Tomorrow's Promise

Tomorrow's Promise

Elizabeth Sinclair

August 2014 $12.95
ISBN: 9781611945454

Book 5 of The Hawks Mountain series

Can she trust him to be the man she needs?

 
Our PriceUS$12.95
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Faith Chambers has come home to Carson, West Virginia. From the moment she steps off the bus, she starts wondering if this is just another mistake in a long line of mistakes. She has no training to help her find employment, estranged parents, and a three-year-old daughter depending on her for support. Despite the dismal outlook for a future, she is determined to be independent and make it on her own. Then she meets a man who could steal her heart if she lets down her guard . . . but does she dare risk her heart again?

Sheriff Cole Ainsley is only in Carson to fill out his father’s term as sheriff. Once that’s done, he’ll be moving on to take a new direction in his life as a teacher. But when he meets Faith and her beautiful little girl, his suppressed longing for a family rises to the surface, and he begins to second-guess his decision to move on. He wants nothing more than to protect Faith and her daughter, but Faith is just as determined not to allow him to insert himself in her life.

Can Faith forget the other men in her life who have betrayed her trust and follow her heart? Is Cole in love with Faith or the idea of a family?

 

Elizabeth Sinclair is the award-winning, bestselling author of numerous romance novels and two acclaimed instructional books for writers. Her novels have been translated into seven languages and are sold in seventeen countries. She lives in St. Augustine, Florida, with her husband and two dogs. Elizabeth is the mother of three children and "brags constantly” about her grandchildren.


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Excerpt

 

Granny Jo’s Journal

Welcome!

WELL, IT’S SPRING on my mountain. The flowers are pushing through the earth, the trees are budding, and the animals and birds are giving birth to the next generation. I must admit that this is my favorite time of year. The air is still fresh and a bit crisp with the remnants of winter, but the sun warms my body and soul enough that I don’t need a coat.

I just took a stroll around my yard and was pleased as punch to see green sprouts in my garden and flower beds, a sure sign that the earth is coming back to life after its winter snooze. I’ll soon have to start thinking about getting my vegetable garden ready for planting. Oh, and the peace rose on my Earl’s grave is starting to bud. That always makes my heart smile.

The only other thing that’s new with me is that my granddaughter Becky talked me into buying one of those cell phone thingamajigs. I’m not totally sure how all the fancy stuff on it works, but I have managed to learn how to make a call and say "hello” when it rings. I guess that’s good. At my age, you never know when the old body is gonna give out, and you need to cry for help. On the other hand, I’m still not sure I like the idea of people being able to bother me no matter where I am.

Well, enough about me.

I hear tell Davy Collins’s wolf, Sadie, just had another litter of puppies. Lydia suspects Sadie made "friends” with the big, male German Shepherd next door. But the animals and birds aren’t the only ones expecting additions to their families. My granddaughter Becky is gonna give me another great-grandchild. They tell me this one will be a little girl they plan on naming Josephine. Just thinking about that brings a knot to my throat and a tear to my eye.

I still get such a kick out of doctors being able to tell a mother what her baby is gonna be before it leaves the womb. In my day, you decorated the nursery in yellow or mint green. That way it didn’t matter which sex the baby was, and you wouldn’t be bedding down a baby boy in a frilly, pink room.

Jonathan and Andi Prince have settled into the big mansion, and I’m still giving Jonathan’s Aunt Sarah quilting lessons. Although, she’s doing so well, I don’t see why she keeps paying me to come there once a week to teach her. I think she just likes the company and someone to gossip with, not that I carry tales, at least not like Laureene Talbot.

Ben Ainsley has retired from the sheriff’s office and his son Cole is taking his place until election time rolls around. Cole was a member of the Richmond police force until he came back to Carson a few months ago. So far, from all I’ve seen (and heard on the grapevine), he’s doing a bang-up job, and, if he decides to run in the upcoming election, he’ll be a shoo-in for the job on a permanent basis.

Speaking of gossip, Laureene tells me that Faith Chambers, Horace and Celia Chambers’ girl, has come home to Carson with her sweet little daughter, Lizzie. Like my Becky, Faith left Carson in search of greener, more exciting pastures. I don’t know what exactly brought her back here, but I’m betting that it wasn’t anything good. In my experience, young people don’t come back here because the opportunities are so great. They’re usually hiding from some hurt, and what better place to heal than home? A few months on the mountain should help fix that. There doesn’t seem to be any way anyone can live here and not take in the God-given peace of the green hills. It’s like an invisible medicine that creeps into your soul and heals its wounds.

As for me, I’ve got a batch of chocolate chip cookies in the oven right now. Tomorrow, I’ll take them over to Faith and Lizzie and see if there’s anything I can do for them. Being a single mom nowadays is not an easy row to hoe.

In the meantime, I have a feeling in my bones that things around here are gonna get interesting. Why? Because it’s been quiet for too long and, knowing Carson as I do, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. If I was you, I’d stick around... just in case my feeling is right.

Love,

—Granny Jo


 

 

Chapter 1

NOT UNTIL FAITH Chambers stepped off the bus and stood on the main street of Carson, West Virginia, did she fully realize just how dismal her life had become. Three years ago, she’d run from her domineering mother, left her hometown with a head full of dreams and plans, and moved to Atlanta. Once there, she’d taken up with city boy Sloan Philips and settled in, determined never to step foot in this sleepy little town again, and looking forward to a bright tomorrow. Today, alone, nearly penniless, with nothing but gloom on the horizon and two-year- old Lizzie to care for, Faith had returned to her hometown with her tail between her legs, prepared to beg for a job to support them.

"Faith Chambers, is that you?”

Faith turned toward the strident female voice and looked into the judgmental face of her mother’s next door neighbor and the town gossip, Laureene Talbot. Lord, of all the people Faith had to run into, why did it have to be her? She’d hoped to slip into town unnoticed. Now, not only was she found out, but this woman would make certain that Faith’s mother knew her daughter was back.

"Yes, ma’am, it’s me.” Faith hugged her two-year-old daughter closer to her chest and forced a smile.

"Well, bless my soul, I certainly never expected to see you back in Carson. And who’s this sweet little thing?” She took a step closer and pinched Lizzie’s cheek. The child pulled away, hugged her teddy bear closer, and buried her face in Faith’s neck. Fuzzy the teddy bear was unique. He’d been made just for Faith by her beloved gramma, and she’d passed it down to Lizzie, who cherished it even more than Faith had and hid behind it whenever anything disturbed her.

Faith figured she’d have to face this woman sooner or later, but she’d hoped it would be later. If Carson was the same as she remembered it, even though a new century had dawned, its moral standards about certain things remained unforgiving by some—Laureene being one of them.

No sense in trying to hide it. Everyone would know soon enough. Taking a deep breath, Faith raised her chin and looked the woman in the eye. "She’s my daughter.”

Laureene stared at the child for a moment, as if deep in thought. "I don’t recall your momma telling me that you got married or that you gave her a grandbaby. Who’s the lucky daddy?” The woman’s a sweet expression covered the vindictive personality that Faith was well aware lurked just beneath the surface.

Faith wasn’t surprised that her mother hadn’t told anyone about Lizzie or that Faith had been living "in sin” with a city man. Celia Chambers had known about Sloan and Lizzie, but Faith had no doubt that her mother would not have shared that news with anyone in Carson. Small towns could be cruel about things like illegitimate children and unmarried liaisons. Carson’s high moral values made it especially so, even in this century of permissiveness. All that aside, Faith knew her mother would never brag about something she felt was a sin before God and certainly not to Poison Tongue Laureene, as the kids always called her.

Pure and simple, Laureene Talbot was the cruelest kind of small-town gossip. She spread what she knew for sure and made up what she thought was the true story, right or wrong. The results usually ended up being more hurtful than the truth would have been.

When Faith was younger, she would have tried to satisfy Laureene’s nosiness with some half-baked excuse, and hope that the story wasn’t embellished when Laureene passed it along. But right now, exhausted from the long bus ride from Atlanta, and apprehensive about her and Lizzie’s future, Faith didn’t have the emotional strength to contend with Laureene Talbot. But neither would she supply grist for Laureene’s gossip mill.

Faith straightened her shoulders and smiled as sweetly as she could. "Maybe it slipped her mind.”

Laureene’s eyebrows shot up so far they nearly touched the wave of black hair draped neatly over her forehead. "That doesn’t seem likely. Grandmothers don’t forget their grandchildren.”

"No, most don’t.” But her mother was far from being like most grandmothers. Without further explanation, Faith picked up her only suitcase and stepped around Laureene, leaving her, mouth agape, in the middle of the sidewalk.

Once she’d moved out of reach of Laureene’s sharp tongue and condemning eyes, Faith breathed a deep sigh of relief. There had been a time when she would have given Laureene as good as she dealt out, but Faith hadn’t stood up for herself in so long, she wasn’t sure she knew how anymore.

But one thing she did know, she would never again depend on anyone else to take care of her and Lizzie. The day the police knocked on her door and told her Sloan had been killed, probably by one of his drug connections, Faith had realized she was on her own. It was also then that she finally admitted to herself that she and Lizzie had been abandoned emotionally for a long time.

Crossing the street, she hoisted Lizzie higher on her hip and headed for the building with the white sign hanging out front that read Doctor Amos Joseph, MD. Until the new clinic had been built in Hanover a few years back, he’d been the only doctor in the isolated valley, and still, the clinic was over fifty miles away. As a result, Doc Amos had been an indispensable necessity in Carson for many years now. He had delivered Faith and most of the other kids in town, as well as treated most of the town’s population at one time or another.

Faith remembered him as being a kind, friendly man with a cheery smile and a never-ending supply of red lollipops hidden away in his big roll-top desk. He’d dispensed wisdom and kindness as readily as he did his candy, medicines, and rainbow- colored bandages. Everyone in town knew that Doc was just as quick to accept a plump roasting chicken as payment for an office visit from a family that was down on their luck as he was to take hard cash.

When she’d noted his name on the classified ad she’d found in the local paper she’d picked from the trash in the bus terminal, it had made her feel better about applying for the job of housekeeper, the only marketable skill she possessed.

Taking a deep breath, she climbed the stairs and entered his office.

It smelled of antiseptic, the flower-scented room deodor­izer protruding from an outlet near the door, and stale pipe tobacco. Faith recognized the woman behind the desk as Harriet, Doc’s wife and receptionist of over forty years, though her hair was whiter and her cherub-like face more wrinkled,.

Setting her suitcase down beside the door and then shifting Lizzie to a more comfortable position on her hip, Faith ap­proached the desk. Lizzie held her tattered old teddy bear Fuzzy against her cheek, surveyed her new surroundings with wide eyes, and held on tight to the collar of Faith’s blouse.

Doc’s wife looked up. "Yes? May I help you?”

"I’ve come to see about the job in the newspaper.” Faith held out the dog-eared edition of The Carson Gazette she’d pulled from her shoulder bag. "I’m Faith Chambers.”

Harriet’s eyes widened. "Well, bless me, yes you are. Now, why didn’t I recognize you right off?” She rose and came around the desk to gently hug both Lizzie and Faith. "Doc keeps telling me to have my glasses changed, I guess he’s right.” She grinned, then cupped her hand over her mouth and whispered, "Don’t tell him that. He loves it when he’s right, and then there’s no living with him at all.”

Harriet’s warm greeting took away the sting of Laureene Talbot’s prying. Faith returned the smile and promised, "I won’t tell him.”

"Good.” Not one to waste too much time on social pleasantries, Harriet got right to the heart of the matter. "About that job, dear... I’m afraid we hired someone a few days ago. I’m getting too old to run the office and keep up with the chores at home.” She leaned closer to Faith. "Truth be told, I’d rather be here anyway. Always hated housework.”

The job was filled?

Faith felt the bottom drop out of her world. What would she do now? "Would you or Doc know of anyone looking to hire in Carson? I don’t have a car, so I’d need one within walking distance.”

"I don’t recall any off hand, but Doc might know of something.” She lowered her voice as if to share a confidence. "Everybody who comes in here thinks they have to tell him the story of their lives. Between you and me, I think he enjoys hearing the latest about all of them.” She grinned. "If anyone in Carson is looking for help, he’ll know.” She reached across the desk for Doc’s brown leather appointment book. "You came at a good time. He doesn’t have another appointment for fifteen minutes or so. Get right in there.”

Faith looked around the waiting room. "Can I leave Lizzie out here with you? She’s sleepy so she shouldn’t be any trouble. If it’s okay, I’ll just lay her on the couch.”

Harriet frowned. "You most certainly will not.” Faith’s heart sank. How was she going to talk to Doc about a job with Lizzie demanding her attention? "She can sit right here on my lap,” Harriet said, reaching for Lizzie. "I can never hold the little ones enough.”

Lizzie went to Harriet without a backward look at her mother.

"Thank you.”

Harriet dismissed Faith’s gratitude with a wave of her hand. "No need to thank me. I’ll enjoy this more than she will. Now, you get in there and pick Amos’s brain about that job.”

Heart in her throat, Faith opened the door to Doc’s inner office. Just the thought of having to crawl back to her parents and beg them to take her in made her stomach sour. If she didn’t get a job, facing her mother’s censure and I-told-you-so’s would be infinitely worse than facing the entire town’s disapproval. She’d rather die than have to crawl home to Celia Chambers.

ACTING SHERIFF Cole Ainsley closed the door to his office, leaving his deputy, Graylin Talbot, to oversee things in his absence. Even since Davy Collins went missing a while back, before Cole arrived in town, things around Carson had been quiet, with only a few speeding tickets and Jimmy Logan’s nightly incarceration for public intoxication to contend with.

A good thing it was, since Graylin would not have been Cole’s first choice for Deputy of the Year. His nickname around town was Barney Fife, which kind of said it all. Not that Graylin wasn’t a good man and a fine officer, he was. He was just overeager sometimes and lacking a bit in the common sense department. Like the time he arrested Lucas Michaels and Amantha James for "killing” a mechanical baby. Secretly, Cole believed Graylin watched too many cop shows on TV and was just waiting for a serial killer to show up or a crime spree to erupt in Carson—the very last thing Cole wanted. He’d had enough of that kind of life as a detective in Richmond, VA.

Cole glanced across Main Street at the blue SUV that had just maneuvered into the parking slot in front of Keeler’s Market. He recognized the car as that of Hunter and Rose Mackenzie. Rose was ready to deliver their third child in a few months, and Hunter had been sticking to her like glue on a postage stamp for the past week to make sure his wife and baby were safe and secure.

Cole felt a pang of jealousy arrow through him. What he wouldn’t give to be in Hunter’s shoes with a quiet existence, a beautiful wife, two toddlers at home, and a child on the way. Cole had come close to getting some of that, but...

If only Diane hadn’t waited until he’d fallen in love with her to tell him she had no desire to be married or have children and that her career would always come before a relationship and family. The pain she’d inflicted had gouged a wound deep in his soul. One that still lay raw in his gut. Added to that was the emotional strain the big city crimes he’d witnessed had put on him. He’d seen enough waste of humanity to last him a lifetime.

When his father’s health had forced him to leave the sheriff’s office before his term was over, and he’d called on Cole to fill in for him until the November elections, Cole had jumped at it. He’d hoped that coming back to Carson would help heal his emotional wounds and give him the quiet life he longed for. Unfortunately, the small, close-knit community, although quiet, held too many reminders of the life Diane had stolen from him.

As a result, he’d decided to get out of law enforcement and put his teaching degree to work. After the town’s election took place and they had a new sheriff, he planned to take the job he’d been offered teaching history at a high school in Atlanta. Maybe then he could find the peace he sought. Until that time...

Shaking his head to free himself of his troubling thoughts, he waved at the Mackenzies, and then hurried down the street toward Doc Amos’s office. This should be the last time he’d have to see Doc. The cut on his leg, where he’d had a fight with some barbed wire and lost, had taken weeks to heal, but with Doc’s care, it was no more than a thick, pink line running down his calf. Doc being Doc, he wanted one more look before he declared Cole officially healed. Cole had no choice but to reluctantly oblige the good doctor.

Pushing open the office door, Cole found Harriet with a small child balanced on her knee who had a stranglehold on a teddy bear that was nearly as big as she was. The child had crimson saliva dribbling down her chin and over her fingers from the cherry lollipop she waved precariously close to Harriet’s hair. Traces of lollipop juice matted the fur on the teddy bear in her free hand.

"Who’s your friend, Harriet?” Cole asked.

Harriet never removed her gaze from the child. She tucked her under the chin, and the little girl giggled around the lollipop, which was now jutting from her mouth. "This is Lizzie.”

"Lizzie, huh?” The sound of her name brought the little girl’s chocolate-brown gaze to him. Her lips were deep red from the candy, and the gold ringlets sticking to her pink cheeks attested to a few encounters with the sticky sweet. He smiled at her, and her angel face broke into a huge grin.

She held the lollipop out to him. "Bites.” Cole shook his head and patted his stomach. "No thanks, sweetie. I’m watching my figure.” She stared at him for a moment, and then her mouth screwed up into what promised to be a wail of disapproval if he didn’t cooperate. "Okay, since you put it that way.” Leaning over, he pretended to lick the pop. "Mmm. That’s sooo good.” Exaggerating the gesture, he smacked his lips loudly. "Thank you.”

Lizzie giggled, and then went back to enjoying her lollipop, but kept a sharp eye on Cole.

He traced his finger over her soft, sticky cheek. "Who does this little beauty belong to?”

"She’s mine.”

Cole straightened and glanced in the direction of the melodic voice. His breath lodged somewhere between his lungs and his throat. Not until the pain pushed at his chest did it dawn on him that he’d have to breathe to find relief.

A little too thin and looking like a fragile piece of porcelain that would shatter under the slightest pressure, the woman scooping Lizzie off Harriet’s lap was the most beautiful thing Cole had ever seen, despite the distinct look of defeat in her eyes. With hair the color of summer wheat and eyes that would rival any clear blue sky, she quite literally took his breath away. Without conscious thought, his gaze went to her bare ring finger.

"Cole, this is Faith Chambers.” Doc Amos laid a hand on Faith’s shoulder, as if protecting her from some unseen danger.

Cole, who hadn’t even noticed the good doctor until he spoke, searched for his voice. While he waited for it to come back, he realized how scared she looked. He decided instantly that if she needed protecting from whatever, he wanted to be the one to do it.

He dipped his head. "Ms. Chambers.” "Faith, this is Sheriff Ainsley, Ben’s son. Faith here’s come back to Carson, and she’s looking for a job. Don’t happen to know of any, do you, Cole?”

He thought for a moment, and then shook his head. "Not off hand.”

Despite sounding alert to the conversation, Cole’s brain kept replaying something Doc had said. Back to Carson.

She’d lived here before?

He searched his memory for any hint that he knew this woman, but nothing registered. Then he recalled a rather pretty, but shy and slender girl a few years behind him in school. He’d often caught those beautiful blue eyes staring at him in the cafeteria or at a sporting event. But that was about it. After all, he’d been eighteen back then, and she’d been... What? Maybe fifteen. Jail bait, as his friend Jimmy Williams would have said.

One thing for sure, she might have been classified as cute back then, but she’d matured into absolutely stunning. Cole sucked in another steadying breath.

Doc released his grip on Faith’s shoulder and drew his pipe from the pocket of his white smock. He cast a glance at Harriet, who frowned, and he immediately returned the pipe to his pocket. "I was just going to ask Harriet to drive Faith out to our cottage north of town. She’s gonna stay there until she can find a job and her own place. Now that Harriet’s sister is in the nursing home, it just stands there empty. I’d rather have somebody living in it.”

"No need to bother Harriet,” Cole quickly put in. "I’m heading in that direction anyway. I’d be happy to take Faith and Lizzie out there.” He really wasn’t going anywhere near there, but he couldn’t pass up a chance to spend a little more time with this woman.

Faith opened her mouth to say something, but Doc cut her short. "I kind of figured you might.” Doc grinned, obviously on to him, and turned to Faith. "That’s probably best. Harriet doesn’t know a breaker box from a cereal box. Cole can turn everything on for you. The place is furnished—bed linens, towels, dishes and all. There might even be a crib in the attic for the little one. Harriet never throws anything away.” He rolled his eyes in the direction of his wife. "Cole can take you by Keeler’s Market for food on the way. Tell Bill I said to put it on my tab, and you can pay me when you get your first week’s paycheck.”

Faith thanked Doc and Harriet for their generous help, and then glanced at Cole, as if to get his okay. He nodded.

"Since it’s right on the way, maybe Faith would like to stop by and see her folks.” Harriet stood up and came around the desk to stand beside Doc, who threw his arm around her shoulders.

"Oh, no!” Faith swallowed, and then smiled nervously. The last thing she wanted was to start her new life with a visit with her sanctimonious mother. "I’m... I’m tired and so is Lizzie. I think we’d like to settle in. I can see my folks another time. Maybe tomorrow.”

Strange. She’d just come back to town and didn’t seem in any particular hurry to see her family. When Cole had come back to Carson, he could barely wait to get off the bus and sit down to one of his momma’s home-cooked meals.

Glancing at Doc, Cole raised an inquiring eyebrow. Doc shook his head very subtly, as if to say, "Don’t push the issue.”

"Sounds like a plan to me. Is this yours?” Cole pointed at the battered, brown suitcase sitting beside the door.

Faith nodded.

Grabbing the suitcase, Cole opened the door and stepped to the side for Faith to walk ahead of him. She paused and turned back to Doc and Harriet. "I don’t know how to thank you... for everything.”

"No need,” Doc said, easily dismissing her gratitude with a wave of his hand. He frowned at Cole. "Just a minute, Sheriff. Aren’t you forgetting your appointment with me?”

Cole was stunned that, in the course of a few minutes, this woman had made him forget. He rarely forgot anything, but she seemed to have changed that, for now anyway. "I’ll reschedule.”

"No need,” Doc declared.

He strode over to where Cole stood. Without preamble, Doc yanked up the leg of Cole’s khaki uniform pants. He ran the tip of his finger down the pink line of skin that extended from Cole’s mid-calf almost to his ankle. The doctor prodded the scar a few times and then felt the skin around it.

Straightening, he smiled at Cole. "You’re gonna have one nasty scar, but I think you’ll live. No need for any more visits, unless you decide to out wrestle another piece of barbed wire.”

"Not in this lifetime. Once was enough for me.” Cole turned to Faith. "Guess that means we can go.”

Without a word, Faith strode past Cole. Lizzie grinned up at him, while clinging to her bear with one hand and mother’s blouse with the other and leaving tiny red fingerprints on the white material.

He set the suitcase down on the sidewalk, and then turned to Faith. "You wait here. I just have to run down to the office and get the car. Won’t take but a minute.” She nodded, and then he took off at a trot toward the other side of the street.

Faith watched him as she sorted through the emotions running rampant through her mind and body. She’d needed no reminders of the muscular quarterback on the high school football team that had captured her attention and her heart back then... a lifetime ago. And here he was again, all grown up and more handsome than ever.

She took a deep steadying breath. Had coming back to Carson really been such a good idea after all?

 


 

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