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2002 ACFW Book of the Year Award--Contemporary

2002 Inspirational Readers' Choice Award--Contemporary

2002 Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award--Contemporary



Second in the Bradleyville Series

As a chalk-fingered child, I had worn my craving for Mama's love on my sleeve. But as I grew, that craving became cloaked in excuses and denial until slowly it sank beneath my skin to lie unheeded but vital, like the sinews of my framework. By the time I was a teenager, I thought the gap between Mama and me could not be wider.

And than Danny came along ....

A splendidly colored sidewalk. Six-year-old Celia presented the gift to her mother with pride—and received only anger in return. Why couldn't Mama love her? Years later, when once-in-a-lifetime love found Celia, her mother opposed it. The crushing losses that followed drove Celia, guilt-ridden and grieving, to flee from her Bradleyville home.

Now thirty-five, she must return to nurse her father after a stroke. But the deepest need for healing lies in the rift between mother and daughter. God can perform such a miracle. But first Celia and Mama must let go of the past—before it destroys them both.

"Excellent ... beautifully written, and the characters are well developed."
--Publishers Weekly

Chapter 1

Copyright 2014 by Brandilyn Collins

The boxes are heavy their rough rope handles cutting into my palms. A frayed purse weights my weary shoulder. Heat shimmers from the fuel-spotted asphalt, stifling humidity wrapping greedy fingers around my throat. The squat gray building seems so far away, and my legs are wobbling. Others move ahead of me as we file from the bus into the station. I breathe deeply, filling my lungs with roiling air. My head feels light. Detaching itself from my body, it begins to float. Somewhere below are my arms, the boxes, my stumbling feet.

“You will find rest for your souls.” Is that me talking? I feel so dazed. “You will find rest …”

The building looms before me. The door opens. My head drifts over the threshold. I survey the interior. Three people are in line to buy bus tickets. Others dot plastic orange chairs as they wait. Two children squabble at a vending machine.

What am I looking for?

The door closes behind me. Air-conditioning slaps my cheeks. I shiver. Numbness chews away my feet, my legs. I feel my fingers loosen, the boxes fall away. They hit the dusty tile floor with a clunk. Two women are watching me. I see the questions on their faces, feel their stares.

The world dims. My knees fold. For a time there is only blackness …

Muffled voices above me. Faces out of focus.

“Poor child, she’s exhausted from the heat.”

“And probably hasn’t eaten.”

“Go get her a candy bar.”

Footsteps hurry away.

The scene undulates, reshaping itself. I am in a cab, then a hotel room. So sterile, heartless. The bed beckons me. I stagger to it and collapse.

The walls close in. I suck air and my throat rattles. “Danny,” I whisper. “Kevy.”

After all the miles and all the running, the tears finally flow.

“Oh, Danny … Danny … Kevy …”

~ ~ ~

A gurgle in my throat yanked me to the present. My eyes blinked open. Morning sun sifted through my white lace curtains, dusting the bedcovers with flecks of gold. One of my cats stretched beside me, surveying me with lazy indifference.

Ye shall find rest for your souls. God’s promise to Granddad that he tried to pass on to me.

I lay very still, allowing my mind to adjust, as I always did after the dream. I forced deep breaths until my tingling nerves settled.

I’d not had the dream in a long time. Perhaps a year. Not that it mattered. Out of the many images from the past that filled my head at any given moment, this one was the least to bear.

I passed a hand over my eyes. Glanced at the clock. Six-thirty. My alarm would go off any minute. I turned it off.

Not until I’d pulled myself from bed did I remember what day it was. Friday. My thirty-fifth birthday and my employment anniversary. Ten years ago I had joined the creative team of Sammons Advertising Agency.

Ten years.

In the shower I stood under hot water, letting it wash away the residue of my dream. If only it could wash away the stain on my soul as well. Fifteen minutes later I was dressing, still pushing away the memories, as I’d done countless times in the past seventeen years. It was a well-honed defense, this distancing from myself. On automatic, I donned a cornflower blue business suit that matched my eyes, brushing my shoulder-length blonde hair. With smooth skin and a natural blush to my cheeks, I needed little makeup. I knew people thought me beautiful. Not that it mattered.

By the time I was ready, I’d wrenched my thoughts from the tragic past to the present. I went over my schedule for the day. As usual it was overloaded with clients to please and coworkers to supervise. But the day did promise something different. My “surprise” party.

A few days before, I’d been walking down the hall when I overheard Monica, our young receptionist, scheming with our business manager about “how to keep Celia away from the conference room while it’s being set up.” I almost rounded the corner and asked, “Set up for what?” when I heard further discussion about a cake and whether it should have thirty-five candles for my age or ten for my years with the firm. I halted, disbelieving. They were planning a surprise birthday-anniversary party for me? I’d never imagined anyone doing such a gracious thing. I faded back down the hall. Not for the world would I let them know that I’d overheard. Only later did I realize whose idea the party must have been. Only Quentin Sammons, owner of the agency, knew what date I’d started with the firm. The thought that Quentin, busy as he was, would take time to honor me left me feeling all the more humbled. He was as much a friend as my boss.

Sammons Advertising, one of the most prestigious advertising firms in Little Rock, was in its twenty-seventh year. I’d joined the firm as the lowliest of employees and had risen to an account executive. Not only was I more than capable at coming up with ideas and creating visuals, I also had a “way with words,” as Quentin put it. How ironic that the same glib tongue that had earned Mama’s wrath so often when I was young would help earn my living now.


Another thought to push away. I still had to eat breakfast, feed the cats, water a few plants before I left for work.

“Mamie! Daisy!” I opened a can of fishy-smelling cat food. They padded into the kitchen with tails raised high. I petted them both, then left them to their meals.

During the twenty-minute drive downtown, scenes from my dream kept crowding into my head. Sighing, I pulled into the parking lot of the Conart Building, the six-story black glass structure that housed our decorated offices. As I got out of the car I shoved my haunting past aside. I would not think of it. This wasn’t the time to deal with it anyway. It was never the time. I had too much work to do.

And a party to attend.