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Right Where We Belong

By Deborah Raney, Melissa Tagg, Courtney Walsh

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No sooner had Lily O’Neal plunged her hands into the sticky bread dough than the doorbell rang. Why did it always work that way? She considered ignoring the bell, but she didn’t want to risk losing a good client. She tossed a clean linen towel over the large mixing bowl, and wiping her hands as best she could, hurried through the house to the front door, dishrag still in hand.
The delivery guy was halfway back to his van, and a large box waited on the front porch. She watched as the driver opened the van’s sliding door and rearranged some boxes. It wasn’t Sid, the paunchy middle-aged man who usually drove. This guy was much younger. And given that his uniform was khaki cargo shorts, she couldn’t help notice the muscles in his tanned calves. And biceps that threatened to rip the short sleeves of his uniform shirt. Speaking of ripped, the guy was. And though she couldn’t see his features, his thick dishwater blond hair looked like it might go with a face that was easy on the eyes.
She frowned. He was probably married with three kids. Seemed like all the good ones were. She lugged the box inside, trying not to let the errant thought ruin her day. After all, she had all those weddings and baby showers of the married-with-three-kids crowd to thank for the thriving business she ran. One that allowed her at least one of her lifelong dreams: living right here in her hometown of Langhorne, Missouri. Lilybeth’s Confections was a solid business too, one that fed a reasonably healthy bank account. No small feat in a town the size of Langhorne. Of course, some of her business came from nearby Cape Girardeau.
She also owed a huge debt of gratitude to her parents—for this house and its state-of-the-art kitchen that had allowed her to turn a beloved hobby into a bona fide business right out of college. Her bank account would have been on life support without the rent-free status she enjoyed while her parents spent an extended—she suspected permanent—stay in Haiti as missionaries to a small orphanage near Port au Prince.
Her dad, bless his sweet heart, had even tried to pay her for “babysitting” the house and Fudge, the overweight tomcat they’d left behind. Lily had a feeling they missed that cat as much as they did her.
Right on cue, Fudge waddled in to the kitchen. Technically he wasn’t supposed to be in here, but besides being an indoor-only cat and up-to-date on all his shots, he’d been well-trained to stay off the countertops. What the health department didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them, right? And she’d never once had a complaint from a customer.
She opened the box, unpacking the weekly shipment of baking items.
As an only child—and one who’d come along when her parents had almost given up hope of ever having a baby—Lily knew she’d been spoiled. By Mom especially. She tried to appreciate the fact, but she was beginning to realize they’d done her no favors by giving her everything she wanted the instant she wanted it, and never letting her work for something, yearn for something. Maybe that was why God was making her wait and yearn for the one thing she truly longed for—and couldn’t seem to obtain.
A man.
More specifically, a husband. She’d dated a few men, even thought she loved one of them. But apparently the feeling wasn’t mutual, and she’d broken things off with Dustin before he could break her heart. And maybe it was for the best. After all, if he couldn’t break her heart, could she really have loved him all that much?
But how sad was it that if she finally met the real man of her dreams, she’d only know it when she discovered he had the power to break her heart.
“You’ve got the right idea, Fudge.” She scooped the cat into her lap, stroking his soft, fudge-colored fur. “Just stay single and be done with it. No sense complicating things. It’s easier this way. Status quo. Nobody gets hurt.”
Fudge squirmed in her arms and twisted to look up at her. Lily could have sworn by the look in his feline eyes, that he was calling her out on her lie.
“Yeah, you’re right, buddy. I can’t fool you, can I? It does hurt. Like crazy.”

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