Find a Christian store

<< Go Back

Desert Willow

By Patricia Beal

Order Now!

Clara Malone sat alone in the airport, her grandmother’s labored request rushing through her mind. My love … deliver. Clara had explained that the post office could get the letter to General Medeiros faster and for way less money, but she wasn’t interested. In person … last wish.

Last wish? Clara didn’t agree with many of the decisions her grandmother had made, but she loved her. And family was family and a last wish was a last wish—not the kind of thing one says no to.

Timing couldn’t have been worse though. Fresh out of college, broke, and without a job. Good grief.. She’d just expended what meager funds remained to get her from Cincinnati to Texas to fulfill her promise.

And she only had herself to blame. At least for the unemployed and broke part. Everyone knew a degree in dance was not exactly practical. Why did she have to insist that she would be the exception to the rule and that she would find a job?

She surveyed the large atrium of the El Paso International Airport, fanning herself with her grandmother’s jasmine-scented, maple-gold envelope. No sign of the general yet. Instead, across a playful and sunny path created by a series of tall arched windows, she spotted him—the young Army captain she’d seen at the airport’s Placita while falling in love with an overpriced silver bracelet she couldn’t possibly afford.

He’d stood close, so close that the subtle soap scent of his freckled skin had reached her with ease. And now here he was again.

No way though. Dating a soldier always sounded like a good idea, but it was never a good idea. Just ask Grandma. Or Mom.

Clara had already learned that lesson too.

She turned her attention to the letter again, lips pressed together. What was in it?

She lifted her eyes and studied the captain’s red hair. He was handsome. She had to give him that. Ginger. He looked like someone famous. But who?

Hair regulations sure had changed since her dad’s stint in the Army. While the captain’s thick hair was short and neat, he didn’t have the high-and-tight haircut her father sported when he was in the service.

She scanned the atrium again—not for the General Medeiros this time, but for other soldiers. Maybe one would look like her dad, the late Luke Malone. But none did. He’d been distinguished in his Army uniform, and she liked to remember him that way. She should have kept more photos of that time in their lives.

The captain checked his phone. Clara squinted to read the last name on his uniform, but she couldn’t make out the letters on the thin name tape. If only Captain Ginger stood closer.

And that’s when he shot a smile her way.

Oh, no. She looked away so fast she startled the pretty blonde who’d just sat next to her. But not fast enough. She now had his warm expression etched in her brain. Why did she have to look at him? She fanned herself with her grandmother’s letter again, its floral perfume mingling with the blonde’s.

Wait a minute. Clara checked out the girl next to her from the corner of her eye. Midnight-blue silk spaghetti-strap top. Designer jeans. Perfect figure to go with it. Perfect tan too. You fool. He’s not looking at you. He’s looking at the blonde.

He was way too perfect—way too cool. What made her think he was smiling at her? She snorted and tucked a strand of long auburn hair behind her ear. What would a man like him see in a Plain Jane like her?

Not interested anyway. She had already made her own soldier-boy mistake. Go ahead Blondie. Your turn.

Clara shifted in her seat and tugged at her brown boho-chic dress to cover her knees. She could have worn something nicer instead of walking around El Paso International looking like a campus hippie. College was over. Time to grow up. Her first paycheck—assuming there would be a job and a paycheck one day—would have to go toward new clothes.

A large wave of new passengers arrived, but no one looked like the old officer she was supposed to meet. He was to arrive with his daughter, son-in-law, and three grandkids, all boys.

She studied every group without making a positive match. The last few people walked past her. Nope. No such family on that flight.

Her shoulders dropped and her lungs deflated as the atrium grew quieter, reminding her of the end of morning classes at the University of Cincinnati. There was comfort in the dwindling sounds and crowds, but there was loneliness too.

Was Ginger still there? She straightened her back and searched the area. Of course not. Whoever he was waiting for must have been in that group. Hmm. The sunny path seemed less bright now, and she felt lonelier still. How ridiculous.

Her fingers caressed her grandmother’s shaky handwriting. What could be so special about retired General Mario Medeiros to keep him in her grandmother’s heart for seventy-some years?

Clara longed to hold the frail author of the letter. The last time she’d made the trip to Brazil to visit her was the year her father died. Too long, and now probably too late.


Captain Ginger. She looked into his forest-green eyes, two shades darker than her own, and disliked the heat his presence sent into her cheeks. What a coincidence that they both had red hair and green eyes. Hmm. Why was he talking to her? He was young, probably her age, but this was no soldier boy—no, sir. His voice was deep and slightly hoarse, in an attractive way. His strong jawline and sharp-but-not-too-sharp chin were sculpture-perfect.

But it was his nose that Clara liked right away. The feature gave his whole face an approachability that was endearing and almost irresistible—almost. It was Prince Harry’s nose. That’s who he reminded her of. No wonder she was all flustered.

She read his last name on the faded Army combat uniform. “Captain James?”

“Are you Clara Malone, ma’am?”

“Yes.” But how did he know her name? She cocked her head. He was obviously not the general’s American son-in-law. The son-in-law was a colonel and had to be older.

“I saw you at the store—you’re the one.” He motioned toward the letter on her lap.

“I’m the—?” Clara cleared her throat.

“You’re the one waiting for the Howard family and General Medeiros?”

She’d never been anybody’s the one before.

“The family arriving from Germany with the Brazilian general?” He looked left and right, then behind him, scanning the whole atrium.

“Oh! Yes. Oh, right. Yes. I’m the one.” It was fun to say it, even if it meant something else. “I’m waiting for General Medeiros and the Howards.” But how did the captain know about her mission?

“Andrew James.” He offered his hand. “I’m waiting for them too. We met in Germany a few years ago. Colonel Howard and I served together there and in Afghanistan.”

Clara’s gold bracelet jingled when she reached for his hand—lightly, like the baby butterflies chasing each other in her chest. His grip was comfortably strong and his skin warm.

He sat where the blonde had been. When had she left?

She cleared her throat again. “How did you know my name?”

“Colonel Howard told me about you and your grandma. I know General Medeiros too.” Andrew’s pronunciation of the general’s name was beautiful. He lifted the middle syllable like the Portuguese, instead of weighing it down like Brazilians. “They asked me to greet you if I spotted you and to …” His voice trailed off, and he tapped the rubber heel of his desert combat boot.

“And to what?”

He took a deep breath. Too deep for casual talk. “Clara, I think I have some bad news for you.”

“Oh, no.” Her hands cradled her grandmother’s letter against her chest. “He can’t have died.”

“No, not that. I’m sorry.” Andrew uncrossed his legs and leaned toward her. “I’m so sorry—he’s alive and should recover.”

“Recover?” Her grandmother was in bad enough shape and wouldn’t last much longer. She would be devastated if the general didn’t get the letter. “What happened? Recover from what?”

“He’s been battling some type of respiratory infection and has a weak heart.” He twisted his lips and paused. “Two nights ago, he was struggling to breathe, and they had to take him to the emergency room. They admitted him.”

“Wait. The general is not on the flight?” What did this mean? That couldn’t be. She’d traveled all the way from Ohio.

“He’s not. The Howards had to come without him.”

“Why didn’t they tell me? When will he come?”

“Soon?” Andrew shrugged. “He seems fine now, but the hospital wants to keep him for a while longer.”

“They should have called me.” If they’d called her right away, she could have postponed the whole thing without losing money.

“General Medeiros made his daughter promise that she would talk to you in person about his health and about the letter.” He paused and narrowed his eyes. “He was afraid you would leave or not come at all if they’d told you he wasn’t going to make the flight.”

“I wouldn’t just leave.” She was broke. She needed to be job-hunting. “But I wish I’d stayed home. I could have traveled later, when he’s actually here. What am I supposed to do now?”

“They thought there was a chance he would end up making the trip. I’m sorry this is happening, but the Howards are good people.” Andrew leaned back and crossed his legs at the ankles. “They’ll have a plan and will take care of you. Don’t worry.”

Don’t worry? Clara rubbed her forehead with her fingertips. She didn’t know them. She just wanted to go home.

Andrew pointed at the envelope. “Can I see it?”

“Sure.” What if she said she had to use the restroom and didn’t return? Andrew could deliver the letter, and she would be free. My love … deliver … in person. If she could leave she would. But she couldn’t do that.

Andrew held it carefully. “The general can’t wait to get his hands on this letter.” He waved the envelope near his face. “Smells good.”


“Mmm.” He handed the letter back to Clara. “Nice.”

She smelled her grandmother’s perfumed love letter one more time and then placed it in her purse with care.

“Here they are.” He stood and pointed to a stylish couple in their forties and three boys who were young, but taller than their mother.

Andrew’s genuine smile spoke volumes. It was quite evident he cared for these people, and the friendship went beyond serving together. He was definitely not at the airport just to do a favor for an acquaintance.

All three boys ran to him as soon as they spotted him. “Hi, Brother Andrew!” The youngest threw his arms around him.

Brother? She hadn’t heard that since Vacation Bible School. She hadn’t been to a church since then either—apart from weddings and funerals. Clara studied the warmth of the men’s handshakes and hugs.

Colonel Max Howard placed his massive hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “You look great, man.”

“Thank you, sir. Welcome to Fort Bliss.”

“Thanks for helping us.”

The Howards had wrinkled clothes and tired eyes, but their voices were cheerful. Each boy wore a small backpack, and Colonel and Mrs. Howard pulled matching wheeled carry-on bags. Nothing was out of place or out of order.

Mrs. Howard looked at her. “Are you Clara? Or are you here with Andrew?”

Clara blanched at the thought of being there with Andrew. “I …” Nothing else came out.

Andrew took a step toward Clara. “Colonel and Mrs. Howard, this is Clara Malone.”

Mrs. Howard’s smile broadened. “Oi! Eu sou a Alice. Tudo bom?”

“I understood what you said, but I don’t really speak Portuguese. Hi ... Alice.” She imitated the woman’s pronunciation of the name, but calling her by her first name hadn’t felt right. Mrs. Howard was old enough to be her mom and was a colonel’s wife—a general’s daughter.

“Oh, Clara, you must have heard what happened.” Alice gave Clara a warm hug.
“Yes, ma’am. I heard.” Clara put her arms around the general’s daughter hesitantly.

“Please call me Alice.” Mrs. Howard took a step back and removed her leather jacket. “He should be getting out of the hospital this weekend.”

“I’m supposed to fly home this weekend.” Clara raised both hands and tightened her lips.

“I should have a new flight date for him by tomorrow.” Colonel Howard led the way toward baggage claim.

“Clara, you must stay.” Alice’s voice was soft. “You must.”

“I don’t know what to do,” Clara mumbled.

Alice covered her ears when a passenger’s name was repeated over the loud speaker. “Let’s go where it’s not so loud.”

Why was everything going wrong all of a sudden? Graduating from college should be a good thing. Instead she was still jobless in what was shaping up to be the worst summer ever. “Unbelievable.”

“Pardon me?” Alice turned toward Clara as they walked past an Army reception desk and continued toward baggage claim.

“Nothing.” Clara spoke without looking at General Medeiros’s daughter. What was she going to do? She had to call Mom after hearing Mrs. Howard’s plan—if, in fact, there was one.

The group came to a stop at their baggage carousel.

“We have twelve suitcases coming out.” The colonel placed his hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “Please tell me you didn’t drive the Crossfire.”

Andrew chuckled. “We should be fine. I borrowed a van from church—it’s a fifteen-passenger van.”

What was a Crossfire? The luggage buzzer interrupted the chatter.

“I need each of you boys to get a cart.” Colonel Howard handed his wallet to the oldest boy and pointed to the long row of carts behind him. Andrew grabbed a fourth luggage cart, and the parade of suitcases started.

“Clara, you must stay.” Alice tightened her lips then closed her eyes briefly before speaking again. “I don’t have much to offer right now—” She continued. “We are headed to the hotel on post, and we’ll be there until our furniture arrives. But you must stay. I can help cover your hotel costs, and we can discover some sights together.”

Sightseeing in El Paso, Texas, was not what Clara needed.

Alice’s eyes became moist. “My dad won’t last much longer, and I want to do this for him. It means a lot to me. Please?”

Clara looked at the woman’s pale blue eyes. Her voice was husky and pretty. “It means a lot to my grandma too, but why does it mean so much to you? I get your dad and the letter, but why do I have to stay? What is it to you—to him?” In person … last wish.

“He wants to meet you. And it’ll be fun. Once you meet him you’ll understand. You can’t help but love him.”

“That’s the rumor.” Clara stepped closer to Alice to make room for another family with several suitcases and backpacks.

Alice giggled and cocked her head. “Will you stay?”

“I need to talk to my mom. She’s in Brazil. I need to see what she thinks.” Clara shook her head in slow motion. Unbelievable. “Do you think we’re talking five days, fifteen, thirty? I can’t stay long.”

“I will call you tomorrow as soon as we get an update from the hospital and from travel.”


“The Army travel office.” Alice’s voice was more animated than before. “They will reschedule his flight once we know when he can make it.”

Maybe she could stay. Clara was just a little curious to meet the first man her grandmother had ever loved.

Andrew’s luggage cart was the first to fill up. Three suitcases and two Army duffle bags. Would she see Captain Ginger again if she stayed?

“Can I see the letter?” Alice raised her eyebrows.

“Of course.” Clara pulled the bright envelope out of her purse and handed it over.

Alice smelled the envelope. “Jasmine?”

“Grandma’s favorite scent.”

“Can I show it to Max?”

“Sure.” Clara followed Alice to where the guys were. Beside them, two more luggage carts were now fully loaded.

“Here’s the famous letter.” Alice stood behind her husband.

Colonel Howard turned around and his eyes locked on the envelope. “Surreal, no?”
Alice’s head bobbed in slow motion.

One of the boys approached them. “Grandpa’s famous letter?”

“Yep.” Alice kissed his cheek.

Colonel Howard turned to Clara. “I’m so glad you’re here, Clara.”

“Thanks.” She offered him a smile and put the letter away.

The colonel gave Andrew a mock slug. “Hey, how’s Tatiana?”

Alice’s eyes went wide and she poked her husband’s back. He looked over his shoulder. She frowned at him and he shrugged.

“It’s okay.” Andrew’s jaw tightened.

Who was Tatiana?

When he spoke again, his tone was casual. “The usual Tatiana—can’t commit but can’t let go either. I’ve seen her once since I got back from Germany. She might come for a few days this summer.”

“Don’t count on it,” Alice snapped.

Tatiana? Clara looked at Andrew from the corner of her eye. Was he not available? What did she care anyway? No soldiers. No.

The colonel loaded the last suitcase onto their last luggage cart. “If she’s the one the Lord has for you, it will all work out.”

“I know, sir.” Andrew led the luggage train toward the main exit. The airport double doors slid open, and the El Paso air hit them like a blow dryer set on high.

“This heat is unusual for May—even for El Paso.” Andrew stayed ahead of the group, his commanding voice easily heard. “It’s supposed to cool down for the weekend.”

The boys followed him, looking at the massive mountains to the west.

“Cool down to what? The eighties?” Colonel Howard laughed. “It’s like being in Afghanistan all over again. Even the mountains look like Afghan mountains.”
Alice giggled again and lowered her sunglasses. “Do you need a ride, Clara?”

Clara shook her head. “That’s my hotel.” She pointed at the Radisson in the distance, one of a dozen two-story hotels encircling the airport’s short-term parking lot. “By the giant horse statue.”

“That’s convenient.”

“Yep.” Not. Everything about her trip to El Paso was very inconvenient, the hotel included. She held her breath to avoid the exhaust smell of a little old car that drove past them.

An airport hotel was supposed to keep her safe from soldiers and from all things military—safely removed from Fort Bliss. But it wasn’t working. Fort Bliss, like all Army posts, had a way of spilling out. Army equipment, Army personnel, and Army families were everywhere.

One of the boys was still looking at the mountains. “The Franklin Mountains are taller than I thought they would be. Look at that peak.” He pointed at the tallest part of the brown formation.

“Wait until you’re trying to climb it.” Andrew pushed the fourth cart toward a large white van. “It’s really tall.”

“Will you take me one day?”

“Of course. We’ll go up to Elephant Mountain.” Andrew opened the back of the unmarked van and loaded the first large suitcase. “I took the fourth row of seats out, so we should have enough space.”

“Let me help you load.” The colonel grabbed another large suitcase and moved it to the van with ease and purpose. While the men organized the luggage, Mrs. Howard and the boys put smaller bags in the passenger area.

Army families. Families, families, and more families. Everyone’s got one. Everyone but Clara Malone. Not the right kind, anyway.

Andrew probably had a great family too. Parents who were still married—dad a career officer and mom a homemaker? Probably. Soon he would marry Tatiana and have beautiful children who would follow in their dad’s footsteps.

But in her family, relationships never lasted long, and forever was a pipe dream.

Alice got out of the van. “Do you have a car here?”

“No. I don’t need one.”

“Oh, now I feel even worse. Do you know anyone here?”

“No, but don’t worry. I’ll be okay.” She did the math in her head. It was getting late in Brazil. She had to call her mom.

Alice approached Andrew. “Andrew, show her some sights, will you? Are you busy tonight?”

Where had that come from? Clara’s face was hotter than the El Paso sun. Surely not. How embarrassing. “You don’t—”

“I would love to.” Andrew didn’t hesitate. “I need to go back to the office for a couple of hours, but I’m free for dinner.”

She lifted her eyes to his face. He didn’t look bothered—he wouldn’t be doing it just to please the Howards. Or would he? He looked anxious. She should put him out of his misery and just say no already. Why did Alice have to put him—and her—on the spot like that?

“My mom is in Brazil. I have to call her right now.” And run away from here, from Ginger, and from Tatiana. “They’re four hours ahead. She gets in enough trouble for sleeping at the hospital all the time. She can’t have her phone going off in the middle of the night.”

“Aww. Your grandma’s in the hospital too?”

Clara nodded and swallowed the lump that had formed fast—too fast—in her throat. “They don’t think she will be able to leave the hospital.” She didn’t want to cry in front of The Brady Bunch. It was time to start walking.

“I’m so sorry.” Alice hugged Clara. “And I’m sorry I didn’t ask sooner.”

She released her and looked into Clara’s eyes, but Clara gazed at the hotel in the distance.

“Oh, and you will be in a hotel room all by yourself? No. You can’t. I won’t let you.”

“I can really help.” Andrew’s voice was firm. “You don’t have to be alone.”
In my room? Clara giggled and Alice joined her.

“What?” Andrew searched every adult face.

Colonel Howard shook his head with a thunderous chuckle.

Then Andrew turned crimson, the crimson of late-season grapes. “I thought we were talking about dinner and sightseeing.”

Alice ignored his statement, which suited Clara just fine. “You can come to post and have dinner with us—we’ll send a cab. I hear the entertainment area at Fort Bliss is great. Restaurants, pubs, movies, stores. Hmm?”

“I will be okay. Really.”

“Nonsense.” Alice looked at Andrew, who was tossing the van’s keys from one hand to another as if they were a Slinky. “It’s decided. You can go be young and let this fine young captain take you out or come to post and hang out with us. But you are not staying here all alone while your grandma is in the hospital and your mom is on the other side of the world. Not happening.”

“That’s right.” Andrew chuckled. “I can help.”

Cute. Ginger had a sense of humor. Spending time with him, having him show her around … could she do that? She didn’t know him. But wasn’t anything better than going to post?

“Go out you two.” Colonel Howard’s statement sounded like an order. “Clara needs to call home and make some decisions. Go out tomorrow.”

But how about Tatiana? “I don’t want to cause any trouble though. Isn’t there a girl?”

Alice looked at her husband and shook her head.

“Tatiana is old news.” Andrew spoke firmly.

Did Tatiana know she was “old news”? A blue and orange Southwest plane screamed overhead, taking off to who knows where. Anywhere. If only it could take Clara away from El Paso before she got herself in trouble.

“I would love to take you out. Tonight or tomorrow. If you’ll let me. Just dinner. I know a great place.”

I’m sure you do, Ginger. “Fine. Tomorrow.”

His charming grin sent a jolt of heat through her stomach and into her heart.

“Good!” Alice clapped.

Colonel Howard laughed. “Andrew’s personal matchmaker is back in business, and we’ve been together for less than an hour. You’re good.”

“Maxwell Howard, hush.” It was Alice’s turn to blush. “Don’t embarrass them.”
Oh, we were so past embarrassment. “What time, Ginger?” Wait, had she just said that out loud? “I mean, Andrew.”

He chuckled. “Seven?”

Clara nodded. “Should I wait in the lobby?”

“How about if I ring the room when I arrive? Friday night traffic in this area can be pretty bad, and I don’t want you to be waiting in the lobby if I’m running behind.” He tilted his head slightly.

“Okay. I’m in 117.” I’m in 117? I should have given him my phone number instead. What an idiot.

“All right. Seven tomorrow then.”

Too late now. “Okay.” She put her bag on her shoulder. “It was nice meeting you—all of you.”

Alice smiled. “Nice meeting you too, Clara.” All the others echoed some variation of the same. “And I will call you tomorrow.”

When she reached the sidewalk, Clara looked back and caught Alice doing a little victory dance, as Colonel Howard patted Andrew’s back. Both men grinned unabashedly.

Overhead, a line of Blackhawk helicopters moved slowly, like the El Paso air, and Clara tried to ignore the excitement that overwhelmed her heart, making it beat like the rotors of the helicopters—around and around and with loud whooshes.

She’d just come to hand over a letter. Now what had she gotten herself into?
Captain Andrew James. United States Army. Nineteen hundred hours. Tomorrow.

The palm trees of the Radisson framed a changeable letter sign she hadn’t noticed before: Home Away From Home.

Dating a soldier always sounded like a good idea but it was never a good idea.


Andrew drove back to the airport as soon as he got off work.

After taking the Howards to the hotel and returning the church van, he’d spent two hours in his office doing something that resembled work.

The newsletter he was supposed to review and approve got submitted without the usual scrutiny. The Army told people not to micromanage, right? Well, this was it : Andrew James not micromanaging for a change.

His first sergeant wanted him to review some images for a storyboard, but Andrew didn’t even open the picture folder. It could wait.

But thoughts of Clara Malone refused to wait.

Returning to the airport to buy a bracelet for someone he’d just met sounded like a terrible idea, but he couldn’t help it. A second trip to the airport to buy the bracelet she’d been admiring when he first saw her was an idea firmly planted in his heart since the moment she said yes to dinner with him.

Maybe he would hold on to it to see if things worked out and then give it to her during a future outing? The bracelet wasn’t terribly expensive, but she would probably freak out if he gave it to her on a first date.

Andrew drove past her hotel, as a group of well-dressed Joes spilled out of the lobby.

Where should he take her? His first thought had been the Magic Bistro, but the L&J Cafe had such a unique environment too and the best Mexican food. Was she expecting Mexican food? Or how about The Garden?

It’s just a dinner, Andrew. Chill. Just a dinner.

Maybe he should take her on post? Girls always liked that.

No. Not this girl. Definitely not. Something about the way she’d narrowed her eyes at Alice Howard’s suggestion of meeting on post told him Clara had no desire to see Fort Bliss.

Andrew parked at the airport and closed the top of his classic yellow Chrysler Crossfire. He glanced at the Radisson. Please don’t be at the window, Clara. Her room probably faced the other side anyway. Besides she’d never seen his car.

But Colonel Howard had mentioned the Crossfire. Did she know what one was? He hurried to the entrance.

Oh, enough. What was the matter with him? He liked her already. That was the problem. Somehow, he liked her a lot. What a beauty! A beauty with red hair and green eyes like his. That didn’t happen every day. And Clara Malone—even her name was pretty.

He crossed the tall atrium and glanced at the spot where they’d first talked. He suspected her mousy sort of personality was just a façade. After all, she’d been surrounded by six strangers who knew each other well.

But just in case she was always shy and reserved, the Magic Bistro would be their best bet. Their live music was mellow and the singer good. No awkward silences.

Children’s voices echoed all around the airport atrium, and the late setting sun shone through the glass roof, forming a path that led straight to the Placita.

Andrew walked into the store where he’d first seen her and spotted the silver bracelet she’d held right away. It was the only silver one. How lucky that it was still there. He touched the cold metal flowers, remembering her delicate hands and peach nail polish.

The memory of her sweet perfume and the image of her long willowy figure and toned arms were vivid in his mind, and they warmed his spirit.

Warmed it too much.

Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.

Staying pure until he’d married Tatiana had been easy. He’d grown up expecting to marry soon after college, and even expecting that the year or two before his wedding night would be a challenge. So he’d been prepared.

Keeping it up after being abandoned practically at the altar at West Point on graduation week was not so easy. Being twenty-six and single was not expected. No. Nothing could have prepared him for that.

Bringing into captivity every thought …

Andrew ran his fingers over the two rows of skinny flowers that made up the bracelet.

“Sir?” the short saleswoman with dark black hair said from behind the counter.

“Yes, ma’am.” He continued to examine the bracelet.

“We close in five minutes.”

She will love it. “I’ll take this bracelet.” He approached the counter.

“This is pretty.” The woman lifted her glasses. “Love, fun, rest, hope, faith, dreams, joy, wish …” She stopped reading the tiny petals and rested her glasses on her nose again. “Nice.”

“It is.” Andrew’s voice sounded surer than he felt. “It’s very nice.”

“A gift?”

“Yes.” He pulled his wallet out of his uniform’s back pocket.

“Girlfriend?” She smiled and cut the tag, pushing it in Andrew’s direction.

“Date.” He picked up the tag and tossed it in a plastic waste basket by the register.

Her eyebrows rose. “Lucky girl.” She reached under the counter and showed him a glossy red box with a silver ribbon. “A ruby box for a fairer than ruby lady who will bring you love, hope, faith, dreams, and joy?”

“God only knows if this is the one, but I sure hope so.” He tapped his card on the counter while she placed the bracelet on the simple white pad inside the box. Could Clara be the one—the one who would make everything right again? And why did he need a girl to make things right? God should be enough. God was enough. Hmm. He handed the saleslady his debit card.

The saleslady handed him the box in a small bag and returned his card. “Well, good luck.”


The atrium was busier than before, and a female soldier in the rental car area looked enough like Tatiana to make him do a double-take.

Would she really show up this summer? He owed her no loyalty—they were not in a relationship. But he’d asked her to come. He’d asked her to reconsider her graduation decision. After four years apart, they were both still single. Her time in the Army was almost up. She could resign her commission and be with him, like they’d originally planned.

He crossed the parking lot, baking on the asphalt but aware of the Radisson on his left. As he climbed into the Crossfire, his cell phone vibrated. He removed the ruby box from the small shopping bag and placed it in the glove compartment before checking the phone.

A text from Tatiana?


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.