A Chapter One Sneak Peek!
Everything Behind Us
(a Christian Romance Novel)
(in which Sadie returns)
When she’d been uprooted from home as a confused, broken seventeen-year-old, she had made up her mind. She’d never come back. Like most of her plans, that resolve was now met with failure.
The road into town felt like a haunting dream. One of contradiction—faint hope and strong trepidation. Traveling to the one place she swore she couldn’t put herself back in, she found the scene as welcoming as a holiday greeting card, all decorated and delightful and every bit as charming as her memory had kept it. If she didn’t know better, she’d never believe there were secrets of tragedy and betrayal kept guarded within this small town.
But she knew better.
Snow lined the plowed street. On the other side of the mounds of white, there was cleared sidewalk, and above that, strands of twinkle lights waved in a gentle evening breeze, hung in a zigzag pattern above the wide walkway. Dressed in winter warmth and generally wearing smiles, people carrying paper bags and wrapped packages strolled beneath the sparkling merriment. A quaint and gentle scene that should be frozen in time. Sugar Pine always did love Christmas, and the town dressed up like it was a feature location for a holiday special. Wreaths on every streetlamp. Garland framing every door. Evergreen swags fancied up with silver bells, and red ribbons hung in storefront windows—all of them likely created by Touch of Home, the up-and-coming local business hatched and owned by Mrs. Helen Murphy.
As Sadie admired the setting with bittersweet longing, her sudden thoughts of Mrs. Murphy threatened an avalanche of devastation. Connor Murphy, Helen’s third son, had been at the center of all of it. Though almost nine years post-trauma, Sadie still couldn’t bear the thought of facing him. Not any more than she’d been able to dust his memory permanently out of her mind. Likely, that was a product of guilt, and she should accept the hot poker of pain that jabbed her heart every time her thoughts wandered back to that time, to that boy, and to that unamendable mistake. Even so, she’d rather not remember him at all. Just as she’d rather not be driving down this particular street, in this particular town. Especially not with the reason that forced her to return.
The light ahead turned red—one of three traffic lights on this merry Christmas lane. As Sadie’s older model Cherokee eased to a stop, the lights made a cheerful glow off the gathering moisture on the silver hood of her car. Everything about this coming-back scene looked on the surface to be enchanting, but it couldn’t penetrate the anxiety that snarled through her being. How would she walk down this street again? How could she hold her head up, face the people who had been constant characters throughout her growing-up years? They all knew the story—at least part of it. They all knew how she’d left, and why.
They all had reason not to want her to return.
On her right, the Storm Café’s red-and-white-striped awning ruffled in the winter breeze. Light snowflakes twirled to their soft landing as the twinkle lights caught the facets of glitter hidden within their tiny forms. The large windows facing the street had been frosted with painted snow, and someone had carefully etched a sledding scene onto the panes. Such an inviting image would make anyone smile. Anyone but Sadie, and possibly Connor. But she didn’t know that for a fact—not for him. Perhaps such things didn’t disturb him the way they did her.
As she continued to wait for the stoplight to change from red to green, the door to the café swung open. Her breath caught as the man coming out turned. Tall, sandy-brown hair cut military-style, a firm chin, and deep-set eyes. She knew, even before his profile became a front shot, who he was. She hadn’t forgotten the exact shade of the rich forest-green eyes that set him apart from most of his brothers or the firm, more serious line of his mouth that also made him stand out from the other Murphy boys.
With a sharp breath, she diverted her gaze back to the street, tapping her steering wheel with her thumbs and working to steady the pulse that had leapt to a charge. Connor Murphy must be on leave, and she prayed he didn’t take in his surroundings the way he used to.
Forcing her mind from the past, Sadie glanced at her rearview mirror. In the corner, slumped against the car door, reflected the one and only reason that could push her back into the place of all her regrets. Dark lashes fanned against adorably chubby cheeks, and his little chest puffed out and then in with each quiet breath. Nearly white hair scattered over his forehead, some of it sticking to his skin.
Ah, Reid. Sleep, my boy, sleep. For him, Sadie would do anything. Everything.
Finally, the light flicked to green, and she continued on her way through town. Two turns up on the highway before the road began to climb the hills, and she’d be where she’d forced herself to go. Mom and Dad were expecting her. It was Mom, in fact, who had convinced her this was not only necessary but for the best. Bless her stubborn love.
Reid needed an anchor for the future, and the recent proclamation from Sadie’s doctor compelled her to bring him back to Sugar Pine. Back to the home of her childhood, the seat of her deepest hurts and regrets. For the love of her four-year-old son, she’d face the stage of her past. Because the truth was, she’d run out of options. She had nowhere else to go.
“You okay, son?”
With a small jolt, he righted his posture and dipped a rushed nod. Connor Murphy wasn’t one to let himself get sidetracked. He was a man of purpose, one who kept moving, who did the next thing. Which was likely why standing in the middle of the sidewalk as if he’d been run off-course struck his father as odd.
“Yes, sir.” Connor motioned up the street, struggling to reassemble his meticulously kept, orderly thoughts that, in a glance, had just been scattered like snowflakes in a gust of wind. “Lead on. Jackson and I will follow.”
“Looked like you got lost for a second,” Dad said.
Connor molded a grin that felt like wax. “No, sir. Just enjoying this Christmas snow.”
How could a glimpse inflict this much of a response? He didn’t even know for certain the woman had been her.
No. Without a doubt, he knew.
Though he followed his dad, Jackson now striding at his side, Connor’s mind wouldn’t leave the woman he’d just spotted in a late ’90s Jeep Cherokee—the reason his father had caught him standing, staring into the street like his world had been turned inside out yet again. Had it really been her? With a glance over his shoulder, he tried to glimpse her face beyond the gleam of water and light on her windshield.
The light turned green, and the Jeep rolled forward. The woman driving it didn’t glance back at him, but his gut instinct didn’t waver. He didn’t need her to look back to know for certain who she’d been. He hadn’t seen her in nine years—though there hadn’t been a day during that time that he hadn’t lifted a painful supplication to heaven on her behalf.
Connor had begged God for her healing. Her stability. And for her forgiveness. But he’d never believed he’d see Sadie Allen again.
Neither wants to relive the past, but they need each other to face the future.
The day-to-day challenges of Sadie’s illness are enough to strain the strongest relationships, let alone one hastily conceived in the shadow of past mistakes. Will the pressure be too much for their marriage to withstand, or will they allow God to forge something beautiful through their pain?
“Jennifer Rodewald has done it again! I’m beginning to sound like a broken record when it comes to her books, but she never fails to deliver an incredibly authentic, poignant, and faith-filled read.” – Ashley Sapp, Goodreads review
“Grab a box of tissues before even starting this one.” –MaryEllen, Goodreads review