Read Wedding at Wildwood Online

Authors: Lenora Worth

Tags: #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Non-Classifiable, #Romance - General, #Christian, #Religious - General, #Religious, #Religious - Romance

Wedding at Wildwood

 

Dillon knew it was rude to stare.

But he couldn’t help himself. He was so amazed to be seeing
her
again after so many years. She’d literally knocked the wind out of him, and now, in typical Isabel style, she wanted to run away.

“Stay a while,” he said, his gaze lingering a little too long on her face. “Stay and tell me why you were taking my picture.”

“No.” She tried to move away. She didn’t want to be with Dillon Murdock.

But he refused to let her go. “Then stay long enough to tell me why you came back to Wildwood.”

Wanting to show him he couldn’t get to her the way he used to, Isabel retorted, “I think a better question would be—what are
you
doing here?”

“Well, that’s real simple, Isabel,” he said sarcastically. “I came back at my mother’s request.” Backing away, he called, “Yes, the prodigal son has returned.”

Books by Lenora Worth

Love Inspired

The Wedding Quilt
#12

Logan’s Child
#26

I’ll Be Home for Christmas
#44

Wedding at Wildwood
#53

His Brother’s Wife
#82

Ben’s Bundle of Joy
#99

The Reluctant Hero
#108

One Golden Christmas
#122

*
When Love Came to Town
#142

Steeple Hill

After the Storm
#8

*
Something Beautiful
#169

*
Lacey’s Retreat
#184

**
The Carpenter’s Wife
#211

**
Heart of Stone
#227

**
A Tender Touch
#269


A Certain Hope
#311

 

*In the Garden

**Sunset Island

†Texas Hearts

LENORA WORTH
grew up in a small Georgia town and decided in the fourth grade that she wanted to be a writer. But first, she married her high school sweetheart, then moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Taking care of their baby daughter at home while her husband worked at night, Lenora discovered the world of romance novels and knew that’s what she wanted to write. And so she began.

A few years later, the family settled in Shreveport, Louisiana, where Lenora continued to write while working as a marketing assistant. After the birth of her second child, a boy, she decided to pursue her dream full-time. In 1993, Lenora’s hard work and determination finally paid off with that first sale.

“I never gave up, and I believe my faith in God helped get me through the rough times when I doubted myself,” Lenora says. “Each time I start a new book, I say a prayer, asking God to give me the strength and direction to put the words to paper. That’s why I’m so thrilled to be a part of Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired line, where I can combine my faith in God with my love of romance. It’s the best combination.”

LENORA WORTH
Wedding at Wildwood

Published by Steeple Hill Books

STEEPLE HILL BOOKS

ISBN 1-55254-374-9

WEDDING AT WILDWOOD

Copyright © 1999 by Lenora H. Nazworth

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the editorial office, Steeple Hill Books, 233 Broadway, New York, NY 10279 U.S.A.

All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incidents are pure invention.

This edition published by arrangement with Steeple Hill Books.

® and TM are trademarks of Steeple Hill Books, used under license. Trademarks indicated with ® are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Canadian Trade Marks Office and in other countries.

www.SteepleHill.com

It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.


Luke
15:32          

To my brothers, Windell, Waymon
and especially Jerry

And in memory of
my father,
Delma Humphries

 

Dear Reader,

I grew up on a farm in south Georgia and lived in a house similar to the one described in Isabel’s story. I couldn’t wait to leave that house, but it has stayed with me all of these years. My memories are sometimes bittersweet, but I realize now that I loved my home and I often dream of my life there.

The story of the prodigal son has always fascinated me. Coming from a big Southern family, I’ve learned lots of lessons about forgiveness, but this parable teaches all of us that there is sometimes more to the story than what appears on the surface.

In this story, there were two prodigal sons. Dillon lost his way by running away, and Eli lost his way because he’d never learned true humility. Not only does the Bible teach us to forgive those we love, we also have to remember that as human beings, we are all God’s children.

I’m glad Isabel and Dillon found each other again, and learned the lessons of forgiveness and acceptance. Hope you enjoyed their story.

Until the next time, may the angels watch over you while you sleep.

Chapter One

S
he hadn’t planned on coming back to Wildwood. But now that she was here, Isabel Landry realized she also hadn’t planned on the surge of emotions pouring over her like a warm summer rain as she stood looking up at the stark white mansion.

Wildwood.

The house, built sometime before the Civil War, was old and run-down now. Abandoned and gloomy. And so very sad.

But then, most of her memories of growing up on this land made Isabel feel sad and forlorn, too. Staring across the brilliant field of colorful wildflowers in shades of pink, yellow and fuchsia, she clicked her camera, focusing on the old house, deliberately blurring the pink phlox, purple heather, and yellow black-eyed Susans that posed a sharp contrast to the wilted condition of the once grand mansion. Now shuttered and closed, its paint peeling and its porches overgrown with ivy and wisteria, the house with the fat Doric columns and the wide, cool verandas on each floor didn’t seem as formidable as it had so long ago.

Isabel had never lived in Wildwood, but oh, how she’d dreamed of living in just such a house one day. Now, she saw that fantasy as silly, fueled by the imagination of an only child of older parents, raised on land that did not belong to her family. Born on the Murdock land, in a quiet corner of southwest Georgia, known as Wildwood Plantation.

Glancing away from the imposing plantation house, she saw where she had lived off in the distance, around the curve of the oak trees and dogwoods lining the dirt lane. The small white-framed farmhouse hadn’t changed much in the ten years since she’d been away, and neither had Isabel’s determined promise to herself to rise above her poor upbringing.

“I don’t belong here,” she said to the summer wind. “I never did.”

Yet she lifted her camera, using it as a shield as she took a quick picture of the rickety little house she remembered so well. Just therapy, she told herself. That’s why she’d taken the picture; she certainly didn’t need or want a reminder of her years growing up there.

Looking up to the heavens, she whispered, “Oh, Mama, why did God bring me back here? I don’t want this.” Silently, she wondered if her deceased parents were as at peace up there in Heaven as they’d always seemed to be when they were alive and working here on Wildwood Plantation.

Mentally chiding herself, she smiled. “I know, Mama. Grammy Martha would scold me for doubting God’s intent. You are at peace. This I know. So, why can’t I find that same peace here on earth?”

Lifting up yet another prayer, Isabel knew she wouldn’t find any answers here on this red Georgia clay. Ever since her grandmother, Martha Landry, had called asking her to come home to take pictures of Eli Murdock’s upcoming wedding, she’d been at odds. But between assignments and with nothing pressing on her agenda, she’d had no choice but to come. Isabel knew her duties, and she was good at her job as a professional photographer. Besides, she could never turn down a request from Grammy Martha, even if it did mean having to face the Murdocks and bow to their commands once again.

She hadn’t been home in a long time, and she missed her grandmother. Often in the years since her parents had died—first her mother, then two years later, her father—Isabel had hurried home for quick visits with her grandmother. But on those occasions, she’d distanced herself from the Murdocks, always staying only a couple of days, sleeping in her old room at the farmhouse and keeping a low profile. During those rare trips, she’d never once ventured up the lane to visit the people who’d allowed her grandmother to stay on their land and still employed her grandmother’s services on occasion.

Now, she’d be forced to socialize with them, to snap happy pictures of Eli’s wedding to a girl Isabel had graduated high school with, a woman almost ten years younger than Eli. Well, at least Susan Webster was a wonderful woman. She’d make Eli a good wife, though for the life of her, Isabel couldn’t understand what had attracted petite, perky Susan to such a bully bear of a man.

“Oh, well, that’s none of my concern,” she reminded herself as she turned back to the mansion. She’d do her job, get her pay, then be on her way again to parts unknown. But right now, she wanted to get a shot of the house with the brilliant sunset behind it, and the wavering wildflowers out in the meadow in front of it. Then she’d head back to have supper with Grammy.

Finding a good angle, Isabel focused on the house, finding a side view so the massive columns lining the front of the two-storied house would be silhouetted in the sun’s glowing rays. With a flip of her wrist, she pushed her long blond hair back over her shoulders, then lifted her camera to click.

Then her heart stopped.

Through the lens, she saw a man standing at the edge of the wildflower patch on the other side of the house. Gasping, she dropped her arms down, almost dropping her expensive camera in the process. But surprise aside, Isabel knew a good shot when she saw one. She wanted to capture the man, whoever he might be, in the picture because the expression on his dark, rugged face clearly mirrored the mood of the mansion he stood staring up at.

Watching him as if he were a wild animal, Isabel barely moved for fear he’d spot her and bolt away. He looked that untamable, that intense. So intense in fact, that he wasn’t even aware she was just around the corner, hiding underneath a clump of tall camellia bushes.

For a minute, Isabel analyzed him, preparing herself for her subject. Tall, at least six feet, fit enough to fill out his faded jeans nicely, and…brooding. Definitely brooding. From the five o’clock shadow on his face and the stiff tufts of spiky hair on his forehead, he looked as if he had a chip on his broad shoulders that couldn’t be knocked off. His clipped dark hair mocked the wind playing through it, and every now and then, he’d lift a hand to scissor his fingers through the clump of hair that refused to stay off his face, the action speaking much louder than any gruff words he might want to shout out. This man was angry at someone or something. And…his actions seemed so familiar, so stirring.

Isabel wanted to capture that mood on film. Her artistic instincts had never failed her before. And the way her heart was beating now was a sure sign that she was on to something big here. She might not ever sell this photo, but she had to have this picture. Right now, while the light was playing off the planes and angles of his shadowed face.

Lifting her camera, she once again focused and then, holding her breath at the sheer poignant beauty of the shot, clicked the camera—once, twice, three times.

The third time, she moved closer.

And that’s when the man looked up and spotted her.

“Hey!” he shouted, a dark scowl covering his face as he began a mad stalk through the wildflowers like a raging bull about to attack. “What do you think you’re doing there, lady?”

Not one to take any unnecessary chances—she’d been in far more dangerous situations, but for some strange reason this man scared her—Isabel smiled and waved. “Just taking a picture. Thanks.”

Then she turned and as fast as her sandaled feet and flowing skirt could carry her, headed toward the lane, the echo of that deep, commanding voice wafting through her head on that vague mist of familiarity she’d felt on first seeing the man.

“Hey, wait a minute!”

She could
feel
him stomping after her. Picking up her pace, she trudged over delicate wildflowers, forgetting to follow the worn path that had been molded through the field over the years. Whoever he was, she’d apparently made him angry by interrupting his solitude. Maybe she should at least apologize and explain, but too many warning bells were clashing loudly in her head, telling her to get away.

“You’re on private property,” the man called, nearer now.

Isabel didn’t dare turn around, but from all the thrashing sounds, she knew he was gaining on her. Then, telling herself this was silly and that she really should speak to the man at least, she whirled just as he reached her. And came crashing into his firm chest.

The action sent the unprepared man sprawling backward even as he reached out a hand to grab Isabel. Which meant she went sprawling down with him, her camera still in one shaky hand.

Her breath coming hard, Isabel looked down at the man holding her, the scent of sweet flowers and rich loam wafting out around them as he stared up at her, a look of surprise coloring his features as his gaze moved over her face.

When she looked down into his gray eyes, Isabel gasped again as recognition hit her hard and fast, and a very real fear coursed through her. “Dillon?”

He squinted up at her, then as realization dawned in his deep blue-gray eyes, he dropped his hands away from her shoulders so she could get up. In a voice as hard-edged and grainy as the soil beneath them, he looked her over, his surprised gaze sweeping her face. “Isabel.”

It was a statement, said on a breath of disbelief.

Fussing with her blouse and skirt, Isabel used the brief time to gather her skittish thoughts. Had she also heard a bit of longing in his voice? Refusing to acknowledge her own longing, she turned to look him square in the face. “I’m sorry, Dillon. I didn’t realize who you were until you got close.”

Something in her drawling, soft-spoken words made Dillon Murdock’s squint deepen back into a scowl. He’d remembered that sweet voice in his dreams, in his memories, and he’d often wished he could hear it again in reality.

Maybe he was just wishing again now. The dusk was obviously playing tricks on his mind. After all, it wasn’t every day a man found a beautiful woman with long waves of blond hair and eyes as green as a pine forest, standing in the middle of a field of wildflowers as if she’d been waiting just for him. The same way Isabel used to wait right here for him.

To waylay the uneven beat of his heart, he said, “Well, since
you’re
the one who knocked
me
flat on my back, maybe you’d better tell me what you’re doing taking pictures of Wildwood.”

He didn’t know why she was here, Isabel thought wistfully. But then, he had no reason to know anything about her. They hadn’t exactly kept in touch over the years. And they’d both changed, obviously.

Last time she’d seen Dillon, he’d only been out of high school a few months, and in a rebellious resistance he’d sported long, scraggly hair and a thick beard. Now, the hair was different, cut short and spiky, and only the remnants of a day’s worth of beard covered his brooding face. Yet, she’d sensed something so familiar in him. Too familiar.

Determination and bitterness clouding her dreams away, she rose to her feet to stare down at him. “Relax, I’m just here to take pictures of your brother’s wedding.”

Dillon sat still, then let out a hissing breath before he stood to follow her retreating floral cotton skirts. Isabel. The minute he’d said her name, all the memories had come rushing back. Boy, she’d certainly changed from the scrawny, dirty-faced kid with cropped blond hair and bony knees. The last time he’d seen Isabel…He wasn’t ready to remember the last time he’d seen her. Not yet.

“Isabel?” he called now, refusing to go back to the dark days of his youth. “Hey, wait a minute, will you?”

“You told me I was on private property,” she reminded him with a haughty toss of her long locks. “I’m late, anyway.”

Stubborn as ever, Dillon thought as he hurried his booted feet after her. And more beautiful than he’d ever imagined. Little Isabel, the poor kid whose father had worked the land so hard it had eventually killed him. Little Isabel, whom Eli and he had teased unrelentingly all through grammar school and high school. Isabel, afraid and ashamed, defiant and lost, a young girl who’d worn her feelings on her sleeves and carried her heart in her hand.

He’d known the girl all his life. Now he wanted to know the woman. “Isabel,” he said as he reached out to grab her arm. “I’m sorry.”

She whirled to face him in the muted dusk, thinking his apologies always had come too easily. “Sorry for what? I was the one who got caught where I wasn’t supposed to be. Some things never change.”

He jammed a hand through his hair in frustration. “Well, you’re certainly right about that.” Her words only reminded him of all the things he’d done to bring his life to this point. Glancing back at the house looming in the distance, he said, “I don’t know why I came back here.”

“Me, either,” Isabel said, some of her anger disappearing. Why should she be angry with Dillon for questioning her about being on Murdock property? She’d always been a hindrance to the powerful Murdocks, anyway. And she’d do best to remember that now, when her heart was pounding and her mind was reeling at seeing Dillon again. “I’d better get back to Grammy,” she said at last, to break the intensity of his dusk gray eyes.

Dillon knew it was rude to stare, but he couldn’t help himself, and besides, he’d never been one to fall back on manners. He was so amazed to be standing here, seeing her again after so many years. She’d literally knocked the wind out of him, and now in typical Isabel style, she wanted to run away. “Stay a while,” he said, his hand still on her bare arm, his gaze lingering a bit too long on her face. “Stay and tell me why you were taking my picture.”

“No.” She tried to pull away. She did not want to be with Dillon Murdock.

But he refused to let her go. “Then stay long enough to tell me why you came back to Wildwood—and don’t tell me it was just to take a few pictures.”

Wanting to show him he couldn’t get to her the way he used to when they were younger, Isabel retorted, “I think a better question would be—what are
you
doing back here, Dillon?”

He dropped her arm then to step back, away from the accusation and condemnation he saw in her eyes. “Well now, that’s real simple, Isabel,” he said in a voice silky with sarcasm. “I came back at my mother’s request, to witness my brother’s happy nuptials.” He shrugged, then lifted a hand in farewell, or maybe dismissal. Backing away, he called, “Yes, the prodigal son has returned.”

With that, he turned into the gathering twilight, his dark silhouette highlighted by the rising moon and the silvery shadow of Wildwood—the house that once had been his home.

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