Deborah Grace Staley

October 2012 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-204=0

Book five of the bestselling Angel Ridge series

Love can grow from the darkest of beginnings.

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Patrick Houston has worked hard to make changes in his life so he can be someone his children and Angel Ridge will be proud of. But Frannie Thompson is back in town reminding him of a time when he'd been out of control and failing the people in his life. Can love and loyalty grow from such a rocky start?

Was Mayor Patrick Houston actually going to pretend he didn’t know her?

"What can I do for you, Ms. Thompson?” he repeated.

Frannie looked at the file in her lap, resting on top of her briefcase. She had moved to Angel Ridge to open a non-profit business that would help people struggling to find jobs and housing. She couldn’t just walk away. But this encounter with Houston was unbelievable.

"Ms. Thompson?”

He was in for a shock if he thought she would play along to make this more comfortable for him. "I had no idea you were the mayor. Your first name isn’t on any of the information I’ve seen. Just your initials.”

He absently rubbed his chin, which made her notice he hadn’t bothered to shave.

"Yes, well, the only thing anyone around here cares about is that my last name is ‘Houston’.” He actually smiled then and added, "A Houston has been the mayor of Angel Ridge for more than a hundred years.”

"How nice for you.” She stood. "However, it’s your first name that would have mattered to me, since that was all you cared to share. It would have also been nice if you’d included that you’re married.”

Deborah Grace Staley is a life-long resident of East Tennessee. Married to her college sweetheart, she lives in the Foothills of the Smoky Mountains in a circa 1867 farmhouse that has Angel’s Wings in the gingerbread trim. She is working on the next novel in the award-winning, bestselling Angel Ridge series. Visit her atwww.deborahgracestaley.com.


"Staley shows love and forgiveness in her novel that like the title is ‘unforgettable.’" -- Rhonda Howard, Netgalley

"Somehow you want to be in the character's places, living their lives… This book is definitely a page turner." -- Gayle Pace, Books & Reviews



Chapter 1

Everyone in Angel Ridge thought Frannie Thompson’s sister was dead. For all practical purposes, she was.

Frannie shifted her briefcase and purse to her other hand to open the heavy glass and wooden door to the courthouse. After checking the directory, she took a long stairway to the second floor.

Her sister, Jenny Thompson, had been forced to enter witness protection after uncovering the South’s version of the mob with remnants in Angel Ridge. Everyone in town assumed Jenny had died in an explosion that leveled her newspaper offices, but Frannie and a few others knew the truth. Still, with their contact limited to correspondence exchanged secretly through the authorities, Frannie would never see her older sister again.

At the top of the stairs, she wound her way through a labyrinth of hallways until she found the mayor’s office. Taking a deep breath, she smoothed her skirt and hair, then opened the door.

A young woman, sitting behind a desk in the lobby, looked up as Frannie entered. "May I help you?”

Frannie smiled. "Yes. I have an appointment with the mayor at nine.”

The woman looked at her computer. "Frannie Thompson?”


She nodded. "I’ll, um, let him know you’re here. If you’ll just have a seat.”

"Thank you.”

Frannie sat, but found it odd that the receptionist didn’t go to the mayor’s office or call him. Instead, she seemed to be texting someone. Frannie checked her watch. Ten minutes before the hour.

"Can I get you a cup of coffee?”

There was no, He’ll be with you in a moment. Interesting.

"No, thank you.”

The woman just smiled and turned her attention to her computer, typing at a furious speed.

Frannie pulled a file from her briefcase that contained her construction plans, approved by the Building Commission, for the project she intended to implement in town. The change of use signs had been up for several weeks on the buildings on Main Street she would be purchasing from Bud DeFoe. She just needed the Council’s approval on a couple of details to give her a green light, and she’d be in business. Just a small formality, and her dream would become a reality.

Twenty minutes ticked by. She looked up when she heard a commotion at the back of the office: a door closing, someone grumbling, another door closing. Frannie shot a questioning look at the receptionist who didn’t meet her gaze.

The intercom beeped, and the receptionist picked up the handset, then replaced it.

"Ms. Thompson? The mayor will see you now. If you’ll follow me?”

Frannie stood, and the forgotten folder on her lap slid to the floor. Papers scattered across the carpet. Frannie bit back a curse, then tried to quickly gather and put the papers back in order.

The receptionist came over to lend a hand. "Thank you,” Frannie murmured, embarrassed. Not the impression of the slick, professional she’d intended to project today.

"Karen!” a deep voice bellowed. "What’s going on? Did she leave?”

"Coming,” Karen said.

The mayor’s grumbling followed him back into his office.

"I’m sorry,” Karen said.

"Is he always this cheerful?” Frannie joked.

The woman just smiled as she handed Frannie the last of the papers. Frannie shoved it all back into the folder and followed Karen to the mayor’s office. She didn’t need the man cheerful. She just needed a spot on the agenda of the upcoming meeting of the Town Council. On previous visits to Angel Ridge, she’d tried to meet with the mayor and bring him along on her plan, but he was never in. She hadn’t worried too much about it because she’d been assured by her architect and contractor, Cole Craig and Blake Ferguson, that the mayor would welcome her project to help revitalize downtown.

Karen knocked on an open door, then entered. "Mayor, this is Ms. Thompson.”

Frannie took a few steps into the office. The man had his back to them, typing something on a computer keyboard at the credenza behind his desk. She’d expected an older man with gray hair, but he had the dark hair of someone much younger.

"Yes, yes. Come in and have a seat,” he mumbled.

Karen smiled apologetically and retreated.

Frannie stepped into the room, but didn’t sit. She waited for the man to face her. When he didn’t, she said, "Should we reschedule?”

His sigh was audible. He swiveled his high-backed leather chair to face her.

Frannie took a step back. "You...” She found herself face-to-face with the man she’d shared an anonymous make-out session with in the middle of a blizzard that awful winter she’d lost her sister. In the years since that night, she’d done her best to forget. It had been just a kiss, after all, but her body had betrayed her, and the memory of it wouldn’t fade. What they’d shared that night had gone beyond a simple kiss. God, how she’d prayed she would never see him again.

The mayor stood and walked around his desk. When he was close enough to touch, he extended his hand and said, "Patrick Houston. I’m the mayor of Angel Ridge.”

Patrick. The mayor’s name was Patrick. Frannie didn’t take his hand. Didn’t speak. Just looked into those haunted, gray eyes she remembered so well. She also remembered having the devil of a hangover the day after. Learning the truth about him had only made it worse.

Finally, she found her voice. "You’re the mayor.”

He rested his hands on his hips and tried to look anywhere but at her, indicating he just might feel remorse. "Yes. Won’t you sit?” he said, waving a hand toward the chairs situated in front of his desk.

She did, heavily, and tried to keep her mouth closed as he leaned against the front edge of his desk, facing her. Only inches separated them, and her treacherous body reacted to an attraction she wished she didn’t feel.

He cleared his throat. "What can I do for you, Ms. Thompson?”

"Did you consider skipping our meeting because you wanted to avoid seeing me? Is that why you were late?” she ground out, anger displacing the shock.

"I’m afraid I didn’t look at my schedule at all, so I wasn’t aware that I had an appointment.”

Was he actually going to pretend he didn’t know her?

"What can I do for you, Ms. Thompson?” he repeated.

Frannie looked at the file resting on top of the briefcase in her lap. Unbelievable.

"Ms. Thompson?”

He was in for a shock if he thought she would play along to make this more comfortable for him. "I had no idea you were the mayor. Your first name isn’t on any of the information I’ve seen. Just your initials.”

He absently rubbed his chin, which made her notice he hadn’t bothered to shave. "Yes, well, the only thing anyone around here cares about is that my last name is ‘Houston.’” He actually smiled then and added, "A Houston has been the mayor of Angel Ridge for more than a hundred years.”

"How nice for you.” Anyone else might have found that smile charming, but not her. She stood. "However, it’s your first name that would have mattered to me, since that was all you cared to share. It would have also been nice if you’d included that you’re married.”

He pushed away from his desk, standing straighter. A frown pulled at his brow. Dear Lord, in the light of day he was too handsome for words. Dark wavy hair, brushed back from his face and spilled over the collar of his casual polo-style shirt. There must be any number of women who wouldn’t care that he was married. She, however, was not one of them.

"I don’t understand.”

"No? Neither did I.”

She took a long step forward that brought her to stand squarely in front of him. The palm of her hand itched with the desire to slap him. A lot of years had passed since that night, and the rush of emotion she felt surprised her. But no woman liked to be played the fool. Frannie was no exception.

She tossed the folder containing her plans onto his desk. "I’d like to submit that at the next meeting of the Town Council. If you have questions, you can call my architect.”

Turning, she strode from the office.

As she stepped out of the courthouse into the bright morning sunshine, Frannie slid oversized dark glasses onto her nose. She walked briskly across Town Square to a park bench near the tall, bronze angel monument standing sentinel on a brick pedestal. She sat, dropping her purse and briefcase onto the damp grass.

Anger roiled up inside her, teasing the edges of a full-on anxiety attack. She took a deep breath, in through her nose, out through her mouth on a slow eight count—just like the therapist had taught her. She gave up after losing track of how many times she’d repeated the technique. Her anger still simmered, but the panic had subsided.

She’d been in and out of town now for months and hadn’t once run into the man she’d men in the bar that night. It had been a full-on blizzard and just after her sister had gone underground. They must have been the only two people crazy enough to venture out in the weather, because it had just been the two of them there. He’d been drunk, and she’d been three whiskeys on the way there. His kiss, like the liquor, was a distraction from the pain of losing her sister. But in the sobering, bright light of the next day, she’d run into him at the town diner. Not only had she learned that he was married, but also that his wife had just been diagnosed with cancer.

She closed her eyes. Big mistake. The memory was there, raw and vivid, as if it had just happened.

That night Frannie had to swipe at the tears as she drove the icy roads. Visibility had been bad enough without her blubbering. Staying at Jenny’s house, instead of feeling comforted, she’d felt closed in by her things, claustrophobic. She’d missed Jenny so much, and Frannie just wanted her sister back. How could Frannie go through life knowing Jenny was out there somewhere all alone?

Ahead, a sign glowed in the darkness through the snow. Frannie slowed and pulled over. Jimmy’s Bar. Perfect. She could use a drink. In fact, getting smashed held great appeal at the moment. Anything to not feel for a while.

The windowless metal door swung inward. The interior was dark and sparsely populated, which suited her fine. She sat at the bar.

A thin man with a face that said it had seen more than he’d care to recount asked, "What’ll you have?”

"Jack and Coke.”

The man turned away to get her drink.

Frannie put her purse on the bar, and the folder the lawyer had given her slid out. The words "Last Will and Testament of Violet Jennings Thompson” glared at her. What a lie she was living. When the man had heard she was in town, he’d hiked through the snow to Jenny’s house to bring it to her, instructing her on the probate process she wouldn’t be able to begin. Another thing she’d have to discuss with the sheriff when the weather cleared. How was she supposed to deal with all this when she was still grieving for her sister?

She shoved the file back into her bag and shrugged out of her coat. Before she could unwind the long, green scarf her sister had gotten Frannie for her birthday, the last birthday they’d ever spend together, the man returned with her drink then went back to watching the basketball game on the television that sat in the corner of the long, narrow room. No conversation. That suited her, too.

She tossed the dark straw on the wooden bar and disposed of half the beverage in one long swallow. A man sitting four stools down from her watched. She didn’t much care; let him look. The initial burn of the whiskey spread a delicious warmth through her chest and lower. She downed the rest, and her fingertips started to tingle. She set the heavy tumbler down with a satisfying thud.

"Another.” Screw the niceties. Her sister had been taken from her. There was no room for nice in her world.

The man took the glass and made her another drink.

The other lone customer was still looking at her, so she looked back intending to say, "What?” but when she met his gaze, she stopped short. From the glassy look in his clear gray eyes, she’d say he’d had a few himself. He lifted his glass, took a drink, and hunkered down, forearms on the bar, his focus returned to the liquid in his glass.

At some point during the silent exchange, the bartender had brought her drink—minus the straw—and disappeared. He’d also left a bowl of pretzels. Her gaze swung back to the man with the empty eyes, but he’d obviously forgotten about her and returned to his own personal hell. She wondered what was going on at home that prevented him from getting drunk there. Maybe he was from out of town like her. She chuckled and took another drink. She couldn’t imagine why anyone would be traveling the back roads of East Tennessee in a blizzard.

He shifted his gaze to hers.

She looked back. He was handsome, in a disheveled, dark-whiskered, shaggy-hair-that-needed-a-trim sort of way. It fell in waves around his face. He shoved a hand into the mass and pushed it back toward his crown, then stood, stumbled and found his balance before moving her way. She turned away and took another long draw on her drink, not sure she wanted company, but nevertheless intrigued by the dark stranger whose high-end, designer clothing said he didn’t fit in a dive like this. She chuckled again. She supposed she looked like she didn’t fit either, but the selection of bars in the heart of the Bible belt was not wide or varied.

He sat next to her without asking her permission. His empty glass had been abandoned at his previous spot at the bar. The bartender set another in front of him without asking, making Frannie reassess. The guy must be a regular.

He swallowed half his drink, set the tumbler down and said, "What brings you to a place like this in a snowstorm?”

Frannie took a drink as well. Her whole body was warm now. "I could ask you the same question.”

"If you were from around here, you’d know.” He had another sip of his drink and turned back to her. He took his time looking at her. "You don’t belong here.”

Emboldened by the whiskey, she looked her fill of him as well. The warmth radiating to the rest of her body from her midsection shifted lower. "Where do I belong?”

They were sitting close, too close, but she noted the fact too late.

"Is this a guessing game, then?”

"I don’t play games.”

"Everybody plays. Not everyone wins.” He swallowed the rest of his drink. "What’s your name?”

She considered for a moment, then said, "Frannie.”

"I’m Patrick.”

He held out his hand and she stared at it, then twenty-seven years of breeding kicked in, and she offered hers. His fingers were warm and well-shaped. This wasn’t a man who worked with his hands. He was a professional of some sort. Maybe he was a lawyer, too. He had that air about him, like he’d stripped off a jacket and tie and left them in an expensive car before coming into the bar.

"You have nice hands,” he said, still holding hers. He brushed his thumb across the ring she wore. Her college ring. She didn’t miss his glance at her other hand to see if she wore a diamond or wedding band. "What brings you here, Frannie?” he asked, his thumb now moving back and forth across her knuckles.

Her hand felt good in his; human contact felt good after so much loss and emptiness, so she traced the lines of his palm with her fingertips. "I needed a drink.”

He chuckled. "I think you had two, not that I’m counting.”

She smiled. "And I’m still not drunk, so I think I need another.”

He glanced toward the bartender and lifted his chin, taking care of her request. She brought the drink to her lips and downed it in one swallow. She resisted the urge to cough and ruin the effect.

"Impressive,” he noted with a raised eyebrow. "Better?”

She smiled, but her hair fell like a curtain, separating them. He pushed it back, leaving her face and neck exposed and vulnerable. He leaned in, his bourbon-laced breath warm on her cheek, his dark stubble not unpleasantly rough against her cheek. He sighed and nudged her ear with his nose; his warm lips caressed the lobe.

She should move away, but the whiskey and the sadness pressing on her soul interfered with her ability to act like the proper young lady her mother had raised her to be.

"Tell me to stop,” he whispered, but pressed another kiss to the vulnerable spot behind her ear. He put his arm along the bar in front of her and slid the back of his fingers along her jaw until their gazes locked again.

Raw pain had flowedbetween them. They’d both wanted to feel something else—needed to feel anything else. So she’d leaned in and tasted his lips.

Frannie ripped her glasses off her face, breaking them and shattering the memory as she tossed the pieces at the angel monument.

"There’s a fine for littering around here.”

Frannie looked up to find Patrick Houston staring down at her. She sighed. If she’d thought he’d follow her, she would have avoided Town Square. Really must remember she lived in a small town now.

He glanced at the empty space on the park bench and said, "May I?”

Wanting to look anywhere but at him, she stared up at the statue of the warrior angel. "It’s not advisable.”

"I’ll take my chances,” he said and sat.

"You were warned.”

"I must say, it’s not every day a beautiful woman storms out of my office. I admit it was rude of me to be late to our appointment. I should have apologized.”

"But you didn’t, and still aren’t.” And he had so much to apologize for, yet he continued to act like he didn’t know her. Like he didn’t remember. Maybe he didn’t. God, she was so naïve when it came to men. He probably had picked up so many women in bars that he couldn’t keep them all straight. Still, confusion had not been a problem the morning after in the diner. He’d looked guilty as sin and like he had the devil of a hangover.

"Help me out here.”

"Let’s drop the games, shall we? If you think I’m going to be humiliated in the retelling of what happened, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you.”

He leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees, palms up. "I’m at a complete loss. Have we met before?”

She turned away and laughed. What an ass.

"Ms. Thompson... Frannie, I apologize. It’s not my intent to upset or humiliate you in any way. I respected and admired your sister a great deal. I do understand how difficult it is to lose someone close to you.”

Frannie wondered how long it would take before people stopped bringing up "her loss” in that sympathetic manner that made her want to scream. No one knew how she felt. No one.

She leaned in as she spoke. "You’ll have to excuse me if I’m having a bit of trouble here reconciling your two personas, the upstanding mayor and the drunk. The drunk disgraced himself that night in the bar and took me unwittingly along for the ride.” She spoke softly, "Clearly, I was just one of many.”

He frowned. "Bar?” He tilted his head, his gaze sweeping her face, her hair, his pale eyes bore into hers. "I’m sorry to say that I used to drink heavily. There are periods, gaps of time, I don’t remember.” He turned away, but not before she saw the familiar pain flooding his expressive eyes.

He didn’t speak for several moments. Didn’t look at her. "I’m wracking my brain here. I used to go to a place outside of town to drink. Did I run into you there? I must have,” he said to himself without waiting for her to respond.

Frannie crossed her arms and drummed her fingers against her forearm. She should leave. Just get up and walk away, but for reasons she refused to analyze at the moment, she didn’t.

"Oh, God,” he murmured. "Did I... I didn’t—” He raked a hand through his hair, and the memory of her hands doing the same rocked her. It was lightly streaked with gray now. Maybe it had been there before, but she hadn’t noticed it in the dimly lit bar.

He sighed, looked around, then leaned toward her. The scent of his cologne brought back more memories. It had clung to her skin that night, after.

"Jesus, did I—did we...”

She felt her face flush and placed a hand against her neck.

He glanced back at her, then away again. "Oh... the night of the blizzard. You were the woman at Jimmy’s.”

"Yes,” she confirmed. So he remembered after all. Well, at least he’d admitted it.

"I thought I’d never see you again.”

"But you did, the next day at the diner, and then there was my sister’s funeral. So, technically, you’ve seen me twice.”

"Right,” he agreed. "But Jenny’s been gone six years now. You see, I remember because that’s about the same time I found out my wife was seriously ill. I’m afraid I didn’t handle getting the prognosis well.”

"The relative point is that you were married, something you didn’t bother to share with me, and I couldn’t have known since I’m not from Angel Ridge.” No way was she letting him off the hook for what he’d done. The fact that he was drunk because his wife was sick did not excuse his behavior. "Look, this is not the place to be discussing this. Anyone could walk by and overhear or see us. What if someone tells your wife?” she whispered. "What if she sees us?”

She gathered her purse and briefcase and would have stood, but his hand on her arm stopped her.

"Frannie, my wife—” He cleared his throat. "She’s gone.”

Frannie couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. Then, she said, automatically, "I’m sorry.”

He turned to face her. "So am I.” Then he surprised her by squeezing her hand. That look. That tortured look, mingled with a longing for all he’d lost and regret for mistakes that couldn’t be undone, inexplicably made her heart constrict.

Another moment of silent communication passed between them before he stood and walked away.



Chapter 2

Patrick walked out of the bright sunshine into the interior of the church, darkened by the hundred-or-more-year-old stained glass windows. He made it a few rows up the aisle before his knees gave way, and he sat heavily in one of the long oak pews. No padded seating for the First Presbyterian Church of Angel Ridge. Padding would hide the polished sheen of the aged oak and provide comfort, which was not a priority. In the town’s oldest church, it was more about period look, authenticity. Susan had tried to make things comfortable for Patrick, but all that had changed the day he’d learned his wife would die of cancer before she reached forty.

"Patrick? Is that you back there?”

Reverend Reynolds, the church’s pastor, had entered the sanctuary from a side door beside the raised altar where the old, heavy wooden pulpit stood sentinel. When Patrick didn’t respond, he walked down the aisle toward him.

"It is you.” A few steps closer and he added, "What’s happened? How can I help?”

Patrick pulled a hand down his face. He felt numb. Unable to process what had just happened, which he supposed was a blessing. How could he have—he couldn’t even form the words in his mind, much less speak them.

Of course he remembered what he’d done that night. Part of it, anyway. There’d been a blizzard, a rarity in East Tennessee. Such a thing was a memorable event. He’d gone out to the edge of town, as he did most nights, to get drunk and kill the pain. It was true; he didn’t remember everything that had happened. He’d been too far gone. But he’d remembered enough to recognize Frannie the next day at the diner. The day when his son had wandered off alone and gotten his foot stuck in a storm drain at the hardware store. Patrick had gone to the diner, hung over, desperate for coffee when he saw Frannie, a stranger, just realizing she’d made out with a drunk, married man the night before.

He looked up, only just noticing that the preacher had sat on the pew in front of him. Silent, he waited for Patrick to speak, or not. He was that kind of man. Patient. Understanding that sometimes, silent prayers were more effective than words.

"I wish God had taken me instead of Susan.”

"Why would you say that?” Reverend Reynolds said quietly.

Patrick looked up at the wooden beams high above them. "Because she was the better person.”

"None of us deserve the blessings God chooses to bestow on us, Patrick.”

"Some less than others.”

"What’s brought this on?”

Patrick sighed. "Another reminder of what an ass I was when I found out Susan was sick. Excuse my language,” he added when he realized what he’d said.

"No need to apologize, but we’ve talked about this, Patrick. No one can fault you for struggling when faced with such grave news about your wife.”

"It was quite a bit more than a brief lapse,” he mumbled, crossing his arms.

"Patrick, no one knows as well as I do that you became the model of a supportive, kind, loving husband to Susan soon after she became ill. You stood by her, cared for her, loved her to the end. If not for you, I don’t know that she would have made it as long as she did after they found the cancer. All the doctors agreed it was a miracle.”

"None of the credit’s mine, Preacher. She was so determined to beat it.”

"For you and your children.”

"For the children, yes, but not for me,” he said.

Reverend Reynolds linked his fingers and rested his forearms on the back of the pew. "It’s been some time since Susan passed. You’ve struggled, but done well considering all that you’ve had to take on with caring for the children alone. Are you still attending the grief support group meetings in Knoxville?”

Patrick nodded. Each week, he thought this would be the Thursday he wouldn’t go. But when the day came, he found himself driving to the church in the next town and sitting in the same chair. He didn’t often talk about his grief, but hearing others share their own made him feel a little less alone in his. A little less like he needed a drink to survive it. Still, he’d leave the grief support group then go straight to an AA meeting, just to be sure. But the pastor didn’t know about that. No one did.

"Has something happened, then, to bring back the memory of that time when you felt you’d let your family down?”

Patrick laughed. "I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t feel that I’ve let them down.”

"Why, Patrick? Why do you feel that when no one else does?”

"Because... others were involved.”


He closed his eyes. Maybe it was time to talk about it. He needed to talk to someone. Looking up at the kind, older man sitting patiently before him, the words, once started, poured out of him. He told him about the drinking, the anger, the pain, and cheating on his wife. He and Frannie hadn’t had sex, but he’d cheated all the same by turning to someone else. He loathed himself even more now for what he’d nearly done. All because he hadn’t been strong enough to deal with what was happening to his wife, his family, him.

He slouched down in the pew. "I was such a selfish bastard, thinking only about myself, mypain.”

"These are normal emotions and reactions,” the pastor said.

"There’s no excuse for what I did.”

"Did Susan know about your drinking... and the rest?”

Patrick nodded, tears clogging his throat and stinging his eyes. "She went with me to my first AA meeting.”

"She forgave you, then.”

"She did. I didn’t deserve her.”

"At some point, you must forgive yourself.”

"I can’t,” Patrick said.

"If you want to move forward, out of the grief and into living the rest of your life, you must.”

He shook his head. "Someone’s here. In Angel Ridge.”


"Someone from that time when I was a drunk. A woman.”


"And she’s angry. Furious with me for coming on to her.” He looked up then. "She didn’t know I was married. Didn’t know me or Susan. She was a stranger in town dealing with her own loss, and I made it worse.”

"I don’t understand.”

"I have to make it right,” he continued as if the preacher hadn’t spoken. It was part of AA’s Twelve-Step Program to make amends with the people he’d harmed. "How do I do that?”

"First, I think you need to explain what you just said about her loss and making it worse.”

"She’d just lost her sister when she had the misfortune of running into me at the bar where I chose to numb my pain night after night.”

"Oh. Oh, I see. Oh my...”

"Right. Jenny Thompson’s sister is back in Angel Ridge, and it looks like she’s here to stay.”

"This is indeed an unforeseen turn of events. Did you ever try to contact her after that time? To make amends?”

"You know about that part of the program?” Patrick asked.

The pastor nodded.

"I didn’t know how to contact her, so I did what the program says. Found another way to help. She doesn’t know it, but I’ve been looking after Jenny’s house all these years.”

"That’s good. And, of course, you apologized.”

"Yes, but ‘I’m sorry’ won’t cut it. With her moving here, I’m going to have to find a way to deal with this.”


"There’s no excuse, no explanation. How can I possibly make this right?”

"Take some time to reflect and meditate on the matter. A way will present itself.”

Patrick shook his head. He’d gone over her plans before going to find her earlier. "She has this idea for revitalizing downtown that will be controversial. With me being the mayor, I’m afraid she’ll see me as an adversary.”

"Then make sure you’re not. This could be just the opportunity you need. What kind of plan does she have in mind?”

"A non-profit that will educate and train unemployed workers, giving them temporary housing and help finding jobs.”

"That sounds wonderful,” Reverend Reynolds said.

Patrick looked at the pastor. "Have you met the people on the Town Council who will have to approve this?”

"I have, and I see this as the perfect opportunity for you to be a person who can act as a buffer and steer the process to an amenable resolution.”

"Nice plan, but I suspect doing that will be just a bit more complicated.”

"It always is, son, but you’ll find a way. You are a master negotiator. As a politician, dealing effectively with people is your business.”

Patrick smiled. "If anything could drive me to drink again, this might do it.”

"That’s nothing to joke about, Patrick,” the reverend said, his tone serious.

The man was right. "Sorry, Pastor.”

"Do you have someone to talk to if that desire should overtake you?”

"Yes, I have a sponsor.”

"Good. Good,” Reynolds said. "If you can’t reach that person, I hope you know you can call me.”

"I appreciate that.”

The pastor stood. "I’ll leave you alone then, so you can have some quiet time to consider the situation you find yourself in.” He clapped a hand on Patrick’s shoulder. "I know you’ll do the right thing.”

Patrick watched the pastor walk away, wishing he had a fraction of as much confidence in himself.


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