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Authors: Irene Hannon

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BOOK: The Way Home
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As they walked toward his car, Amy considered Cal's response. He probably did have connections, probably
could
hook the man up with a good attorney who might discount his fees as a favor. But they would most likely still be more than the man could afford. And Amy suddenly had a feeling she knew who would pay the difference. The evidence was clear. Cal lived simply, and well below his means. The director at Saint Vincent's had implied that Cal contributed more than time to the boys' center. Amanda had said that he took good care of her and his father. It wasn't too hard to figure out who would
come to Walter Thompson's aid, though the man would probably never realize it. Because Cal's generosity would be quiet, unobtrusive and anonymous.

Amy shook her head. She might still be puzzling over why the Lord had brought the two of them together, but one thing was clear. She'd never met anyone like Cal before. And she suddenly had a feeling that she never would again.

Chapter Eleven

“S
o when are you going to put that forestry degree to use?”

Leave it to Doug Howell to ask the tough questions, Cal thought ruefully as the two men walked through the field next to Gram's cabin. Though Doug was several years older than Cal, they'd been fast friends since childhood, and he was one of the few people Cal had confided in about his extracurricular study. A head ranger for the National Parks Service, Doug shared Cal's love of the outdoors. So Cal had known Doug would understand his desire to study forestry. He'd also known that his friend would eventually raise this question.

The two men paused at the edge of the field, and Cal rested his forearms on the split-rail fence as he gazed out over the meadow. The midafternoon sun felt pleasantly warm on his back, easing the sudden tension in his shoulders. But it didn't make Doug's question any easier to answer.

“I never said I was.”

“You didn't have to.”

Cal turned to him, his mouth lifting wryly at one corner. “You know me too well.”

Doug shrugged. “We've been friends a long time. I know how you feel about this place. What I
don't
know is how you've survived in that concrete jungle all these years.”

Cal sighed and stared into the distance. “Neither do I. But I've built a life there now, and a career. It gets harder and harder to walk away.”

“I'm sure it does. Success can be addictive.”

Cal frowned and turned to his friend. “You know better than that.”

Doug studied him shrewdly. “Then tell me what holds you to the city.”

Cal considered the question, then carefully formed his answer, putting into words what, until now, had only been in his heart. “Dad, for one,” he said slowly. “He takes such pride in my success, and he'd be tremendously disappointed if I threw my career away. Then there's the guilt. I'm not always successful in my work, but I win often enough to feel that I'm contributing
something
to the cause of justice. After all my years of training and experience, it seems wrong somehow not to put that to good use. And frankly, I'm not sure I want to give up law. Despite the frustration, I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people who really need someone on their side, who might otherwise get lost in the legal system. And yet…” He sighed and raked his fingers through his hair. “I want to come home, Doug. I don't like the
city. I never have, and it hasn't grown on me over the years. This is where I belong.”

“Then come home.”

“You make it sound so simple.”

“It can be. It's your life, Cal. And if this is where you want to spend it, come back.”

“And do what?”

Doug rested one elbow on the fence and angled toward Cal. “I'll have a part-time ranger slot opening up in about three months.”

Cal shot him a surprised look. “Are you offering me the job?”

Doug shrugged. “There'd be a lot of paperwork to fill out, of course. But you certainly have the credentials.”

“What about my law career?”

“Why can't you do both? We could use an attorney with your skills and experience around here.”

Cal frowned, jolted by Doug's suggestion. His friend was right about the need for good legal counsel in the area. Walter Thompson's situation was clear evidence of that. But the idea of splitting his time between two careers—he'd never even considered that before. Yet it was like a beam of light breaking through the clouds after a storm, illuminating a dreary world and filling it with the promise of brighter days ahead.

“You might be on to something, Doug,” he acknowledged as the idea took hold, sending a surge of excitement through him.

“Seems like a logical solution to me. You'd still be using those legal skills you spent so many years
honing, only you'd be helping your own people. And you'd have the chance to share your knowledge and love of nature with those poor city folks who have to squeeze their visits to God's country into a week or two of vacation.”

Cal shook his head. “I should have talked to you a long time ago. I've been wrestling with this for months.”

“Us mountain folk have a few good ideas now and then,” Doug teased.

Cal grinned. “More than a few. I don't know why this option never occurred to me before. It was always either/or in my mind. But this is definitely worth some thought.”

“It's still a big decision, though,” Doug pointed out. “You'd be giving up a lot.”

“A lot of things that don't matter to me, anyway,” Cal countered.

“And how would your friend feel about it?” Doug nodded toward the distant porch where Amy and Gram sat.

Cal frowned. “That's part of what I have to think about.”

It was funny, Cal reflected, as he turned once more to stare out over the meadow. He'd been praying for guidance on this decision. And the Lord had come through. But He'd thrown in a complication. Namely, Amy. A few weeks ago, the thought that she might even
consider
leaving the city or her present job to live in the mountains would have seemed ludicrous. And yet, as he'd come to know her, he'd begun to believe that at heart they weren't quite as different as
they'd first seemed. Though their lifestyles were poles apart, their values were compatible. And she
had
expressed some dissatisfaction with her present job. So maybe, given time, she would consider rethinking her priorities. Especially if she happened to fall in love with him.

Cal prayed that she would do exactly that. Because one thing had become very clear to him on this trip. He was in love with her. And he couldn't imagine spending the rest of his life without her.

 

Amy watched the two men at the far end of the field with a vague and troubling sense of unease. When Cal had introduced Doug Howell to her as a childhood friend, it was her suggestion that the two men take a walk through the field. Now, for some strange reason, she wasn't so sure that had been wise.

“I remember those two boys as youngsters,” Gram said from her rocking chair on the porch, reclaiming Amy's attention. “They sure were pals. Couldn't find one without the other. I think they've hiked every inch of the national park. I really can't say which one loved the mountains more.”

Gram's comments did nothing to ease Amy's odd sense of trepidation, so she changed the subject.

“I enjoyed your solo in church this morning, Amanda. You have a beautiful voice.”

The older woman brushed aside the comment, though she was clearly flattered. “Can't claim any credit for that. The Lord blessed me with it. So I return the favor by using it to honor Him. I've been
singing in the church choir since I was fourteen—more than sixty years now, believe it or not.”

“When I commented to Cal that you could have been a professional singer, he told me to ask you about it. Sounds like there's an interesting story there.”

Amanda smiled. “My, that's a long time ago. Are you sure you want to hear ancient history?”

“Absolutely.”

Amanda gazed out at the meadow, her eyes focused not on the misty mountains, but on the past. “Let's see, I was about twenty-five, I guess. We had a visitor at church one Sunday, a record producer from Nashville on vacation in the mountains. I did a solo that day, and he came up to me after the service and handed me his card, said he'd like me to come to Nashville and make a test record. 'Course I had a husband and baby to think about. Cal's father was just five or six at the time. But I must say I was flattered.”

“Did you go?”

“I turned him down at first. But Warren—my husband—could tell it was eating at me. So finally he said to call the man and go do the test. Told me I needed to see it through, check out the opportunity, or I'd always wonder where it might have led. So I did.”

She paused for a moment, and Amy leaned forward. “What happened?”

“Well, I went on down to Nashville and made the record. I guess I was there four or five days. It surely was an exciting time, I remember that, what with see
ing the studio and hobnobbing with musicians and staying in a fancy hotel. Then I came home and waited. And about two weeks later the man called me, said he'd played the record for a number of people, and they thought I had great potential. Offered me a recording contract.”

“No kidding! What did you do?”

“I turned it down.”

Amy stared at her. “But why? You could have been a star!”

“It was a funny thing,” Amanda reflected. “After I went to Nashville and had a little exposure to the music world, I sort of got it out of my system. The contract offer gave me a lot of satisfaction, told me that someone who knew music thought I was good enough to make it, and that was enough. Because during those two weeks while I waited to hear back, I had a chance to look around here and evaluate what I really wanted out of my life. If I signed that contract, I'd be on the road a lot, away from my family and my mountains, for weeks and months on end. I didn't want that.”

“But you could have been rich and famous,” Amy protested.

Amanda shrugged. “I was already rich in all the ways that counted. I had people to love, and who loved me. I lived in one of the most beautiful places in God's creation. And I had my faith. As for fame—that's fleeting. I preferred to put my energies into things that last.”

Amy digested that for a moment. “And you never had any regrets?” she pressed.

“Not a one,” the older woman declared.

“I envy you,” Amy said quietly.

“Why is that?”

“You seem so…content with your life. And happy with your choices.”

“You sound as if you aren't.”

Amy sighed. “I'm beginning to wonder.”

“Nothing wrong with wondering. And you're too young for regrets. So if there's anything you want to change in your life, you still have plenty of time.”

As Amy glanced toward the field where Cal and Doug stood, she pondered Amanda's words. She supposed she did still have the time to make changes. But did she have the courage?

 

“Amy?” Cal leaned back in his chair and smiled. “It's good to hear your voice.”

“You just heard it last night,” she teased, even as a flush of pleasure tinged her cheeks at the warmth in his tone. Though they'd spent every possible free minute together since their return from the mountains, it never seemed enough.

“That was ten hours ago. And besides, good-night calls aren't cutting it anymore. I need more than a voice at the end of the day, sweetheart.”

The husky, intimate cadence in his voice sent a sweet shiver of delight up her spine. “I agree. This work thing is starting to get old. Either you're tied up late or I am. We've got to do something about this.”

“Any suggestions?”

“How about a trip back to the mountains?”

Cal's eyebrows rose in surprise. “We were just there six weeks ago.”

“Can't you get away?”

“Probably. For a couple of days, anyway. What brought this up?”

“Honestly? Work. I'd like to do a piece on Amanda's craft co-op. I think it has great human-interest potential. And it would give me a chance to focus some attention on the economic problems in Appalachia. Not to mention focusing some attention on us. Do you think she'd go along with the idea?”

Cal fought down his disappointment. For a moment he'd thought her suggestion for the trip had been motivated not only by a desire for the two of them to have some time together, but by a growing love for the mountains. She'd talked glowingly about the Smokies in the weeks since their return, but clearly he'd read too much into those comments.

“Cal? Are you still there?”

“Yeah. I think we could convince Gram. When would you like to go?”

“Well, once she says okay, I have to sell the idea to the station. But the Saint Vincent's piece went over really well, so I don't think I'll have any trouble. Probably in a couple of weeks.”

“Okay. I'll give her a call. Any chance of getting together for dinner tonight?”

Amy glanced at her calendar and noted the late-afternoon meeting she'd scheduled with one of the producers for an upcoming series. It was sure to run into the early evening. She bit her lip and considered her options: Sit through a long meeting, or share din
ner—and hopefully some kisses—with Cal. Put that way, it was no contest. She reached over and crossed out the meeting.

“That's the best offer I've had all day,” she replied with a smile. “Just pick the time and place.”

 

Cal propped one shoulder against the door frame of the co-op, shoved his hands into his pockets and crossed one ankle over the other as he watched Amy wrap up the last bit of filming for the story. Though the trip had turned out to be far more work than play, he had nevertheless been impressed once again by her professionalism, intensity and thoroughness. She was extraordinarily talented, and he had no doubt that, given time, she would reach all of her career goals. The network slot she craved was a very real possibility in her future.

Cal fingered the ring box in his pocket and frowned. Was he wrong to ask her to give up her dreams? Or at the very least, dramatically modify them? Because that's what being his wife would entail. And yet, during the two months since their first visit to the mountains, it had become clear to him that Amy's priorities were shifting. He wasn't sure if she was even aware of it yet, but he'd seen enough evidence to validate his theory. She'd begun to work more normal hours. She'd traded in her car, as she said she did every three years, but she'd exchanged her sporty model for a practical four-door compact sedan. She now seemed perfectly content to spend quiet evenings with him, cuddled up on the couch eating popcorn and watching old movies, instead of
hitting the hot nightspots. Okay, so it was all circumstantial evidence. But it was also compelling. She was already altering her lifestyle, and he'd begun to hope that maybe, just maybe, she'd consider other career options, as well, such as freelancing, which would allow her to use her exceptional reporting talents and still live in the mountains. That was what he was praying for, anyway.

BOOK: The Way Home
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ads

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