Find a Christian store

<< Go Back

Love and Roses

By Sally Bayless

Order Now!

Chapter One

Nate Redmond edged the big black mutt out of the way, set the bag from the veterinarian on the landing at the top of the stairs, and dug into his pocket for the key to his new apartment.

The landlady had said the place over the florist shop was adequate, but nothing top of the line. Not a problem. He didn’t need top of the line.

What he needed was a fresh start.

Hopefully he could find it here in the little town of Abundance, Missouri, while working for Uncle Al at his law firm, Redmond and Associates.

Nate turned the key in the lock, and the dog nosed the door open and trotted inside.

“Making yourself right at home, aren’t you?” Nate brought in the bag from the vet.

A wall of hot air heavy with humidity and ripe with the smell of fresh paint and unwashed dog surrounded him.

The first step of moving in had to be to turn on the air conditioning.

Only there wasn’t air conditioning, not even a window unit, which the landlady had neglected to mention. All she’d talked about was how the place had just been painted.

Granted, the paint was new, the walls a creamy white. Everything else—from the ugly brown carpeting to the outdated plumbing—looked as if it had been around since the 1940s. Back when HVAC meant a radiator and an oscillating fan.

On the plus side, though, the lease had been fine with pets.

Nate took the bowls he’d bought at the vet out of the plastic bag and gave the dog some water and a small amount of food. “Don’t give him too much too fast,” the vet had said.

Nate tried to open one of the living room windows. Stuck. He tried the other one. Also stuck. He made sure the latch was completely open and tried again.

The window didn’t budge. The less-than-fragrant air in the apartment had to be a hundred and five degrees.

He ran a hand through his hair and studied the windows. Were both frames warped?

No. They were painted shut.

He strode toward the bedroom. If those two windows were sealed shut as well—

They slid up easily.

All right, this was manageable. He shoved the bedroom windows open as far as possible and headed back to the moving van for his laptop.

Halfway down the exterior metal stairs, he paused and looked up and down the street. A bird sang in a tree that grew in a circular opening in the sidewalk. A small cluster of men in ball caps stood near a diner, apparently the place to be on the first Saturday morning in June. Here and there, a shopper strolled down the sidewalk, and outside the antique shop past the tiny alley, a woman watered two large planters of pink flowers. There were no honking cabs, no diesel fumes from buses, and—although most of the street parking was full—no throngs of people on the sidewalk. Probably normal for here. But to him it was weird. Just weird.

Nate checked his parking from all sides to make sure he was within the lines and got his laptop from the front of the moving van.

The woman at the antique shop flashed a wide, pretty smile. Her light-brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and her eyes were kind and unguarded. She gave him a little wave and returned her attention to her flowers. In her pale green T-shirt, jean shorts, and those little white tennis shoes like women wore fifty years ago, she looked, in all the best sense of the phrase, like the girl next door.

But not the next door he was used to. He returned upstairs and set his laptop on the kitchen counter. “What do you think of this place, Blackie?”

The dog ignored him, licked up a tiny crumb of food that he’d missed, and flopped down on the kitchen floor, panting.

“Hmm, not a Blackie, but you do need a name.” Earlier this morning, Nate had been so busy following the GPS and driving the moving van, which still felt enormous even after the trip from New York, that he hadn’t come up with one. Maybe… “Shadow?”

The dog didn’t move a muscle.

What was another good name for a black dog? “Ember?”

No response.


The furry black head lifted, and the dog trotted over.

“‘Bear’ it is.” Nate rubbed the scruffy fur on the dog’s neck.

He’d never pictured himself with a dog. At least not until he pulled into the rest stop a couple of towns over and found the attendant yelling at the stray that was eating potato chips out of the trash can.

“Stupid thing’s been here for days,” the man had said, with a gleam in his eye. “The boss even advertised to try to find the owner. Animal control better hurry up and get here. Ain’t nobody wants this stray.”

Five minutes later, Nate was back behind the wheel of the moving van, black dog at his side.

When he spotted the sign for the vet’s office at the edge of town and found them willing to see the dog right away, it had seemed like a sign that adopting him was the right thing to do. Except for being hungry, Bear had gotten a clean bill of health. The vet said, judging from the animal’s demeanor, he hadn’t been mistreated. But he did need a new home.

A lot like Nate.

Moving to Abundance, taking a job in his uncle’s law firm, adopting this dog—he was doing the right thing. His plan to rebuild his life was a good one.

He petted the dog’s ears. “Well, Bear, before I unload, we need a window-unit air conditioner, and I need to buy you a brush and some dog shampoo.”

His phone rang.

Nate pulled it from his shorts pocket, checked the display, and after another ring, answered.

“Did you get there?” a familiar voice asked. For the past six years, Jessica Wilson had been his colleague at Spillman, Hector, and Associates. And for almost a year, until several months ago, she had also been his girlfriend.

“I’m here.” He leaned back against the kitchen counter.

“It’s not too late to turn around and come back.” Jessica’s words had that same caring tone that served her well in the courtroom, a tone that said she wanted what was best for all involved.

Which wasn’t always the case.

“I think relocating to Abundance is going to work out well,” Nate said.

“Really? Does that town have major league baseball? Or a great live music scene? Or Thai food?”

All things he would miss. “No, but—”

“You’re not even going to be able to buy those sour-cherry candies you like.”

“Abundance has UPS.” Which better be zipping its way toward him, since he was almost out of his favorite treat.

“This whole idea is crazy. I know Spillman would take you back if you asked. He, of all people, has to understand about—”

“I’m not moving back, Jessica. I’m going to adjust.” Really, he was. He had to. “I’m sure there are all kinds of things to love here in Flyover Country.”

“Wouldn’t you rather work at a firm that handles something more exciting than Farmer Joe’s last will and testament?”

“This is where I need to be.” It was time for her to accept that. Ever since she’d broken up with the guy she dated after him, she’d wanted to get back together. Which wasn’t at all what he needed. “Besides, I’m sure you’ll be seen as an even bigger asset at Spillman without me there showing you up.”

“Like you ever could.” She sniffed. “I’ll give you two months. You’ll come crawling back to New York. No way are you going to be happy in the middle of Missouri.” She hung up.

Nate shoved his phone in his shorts’ pocket and walked from the kitchen to the living room. The stained Formica countertop, the stuck-shut windows, the oddly empty street outside—none of that was a problem. Of course he could be happy here. He simply needed the right attitude. And an air conditioner. “Bear, ready to go shopping?”

The dog raised his head.

“C’mon. You seemed to enjoy hanging your head out the van window when we were on the road this morning.”

A child’s voice sounded from the hallway. “Dogs like that.”

Nate turned toward the bedroom.

A little girl, maybe three or four, with big blue eyes and short, reddish-gold curls, peered out at him. “They always look happy riding in cars.”

“Uh, hello.” How did she get in here? He glanced toward the apartment door and back at the girl. True, he had left the door unlocked when he went down to check his parking and get his laptop, but he’d only been gone a couple of minutes. “Who are you?”

“I’m Emma. I live next door.” She walked out of the bedroom, her tiny, glittery flip-flops slapping the carpet. “Can I pet your dog?”


Abby Hamlin Kincaid washed the granular fertilizer off her hands in the kitchen sink, then walked through the storage area and into her antique shop. She sat down at the computer on the desk behind the counter and checked her online store. Fabulous! She’d sold the milk glass punchbowl. As soon as payment cleared, she could package the bowl and send it to its new owner.

But hold on…She went to the bottom of the stairs and leaned her head over the rail, one ear cocked toward the second floor. Before she’d gone out to take care of her petunias, she’d told Emma she could watch one show, an educational cartoon. Music for a program aimed at older kids trickled down the stairs from the family room on the second floor.

“Emma, you need to turn off the TV and come downstairs. It’s time for us to fix lunch.”

Emma didn’t answer.

Abby started up the stairs. Apparently it was also time for a reminder that when she said one TV show, she meant only one.

The cowbell on the front door clanked.

“Hello?” a deep voice called.

Oh, a customer. She’d be right down to help them as soon as she got Emma. Abby turned on the stairs to invite them to look around—

And nearly lost her balance.

Emma stood in the doorway beside an enormous black dog and the guy who’d been moving in next door.

“Are you missing someone?” The man angled his head toward Emma.

“Emma,” Abby gasped, her heart caught in her throat. She rushed down the stairs and pulled her daughter close. “I—I thought you were upstairs watching TV.”

“I went next door to see the dog.” Emma’s voice didn’t hold a single note of guilt, as though leaving the house on her own was something she did every day.

Abby leaned down and looked her in the eyes. “You did what?”

“I saw the dog out the window. He looked sad.”

“Sad?” Abby’s single word came out in what might have been a screech.

Emma shrank back, and the man’s eyes widened.

Okay, so it was a screech. But Emma was three years old. She’d left the house all by herself. Crossed the alley. Gone into a stranger’s apartment.

And Abby hadn’t even known.

This guy had brought Emma back. What if he hadn’t?

“Bear probably did seem sad.” The man looked as if he wished he was somewhere else. “He’s had a rough time. I just adopted him this morning.”

Abby studied the dog more closely. That explained why a guy who seemed like he’d own a purebred with a coat that gleamed instead held the leash of a mutt with fur that hadn’t been brushed in weeks. It didn’t explain what her daughter had been thinking or—

“I’m Nate Redmond, by the way.” The man stuck out his hand.

“Oh.” Abby shook his hand. “Abby Kincaid. And I guess you’ve met Emma. I’m so sorry. She is a little adventurous, but always before when I’ve let her watch TV, she’s been totally engrossed.”

“I guess you’ll have to set some clear boundaries, so she doesn’t wander into traffic and get hurt.”

His words, by themselves, might not have been so bad, and considering what had happened, might even be justified. But something about his tone implied that he knew more about raising her child than she did.

Based on what she’d heard about her new neighbor, though, she doubted it. Neva, the owner of the flower shop, had said her new tenant was single, no kids, never married, all of which the florist had mentioned more than once while giving Abby a pointed stare.

Abby had ignored her.

A relationship was the last thing she needed. People kept trying to set her up, saying it had been a long time since Eric died, suggesting that God might bring her a second chance at love. But she wasn’t interested.

Particularly not in someone who didn’t even seem like he’d fit in around here. She re-centered her wedding and engagement rings on her finger and studied the newcomer. A navy polo and khaki shorts. Brown hair, dark blue eyes, and short stubble over a chiseled jaw. This guy belonged in a magazine ad for preppy sportswear, hanging out on some expensive sailboat. Not in her sweet little hometown.

Emma sidled back over to the dog and petted his head.

Abby put a hand on Emma’s shoulder and steered her back beside her.

“Mommy, where’s Flyover Country?”

Abby turned to Emma. “What?”

“Flyover Country.” Emma tapped Nate on the arm. “Isn’t that what you said?”

Abby raised her eyebrows at Nate. So he was one of those folks who thought people in the middle of the country weren’t worth noticing. Definitely not going to fit in.

He at least had the courtesy to look guilty.

“We’ll talk about it later, pumpkin.” Abby turned to Nate. “Thank you for bringing Emma back.”

“You’re welcome.”

The dog began to whine.

“It sounds like Bear and I need to leave,” Nate said.

Emma waved to the dog as they walked away, and Abby closed the door. Time to have a serious discussion with her daughter and come up with the right punishment—something that wouldn’t be cruel, but would definitely get the point across that leaving the house alone was a very bad thing to do. Nate’s concern that something could happen to her was all too valid, and Abby couldn’t bear it if something happened to Emma. Couldn’t even think about it.

Would it work if she put Emma’s toy kangaroo in timeout for the day? If she took away TV for a week? Abby would figure it out.

And she’d put a cowbell on the side door and the door that led to the screened-in porch as well.

Because, no matter what her new neighbor thought, Abby was a good mother.

Order Now!

<< Go Back

Developed by Camna, LLC

This is a service provided by ACFW, but does not in any way endorse any publisher, author, or work herein.