Will a grieving woman and an injured soldier find hope in each other?
Raine Still has never had much of an identity outside of being the daughter of the old hippie couple that own Hope House, a transitional housing facility in the worse part of Charlotte, North Carolina, and that had been okay with her until her parents died and left her alone in world.
Gage Jordan is a decorated solider discharged from the army after fourteen years due to a physical injury, but the emotional scars are far worse than anything he’s rehabbed from. He has a great job lined up and a mass of support from his family, but something is missing and he’s starting to feel like it’s Raine.
Gage thought his wounded heart had issues, but Raine’s pain is much deeper. If something doesn’t give soon they will never have a chance at love. Can he convince her to see that “hope” and faith are the balm she needs to heal her hurting soul?
They rode in silence to her house. The sugar Gage ingested seemed to have dulled his chattiness. The trip wasn’t long and traffic was nonexistent. His navigation brought them right to her door. He cut the engine.
Gage looked through the window past Raine. “This is a nice house. Nice neighborhood. You were looking the last time we talked.”
She had been house-hunting that spring. She’d found this one the very week he’d left. She inspected the shrubs that needed pruning and the trim that would definitely get a fresh coat of paint in the spring and replied. “Thank you.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Six years. It was a foreclosure during the early run of foreclosures. I’d finished my master’s degree and gotten a promotion at work, so I thought, it was time.”
“I remember you’d just finished your masters. You mentioned it that day.”
His memory was impeccable. Raine’s stomach flipped. That day. That day she’d shared a table with him in the mall food court because all the others were full. That day lunch turned into a trip to the movie theatre, dinner and a stroll through a bookstore.
“No waiting for a husband to buy a house with, huh?” he asked, but then he didn’t wait for an answer. “I like that. The women in my family are very independent too.”
Gage smiled. It sucked the wind out of her. Not because he was so good looking, or even because he had flashed his movie star, picture ready white teeth, it was the disposition behind the smile. Lazy, relaxed…Raine didn’t exactly know the word she was looking for. He seemed interested in her, again. He wasn’t making small talk to fill up the time, because they were here at her house. All he had to do was open the door and then open hers and walk her to the door of her house, if he was so inclined to do that. In seconds, he could be done with Raine Still for tonight and forever. But Gage wasn’t moving. He wasn’t trying to leave.
The only man that had ever been interested in her was her father. He’d hung on to every word she’d said from the time she could talk until he took his last breath. But this attention from Gage was different. She didn’t know how to take it. She’d been here with him before and then he disappeared without a trace.
“Can I ask you a question?” His tone was tentative. “What happened to your date tonight?”
Raine had no idea what he would ask, but this question surprised her. “I didn’t have a date.”
Gage’s expression posed the follow-up question before he did. “You said you were waiting for someone.”
She shrugged. “I lied. I wanted to be alone and I thought it was easier to say I was waiting on someone than be rude to all of you.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “That’s honest.”
“I don’t like to lie and I don’t have any reason to lie to you now.”
“Why did you have so many tickets if you weren’t expecting anyone?”
Raine couldn’t keep the amusement out of her voice. “Are you questioning if I’m lying about lying?”
A beautiful crooked smile filled half his face, revealing one of his dimples. “I’m not questioning if you’re lying. I guess I’m just curious, nosy.”
Raine explained how she came to have the extra tickets. Gage nodded. “That was God. You were supposed to help us out.”
Raine didn’t think that made any sense. “Why wouldn’t God just make it so I had one ticket and your mother had the ones she needed?”
Silence again and then, “Because if God made it happen that way then I wouldn’t have run into you.”
She swallowed now. Hard. He was staring at her. Looking from her face to her lips. He leaned closer and put a hand behind her neck. Then he brought his face closer so that it hovered just inches from hers. Raine could smell his breathe, the mint he’d popped into his mouth after eating the ice cream. She could also smell his cologne, a strong, sexy masculine scent that rose from his pores to torment her.
But then just as quickly as he’d pulled her close, Gage let her go and reached for his ignition key. “It’s late. I need to get you inside.”
Get her inside. She didn’t have a curfew. Raine was disappointed. But more than disappointed, she was embarrassed. She wanted that kiss. “I can see myself to my door,” she replied, icily. She released her seat belt and grabbed the door handle.
His hand was on hers. “Raine, let me explain.”
She turned toward him and frowned. “Explain what?”
“Why I stopped.”
Raine thought she would die. No he was not going to explain why he was rejecting her. She sighed heavily.
“I don’t want to be disrespectful.”
The conversation was awkward, but he’d started it, so she questioned, “A kiss is disrespectful?”
He didn’t remove his hand from hers, but he didn’t respond either.
Oh my God, she thought. He has a girlfriend or maybe even a wife. Of course he did. How could she be so naïve? He didn’t want to disrespect his marriage. She dropped her eyes to their intertwined fingers. So why was he still holding her hand?
He finally spoke. “I’m careful about what I start.”
That only confused her more. “What does that mean?” she whispered. And then she thought, I don’t want to know. “Never mind. You don’t have to explain.” She grabbed the door handle again, but Gage squeezed the hand he held. She froze.
“I do, because I don’t want you to think I didn’t want to kiss you. My stopping has nothing to do with you.”
Raine didn’t look at him. If she could have jumped out of the car and run in the house without seeming rude she would have. She wanted to escape the pounding rush in her veins. The agony over the fact that the only man she’d ever wanted was taken. “Of course, I understand. You have to respect your wife or your girlfriend.”
“Wife or girlfriend?” She could hear a frown in his voice.
“You’ve been a real gentleman, Gage. I appreciate the ride.”
“Wait,” he insisted. “I don’t have a wife or a girlfriend.”
Raine knew she should not let the next question come out of her mouth because it was embarrassing and it would sound like begging, but she would drive herself crazy if she didn’t know. Since she knew she’d never see him again, she went ahead asked, “Then why did you stop?”
The expression on his face was so serious it nearly looked pained. “It’s late,” he said releasing her hand. “I’ll be back in the morning.”
“In the morning?”
“I told you I was picking you up so we could see about getting your car towed.”
She shook her head. “It is really kind of you to offer, but you don’t have to do that.”
His words came swift and impulsively. “What if I want to do it?”
Her stomach flipped again. “Why would you want to do it? We’re not neighbors.”
“For the same reason I didn’t kiss you. I finish what I start. Once I commit to a thing, I have to see it all the way through.”
He smiled and opened his door. Once she got out they fell into step up her long walkway. She said good night to her prince, pushed the door closed and peeked out to watch him disappear. Raine kicked off her shoes and realized the irony of having both shoes. She hadn’t left one behind, so the prince didn’t have one. Gage didn’t have a reason to come looking for her. He didn’t even have anything to look with, because he hadn’t even asked for her phone number to call to make arrangements for tomorrow. Her Cinderella story was a bust.
Available in paperback at Createspace
Will be available in paperback on Amazon on February 24th and through other online retailers by March 1st.
About the Author
Even as she pursued degrees in Textile Technology, Organizational Leadership and finally, Adult Education, Rhonda McKnight’s love for books and desire to write stories was always in the back of her mind and in the forefront of her heart. Rhonda loves reading and writing stories that touch the heart of women through complex plots and interesting characters in crisis. She writes from the comfort of her Atlanta home with black tea, Lays potato chips and chocolate on hand. At her feet sits a snappy mixed breed toy dog. She can be reached at her website at www.rhondamcknight and on social media at www.facebook.com/booksbyrhonda and www.twitter.com/rhondamcknight and www.blackchristianreads.com where she has joined with nine other Christian fiction authors to introduce her stories to the world.