neck to see what was going on. That’s when he noticed a news chopper hovering about three blocks in the distance.

Royce experienced a sinking feeling in his chest. He wondered if the source of the chaos was near Brandon’s school and Candace’s crosswalk.  Swallowing back his emotions, Royce refused to believe the worst.

“Fine time to be off duty,” he gripped as another driver watched him talk to himself. Otherwise, he and his crew would be working the scene.

He clicked on the radio for a traffic report. “Police are on the scene of three car crash involving a school bus at the intersection of North Lindbergh and Cougar Lane. There are reports of injuries. You might want to avoid that area…”

“I don’t think so!” Royce grunted as he performed a one second head check, then activated his blinker as a courtesy, but swerved into the right lane as if he was a race car driver in another life.

He inched his way until he could cut into a nearby Denny’s parking lot. Royce scrambled out the car and starting running toward the scene, praying, hoping that everyone would be all right and Candace wasn’t involved.

Despite being in shape, Royce panted as his adrenaline propelled him faster. His fellow medics were tending to someone on a stretcher and another person’s legs dangled from the back bumper of an ambulance— Candace! He would recognize those legs anywhere.

He bypassed colleagues with his mind set on the person in the back of the ambulance. Candace seemed fine as she sat still while the blood pressure cuff was being removed from her arm.

Looking up, she saw him and waved. The smile she graced him caused him some ease—some.

“Baby, are you okay? What happened?” Royce gently patted her shoulder while frantic with questions.

“I’m fine, but the driver of the school bus is probably going to need a doctor and lawyer. Thank God no children were on board.”

Nothing was making sense. “So…you’re okay? I mean, I know how these accidents affect you,” he said carefully.

Candace reached out and stroked his jaw. Now who was comforting who? “Shaken up a little, but okay. I’ve learned that when God called me to do this job, He worked with the little faith I had and increased it, so I could be the best crossing guard possible.”

“Uh-huh.” That sounded good and he enjoyed testimonies like any other saint of God, but he needed answers. Royce turned to the medic who he recognized. “What happened, Jackson?”

“Witnesses say the bus driver ran the light, hitting two cars that were already in the intersection, including Miss Clark’s, here.” The smile Jackson gave his woman was too friendly in Royce’s opinion.

“And…” Royce prompted, making a show of linking his fingers through Candace’s hand.

Jackson noticed. “Apparently, the children were just dropped off. The driver was arguing on the phone while attempting to drink hot coffee and drive, a bad combination. He has burns and probably has a concussion from jamming on the brakes and hitting his head against the windshield…”

“Now, are you okay?” Candace flipped the tables on him. She looked concerned.

Royce seemed to exhale for the first time. “No, I probably need them to check my blood pressure. I almost had a heart attack, thinking something bad happened.”

Relieved that everything was okay, Royce wanted to collapse. Knowing he was much too heavy for Candace to catch his fall, he scooted her over instead and reached for the blood pressure cuff.

***

BOOK: Stopping Traffic (A Back to School Romance) (Love at The Crossroads)
5.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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